31 May 2016

Why I hate working with Microsoft Word

Like a lot of people, especially those who style ourselves as consultants, Microsoft Office is my main tool and while I would not claim to be an expert in it I have been singing it heavily since the very early 1990s with Office v1.0 which included Word v1.1. While I use OpenOffice out of choice at home I have been using Office ever since wherever I have worked.

Twenty five years of serious use and I am still frequently confused and frustrated by the quirks in Word that makes it do things that are so weird that I find it hard to believe that they were intended yet they are so obvious that if they are bugs then surely they would have been found and fixed many years ago.

I have said many times that I defy anybody to use numbered and/or bulleted lists and to get the result that they expected and I came foul of my own rule this morning.

I had pasted some text (keep text only) from one document to another. I then added the headings (1.6, 1.6.1 and 1.6.2) using the styles from the target document. So far so good.

Then I wanted to restore the numbered lists that had been imported as text, i.e. the "1", "a" etc. were included within the text rather than in the formatting. I wanted to use the numbered list formatting for the obvious reasons, to be consistent with the rest of the document and to make modifying the list easy.

So I selected the relevant text and pressed the numbered list button on the toolbar.

The numbering worked much as I hoped but in creating the numbered list Word also decided to modify the styles of my headings! Headings 1.6 and 1.6.1 were both indented and by different amounts. The paragraph mark on the normal line above the 1.6 heading shows where they were and should have been left.

Checking the style confirmed that it was the style that had been changed (so the changes were made to the whole document) rather than just the settings to those paragraphs.

I have absolutely no idea why Word chose to do that and this is a typical example of the frustrations that I have with working with Microsoft Office. It's simply not up to the job.

22 May 2016

Petersham Open Gardens 2016

Every year several local gardens open for charity and this alternates between Ham (odd years) and Petersham (even years). By this rule it was Petersham's turn again in 2016.

Petersham is quite a small area but within that area there is a large number of lodges and manors because of the proximity of the (former) hunting grounds of Richmond Park and grand houses tend to have grand gardens.

The organisation of Petersham Open Gardens was good and they allowed six hours (11am to 5pm) for people to look around the twelve gardens. I did not expect to take all of that as I had seen most of the gardens before, often several times, so I started my tour at 1pm and just managed to see all twelve  before they closed.

I've chosen just a few of my favourite photos I took that day to give a flavour of what was on offer and to explain why it took four hours to see everything.

Petersham Lodge is one of the grandest of the grand houses that opened their gardens. Normally I would show a picture of the large pond as that is the main feature of the garden so this time I have chosen to highlight another part of the large and varied garden.

This is a little enclave close to the house. It had been full of hedges and gravel on my previous visits and this time both had been refreshed. This mean that the garden was closed to visitors and we had to be happy with peeking into it. An advantage of that was that there were no other visitors in it to spoil the view.

Montrose House is another one of the grandest houses with a large and eclectic garden which included a pink and a blue elephant and other assorted animal sculptures. Again I, and others, have shown them many times so I have gone for a more traditional scheme.

There is a sheltered spot in the garden in a corner created by the house and a large garden room and this is where the large water feature resides. The water flows gently from the top level and then away from the plinth in a couple of narrow channels next to the flower beds. A lovely place to sit.

What I liked most about the garden in Harrington Lodge was the large brick patio running along the back of the house. Here it is enhanced by an old pot and some colourful flowers.

On a similar theme, bricks and flowers, I liked this low wall in Downlands. The rusted metal globe helped too.

Next to Downlands, but confusingly accessed via a different road, was Arreton Cottage which easily had the most interesting things in it of all the gardens. This selection is just an example of the varied things on display. The picture also shows the care with which the objects were arranged.

Elm Lodge was another large garden with several different areas, including pigs and chickens, and it was the water feature at the side of the house that I found the most attractive. This had three pools at three different levels and it is the top level that is featured here with its wonderful heron.

I love the stone ball too. This marks the gateway between the top two levels with the water slowly flowing up and left as we look at it. The other water was flowing lightly from the sky and was rippling the pools with raindrops.

The rain was not much of a deterrent and I carried on exploring Elm Lodge until the bewitching hour of 5pm when, after four hours of walking around gardens, I treated myself to a bus home. It had been a fantastic afternoon and a testament to the power of gardens and gardeners.

An early stroll through Kew Gardens (22 May 16)

I have been a member of Kew Gardens for several years and have taken advantage of that membership to go as frequently as I can. Most of my visits have been first thing on Sunday mornings to see as much of the garden as possible

Now membership has got even better with the gardens opening at 8am for members, a full two hours before the general public is allowed in. Enjoying the gardens when they are quiet has got a lot easier.

It was the right time of year to visit the Alpine Gardens as a lot of the plants were in bloom.

The large waterfall (there are several) in the Alpine Gardens is the main physical feature there and it has its own viewing platform to appreciate it from. I do that often but this is a pleasure best not shared and the absence of people walking and talking meant there were no distractions from the falling water.

This is possibly the best place to be during the early openings.

I took this picture to show off the pretty roof line of the Princess of Wales Conservatory and the way that it sits easily with the trees around it.

I still prefer the older glasshouses and am counting down the days until the Temperate House opens again in 2018, meanwhile the Princess of Wales Conservatory is doing an admiral job and I find myself going there quite often. I have yet to find an easy route through it, and that is one of its charms.

At times it felt like the opening scenes of 28 Days Later with nobody to be seen in places that are normally bustling with activity. This is the Sackler Crossing devoid of people.

I prefer to go on the Treetop Walkway when it is quiet because  I can take it at my own pace and not worry about other people trying to get past me as I pause to look at something. It is not that wide and my caution of heights means that I prefer to walk sedately down the middle so anything which disturbs my progress makes me a little edgy.

There were no such problems on this morning as the only other group up there with me were well in front of me and were on the way back down before I had got half way round. Being alone meant being more comfortable and more able to appreciate the trees, which is why the walkway is there.

Returning towards Victoria Gate I walked around the Temperate House (under reconstruction) and onto Pagoda Vista, named for obvious reasons. This is one of the three main vistas that form a triangle around the lake and they are normally too full of people for me to be tempted to use them. Not this day.

The early openings at Kew Gardens are a very big enhancement to an already good deal. Membership now qualifies as a "no brainer".

20 May 2016

Blown away by Tête à Tête's Crime and Punishment at the Royal College of Music

Tête à Tête is a company committed to exploring the future of opera. I came across them at a festival of new operas that they ran at the Riverside in Hammersmith in 2011 and I have been back to their festivals every year since in which time I have seen a lot of operas, and other musical works. covering a myriad of themes in a myriad of styles and I have become a firm fan.

That alone would have made it an easy decision to see a series of six short operas inspired by Dostoevsky's classic book (which I had read and vaguely remembered). Taking the decision from easy to no-brainer was the location as the Britten Theatre at the Royal College of Music (RCM) is a little gem of an opera house, small on scale but large on atmosphere.

Finally the tickets were a derisory £8 (Dress Circle seat A28). I presume that was because the operas were created by RCM composers and performed by RCM singers and so the costs were somewhat less than for most commercial operas. Even so, on reflection the price was at least £10 below where it should have been.

My loose connection to Tête à Tête gained by writing nice things about them (fully deserved) and talking to them at events got me invited to their pre-concert drinks and nibbles, which was nice.

But first I had to get there which was less nice as my new workplace is in Teddington which has two slow trains an hour to Richmond and two slow trains an hour the other way to Kingston. It took me about an hour and a quarter to get from Teddington to South Kensington and that was with nothing going wrong. I'm going to have to work on my travel options for other events.

There were six operas each of fifteen minutes with a break for more drinks and more talking in the middle.

Stream of Consciousness, Sea of Blood by Benjamien Lycke (music) and Mien Bogaert (words) took us into the world of politics as a President looks to Dostoevsky for inspiration as he makes the most difficult decision of his life. I liked the tension in this as he wrestled with the possibility of being responsible for the deaths of many of his citizens.

76 Days by Kenichi Ikuno Sekiguchi (music and words) told the gripping story of a real-life kidnapping. This was dark and I like dark. I liked the way that we could see the wife at home and her captured husband with his captors at the same time. The lounged menacingly while she was struggling with her first whisky of the day. The husband's brother took a more pragmatic view.

Bel and the Dragon by Alex Paxton (music and words) was a retelling of a story from the Apocrypha. That story must also be elsewhere as it was one that I knew, in it a statue of the cow god Bel was though to come to life to eat the food each night but Daniel, he who liked lions, proved that it was the priests stealing it. Despite the seriousness of the accusations and of the penalties inflicted this was a humorous piece that ended the first half on a light note.

At the interval it felt like a typical evening at a Tête à Tête festival with three very different pieces each with their separate merits. I grabbed a beer from the bar and then found some Tête à Tête people to have that conversation with. It was a short interval and I took the rest of my beer in with me when the bell rang for the second half.

The Two Sisters by Algirdas Kraunaitis (music) and Grace Lee-Khoo (words) gave us more darkness and some humour in a quirkily gruesome Scottish folk-tale retold. One of the two sisters killed the other but said that she had gone away with a boy. Sometime later a stranger visits the house and produces a device which sounds like the dead sister which brings things to a head. I loved the story and the way that it was told.

Der Eisenhut by Amy Bryce (music) and Roland Bryce (words) was a tale of revenge in post-war Germany and was another successful dark tale, though this time with no magic, just ordinary mushrooms. Another simple tale well told and, in my opinion, the best singing of the evening from the two female leads.

The evening ended with Killer Graphics by Sam Hall (music) and Darren Rapier (words) was typical Tête à Tête fare with reality blurred between video games (GTA) and real life. This was an interesting story with lots of fun violence and a little bit of fun sex delivered by a large cast. It was a wonderful end to the evening.

At half-time I was happy and at the end I was ecstatic. I loved the second half operas even more that I had those in the first half and that made it an astonishingly good evening overall. It was a fantastic advertisement for modern opera, the students, teaching and facilities of the RCM and the format devised by Tête à Tête.

Crime and Punishment was a ridiculously good evening and I was delighted that Tête à Tête were being even more innovative and were live streaming it the following night (Saturday) so that I could watch it all again.

The video of the evening is now online on YouTube so you can see for yourself just how good it was. I'll be watching it again too.

17 May 2016

2000AD Prog 1947 with Judge Dredd on a charge

My deep dive into the last two years of 2000AD continues and while I am trying to draw attention to some of the lesser known, or almost unknown, strips there are times when the old favourites demand attention and Henry Flint's cover to Prog 1947 is one such moment.

In the current Dredd story line, Enceladus, he is up against fallen judges who had been exiled to the penal colony on Titan and then had moved to another of Saturn's moons, Enceladus. Somehow that had led to Mega City 1 being engulfed by ice and under attack from ice monsters. The strip carries these longer stories from time to time and I love them. Writer Rob Williams takes the credit for this one.

But it is Henry Flint's art that makes this Dredd story something rather special.

I also like the reference to the classic Doors song, Riders On the Storm, in the title. 2000AD does a lot of that sort of thing.

16 May 2016

My first day at sparesFinder

Today I started my new job as a Project Manager for sparesFinder. We can help solve your company's materials data challenges and provide the tools you need to deliver significant savings to take you beyond data cleaning.

Materials Data Management (MDM) is not quite a completely new area for me as I had some exposure at both Dwr Cymru Welsh Water I managed a small project that maintained asset details in a GIS and at EDF Energy where I worked at a coal-fired power station for a few months and everything they did was about managing assets. I see MDM as an excuse to learn something new which I will both enjoy and expect to be good at.

One of the attractions of the job is that is is based in Teddington. I mapped my walk to work this morning and it came out at 2.33 km and took 22:24 minutes walking at an unhurried pace. I plan to walk to/from work every day and will be experimenting with longer routes, though I will probably always have to cross the river using the Teddington Footbridge, so that I can get more steps in and can spend more time listening to podcasts.

For the first time in quite a while I am genuinely looking forward to coming in to work and I hope to be here for a good few years until the lure of doing nothing finally pulls me into retirement.

12 May 2016

Jelly Beans at Theatre503 addressed adult themes violently and intelligently

It does not take much to get me to see something at Theatre503 and this time it was the simple statement that Jelly Beans was by the creative team behind BU21 and Cans, both of which I saw at Theatre503 and both of which I loved. To be specific, ir was written by Dan Pick who had directed both of those shows.

Unusually it was only on for a week which gave me limited options on when to see it and I settled for a Thursday evening even though I was at home that day and had something to do locally in the afternoon. That meant a prompt tea before catching a 65 to Richmond and a train to Clapham Junction. The travel worked exceptionally well and I got to the theatre about half an hour before the show started, plenty of time for a pint of Landlord from the Latchmere before heading upstairs to the theatre.

The stage was refreshingly bare and this was my view from the middle of the front row which cost me a parsimonious £12.

Like Portia the week before, this was a one person show that explored some pretty dark places. This time it was a troubled young man, played by Adam Harley. The tale was told in the first person and I do not recall being told the character's name and there is none listed on the theatre's website.

We could tell immediately that he was troubled because of the way he looked, the way he spoke and the things that he told us about his lifestyle and recent events. This was an 18+ performance so I cannot repeat much of what he said.

In talking to us, he switched topics and periods rapidly as his fractured mind made connections. As his story jumped around we learned some things about his family, girlfriends, school days and thoughts. As the story jumped, Adam fidgeted with his clothes and played with the chair in a slightly maniacal way, because he was slightly maniacal. Just how maniacal he was became obvious when he went to the supermarket to buy Pop-Tarts and ended up having a confrontation with a large man in a mobility scooter. Things got really dark after that.

There was strong violence (but I think I escaped the blood, that is always a danger with a front row seat) then there was more strong sex. Neither was gratuitous or prurient and instead were a natural, if extreme, extension of the drama that had gone before. It was a shocking story that shocked mightily while giving us a deep look inside one troubled mind. It almost seems wrong to describe it as entertaining despite being entertained by it.

Jelly Beans was very much in the usual Theatre503 mold of being provocative, dramatic and intelligent. I use the word "intelligent" a lot when talking about plays at Theatre503 and that is deliberate on my part and, I am sure, on theirs. 

2000AD Prog 1936 with Harry Absalom

My catching-up with 2000AD is going well, if not quite well enough for me to be up to date by the time that I start my new job. There has been a lot of enjoy as I've tried to read four issues a day and I wanted to highlight one of the less well know stories - Absalom.

Harry Absalom is a police inspector who fights supernatural forces in a version of modern day Britain. His police procedures are far more The Sweeney than Line of Duty and that is part of the charm of the stories. These are penned by 2000AD regular Gordon Rennie who has written several Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper stories as well as creating other titles such as Aquila.

The artwork by Dom Reardon is deliciously quirky and ideal for the strip.

Absalom is something a little different and a cracking read with it.