Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year, Everybody

It is new year's eve, and time for my annual recap post. For people who have not been here in previous years, I am very deliberately going to answer the same questions I answered a last year, a two years ago, and a three years ago, even though some of them are perhaps not quite the same questions I would ask of myself now, and some are questions to which I don't really have answers. New questions will be added answered wherever they feel appropriate. I have had a year of ups and downs, I think I have to confess.

Countries I visited in 2005
United Kingdom, France (three times), Hong Kong, China, Australia, Germany, United States of America (twice), Italy, Denmark, Portugal, Belgium, Luxembourg. (* Methodological note on this question at the end)

Countries I visited in 2005 that I had not visited before

Greatest product I discovered while travelling to one of these countries
What is there to discover in Luxembourg? Banking? Pretty scenery? Portuguese beer for twice what I paid for it in Portugal the weekend before? I did buy a nice bottle of Alsatian Pinot Noir in Luxembourg, and I do rather like the light Pinots for that region, but the occasion when I discovered this was in Alsace earlier in the year.

Greatest product I discovered in a country I had visited before
The obvious answer is Alsatian Pinot Noir, I guess. I could also mention my weird propensity for coming back from European destinations with large pieces of cheese in my luggage here, too. And I bought what was apparently an interesting bottle of muscet in the Douro port country, but I didn't get to taste it as the bottle broke in the boot of the car as I was driving much too fast to Porto airport in order to make my flight back to London.

Total number of countries visisted in my life
36 (Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, China, USA, Canada, UK, France, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria, Kenya, Tanzania, Portugal, Spain, Monaco, Italy, Japan, Ireland, Thailand, Nepal, Macau, Finland, Estonia, South Africa, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Belgium, Turkey, Sweden, Denmark, Luxembourg).

Number of these countries that no longer exist
3 (Czechoslovakia, Macau and Hong Kong, although you can argue both that Hong Kong and Macau are still countries or that they never were).

Best theatrical production I saw this year
The only play I saw this year was a production of The Tempest at the Globe, which turned out to be a mess. I did have a meal in a restaurant immediately after it, however.

Movies I most enjoyed in 2005
Pride and Prejudive. (In my mind easily the best adaptation made of the book). Serenity.

Most over the top (and very Japanese) movie I saw this year
I can't really think of a Japanese movie that I saw this year which qualified as "over the top", which is a shame given how over the top Japanese movies often are.

Japanese animated film that I am most glad that I finally caught on DVD
Laputa: Castle in the Sky . Also, I saw Howl's Moving Castle in the cinema, but it was unfortunately a dubbed print. I bought region 3 DVDs of NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Winds, My Neighbour Totoro and Grave of the Firefies very cheaply in a Chinese DVD/VCD shop just off Canal Street in New York City, and I really must get around to watching them.

Books that I most enjoyed reading in 2005
I didn't read very many books this year, unforunately. I bought a few, but largely didn't get around to reading them. Radical Evolution by Joel Garreau was good in the sense that he interviewed all the right people, and was I think a sign that the presence of the singularity just down the road is something that is becoming clear to the mainstream, but it didn't contain much that people who have been watching this kind of thing were not aware of already. It wasn't as good as his Edge City which really was an exceptionally inciteful look into how the world is today (and which has influenced my thinking as much as any book I have ever read).

Musical acts that I would have liked to have seen, and that I could have seen in London in 2005 if I had bought tickets in time, but didn't
Sigur Ros (again). Imogen Heap. (She is playing London again in the New Year, however, and this time I have booked a ticket).

Favourite television programs of 2005
I have pretty much stopped watching television on television. I now get full season box sets of programs on DVD, or I use the wonders of Bit Torrent to watch shows that our friends in the TV networks will not provide in Britain until next year. As for as the DVDs are concerned, I finally watched Firefly, and it was almost too wonderful for words. There were clearly teasers and references to the next five seasons in the 14 episodes of season 1, and it makes me incredibly sad that I am not going to see those five seasons. I also watched Wonderfalls on DVD, which was great too. The one season we got of that seemed more complete though. Although I would have liked more of that too, I did not feel the loss as desperately as I did the loss of Firefly. (Still, there is obviously a connection between these two series. Tim Minear was one of the main figures in thr production of both. Minear is amazing: of all the fine writers of the team that Joss Whedon put together for Buffy and Angel, he is the one who is as good as Joss. I hope that one of his series gets picked up for more than one season before long. As for other TV I watched, I am still watching 24 which is fun if slight (and repetitive, to tell the truth). And I watched 24 which is good fun but complete tosh. Of the school of writers that started producing their own programs about a decade ago, JJ Abrams is the most successful. He is nowhere near as good as Joss (although he is perhaps a more visual director) but he is the one who has produced mainstream hits. Lost is fun for now, but at some point some of the mysteries as to what is going on on the island are going to have to be explained, but the explanations are going to be lame and everything is going to collapse.

Live sporting events I saw in 2005
England v Australia, first test, day five. Lord's. I managed to see just about the only day of the entire Ashes series that was not exciting. And at the end of it I was certain that Australia was going to win the Ashes. So was everybody else.

Most stunning place I visited in 2005
Crater Lake, Oregon. My drive up the Douro valley was pretty great, too. As indeed was my drive up the Tarn Gorge.

Place I visited where I felt most like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes, he spied the Pacific, and all his men looked at each other, wild with surmise, silent upon a peak in Darien
Actually, I was a bit weak on places of great importance to antiquity this year. These are often near seas and oceans, and most of the places I visited were inland. I went for a drive up the Hudson Valley, and imagined how this was once the greatest highway of the Americas, but I am not sure if this is antique enough.

Great bridges I walked over in 2005
The great bridges I visited this year were not walkable. (Note that I exclude bridges and tunnels I have visited in previous years from bridge and tunnel questions).

Great Bridges I travelled over in vehicles in 2005
The Millau Viaduct. The East Bridge. (If I were to include bridges I had visited before, I could have added a lot of others too. Visiting New York and San Francisco will do that).

Great Bridges I saw, but did not travel over in 2005
None immediately come to mind.

Great tunnels I travelled through in 2005
The Severn rail tunnel is about the best I can do.

Other places I visited in 2005 that are of interest to the hacker tourist
The computer markets of Shenzhen, China, and Chek Lap Kok airport, Hong Kong.

Places that are of interest to Jane Austen fans that I visited in 2005
The Cobb in Lyme Regis, Dorset. (And Louisa Musgrove was insane to jump off those stairs. I am amazed she lived). Jane Austen's grave in Winchester Cathedral.

Most upsetting event of the year.
The July 7 bombing of London. (Everyone was expecting it to happen at some point. It was still terrible.

Rawest emotional reaction of the year
Sadly, that is too personal for me to want to blog about it.

Moments in 2005 that most reminded me how Australian I still am
Wandering round the East End of London (where I now live) looking at little remnants of the East London culture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and suddenly being aware where related little bits of Australian culture came from.

Most time consuming but rewarding activity I took up in 2005.
Cooking fancy meals for guests. (Actually this is a rediscovery of an activity from a few years ago in my life, but it is nice to have resurrected it).

Most surreal literary/travel experience in 2005.
I suppose the best I can do hear is "Reading Jane Austen's Persuasion in an Inn in Lyme Regis, while looking at the Cobb out the window and wondering if the Inn I was sitting in was the same as the one the characters were dining in in the novel. (One can seldom tell in Austen. She is non-specific about locations).

Most surreal musical/travel experience in 2005.
Listening to an MP3 of Suzanne Vega singing Tom's Diner in Tom's Diner in New York. (Note: it is very important that it was an MP3 that I was listening to). Listing to Sheila Nicholls "Fallen For You" while wandering around the Guggenheim in New York City.

Most unexpected thing that happened to me in 2005
I allowed myself to get depressed over a member of the fairer sex. I had promised myself that I never would again.

(*Methodological note: To have "visited" a country, I generally consider that I must have physically left the airport or the railway station. Merely changing planes or trains, or flying over a country or catching a train through it does not count. However, to say I "went to Germany" this year is perhaps pushing it, although I did strictly qualify. I flew to Karlsruhe-Baden Baden airport in Germany, but then got a bus directly to Strasbourg in France. (Actually come to think it I earlier in the day walked over a footbridge into Germany, had a beer, and then worked back. Actually I am talking crap. That means I qualify without any trouble.

Also, to count myself visiting a country twice, I require it to be on separate trips. If I cross the border from Spain to Portugal and then come back a couple of days later, I don't count it as two trips to Spain).

Update: When I posted this, I managed to neglect to recollect that I crossed the Tsing Ma Bridge in Hong Kong for the first time. That's a big one to neglect, given that it is the sixth largest bridge in the world. As a slight excuse, I did previously see it in the distance in 1997, and this time I did go over it in a train in foggy weather. (Or was it smoggy weather? The weather in Hong Kong is always smoggy).

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


I have a piece on Time's people of the year and on the difficulties of browsing the web from a PDA over at Samizdata.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Michael Jennings quote of the day (and possibly post of the month).

More than once did Elizabeth in her ramble within the Park, unexpectedly meet Mr. Darcy. -- She felt all the perverseness of the mischance that should bring him where no one else was brought; and to prevent its ever happening again, took care to inform him at first that it was a favourite haunt of hers. -- How it could occur a second time, therefore, was very odd! -- Yet it did, and even a third.

Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice. (Volume II, Ch X).

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I don't have the latest anything

My desktop computer is based on a ASUS K8V-X motherboard with an Athlon 64 3000+ CPU. This is a socket 754 motherboard, and I built the computer about a year ago. Socket 754 is very passe these days, and if I were building myself a new computer, I would certainly base it on socket 939, and a faster CPU. (Perhaps a 3800 or similar).

My desktop replacement laptop is a Dell Inspiron 8600. This was a top of the line machine when I bought it two years ago, but it has now been superceded by the Inspiron 9300 (as the new top of the line machine, although that is a 17 inch laptop rather than a 15.4 inch laptop) and a new 15.4 inch model named the Inspiron 6000. (Actually the 8600 is nicer than the 6000, as older high end models usually have more optional features than newer mid market models with similar specs). In truth,
though, the Inspiron 8600 is still great. It is a Pentium M machine, which means it is much better than the Pentium 4 laptop I would have bought had I bought a machine six months earlier. And Dell shipped it with a 7200rpm hard drive, which improves the performance no end.

I subcompact laptop is a Sony Vaio T2XP. I bought this in June, and it has since been superceded by the Vaio TX2. This is based on a new motherboard build around the newer Sonoma chipset, has a slightly larger screen with an LCD backlight rather than a cold cathode backlight, it has an inbuild SD card slot (which is amazing for a Sony, and very welcome) and is slightly lighter. (In performance though it is pretty
much exactly the same, as Intel have not yet produced a faster ULV Pentium M than the 1.2GHz unit in my machine, and Toshiba have not produced a bigger 1.8 inch hard drive than the 60Gb unit in my machine. Both these things are expected early in the new year, and at that point Sony will produce a successor to my machine with higher performance.

My PDA is an O2 XDA IIi (aka the HTC "Blue Angel"), which I have had for about three months. Since I got it, the XDA Executive has been released (which is a 3G version with a higher resolution screen) and the XDA II mini has been released (which has similar features to the one I have plus quad band GSM, and is smaller). (Both of these also have little keyboards, whereas mine just operates with a stylus).

My present iPod is a 4th generation 30Gb iPod photo. Since I bought it in about March, it has been superceded by the new fifth generation iPod, which is thinner, has a bigger screen, and can play video. Apple have also since then introduced the iPod nano, which is much smaller and cuter, comes in black, and uses flash memory and is thus more shock resistant.

My present mobile phone is a black Motorola V3 RAZR. This is really cool, but since I bought it about three weeks ago, Apple have introduced the V3i, which has a memory card slot and a higher resolution camera, and runs iTunes.

My present TV is a 20 inch 4:3 Toshiba that I bought in 2002, and which is so out of date as to be ridiculous. At some point I shall buy a 37 inch or larger HDTV, but I want one with 1920x1080 resolution, and they almost all 1366x768 at the moment. As there are no HDTV programs available in the UK just yet, I don't really need to hurry.

I have a Pioneer DVD player that I bought in 200 for about five times what an equivalent model will cost now. The TV and DVD player have not been switched on for months, as I use my computers for watching TV and DVDs. In a year or two I shall buy an HDTV with a native resolution of 1920x1080, a Blu Ray player, and get an HDTV satellite box. Hopefully there will be HDTV PCI cards for my computers too, but it may be that the sort of copy protection placed on HDTV prevents this.

However, these products either don't exist yet, or presently (in the case of the TV) still cost about £5000, so I am leaving them for now. All my other gadgets are great and I love them, even if they are not the latest thing. In the case of TV, the latest thing isn't good enough for me.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

I am very busy

Alas, my blogging is suffering as a consequence. There is nothing to write about travelwise, as I have applied to the Home Office for permanent residency of the United Kingdom, and I will not get my passport back until they have (hopefully) approved the application. I hope to get something up soon, none the less. I hope to do a little British travel between now and Christmas, also.

Saturday, November 05, 2005


I have a piece on a dinner talking space and a trip to the Hayden Planetarium in New York over at Samizdata and a piece discussing the Australia v West Indies test but mostly the Ashes over at ubersportingpundit.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

I do love a good meteorite


Friday, October 28, 2005

My desk at home


Really, I don't have a problem.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

I'm sad

Sitting in Tom's Restaurant on 112th St and Broadway listening to Suzanne Vega on your iPod is really lame, isn't it? Oh well, I suppose it would have been even lamer if I had bought one of those new video iPods and used it to watch an epsiode of Seinfeld.

(The restaurant is clearly a New York institution, but knows it is a tourist attraction none the less. There is a lot of Seinfeld memorabilia on the walls, and someone just asked the waiter to take their photo).
Another reason why New York rocks

Seemingly every time I turn my laptop on, it connects to the internet. This happens seemingly anywhere in Manhattan, and in a lot of Brooklyn also. Some of these are no doubt from people who have left their routers open in apartments above me, but a lot of these are simply businesses - bars and cafes and others - who provide free WiFi for their customers. It's great. (For one thing I didn't bring a guidebook, but my laptop can easily perform that function for me if it is connected to the internet). London is not like this. Density is lower, and the culture of free hotspots hasn't really taken off.

Friday, October 21, 2005

I am in the Apple store in SoHo.

Internally, it is pretty much exactly the same as the Apple store in London. Externally, the SoHo store is more interesting, as the store is an interestingly redeveloped old post office. This is typical though - Apple does great design with its retail stores just as it does with its products.

(No Michael, you can't have a new iPod).
Very Belated Redirection. (Hi Natalie).

A number of days ago I posted a piece discussing my first visit to New York in 1991 and the start of this trip over at Samizdata.
Around Canal Street

The shops selling seafood in the Vietnamese annex of Chinatown really do have some amazing stuff. It's much more diverse than what I can get in London, and so much cheaper.


I would really enjoy cooking meals based around some of this. Actually the really big prawns would be great. Make a fresh curry, and garnish perhaps with a bit of coriander. And serve with a Sancerre, perhaps. Yum.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

I am in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Not much to say about it, but I love the name. (Actually, plenty to say about it. This stretch of the Hudson was where the very rich people of the Gilded Age built their mansions, and Franklin Roosevelt's presidential library and home are nearby). Very pretty suspension bridge across the river here, too. Actually there are a whole lot of very pretty suspension bridges across the hudson starting in New York City.

And I have exceeded my previous high for "ludicrous rental car upgrades". This time I ordered an "economy" car and was given a full size sports utility vehicle. Driving it in Manhattan on a weekday was, well, fun.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


I have my Sony Vaio T2XP laptop with me on this trip. It is the smallest full function laptop I know, which is why I bought it. It weighs practically nothing and is the perfect travel laptop. (Disadvantages: the keyboard is a little cramped, the 1.8 inch 4200rpm hard drive is a little slow and the computer thus takes a little while to start up, and the Matsushita DVD+/-RW drive is one of the few models I know that can't be made region free). But it allows me to remain connected when I am on the move. It is great in the US because there is just so much internet connectivity if you want it.

I bought the laptop just prior to my last trip to the US in July. On that occasion the screen broke on the flight over and I spent the trip mourning the laptop rather than using it. This time though everything has gone great.

Two reactions yesterday. Firstly, I send one of my friends an instant message saying that "I am drinking Bavarian beer in a bar in Brooklyn just near the Williamsburg Bridge", and I got a response along the lines of "Well switch off the computer and enjoy yourself then". Which was fair I suppose. The other reaction was in a Starbucks (also in Brooklyn). I was using Google Earth to find a hotel location and various other attractions in New York, and after a bit of zooming in and out, making various map featurs appear and disappear and the like, I realised that an NYPD officer was watching over my shoulder. "Is that a map of the whole city?" he asked. I sort of nodded, and demonstrated it a bit more, showing him how I could zoom in to individual streets and buildings. He was really impressed. I didn't tell him that it was in fact a map of the whole world. (OF course, few if any other parts have as much detail as do New York City).

Saturday, October 15, 2005


This morning I got up in my flat in Bethnal Green in London. I had lunch in the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station in New York City, and I am now having a beer in a bar in Times Square. I have just posted a description of this day to a global communications network from which people on any of the continents of the world (including Antarctica) can read this. My mind boggles at all this.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Gratuitous photograph of me in Luxembourg last weekend


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Thank almighty God for that.

It has only taken a total of six and a half weeks after I moved in, but I have ADSL connected in my flat. Hurrah.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Slightly odd question

Do any of my London acquantances who are reading this want to buy a new PC? I have a spare Athlon 64 3000+ CPU and some spare RAM hanging around that I could use as a starting point for quite a nice computer. I am willing to build a machine and do someone a very good deal if anyone is interested.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Back in London

When it is not delayed, the Eurostar is a highly civilized way to travel from Paris or Brussels to London. Today it was not delayed, so I left Brussels at 8.30pm and was at home in my flat by 10.30pm. (There it an hour's time difference, so that is actually three hours).

Meanwhile, this is heartbreaking. A $10m weekend is nowhere near enough to justify a sequel, so 14 episodes and one movie is all the Firefly we are ever likely to see. Like a lot of people, despite the fact that I was a Buffy fanatic I came late to Firefly on DVD, but I found it to be wonderful. And just as David Edelstein says here, it was obvious from the little hints and things that were not explained that Joss Whedon had 100 episodes in his head. So really what I would like is that 100 television episodes. A few movies would have been a nice alternative, but it now looks like that is not going to happen either. I am sure the movie will sell great on DVD, but even so that is not going to be enough to justify a sequel from Universal. So I am never going to learn Shepherd Book's backstory, or just why Inara left the Companion academy, or just what it is that is not a suicide kit that she gets out when the Reavers arrive in the pilot.

And as the rights to the Firefly universe belong partly to 20th Century Fox and partly to Universal, and the actors are all out of contract from a television point of view (although they are probably contracted to make more movies if more movies are made) the chances of Firefly ever coming back to television are close to zero.

This is sad. But I am still looking forward to the movie (which does not open in the UK until Friday).

Saturday, October 01, 2005

I am in Luxembourg City

Luxembourg is pretty, prosperous, civilised, and look at all the cranes.


Technically in fact, Luxembourg is the richest country in the world. This is in a way misleading: it is possible to find plenty of regions the same size as Luxembourg that are more prosperous, they just aren't countries in their own right. (The really amazing thing is that the United States is nearly as rich as Luxembourg, meaning that the average income of 300 million people in the US is close to that of only the very richest regions of Europe). Still, though, this is a nice distinction to have. And Luxembourg is certainly very rich.

I have read in places that about 30% of the population of Luxembourg are actually Portuguese people here under their EU treaty rights. I haven't seen many (any?) people who are obviously Portuguese today, and I haven't noticed the language. There must be a Portuguese quarter of Luxembourg City somewhere, but I haven't found. it. (I shall Google in the morning). Luxembourg is quite unusual in the French and German seem to have pretty much equal status - try to thing of anywhere else where that is so, other than perhaps Switzerland. French seems to be the more commonly spoken language in the street and in shops and the like though.

However, time for bed. I got up too early this morning, as I had to catch the Eurostar. This is a very comfortable hotel, but alas the internet access is wired rather than wireless, and I cannot take the laptop to bed and remain connected.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Michael tries not to reveal himself

On Tuesday I went to the Globe Theatre to see The Tempest. The production was, alas, disappointing. At the end of the performance, I went with a couple of (female) friends to a pub nearby for a post theatre drink. Over this drink, we realised that we were all hungry, so we proceeded from the pub to a nearby restaurant. Once we had reached the restaurant and when we were about to order, I realised I did not have my mobile phone, but I remembered having it at the pub. I therefore excused myself, told the ladies what I would like them to order on my behalf, and went to the men's room, from which I called my mobile phone, discovered that it had been found in the pub and handed in at the bar, and arranged to come back and get it later.

There are two possibilities as to why I went to the men's room to do this. One is that I am slightly self-conscious about being the sort of person with a tendency to lose things, so I didn't want my companions to know that I had done it. (On the other hand they are my friends, and they know already what I am like). The other thing I was slightly embarrassed about has hopefully been detected by alert readers already. I was able to go into the men's room and call my mobile because I was carrying a second mobile phone, and I didn't want to reveal that I was the sort of person who feels the need to carry more than one mobile phone.

(The "second mobile phone" is actually a Windows Mobile PDA, but like many modern PDAs it also works as a mobile phone. I don't use it as my primary phone, however, although I do often carry it).
Belated Redirection

I have a picture of the front of a Portuguese McDonald's posted at Samizdata.

Monday, September 26, 2005

A nice weekend in which I tried to do too much

I spent the weekend in the Douro valley in Portugal, driving up from the city of Porto to the vineyard country where the grapes are grown for the finest ports. I didn't really have enoug time - and I really must go back and take the train up the valley some time. The railway follows the river even through some spectacular and quite brutal chasms where there are no roads. But still, it was nice. And it was pretty.


Friday, September 23, 2005

All Praise to Royal and Sun Alliance

Some regular readers will remember that I was quite upset when the screen of my amost new Sony Vaio T2XP laptop broke on the flight from London to San Francisco in July. Although the laptop was under warranty, Sony refused to repair it under warranty, stating that the screen had suffered "physical damage", and that was not covered under my warranty. (Thus I had to pay £310 for the repair). I stowed the laptop halfway throught the flight, and the screen was broken when I got it out a couple of hours later, so it is entirely possible that it suffered some mishap I didn't see when I got up to go to the toilet or when I was sleeping or something, but if it did I didn't see it happen.

As it happens I do have an annual travel insurance policy, which I bought principally because I wish to have proper medical cover wherever I go. And although it was not my principal reason for buying it, the policy does cover "physical damage" to "valuables". So, I thought I would make a claim and see what happened, with the general expectation that the insurer would point to some fine print in the policy and not pay. It was a perfectly legitimate claim, but travel insurance has a reputation for paying on the important things (ie medical) but not for the less important things (ie personal possessions).

But I was much too cynical. I received a cheque for £250 in the mail yesterday, which is the maximum amount the policy will pay for one damaged item. No complaint from me. The damaged laptop caused me a lot of anguish, but it has ultimately not cost me very much money.

Monday, September 19, 2005

I don't know, Natalie

Possibly people you have redirected?

Friday, September 16, 2005


I have a piece on the switch from analogue to digital film-making (in the capture process) over at the Blowing Smoke blog.

I have a piece that purports to be about the Sydney Swans making the AFL grand final over at ubersportingpundit.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


I posted two reflective pieces on day five of the fifth test, and on England regaining the Ashes over at ubersportingpundit.

Monday, September 12, 2005


I have a piece on buying a really cheap microwave oven over at Samizdata, and a report on day four of the last test at ubersportingpundit.

Saturday, September 10, 2005


I have a report on day three of the fifth Ashes test over at ubersportingpundit. Australia is playing well, but the amount of play has been badly restricted by weather. Much as I am hoping otherwise, I think the game will be drawn and Australia will lose the Ashes.

Friday, September 09, 2005


I have a report on day 2 of the fifth Ashes test over at ubersportingpundit.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


I have a report on day one of the fifth cricket test between Australia and England over at ubersportingpundit.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Natalie solent posted in full an e-mail I sent her as part of a thread speculating why there was so much lawlessness after the catastrophe in New Orleans, and talking about what went wrong during and after the Kobe earthquake of 1995.

One thing I did not mention that is obviously a key factor is the simple lousiness and corruption of the New Orleans police force. The forces in New York in September 11 and in Kobe/Osaka in 1995 were clearly better police forces to start with. But yet this is not all of it. Part of it is, as I said, the nature of the disaster. Hurricane Katrina desolated a huge area. The police stations and other resource facilities from which essentially all the police in action in New Orleans were devastated themselves, and the chain of command was completely destroyed. In both New York and Kobe/Osaka, many of the police in action came from parts of the cities that were relatively intact and whose chains of command were operating reasonably well. That above all strikes me as a and perhaps the key difference. The area of the disaster in Louisiana and other states is enormous. For the other two disasters, it was geographically quite small.

(Mainly, though, the point I was making was that the Kobe earthquake was another recent example of a natural disaster in a developed country with which the local authorities coped badly).

And the newspaper article that started this discussion also referred to the Tsunami in Asia at the end of 2004. In that case I am not sure what is to be said. My guess is that there was lawlessness, looting, and all kinds of nasty things in places like Aceh, but it was hidden and not reported. Certainly news of something like this is the last thing the Indonesian government would want to publicise. But I don't really know.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Brief reflection

I went to New Orleans in 1999, where I caught up with a friend of mine who I had been to Cambridge with a few years ealier. (This friend is actually one of the loveliest women it has ever been my pleasure to meet, but alas she was and is spoken for). We went out to a nice restaurant, then finished the evening in a bar in a nice hotel, listening to jazz and drinking whisky.

This sticks in the memory, simply because it was a particularly nice evening.

My friend also insisted on taking me to a bakery, and buying me a bag of pralines, which I had in my hand luggage when I flew out of New Orleans on the way to London. I had to change planes at Dulles Airport near Washington, and on the Washington-London leg I was sitting next to an elderly woman from Michigan who was on her way to Scotland, where she was planning on spending several weeks travelling and staying in youth hostels. She was a nice old woman, but did insist on talking to me for pretty much the entire flight, even when I was trying to sleep.

However, at one point she did notice the pralines in my bag, smiled and said "Ah. I see you have just come from New Orleans". Which of course was true.

And now New Orleans is gone.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

My ISP is taunting me

I have just moved into a flat in the East End of London. Postitives of this are that I am much closer to work and my commute is much easier, and also I have my own place, and I was tired of sharing and I needed a change. The number one negative of this is that I have a bona fide traitor as my MP.

However, having just moved I have a slight connectivity problem. Although there is a phone line going to my flat, BT for some reason believes that it is necessary to send an engineer out to my flat before they can connect my phone. And I cannot have my ADSL connected until the phone is connected. However, I informed the ISP in question ( about the move, and they stated that they would connect the ADSL line as soon as BT allowed them to.

Yesterday, I turned on my router, and plugged it into the phone socket in preparation for the happy event a week or so down the line. To my astonishment, the LED on the router showing the ADSL connection started flashing (to indicate that it could see a connection and was attempting to log in) and then went to shining and not flashing (to indicate it had logged in). Turning on a PC, I discovered that I was connected to the internet. Checking with one of those websites that tells you about your ADSL, I found I was connected to my ISP ( at 512kbps. Techically my connection is supposed to be 2Mbps, but still compared to nothing this was wonderful beyond words. I started celebrating, talking to people in Australia, all that kind of thing.

Alas, though, this morning it was gone. No more ADSL. They must have been testing the line or something. I am probably going to have to wait another week. I am now back in a cafe with Ethernet cables to plug into your laptop. Better than nothing, and I have no idea why they don't have wireless, but still not like having an internet connection at home.

But for a brief moment everything was wonderful.
I do appear to have actual readers

Gosh. Of course, what the BBC don't know is that I posted the piece they quote from from my laptop while sitting on a park bench in the middle of a pedestrianised street in Odense in Denmark, after a fairly lengthy search for a hotspot.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


I have a piece on the structure of African (and European) mobile phone markets over at Samizdata.

Update: A reader comment led me to add a (quite nerdy) lengthy footnote at the bottom of that post.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Do I need help

I am in Aarhus in Jutland in Denmark, on my way to see the longest bridge in Europe. When going through security at London Stansted airport this morning I realised that I was carrying a laptop, a PDA/Pocket PC, a Blackberry, an iPod, a mobile phone, and a digital camera. I think this might be excessive.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Dell sins, that may not necessarily yet have condemned them to the special place reserved for child molesters and people who talk in the theatre

Jackie has been referring to Jeff Jarvis' ongoing "Dell Hell" customer relations saga. There are no comments on her blog for me to leave a description of my own slightly odd Dell customer service experience, so I may as well blog about it myself. I haven't had "Dell Hell", but none the less I have just had a customer service experience which might suggest that their eyes aren't entirely on the ball.

I recently decided to send my Inspiron 8600 off to Dell to have them repair it. This laptop is nearly two years old, was well made (if a little heavy and not all that elegant) and has served me well. However, due to the best part of two years of intensive and at times a little rough use, it had suffered some damage. This was mainly physical damage to the case - its electronics were still working okay, although damage to the connector between the on switch and the motherboard also meant it was on the brink of becoming non-functional.

However, I didn't really want to throw the laptop away, because it was a high end machine when new and if it is in good order then it will still be useful for at least a couple of years, it has a beautiful (WUXGA - 1920x1200) screen, a new laptop of a similar spec would still cost about £800, and (although it is not my "travel" laptop anymore - I have a Sony T2XP for that, and although I do have a desktop as well) it is in many ways my "main" computer. My e-mail and my definitive music collection, as well as all my correspondence and financial information, are on its hard drive. (Yes, I do also have backups). As the damage was mainly to the case, I thought it likely it could be fixed for a lot less than the cost of buying a new one. Therefore, I thought I would look into getting Dell to repair it.

I sent them a description of the problem, and some photographs, and they quoted me a price for the repair. Fine, they sent a courier to pick it up last Thursday and I sent it off. A day later my credit card was charged the agreed amount.

Now, Dell have a strict written policy for out of warranty repairs. They look at the machine, they make a quote, if you agree to the quote they fix it and if you don't they return it without charging you anything. No trouble there. That's a good policy. However, on Friday, Dell left a voicemail message saying that additional parts needed replacing above those that I had already been quoted the cost of, and we needed to discuss this. Okay. Not entirely happy but I would talk to them on Monday. On Monday morning, I received the laptop back, returned to perfect as new condition. Several bits were replaced that I wouldn't have asked them to replace.

I then received a phone call from Dell telling me again that several bits needed replacing. We didn't get to discussing the price because I mentioned that I had already received the laptop back. The Dell guy on the phone from Chennai was puzzled by this, and said he would get back to me on Tuesday.

I haven't heard from him since. I assume that either (a) they have decided that since they have returned the laptop to me, there is no reasonable way they can now ask me for more money (particularly given that they are in breach of their own contract) or (b) the mistake was actually having this guy call me, and that in fact they decided that they would ultimately do the full repair for what they quoted me, and forgot to tell him that.

What is interesting here is that if it weren't for the two phone calls, I would actually be very happy with Dell's customer service. They did an excellent job repairing the laptop (what was a very beaten up laptop has been returned to as-new condition), did it extremely fast (I received the laptop back two business days after it was collected) and what they did charge me was quite reasonable. However, having received a quote, then having received phone calls telling me that they were taking that quote back and charging me more, and then not calling me when they said they would does ruin the experience somewhat. In a sense I don't mind never hearing from them again, as I have my laptop fixed and I am not at this point going to pay them any more money, so there is nothing to discuss. Still, however, I think there is merit in calling people when you say you will.

I also recently had a service issue with Sony, and the impression I get is that Sony's official service policies are less kind to the customer than are Dell's. They charge you more and for more things, and they are much more eager to find a loophole to their warranty in order to make you pay. And the people at Sony act in a reasonable well coordinated way to enforce these policies.

However, Dell seem to have logistical and organisational problems at this point. The left hand doesn't seem to know what the right hand is doing. It might be a "The company is now too large" proplem, I think. I didn't get the impression that there was anyone who has not trying to help me, and I also didn't get the impression that Dell's service policies were bad. They just don't seem to be implementing them that well at the moment.

Update: A different gentleman from Dell has just rung me up to tell me that there are additional parts that need to be replaced in addition to those for which I was initially quoted a price, blah blah blah. He seems to have no knowledge that somebody else rung me up for the same reason earlier this week, or that that person said he would get back to me and then failed to do so. This is not impressive. The temptation to turn my phone off in the hope that they will go away is strong, but I am not in truth going to do this.

Saturday, August 20, 2005


I have a piece on visiting the locations of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo over at Samizdata.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Australia grows more complex, or perhaps doesn't

My native Australia did not start receiving large numbers of immigrants from East Asian countries until around 1980. It has received a great many since, so that there are now perhaps half a million people of East Asian background in Sydney. Of these people, the most predominant are Chinese people of various backgrounds and origins. However, due to this relatively late start, the majority of adult Chinese-Australians were born overseas. And at least when I was a student and a young adult in Australia in the late 1980s, I knew lots of Chinese people, but these people had been born in Hong Kong, Malaysia, or elsewhere. When I first visited California one thing that was striking was that there were ethnically Chinese people there who were so Americanised. They had been born in America, and so probably had their parents, and there were no hints in their mannerisms or accents or day to day attitudes that they were different in any way from other Californians. They were just Asian looking rather than European looking.

And now of course we do have a few Australians like this: people of Chinese ancestry who were either born in Australia or came as small children, and have gone through the Australian education system, and are now in their early twenties. Early twenties is of course the age at which Australians go abroad en masse. The tradition has long been for Australians to finish their university career, get a job in Australia for a couple of years to make some money, and then make a prolonged trip to the rest of the world for a year or so (possibly or probably doing some work along the way - stereotypically Australians do this and return with more money than they had when they went away) before getting married, having children, buying a house etc. (Those of us who leave and become permanent expats are a different category that has always existed, but I think we may have been getting bigger at the expense of the traditional year away people). This is quite distinct from the British "Gap Year" experience, where British people go away from a year between school and university. Australians tend to get older before leaving home.

These early twenties Australian trips away often start by going to London, and I therefore see early twenties Aussies all the time: on the tube, in pubs (on both sides of the bar), working as hairdressers, decorators, builders, and quite a few of those kinds of jobs that require skills but in which people are often employed for months rather than years.

And in the last couple of years the appearances of the Australians doing this have become notably more diverse. Yesterday, on the tube I was sitting opposite a particularly good example: an early twenties young woman, who was dressed in a casually Australian way, was speaking in a quintisentially Australian way, with very strong upwards inflections. (People don't always think about just what it is that distinguishes an accent, but the most notable thing about the Australian accent is the upwards inflection at the end of the sentences. Whereas in most other versions of English I know of people raise the pitch of their voice at the end of a question but not at the end of other sentences, Australians raise the pitch of statements as well. If you are attempting to immitate an Australian accent you have to get that right. Even if the resulting accent is imperfect in most other ways, it will still sound "Australian" if you get this right). And there was something about her mannerisms (a particular way of shrugging I supposed) that just screamed "Australian". And she was discussing the normal young Australian in London things: cheap places to live, good bars, possible sources of work.

But of course she was ethnically Chinese. Even the non-Anglo Australians follow the same pattern and get to the old colonial hunting-grounds. But seeing them in London is still something one notes mentally. In a couple more years it will be entirely unremarkable.

(And yes, I am very deliberately ignorning the descendents of the Chinese people who came to Australia for the gold rushes of the 1850s, before the immigration of non-Europeans was outlawed. These were a much smaller group, and while their descendents do still live in Australia, they are now so well integrated that they fit into a different categoty still).

Sunday, August 07, 2005


I have a brief overview of the solar system over at Samizdata.

Update: I also have some thoughts on today's very exciting cricket test (and some reminiscences about the MCG test of 1982-83) over at ubersportingpundit. It is now time for bed. Good night.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Some observations are just too easy to make.

I see the Koreans have produced the world's first cloned dog. Presumably they will clone quite a few until they find the tastiest, and then clone that one lots of times.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Very Belated Redirection

While the first test was going on between Australia and England last week, I made a couple of posts to übersportingpundit: a report on play on day 3, and a few brief comments on the press reaction to the Australian victory.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Crater Lake, Oregon


Of course, technically it is a caldera lake.

Saturday, July 23, 2005


I have a piece in which I attack an article by Laurie Garrett in Foreign Affairs with unexpected vehemence over at Samizdata.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


I have a piece on the ridiculously late start to the Ashes series (and the ridiculously early start to the football season) over at ubersportingpundit
This jetlag is irritating

In William Gibson's 2003 novel "Pattern Recognition", the central character has a theory that when one travels by air, one is moving faster than one's soul can keep up with, and jetlag is what you feel before your sould has returned.

And it is a strange feeling. People had told me before that jetlag coming back from the west coast of the US to Europe was particularly bad, and I now see what they mean. The time difference is 8 hours, and at the end of the journey you are at about the same latitude where you started - the journey thus having an unusually large time shift given the travel time. Plus there is the nasty fact that when it is 7am in London it is midnight in San Francisco, so you have to get up just when you are falling asleep.

And for me right now the situation is odd. I had a good holiday and I returned to London relaxed and invigorated. Normally when I am tired it is as much mental as physical, but at the moment I am not mentally tired at all - precisely the opposite in fact. I am raring to go. But my body refuses to go along with this, demanding sleep at odd times, which all leads to the weirdest of sensations.

In a day or two I shall be over it though.
Wednesday morning song lyrics

I know there's something in the wake of your smile.
I get a notion from the look in your eyes, yea.
You've built a love but that love falls apart.
Your little piece of heaven turns too dark.

Listen to your heart
when he's calling for you.
Listen to your heart
there's nothing else you can do.
I don't know where you're going
and I don't know why,
but listen to your heart
before you tell him goodbye.

Sometimes you wonder if this fight is worthwhile.
The precious moments are all lost in the tide, yea.
They're swept away and nothing is what is seems,
the feeling of belonging to your dreams.

And there are voices
that want to be heard.
So much to mention
but you can't find the words.
The scent of magic,
the beauty that's been
when love was wilder than the wind.

-- Listen to Your Heart, originally written and performed in the 1980s by Roxette. However, when I was driving around the US last week I heard a cover version by DHT getting a lot of radio airplay. Apparently DHT are a dance act from Belgium, who have taken an 80s pop song and created their own dance version from it, and have gone from there to creating a simple "unplugged piano version" which has managed to crossover into the mainstream. (It was this simple ballad version that was getting all the radion airplay in the US last week). This seems to be exactly the same thing that DJ Sammy did with Bryan Adams' Heaven a couple of years ago come to think of it.

But I will confess I rather like this new slightly overblown ballad version of Listen to your heart. I have a bit of a weakness for overblown love ballads.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Back in London

I finished my trip with a quick little trip to San Juan Bautista south of San Francisco, the location of the scenes in Hitchcock's Vertigo where Kim Novak falls off the tower at the end of the movie (and appears to fall of the tower earlier in the movie). (Oops, I may have just given away some of the plot, although this is a movie that is about character, not plot). I knew that the tower was actually a creation of Hollywood and that the actual Mission where the film was shot had a much smaller tower, so I was I suppose not disappointed on this score. However, the location in the movie appears to be in the middle of nowhere, whereas in reality it is a church in the middle of a town.

Some reports on my drive up through California to Crater Lake in Oregon and my drive back down the northern California coast in due course.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Welcome to Edge City

I am in the Apple Store in Walnut Creek. This is one of the line of exceedingly prosperous Bay Area suburbs over the mountains east from the Oakland side of the bay. Washington Post journalist Joel Garreau fifteen years ago wrote the book Edge City about these kinds of places, of which the explicit subject was America's recent urban grown, but which in fact was an extraordinarily prescient book about the future of retail, of the information economy, the growth of the mentalities of red and blue states, and the kind of country that America was coming. This book influenced me as much as any book ever had. People like David Brooks and Virginia Postrel have spent the years since explaining the same things much later and with less insight. And as someone interested in how the modern world is growing, this book taught me what to look at.

Friday, July 15, 2005


Right now I am in an internet cafe in Mendocino in northern California drinking espresso and listening to Suzanne Vega being played in the background in the cafe. This is very northern California somehow. I went to a friend's wedding in Sonoma county just north of San Francisco last Sunday. Since then I drove up the I5 inland, ultimately visiting Crater Lake in southern Oregon (which is a truly glorious and remarkable place) and I am now making my way down the coast back to San Francisco.

Unfortunately the screen of my almost brand new Sony Vaio T2 laptop died horribly on the flight over, which has led to extreme frustration, as WiFi hotspots are plentiful in this part of the US but internet cafes are rare.

The striking thing of course about leaving the big cities of California is just how culturally different the rest of the state is: physically enormous and not extensively populated, and culturally the conservative American heartland. One imagines the American coast as quite densely populated, but the north of California is actually very sparsely populated - it feels like the southern coast of New South Wales in Australia or something like that.

More when I get back to London

Friday, July 08, 2005

Possible redirection

The Samizdata Illuminatus (who is a collective identity that we use when one of us wants to say something anonymously) has over the last couple of days had a couple of things to say about the terrorist attacks on London.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Brief Update

Firstly, if anyone is wondering, like most people in London I was rather shaken by today's terrorist attacks, but I am fine. The Citigroup Centre at Canary Wharf where I work is clearly potentially a major terrorist target, and we were all extremely nervous after the atrocities of this morning. We were given the option of going home if we wished to, and everyone in my team took up the option. As the London Underground and Docklands Light Railway were out of action (as were many mainline rail services) getting home initially seemed like it might be a problem, but things weren't too bad. I walked to Lewisham, and the number 75 bus to Croydon was still running, as were most buses outside the centre of London. I felt a certain trepidation about getting on a London bus given the events of the morning, but obviously I was fine.

Sadly, it has been at the back of my mind for a long time that a terrorist atteck on London was inevitable at some point, and today it happened. That doesn't make it any more pleasant, and doesn't make my wish that the terrorists who did this be hunted down and shot like dogs any the less heatfelt. Thankfully I know of nobody amongst my friends and relatives who were injured or killed today. One friend was on the tube two stops from Liverpool Street when the bomb went off there, and one other went through King's Cross station ten minutes before the bomb went off there. Both of them were lucky. Hopefully everybody else I know is okay. I have plans to go into central London tomorrow evening for dinner with friends. I shall probably still do this.

Saturday, June 25, 2005


I have posted a couple of cricket related photographs on ubersportingpundit, with commentary on Bangladeshi cricket supporters and Shane Warne.

And alas Natalie, unlike the case with you and Patrick your wish is not my command.

Sunday, June 05, 2005


I have a piece on visiting Italian gourmet food shops and bringing cheese back from abroad over at gastroblog.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

My boss yesterday became aware of the existence of this website

The timestamps on posts on this blog are actually US Eastern time. This is because (a) that is the default for blogger and I was too lazy to change it and (b) back in the days when I used to post every day this meant that I did not have to post before midnight to make a post "that day". However, it also means that if (say) the timestamp says that I posted at 3pm on a wednesday, that actually means I posted at 8pm London time.

Just thought I'd mention that.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Back in London, and redirection

Thankfully it is a little cooler here than there. I have a photograph of an interesting scarf that was on sale in Milan over at ubersportingpundit.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

I like Milan a lot

That said, I find Italy's idea of civil society to be a little lacking at times. And by god it has been hot and humid here this weekend.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Role models

Natalie Solent links to a post from Thought Mesh, asking why so few other countries have adopted constitutions similar to that of the United States, given the success of that country. It is of course quite interesting to read the Australian constitution (written in the second half of the 1890s, enacted in January 1, 1901) from this perspective. An awful lot of it is clearly based on the American constitution, and in places it is close to being the American constitution word for word. And of course it is certainly what Thought Mesh calls a "structural constition">, which outlines the powers of government and certain intitutions, without attempting policiy prescriptions. In terms of the particular structure, the big difference is the lack of a directly elected executive in Australia. However, a lot of the written bits of the Australian constitution follow the US model, and the unwritten bits tend to follow the British model. (There are bits of the Swiss model thrown in too).

And as for Thought Mesh's further comment about the US model perhaps being unfriendly to founding fathers who hoped to rule using the model itself and thus unpopular with such people, this sort of issue did not apply in Australia. Australia was already a democracy (or perhaps six of them - the colonies had elected their own legislatures from the 1850s), the delegates who wrote the constitution were country lawyers who had been democratically elected to the constitutional conventions, and the constitution had to be approved by referendum in each of the six states and enacted as an act by the British parliament before coming into effect. All this meant that the document was not intended primarily as a vehicle for the personal ambitions of the people who wrote and enacted it.

And the constitution in question has been an unusually successful one, having provided Australia with peace, prosperity and democratic government for more than a century. The circumstances of its enactment are different to that of the US contitution, but they had in many ways a very similar result.
I am in Milan

I can make a few obvious comments, for instance that it is indeed true that the Italians have no understanding whatsoever of the concept of queueing. (I wonder if the concept immediately becomes understood if you go north and cross the border into Switzerland). They do understand the concepts of food and of coffee, however, so I must be grateful for certain things.

Another thing. Many guidebooks will start the section on accommodation with a description of how hard or easy it is to find accommodation in a city. Often (and this is true of what the Lonely Planet Italy says about Milan), they start with things like "It can be very hard to find a hotel room in \, particularly during \". (In Milan this referred to weeks with fashion shows. In Strasbourg it was times when the European Parliament is sitting). In practice, such comments usually mean the city contains lots of hotels, and it is quite easy to find a hotel room at all times other than when those seasonal activities are occurring. This turned out to be the case in Strasbourg, and it is the case in Milan. I guess that highly uneven demand leads to the ultimate number of hotel rooms being somewhere between the demand levels, whereas more even demand leads to capacity being close to full most of the time (and prices being more constant too). Airline seats are like this too, which is how I managed to fly from London to Milan for £45 return including taxes.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


I have some thoughts on how Malcolm Glazer might actually make money from Manchester United over at Samizdata.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

That's interesting

Yesterday I received a recommendation e-mail from Amazon. You know the kind. "Based on other items you have ordered, we think you will like the following DVDs". Number 1 on the list was "The Terminator". Number 2 on the list was "Sense and Sensibility".

Saturday, May 14, 2005


I have a piece on a day in Shenzhen in China over at Samizdata.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


I have a piece on visiting one of my favourite Hunter Valley wineries over at gastroblog.

Monday, May 02, 2005


I have a piece on the greatness of Adam Gilchrist (and tangentially on Viv Richards) over at ubersportingpundit.

Monday, April 25, 2005

There really are lots of places I haven't been


create your own visited countries map
or vertaling Duits Nederlands

Although I have a quite a lot of travel planned for the rest of the year, I do not have a single trip planned to a country I have not visited before. I might be able to fit in another weekend somewhere at some point, but that is about it, and most possible destinations are places I have been beofre. So I don't think this map is going to change this year, unless I go to Norway or Switzerland.

Sunday, April 24, 2005


I have a piece on eating Dim Sum in a local restaurant in Kowloon City over at Gastroblog.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Early Saturday morning song lyrics

Line one is the time
That you, you first stayed over at mine
And we drank our first bottle of wine
And we cried

Line two we’re away
And we both, we both had nowhere to stay
Well the bus-shelter’s always ok
When you’re young

Now you’re older and I look at your face
Every wrinkle is so easy to place
And I only write them down just in case
That you die

Let’s take a look at these crows feet, just look
Sitting on the prettiest eyes
Sixty 25th of decembers
Fifty-nine 4th of julys
Not through the age or the failure, children
Not through the hate or despise
Take a good look at these crows feet
Sitting on the prettiest eyes

Line three I forget
But I think, I think it was our first ever bet
And the horse we backed was short of a leg
Never mind

Line four in a park
And the things, the things that people do in the dark
I could hear the faintest beat of your heart
Then we did

Now you’re older and I look at your face
Every wrinkle is so easy to place
And I only write them down just in case
You should die

Lets take a look at these crows feet, just look
Sitting on the prettiest eyes
Sixty 25th of decembers
Fifty-nine 4th of julys
You can’t have too many good times, children
You can’t have too many lines
Take a good look at these crows feet
Sitting on the prettiest eyes

Well my eyes look like a map of the town
And my teeth are either yellow or they’re brown
But you’ll never hear the crack of a frown
When you are here
You’ll never hear the crack
Of a frown

- Prettiest Eyes, by the Beautiful South, a song that I know from their best of Albulm Carry On Up the Charts. Generally, the songs on that album are more cynical, but I choose this one as an act of optimism as a revolutionary act (as Lloyd Dobbler a la Cameron Crowe might say).

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

In truth I rather like this

At a dinner party this evening, the question "Is there anywhere you haven't been to?" was asked of me. Of course, the answer is "lots of places", but I am doing my best.

Monday, April 18, 2005

It was a very nice pub


Sunday, April 17, 2005

Yes, I know

I am in Strasbourg. Last weekend I was in London. The weekend before that I was in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney and in Sydney itself. The weekend before that I was on the Gold Coast in Queensland. The weekend before that I was in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. The weekend before that I was in London. The weekend before that I was in Millau in the south of France.

I'm tired.
It's a drizzling European Sunday morning

Seriously, where is spring this year?

I am in a cybercafe in the basement of a "Cyber Hotel" in the middle of Strasbourg, that apparently has a PC in every room. I don't actually need that - I brought my own PC - but the wireless would have been nice. Instead I stayed in a more mundane hotel. But c'est la vie (as they say here). As it is, I come here to use the basement cybercafe. I am sure I would have the software build on this PC the way I like it within three or four days if I was staying longer. (Well, other than that it running Windows 98SE on a really slow processor. It's kind of a shame, as the computer has a nice TFT display - it's just the computer itself needs replacing).

Anyway, although Germany is just across the river one wouldn't know it. This is a French city. I have heard more English spoken than German, and the hotel TV only had French channels plus CNN in English. But, there was one exception. At my guidebook's suggestion, I went to a brew pub named Les Trois Brasseurs which was full of people both in the bar upstairs and the cellar downstairs where there was live music. The beer was much better than is typical in France, and this I think may have been influenced by the proximity to Germany. I started talking to a group of Americans, who turned out to be interior decorators from Malibu who were doing work for some extremely rich person over here. They were with some three or four locals with who they were working, and who had brought them to this pub. I had a very pleasant hour or two in conversation, and then something amazing happened. As we were about to pay up and leave, the barman brought us a last round on the house. Whether this was because the French people in the party knew him or were regulars or what I do not know, but I have to say this was awfully nice. It was a good evening.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

I am in Strasbourg in Alsace

Strasbourg is a beautiful city, and that it remains so strikes me as doubly impressive given the extent to which this part of Europe has been an issue of territorial dispute over the decades. But of course, although World War One did succeed in getting Alsace and Lorraine back for the French, the fighting did not actually reach here.

And speaking of reaching here, in a very Ryanair way I flew to Baden Baden airport over the border (which is the Rhine, looking rather less impressive than it does in Rotterdam) in Germany and got the bus here from that airport. I have been to Germany several times before, but on those occasions I have travelled around by rail. The amazing thing was that the bus ride was the first time I had been on a German autobahn. And it was a disappointment. The speed limit was 120km/h. Now I was already aware that many autobahns do in fact have speed limits so this was not a surprise. But given the reputation of the autobahn network, it was still disappointing. The speed limit actually increased when we entered France for goodness sake.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

I always prefer my cuisine conceptualised


What's the concept exactly? That they speak Indo-European languages in the north and Dravidian languages in the south?

Thursday, April 07, 2005


I have a piece on lunch at the Sydney fish market last week over at Gastroblog. I shall post some more photos of the event here later, but alas I have to put in a day's work first.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Back in London

I somehow managed to get eleven bottles of wine through customs and into the United Kingdom this morning. This is a record and I am proud of myself. I also managed to go straight to work after the flight and manage to be at least reasonably productive, too. Right now though I am exhausted and must sleep. I have a great deal still to say about my travels, and hopefully I will indeed write most of this over the next few days and/or weeks.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The joys of Australian wine tourism


At Australian wineries it is possible to buy port in ten litre containers.

Alas, I found the prospect of getting this onto the plane and through British customs a little daunting, so I did not buy one. Which is a shame, as I would have been delighted to have been able to serve port out of a plastic container that looked more suitable for engine oil at my next dinner party.

Friday, April 01, 2005

I continue to move around

I am now at my brother's place in Cessnock, which is a coal mining / wine town in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney, and my last stop on this trip to Australia. The Hunter is most notable for its lovely lemony white wines based on the Semillon grape, and also makes a lot of in my mind slightly less notable shiraz based reds. And there are a few in my mind quite fine Pinot Noir, which is totally bizarre given the extremely un-Burgundy like climate.

Anyway, I shall investigate these things further in the morning.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Now in Sydney

I will blog something substantial soon. Sydney is cosmopolitan in a very predominantly Chinese Pacific Rim way (in a sense even more so than Hong Kong) whereas my sister's place in the Blue Mountains where I was yesterday is very, well, English. And the Gold Coast is sort of modern developed world internationalist. More on this soon.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The modern world

I am presently staying with my parents on Australia's Gold Coast, which is a sort of lesser south Florida. (It's a very pleasant place, but it has certain qualities about it). My parents yesterday evening held a party, attended by a wide assortment of relatives on both sides of the family. Prior to the party, I was asked to take care of some background music for the evening. When he asked me to do this, I suspect my father expected me to go through his CD collection and find a few to play for the evening. Instead, I of course responded by plugging my laptop into his stereo, and announcing that everything was taken care of. I think he may have been slightly bemused by this.

Of course, prior to this I had to rush off to the local shopping centre and buy a cable with a 1/4 inch headphone plug at one end and two RCA plugs at the other. I have serveral such cables already, but alas they are in England. My mother now wants me to leave the cable with her and show her how to use iTunes prior to flying out from the Gold Coast on Tuesday.

And of course I have to flash the firmware on her DVD-ROM/R/RW drives to make them region free, too.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

I do love nationalistic rubbish bins

It's really okay

Jackie still seems slightly defensive about using her laptop in bed to access the internet. She shouldn't. This is what laptops and wireless were invented for. I have to confess that I had been using laptops in bed for years before I got wireless though: I just had to use a cable for the internet connection. What Jackie may or may not realise is that there is a moment in most wireless laptop users lives when they find themselves going to the bathroom, taking the laptop with them, and being still connected to global information networks while performing certain bodily functions. Most people conclude that this is going too far, but doing it in bed certainly isn't. In fact doing it in bed (just like doing it from a Starbucks in Shenzhen) is cool.

Of course, blogging from my laptop in bed is what I am doing now. I am at my parents place, and my parents have a WiFi network. My mother recently bought her first laptop. I made a suggestion with respect to the model, which she followed. (Like Glenn himself she got a Dell Inspiron 700m, which is a lovely little piece of kit. With this one Dell have really managed nice design, whereas most of their previous machines - like the Inspiron 8600 I am using now - have had good feature sets and have been excellent value for money, but a bit big and clunky. It's a shame Dell are not presently selling the 700m in the UK). I also recommended that she get a home WiFi network in order that she could use the laptop anywhere in the house, and she did. She and my father like to use the laptop on the kitched table at breakfast, and Mum likes to use it to read the newspapers in bed in the morning. (In fact, I just saw my mother take the laptop to bed with her). And my sister and I can use the wireless when we visit.

In fact, my sister will be here tomorrow evening, and she will certainly be bringing her laptop. It is possible that this house will have three people using its wireless network from their beds simultaneously as of tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

More geographical relocation

I am now at my parents place on the Gold Coast in Queensland, not far from Brisbane. I am going to be here for about a week, which is good because I don't think I can take any more plane trips for a little while.

Monday, March 21, 2005

If it's Tuesday, it must be Sydney

I am now in an internet cafe in George Street in Sydney. Since I was here last, Australia has changed from being a "Short, Tall, Grande" country in Starbucks terms to being a "Tall, Grande, Venti" country. China and Hong Kong remain "Short, Tall, Grande" countries, however.

While on that, I forgot to redirect this little Samizdata piece on finding nerd heaven. This piece was actually posted over WiFi from a Starbucks in Shenzhen in China. (I was having a Grande triple shot latte at the time. I was fighting jetlag and really needed it).

Saturday, March 19, 2005

We haven't quite figured out the wireless business model.

I am now in an entirely different Starbucks clone in Hollywood Road. (The whole mid-levels / Hollywood Road / SoHo area in Hong Kong really is yuppie expat heaven). This one has free internet terminals for customers. This is a nice touch, and compliments to them. It also has wireless internet access. However, this is for pay wireless internet access. So it seems they will offer me a terminal plus internet access for nothing above the cost of a cup of coffee, but if I provide my own computer the internet access itself will cost money. That's a new one.

And yes, I do actually spend the majority of my time outside coffee shops, even when travelling. Really.
I am in Hong Kong.

This is one of my very favourite cities in the world. Specifically, I am using a free hotspot in a Starbucks clone on a ferry pier on Hong Kong island. Today I have been to Cheung Chau island, and I am about to get an escalator to the mid levels. (Someone one expects that sentence to have been written by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World somewhere). More later.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

My life is backed up

My Finnish readers will be delighted to hear that I have backed up the contents of my laptop hard drive onto this little box you see presently sitting on top of my desktop PC.


It is a Lacie 160Gb USB 2.0 external hard drive. On the outside it claims to have "Desgign by F.A. Porsche", but it just appears to be a bog standard Maxtor 160Gb 2Mb Cache hard drive in a box, presumably with some fairly simple IDE to USB interface in the box also. I am almost tempted to open it and take a look.

Except if course there are no obvious screws, so I am not sure how to open it. This must be that design by F.A. Porsche.

Maplin Electronics will sell me a box with the interface built into it into which people can install their own bog standard hard drives, but this seemed too much trouble. (Also, I didn't remember that until now).

Thursday, March 10, 2005


I have a photoessay on my trip to see the Millau viaduct over at Samizdata.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Search request time

My life is on my non backed up hard drive

Yesterday, I read this interesting piece by Bruce Sterling discussing the fact that he has recently moved from Austin, Texas (where he has lived for many years) to Los Angeles where he is a visiting professor at a design school for a year, and he describes the fact that he no longer needs as many possessions as he once had, because a lot of the important stuff has been digitised.

When I was formerly a Texan author-journalist type rather than a Californian "visionary," I naturally lived like a pack rat. Then I drove my hybrid electric across I-10 to the gloriously unfurnished Pasadena pad over here, and I suddenly realized that I can thrive with something like 8% of my former possessions. Not that I've lost them. Basically – and this is the point for SXSW-I attendees – they've all been digitized. They got eaten by my laptop.

There's an Apple Store a block away, where Mr. Jobs is selling iPods like Amy sells waffle-cones when it hits 105 degrees. So, where're all my records and CDs? They're inside the laptop. DVD player? Laptop. Newspapers? I read Google News in the morning. Where're my magazines? I read Metropolis Online, I write stories for Where's my TV? I got no TV: Compared to Web surfing on broadband wireless, watching a TV show is like watching ice melt. I tried real hard to sit down and watch a television dramatic episode recently – it felt like watching Vaudeville, with a trained dog act and a guy juggling plates. TV is dying right in front of us. It's become a medium for the brainwashed, the poor, and the semiliterate. Where's my fax machine? Laptop. Mailbox? Laptop. Filing cabinet? Laptop. Working desk? Laptop. Bank? Laptop. Place of business? Laptop. Most people I deal with have no idea I'm here in California. They'd never think to ask me. Why should they? They send e-mail, they get what they want, game over.

My laptop is even a library now; I've taken to reading books as e-text. For instance, a freeware, public domain version of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Silverado Squatters. This is the amusing real-life tale of a sci-fi novelist (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, etc.) marooned in 1880s California. Stevenson shows up in an abandoned California mining camp, where he immediately sees and uses his first telephone. The good folk of Cali, these grizzled miner 49ers, are already hip-deep into high tech telecommunications.

As a rather itinerant and fairly tech-savvy person myself, I recognise this. My whole life is in my laptop, too. My television has barely been switched on in a year. (Here is a huge way in which younger people are different from older people - they don't watch television). Oddly, though, I haven't given up on television as an art form, but I have modified the way in which I watch it. For series television, I now buy the DVD sets of complete seasons of television series and watch them on my laptop. Television changed as an artform in the 1980s. Prior to that most episodes of most series had stand alone plots, whereas since then there has been much more continuity from episode to episode. (Steven Bocho is usually given a lot of the credit for this, although it may have been an inevitable reaction to the widespread adoption of the VCR). This works okay in the modern age of VCRs, PVRs, repeats and the like, but I think having the whole season on DVD at the same time is actually a better way to watch modern TV series. And the laptop makes it much easier to squeeze into the spare moments of my life. And I have a much greater choice as to what to watch and when.

And for watching sport on television I either go to a pub or I tend to put the game in a window at the top of the screen on my desktop computer, which has a digital TV card in one of its PCI slots. What would be good would be some way of watching lvie sporting events in a window on my laptop screen while I was travelling, but we are not there on that one yet. Some kind of digital TV card for a laptop (problematic with the sort of antenna one needs I think) or high speed streaming service over some sort of wireless internet connection would be useful. I am sure we will see it, but not immediately

But all my music, all my correspondence, things like details of airline bookings and insurance policies, address details of my friends, various pieces of personal writing that are of value to me - they are all on my laptop hard drive. If hard drive failure were to occur, it would cause major problems for me. And hard drives fail far more often than any other computer component, particularly laptop hard drives that get jostled around and suffer more physical shocks than desktop drives.

Which is slightly scary, because it isn't backed up at all. This is bad, but I fear not especially uncommon. Backing up a laptop hard drive is a nuisance. My laptop doesn't have a DVD burner (although my next one undoubtedly will), and CDs and (heaven forbid) floppies aren't really big enough. I could backup over my home network, but this is pretty slow too. I could unplug the laptop hard drive, plug it into my desktop and then copy at IDE connection speeds, but this is too much of a hassle to do regularly. Or I could get a large external USB or Firewire hard drive and backup to that.

Oddly, I also bumped into this article yesterday afternoon. It was a response to the fact that Fujitsu yesterday announced a 120Gb 2.5 inch hard disk for laptops, the largest yet available in that form factor. The argument is a little curious - it first gives one of those "Who on earth is going to have 120Gb of data on a laptop?" and then proceeds more to an argument that having drives that big will encourage people to put too much data on them and cause greater disasters when the hard drives fail, and the lack of easy backup solutions makes having big laptop hard drives bad rather than good. I can't really agree with this - I can think of plenty of cool new audiovisual applications that will work better with 120Gb than 60Gb, and the fact is that a great deal of data in this world isn't backed up, laptop or desktop. The author of the article does suggest an interesting solution though. Installing two hard drives in a laptop with a RAID-1 configuration. (This means having two drives with identical data on them, so that if one drive fails you simply save the data from the other).

I'm not sure that this is terribly practical though, because putting a second hard drive in a laptop would use additional space and would thus make the laptop bigger and would also cause the laptop to use more power, defeating some of the purpose of having a laptop by making it less portable. And there is an easy backup solution for laptops - the abovementioned USB external hard drives and regular backups. The fact is that the only reason most of our laptop hard drives have not been backed up is because we couldn't be bothered. Crippling our machines because our drives haven't been backed up strikes me as silly. The solution is instead to improve the quality of our backups, which can relatively easily be done. (On the other hand Toshiba has recently announced a 1.8 inch 80Gb hard drive and a 60Gb is already shipping, two of which would take up about the same space as one 2.5 inch drive. However, that would give up the improvements that could be gained in terms of size and power consumption by using only one 1.8 inch drive. Some subcompact laptops do use 1.8 inch drives for this reason).

Which leads to the question of what I should do myself. I could buy a USB external drive and backup my laptop hard drive regularly. Or I could move my life - all my archives of e-mail, documents I have written, addresses, important documents and everything else over to the desktop computer, add a second hard drive and RAID-1 to the desktop, and be absolutely secure.

But this is far less convenient than using a laptop for this. And I have to remember to transfer stuff that I develop and put on the laptop over to the desktop.

Sounds like work. But hard drive failure would be a disaster.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Tuesday evening song lyrics

I'm tired of telling the story
Tired of telling it your way
Yeah I know what I saw
I know that I found the floor

Before you take my heart, reconsider
Before you take my heart, reconsider
I've opened the door
I've opened the door

Here comes the summer's son
He burns my skin
I ache again
I'm over you

I thought I had a dream to hold
Maybe that has gone
Your hands reach out and touch me still
But this feels so wrong

Before you take my heart, reconsider
Before you take my heart, reconsider
I've opened the door
I've opened the door

Here comes the summer's son
He burns my skin
I ache again
I'm over you

Here comes the winter's rain
To cleanse my skin
I wake again
I'm over you

Before you take my heart, reconsider
Before you take my heart, reconsider
I've opened the door
I've opened the door

Here comes the summer's son
He burns my skin
I ache again
I'm over you

Here comes the winter's rain
To cleanse my skin
I wake again
I'm over you

Here comes the summer's son
He burns my skin
I ache again
I'm over you

Here comes the winter's rain
To cleanse my skin
I wake again
I'm over you

Summer Son by Texas, from the 1999 album "The Hush".

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Back in London

Brief thoughts.

1) The Millau viaduct is simply mindblowing. You may know in advance how big and how high it is in terms of numbers, but when you see it it really blows you away. I have seen a lot of great works of engineering, but I cannot remember the last time I saw one that was simply as awe inspiring as this one.

2) After visiting places that produce fine food and drink, I have a tendency to buy the product in question in the shop on the way out. Rather predictably, this happened in Roquefort this afternoon. I thus have an impractically large block of cheese in my refrigerator.

3) In terms of what are the places where I have eaten the most overpriced food of the worst quality, the restaurant in the terminal at Toulouse airport this evening is going to be very hard to beat. (Many airport restaurants score highly on this score. None the less I recommend the airports at Rome and Bilbao as places where I have eaten excellent, reasonably priced food. It can be done.

4) Air travel is in many ways horrible. I had quite a few hassles and delays on this trip, and it was a little trying. None the less, for what it is it remains remarkable. This afternoon I drove across the Millau viaduct and went on a tour of somee of the caves in which cheese is ripened in Roquefort. Later I ate badly and expensively in Toulouse. I am now in my bed back in London.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Off for the weekend

I am going to southern France for the weekend. The plan is to fly into Toulouse tomorrow morning and back out of Toulouse on Sunday evening, and to drive to Millau to look at the now complete viaduct at some point of the weekend. And I might drive around some of the scenic country nearby, eat some food, and generally enjoy myself.

I probably won't spend that long in Toulouse itself. However, I do know that Toulouse is famous for being the source of Toulouse sausages (to which long term readers of this plog know that I am partial) and of many Airbus aircraft (I am less partial to the company, but there is nothing wrong with their engineering). In the true spirit of European backstabbing, there is a second Airbus factory in Hamburg. I don't think I have any urge to visit the Airbus factory (although I did once visit the Boeing factory in Everett, Washington, just outside Seattle), however, there might be something to be said for eating some Toulouse sausages while actually in Toulouse. Has anyone a suggestion as to a good place for me to get some particularly fine examples?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

People continue to follow me to northern Spain.

I have told the story of my trip to Spain last August, and how the fact that there were no discount airlines flying to anywhere along the coast of Spain and Portgual between Bilbao and Faro was a major factor leading in my having to make an absurd overland journey from Porto to Bilbao, but was also a major factor responsible for their being few Anglophone tourists in that part of Europe, even in high summer.

I have also observed that since then Ryanair have announced flights from London to Santander, Santiago de Compostela, and Porto, meaning that the places I visited will be much more accessible this year.

Subsequent to that, I now see that Easyjet have added a flight from London to Oviedo in the Asturias. (This part of Spain has a twin city structure. The cities of Oviedo and Gijon are very close together, with Gijon (where I spent a night) being on the coast and Oviedo being a few kilometres inland. Although they are not contiguous they are close enough together that by many measures they would make up a single agglomeration just the same).

What does this mean? Well, the last gap in my journey has been filled. Whereas last August quite a lot of travel was necessary to get to some of the places I visited, it is now possible to get to pretty much anywhere on the trip inexpensively out of London in a couple of hours.

The mood of these places is going to change. Of course I will be one of the people using these flights, as I enjoyed myself a great deal last year and want to go back to some of those areas. In particular, I want to drive up the Douro valley from Porto to the vineyards where the grapes for port wine are grown, and I want to see more of the estuaries of the Galician coast.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

I remember when 16k was a lot of memory

If an old computer is running slowly, the easiest way to do something about it is almost always to install more RAM. New software amd new operating systems use more memory than old ones. If there is not enough RAM, then a lot of the data has to be stored on the hard disk instead of in RAM, data has to be constantly swapped back and forwards, and everything goes slower. (As a bonus, all the hard disk activity means that there is more danger of the disk failing, and if you are using a laptop this all runs down your battery faster). Many a computer has been thrown away as slow and out of date and replaced by a new one when a RAM upgrade would speed it up considerably and make it useable for some time longer. (Non technical people often fail to grasp the distinction between storage and memory, so this point is sometimes difficult to explain).

In any event, Windows XP is known as a bit of a memory hog, and for this reason I won't build a computer with less than 512Mb of RAM, because performance with less than this is generally poor. (XP is not alone on this score - you need 512Mb for decent performance on Mac OS X, too). If someone is buying a computer from an OEM, I strongly recommend either that they buy it with 512Mb or they get me to upgrade the RAM immediately after they buy it. (The second option is usually more cost effective, as OEMs seriously overcharge for memory upgrades). I make it very clear that I think that sticking with 256Mb is asking for trouble. (The situation is even worse if the computer has integrated graphics and the main memory is being used to drive the display as well as run programs, which is often the case on cheap computers).

I have generally argued that 512Mb is enough for good performance, however. If someone who is not financially constrained wants a computer, then 1Gb is worth buying, but to some extent this is insurance against future requirements. When I built myself a new desktop computer a few months back, I put 1Gb in, but to some extent I considered this overkill.

However, recently I found myself doing one of those memory upgrades for a friend with a new laptop. The laptop had come with a woefully inadequate 256Mb and I offered to upgrade it to 512Mb. For this I needed a 256Mb SO-DIMM. As it happened, my own laptop had 512Mb in it, in the form of two 256Mb SODIMMs of the correct type. Rather than buying a 256Mb SO-DIMM, I instead bough a 512Mb SO-DIMM for myself, swapped this with one of the 256Mb SO-DIMMs in my laptop, and then installed that 256Mb SO-DIMM in my friend's computer. This brought the memory in my laptop up to 768Mb.

And what did I find out? I wasn't expecting that much improvement, particularly given that the laptop has separate graphics RAM and main memory is not being shared by the graphics system. But I was badly wrong. As it happened the performance of my machine improved considerably. It is running substantially faster and there is less swapping to disk. I don't know to what extent battery life has improved, but I am sure that it must have. The truth is clearly that more than 512Mb is a good idea even now. I will have to change my recommendations.

But a 768Mb or 1Gb seems like such a gigantic amount of memory. I am not going to claim that 640k should be enough for everyone or anything like that but seriously, what is the computer doing with all that memory?

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