Hurrah

This weekend seemed to go OK. Woke up on Saturday, went for a little bit of a drive along the M25 (always the highlight of anyone’s day) and then got into the cockpit of a helicopter for the first time in 11 and a half months. And since the weather was considerably better than my last attempt, I actually got to fly.

And it must be said, flying in England is very different to flying in Norn Iron. For one thing, the areas of airspace that you’re not allowed to fly through at any time in Norn Iron are military firing ranges that are rarely used, so you’ll not get in too much trouble if your map reading isn’t up to scratch; over here, the nearest bit of such airspace may be a little bit more serious. At home, the nearest major airfield is Belfast City, which may house up to ten flights an hour; here it’s Heathrow which may house ten flights in as many minutes. At home, military aviation consists of helicopters that are now few and far between; here there are occasional fast movers and not so occasional “Royal Flights” trying to park next door. At home, there are maybe five active airfields and a dozen closed ones, over here there are hundreds of both – so getting lost is a bit more likely.

Oh, and because Norn Iron is small and none of it is at all far from the sea, it’s all fairly much of a muchness when it comes to air behaviour. Over here, not so much. I got to experience thermals for the first time – that was fun.

But it’s nice hot be back in the hot seat, and over here I have a lot more to explore. Hurrah!

In other news, we went to watch the marathon, but didn’t actually see any of the people we know who were running it. So that’s not really the blog post with photos that I was planning…

Back to being annoyed

I last flew a helicopter in May last year. The day I did my test, in fact. Once I got the test, I transferred my energies and efforts into a couple of minor projects (applying for jobs, arranging to move to the right hand side of the Irish Sea, upgrading from TLG to TLF, arranging a further upgrade to TLW, etc). Oh, and the place where I was planning to fly suddenly fell apart financially and ceased operating. Thusly I haven’t actually sat in a cockpit and thrown a machine about the sky in over 10 months.

To satisfy this lack of playage, a couple of weeks ago I started ringing around places and seeing what was available in this little backwater part of the world. I found a place that looked interesting, and booked a day out for last Saturday. Which, you may remember, was the one day in the last week that was cursed with bad weather. Meaning that I braved the M25, drove to the wrong side of London, and didn’t even get to fly at the end of it.

Curses. I’d forgotten that bit about flying small aircraft: the climate in this part of the world is a source of considerable annoyance. It’s the type of annoyances that I can live with, though. For two reasons:

  1. Steps are being taken to get back into flying, which is worth the annoyance; and
  2. The airfield looks to be a very interesting place to fly from; just at the start of one of the London Heliroutes that would take me straight to Greenwich if I so chose; it’s also close to some very interesting flying areas and offers the opportunity to fly over Heathrow at 800ft. Aviation geek heaven!

Minor annoyances? Yes. But the upside should make up for it. Oh yes.

And there goes the paypacket

Yesterday, myself and TLF found ourselves in Hastings, of all places. We were visiting several of her family, and such visits tend to take the form of an expedition to the local shops. This was. of course, enough to excite me almost to death; there’s nothing I like more than a trip round the high street with the aim of looking at things rather than buying them1. But the craic was good, and I was enticed to behave with promises of an actual interesting shop at the end of the trip.

And lo, there was just such a shop. In fact, it was a second hand book shop; the sort that is definitely linked up to the L-space web; the kind of shop where the staff have signed up to work there purely because they get to read the books for free; the type of establishment where time means nothing and money loses all relevance.

What, I could get all of that series for a tenner…

No way is that sitting there for 50p…

Hang on, that has been on back order on Amazon for ages

So, my discretionary spending for the month will, it seems, have gone on books.

Hurrah.


1 – Note: may contain traces of sarcasm.

Things I forgot to mention

When doing a review of the recent trip to Berlin, there were a couple of things I neglected to say.

First of all, I heartily recommend the Alex food place in Alexanderplatz. All you can eat for six euro? Bargain.

Secondly, there’s something about the German way of treating people that is sometimes more civilized than that in the UK; train doors can be opened just before the train stops, platforms don’t have barriers stopping you from moving if you want to, there aren’t fences at crossing points and nobody will stop you if you try to do anything stupid. In short, you’re treated like an adult. There isn’t the same safety net that nanny puts everywhere in the UK. It’s reassuring.

In other ways though, nanny is much worse. Recycling taxes being a prime example.

There’s a much more of an aggressive police presence, but they do much less. We were walking about for much of Friday and Saturday night; there were plenty of people out and about, in varying states of drunkenness. And we only saw one group being spoken to by cops. That might be something to do with the way that the cops (and even the rentacops) were walking about with large dogs and body armour all day…

The tramps also impressed. None of your special brew here, no sirree. They were all on quality beers and hardly in the way at all. Not like over here. And the cops weren’t exactly bothering them in return.

But the thing that will stick in my mind most about the trip? This little dude:

One thing about travelling with TLF: she’s been to many places like this before, and she has random things that mean things to her in each place she’s been. In Berlin, it’s the ampelmannchen* traffic signal dude. He’s a symbol of east Berlin, and it’s only really seen in Berlin. And every time it appeared anywhere, there was a small voice saying ampelmannchen!; and it was mighty cute.


* – approximate translation: “little dude on the traffic sign”

Berlin. Done.

There are many people who are out there, writing about their exciting travels around the world. And I’m not one of those folk.

Instead, I do a little bit of travel, think about writing about it, and then decide that I can’t really be arsed. Except for the obligatory posting of a silly picture, obviously.

However, this time round, I hereby resolve to do better. I shall write sensibly about my recent trip to the capital of Germany. Or I’ll try my best to, at least.

TLF and I went out on Friday morning, and back on Sunday night. We stayed in a nice hotel in some part of the town that I couldn’t pronounce. We travelled extensively by U-bahn and walked quite a few miles. We went to the top of the Reichstag and saw the city; we saw the Brandenberg Gate and the haunting Holocaust memorial next to it. We did a couple of museums and …

No, sorry, I can’t do it. I need to get a picture in there. This is just too dull.

One of the museums we went to wasn’t so much a museum as a display before the entrance to the Stasi – der Ausstellung building, where a lot of people were reading their own bits of research into the stasi files. It was all in German, with only a small guide in English. And it was very, very haunting and more than a little bit scary, especially when you think about how many of the things that are in there are effectively the full manifestation of the baby steps being taken by such things as the RIPA and SOCA – that being how such things start.

To get away from such depressing things, I had TLF take me a picture…

We also went into a cold war bunker under Kurfürstendamm, and an excellent centre telling the story of Berlin from its founding until the fall of the Wall. And then we went for a walk to Checkpoint Charlie, which was made that little bit more interesting by the arrival of ALL THE SNOW IN THE WORLD.

What else did we do? We had a very nice walk through the Tiergarten, which was one of my highlights of the trip, for reasons that I can’t really explain. But it was one of things that’d make me go back.

I’m sure that there was plenty of other things, but I’m pretty bored writing. Except to say this: once again, we went somewhere where they managed to deal with feet of snow without any real disruption. This entire country would have stopped with any of the flurries that we saw, but they just got on with it. It’s a little bit embarrassing…

I liked it

Law Abiding Citizen: an excellent film, with just the right sorts of action. Lots of explosions, lots of shock moments, but very little in the way of actual fighting.

Plus, it raises an interesting point about something that really bugs me about the American justice system: plea bargains.

As TLF said on leaving the cinema, they are a damn good idea in large conspiracies. When there is a house of cards, prosecutors need to find the one that they can remove easily to bring the whole edifice down. But the rest of the time, they’re being used as a tool to make for easy trials and good prosecutor records that can then be brought in front of the electorate.

So justice is most emphatically not done, while the politicised lawyers get to appear to be tough on crime. Lose lose, to my mind.

Not quite lose lose enough to justify getting yourself sent to prison, though…

In which I have no shame

I am occasionally accused of being a snob. Evidence produced for this has been put forth:

  • I am critical of JK Rowlings writing style, although I enjoy the books.
  • I cannot help but think that boybands are a tad silly.
  • I think that the X-factor is proof that Satan walks amongst us and that he wears big trousers.
  • Twilight is not a good series of movies, and I say so.
  • The Da Vinci Code is neither a good book or a good film, and again I say so.

However, I take those things to mean that I have some taste, rather than I’m an elitist. After all, I’m clearly a fan of poorly written sci fi, and that isn’t a snobby thing. But my main evidence is this:

I really quite liked 2012.

Yes, it was formulaic. Yes, the plot was absurd. Yes, the physics of flight as demonstrated are not the physics of flight in this world. But it was entertaining, and that’s what I want from a silly movie.

‘course, for an Emmerich film there was really too little in the way of New York being destroyed. Sort it out, Roland…

Also, it is not known if TLF felt that this was a fair swap, but I think that I’ll have to choose something much more ridiculous next time…

The price you pay

The advantage of being single is that you don’t have to compromise; you do pretty much what you want, you do it when you want, you don’t do anything that you don’t want.

This is a wonderful thing; it’s only when you find someone that is worth making compromises for that it becomes second best. And when you have that someone, then compromises happen, and it’s a price worth paying.

It was in this light that I went to see New Moon at the weekend.

For the record, the film itself was pretty shit. The plot was predictable and childish, the visuals were disappointing, thon girl needs to learn that acting sexy doesn’t equate to pretending to be breathless, and the special effects were insultingly bad. The entire movie was made for young girls and people who were once young girls, and they didn’t do the usual thing of making a couple of token nods towards other demographics to make their stay in the room bearable.

But that’s not the point; that’s what I expected and that’s what I signed up for. What I didn’t expect, and what made the trip the worst 2 hours I’ve spent in a cinema, was the audience. oohing and aahing; screaming, clapping every other minute. I honest to God that I wanted to leave, drag TLF out with me, lock the doors and then fill the room with some form of venomous animals.

So the film was bad, but it was made abysmal by the people watching it with me.

Except for TLF, of course, for whom I watched it, and for whom I’d watched it many more times if needbe. But the compromises go both ways, and the poor girl will be watching of my choice soon enough…

I’m glad he left the road map

A couple of years ago, the author behind one of my favourite series of books died. And it was a very sad thing. One of the sad things was that he died before finishing his work – the Wheel of Time had a minimum of one book left, to tie up all the loose ends that he’d created in the previous eleven books.

And he did create a lot of ends to tie up. The cast of main characters is huge, and the different threads of the story are many. It’s the biggest single story I’ve ever tried reading, and makes The Lord of the Rings look like a Janet & Jon story for four year olds.

Last week, his estate’s chosen author released the first of the three volumes that will make up the final book. And I got to read the opening paragraph again:

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gives it birth comes again. In one Age, called the third Age by some, ag Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose around the alabaster spire known as the White Tower. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.

It’s been a couple of years since I last read those words, and many years since I first read them. But they still give me a tingle that I very rarely get from a book. And the rest lived up to the promise.

It was, in short, a very good imitation of Robert Jordan’s writing style, and it seems to have answered more questions than it asked, which is a rare thing in this series. Two more books to read, apparently, before the series is finished; likely another four years.

I can’t wait to read them, and I dread having read them. For it means that there will be no more to look forward to.

Well, I’ll try it the once

I’m not a massive fan of dressing up. Back in uni days, if there was an event where people dressed up as school kids, I went as the teacher. If I had to go to something at someone’s house in costume, I’d pull on a cheap hat and go as Paddy The Terrist. Dressing up just isn’t for me.

However, last weekend TLF and I were invited to a party, with the strict instruction that anyone not making an effort would face severe drinking fines. So I did what I had to do.

DSCN3646

What the picture doesn’t show is that I emitted a constant whine from the air pump, that I was seven plus foot high when standing (and the flat was considerably less than seven plus foot high), that it was mighty difficult to breathe from inside the damn thing, and that I required help to get into or out of it.

But it was, I think, worth it for some of the comedy moments and the reactions. Dunno if I can be arsed doing it again, though.

Also, the hosts made everyone pay the stiff drinking fines anyway. Oh well.

That was much fun

As mentioned, the past weekend was spent in a small town in Belgium, largely because of the film about it. But it was bloody good fun once we got there.

First off, the B&B was most excellent. Nicely situated, nicely appointed and owned by some really nice people. And the best bit was that breakfast turned up every morning in a massive basket without any interruption. If we go back to Bruges, we shall be staying there again. Oh yes.

Secondly, we knew going out that there would be some nice buildings, a fair bit of really nice chocolate, and a fuckload of really nice beer. All of that came to pass, but more so. The chocolate was excellent, the buildings were really quite something and the beer was… epic. I have found the place where I want to live and die, the place where I want to have my wedding and my wedding list. I have found, in fact, the world’s greatest off licence.

There was also a lot of craic. The six of us ate well and drank well, and there was much nonsense talked about many subjects, some of which we even remembered the following day. We haven’t had a weekend like that in quite some time, but we shall get a repeat performance sooner than that. Oh very yes.

That was interesting

Things that I did over the last few days:

  • Saw Wicked. It was fun, although now exactly ground-breaking. Not exactly something that I’d see again, nor would I think about breaking out into any of the songs. Bit of a shame.
  • Had a nice picnic in Greenwich Park, which was good craic. And hid the beer from the cops who drove past us very, very, very slowly. Law abiding citizens, us, officer. As it turns out, I’ve checked the rules and we’re allowed to drink, so why they were eyeballing I don’t know…
  • Went to a wedding show. Which was, not to put to fine a point on it, an illustration of many of the things that are wrong with the country, and with what weddings have become. I’ve no problem with paying money for things that increase the day; it’s when things become must-haves for no reason other than they cost a fuckload of money. No thanks. Also, it was rather dull and boring.
  • Came down with something that has caused my nose to leak like a poorly installed tap, and also has caused a number of coughing fits. Which guarantees you a lot of space on buses these days – a major plus point, methinks.
  • Watched In Bruges, in preparation for an upcoming trip to said city. And I’m now looking forward to that trip a little bit more. Beer, chocolate, biscuits. And coked up dwarfs. What more does a small town in Belgium need, eh?
  • Thought of a name that might be slightly better than TLF. How does MBB grab you?

So how about the rest of you? What have you been up to?

Big city advantages

In one of the first days after arriving here, I went exploring, and discovered a little pub that had a massive beer list. And this weekend I went and explored it properly. By which I mean that I got rather inebriated in it to celebrate TLF‘s birthday. And it was excellent. Beer that tastes of smoky bacon, scarily intelligent men doing practically sacrilegious impressions of deaf folk, really tasty food and good craic.

And this pub is ten minutes from the flat. Fantabulous1.

On top of that, I’ve had an idea. On occasion, I head into the big city centre to meet TLF after work. And I’ve looked at the options – I can spend a little time and a couple of changes and get to the centre by train. I could spend a bit more time and fewer changes and get a bus. Or, I could get a small carryout, and cruise up the Thames on one of the little clippers. Better than trying to take the Joyce Two up the Lagan, methinks.

On the unfortunate side of the scales, though, while walking along the south bank on Saturday, we must have passed fully two hundred Morris dancers. A slightly disconcerting image, you know. The bells are just weird

1 – That said, the head was scarily bad yesterday morning. Seems I’m getting a bit old…

The time, it has a-flown

You know, it’s more than ten days since that wedding I went to… And I didn’t post anything about it. Shocking, really.

First off: up north is really, really far away. There’s something about a drive the length of the country (along something that the BBC has taken to calling recession road) that really takes it out of you, even if you are in such a fine vehicle as Abby and you have such fine company as TLF and friends in tow.

Secondly, having someone in the position of TLF in your life means that weddings stop being just another pissup, and start being another pissup with opportunities for note taking. So instead of just throwing copious amounts of free wine down the throat, you throw a bit of free wine down your throat and then make a note that there shall be more free red at your own wedding. You note how the various bits go, how the cars suit, how people behave, how you can’t get away with banishing the noisy kids to the garden, how people seem to be more happy than is the norm, and all that. You notice just how good TLF looks in a bridesmaid dress, and idly wonder how much she can better it for her own big day.

Thirdly: you thank your lucky stars that someone else is involved that’s a logistical and organisational genius. There’s many things to keep track of, and too may of them I didn’t realise even existed.

And fourthly: you look at the pictures, realise that you look like a bit of a gormless fool, and resolve that none of them will ever see the light of day. Ever.
cropped

Oops…

Boo. Wrong platform, again.

Back in the early days of me playing computer games, I wanted a Commodore. I never got one; I got a nice Atari instead, but there’s still a hankering deep in my soul for the old C64 games.

And now some bastid has gone and released an emulator for the bloody iPayTooMuchForAverageProduct. Or iPhone, if you prefer…

Now, if someone much smarter than I could get off their arse and code one for the android system, I’ll be more happy. And then I shall lose what life I have as I play classics1 on the mobile. Hurrah.


1 – I’m hoping for Paperboy, myself… TLF wants to resurrect Blockbusters, but only because she remembers a cheat that allowed it to make it look like Bob Holness was having a bad case of the DTs…

Now it begins

The competition in the e-reader field seems to be picking up. In the States, at least.

Sony’s new Daily Edition is aiming to take on Amazon’s Kindle with its 3G connectivity and touch screen, but it will have to provide an acceptable face for DRM, with library lending and open standards.

The Daily Edition will be available in the US come December, and includes 3G GSM connectivity that will allow users to download books and magazine subscriptions over the air, removing the unique selling point of Amazon’s Kindle while also boasting about open standards and interoperability.

Now, if they can get that over here and established before Apple comes out with it’s purported all-beating tablet, then I’ll be in very interested. For the reasons I’ve mentioned before: I quite like reading, and I really like reading on the move. Papers leave smudges all over the place, and books are too big to bring more than about half a dozen with you at any one time. And that is just unfortunate – how is a man supposed to get away with that puny amount of reading material?

So a device that doubles as a massive portable library and an automatically updating newspaper is to be welcomed. If only they bring it over here before the bloody Apple lot get in on their game with their inevitably well marketed but somewhat silly product…

In case you didn’t notice, I have yet to find an Apple product that I’d be happy to own. Because I don’t like Apple. At all.

A roundup

There is something about modern festivals that just, to me, doesn’t ring true.

In my time, I’ve done a fair bit of camping. Quite a few ten day efforts with the Scouts, and a couple of long walks with overnight stays in a random tent in a field in the middle. You pitch the tent yourself, you check the layout. You wash in a basin and you shit in a bucket that gets emptied daily and the contents buried into a hole that is dug by one of the group. You do something physical during the day, you gather wood and make fires for cooking. You camp.

what’s called camping at festivals isn’t anything like that. Yes, there’re tents involved but that’s about it. There’s no sense of actually preparing; there’s no sense of acceptance that you’re in a field and that you need to make allowances for that. You sleep in a tent, yes, but most people insist on bringing an air matress. Instead of washing in a basin you join a queue for a shower, into which the men take three bottles and a loofah to make yourself shine. God alone knows what the women brought in, because there’s strict gender separation so that nobody gets at all uncomfortable. there are special places for using hair straighteners. There are extensive facilities for charging mobiles and places to get a manicure.

It’s all very depressing. I like the idea of a festival, because it’s something different from normal every day life and you get some music in the middle of it. Unfortunately, most people want to bring the mundane parts of life with them. Somewhat lacking in adventure.

Some of the music was good, though. Pendulum were, as I’d expected, fantastic. Nothing beats dancing like a loon to some of the random drum and the bass. Others that were better than expected were McFly (they knows their place, and don’t take themselves seriously), the Noisettes (whose frontgirl is too big for them, IMO), and the Streets. The Human League are as polished as you’d expect after a lifetime of performing, the Lightning Seeds much less so. My weekend was vastly improved because Oasis didn’t turn up. All the people who didn’t belong there (Katy Perry, Lady Gaga) were as dull as you’d expect.

Other problems? The security was shit. Yes, they all had their security registration and proudly wore their government approved badges, but they didn’t actually seem to be any good. Let that be a lesson to people utterly dependent on state registration – being approved just means that you can do a paper exercise, not that you can actually do your job. They couldn’t take control of a blind puppy, and they didn’t even have the authority of Gordon Brown at the dispatch box. It was laughable. or it would have been if they hadn’t been so incapable of stopping people getting crushed. Standing at the front and asking people politely to behave, because y’know, people might get hurt is not crowd control. Hiring a bastard with a microphone and a bad attitude would do it better.

So, in summary. Some good music, and the company I was actually in was excellent. The rest of the people there fitted into the “10% are total cocks” rule, and the organisers were too pandering to silly whims and not sensible enough with security and organisation.

V 2009 – minor fail. I suspect that somewhere new may need to be found for next year.

Cool

For the record, when it comes to shooting handguns, I’m rubbish. However, it’s still fun to do.

Likewise, first person shooter PC games – I’m not very good at them, but they can be a lorra lorra fun.

Put the two together, and what do you get?

This.

Waterloo Labs – a group of engineers and “other nerds” from Texas – recently projected a Flash version of Half-Life onto some drywall and, well, destroyed the game’s aliens using a Ruger Mark III silenced pistol.

The assorted nerds stuck accelerometers onto the drywall’s rear side, connected them into a PC and then used LabView software to triangulate the location of each shot fired at the drywall.

LabView turned the location of each shot into a mouse click, the team explained, which the connected PC then translated into a mouse click in Half-Life – making the game think that the main character had just fired off a round at the assorted aliens ahead of him.

Genius. I’ll take one, thanks…

Who saw that coming?

I’ve said many times before that I’m a fan of the beautiful red cars. I’ve also said before that I’m not particularly a fan of Schumacher.

But I have the utmost respect for his talents and his record, so him claiming the vacant seat for a few races can only be a good thing.

Not that I think that he’ll single-handedly turn the performance of the team around. Nor do I think that he’ll adapt too well to the new set-up in the very short term. But I do think that he’ll do wonders on the development side; that’s always been his big contribution to the team, and I can imagine that he’ll know just who he has to kick up the arse if he’s presented with a sup-par car.

Also, I think that it’ll be interesting to see what the fella can do with KERS. If anyone could make a go of it, etc etc.

Bother

I have a wonderful gift; I can get sunburnt in just about any light unless I’m really very careful.

I tend to be careful when in hot climates; it’s only sensible. So I’ve been in Egypt in high summer and not gotten burnt. I’ve been in Morocco and only gotten a mild bit of colour. Ditto Madeira. When it’s more local, though, I tend to be less sensible, out of not noticing that the sun is bright enough. I’ve been painfully (and, according to TLG, hilariously) burnt in Jersey. Back in the day, I was really painfully burnt in Donegall. I’ve recently gotten a bit burnt after waling round Belfast for an hour. And only yesterday, I added Monaghan to the list of places where I’ve gotten a little bit of skin damage.

At the same time, I broke out some mementos from a little trip to Croke in 1989; a few Antrim keepsakes from the last time they were in any sort of a final. Yes, then it was hurling, and yesterday it was football, but that’s not the point.

They were good, for a team that hasn’t been in a final for decades. And considering that they were playing the All-Ireland champions. And they could walk out with their heads held high, because they drew in the second half. Got massacred in the first, but that’s not the point, is it…