Toilet humour

Whilst not wishing to lower the tone of this blog, some things cannot pass without comment.

Whilst sitting on the throne in the office toilet (rest room for our American cousins) you can expect to hear a variety of noises, most of which, whilst impolite in common society, are forgiven in this environment due to the nature of the task at hand.

One thing you never expect to hear is the noise I heard this morning. What was it I hear you ask? What could be so terrible? Well, I never thought I would be accompanied from the next cubicle along by…

… the tapping of a laptop keyboard.

Now this could be taken two ways. It could be viewed as an innovative use of dead-time to gain maximum productivity, much in the spirit of the story from Microserfs in which a Bug, a Microsoft employee, believes BillG lavishes stock on those employees seen taking a shortcut across the neatly manicured grass outside his office. Conversely it could be seen as a lament on the way that we are driven so hard in the workplace that even the last refuge of peace, and time to think for yourself, has gone.

Alternatively, and much more to my liking, we could use it as a source for humour. Was he investigating a core dump? Inspecting a particularly large log? Readers, its over to you…

Richard Hammond and the Internet as a force for good

If you live in the UK you’ll most likely know about the BBC TV motoring entertainment programme Top Gear. If you are outside the UK then there’s still a fair chance that you’ve heard about it.

When news that Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond had been involved in a serious crash whilst filming for the forthcoming series broke yesterday, my first instinct was to log onto Pistonheads, a motoring web site with a very active and entertaining set of forums which I spend far too much time reading. Given the affinity between PH’ers and the subject matter at hand, a large amount of messages were being posted about what had happened. As news filtered through that Richard had been taken to Leeds General Infirmary by air ambulance, in a critical condition after the jet powered vehicle he was piloting crashed at around 280mph, people’s attention turned to wishing and praying for his recovery. Eventually people started coming up with ideas about how the members of Pistonheads could show their feelings. People in Leeds offered to buy flowers and deliver them, but then somebody mentioned the fact that they’d not be allowed in intensive care. A few more ideas were ventured, and then somebody suggested that we pull together and donate some money to the people who hopefully have saved his life.

Thus, quite quickly, the charity donation web site JustGiving was utilised to set up a page for PH’ers to donate to the Yorkshire Air Ambulance Service Charity. Initially the target was set at £340, the average cost of each sortie the helicopter makes (and it makes around 1000 per year.) That was soon passed, and as links were spread through the large network of motoring websites and forums in the UK and beyond, the amount began to spiral. A few people contacted friends in the media, and Sky News and the BBC picked up on it. The target figure was changed again and again as the amount being donated kept on rising. As I write, the amount donated stands at £20,133.00. When you add on the Gift Aid money which will be reclaimed from the government, the total leaps to over £25,000 – enough in itself to keep the air ambulance going for a week.

So, visit http://www.justgiving.com/PHRichardHammond, if not to donate, then just to witness the generosity of the web towards a deserving cause which helped out a popular UK TV presenter in his time of need and who might just be there for you or me one day.

Of course, the Yorkshire Air Ambulance is just one of many such services throughout the UK. None of which receive a penny of government money for the vital service they provide and rely entirely on sponsorship and charitable donations. My county of Hampshire does not currently have one, but plans are afoot for creating one. I’ll certainly be watching this with interest and doing what little I can to help.
Good luck for a hopefully full recovery Richard, and my thoughts go out to his young family.

Caffeine Withdrawal

I’m three days into an attempt to cut out my consumption of caffeine. I’d typically drink 3-4 medium black coffees a day, and maybe a couple of Cokes. Since Coke Zero has come onto the market I’ve been drinking a bit more of that than I previously would, but of course caffeine is the one thing there is in it!

The reason for cutting it out is mainly because I don’t like the way it makes me feel, that wired feeling you get when you’ve had too much, particularly when I’m trying to get off to sleep. Secondly, I have a family history of high blood pressure and about a 18 months ago I wore a 24 hour blood pressure monitor which showed that mine is higher than it should be for my age.

So, having noticed that my consumption has gone up recently, I decided to go cold turkey and cut it out altogether. As a result I’m currently 48 hours into a fairly intense headache, and concentration in the afternoons at work is difficult. I never really suffer headaches normally so this was a bit disconcerting, but reading up on it, the headache is the most common symptom of caffeine withdrawal and is caused by the drop in blood pressure causing the body to pump more blood to the head.

Hopefully in a few more days things should return to normal. In the meantime I’ll have to get used to grabbing a glass of water when the regular coffee runs happen at work.

The search engine feedback loop

Andy has written an entry I’ve been meaning to write for a while now about the information WordPress supplies on web searches through which people have visited his blog.

I find these searches a source of constant interest and check them daily. It’s always interesting to see what brings people to this blog. Naturally, entries I’ve written about currently “hot” topics provide the most search hits. For instance my most popular post so far is about the BT HomeHub and I get a number of search hits daily on this, mostly to do with how to configure it.

As Andy points out in relation to the hits he gets on WebSphere Message Broker, it is interesting to see what the searches are in relation to, and it gives a hint as to what experiences people have with products. As the recent release of data regarding Google searches made through AOL shows, the search engines are in possession of an huge source of information which can be pieced together to produce some amazing insight into people’s lives. Of course this is disturbing, but maybe with the right safeguards the search engines could sell their data on specific keywords within searches to the companies that would be keen to receive feedback on their products and services. The feedback that search engine data can yield on the experience people have with a particular product could be extremely useful in making that product better in the future, and would provide much more honest and representative data than the usual efforts of user experience testing.

Of course, as a company that doesn’t tend to miss many tricks, I’m sure Google have thought of this one already.

BHaPPY

Good to see that Ig and Matt from BSaD have started up their new blog: BHaPPY. Already there are some great entries loosely based around Watford FC and football in general. I’m loving Ig’s ramblings on daytime TV, especially as I’m currently working at home and eagerly awaiting the start of Car Booty at 11:30. Good work chaps.

House building blog

For about a year now I’ve been reading a fascinating blog about a house building project in the West Highlands of Scotland. Steve Carter, a member of PistonHeads and a successful musician/composer (as well as a very talented photographer and Aston Martin owner to boot) has charted the building of his fantastic log home with honesty and wit and it makes fascinating reading. Doing something similar is one of my life ambitions which for the moment is not exactly sated by watching Grand Designs and Property Ladder on TV. Funnily enough, Steve turned down Grand Designs’ desire to record his build.

Anyway, after 1,113 days the house is finished and moved into. Congratulation Steve and thanks for the laughs along the way. I hope the rehab goes well!

French day trip #1

Friday lunchtime and Lana calls. “Let’s go to France for the day tomorrow”…

As random things to do go, this one is up there, but it turned out to be a great but long day. Some quick Friday afternoon web surfing secured a ferry crossing from Dover to Calais for a very reasonable £45 with Seafrance, leaving Dover at 8:15am and returning from Calais at midnight. The plan was to take the Mini across and then find some nice places to go and visit for the day, as well as picking up the usual cheap booze on the way home 🙂

Mini One Seven front

Up at 4am for the 150 mile trip from Southampton to Dover (the sailing times from Portsmouth to Cherbourg and the short notice ruled out a day trip from nearer home) which was dispatched in just over 2 hours. After a quick stop at the AA shop to pick up a piece of documentation required for taking my company car abroad, we checked in and joined the queue waiting for the ferry. As this was the last weekend of the school summer holidays things were quite quiet and we were one of the first cars on, which meant we had no problem securing a table in the restaurant for a well needed breakfast. The sailing itself was calm and quick, and we were soon driving off at the other side.

The plan saw us head down the A16 motorway for about 60km to the seaside town of Le Touquet. According to Wikipedia, the town was built by the owner of Le Figaro in the 1890’s. It has a reputation for being the weekend/summer getaway for rich Parisiens and was also popular as a weekend break location for the likes of Noel Coward. We parked up on the seafront and took a quick walk along the huge and immaculate beach. The weather was overcast and windy but essentially dry, providing perfect conditions for an impressive number of kiteboarders. The town itself consists of two distinctive parts. The part directly behind the beach is dense and full of little bistros, wine bars, shops and the odd casino. We found a lovely little wine shop in which I bought a bottle of 1996 Jacquesson Avize Grand Cru with the intention of laying it down for a few years until some special occasion demands drinking it! Further back from the seafront, the town develops into a forrested area of impressive houses displaying a range of distinctive architectures.

Nice house 2

After a few hours exploring Le Touquet, we started a drive back up the coast to Boulogne to visit the fortified centre of the old town, bordered by walls from Roman times. Again we wondered around looking in the shops and viewing from afar a couple of weddings disgorging out from the cathedral. On our way out of Boulogne we passed the British cemetery at Etaples, and made a stop at the one at Terlincthun further along. Unfortunately the stop was short lived as we noted the amount of broken glass near the entrance and then read a stark warning in the visitors book that a number of British cars have been broken into whilst people pay their respects to the dead of the two wars.

Terlincthun cemetery 3

Moving back up the coast towards Calais we moved out of tourist mode and into shopping mode as we visited Cite Europe, a huge shopping complex along the lines of Lakeside and Bluewater in England. Our visit revolved around a trip to the Carrefour hypermarket to load up on wine and beer. By this point we were starting to flag, but had another four hours before our ferry back. We decided to head back to the port and enquire if we could change to an earlier ferry. Unfortunately this time the fact that it was the last weekend of the school holidays counted against us as every ferry was full. Therefore we made a trip into the centre of Calais to find a bar to sit and read the paper in. Needless to say as a dock town, Calais is fairly nondescript and after an hour or so we headed back to the port to get our place in line and catch up on some sleep.

The ferry trip back was reportedly quite stormy. However, we slept right through to Dover. Lana drove back all the way to Southampton and we rolled into bed just before 4am, when my alarm clock set for the previous morning went off marking the end of a long but very enjoyable 24 hours.

Some more photos are on flickr.

French day trip #2 comes up in a few weeks when I’ll be off with the rest of the WebSphere ESB team on a trip to Paris. This time going by Eurostar.

Nokia N80 Internet Edition

Nokia have announced an updated version of the N80, due out later this year. The N80 Internet Edition appears to be the same phone but with updated software features including a couple of extra apps, a wi-fi setup wizard and SIP support for Voice over IP. A number of sites are claiming that it will support Skype, but this appears to be lazy journalism by equating VOIP with Skype, which as we all know doesn’t use SIP. Confusingly there are SIP settings menus on the existing N80, but no software to take advantage of them as yet…

It will be interesting to see if the features really are just software related, or if any of the hardware gets updated. Also, if it uses a newer version of the Series 60 v3 OS. Of course, as an N80 owner I’m hoping that it is just software and that I’ll be able to upgrade my phone.

Talking of which I previously promised to blog my review of the N80, which I was hoping to do after the release of the new v4 firmware. This promised to fix a number of problems, not least the fact that web browsing caused the phone to run out of memory after a couple of pages. Unfortunately, the folks at my local Nokia Service Centre got something wrong during the upgrade and the phone is back at Nokia 🙁 Maybe if they take their time they will send me back an N80IE…