Sunday 24 December 2006

Merry Christmas!

As I started doing last year, I've forgone sending Christmas cards. Instead I'm using email and the phone to send my wishes and created a website to share some of our better family photo's. The savings go to charity.

Our chosen charity this year is Room To Read - started by an ex-Microsoft employee after he discovered a lack of books at a school in Nepal. Since 2000, the charity  has established over 3000 libraries in the developing world. They also publish local language children's books, build schools and provide long-term scholarships to girls. It's an excellent cause in my books (haha) and their website makes it very clear what they do.

Room To Read has won the Fast Company Social Capital Awards a few times. It's interesting to read what some of the other winners do.

Wednesday 29 November 2006

R* Turns 11


R* turned eleven last month. Here's a picture of her with her friends at her laserquest party. K* scored the highest number of hits by camping in a corner and shooting everyone. Jenny played one of the games as its not everyday you get to shoot children!

I'm sure, like every other parent, when a birthday comes along you also reflect at how much and how fast your child is growing up. Some of her friends are almost as tall as Jenny and they're growing lumpy bits! Woah. At least they all still seem to think kissing is disgusting despite rumours about what happens on the bus. Nevertheless, she's gradually getting more independent.

R* recently quit St. John's Ambulance and instead has joined Sea Cadets. It's definitely more exciting and she's very enthusiastic. For a kid who's been raised in environments that celebrate individualism, it's been a bit of surprise that she's embraced the authourity, structure and discipline of Sea Cadets. I think part of it is the "grown-up" nature of the group. So we have a girl marching around the house now.

As for activities, she still plays the cornet and is in a beginners brass band. She's recently joined the school choir and she still has her weekly swimming lessons. I made her join a team sport and she chose basetball after unsuccessfully trying to convince me that chess is a team sport. We even had to consult the dictionary of the difference between "sport" and "game". But she's dropping it next term. She's not a sporty kid. Can't blame her with such pathetic role models as her parents.

She isn't into any hobbies in any big way. Between homework and after-school activities, she really doesn't get much time. She recently got interested in Warhammer and is collectiing a Dwarf Army. She likes fantasy world stuff and gothic jewellery. While not a girlie girl, she does like jewellery of all kinds. She wants a dog, laptop and mp3 player. No. no. maybe.

Friday 17 November 2006

British Museum

British MuseumLast month, K* had a day off school so Jenny and I took him down to the British Museum. He's been studying Egypt so we thought it would be good to show him the Egyptian collection, particularly, the Rosetta Stone.

I'd forgotten how long it's been since I last went there. It was before they did the big renovation which was years and years ago. It's quite a surprise to see the new interior. Very nice. The British Museum is a fantastic place and its reminded me I really should take the kids there a few more times to explore the other collections. K*'s attention span was good for about an hour and not a lot longer. The gift shop and the cafeteria can hold his attention for longer! Oh well. They will have to be short and sweet trips.

 We did get to wander around the hallowed Reading Room. It's quite awesome the number of famous people that have studied there but it does feel like a shadow of what it might once have been like. It has an air of a monument rather than a library.

Abdullah Ibrahim at the Royal Festive Hall

Monday night Jenny and I took my uncle and went and saw the jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim playing at the Royal Festive Hall. He was playing a solo concert as part of the London Jazz Festival.

He's a great musician. No doubt about that. He just plays continuously for the entire set without a break. Sometimes the music sounds more like classical than jazz; it's a fluid fusion that meanders between both and refuses to be boxed to any rigid style. I haven't heard anyone quite like him.  To me, it's a rather cerebral and contemplative style. Something you relax into rather than tapping your toe.

I'm impressed but in all honesty, I could have just stayed at home and played his CD. He didn't talk or interact with the audience. Yes, I go to concerts to hear the music but I also believe the performers should talk and personalise the event. Nothing happened that was much different than just playing a CD. A good CD on a very nice hifi.

Wednesday 8 November 2006

A Sad September

Rest In Peace

It was a sad September. My Aunt who had been suffering with lymphoma for almost ten years passed away. She was a lovely woman whom we'll badly miss.

But I can share a funny story among the sadness. The night before the funeral, Jenny hung her clothes on the closet door handle ready for the morning rush to get out of the house and into London. The clothes were brand new and very specially chosen for this most solemn of occasions.

We woke up to discover the most horrendous crime. The cat had taken it upon himself to bless said clothes with a generous and most accurate blast of pee! The clothes reeked right to heaven. Now, it's rare that Jenny gets angry but she literally hit the roof.  The wrath of a woman whose carefully crafted outfit has been destroyed is not to be underestimated. It's a good thing I chucked the cat outside. If Jenny had caught up with him that morning, there would have been another death in the family.

We have no idea why he did it. Maybe he didn't like the smell of the brand new clothes and thought he could improve on it. Certainly is was the worst possible timing. Unfortunately, Jenny didn't have a very good alternative outfit but had to make do. It's taken a while for Jenny to forgive the cat but he's still banned from our bedroom.

I can hear Yolanda having a good chuckle over it.

Monday 6 November 2006

Weekend In Berlin

So, as I posted earlier, I went to Berlin for the weekend with some mates. We picked Berlin as it sounded like it had a good mix of culture and nightlife. Since I had the time, I got saddled with booking flights and hotels. I picked a reasonably cheap hotel near the center of Berlin called the BB Hotel and booked it through There wasn't much availability as a big consumer electronics tradeshow was in town. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a very gay hotel in a very gay part of Berlin. I have nothing against homosexuality but given a choice, I don't want to be surrounded by guys dressed in leather and big boots. My friends were horrified and I'm never gonna hear the end of it.

Anway, I'm very impressed with Berlin. It's a very liveable city. I mean, I would consider living there. Transport was cheap and efficient. For 19 euro's each we had unlimited subway travel for three days including the trip to and from the airport. There's no one center to Berlin but there's lots of happening area's with their own things going on.

There first afternoon there, it rained so we went to the consumer electronics show. Hey, we're guys and it was a big toy show! The place was absolutely massive but there's only so many flat LCD screen's you can look at. Afterwards, we wandered down Skalitzer Straffe in the Kreuzberg looking for dinner and bars. Not a very good choice really.

The second day, we joined a Third Reich walking tour starting at the Brandenburg Gate. The guide was an American Ph.D. student who was studying the Third Reich. He was excellent. He showed us the plans for Welthauptstadt Germania and where it would have been built and told us lots of other stories. If you have any interest in WWII or the Cold War, Berlin is fascinating. We ended the tour at the site of Hitler's Bunker. There's nothing left and it's only recently that the location of the site has been acknowledged. Nearby is the poignant Holocaust Memorial. I wish we had had time to do some of the other walks.

That evening, we wandered around Potsdamer Platz where no man's land is being rebuilt into a metropolis and then went off to the Hackescher Markt where there's some very lively bars and restaurants.

Checkpoint Charlie Holocaust Memorial

The third day, we checked out of the hotel and had lunch on Unter den Linden - the famous street of old Berlin. We then squeezed in a bit more touring. First stop was the Jewish Museum. The building is shaped like a shattered Star of David and was designed by American architect Daniel Libeskind. It was worth the visit for better understanding Jewish culture and the long sad history of persecutions. Walking North we discovered the Gendarmenmarkt by accident. It's one of the grandest squares in Berlin. Not far away, we made it to Checkpoint Charlie and a museum there that chronicles the many attempts, some successful, some not, at getting across the wall.

It was getting late by then so we went back to the hotel, grabbed our bags and headed to the airport. There's plenty more in Berlin that we didn't see and I'd certainly be happy to go back a few more times. If you go, track down a copy of free guide called "Sandeman's New Berlin" which is a very handy English guide to the city.

Tuesday 24 October 2006

Global Ecological Footprint

Nice succinct graphs of our global ecological foot. Particularly like this one showing countries in proportion to the resources they use:

Countries in proportion to resource usage

Friday 20 October 2006

Notting Hill Carnival 2006

The weekend after I got back from sailing was the August bank holiday weekend. Every year, we're usually away but as I was home this year, I managed to get down to the Notting Hill Carnival. It's one of the largest street parties in the world with about half-a-million people attending that Monday. Honestly, I've never seen so many people in one place before. Check out the official website.

It was relatively easy to get to. My buddy David and I took the train down to Paddington and then the Hammersmith & City tube line right to where the action was. To get home, we simply walked back to Paddingtion. Once in Nottinghill, we just walked around a lot shuffling along with the crowd. It's fabulous for people watching and a gold mine for photography. I found shooting with a small compact camera was rather difficult in this situation. The sun was too bright for the LCD monitor and the eyepiece too small for someone who wears glasses. Generally, you just shoot tons of pictures and hope a few come out. Here's a  superb gallery of carnival photo's.

Despite the huge crowds, we managed to see some of the parade which is good fun. Not particularly slick or anything but good fun. I have no complaints about watching scantily clad girls dancing along the street.  There's tons of ethnic street food and plenty of beer too. We even ran into a break dancing show in the park. The only difficult thing with the Carnival is the lack of toilets. Residents take advantage of it to offer their own for £1 a go.

If I was around each August bank holiday, I'd go every year.

Thursday 19 October 2006

Sailing the Channel Islands

St Peter Port

I went sailing to the Channel Islands for a week last August. Originally, I was booked to go with the Hamble School of Yachting but they didn't have enough participants so they transferred me to the British Offshore Sailing School at no extra cost. This was an excellent deal since BOSS charges more and my impression is that BOSS is a bit more "hard-core".

The odd thing with this kind of holiday is that you never know who you're going to end up sailing with and a yacht is a rather intimate environment. Turned out John Williams was our skipper - nice bloke. There were two university students - Yeet from Turkey and Will, a history student going on law student, from Cambridge. There was also Giovanni, a somewhat eccentric Swiss pensioner who was not the easiest chap to get along with.

We got delayed leaving Hamble Friday morning as we were hemmed in by another learning yacht but we eventually got out past the Needles before the tide turned. Our goal was Alderney but we were head to wind and had to make our bearing Cherbourg. It took us 18 hours to cross the channel arriving at 2am! It taught me that I have no interest in long distance passages. I didn't mind the rain, night sailing or force 5 sailing but it's just not pleasant sailing for that long.

It was an easy sail to Aldernery the next day and the day after, I got to navigate us down to Guernsey. We had good wind with dashes of rain all the way. The area has wicked tides - third in the world for the tidal range. If you get your timing wrong, you can get in big trouble. Even an engine won't help.

After three days of intense sailing, the crew voted to take the fourth day off. John, Yeet and myself hired motor scooters and toured around Guernsey. It's a pretty island and would be a nice place to spend a week for a holiday. Lots of beaches. Plenty of old WWII installations. Quaint. It's how you might imagine England fifty years ago. People still sell flowers and vegetables on the roadside with a just a tin to accept payment. The seafood is excellent. The picture above is St. Peter Port where we were moored. 

The next day we sailed back to Cherbourg where I stocked up on a case of wine and we had a great night out drinking and playing pool. We had quite a bit of time ashore as the plan was to do a night passage across the Channel. Didn't manage to get a lot of rest in the day and we left the harbour around 8pm. Luckily it was a beam reach all the way back. It's a little scarey crossing the channel at night since shipping freighters do come up quickly and can pass you quite close by. They wouldn't even notice if they hit you.

I was too tired after my watch and fell asleep in the cabin. Missed the dawn but it turned out to be a lovely sunny day as we made our way back to Hamble, cleaned up the yacht and went our seperate ways.

It was a good trip and I'd be happy to do one again. I wouldn't cross the channel though. I'd like to try cruising around Brittany. It's great how sailing pulls together a bunch of strangers and makes you work as a team. It could be a nightmare but I think it turns out to be fun more often than not.

Wednesday 18 October 2006


I've upgrade my blogging software to Subtext 1.9 after having some posting troubles. Links aren't working properly but I seem to be up and running again. Got a lot to catch-up on.

Thursday 31 August 2006

Gone To Berlin

Almost caught up but I've run out of time. I'm off to Berlin this weekend with a couple of mates - the guys I usually go skiing with. I've still got to tell you about sailing to the Channel Islands and I also went to the Nottinghill Carnival last Monday.

My flight with easyJet leaves at 6:30am which means I'm leaving the house at 3am! Arrgghh.

Wednesday 30 August 2006

Bristol International Balloon Fiesta 2006

Our last little excursion before Jenny took the kids to Malaysia was a drive to see the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta.

I had first heard about this a few years ago and always thought it would be interesting to see. It's Europe's largest simultaneous launch of hot air balloons. Great photo opportunity. Unfortunately, the winds were too strong on the day so the launch was cancelled. And worse, my camera battery died so this is my only balloon picture! There's some more pictures on the fiesta gallery website.

What I didn't realise was that the fiesta is also a massive funfair. The kids went on a few rides and insisted on getting fake tatoo's. There was also a parachuting display and a stunt motorcycle display in the main field. Definitely a good day of entertaintment.

It was only a two hour trip each way with no major traffic queues. Might try again next year and I'll remember to charge my batteries!

Bekonscot Model Village

With R* busy on her watersports week, I took K* over to see the Bekonscot Model Village one afternoon. He's getting a bit old for this kind of stuff but he still seemed to enjoy it. We took R* years ago when she was small and you tend to forget about taking your second child to all the places you took the first one. It blurs together doesn't it?

Bekonscot is the world's very first model village and it still is a superb place to take a young child. I would recommend it for three to six year olds.

Watersports Week

R* has been doing very well with her swimming this year. At the beginning of August, we sent her to a watersports week at a local lake.

She tried out dinghy sailing, wind surfing and kayaking. She enjoyed the sailing and felt she was good at wind surfing.

Of course, you can see my cunning plan here, can't you? Get the family sailing, one at a time.

West Wittering Beach

A few Saturdays ago, we decided to do a day trip to the beach. What should have been only about a 90 minute drive turned into a 3 hour slog to get to West Wittering Beach. Driving anywhere in the UK during the summer can be a nightmare.

It was great once we got there and settled down. Had our picnic and sploshed about in the tidal pool. We had bought some proper beach spades this time so we set about digging as usual. The weather wasn't great and later in the afternoon we lost the sun completely and left to go find a nearby pub before heading home.

Marvellous In The Park 2006

Marvellous In The Park held at Wellington Country Park last July was as good as usual this year. Our only mistake was leaving too late and getting caught in the massive traffic queues to get in.

Nevertheless, we found a good spot not far from the stage and watched the cover bands of Santana, Fleetwood Mac and Queen. The Queen cover band was very good and had the sound and vocals just perfect.

It ended with a decent fireworks display and we hung about afterwards drinking coffee and hot chocolate waiting for the traffic to clear. Always a good day out.

Thursday 17 August 2006

Summer 2006

Sorry for the lack of posts. We've been doing stuff but I haven't got around to blogging about it. I'll have to do a big catch-up later. Right now Jenny is in Malaysia with the kids and tomorrow I'm off to sail around the Channel Islands for a week. Tell you about it when I get back.

Tuesday 11 July 2006

Sailing Weekend

We went sailing last weekend with some sailing friends of ours. We stayed overnight on the yacht moored in Gosport (Portsmouth), got up early on Saturday and then sailed up to Yarmouth via Newtown on Saturday. Sunny and lots of wind. Excellent sailing! Woke in the middle of the Sunday night to what sounded like a raging storm. In the morning, I briefly considered getting Jenny to take the kids home on a bus but we dropped our mooring lines with all onboard. It sounded worse than it was. The rain cleared up by the time we stopped in Cowes for lunch. The afternoon was brilliant for a gorgeous run back across the Solent home. The picture was taken just on our way into Cowes.

The yacht was an aging Sigma 33. A bit old and tired but it handled very well. First time using a tiller for me. It some ways it's better than a wheel since you always know the rudder position.  Can't say the yacht was very comfortable to sleep on but it was ok for two nights. Cheap and cheerful.

I was happy to be out on the water again trying to remember all the stuff from last year. Jenny still isn't too convinced about sailing but is a good sport about it. Didn't get sick this time! The kids tolerate it well but it does seem a bit boring for them and they often get lulled to sleep waking up when we stop somewhere.

I've got a sailing trip planned for just myself in August to get more experience with the vague hope of doing another flotilla next year. Always looking for fellow crew members!

Wednesday 5 July 2006

Hyde Park Calling: Roger Water plays Dark Side of the Moon

Last Saturday Jenny and I headed down to Hyde Park and caught the Roger Waters concert. It was just too irresistable with the promise that he was going to play the entirety of Dark Side of the Moon.

It was excellent and we managed to stand up close to the stage for a great view.

The day was stonkingly hot so we got there late missing a few bands that played in the afternoon. We did get to see Texas though. She had a difficult time because they were also showing the England vs Portugal game at the same time on a large screen nearby so half the guys in the audience weren't watching her performance and she stopped during the penalty shootout. However she was there to provide some cheer after England crashed out of the World Cup.

Roger Waters opened with "In The Flesh" - great start! - and played many Pink Floyd classics. Surprisingly, he also played Set The Controls To The Heart Of The Sun early in the first set too - you could tell most of the audience weren't fans of old Floyd. That was the only pre-Dark Side song. It was followed by the likes of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Wish You Were Here, Have A Cigar and Sheep. Noticed many pictures of Syd Barrett. Much of the concert was a sing-a-long. Many refrains of "you can't have your pudding if you don't eat your meat" could be heard.

He also did some post-Floyd songs I didn't know. And he played a very recent single of his called Leaving Beruit accompained with comic book style illustrations with lyrics projected onto the stage screens. Very anti-war, anti-Bush & Blair. Roger wears his politics and I like that.

I didn't take my camera for fear of getting it taken away but it turned out that lots of people had cameras and video recorders going all through the concert. I wish I had some pictures for you but you can find some on the 'net.

After a short break, he began the second set introducing Nick Mason - huge cheer. And they proceeded to play all of Dark Side of the Moon. Some of it obviously came from the original recordings - with the addition of a rushing train mixed into On The Run. I didn't catch her name but they had a superb black female singer do the scat singing to The Great Gig In The Sky (originally done by Clare Torry). She was spot on. Absolutely stunning.

Dark Side of the Moon still remains one of my all time favourite albums. I can hear every note in my head so it was immensely satisfying to hear it live. I heard Roger Waters back in 1986 and I've been to a post-split Pink Floyd concert. I still hope to one day to hear a reunited Pink Floyd.

The encore started with The Happiest Days Of Our Lives / Another Brick in the Wall (part 2) followed by Vera / Bring the Boys Back Home and Comfortably Numb for an excellent concert close.

Thursday 29 June 2006

The Independent: Blair laid bare

There's an excellent article in today's Independent by Henry Porter. The intro blurb is:

In the guise of fighting terrorism and maintaining public order, Tony Blair's Government has quietly and systematically taken power from Parliament and the British people. The author charts a nine-year assault on civil liberties that reveals the danger of trading freedom for security - and must have Churchill spinning in his grave.

For example, here's an interesting extract:

"For instance, the law banning people from demonstrating within one kilometre of Parliament is contained in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act of 2005. The right to protest freely has been affected by the Terrorism Act of 2000, which allows police to stop and search people in a designated area - which can be anywhere - and by antisocial behaviour laws, which allow police to issue an order banning someone from a particular activity, waving a banner, for instance. If a person breaks that order, he or she risks a prison sentence of up to five years. Likewise, the Protection from Harassment Act of 1997 - designed to combat stalkers and campaigns of intimidation - is being used to control protest. A woman who sent two e-mails to a pharmaceutical company politely asking a member of the staff not to work with a company that did testing on animals was prosecuted for "repeated conduct" in sending an e-mail twice, which the Act defines as harassment."

And so it goes on. It gets worse. Your right to trial by jury doesn't apply in some cases. You can now be tried twice for the same offence. Hearsay is acceptable evidence for ASBO orders. Ministers now get complete control over goverment inquiries rather than Parliament.

If the Tories campaigned to address this imbalance, they might just get my vote in the next election.

Friday 23 June 2006

Reforestation is not a Carbon Offset

Read an interesting lead article in New Internationalist (July, 2006) which highlighted some of the greenwash that's occuring when tree planting is sold as an effective carbon offset.

The problem is that burning fossil fuels permanently adds CO2 to the carbon cycle while carbon storage in trees is strictly temporary. In the long run, it doesn't help. These scheme's also tend to fund mono-culture mega-plantations and exacerbate local land disputes. Or sometimes, the planted tree's just die in poorly run scheme's. More info at SinksWatch and FERN.

So if you do buy into carbon offsets, check where your funds really are going. For example, 20% of funds given to Climate Care goes to a reforestation project in Uganda.

Thursday 22 June 2006

A Woman And Her Shed

So this has been our latest project - well, Jenny's project. I'm just the forced labour. In our never-ending search for space, she wants to clear out the garage for her stuff by putting the stuff that's there into this new shed. It's about three times the size of our old shed.

If you're interested, it's a 10'x10' "Waltons Groundsman Workshop" from Garden Buildings Direct. Quality-wise, it's so-so but it was pretty cheap. The panels are flimsy. I've warned the children not to play "Three Little Pigs" inside since they might blow it down. We need to cover the floor with plywood to make sure a heavy object doesn't fall and break it.

Jenny can now join that great British institution of "Men and Sheds":

"....a shed is to a man what a handbag is to a woman."

Hmmm. Maybe I should get my own shed? His 'n' her sheds! Out of interest, I checked the building regulations. No planning permission is needed if:

  • outbuildings don't cover more than half the area of the garden

  • it contains no sleeping accommodation

  • the floor area does not exceed 15 square metres

  • no point is less than one metre from a boundary

  • it is not more than 3m high for a flat roof, or 4m with a ridged roof

  • no part projects beyond any wall of the house that faces a road

  • it's used only by those who occupy the house

  • it's at least 2 metres away from the main house if built from wood

Hey! I could build a log cabin at the bottom of the garden!

Tuesday 6 June 2006

Goodwood Breakfast Club

I feel guilty. I worry about climate change but I like fast CO2 spewing cars too. It gives me angst attacks.

A group of us zipped down in our sporty cars last Sunday morning to the Goodwood Motor Circuit to participate in the Goodwood Breakfast Club. The theme this month was supercars. The idea is simple. If you arrive at the circuit and your car belong to the month's theme, you park in the viewing area outside the cafe. If your car doesn't fit the theme, you park with everyone else. Our friend driving a Lotus Espirit got to park in the supercar area. The two of us driving Porsche's had to go with the rest of the punters.

The event is completely free if you don't count the £12 for a full English breakfast. There's a van selling bacon rolls too.

Lots of people show up driving plenty of exotic cars. There was every kind of Ferrari from very old right up to an Enzo. Lots of Lambo's. Even a Pantera. A few Cobra's. A Viper and a Noble. In the picture, you can see a yellow Ultima. One of a few that were there. I've been doing a little research about what it takes to build one of these beauties. There were a few Aston Martins and Porsches but they were mostly excluded. However, there were two (two!) of the latest Porsche Carrera GT's. Gorgeous. There was even the DeLorean from the film "Back To The Future".

Wandering around the regular parking lot can also be fascinating. Plenty of Caterhams, Elises and Porsches. Various kit cars and classic cars too. A Radical was there. So was an Ariel Atom (0-60 in 2.91 seconds). As we left, a thunderous Harley Davidson Motorcycle Club arrived. It's just a great day to watch people arrive and leave.

If I ever start doing a lot of commuting again, I'm quite sure I'll have to give up the Porsche and go for a two car solution: something practical that gets many miles per gallon and something else that's strictly for weekend fun. That will help keep the angst down.

Sunday 4 June 2006

Personal Carbon Quota

So far, a personal carbon quota system is the best idea I've heard for managing carbon dioxide emissions. It's also refered to as Domestic Tradable Quotas (DTQs) or Tradeable Energy Quotas (TEQs) or Personal Carbon Allowance (PCA). Think of it as a personal pollution allowance/quota/ration.

The idea is you get a fixed number of units per year recorded on a plastic card. Units get debited when you buy goods or services. You can argue about the details but assume everything has a money price and a carbon price. The carbon units are a currency in their own right that can be bought, sold, earned and traded. Of course it won't be perfect and there will be a huge black market but it's the best mechanism I've heard of for creating a CO2 bound economy that leaves consumers with the greatest choice.

There are better descriptions of this on the net like Feasta Review, BBC News or TEQs.

I think it would be a more dynamic approach than carbon taxes which are a more blunt way of suppressing polluting activities. A personal quota provides a direct way of encouraging and rewarding green actions. You could even make money selling surplus carbon units. But it also allows you limited indulgence in polluting luxuries without raising the cost of them in "old" money.

Some will argue that such a scheme is too complex to run. Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on the details. I think it's worth pursuing further.

Climate chaos: Bush's climate of fear

Panorama is a superb British news show. The latest broadcast exposed how the Bush administration has systematically suppressed scientific evidence of climate change over the last several years. Worth watching and you can view it online now.

It's just tragic waiting for how much worse it's going to get before real action will take place.

Monday 22 May 2006

Upcoming: Marvellous Festival 2006

Just bought tickets for the Marvellous Festival coming up on Saturday, July 22nd - featuring cover bands of Queen, Fleetwood Mac and Santana. This will be the third year we've gone. Wanna join us?

Thursday 18 May 2006

How To Corner A Porsche 911?

It's a question that's been on my mind ever since I got the 993 a few years ago.

Going straight is, of course, not complicated. The only thing I can tell you is that there's no point revving the engine and dropping the clutch. A factory standard non-turbo engine dies doing that. As for braking, it's worthwhile learning to toe-heel well and keep the car balanced as you slow down.

But the correct way to take a corner is open to more debate. The huge weight of the engine behind the car's centre of gravity makes this a critical question. While this offers tremendous traction in the rear, it leaves the front-end very light.

Beginner track drivers are warned to always brake in a straight line but Vic Elford in the "Porsche High Performance Driving Handbook" explains that you should gradually ease the brake off right up to the apex. This makes sense in order to keep the weight on the front wheels as long as possible. This is called "trail braking".

A friend and I went to the Trackdays event up at Rockingham (very quickly in his 996). It was a nice event but unfortunately it was poorly attended. At a near empty seminar, I was able to pose this question to Mike Wilds who is a very accomplished race car driver and instructor. It turns out he also owns a Porsche 911. Here are some of his comments.

  1. Look up and through the corner. Don't watch your dials.

  2. Toe-heel brake smoothly up to the turn-in point. Position is key.

  3. Make a single turn of the steering wheel ("commitment") avoid steering adjustments

  4. Never turn hand over hand. If you must, slip the wheel through one hand keeping the position of the other.

  5. Don't bother driving fast until you can consistently drive the race line well hitting a perfect tangent at the apex.

  6. "slow in, fast out" - enter the corner slower than you might think and gradually increase power all the way out. If the car is understeering, you're entering the corner too fast.

As for trail braking, he believed it wasn't really needed. This agrees with the "point and shoot" description I've heard for driving a 911. But he did say it was fine to trail brake but the technique was to apply the throttle at the turn-in point while still keeping the brake on up to the apex. Using both at the same time was a new idea for me.

This obviously calls for a trackday to try some of these things out.

Trebuchet at Warwick Castle

Another trip we did over the Easter weekend was to visit Warwick Castle and enjoy their medieval weekend.

They invite numerous different medieval re-enactment groups to camp on the grounds on the castle and demonstrate daily medieval life. The groups were highly authentic and it made for a splendid atmosphere. Warwick was a large gathering but the top re-enactment event of the year, I was told, is the Battle of Bosworth each August.

The two highlights of the day were an re-enactment of a battle and the firing of the trebuchet. The re-enactment was a little hokey but good fun. Particularly impressive was the large number of longbowmen firing at the soldiers. Longbowmen were the backbone of the  English armies and responsible for much of their success.

But what we really wanted to see was the firing of the 18m tall trebuchet. If you've ever played the computer game "Age Of Kings", you'll have a warm spot for trebuchets. They're the killer weapon of the period. At Warwick, we were treated to the launching of a real fireball too. It worked very well.

Wednesday 26 April 2006


During the Easter break, we drove out to Rochester and visited Diggerland. As you might expect, it's a theme park but instead of typical rides, all they use is standard construction machinery. Once you pay your entrance fee you try any of the machinery as long as you're five and above. The controls are a bit confusing at first but it doesn't take long to get the hang of it.

It's brilliant for the kids. Where else can they get the chance to operate heavy machinery? The picture shows Jenny and K* having a go on some of the bigger diggers.  The entrance fee is a bit steep at £12.50 per person as the lines can get quite long so you can spend a lot of time waiting for a go. If you book ahead on the Internet, you can get discounted family ticket. Given the cost, Jenny was determined to have a go on everything!

We also dropped by Bluewater Shopping Centre which is close by. It's one of the largest shoping centres in the UK - it even has a climbing wall and boating lake. Makes for a good day out.

Friday 21 April 2006


Last week both kids were home for Easter break so went to a few places. Our first trip was to the Explore-At-Bristol Science Center. There's no static displays; it's all hands-on. Very, very good and well worth the trip out there. Not as crowded as the London Science Museum. We also saw a 3D movie at the IMAX about sharks but it was so-so. The picture is a thermal image of R*.

It was the first time we had driven into Bristol as we usually just scoot past it on the motorway. First impressions were of a bland stock of post-war buildings but lots of bustle and obvious movement to renovate and modernise.

See Honey...

Movie Roundup

Back to blogging. First up, some of the more interesting movies I've watched in the last few months.

One of the best was Once Were Warriors.(Lee Tamahori, 1994) ..."a family descended from Maori warriors is bedeviled by a violent father and the societal problems of being treated as outcasts." Engrossing film but there's some very nasty violence. Highly recommended.

We just recently watched Crash (David Cronenburg, 1996). It's definitely "out there" as films go. I'd call it fetish porn with a plot. Weird people getting off on combining car crashes, mutilation and sex. Not for everyone but intriguing none-the-less. Don't ask me whether it's a commentary on the human condition.

Another weird film in a totally different way was The Happiness of the Katakuris (Takashi Miike, 2001) - a musical, comedy, horror. Yes, that's right. A musical and a comedy and a horror film all with English subtitles. The Katakuri family open a remote guest house but their guests keep dying so they hide the bodies. It features B-grade over-the-top camp acting and segues into claymation. I almost turned it off but the script is quite good as it explores the pursuit of happiness. Goofy fun.

I was very disappointed with the ending of Meet Joe Black (1998). Hollywood had to draw it out and make it sweet. Abysmal I enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha (Rob Marshall, 2005) but it also had the wrong ending. Very entertaining though.

Sideways (2005) is an excellent "guy" film that still has me smirking at bottles of merlot. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004) was much better than I expected. Kingdom of Heaven (2005) is a good epic. All recommended.

Finally saw Once Upon A Time In America (2003 Director's Cut) and Midnight Express (1978). Classics.

We recently cancelled our subscription to Sky (UK satellite TV). We simply don't watch TV that much and Freeview is good enough. Instead, we've increased our DVD subscription service since we prefer films to the garbage on the telly.

Thursday 6 April 2006

Blog Housekeeping

I haven't been posting lately but I have been working on this blog.
I've consolidated my blog databases and migrated both blogs I write to
a new blogging platform called Subtext. Over the next couple of months, I'll be changing and tweaking the skin (UI).

If you notice any strange displays or behaviour, please let me know

Friday 17 March 2006

Cable Chewing Cat

Our cat likes chewing on cables and it's becoming a bit of a problem. There's alot of cables around our house. So far, he's chewed through:

  • one ethernet backbone disrupting the home network

  • two xbox controllers

  • one Nokia phone charger

  • the left channel of a cheap audio interconnect

  • one very expensive audiophile-grade audio interconnect

That last one was really, really annoying. I've become reaquainted with my soldering iron fixing all this stuff. Now when something doesn't work, the first suspect is the cat.

The surprising thing is that he hasn't chewed through a power cord yet. I hope he does! That will teach him a lesson. Although it would be sad to come home one day to a frizzled smoking cat ("Honey, what's that smell by the stereo?"). Meanwhile, I'm wondering whether there's something I can wipe on all the cables to stop the chewing.

Friday 10 March 2006

Renaissance le Film

Not very often that a film breaks new ground but Renaissance le Film looks set to do that. It's almost pure black & white - minimal gray scale. It's part live action (motion capture) and part animation/modelling using Maya, SyFlex and Air. Genre is sci-fi/action. I caught a brief article on it while flipping through the April issue of 3D World magazine. Terrific graphic style. Check out the trailer (Firefox worked more easily). Read more at imdb.

It comes out March 15th in France and hits the rest of the world later this year.

Can't wait to see it.

Saturday 25 February 2006

Gone to Austria

I'm flying to Austria tomorrow morning to go skiing with a couple of buddies in the Zauchensee. It's my first trip to that country and I'm looking forward to seeing a little bit of Salzburg if time permits. Don't think I'll be doing the "Sound of Music" tour.

We got really cheap flights with Ryanair out of Stanstead. Unfortunately the flight is at 6 am so I've got to leave home by 3 am. Ugh. Worse yet, there's been an accident on the M11 so they closed the motorway. It might be a bit of nightmare getting there even at that time.

Monday 20 February 2006

US on Oppressive Regime List

Ethical Consumer magazine is revising how they assess whether a country's regime is oppressive (issue EC98). This is then used to flag corporations that support these regimes so that you can avoid buying from them. The list criteria is still being revised but Sudan, China and Burma are proposed as the most oppressive regimes. Of course it's pretty hard to avoid buying stuff made in China.

Countries are ranked on occurences of 8 criteria. Turns out the the US scored 4 because of prisoners of conscience, torture, disappearances and the death penalty so it now makes it on the oppressive regime list.

Well deserved.

Wednesday 8 February 2006

Prophet Muhammad Cartoons

Well I think it's just amazing watching this global crisis of the Prophet Muhammad cartoons develop - a fascinating clash of values. Personally, I think both sides are basically wrong. I'm all for defending the freedom of the press but that freedom should be used judiciously. Satire has a place in raising awareness but I don't see this particular instance as having any merit.

Meanwhile, the groups of Islam fundamentalists that are over-reacting are clearly out of line in the way they are protesting about these cartoons. They seem to be using this as an excuse to vent a broader range of frustrations with perceptions of Islam.

Daffodils 2006

Nice to see the daffodils coming up in our back garden. I always find February and March a rather depressing time of the year. After Chinese New Year, the next thing to anticipate is Spring and the daffs are the first sign of it.

Got my tax return done and submitted online one hour before the deadline. I hate paperwork. Starting to think about what to do this year as we have no further holidays or events planned after this month.

Thursday 2 February 2006

Horrible Histories Live on Stage

Last Tuesday, I took the kids to see the Terrible Tudors live on stage at the Wycombe Swan. It's a play (more of a panto really) by the prolific Terry Deary who authored the most excellent Horrible History series of books The man should be given a medal for making history so interesting to children.

The stage show was excellent. We all enjoyed it and can now tell you a lot more about the Tudors. R* is studying the Tudors in school so the timing was great. They start with nasty Richard III and cover Henry VII, Henry VIII and his wives and finish with Elizabeth I. There's a good sing-a-long for remembering the fates of Henry VIII's wives (divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived) and a fun analogy of Catholics vs Protestants being like rival footballs teams.

If you have kids and the show comes to a local theatre, I highly recommend you take them. According to Ticketmaster, it's coming to Wimbledon, Birmingham and Edinburgh. We're going back to see the Vile Victorians this Saturday.

Kung Hei Fat Choi

The kids and I celebrated Chinese New Year last weekend by going down to the celebrations at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Unfortunatley, we got there too late to pick up any tickets for the various performances in the lecture theatre. Still, it was something to mark the occasion. Jenny's been away in Malaysia for two weeks and only got back last night.

One thing that struck me at the V&A was how stale and very traditional the displays of Chinese culture were. There must tons of exciting new art going on in China. I would much rather see new trends and displays by artists that are reinterpreting the old traditions.

Anyway, Happy Year of the Dog!

Monday 23 January 2006

Lottery Therapy

I bought a lottery ticket yesterday.

I rarely buy lottery tickets. Clearly, the odds of winning are ridiculously slim so a lottery, to me, isn't about winning. No, what a lottery does is give you a few delightful days of fantasies about being really, really, wealthy.

You're not going to win so make the best of those fantasies. That's really what you've paid for. The right to a fantasy that just might come true. Once you get past the many hedonistic fantasies, you can start thinking about what you really want and value. And when you don't win, you can start thinking of other ways to get where you'd like to go. I should write a book about it and call it Lottery Therapy.

The EuroMillions draw is for £100 million this Friday. Ridiculous jackpot isn't it? But, hey, great fantasy material!

Thursday 12 January 2006

Iran's Nuclear Stance

I've been watching with some bemusement the debacle over Iran's pursuit of nuclear technology. I'm inclined to side with Iran.

As I see it, for better or worse, the current principle is that nations have the right to develop whatever technologies they want despite whatever risks they entail (nuclear, genetic, nano, etc).  A nation does this within any treaties and restrictions it has signed up to with other nations. The caveat, however, is that weapons development which threatens regional security can attract sanctions and worse.

Iran has the right under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) to develop a nuclear fuel cycle under inspection. Would I trust them not to develop nuclear weapons. Nope! Of course not. But they still have the right to develop nuclear energy technologies.

The West proved very well that you just have to get past the bouncer at the door and once you're inside the nuclear club, everything is OK. India and Pakistan were welcome with open arms after their nuclear tests. You can only join the club by deception. It's a losy way to control technology.

What irks me is the "haves" controlling the "have-not wannabee's". Shouldn't there be a broader consensus on how dangerous technologies get developed and controlled? Genetic-modification is seriously dangerous. Nanotechnology can be too. Human cloning could be nightmarish. Is the club of nations that develop these technologies the ones who get to control them?

Monday 9 January 2006

Skiing Mount Washington

We arrived back home yesterday. Thanks to everyone who hosted and fed us! As usually, it was great visiting everyone but wish we had more time.

The ski trip to Mount Washington went well. Enough snow fell just before we arrived on the Monday to open most of the runs. In fact, a blizzard kept us indoors on Tuesday (although Jenny did brave it for her lesson) and a 24hr power outage kept us in the dark on Wednesday. Altogether, I managed to get in three good days of skiing without too many body aches. The picture is me at the top of Mount Washington on Thursday. It's absolutely beautiful up there. The kids did well. K* was very enthusiastic and managed to ski down a blue run. R* was much more cautious. Unfortunately, Jenny seems to have cracked a rib but isn't quite sure how she did it!