Saturday, 17 December 2011

Home from home

Up at my sister’s at last, and it’s very nice. B is my only sibling and, if I’m honest, she’s the more responsible and thoughtful of us – as this visit is showing. Not to diss my other relatives, indeed Mum arrived shortly after I did, but B’s the example that makes me want to up my game.

Take the food for example. While I’ve missed some foods I haven’t been organized enough to get around to eating them – with some exceptions. I should have known what was up when B refused to say what the evening meal would be. When I found out it was haggis, with tatties and neeps, both I and my stomach wanted to hug her for her thoughtfulness. Then came the news that tomorrow it’s a full English for breakfast – my cup runneth over and my waistline may follow.

And what a meal it was. The haggis, lovingly encased in its stomach casing, came out of the oven where it had been baking for a little over an hour. A sharp slash released the spicy meat and grain filling and it was accompanied by the traditional potatoes and swedes, with cabbage on the side and a single malt to pour over the top.

I guzzled shamelessly, before we rolled into the sofa and off to bed. It’s good to be home.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Back to America

The alarm went off at 6:30am, but I was up before that. I’d will not to submit to jetlag with naps in the afternoon, so it’s been four or five hours sleep for most nights. Still, it’s hard to get up when the bed is warm and the world is cold and dark.

The purpose of today is the renewal of my visa, and it means going to the fortress that is the US embassy in London’s Grosvenor Square – possibly the only diplomatic residence in London that has anti-tank barriers. An early morning appointment was picked, since the last time I was here it took nearly five hours of interviews and mental prodding to get my visa.

One of the most annoying things about the embassy is the lockdown security – understandable up to a point but a pain in the arse if you can’t have your phone or keys with you. Thankfully a nearby chemist has lockboxes to store your stuff, but if I can’t help feeling that the tight security when you enter should be enough. Thankfully the security staff are British, so you can have a chat with them about stuff while waiting.

Amazingly the whole thing went like clockwork – visa approved in an hour and a half and I was back on the street. There was nothing else to do but to get a fry up and then chill out for an hour or so until my next meeting. Someone has made the embassy seriously efficient, and they deserve thanks.

In the evening it was time for the old VNUnet team to get together around a table and chew the fat. Tremendous fun, but all conversation are officially off the record.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Get your Cheese on

Many years ago, a PR by the name of Bill Moores came up with the idea of holding a Christmas party in one of London’s oldest pubs, the Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street (the spiritual home of all British journalists) for a lunch, and then afternoon, of drinking and feasting.

Sadly Bill’s no longer running the party, but Sourcewire has carried on the tradition and it’s the place everyone in the tech press (and other areas) meets to drink, eat and catch up. It’s free beer and steak and kidney pie for a few hours, and then everyone spreads out and goes to other watering holes.

It’s my first one for three years and it was a joyful day to catch up with everyone again, to see some of the old faces and a few of the new ones. The beer may not be ideal (it is a Sam Smiths pub after all) but the atmosphere in the low-ceilinged pub is perfect – it’s one of the city’s oldest watering holes and it’s not hard to imagine Samuel Johnson, Tennyson or Conan Doyle sitting down for a pint and a chat (although not at the same time of course.)

There were some great writers at the annual meeting today, not on that level (at least outside our own heads,) but the conversation was interesting, it was great to see so many old friends and almost everyone came away from the meeting happier than at the start of the day – but only just.

As I staggered back to my bed, I couldn’t help feeling a little bit depressed. Three of the major technology publishers are holding redundancies and a lot of good hacks are either changing professions or facing a fight for the increasingly small freelance pie. I’d thought the bloodletting in the industry was dying away – it appears there is still some way to go.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

A time to fly

Landed at Heathrow after nine hours of flying. It’s difficult to get your head around the trip – less than 75 years ago it would have taken weeks of perilous rail and sea travel to make the same trip. And now the person sitting next to me is bitching because she’s ten minutes late on the landing…

Anyway, that said, the flight was well worth bitching about. I don’t know what’s gone wrong with Virgin Atlantic, but this’ll be the last ticket I book with them. This has to be the worst crossing I’ve had in the last decade, at least from a European airline – you expect lousy service and poor food from an American airline after all.

The staff themselves used to be the best in the industry, when it comes to engaging with customers and getting life’s little niggles sorted out. BA crew may be more professional, and I’d definitely prefer them in the event of an in-flight emergency, but Virgin crew manage to keep smiles on their faces and make the whole experience a little less wearing. Not so any more, and I can sort of understand why.

Virgin used to be known for their excellent aircraft and in-flight entertainment system, as well as a fun attitude. This time around the aircraft was, for the want of a better word, shabby. The seat cushions were worn and slightly dirty, the cabin walls chipped and stained and the handset controller was reaching the end of its lifespan – all cracked plastic and a headphone socket that provided stereo only if jiggled and held at an angle.

The company is clearly trying to skimp and save where possible. The meal was undoubtedly the worst I’ve had on a cross-Atlantic flight, worse even than Continental and that’s saying something. A small, limp salad with no dressing, a stale bread roll with no butter and the ‘beef, veg and mashed potato’ that tasted predigested and had been microwaved to death, with a thick, crusty scab of skin on top that was appealing as it sounds.

There was one drinks service, the only one during the entire flight, with staff administering homeopathic amounts of booze from larger bottles rather than the little ones you used to get. After a few hours I wandered down to the galley to see if I could get a scotch and was told they had run out, and the only dark spirits left for the economy section was a pint of brandy – a taste of which I declined. The staff did what they could, but were clearly turned off by the whole experience and having to apologise for their employer.

Got off the plane thankfully, got a SIM card and topped up my Oyster before heading into town. I’m staying with an old friend in South London, but stopped off for my first pint of Winter Warmer in two years. It was very good indeed, but went straight to my head and so I decamped to the house while I still could. Stayed up catching up until about 9pm when 30+ hours of sleep got the better of me and I passed out.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Saw this on my way to work today, looks like the protests have come to San Francisco. Got to love the 'look at me!' cammo gear, very SF.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Back to the doctor

Another week, another session with Dr. R the chiropractor.

My back eased up after the last visit but then progressively got worse, so another session was in order. I’m still not sure why this chap seems to feel the need to have his fingers in my mouth to reset my jaw, but it seems to help.

As for the ribs only time is going to sort that out. I’m still feeling like I’m being stabbed every time I sneeze or laugh, but it seems the floating rib cartilage has been damaged and the alignment is still wonky where two others meet the vertebrae. I was pushed, prodded and cracked and came away feeling a little better.

I booked in again for a session next week. Tuesday to Thursday will be a heavy conference, so I suspect I’ll need a tune up.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Little bit of politics

It’s a measure of how long I’ve been over here that this clip had me quite shocked - not for the violence but for the criticism.

For the last week protestors have been holding a permanent encampment a few blocks down from Wall Street to protest about, amongst other things, the lack of financial regulation and the bailouts bankers have received. But you wouldn’t know it to watch the news.

There’s been a quiet media blackout over the story. I covered day two of the protest after it appeared Yahoo was blocking emails about it (turned out to be a dodgy spam filter) and noted in it that there had been four times the covered of Charlie Sheen’s latest shenanigans than of the protest. The police attack the clip shows garnered a whole four mentions on Fox (Faux) News that day – imagine what that figure would be if a Tea partier had ben maced on a peaceful demo.

For MSNBC to come out with criticism quite this strong is encouraging and I can only hope some of the other stations break their silence. The protestors may not be very organized (the daily camp policy meetings sound like hell on earth, and it already has set up a social committee) but they raise points which should be heard. This self-censorship over anything left wing in the media has got to stop.