Friday, 28 December 2007

Out with the old...

2001 Ford Ka 1.3, originally uploaded by xrrr(?).

After owning it for almost five years, today we traded in Alison's Ford Ka for a VW Polo. The Ka was already 2 years old when we bought it in March 2003 and it is almost exactly 7 years old this week.

The Ka was totally past it. It had been used as a skip work horse during the renovation period on our house and bore the brunt of the heavy stuff. My excuse for not using my car is that the boot aperture is too small as it is not a hatchback :-)

Day 50 - Will it all go in?, originally uploaded by xrrr(?).

Day 353: ...Going..., originally uploaded by xrrr(?).

The last MOT cost £400 which was 10% of the value of the car when we bought it and more than half the trade-in price! So with the following list of worries and an impending MOT due in two weeks we decided it was time to trade it in:
  • Squeaky clutch - used to be just on hill starts but recently been on most gear changes
  • Shagged suspension - a million and one clanks and knocks as the car drives around
  • Odd engine noise when turning left - no idea what this is
  • Bobbling of paint and rust around the base of the B-pillar
  • 66,000 miles on the clock
  • Lost Ford badge on the back - not a worry but it is surprising how much it changes the look of the car
I had always found the Ka uncomfortable as a passenger as the window winder always bashed into my knee and the cabin was too small. To its credit though it never broke down. It has needed a new window mechanism (due to the drivers window getting stuck open), some suspension work and both headlight bulbs replacing (both went within a month of each other) but it has never broken down.

When we decided to buy a new car Alison wanted another Ford Ka. It took me a while to persuade her to look at other cars within the guidelines:
  • Nothing Japanese (Alison doesn't like the look)
  • Nothing French (I didn't trust the reliability)
  • Must have air con
  • Must look nice
  • Must have at least a 1.3 engine
  • Nice to have: iPod connectivity
Well the Polo ticked all the boxes even though it was a little more expensive than I had planned. The new shape Polo actually looks really nice too.

2008 Volkswagen Polo 1.4 S, originally uploaded by xrrr(?).

We eventually opted for brand new a 3 door 1.4 Polo S which, including the options (iPod adapter, metallic paint, seat upgrade [the car was ordered from stock and had that already on]) and the finance and servicing deals, was only a few pounds more a month (literally) than buying a decent second hand Polo.

2008 Volkswagen Polo 1.4 S, originally uploaded by xrrr(?).

Buying the car was 'fun' to say the least. The sales guy very quickly passed over negotiations to the dealership manager after I took with me a Glass Guide evaluation (£3.50 from the website) and a print out of the new car price offer from This allowed me to enter negotiations with the lowest price offer in the UK for the new car (or as near as damn it) and for an idea of the best price I could get for the trade in. Therefore with a 'cost to change' already in my mind before we went in I was ready for battle :-)

The conversation went something like this:
Me: I want to pay £8800 cost to change
Dealer: The best I can offer for the trade-in is £700 and matching the Broadspeed price that makes the monthly payment a mere £[I forget the amount]
Me (grabbing the calculator): That means a cost to change of £9050. That is more than I had in mind.
Dealer: That is the lowest we can go. It is a good offer.
Me: Your valuation of the Ka is £350 less than the "average condition" trade on Glass.
Dealer: Yes, that is because we think that is a fair offer.
Me: Ok, £9050 is more than I wanted to spend.
Dealer: We can't go any lower
Me: Offer me £250 more for the trade-in and we have a deal
Dealer: No deal
(lots more benefit statements from the dealer)
Me: Ok. Lets cut this short. Lets go all Dragon's Den and split the difference. I will go up £125 if you meet me in the middle.
Dealer: No deal
Me: Well I am not paying more that £8925
Dealer: Perhaps we can talk more if you look at these extras: Autoglym Life Shine (£350), Gap Insurance (350) and a service and maintenance plan (£17 pcm for 3 years).
Me: Lets not get distracted by those, agree to the car and we can talk about the extras.
Dealer: Gap insurance.....
Me: Agree to £8925 and I will shake your hand and pay the deposit now.
Dealer: That is too low
(Lots of pushing of the "extras")
Me: Look we are arguing over £125 here!
Dealer (thinks about it): Ok, you have a deal. Now about the Gap Insurance.
Me: Ok good, you have a deal. Now lets look at these extras.
(Dealer draws a graph on paper of insurance costs verses car costs)
Dealer: If your car is an insurance write off in the first 3 years this insurance will cover the difference to allow you get a new car again. £350 is a good deal.
Me: No thanks.
Dealer: If your car is an insurance write off...
Me: Look I spent nearly four times as much on a car for me last year [huge exaggeration] and I did not take the gap insurance for that so I ain't going to take it now.
Dealer: Ok, Autoglym Life Shine. Modern cars have a water based paint that needs protection. I am sure when you bought your last sofa you had it Scotch guarded, this is the same thing for the interior and exterior of your car.
Me: No thanks. [not quite believing that car manufacturers would actually put lower quality paint on new cars than they used to - even if they do I am sure they would not let the dealers tell anyone!]
Dealer: Are you telling me that this is not a good thing?
Me: No, I agree it is a good thing but it is not worth £350. Again, I was offered something similar when I bought my car and I looked it up on the internet and it got very mixed reviews on whether it is worth it.
Dealer: I can do it for £300
Me: To be honest I would still be sceptical if it was £50 so no thanks.
Dealer: Ok, so the gap insurance I can do that for you at cost price, £200.
Me: Look. I don't want all this. I agree the Autoglym looks good but no way am I paying more than £50 for it. The gap insurance is a risk mitigation. I am a gambling man [I am not but I was getting carried away] and I am happy to take the risk. So thanks but no thanks.
Dealer: Ok fine.

Phew, that all took about 2 hours. After all that we got a 9% discount on the list price of the car which ain't bad. I probably could have spent another 2 hours and got a bit more off but I really could not be arsed!

Anyway, they texted me a few times during the week to make sure I did not want the extras but I did not crumble! I did accept the VW offer of 3 services for £200 upfront as three years of servicing the Polo is about £400 according to the dealer's service price chart. Looks like quite a sound deal :-)

So we picked the car up today with no problems other than me being held hostage for 30 minutes...

It turned out that there was a slight misunderstanding in our household regarding a car's "Log book". Before we left to go and swap the cars over I asked if Alison had the "service book, log book and driving licence". We got to the dealer and he asked for the V5 Log Book for the Ka. Turned out the V5 Log Book had been left at home!

I guess it is an easy mistake to make. The service book is a book and it has the words "Service Log Book" on the front. Whereas the V5 Log Book is a piece of paper from the DVLA and looks nothing like a book.

They asked me to stay behind whilst Alison popped home to get the V5 otherwise I would have had to pay a £500 retainer (a.k.a ransom!) until we produced the V5 for the Ka.

So, all sorted eventually. Probably about an entire day of my life taken up with the various processes but Alison is happy and that is the important thing :-)

2008 Volkswagen Polo 1.4 S, originally uploaded by xrrr(?).

Monday, 24 December 2007

Merry Christmas!

Let it snow!, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Merry Christmas everybody. I hope Father Christmas brings you everything on your list :-)

I am sure a few households will be waking to the following scene with a Nintendo Wii replacing the N64!

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Flickr Stats

Flickr Stats, originally uploaded by xrrr.

At last! Flickr has finally enabled photo stats!

A long awaited feature that provides statistics on what photos are popular and where they were referred from. It just stops short of the much requested 'WHO has been looking at my photos' but is still very cool.

Looking at my stats I can see that on 15 December 2007 I had 332 views and 2 comments. my top viewed picture was 'Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow' at Madame Tussauds with a grand total 51 views yesterday / 232 views this week / 1,484 views all time.

Johnny Depp as Cap'n Jack Sparrow, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Another interesting feature is the ability to see the details of the referrer or in other words the place that linked to my Flickr page. The vast majority of views came from Flickr itself either from postings in discussion groups, photos in pools or searches. The second highest referrer is Yahoo Image Search. Therefore I can see what people were searching for when they ended up looking at my photo. The current all time top 5 views from searches is:
  1. Jack Sparrow
  2. Noob
  3. Mercedes McLaren
  4. 2008 BMW M3
  5. Mercedes Benz
Bizarrely 50% of the Jack Sparrow searches have appeared in the last week. Not sure if my picture managed to get to the front page or whether people have just been searching for Johnny Depp more?!

When I get time, I am sure to be doing a lot more "stat mining" as it is fascinating to see how people are using my photos :-)

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Canon Speedlite 430EX Comparison Test

Something new to play with, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Canon Speedlite 430EX Comparison Test

First of all let me mention that I am no test or photography expert and I wish I had the knowledge, background and TIME to write a review similar to a level of detail. But I don't!

I bought the flash unit and was curious what the benefits were. So to test the settings I took some sample pictures and have included the pictures and my notes here for the benefit of all.

If you do not agree with my amateur observations then that is fine, you can make your own mind up as all of the full size pictures are on Flickr. Just click on the photos and click the "All sizes" button to get to the large versions. If you an amateur like me and are thinking of buying an external flash unit then hopefully this will help.

Also, before you do anything with your Canon flash you absolutely need to read NK Guy's Flash Photography with Canon EOS Cameras first!

In this post I have two tests:
  1. Comparison of the camera's built in flash with the Speedlite
  2. Comparison of a few basic flash options to improve a scene
Both tests use the following equipment:
Test 1 - Comparison of the camera's built in flash with the Speedlite
This test was performed indoors at night under a standard 100w light bulb. I chose the items in the scene to give reflections, darks, lights and a bit of colour. There is also a grey card used to help with the white balance corrections.

Shot #1.1

Flash Test 1.1 - No flash, originally uploaded by xrrr.

This was my control shot with no flash. True to the various reviews of the 400D the auto white balance selection is way off. Manual correction is required but the end result is a fairly well lit scene. Perhaps a bit dark and the shadows are a bit harsh but I would be reasonably happy with that shot. We are here to test the flash though, so lets press on.

Shot #1.2

Flash Test 1.2 - Stock 400D Flash, originally uploaded by xrrr.

This is the built in pop up flash on the 400D. As with most flash photography at short range, it is very harsh. The shadows from the overhead light are softened out but the glare and reflection from the shiny objects is too much. The white of the pen and paper also loses a bit of detail. Interestingly the only blown highlights are in the reflections of the flash (which you would expect). The flash has been reflected off the shiny container onto the Mont Blanc pen case leaving a nasty light mark. At least the white balance was more accurate. Note that the camera automatically adjusted the shutter speed to adapt for the flash being switched on.

Shot #1.3
This was taken with the Speedlite 430EX pointing directly forward with all of the default settings. I was initially quite surprised by this shot as it is virtually no different to the built in flash. The shadows are slightly differently placed due to the height of the Speedlite but the glare is still there. So much for the "perfect exposure every time" claim from Canon!

To be honest I should not have been surprised as a flash is a flash and directly head on is the worst kind of flash. I think I had assumed that the 'evaluative through the lens' (E-TTL) light metering would recognise not to blast out such a strong light pulse as it is not required.

I note that my EF 35mm f/2 lens does not support E-TTL distance measurement which means the flash will use a default setting. When I get a chance I will run a test with my EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM that *does* support distance measurement. If you have no idea what I am on about then you have not read NK Guy's flash guide yet!

However, the point of an external flash is that you gain control over what it does...

Shot #1.4

This shot used the flash as it is supposed (?) to be used as I directed the flash at my white ceiling and let the light bounce onto the scene. This has created a much more even light. The hard shadows of shot #1 have been softened slightly and there is no harsh glare from from the reflective objects. The flash is a lot less noticeable, in fact the glare from the light bulb on the neck of the bottle is what catches my eye.

Saying all that, for this scene I still prefer the side light from shot #1.1 as it provides more depth than shot #1.4. More practice required I think :-)

Test 2 - Comparison of a few basic flash options to improve a scene
This test was run in the same location as Test 1 but it was an overcast daylight coming through the window on the right of the scene casting long, dark shadows. There was also a window on the far side of the room on the left of the scene. The sun was coming from the right but you can still pick up the left hand window reflections in the Seven Seas container.

Shot #2.1

Flash Test 2.1 - No flash, originally uploaded by xrrr.

As with test 1 the camera's auto white balance is terrible, but shooting in RAW allows me to fix that in the Lightroom software. The light cast on the scene makes it look a bit dull. Handy I have a flash then!

Shot #2.2

Flash Test 2.2 - Black Focus, originally uploaded by xrrr.

I have used the Speedlight with the flash pointing directly at the scene. In this test I wanted to test the difference between what focus point the camera registers because the Speedlite will use the active focus point at the time the photo is taken. This means if you use the camera like I do and keep the centre point as the main focus point, focus and then recompose before taking the shot then the flash will get confused.

In this shot, the focus point is central and focussed on the black Mont Blanc pen case. The result is that the background objects are better lit at the expense of the white paper in the foreground losing some definition. The shiny object has picked up the flash glare but because of the changed angle (looking down more) it is not as noticeable.

I am not sure why, but the camera did not change the shutter speed to adjust for the flash. I think the evaluative metering must have got hung up on the black. Lets see what happens if we change the focus point...

Shot #2.3

Flash Test 2.3 - White Focus, originally uploaded by xrrr.

This shot used the lowest focus point that was covering the white paper in the foreground. Notice how the contrast of the paper is far better and the light looks more natural. A word of caution before you think the flash made a big difference: The camera was in aperture priority mode so me changing the focus point also changes the shutter speed as I was in evaluative metering mode. So a fairly inconclusive test that I need to redo when I get chance.

There is still a lot of glare so lets try and improve it a bit more...

Shot #2.4

In this shot I aimed the flash away from the scene and bounced it off the back of my grey card (which is white). This has removed almost all of the glare from the scene and kept the lighting reasonably even. The shadows are softer and everything looks more evenly lit. Also in this final picture I only had to tweak the white balance the tiniest amount. I am not sure what happened to make the auto white balance work better but it is all good.

The external flash was not the immediate 'fix it all' solution I was hoping for but my first 50 shots on my 400D (my first SLR) were absolute rubbish as I had not learned how to use it. All of these quick tests were run with the Speedlite on the default "auto" settings so I was not making full use of the flash.

The flash unit gives a massive amount of tweaking potential that, once mastered, should prove to be a useful addition to my (ever increasing) camera kit. I never use the pop up flash just as I never use the camera's "auto" mode.

I am now considering a cheap softbox attachment for the Speedlite to see if I can get that utopian soft light for indoor portraits without having to invest in a remote flash or studio lights!

Am I glad I invested? Absolutely! I like the being in control of the flash in order to obtain better photographs. I now just need to learn how to use the thing!

I hope this was useful :-)

Tuesday, 27 November 2007


Tube-less, originally uploaded by xrrr.

I read in the Rocketboom blog recently about the NY subway map reduced to a simple picture with no text or grid lines.

This is my attempt at doing the London Underground map using the same idea.

It also looks more abstract in B&W:

Tube-less B&W, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Friday, 23 November 2007

The Fat Duck

The Fat Duck, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Last week Alison and I were lucky enough to visit Heston Blumenthal's restaurant, The Fat Duck. We opted for the 'tasting menu' which turned into over four hours of food theatre. I had the full menu and Alison had a special vegetarian variation of the dishes. We got a copy of the menu in a wax sealed envelope (pictured above).

What follows is a brief summary of what I ate! Note all the savoury dishes were served with the most amazing tasting bread and butter.

Nitro-Green Team and Lime Mousse
The waiter turns up with a bucket of liquid nitrogen and a container full of mousse. He puts a dollop of mousse on the end of a spoon and 'cooks' it in the liquid nitrogen. What happens is that the outside of the mouse freezes and the inside stays soft. As he serves it, he sprinkles green tea powder over the top and sprays a vaporizer of green tea at you as you eat it! Bizarre but very nice.

Oyster, Passion Fruit Jelly, Lavender
You get two postage stamp sized squares of jelly on a plate to enjoy. One orange and one red.

Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream, Red Cabbage Gazpacho
Yes it was cold cabbage soup with a dollop of mustard ice cream on top! This was a particularly good dish. Very tasty.

Jelly of Quail, Langoustine Cream, Parfait of Foie Gras
Oak Moss and Truffle Toast
This was an unusual dish to say the least.
It started with a tray of moss put in the middle of the table, a plate of truffle toast and a bowl of 'soup'.
We had to eat in three stages.
1) We ate a 'film' of moss - it was just like those breath mint films you but on your tongue but tasted of moss.
2) We ate the jelly, cream and Foie Gras layered soup whilst the waiter poured liquid nitrogen into the moss to create a 'dry ice' effect on the table that smelled of a forest. The layered soup was amazing, a bit strange as it was jelly on the bottom, cold soup in the middle and a dollop of Foie Gras on top.
3) We then tucked into the Truffle Toast.

Snail Porridge
Joselito ham, shaved fennel
This was my favourite dish. The porridge was mixed with parsley with the ham, snails and fennel on top. Absolutely gorgeous I could have eaten 3 times as much!

Roast Foie Gras
Almond fluid gel, cherry and chamomile
A dollop of roasted Foie Gras with the sauces arranged around.

"Sound of the Sea"
This was another unusual one. First a large shell arrived with an iPod Shuffle hidden inside. The waitress told us to put on the headphones and we listened to the 'sound of the sea' (sea breaking on a shore and sea gulls) for a few minutes until the food arrived. The food was served on a tray of sand with a glass top. On the glass was the food made to look like the beach just as a wave has broken: lots of seaweed, seafood, foam and 'sand'. We ate it whilst continuing to listen to the iPod. I am not sure what it was but there was seafood in there and something very clever to keep the foam foamy for the entire length of the meal.

Salmon Poached in Liquorice
Artichokes, vanilla mayonnaise and "Manni" olive oil
The was a block salmon encased in liquorice jelly. Unusual, I could not really taste the liquorice but the salmon was fab.

Ballotine of Anjou Pigeon
Black pudding "made to order", pickling brine and spiced juices
I may have had too much wine at this point but I don't really remember much about this dish other than the pigeon was served on the bone.

Hot and Iced Tea
Yet another unusual one. We got a glass of Earl Grey tea. It was not until you sip it you realise that one half is hot and the other half is cold! Not sure how they did it, may have been some jelling agent or something to keep them separate. Very unusual.

Mrs Marshall's Margaret Cornet
After reading a two page leaflet about how Mrs Beaton stole Mrs Marshall's thunder we were presented with a mini ice cream cone with a kind of apple ice cream.

Pine Sherbet Fountain
Another strange one. A sherbet fountain with a tube of vanilla rather than liquorice and a small amount of 'pallet cleansing' pine sherbet.

Mango and Douglas Fir Puree
Bavourois of lychee and mango, blackcurrant sorbet
Yes Christmas tree puree!

Parsnip Cereal
I was presented with a cereal box, a bowl and a jug of milk. In the box were some parsnip flakes that looked like corn flakes. They were good, but that was only the breakfast starter for...

Nitro-Scrambled Egg and Bacon Ice Cream
Pain perdue and tea jelly
The waiter turns up with a gas burner, a copper pan and an egg box. He tells me that these are special "Fat Duck Eggs" and there is no gas so he will have to use liquid nitrogen (natch). He breaks the egg into the pan and flash freezes it with the liquid nitrogen. The 'scrambled egg' ice cream is then served on a sweet 'pain perdue' that is supposed to be a hash brown and a cup of tea jelly.

Now this is the strange bit. The ice cream tasted like bacon! I am not sure if it was the chemicals that make bacon taste like bacon or actual bacon. All I can say is that it was bloody lovely!

Whisk(e)y Wine Gums
This was six cola bottles stuck to a picture frame showing a map of Scotland (and Tennessee). Each wine gum tasted like the scotch whiskey from the region followed up with a Jack Daniels (hence Tennessee).

Petits Fours
Carrot and orange lolly, mandarin aerated chocolate, violet tartlet, apple pie caramel "edible wrapper"
Some final deserts to eat with the coffee we decided not to order as it was an additional £15 each!

All in all, an amazing experience that I am glad I did. I don't think I would go back again unless the menu has totally changed as it was very expensive and more about the experience rather than just the food.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007


Cube-a-rific!, originally uploaded by xrrr.

I saw on the FlickrBlog that HP have created a template that lets you build a photo cube. A simple idea, but a great one. It only took 15 mins to select, print, cut out and assemble.

Pictured is the fruits of my labour.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Nem Beszélek Magyarul

New York Cafe, originally uploaded by xrrr.

According to my guide book 'Nem beszélek magyarul' means 'I don't speak Hungarian'. Which is a shame because I am sure I would have got on a lot better this past week if I could.

Alison and I traveled to Budapest in 2002 and I was lucky to be able to pay a brief return visit this week.

+-+- Day 1 Saturday -+-+
I got off the plane and straight into a taxi. The first sign that Hungary is now part of the European Union was that the first three logos I saw from the taxi were (in order): Tesco, C&A and Shell. Very Hungarian so far. The last time we visited Budapest there were lots of unattractive, concrete apartment blocks on the outskirts of the city and a million and one Trabants. I don't know if I took a different route or it was dark but it seemed all very 'normal' for a continental European city. I doubt that they would have replaced the bulk of the housing in the past 5 years so I assume it was the route or the darkness.

New York Palace Hotel, originally uploaded by xrrr.

I was staying in the New York Palace Hotel. The hotel was chosen for me by the conference organisers because the conference hotel was fully booked due to my late booking (our company's foreign travel approval process is long winded at best). Now I would not normally stay at such an opulent hotel, especially on the company's coin, but this was only costing me around £120 a night. As you can see from the photos it is absolutely stunning. The room is probably about 3/5 the size as the flat Alison and I used to have in Farnborough. That was a small flat, but as hotel rooms go it was bloody big.

New York Palace Hotel, originally uploaded by xrrr.

New York Palace Hotel Room 430, originally uploaded by xrrr.

The New York Palace Hotel has only recently reopened after apparently being almost derelict for the past 20 years. The hotel was commissioned by the the New York Insurance Company and opened in 1894. The hotel fell on hard times after World War 2 and was nationalised during the soviet rule. The hotel and associated New York Cafe was eventually bought by Italian Boscolo hotel chain in 2001 and eventually reopened in 2006 after an extensive refit.

New York Palace Hotel, originally uploaded by xrrr.

New York Palace Hotel, originally uploaded by xrrr.

After spending a while photographing the hotel I went for a night time walk down to the river and spent the time having a stroll taking photographs.

Chain Bridge, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Royal Palace, originally uploaded by xrrr.

On the way back I wanted to go to the famous Gerbeaud Ház cafe for a coffee and a cake but I missed it closing by a few minutes. I took a route down the main shopping street and tourist drag Váci utca and whilst I had paused for a few moments to work out where I was I was approached by two "bottle blonde babes" in their mid 20s. They jabbered something to me in Hungarian (see it would have come in handy) and then we all determined that I was English and that they could speak English too. They said they were looking for a street and I said I had a map. After one of them poured over the map I made small talk with the other one whilst the other girl chipped in with Hungarian comments and translations. Eventually they found the bit they were after and were happy. As they wondered off they both looked back and asked me what I was doing and if I would like to join them!

Let me quote something from my guidebook:
"Budapest is generally a very safe city, but it is not without its dangers, especially late at night. Attractive peroxide-blondes promenading Váci utca and introducing themselves to single men may appear friendly and genuine at first sight, but, alas, they are not. If they insist you join them for a drink a bar of their choice, you should refrain from doing so. They are not prostitutes, but "consumption girls", employed by bars to bring in foreign men to buy them drinks - which, as will become apparent only after the bill arrives, costs thousands of Hungarian forints"
Váci utca. check!
Peroxide. check!
Lone man. check!
Late at night. Sort of (9pm) but: check!
Asked to join for drink. check!

"Thanks but no thanks!"

I *do* think the guidebook needs updating though, a glass of beer in my hotel costs thousands of Hungarian forints because there are about 350 forints to the pound!

Funilly enough I was talking to another conference delegate later in the week and he said he had overheard a conversation between a British guy and the hotel staff where the British guy was angry that he had been charged €2000 for 5 beers. The bouncer in the 'gentleman's club' he had been in had escorted him to a cash point to make him pay for his drinks! My guide book had cost me £13 and I bet he wished he had bought that instead :-)

Any way after than run in with the dodgy side of life I strolled back to the hotel and had some dinner in the New York Cafe with its baroque decoration and (because it was Saturday night) Jazz band. Great food and atmosphere, I highly recommend.

New York Cafe, originally uploaded by xrrr.

+-+- Day 2 Sunday -+-+
As my hotel room rate did not include breakfast and I was against paying £10 for a cup of coffee and a croissant I stopped at a kiosk in the local metro station and got a sandwich there instead.

Going Deeper Underground, originally uploaded by xrrr.

My plan for the day was to Metro train it over to the Buda old town and then walk down to the old market (which would be unfortunately closed as it was Sunday) and then over the bridge to the Gellert baths complex.

Moscow Square, originally uploaded by xrrr.

I started my walk in Moszkva tér which translates to Moscow Square but to me it was very reminiscent of City 17. Lots of grey buildings, tram lines and overhead tram cables. There were a few homeless people in the square and people hawking lace tablecloths and flowers.

Street Seller in Moscow Square, originally uploaded by xrrr.

I noticed a lot of homeless people in the city this time round. They were fairly obvious because they mostly carried a Tesco bag for life and could be seen rummaging in litter bins.

Moscow Square, originally uploaded by xrrr.

I walked up the hill to the old town of Buda. It could not be any more different to Moscow Square, old buildings, picturesque and *very* quiet. As it was Sunday, the north end of the town was very quiet.

Old Town Buda, originally uploaded by xrrr.

As I walked over to Fisherman's Bastion it got much busier and more touristy.

Fisherman's Bastion, originally uploaded by xrrr.

After admiring the views at Fisherman's Bastion and the front of the Royal Palace I strolled down the hill back to the Chain Bridge and walked into the Four Seasons Hotel Lobby at the far end of the bridge. No interior photos because the staff were all looking at me funny, but check the pictures on their web site.

Peregrine Falcon (I think), originally uploaded by xrrr.

I walked back to the Gerbeaud Ház cafe for a coffee and a cake (it was open this time) and after drinking (yet) another small cup of coffee I was really hankering after a drink that took more than 3 sips to drink.

Fatal Restaurant, originally uploaded by xrrr.

I happened across a restaurant that Alison and I enjoyed on our last visit called Fatál. The sign noted that it had air conditioning. It bloody needed it as it is a cellar restaurant and when we went last time in the Hungarian summer I found it was almost fatal. A fatál by the way is the large wooden dish that they serve up the food on.

I got to the market place that was closed, I knew it would be closed but I went on the off chance. Last time we went to Budapest it was full of amazing stalls selling whole heads of pig and cows feet etc. Alas it was closed so I could not gawp.

Outside the market the road was all closed because it turns out they are building a forth Metro tunnel. I took a look at the website for the project and it is actually really interesting! Honestly! I took the opportunity to photo-document a pair of Ladas parked up by the hoardings.

Lada 2105, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Lada 1600, originally uploaded by xrrr.

I popped over the bridge to the Gellert Hotel. We had been for a swim here last time and I hoped to get a few photos of the interior. Unfortunately you had to pay to swim to get in (even if you did not intend to swim) so I caught the Metro back to hotel and chilled out.

+-+- Day 3 Monday -+-+
Went to work, nothing interesting to report.

At the conference, originally uploaded by xrrr.

+-+- Day 4 Tuesday -+-+
Went to work, nothing interesting to report. Part of the conference was a meal out at the Gundel Étterem. One of the best restaurants in Hungary. We were in the function room (as there were about 200 of us) and had a 'gypsy band' that did not look very gypsy like. I was expecting 'Dexy's Midnight Runners' but they were 4 old blokes in black ties playing the violin, harpsichord and clarinet. They were very good and the food and Tokaji was tip top also. The restaurant owns it own vineyards so I bought a bottle of Gundel Tokaji Aszú from the airport for Alison. I also bought Alison a small bottle of Unicum as a joke. Unicum is a Hungarian digestive liqueur and best described as an 'acquired taste' i.e. horrible.

On the way back to the hotel we had a short bus tour round the city, whilst the tour guide was trying to get us to concentrate on the city sights all of us on the bus were more interested in the 20 vehicle strong police convoy consisting of water cannons, armoured cars and buses full of police. October 23 is the anniversary of the 1956 uprising against the Soviet occupation but this year also coincided with a demonstration against the current government. Riots had occurred the night before on the other side of town!

Cash, originally uploaded by xrrr.

+-+- Day 5 Wednesday -+-+
Went to work. Had a mad taxi ride through the soviet style concrete block apartment suburbs - the ones that I had thought were missing on day 1. They were still there, it was just dark on Saturday!

Budapest is definitely a city where the gap between rich and poor is very evident. Five star hotels are separated by rows of tatty looking shops, often with homeless men sleeping in the shop fronts.

Budapest has the feel of a city that once saw really great times (e.g. all of the amazing buildings and infrastructure built in the 1890s). A lot of the central Pest part of the city was built especially for the 1896 World Fair and 1000 year birthday of the country. Since World War II (when a lot of the city was destroyed and then rebuilt after the war) and the Soviet 'Oppression' the city went through a period of decline. Hungary lost a lot of its territory and almost all of its natural resources after WW2 and therefore lost a lot of its heavy industry. Nowadays the country survives on agriculture and tourism and to me seems to be starting to make a recovery - at least in central Budapest - maybe it was the fall of the Iron Curtain or entry to the European Union has helped, maybe both.

Parliament Building, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Chain Bridge, originally uploaded by xrrr.

If you have not been, I urge you to visit Budapest as it is a wonderful place to visit.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Every iPod Dies...

The Mothership, originally uploaded by xrrr.

No I am not lamenting the fact that my new iPod touch has broken already - though I did manage to corrupt it 2 weeks ago and had to do a full refresh.

No, I have just read about the iPod Death Clock. A tool that works out the remaining life left in your iPod. I am away from home at the moment and only have my 'more robust' 5G iPod with me so I can cannot find out how long my shiney new one will last just yet.

So plugging in the serial number, some usage stats and whether I have dropped it or got it wet the iPod Death Clock declares that my iPod has LESS THAN ONE YEAR TO LIVE! 295 days, 20 hours, 17 minutes and 20 seconds to be precise. I have had the 5G iPod for about 2 years now so it has had a good innings. It has been relegated to be my in car iPod and travel iPod until I get a proper case for my iPod Touch.

Now the cynic in me tells me that this is a very dubious marketing scam to get me to buy a new battery from the site that hosts the death clock. I might be right.

A cool feature of the Death Clock is the ability to add the death date to my Google Calendar. So it has added 12 August 2008 to my calendar. If I still have my 5g iPod on that date I will be sure to check (and blog) if I remember.

On a happier (?) note, I have checked my personal death date on the Human Death Clock and apparently I have around 1.2 billion seconds left to live. My check out date is Friday January 11 2047. Curiously there is no "Add to Google Calendar" link for that one...

I need to get in contact with the wonderfully eccentric looking Aubrey de Grey and get him to pull his finger out....

Friday, 19 October 2007

Corporate Demographics 2007

Corporate Demographics, originally uploaded by xrrr.

This picture came about a few years ago after my friend Chris Green and I were moaning about something over our work's instant messaging tool. The conversation went something like:

CG: I can't believe what <name> has done now!
Me: Tell me about it.
CG: <gory details about the cock up>
Me: Well, 60% of people are muppets
Me: And the rest are project managers!

So after the conversation was complete and seeing as it was a Friday I decided to create a pie chart using Excel. I found a picture of the muppets and a picture of a guy sitting with his feet on the desk having a rest and decided that would be perfect for the project manager slice.

I sent it out a few years ago and we all had a good chuckle at our project manager's expense.

I was talking with someone recently who I only started working with in the past 2 years. I mentioned that 60% of the working world are muppets and my colleague asked me if he had seen this pie chart. "Seen it, I made it!".

I took a look at it the other day and realised that it looked a bit "amateur". Excel 2002 is good but the graphs and charts look very basic these days. Seeing as I *still* have Excel 2002 I decided to use Photoshop to create a much more modern interpretation. The results you can see above. I could not find the same images so had a trawl about on the net and found these. The replacement PM slide picture I think is great, the clown is a nice touch.

So I sent it out again this morning and we have all had a good laugh at the expense of our respective project managers. This time round I made the off hand comment that it should have been a Venn Diagram rather than a pie chart.

I got this excellent response from an old friend Dave Lewis:
"How could it be a venn diagram?

Apart from the obvious (project mgrs are a subset of muppets), and the impossible (muppets who know what they are doing), the only possible intersection would be project managers who know what they are doing. Inconceivable!"

Well done Mr Lewis!

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Vine Voice

Postman has been, originally uploaded by xrrr.

My Amazon Vine orders came through this morning after I ordered them on Tuesday evening. Amazon Vine appears to be a way for 'selected' Amazon customers to get early release items in order to review them and perhaps create some buzz around products.

After a some teething troubles on the Monday (launch day) the service got underway on Tuesday evening. I eventually managed to place my orders late on Tues evening.

If anyone is interested I ordered the following:
As I mentioned in a previous post, the Amazon reviewing system had put me off reviewing in the past but it seems a lot better now. My review of Tales of Grime and Grit was posted instantly and I now get the option of editing the review. Perhaps this is a Vine only feature.

Free Stuff!, originally uploaded by xrrr.

I am also a bit confused over what the policy is, after I ordered the 3 items I read that there was a maximum of 2 items. All 3 turned up this morning. I don't think I am able to order any more until I have written reviews for the items I have. The CDs are easy as they can be listened through a few times in a matter of hours and a snap opinion made. The book is going to take some time!

Anyway, can't complain. I got about £20 of free stuff this month and the Ruarri Joseph album is bloody good!

Wednesday, 17 October 2007


bibi, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Here is a photo from a magazine article featuring the painting the artist Fabrice Spies, a.k.a "bibi", made of one of my photos. My signed print is currently in the picture framers getting framed so I will post a few pics when it is done.

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