31 August 2007

My podcasts

My travel patterns have changed with my new project and instead of commuting for a couple of hours every day I am now making fewer longer journeys by plane.

This has changed the way that I consume podcasts as they now pile up waiting for the next flight. As a result my original iPod Shuffle is not really appropriate (it has no menu) so I have treated myself to a new iPod Nano. I'll keep the Shuffle for music and use the Nano exclusively for podcasts.

The consulting related podcasts that I subscribe to currently are; Digital Planet (BBC), IBM Developer Works, HBR IdeaCast, From our own correspondent (BBC), IBM Innovation podcasts, IBM Institute for Business Value, In our time with Melvyn Bragg (BBC) and Peter Day’s World of Business (BBC).

26 August 2007

Fun at the SAHB Fan Convention 2007

Saturday 24 August was the second Sensational Alex Harvey Band Fan Convention which was bit of a mixed bag but worth the effort in the end. These were my highlights and lowlights:
  • Leaving Dallas at 5pm on Thursday and arriving at Wolverhampton at 6pm on Friday, and losing six hours in the process.
  • Eventually finding a rather good Balti house after walking past dozens of fast food joints that you would not have felt safe in, let alone risked trying any of the food.
  • Meeting many fans and a few of the band at the meet and greet at the hotel on Friday evening. Despite the jet lag and the intention of catching-up with an early night, I stayed in the hotel bar until after 2am. Max was very sociable all evening and I also had a good chat with Hugh. Most of the other fans seem to be nutters. Lucky that I am sane then!
  • The hotel breakfast making a good foundation for the day's large intake of beer.
  • Taking the tram to Bilston.
  • Drinking Banks's bitter. At £2.75 a pint I thought that it was not unreasonable (I regularly pay over £3 a pint now) but apparently beer is somewhat cheaper in Scotland so some of the fans were less happy.
  • Waiting most of the afternoon for something to happen when little did. Hugh's solo spot was a welcome break from the lack of things happening but I would have liked it to have been a little longer.
  • Buying yet another SAHB t-shirt and having the presence of mind to get in signed later on in the day when the band did a signing session.
  • Zal starting the evening off with an acoustic set which I thought was rather good. But then I like acoustic Neil Young too. Sadly when I asked Zal about his new songs later he said he had no plans to record them.
  • Meeting more old friends during the day, particularly Bob and Chris who always go to the Southampton show too.
  • SAHB kicking the evening set off with a whole string of songs that they have not played live for a whole. Dolphins was particularly well received. Other rare songs played were Rock n Roll, Who murdered sex, Snakebite, Pick it up and kick it and Out of boogie.
  • Some of the more enthusiastic and vocal ladies getting up on stage to sing along to Anthem. Not my favourite song but then I'm not Scottish.
  • Max having the lyrics to Jailhouse Rock written out by hand (Zal had used a laptop earlier for his lyrics). Jailhouse Rock was included because Alex and Elvis were born in the same year and Tear Gas used to play it.
  • Hugh, Ted and Zal taking vocal turns for a while and Max joining the audience for this part.
  • SAHB ending with a section of requests that included Faith Healer, St Anthony, Gang Bang (again, not a favourite of mine but enthusiastically greeted by most of the crowd) and Runaway, complete with dance routine.
OK, so it was a bit slow in the afternoon but the evening session did what is says on the tin, sensational, and it bodes well for the tour. I'll be at the Southampton and London gigs as usual and the Glasgow Xmas show sounds tempting too!

23 August 2007

Some final thoughts on Dallas

Without wishing to be at all unfair, this picture sums up Dallas to me - it's a few islands of identical buildings spread far apart and linked by more concrete than makes sense. Roads that are twice as wide as UK motorways carry less traffic than most of our dual carriageways. Every place you go to is some miles from where you are so you have to drive. I saw one cyclist all week and nobody walking along the street.

Weather wise it was hot and sticky outside (over 30 degrees every day) but when you go inside anywhere it is like walking into a fridge. I wanted to wear a jumper at times.

We ate out every night and most of the places we went to had the decor (plastic tables and seats etc.) of a cheap fast-food joint in the UK. The best place that we went to, a Brazilian restaurant, was a lot better but was still only at the level of a Harvester. I would not have called any of the places a restaurant.

The only positives that I can think of now are that it is clean, safe and you do have a wide choice of places to eat that all have spaces available. So there was nothing really to hate about Dallas but there was nothing to love either.

I shall not be angling to get back to Dallas quickly but, in contrast, I am very much looking forward to potential trips in the near future to Russia, Ukraine, Dubai, Egypt and Morocco. I like places with character which, for me, Dallas does not have.

This sign caught my eye

This sign on the road through my current client's business park caught my attention for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the abbreviation "Ped Xing" for "Pedestrians Crossing" seems rather unnecessary and also a little confusing. I think the picture works by itself.

But the more unusual feature of the sign is that there never are any pedestrians crossing (apart from me!) because everybody drives everywhere, even between different buildings in this business park. An excuse for this may be that cars are air conditioned but the outside is not!

Feeling rather out of place

This trip to Dallas is going rather well and, to be honest, it has been rather enjoyable on the whole; but there have been some times when I rather felt that I was in the wrong place.

Last night we all (40 people) went for a team meal at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian style restaurant that does meat, meat and more meat. It does 15 different cuts of meat and you can eat as much as you like. I may have been the only vegetarian there!

To add insult to injury I was sitting with a group of typical Americans (from an European perspective). We were talking about our children when one of the guys suggested to another that he took his son down to the sports shop, bought him a couple of guns and joined the NRA on the grounds that there is nothing better in life. I bit my tongue and carried on nibbling my lettuce!

21 August 2007

My hotel in Las Colinas, Irving, Texas

I am in Dallas this week for a series of workshops and meetings with my current client. The whole area is a suburban sprawl called the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex, i.e. the two original cities and intermediate towns (like Irving) have now all merged into one.

"Las Colinas is a developed area in the Dallas suburb of Irving, Texas. Due to its central location between Dallas and Fort Worth and its proximity to DFW Airport, Las Colinas has been a viable place in the Metroplex for corporate and business relocation. As a planned community, it is synonymous with corporation offices, luxury hotels, landmark office towers on shining lakes, private country clubs, gated executive enclaves and urban lofts." ~ from Wikipedia.

What this means in reality is lots of modern buildings spread widely apart, some landscaping, lots of roads, very few pavements, fewer pedestrians and all the usual American shops and dinners ("restaurants" is too posh a word for them).

I am staying at the Hyatt Summerfield Suites - Las Colinas which gives me two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and free wireless internet!! As you can see from the picture, it is situated next to some water. It is also only a few hundred meters from the client's offices and I managed to walk back yesterday despite the heat (over 30 degrees) and the lack of a pavement for most of the way.

19 August 2007

Easy check-in at Gatwick

I'm flying to Dallas today at 14:15 and was advised on the booking form to check-in 2 hours before this, i.e. 12:15. Recent check-ins at Heathrow to European destinations had gone slower than expected, both at initial check-in and, more severely, at the security checks. Therefore I left home in good time, allowing for hold ups on the M25 etc., and got to Gatwick 1/2 hour early, i.e. 11:45.

Arriving at the American Airlines check-in desk I was very surprised to see only about ten people in front of me. There were a few check-in desks open so the queue moved quickly and I was through in just a few minutes, having checked-in a bag and confirmed my special meal and seat reservation.

The queue for security was a little longer, possibly 50 people but with several scanners working this queue also went quickly. I travel light, just a laptop my iPod and some things to read, so there was nothing to worry the scanners and I was through that in a few minutes too.

The next step was the shoe scanning but for some reason I was excused that (do I look that safe?!) and was allowed to walk straight in to the departure area.

I got through all these steps in less than 30 minutes and so found myself air side at about the time I planned to arrive at the airport! Hence I have time to grab a coffee and make use of the BT Open wireless network. Only 90 minutes now until my plane leaves ...

16 August 2007

Sensational Alex Harvey Band fan convention

This is the musical event of the year for me and I am looking forward to it enormously. I went to the first SAHB convention last year and am looking forward to meeting up again with the fans, many of whom come from Scotland so I do not see them at the London or Southampton gigs.

The logistics are proving to be bit of a nightmare as I am working in Dallas during the week. This means an overnight flight that lands at Gatwick on Friday morning giving me around 10 hours to get home, change bags (packing for the convention is easy, black trousers and a collection of SAHB t-shirts) and catch a train to Wolverhampton. A hassle, but it will be worth it :-)

15 August 2007

The Earth's Mightiest Heroes

I have been reading the adventures of the Avengers for around forty years, initially in British black and white reprints, then in the original Marvel comic and now in a family of comics that includes New Avengers, Mighty Avengers, Ultimates and Illuminati.

The Avengers have always had a changing line-up and every major Marvel hero has been a member at some time, including the usually loners like Spiderman, Wolverine and Daredevil. This continual change helps to keep the comic fresh and allows for interesting sub-plots in the character interactions. It's not quite Dallas but there have been a few weddings, affairs and serious arguments.

But what I really like about the Avengers is, being the Earth's Mightiest Heroes, they get involved in the biggest adventures, such as the classic Kree v Skrull war (1972), Kang war (2001) and the more recent House of M and Civil War.

14 August 2007

A visit to Ham House, finally!

I've lived in North Kingston for the last twenty years, and in Ham for the last ten, and in the time I have walked past Ham House many many times but I only visited the place for the first time this weekend.

The inside of the house is interesting but not exceptional and I managed to see all that I wanted to see in around 45 minutes. I found the garden a lot more interesting. The main garden to the rear has a lawn area then a maze of paths and small gardens to explore. On one side of the house is an ornamental garden and on the other a kitchen garden that is currently being restored. The former Orangery is now a cafe that does a rather nice fruit cake.

There are a lot more pictures of Ham House in my other blog.

12 August 2007

The Turn of the Screw at Glyndebourne

There is much that makes going to Glyndebourne such a special event:
  • The setting which includes lovely gardens with lots of large exotic plants and a some sculptures
  • The drinks and cakes before the opera and the main picnic during the long interval
  • The modern opera house which looks great, sounds great and is really comfortable
  • The simple modern staging that enhances the story without distracting from it (unlike at the Royal Opera House)
  • The excellent singing and the superb music, which is clearly the main reason for going.
Yesterday I went to see The Turn of the Screw, an opera by Benjamin Britten based on an enigmatic ghost story by Henry James. Even by Glyndebourne's high standards, this was very good. The music sustained a tense and menacing mood throughout (even when nursery rhymes were included in the mix) and the singing was just fantastic. As long as Glyndebourne continues to stage opera as good as this I'll continue to go there.

9 August 2007

Helsinki cathedrals

Thursday seems to be the best night to be away from home. I'm not sure if it is because my colleagues have had enough of my company and so find excuses not to go out with me in the evening or if their excuses are true and they really are tired and want to spend a quiet evening in the hotel, but I always seem to get Thursday evening to myself to walk around the city, take lots of photos and enjoy the occasional beer in a lively bar.

Tonight I headed out of the hotel away from the city centre to explore more of the nearby park (Kluuvi Gloet).
This led me to part of the harbour (there is an awful lot of harbour in Helsinki) that I had not been to before and I followed the path along the harbour-side as it curved gently back towards the city centre.

The path leads straight to the impressive brick Uspeski Cathedral on the water-front at which point I headed into the narrow roads on the east-side of the city centre. All the roads there seem to lead to another cathedral (pictured) that towers over Senate Square. A really impressive building in a really impressive setting.
The evening was only let down by the latest moronic outpouring from Bush; this time he is threatening Iran for supplying Iraqi opposition forces with weapons only hours after it was admitted that 190,000 USA weapons have gone missing and are presumed to be in opposition hands.

7 August 2007

Ups and downs of travelling

This week's trip to Helsinki has certainly highlighted some of the ups and downs of regular international travel. I'll let you decide which is an "up" and which is a "down".
  • Getting up at 5:00 on a Monday morning for a flight at 7:30
  • Arriving in Helsinki without your luggage
  • Going straight from the plane into a meeting, missing lunch in the process
  • Eating al fresco at a Spanish restaurant by the harbour
  • Having to stay over for another night but finding your current hotel full on the extra day
  • Dashing to the shops before they close to buy some clothes for the next day
  • Taking the opportunity to buy a couple of nice shirts in the sale (pink is in this year!)
  • Failing to connect to the hotel WLAN so unable to contact anybody by email/Facebook/etc.
  • Having a morning call at 6:30am, which is 4:30am in the UK
  • Eating out with a group of colleagues in a restaurant on a small island accessed by ferry
  • Exploring part of the city you've not been to before and finding a new park with a nice fountain
  • CNN and BBC World are the only English language channels on the hotel TV