Saturday 28 November 2009

Good customer service

My experience in recent years of customer service when dealing with product defects has been, at best, mediocre. However, credit where it is dues I have just been the beneficiary of excellent service from Salter. I had a problem with some electronic kitchen scales and asked for advice via their website. After a couple of email interactions to establish what was wrong and to provide proof of purchase they simply shipped me a replacement.

Thanks Katharina!

Sunday 4 October 2009

Central Asia - Yazd

I have arrived in Yazd on my latest trip throgh Central Asia. I started the trip in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, and Ashgabat pretty much met my expectations. The enormous, elaborate public buildings that have been built with the new found wealth from selling their energy resources are just a little OTT. However, Ashgabat was only meant to be the jumping off point for gaining an Iranian visa and border entry. Gaining the Visa went ok but the cost for UK Ciizens was higher than for any other national, even more than for Americans, at 152EUR plus 35USD for a 'Letter of Invitation'.
With Visas in hand we set of for the Border about 50km south into the mountains. After about 4.5 hours we were through! A long, but fairly painless exercise. From the border we drove South for about an hour and set up camp on the side of a convenient mountain as the sun was setting. Next day we had a long drive to the Southeast of the Caspian Sea, where we camped again. Neither site was particularly good but broke up the journey to Tehran, which we arrived at the following day.
From Tehran to Yazd was another long drive, this is a big country. However, Yazd is great, last night I slept on the roof of our hotel so that I could see the sunrise. I was woken by the Adhan shortly after 04:00 and did get to see the sun rise over the old town at about 05:10. A nice but not spectacular sun rise. I'll try it again tomorrow before we set of for Persepolis.

Friday 4 September 2009

Another Bob Minor milestone

I have spent much of this year trying to achieve some level of competence at ringing Plain Bob Minor. I achieved a major milestone by completing a Quarter Peal (recorded on Campanophile) in a time of 40 minutes.

It takes six people to ring Bob Minor and I could not have done it without the kind assistance of five people willing to give up their time to help me ring this for the first time. This is the third time this year that I have rung a Quarter Peal, each of which was a first of a kind for me, and I think that the willingness of people to help others progress is one of the aspects of ringing that I appreciate the most.

I now need to decide what to try and learn next. I am hopeful that I will be able to speed up the rate at which I can learn new things so will attempt to tackle three things in parallel. (1) Consolidate Grandsire Doubles, hopefully this should not prove too difficult of take very long. (2) Learn Grandsire Triples, a more challenging goal since it is rung on 8 bells. (3) Learn another Doubles method, I'm leaning towards Stedman Doubles since it widely rung around here.

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Visa for Turkmenistan

The complications of arranging my trip along the Western part of the Silk Route are gradually disappearing. The difficulties I suffered in July are behind me and the original routing through Turkmenistan and Iran is possible again.
My application for a Turkmenistan visa is now in the Embassy for processing and I am keeping my fingers crossed that everything proceeds smoothly.
I'm beginning to look forward to arriving in Ashgabat and starting my journey. The weather should be pretty good and much better than what I would have experienced on my original schedule for July, the Lonely Planet reckon that only the insane or deeply unfortunate find themselves in Ashgabat in July and August, when the temperature can push 50°C.

Monday 13 July 2009

Silk Route saga

In 2007 I travelled through Central Asia along part of the Silk Route but working for a living meant that I could only afford a month's time. I would like to complete the Western end of the journey ending up at Istanbul. There was no single route from Uzbekistan, where I ended my first segment, but was delighted to see that Dragoman were running a trip that runs South of the Caspian Sea through Iran. I was due to depart for the start point this week.

Some weeks ago Turkmenistan stopped issuing "invitation letters", without which you cannot get a visa, due to the swine flu pandemic. There are very few ways to get from Uzbekistan to Iran if you cannot travel through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan being the only other way and that is not viable. While waiting to see if Turkmenistan was going to change its position Dragoman started to look at an alternative route via Kazakhstan and a crossing of the Caspian Sea. Meanwhile, the Iranian presidential election takes place and is followed by protests at the result. The UK Government FCO response is to "advise against all but essential travel to Iran".

Time runs out to make the necessary arrangements to travel on the original date. There are just too few days available to arrange "invitation letters" and obtain visas for Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Georgia. And just to round things off nicely, Russia started Caucasus 2009 a military exercise that includes South Ossetia (Georgia) which was the scene of the 2008 South Ossetia war. When my wife saw this in the newspapers she "questioned my sanity".

I am now planning to take the trip starting in late September, the weather, if nothing else, should be a little cooler.

In the mean time I'm going to Cornwall with my wife to walk a section of the South West Coast Path, "630 miles of superb coastal walking".

Saturday 11 July 2009

A Plain Bob Minor milestone

For the last 6 month's I have been trying to get to grips with a new ringing method, Plain Bob Minor. I thought it would be a relatively straightforward exercise to build on Plain Bob Doubles and to an extent this proved to be the case. However, there proved to be additional, unanticipated, challenges. One extra working bell doesn't sound like much but going from 4 to 5 is a 25% increase. No Tenor to lead off, another challenge. The dodges are all with different bells. Singles as well as bobs.

During the last couple of weeks I have managed a number of touches of Bob Minor but always felt a sense of relief when arriving at the end. On Thursday 9th July I feel that I finally got over the hump, I rang a touch where everything went smoothly and when "that's all" was called I felt a sense of disappointment rather than relief. I was really enjoying myself!

Thursday 4 June 2009

Last day at IBM

After a long stint I have finally got to my last day working for IBM. I thought this would be a peaceful week but there were a couple of things I really wanted to get done before I left.

Most of my work in recent years has been in Standards and until today chaired two Working Groups in the W3C. Today the Candidate Recommendation of SOAP over Java Message Service 1.0 was published. This has taken much longer that I would have hoped but it is nonetheless a milestone and I wish the Working Group success in getting through the last stages and arriving at a Recommendation.

Unfortunately I have not been able to get the XHTML2 Working Group to such a neat point. I had hoped that we could clear up all the XHTML 1.n family specifications before I left but we failed to follow the process correctly and W3C rescinded Four Proposed Edited Recommendations for XHTML Documents. The problems are being addressed and I'm sure that the documents will eventually be published but I am disappointed that we messed up.

Monday 1 June 2009

Berlin break

I've just returned from a really enjoyable trip to Berlin. It was my first trip to Berlin and my wife's first ever visit to Germany.

Berlin is quite different to any of the other cities I have visited in the south and west of of Germany. I am sure that its unique history plays a big part in that but it's Prussian history also plays a significant role too.

Berlin has a population of about 4 million while the city has been designed, in true German fashion, for a population of 5 million. The city is not densely populated and has large open spaces within the city.

Our trip also provided background for the Open University course "Total war and social change: Europe 1914-1955" that Lynn is studying during 2009.

On our first full day we took a walking tour "Discover Berlin Tour" with Original Berlin Walks. The weather forecast was for a thunderstorm and we were the only ones who turned up for the tour, we are English so used to rain. Our guide, Lisa, did a great job and were were almost at the end of the tour when the heavens opened and even we decided enough was enough.

We spent best part of a day visiting Potsdam, cannot say that it did much for me. Seems like Frederick the Great created an early version of Disneyland.

We also spent a day visiting Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp (once again with Original Berlin Walks since we enjoyed the first tour). Lynn is the only member of our family not to have visited a concentration camp and felt that it was something that she should do. One daughter visited this camp and the other visited Auschwitz with me. Not surprisingly she found it disturbing.

We enjoyed our stay at Hotel Berlin which is conveniently located on L├╝tzowplatz a short walk south of Tiergarten. It is a stylish yet quirky modern hotel.

I was pleasantly surprised with Berlin and enjoyed it more than I had anticipated. The bier gardens are not as large as those in Bavaria but nonetheless pleasant and there is a more cosmopolitan feel than other German cities that I have visited. The last 100 years of its history have created a complex place that, for me at least, is more interesting than it earlier Prussian history. The 60 years anniversary of the post war constitution took place a few days before our arrival, celebration of the 20 years anniversary of the Fall of the Wall is also taking place this year.

Some photos of our trip are posted on Picasa and when I get a little time I will write up a complete account of the trip.

Saturday 2 May 2009

First Quarter Peal "inside"

Mayday sees a milestone in my bellringing pursuit, for the first time I rang inside for a Quarter Peal. The achievement is already posted on Campanophile but I want to thank the five who rang with me and helping me achieve my first.

It was quite an experience and I was not at all sure that I would be able to ring the 1260 changes without any mistakes. I must have been nervous because the evening did not get of to a very auspicious start, I started to ring up without first having made any coils! After exactly 42 minutes we finished. That works out at exactly one change every two seconds. I wouldn't say that the time flew, but it did seem to pass more quickly than when I rang my first ever Quarter Peal on the treble though this too took 42 minutes.

When we had rung the bells back down again we adjourned to the Brandy Cask for a celebratory drink.