Saturday, September 29, 2007


The lackeys at RogueAmoeba have just released a brand new application, Radioshift, which is best described as a "TiVo for radio". Excellent concept, it is well executed at the version 1.0 level. Mac users need never worry about the BBC's vague promises for a Mac version of iPlayer. This delivers a useful alternative! Perhaps the only difference is that you need to know what you don't want to miss before it actually airs and you need to be connected to the internet at the time of the program so that Radioshift can record the program. As a PowerBook owner that will be a serious limitation. Maybe that Mac Mini makes sense after all!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Virgin vs Arriva

Considering the major advances that Virgin Cross Country has made on the very difficult to operate long journeys in their franchise, I am surprised that they lost the franchise back in July to Arriva. I don't know much about Arriva so perhaps the jury should stay out for the time being. But I will miss the red Voyagers, the staff and the refreshing Richard Branson style attitudes.
Plymouth-Glasgow at Tiverton Parkway
Can't help but wonder if those bureaucrats at the DfT were just plain envious of Branson.

BHX - an airport that works!

The subject of airports these days tends to raise the temperature of a conversation. Particularly if it is about Heathrow or the various security restrictions that travelers have to contend with these days (not all of them make sense as they qualify for the concept of "closing the stable door after the horse has bolted").

So, even though we now live 156 miles from Heathrow, it was with some pleasure that I also calculated the distance to Birmingham International (BHX) and found that it is 8 miles closer.

Regional airports in Europe offer reasonably good connections, particularly if you need to get to a Continental hub like Paris or Amsterdam. The key is the airport should have around 6 flights a day on the timetable. Any less and a missed connection means time lost waiting for the next scheduled flight.

Regional airports like Birmingham also benefit from not having planes landing and taking off every two minutes. Bad weather operations simply don't allow this frequency with the resulting delays (remember Heathrow last Christmas?) Only having one runway can be a problem though, particularly when a plane with undercarriage problems is diverted to that runway from somewhere else. This happened last year at Birmingham, probably because the aiport has superior safety equipment.

The horrendous lines at security I have become accustomed to at Heathrow don't exist at BHX. People are friendlier and more helpful as well, perhaps because they are less stressed.

But the real plus at BHX is not the airport itself as much as its location. Few airports I know have such a good integrated public transport system. The dedicated rail station is a short "Airtrain" shuttle from the terminal buildings and the station offers clean, efficient services that are more European in flavor than British! It also serves the NEC which may explain why it is so much better. A frequent service to Birmingham New Street means that you can connect to almost anywhere in the UK, from Penzance to Aberdeen, Holyhead to Norwich. And New Street is not as bad as some people make out!

For drivers, the access from the M42 is so simple it defies description. Just bear left a couple of times! On-site parking is provided by NCP and if you book on the internet the savings can be as much as 60%. The best bit about the car parks is that it usually takes me 15 minutes from airplane to car, including waiting for baggage. Compare that to 60 minutes at Heathrow!

Container Hotels

The hotel situation in Luanda, Angola is hopeless. Most hotels are fully (block) booked by companies and it can be impossible to obtain a room, even with some forward planning. On this last trip we were booked into a strange answer to the lodging crisis, a motel made up of converted shipping containers.
Luanda container motel
I stayed in a deluxe model with half a container welded on the side, in an "L" shape, to provide a decent shower room. Here is colleague Augie (short for Aghostino) the morning after and still smiling!
Container Motel, Luanda, Angola
The interior wasn't all that bad, though the mattress was very lumpy and, with no windows (only a false one) to open the room did seem a little claustrophobic.
Container bedroom
How much? $150 a night!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Birmingham Artsfest 2007

Pick of the crop as a slide show. A bit late but that can't be helped!

Friday, September 21, 2007


Lots of photos, little time to upload them so reports on Birmingham Artfest, Luanda "hotels" and some in the air shots are all on hold. Patience is requested!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Birmingham Artsfest 2007

I was lucky to spend much of Sunday afternoon in the company with son and Created-in-Birmingham blogger Pete for the last day of the 2007 Artsfest. What a remarkable festival this proved to be. First and foremost the events are largely outdoors and free. The weather cooperated and the crowds were out. We visited a number of events (one concurrent with Artsfest but not part of it).

Our cameras were used to the full. The finale, a carnival procession, allowed lots of experimentation and there were quite a few rejects!

I came away with a glowing feeling about my home town - Birmingham seems to be doing extremely well at integrating the many ethnic communities that make up its 21st Century population. The separate groups making up the carnival procession were each composed of numerous representatives of color, religion and the like, all appearing as a harmonious whole. I know there are elements in Birmingham society that are not welcome - Muslim extremist bomb makers and BNP neo-Nazis to name but two, and some of the drug war battles leave a lot to be desired in areas like Handsworth and Aston (both areas where my ancestors lived). But this display of downright fun being shared in a non-competitive way was very heart-warming.

So it was with some disappointment that I wearily made my way back to New Street Station for the short journey to the airport. I took one of the Pendolino trains and in the five minutes journey time struck up a conversation with a Rwandan artist who lives in London but desperately wants to move to Birmingham. “I really love this city” he exclaimed. I think I can understand why.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The ultimate fly killer

You can try to deter flies with herbs or you can employ spiders:
Spider and House Fly

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A plague of house flies

How do you deter house flies from entering your home? Well, a few ideas gleaned from various sources include:

1. Fresh herbs - in particular eua-de-cologne mint, penny royal, rosemary, rue, thyme and tansy. Place them in vases around the house.

2. Mint is a good fly repellant - sachets of crushed mint placed around the home may discourage flies.

3. A small cheesecloth bag containing bay leaves, cloves and eucalyptus can be hung by open windows and doors.

4. Eucalyptus oil impregnated in a damp cloth.

5. Plastic bags filled with water are supposed to be an effective deterrent.

6. Bright yellow objects keep flies away.

7. Water. For example, hose water around the outside of the house every day (a very French solution, perhaps?)

Or you can buy poison sprays and vapor sticks but these don't seem to work anyway!

So, herbs it is - we are going to have one helluva herb garden!

VTP 200

Like other brummies, I'm speechless!

tip of the hat

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Going Deaf for a Fortnight

This is just to spread the word for what would appear to be an incredibly adventurous but suicidal attempt on one's sanity! A special blog has been set up for participants to record their experiences in going to 14 gigs in as many nights, starting October 6.

tip of the hat

"Despite its destructive qualities, the bomb is environmentally friendly"

Say what?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Will wrote them, period!

This report is yet another London-centric piece of diatribe that suggests William Shakespeare couldn't have writ all those plays on his own. To which I say, in the vernacular of a Warwickshire Shithouse Frequenter, "Bullshit!"

(Too understand the reference to Warwickshire Shithouse you have to have seen "Shakespeare in Love").



In our garden.

Is Apple the new Microsoft?

No! Apple could never be that evil!

For another view in a parallel world, read this.

The New iPods

Well, in my recent post on the subject, I mentioned that 80 GB might not be enough. And now there is a 160 GB hard drive in the iPod Classic. Quite amazing to have so much storage in such a small package.

The new iPod Touch forms an interesting hybrid between an iPod sensu stricto and the iPhone. If Apple were to make a really simple to use cell phone, that would be a good combination.

The price reduction on the iPhone has sent shock waves through the user community as well as the stock market analysts. The latter will probably think this through and realize that unit sales can only increase to cover the cut in profit per unit. People who buy new technology should always be prepared for sticker shock. And Apple's retrospective offers to owners seem to be very reasonable.

Questions and Answers (Napoli)

The Napoli and the Beach
The container ship Napoli is still stuck off the World Heritage Jurassic Coast. At least half of it is. The front piece was finally severed and towed off several weeks ago. The rear end may be gone in a couple of weeks time. But much will remain as these questions and answers will show:

Q. Why was the Napoli beached on a World Heritage coastline?

A. The ship was reported to be breaking up. The crew had already abandoned ship and the listing ship was being towed 140 miles toward Portland harbor. This was not the only safe place along the English South Coast capable of receiving it, there were several much closer, including Falmouth. Those on board decided the ship was breaking up and requested permission to beach the ship short of its destination. So it was run aground off Littlecombe Bay.

Q. Why Littlecombe Bay?

A. Officially, because there is a sandbank offshore that would not damage the ship any further. But it has become apparent that the other reason was that no-one lives near Littlecombe (apart from a few cliff cabins) such that any future furore concerning spills, etc. would be minimal.

Q. Was the Napoli in danger of breaking up?

A. At the time the experts thought so. But since then we have come to learn much about these experts and their best advice. The fact that it took three controlled explosions and a lot of serious tugging to separate the ship into its two parts suggests that the ship had a lot more integrity than first thought. OK, hindsight is 20-20 vision. All the same, the damage done since the beaching would suggest that the better solution was always to keep going to Portland.

Q. How sacred are World Heritage Sights?

A. Not very.

Q. What load was the Napoli carrying that was so important?

A. This may come as a surprise - nickel ingots. It is not mentioned on the wikipedia site and has not, to my knowledge ever been reported by the press. Pure nickel is a very expensive metal with a value of around $50,000 per metric ton. It would be near impossible to recover the nickel if the ship had sunk, so beaching was an economical choice.

Q. What about long term effects?

A. The public are being told that once the ship is finally gone from the area there will be no long term effects remaining on this very sensitive coastline. Yet every time there is a storm, hypodermic syringes wash up on the beaches downwind of the wreck, no doubt from a container containing medical supplies. The beaches may have been cleaned up but the possibility of containers having been washed over board and remaining on the ocean floor has not been discussed.

Q. What has been the media's role in this fiasco?

A. The media have collaborated with the Government in covering up many of the issues. They refer to the deliberate beaching of the Napoli as an "accident". Investigative reporting seems to be something no-one wants to undertake any more. No mention of the nickel cargo, hardly a mention of ongoing pollution.

Q. You say "fiasco". Give one example that sums up what has happened.

A. That's easy! During the three attempts at blowing the ship apart the salvage company had an oil containment boom on board, in case it might be needed. It was not deployed. Fuel oil sludge (present in the bilges of every oil-burning ship afloat) leaked out and was carried ashore onto Littlecombe Bay. Need more be said?

Indian Summer

Back in England for the best few days of summer! Yes, it finally arrived, much to everyone's amazement (I believe the Met Office had declared September another disappointing month weatherwise, but that is par for the course).

Three days in a row down on the beach will probably have to suffice for a few weeks. A good time to relax and recharge.