Sunday, May 10, 2009

HMS Illustrious

Thanks to a very generous invitation from Ian, I enjoyed a tour of HMS Illustrious yesterday afternoon.

I will be the first to confess that I know almost nothing about the military so I had little idea what to expect.

I was pleasantly surprised by how welcoming the crew were and how keen to show us around and explain how things worked.

The first thing that struck me was quite how large it was:



The second most surprising thing was how much access they gave us.  This is the "steering wheel":




And this is the ski-jump, which we were allowed to walk to the top of.  I was pleased to see they had installed a small net to catch anybody who happened to fall off...



However, this was the only piece of pandering to the health-and-safety mafia.   The James Bond-esque sinking floor was, gloriously, left entirely unprotected with fences or warning signs when it dropped away and left a gaping hole in the deck.  Hurrah!



Even more impressive was the machinery that underpinned this little piece of magic:



So, thank you to Ian for the invitation and to the Royal Navy for opening themselves up to ignorant people like me.

Saturday, May 09, 2009


A couple of blackbirds are hanging around by the flat and I'm convinced they must be servicing a nest somewhere but I just can't figure out where it is.

It would be quite nice to watch the young birds as they fledge but, knowing my luck, I'll probably miss it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Grand Central

I took the train to York yesterday for a customer meeting.  The timing wasn't locked down until quite late so I wasn't able to book my ticket until Saturday evening.

So I was probably naive to be shocked by the prices quoted for the journey. 

However, I played around with the "single tickets" option to get the price as low as possible and managed to get a reasonable fare by taking a hit on the (peak) outbound and getting a great deal on an off-peak "any train" ticket for the return journey.

However, it was only when I picked up the tickets from the machine at King's Cross on Monday morning that I realised that my off-peak return ticket was actually with "Grand Central" rather than with National Express East Coast.

Now this could have been a big problem: they only run three trains a day in each direction so it drastically reduced my options. However, their 14:10 departure from York fitted with my plans so I wasn't too upset.

It proved to be a good mistake to have made... the journey was smooth, with no station stops at all and it arrived on time.

Nice to see competition on the railways in action!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Can it be true...?

... that Tower Gateway DLR has reopened?!

I'm working from home today as I find it impossible to prepare and practise presentations in the office. I was planning to walk into Canary Wharf to pick up some lunch later.  I might, however, go into the City instead.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Talisman

Like Ian and countless others, I headed over to King's Cross this afternoon to watch the arrival of the first steam engine built in the UK for fifty years.

By the time I arrived, the crowds on the concourse and platforms were massive so I wandered down York Way to watch it before it entered the station.

I didn't take any photos, as usual, so here is a picture of where I stood:

View this aerial image on
Bird's Eye view on
Get directions on
Now, as we have already established, I am not a train-spotter. Nor do I fraternise with them. So I was careful not to appear too eager or to appear to be anything other than an inquisitive passer-by who had happened upon a crowd of people.
I fooled nobody.
A friendly middle-aged woman and her eighty-nine year-old mother asked me when the train was due. And a genuine passerby asked me what everybody was looking at.
Oh well...

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

They didn't teach this at *my* school

I remember my GCSE physics teacher telling us a story about the last time he bought a house.  It was the middle of winter and had been snowing heavily.

He was worried about how much it would cost to heat so walked to the bottom of the garden and looked at the roof.

Unlike the houses either side, it had no snow on its roof.  He concluded that the insulation was inadequate and answered his own question.

He was clearly just being naive.  For there is another perfectly reasonable explanation for why the snow may have melted...

Monday, February 02, 2009

Snow, snow, snow

Everybody else seems to be at it.

So here are some pictures of snow.


The view from the flat this morning....



Some kids made the most of the school closures....


I took this photo of Canary Wharf this morning.  Scarily, it's completely invisible now...  the weather isn't getting any better....

Monday, January 19, 2009

They're at it again

Our elected representatives are at it again.  Apparently collecting receipts for everything they buy on expenses is just too much effort.  Strange... everybody else seems to manage it.

Nevertheless, they appear to want to limit scrutiny of how they spend the money that they take from us to fund themselves.

It seems some of the grass-roots organisations are also angry about this.

Here's the email I just sent to my MP:

Dear Mr Fitzpatrick,

You may recall that we corresponded some time ago on the subject of
MPs' attempts to limit scrutiny of their expenses by amending the
Freedom of Information Act.

It would appear that Parliament is returning to this subject on
Thursday in another attempt to relieve MPs of the burdens they impose
on everybody else.

Could you let me know if you are in favour of the proposed changes
and, if not, whether you plan to sign Jo Swinson's Early Day Motion on
the topic please?

The full text of the Early Day Motion is below.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Brown

Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order 2009

That this House notes with concern the provisions in the Freedom of
Information (Parliament) Order 2009 to exempt remove [sic] the
expenses of Members of Parliament and Peers from the scope of the
Freedom of Information Act'; notes that this order will single out MPs
and Peers in a special category as the only paid public officials who
will note [sic] have to disclose full details of their expenses; notes
with concern the regressive effect of this Order on Parliamentary
transparency and the detrimental impact it will have on Parliament in
the eyes of the public; calls on Ministers to block or repeal the
Order in the interest of MPs' and Peers' accountability to members of
the public.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cure for Condensation

The recent cold weather has resulted in an unpleasant build-up of condensation in the flat.

I can cope with slightly steamed up windows but when small pools of water started building up on window-ledges, it was time to do something about it.

Leaving windows open for long periods of time helps with the problem but it's not really a solution when the weather is as cold as now.

The cause is quite simple: too much moisture being produced (breathing, cooking, showering, etc) and too little air exchange with the outside (because it's COLD and the windows are CLOSED!)

I did some research and decided that the solution would be do invest in a dehumidifier.  Sadly, it seems that everybody else has had the same idea and everywhere is out of stock.

I decided that the Delonghi DEM10 would be the best choice as it seems to get good feedback and it is priced keenly.  Unfortunately, it seems to be out of stock everywhere.   I stumbled upon one in the basement of John Lewis on Oxford Street last week and almost wept with joy.  I stood guard over it while I furiously tried to get the attention of an assistant.  When somebody finally came over, I was distraught to learn that it was the only one he had and that he was not prepared to sell it to me!  Apparently it had been on display for six months and had undergone so much abuse that there was no chance it would work.  I even offered to take it off his hands for £20 with a promise not to return it if it proved to be faulty.  No joy: he wanted to keep hold of it as a demonstration model.   


He did give me one piece of useful information, however.  Apparently a container full of DEM10s was supposed to arrive in the UK before Christmas but didn't turn up.    I suppose a missing container of a popular model, combined with a cold snap, might be enough to result in a nationwide shortage of pretty much all similarly-priced products.

So I returned to the web and stumbled upon a company that appears to specialise in nothing but Dehumidifers.  Ebac appear to live and breathe dehumidifiers. Indeed, it looks like they make their own and have been doing so for some time.   I suspect the £100 price point was not one they addressed until recently and so I had to hunt quite hard on their website until I found the "Amazon", which appears to be their entry-level model for price conscious people like me.

Now, I have to admit that I was initially somewhat suspicious.  "Ebac" does look quite like "Ebay" so any company that names one of their best-selling products "Amazon" is either stunningly naive or trying just a little too hard to game the search engines.

Anyway, I thought I'd give them a go.

And I have to say that I'm impressed.    The machine isn't pulling gallons of water out of the air but it is slowly but surely filling up the water container.  More importantly, the condensation has almost completely gone.  The bathroom mirror clears far more quickly after a shower and there are no unpleasant pools of water under the windows.   So, I'm somewhat impressed so far.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Woolwich Arsenal Station

Yes, OK. I admit it.  The DLR Woolwich Arsenal extension opened today so I went for a ride.

The train was full of train-spotter types with notepads and cameras.  At least one of them was muttering things under his breath for most of the journey and there was near ecstasy amongst others when the train lost power in the tunnel and started rolling backwards.

It made me wonder at what point one makes the transition from being an "interested observer" to a trainspotter.   My self image is strongly aligned with the former.  But I can't stop worrying that I may have crossed the line and just not noticed...

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Free 0870 and 0845 calls on BT

BT plan to make calls to 0870 and 0845 numbers free to most of their customers.

Now, I believe the operators and owners of these numbers receive fees from the caller (or their phone company) when calls to these numbers are made. BT say they'll absorb these costs.

So, what's to stop me signing up for hundreds of these numbers and then getting millions of people to call me?  More likely, what's to stop a bad guy setting up hundreds of these numbers and then infecting those milions of computers in the country that still have modems and are connected to the phone line? 

I assume BT have this covered. But I'd love to know how.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The wrong kind of terrorist

Ian discovered last night that the Met Police were buying ads encouraging the public to report suspected terrorism. 

Unfortunately, he discovered this when he noticed that the ads were being placed on his own site. The working assumption is that the police may, scandalously, be buying keywords as broad as "right wing".

I guess a Freedom of Information request might answer that particular question.

However, a more worrying observation was made by a commentator on Iain Dale's site: they seem to have a very specific idea about the kinds of terrorists they're looking for.

I typed the following four searches into Google. Try to guess which ones triggered the ad...

Right wing extremist

Left wing extremist

Muslim extremist

Animal extremist

Here are the results:

Right Wing Extremist

Ad appears in line with the search results and is highly visible:

Left Wing Extremist

No ad:

Muslim Extremist

Ad appears - but is way over to the right. I almost missed it


Animal Extremist

No ad


So I guess the implication is clear:

If you're worried about right-wing or religious extremists next door, the Met wants to hear from you.

If you live next door to a mad animal-rights lunatic, don't worry about it.

As for the last case, I guess it's rational for the Met not to waste money advertising on Google.  I mean, if he lives next door to a crazed loon intent on wrecking the economy, Darling only has to step outside and tell the bobby guarding the entrance to No. 10 about it...

Saturday, January 03, 2009

"Rat to Ox"

Leaving aside the question of whether throwing away a trusted brand name is a good idea, can anybody explain Aviva's latest poster ad to me, please?

The ad reads something like this:


"The Quarrymen to The Beatles

Rat to Ox

Norwich Union to Aviva"

I get the first line and I understand the third line but the middle line just confuses me.

Is this a reference to something to do with horoscopes? Chinese mythology, perhaps? Something else entirely?  I genuinely don't get it.

Anyone know?