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.

[Full Las Vegas Home and Design Article]

Monday, 8 October 2007

Special Delivery

Mailed, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Parcel, originally uploaded by xrrr.

As previously reported one of my photos has been turned into a painting.

Fabrice the artist sent me a print of the painting last week to thank me for letting him use my photo. Fabrice also sent me a photocopy of an article featuring him and the painting in Las Vegas Home & Design magazine. Very swish.

I will get the print framed next week (I was supposed to on Saturday but forgot to take the picture into town!) and take some photos. In the meantime be satisfied with some pictures of the parcel the picture came in :-)

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Amazon Vine

Twisty, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Completely out of the blue yesterday I got an invite to join the Amazon Vine programme. With Vine, Amazon will ship me three pre-order items a month to review. As long as I keep reviewing I keep getting free stuff to review. I assume it will be books, CDs and DVDs as those were the questions I had to fill in on my invitation form.

Amazon's web site says:

Amazon Vine™ is a program that enables a select group of Amazon customers to post opinions about new and pre-release items to help their fellow customers make educated purchase decisions. Customers are invited to become Amazon Vine™ Voices based on the trust they have earned in the Amazon community for writing accurate and insightful reviews. Amazon provides Amazon Vine™ members with free copies of products that have been submitted to the program by vendors. Amazon does not influence the opinions of Amazon Vine™ members, nor do we modify or edit their reviews.

I assume that I got an invite because I preorder stuff and am a Top 500 reviewer on the UK site.

I must admit that I have not reviewed anything for over 2 years because it ended up being too hard. I would spend 20 minutes writing a review and then if you were lucky they posted it. If you were unlucky then they would not. You can chase them but they just send back a form email saying that the review did not meet the guidelines, of which there are many! Because the review was filled in on a web form then you did not get a copy of what you wrote. I therefore started writing the reviews in Word and then pasted them into the form. At least then I got spell checking!

Hopefully they have improved the process now, or maybe there will be a Vine forum that I can post my issues to. Maybe because of the last part of the Amazon statement ("nor do we modify or edit their reviews") they just allow reviews through without approval (unlikely!).

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

My search is over...

My search is over..., originally uploaded by xrrr.

Nine days after being let down by I managed to pick up the last but one iPod Touch today from the Regent Street Apple Store in London.

I called at about 14.30 (after being on hold for 20 mins) and they said they had "a few" left and could not reserve one for me. I had to play a game of "Play Your Cards Right" with the guy on the phone because he would not give me an exact number.

Anyway, my last meeting over ran so at about 17:00 I rushed over to Regent Street in a taxi and managed to get the penultimate 16GB model.

It is still synching with iTunes but will post some images when it has finished...

Here are some pics

iPod Touch, originally uploaded by xrrr.

iPod Touch, originally uploaded by xrrr.

iPod Touch, originally uploaded by xrrr.

iPod Touch, originally uploaded by xrrr.

ipod Touch, originally uploaded by xrrr.

ipod Touch, originally uploaded by xrrr.

ipod Touch, originally uploaded by xrrr.

ipod Touch, originally uploaded by xrrr.

ipod Touch, originally uploaded by xrrr.