A Day In The Smithy

20150612171707I was Blacksmith for a day last Friday, thanks for a generous and spot-on present from the good wife, and thanks to excellent one-on-one tuition by Jo “The Iron” Fry in the beautiful setting of Standalone Farm in Letchworth Garden City.

Jo knows exactly the right balance between explaining and letting students try out. He’s been an excellent teacher for the day, never letting me alone or feeling lost, never letting me feel supervised or put under stress. The perfect way to experience bright orange hot iron, a forge, hammer, anvil and a good old ping ping ping.

Banging a piece of hot iron into shape is a very satisfying thing, but I suppose my highlight of the day was the cutting of hot steel with hammer and chisel. All in all very satisfying.

The creations made during my first ever eight hours of being a blacksmith are of course of questionable beauty and limited usefulness, but heck! I had fun and would happily repeat the experience. Who knows. Maybe one day, I might even have space for my own little forge.

A Man Walks Into a Bar

DSC_0053So, a man walks into a bar and expertly orders a pint and a half of London Pride and two pints of Kronenbourg.

Bitte sehr! said the barmaid in flawless German.

Funny how my origins are still so easily detectable after more than 18 years in London.

To bad that she didn’t have time to explain herself, but I will be back…

The Unexpected Vacation of George Thring

A canoe on the banks of the River ThamesBooks are always nice and easy to write about. The books don’t complain, and the related posts help me addressing the typical small talk party situation:

[Someone] So, ummm, what do you read?
[Me] Oh, I read all sorts of books. I like epic fantasy and enjoy contemporary Japanese authors, among other things.
[Someone] Oh, how interesting. Give me an example!
[Me] Oh sure, it’s called…. Ummmm…. by… hmmmm.

So, here’s one of my recently read books:

The Unexpected Vacation of George Thring, by Alastair Puddick.

I found it delightful. At first it feels like yet another instalment of the awkward-person-stumbles-awkwardly-through-life novels and it is, but in a different kind of awkwardness. Very enjoyable and highly recommended.

Super Spicy Squid Supper

Spicy Squid mealOne of the household favourites. We call it Salt and Pepper Squid, but it has come a long way since.

Cut the tubes into thick rings, toss in flour, then in lightly beaten egg white, then in a mix of capers, spring onions, parsley, crushed chilli, salt and pepper. Toss the tentacles in salted flour. Quickly shallow-fry in grape seed oil, drain well and serve with Sauce Vierge and a poached egg.

Dress with chilli oil and Balsamic vinegar.

The picture to the left shows a rather busy plate because I was over-indulging myself with Sauce Vierge and the amount of squid, but given that this meal is so very tasty, I didn’t mind the portion size. Below are a few somewhat nicer presentations from earlier occasions (some without Sauce Vierge).

 

Black Spyder

I don’t get the excitement about the Prince of Wales’ black spyder letters and opinions.

Apparently it is OK for the chemical industry or the weapon manufacturers, for the general public or Amnesty International, for you and me, for Rupert Murdoch, the Archbishop of Canterbury or Bill Gates to express their opinion and try to sway politicians and other people of influence, but not for a member of the Royal Family?

Apparently it is OK for our politicians and other decision-making to be spine-less weasels, so easily swayed in their opinion?

I wished we lived in a country where everyone enjoys the freedom of speech, and where our leaders can be trusted to listen to that speech but then form their own independent and informed opinion, reach their decision intelligently.

Ha! Now you wonder which planet I live on. Planet Dreamland it is.

Customer Services

DSC_0363Another “great customer service” experience at Natwest West Ealing yesterday morning. Branch opens at 9:00, is still shut by 9:30. No notice at the door, no apology, just a number of customers wishing to surrender their money using the automated service (there’s no human cashier even when they are open).

But they happily take my money, play with it, pay negligible interest and charge substantial fees.

Makes me wish there was a really customer friendly alternative nearby.

My experience at HSBC Ealing on the same day wasn’t much better, but at least they were open when they said they would be, and a human being greeted me, ready to point out the appropriate machine for the service I require.

Whistl Out Of Wits

ThDSC_0052e government complains about our very own public Royal Mail being too slow, too expensive, not profitable. Then, they allow competition onto the market in the form of Whistl (formerly TNT Post), based on the ludicrous first law of conservative government logic: A commercial enterprise can replace a public service, give better service to the public and be profitable.

They even helped supporting Whistl and dug Royal Mail’s grave deeper by sending government and (Ealing) council letters through the new private service. That’s the second ludicrous all-parties government law: if your public services fail to please you, do your best to ruin them even further.

Now Whistl reached the end of their wits, suspended mail delivery, and sets 2000 workers free to pursue other interests. (BBC)

I suppose the good news is that some revenue in the relatively lucrative areas (cities of London, Liverpool and Manchester) will bounce back to Royal Mail. That’s a start, if only the fools in Whitehall now went on and understood the principle of a public service: It is not a business, it is not required to be profitable, only as cost-effective and efficient as possible. It is a service which we, as the society, afford ourselves with our tax money.

There. Now you know. No more excuses!

 

Nom Nom Nom

image

Ah,  I love it when the garden begins producing. We enjoy regular and generous harvests of Swiss Chard already. The Mange-tout peas will be ready  in two weeks,  radishes in a few days, and herbs are available in abundance.

All just 3 steps out of my garden door,  how cool is that?

Yesterday’s supper is today’s lunch: fresh garden vegetables soup with slow cooked crisp pork belly and spicy chorizo.
Love it.

Next Level Gardening

20150510164023We advanced to second gardening level this Sunday, with salad leaves in one half, radish in the third quarter and space for basil in the fourth.

1.20 m above ground, 3 m long, and practically the size of one small bed in the best sun-kissed corner of the garden, not taking any of our limited space away. Container gardening with a twist.

This should be perfect for herbs and some salads, and hopefully be a little less slug- and snail-ridden than ground-level beds.

 

Commuter’s Commute

DSC_0989My daily commute to work takes 30 seconds or 12 steps, but today, I joined the rat race at the peak commute into town for a follow-up visit to the Charing Cross hospitals. I had forgotten about the morning commute and how special it is:

Trains packed but nobody is drunk or rowdy. Three quarter of people show off their latest headset, smart phone or tablet device, while the others shuffle through a newspaper or await their arrival dozing the train journey away. It’s got a lovely sleepy atmosphere, but can’t beat the pre-commute early morning trip into town, when the big city hasn’t quite woken up yet. Back in 1997, when I made this trip around 7 am Monday to Friday, that was my favourite part of the commute by far.

On balance, I prefer my stress-free 30 second commute within my own home.

Track vs Route

a map

(C) OpenStreetMap contributors

I am a self-confessed GPS aficionado. Didn’t care for GPS for years on ground of having a very good map reading wife by my side, but one day, we started using Google Navigation in the car. We upgraded to a entry-level Tom-tom (on grounds of the more accurate GPS unit and no need for data connection), and I am now walking the surface of this planet with a Garmin eTrex 30 mobile GPS unit in hand.

I love it, and hate everything that comes with it or, more to the point, hate everything that fails to come with it.

Garmin assumes users already know all about GPS navigation. For example, they do not consider details such as the difference between a route and a track worth explaining. The Garmin software didn’t find my approval, and I am delighted to find a selection of independent offerings. At some point, I thought I had found my home in http://www.outdooractive.com/en/, until I discovered that their exported routes are actually tracks.

So, what is a route, what is a track?

A route is a set of waypoints between start and end of a journey. The waypoints help the routing system to choose between alternative routes, and offer milestones for the trip. The point is that the GPS navigation system finds its own way from one waypoint to the other, and it can guide you along the way: turn right in 50 meters, make a u-turn when possible, take the 3rd exit.

A track, by contrast, is a very dense collection of waypoints. The system can draw a line from one waypoint to the other, and it can show you where you are relative to the track, but it cannot guide you along the track or back onto the track if you lost it.

A track is a record of where you (or where somebody else) has been in the past, a route is a navigable instruction for future trips.

The closest I could find is the well-made http://www.bikehike.co.uk/mapview.php site. Ignore the mediocre Ordinance Survey map display and plan your route with Google maps, and then export a route. This actually exports a route, not a track. This route will have way too many waypoints however. The GPS device only handles a few waypoints per route. You can ask the software to cut the number of waypoints. It’s just too bad that one cannot decide which waypoint enters the exported route; this is the result of an algorithm over which the user has no control.

I enjoy exploring all this free software, but would absolutely love to pay a reasonable price for a good route planning software for hiking and cycling. Frustratingly such software doesn’t seem to exist. Suggestions, anyone?

Amazon Spectrum Analysis

01-05-2015 16-32-01Do you use the Amazon Music player? Yes? Did you ever watch the small orange “bar graph” display?

You might want to watch it a little closer. I realized only now that this is a simple animated display which bears no correlation to the audio stream, let alone a result of real time spectrum analysis.

Well, maybe it’s better that way. I need my CPU for things that matter to me. But I am fascinated to notice how easily fooled I was, and how this dumb animated picture gives the illusion of science, high-tech, something sophisticated.

So, I reckon it’s a pretty clever piece of engineering given how dumb it is.