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…

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!


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.

Performance Assessment

DSC_0046I can’t help mulling over the experience even after the end of my stay at Charing Cross hospitals. I am sure that some of the overhead in paperwork and staff is caused by the desire to measure and monitor the nurses’ performance.

Based on my own observations, here are a few suggestions to measure that easily and reliably.

Measure the minutes a nurse spends in the patients’ room and divide by the minutes spent chatting in the pantry or in the hallway.

Measure the average distance and average speed walked.

Consider the case of medicine which needs dissolving in water. Distinguish nurses who place the sachet of powder on the patient’s nightstand from those who actually fetch water and dissolve the powder, and again from those who also run to get a straw for stirring such that said powder actually dissolves.

Consider the case of a day old bandage with fluids beginning to seep through. Distinguish nurses who point-blank refuse to change the dressing following a close inspection from a 4 meter distance (not until it bleeds through) from those who change when asked, and again from those who change the dressing unasked and even offer spare dressing.

I experience the full range of the scale, and find the width of the gap astounding.

Here’s a flower for those who rank at the top of the range. They would know who they are if they’d read this.

Piece of Resistance


In my last report from under the covers at Charing Cross hospitals, I can reveal the final piece of resistance.

I am in fact writing this article after my discharge from the hospital and safe return home for the time being, but that’s already the point. The fact that I managed to get discharged and that the joint forces of the NHS managed to set me free is astonishing, if you consider the time line.

12:45 Doctor decides I can go home
16:15 The pharmacy is now preparing my medication
16:30 First portions of paperwork arrive at my bed
17:15 I am free to go

I am free to go within only 4 1/2 hours. 4 1/2 hours for printing a two page form, collecting a few signatures and dispensing a small collection of standard medication. A clear and fine win for the bureaucrats, methinks.


Convalescence’s Menu

DSC_0010A brief interlude from my report under the covers at Charing Cross Hospital to report on this convalescence’s recovery menu in recovery from illness as well as recovery from the NHS’ uninspiring menu. All home-made and garden-fresh where possible.

Poultry Salad from chicken, chicory salad, apples and oranges.

Pizza (served lukewarm for medial reasons), Pudim Flan.

Fresh real sourdough bread,
Hay-smoked Sirloin Steak with lemon thyme leaf potatoes, Swiss chard, Italian kale and caramelised onions (shown in picture).

Almond macarons,
Lightly hay-smoked fillet of Salmon with fresh pickles from courgettes and radish, piccalilli and a celeriac purée,
Orange chocolate ice cream.

That’s more like it!

Patient Focus


In my penultimate report from under the covers at Charing Cross hospitals (I am in fact back home by the time this post goes live), I want to share some thoughts about patient focus.

I am sure the NHS, Charing Cross hospitals and the architect and interior designers of this particular home away from home (ward 10 South) are all very proud of the comprehensive patient-focused design and layout.

But that’s exactly what it is: it is focused on the patient and allows for the best possible care. But, did anyone try to see things from a patient’s standpoint of view? Apparently not, or not successfully so. There’s amble space for the nurses to look away drugs and materials next to the bed but little room for a change of clothes. There’s amble space for nurses to assist or come to the rescue in the bathroom, but little room to put a towel and no place to put a bar of soap or bottle of shower gel other than on the floor. Needless to say that I am not allowed to bend down. There’s a request to take only lukewarm showers but no temperature control is available in the bath, only all or nothing.

It seems that the designers were focusing on the patient too hard and failed to imagine themselves in that place.

Papers, Papers, Everywhere


I am reporting from under the cover at Charing Cross hospitals, being submitted to a ward of approximately 30 beds.

Patients are being looked after by a handful of nurses and health care assistants. There are also cleaners and those taking care of the meals. And there are a lot of paper-shufflers, that’s for sure.

Just take a gentle stroll around the ward in an attempt to get some circulation going, and you’ll find half a dozen of people at least, at any time of the day (but not the night), either standing around in important conversation or waving impressive paperwork. Most are easily recognised by their plain dress or the uniform designated to the upper ranks, armed with a biro, a bundle of forms and folders and a good deal of importance.

I am guessing there are at least as many paper shufflers on duty as there are people doing actual work.