Saturday 29 October 2011

Aspects of California - 4 Soaring career

As my avid reader will know, I'm building a portfolio of nature videos as part of my effort to start a career as a BBC wildlife photographer. Here's a video of a big black bird, whose soaring of the up-currents in front of the Golden Gate bridge I found especially impressive. I feel imminent career success coming on.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Aspects of California - 3 Staple diet

So I'm trolling around California with a number of friends, including Dick. We find ourselves at a loose end one morning so we decide to take a look in Staples. For me it's just curiosity. We have Staples in England and I want to see if I can spot any obvious differences.

Well, apart from being bigger, and with more room, and having staff who greet you with a friendly "good morning", it seemed pretty much the same. Except I have never seen a display of tablet PCs that you can play with in a UK Staples, but perhaps that's because I've not been in one recently.

There was the Galaxy 10.0, an Acer, and various others, and even better, they were connected to the internet. So I downloaded Angry Birds onto one, and showed Dick how to play it (he's not very computer savvy) and on a different one, I downloaded Fruit Ninja. Dick was soon chuckling away to himself as he fired dangerous birds at pigs and I was merrily slicing fruit.

Actually I was introduced to Fruit Ninja by a friend who had it on his iPad, where it ran well. But when I installed it on my Archos 1.01 I found that the processor power was lacking, and as soon as there were two fruits on the screen, it failed to respond to the touch. So I use my Fruit Ninja score as a proxy for tablet PC processor power. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Monday 24 October 2011

Aspects of California - 2 Mixed feelings

One of the great thigs about the internet is that it makes price comparisons easy. A couple of button-clicks and you can see which shop will sell you this month's gizmo for the least money. Another thing that the internet is good for is seeing in which country you can buy things cheaply.

Now I appreciate that an objective of nearly all businesses is to charge for their product or service "what the market will bear" (i.e. as much as they can get away with) and product pricing is an art. But I do get wound up to find that time and again, products are cheaper to buy abroad than they are here.

The new entry-level Amazon Kindle? 79 dollars or, to you in France, special offer, cutting me own throat guv, 99 euros, (say, 137 dollars). (Prices from and today) I'm inclined to shout WHY WHY WHY, but in fact I don't give a damn what the excuse is, I just want this to stop.

So I have mixed feelings about the fact that I bought some Ryobi tools, of which I have spoken before, while I was in the USA, much cheaper than I can get them over here. Angle grinder? 44 dollars vs 70 euros, (say, 97 dollars). Circular saw? 70 dollars vs 70 euros. I got a great buy in comparison to European pricing, but why should I have to do that?

And the thing that wound me up most recently was that wouldn't sell me a (high-definition, no compression, digital) copy of "Band on the Run" since their marketing contract with the record company did not permit them to sell it outside of the USA. WHAT? The record company thinks they can screw more money out of me via a European pricing model? It's data, for heaven's sake, the same the world over, no matter that it's used for entertainment. No wonder that the music companies are struggling to make money if they're at war with their customers.

This sort of thing encourages people to look for a nice blog reader based in the USA, with a Paypal account who could buy it and email it. As long as they don't keep a copy for themselves; that would never do.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Aspects of California - 1

Anita and I spent 12 days touring around California with some friends recently. No need to go into daily details, but I'll note here a few aspects fo the trip. First some things that just tickled me.

This poster is clearly intended to hammer home the difference in quality between the Black Angus beef on offer at this particular diner, vs the competition. Fair enough. It was when Anita suggested that perhaps the competition's Black Angus had some White Angus ancestry from the last century that I saw it in a different light....

San José has a fine tech museum. It's intended to enthuse youngsters about technology, very appropriate for Silicon Valley. It has examples of interactive displays, things you can do, and so on. I was most impressed by the globe of the world that show ocean currents and climatological factors, that you can control with a trackball, but there were other things too, such as a device for simulating jetting around in zero-G space in a space suit doing repairs to a satellite. But there was a schoolboy glee in realising that the robot arm that spelled out using bricks, words that you typed in, could be made to spell anything you like....

I wasn't quite sure what to make of this notice beside the municipal fountain in San José. I've seen such fountains often enough, seen little kids playing in them, adults standing downwind to enjoy the spray, all in various locations around the world. But I've never seen a notice like this, nor in any swimming pool, public jacuzzi or anywhere else it might be relevant. I am just wondering if the city governers have given more thought than anyone else to the possible dangers, or perhaps they have had some traumatic experience in the past. Once could imagine the conversation:

"Ummm Mr Mayor, we've had another brown fountain day"
"Ahhhh sheeeeiiittt. Well, do something about it... put up a notice or something."

There's even a hotline number to report fountain contamination. I really don't want to think about that......

Friday 21 October 2011

GOMNN Newsflash

We have been using public transport a bit more than usual recently, which presents the opportunity to observe the great unwashed at close quarters.

The first incident was in the queue for the baggage X-ray at the Eurostar check-in. Our delightful subject (in his sixties, I guess, along with his wife) decided that the person at the front of the queue was taking too long to get their affairs in order, and elbowed past not one, not two, nor yet three, nor even four, but five people to get to the front of the queue to get his bags onto the conveyor. I mean, it's not like we're not going to catch the train, is it?

When you run a self-service, fast-food business, it is fairly easy to know how long the average customer takes to consume his meal. When you know how fast you can serve the meals you can then plan the number of tables you need, and this number is sensibly independent of the length of your queue for service. This fine balance is then completely screwed up by cretins who "reserve" a table by sitting at it and defending the unnocupied places by asserting that "someone is sitting there" while the rest of their troupe queues for food. The longer the queue for food, the more tables are wasted in this way. Prize goes to the woman at the Universal Studios theme park in Los Angeles, who bagged not one, not two, but three whole tables (places for 12 people) for her meal-buying crew. Since hers was the most blatant abuse of all, I ate my meal there. I was gone before her group arrived to eat.

But queue-jumping and table-bagging are not exactly new forms of boorish behaviour. Heck, in our wild and impetuous youth, some of us might even have done it. Occasionally. But I was surprised and delighted to be able to study what was for me, a completely new phenomenon on the Air Canada flight from Paris to Toronto. A woman two seats away from me decided that her husband would be especially interested in an article in the paper she had just opened. She read it to him out loud. The whole thing. It was a full page of a broadsheet newspaper. It took her from about two minutes after sitting down, through the push-off from the terminal, through taxiing for take-off, take-off, climb to cruising altitude, and a few minutes of cruising. It was a précis of a speech given by Steve Jobs and printed in tribute. Since he graphically described some of his interventions for cancer, I was only glad it wasn't colo-rectal.

Her husband's reaction was equally interesting to watch. About halfway in he started playing with the touch screen in front of him, presumably found some music, and plugged the left earpiece into his ear. However he couldn't quite bring himself to plug in the one on the side his wife was sitting. He played with it, scratched his cheek with it, but couldn't quite bring himself to put it in. I was just willing him silently on... go on... go on... No luck.

That's all from your Grumpy Old Man News Network, stay tuned for more updates. And now life resumes as per normal.

Thursday 6 October 2011

Strawberry season

The strawberry harvest was poor this Springtime. I put this down to the unseasonal hot, dry weather we had at that time, combined with my failure to water the plants.

And by this time of year, I would be expecting strawberry plants to be making runners, but they're not. Instead, they are making an enormous crop of strawberries. Perhaps the warm, rainy Summer followed by the last couple of weeks of dry heat has made the difference, but the plants are fruiting prolifically. This bowl holds the latest of several similar harvests of tasty, sweet berries. It's been difficult to keep up with the cropping.

I am thinking that the flavour is perhaps not quite as intense as I remember of the Spring crop, but if anything the sweetness is stronger. By the way, I have noted before that clotted cream is hard to get in France. I am very pleased to report that Mascarpone cheese, widely available, makes a very acceptable replacement. Especially on strawberries.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

London calling

We spent last weekend in London, occasioned by the 50th birthday celebrations of a good friend. A great time was had by all, I think, great evening at the pub, excellent meal and a natter afterwards, though we had to poop the party at 2:00 (3:00 French time). I guess we're none of us as young as we used to be.

On Monday, a visit to the London Eye. I note that this is now run by EDF (Electricité De France). I can never see the EDF logo without reflecting on the breathtaking hypocrisy of the French government, encouringing its industries to go out and buy foreign companies, whilst prohibiting foreign companies doing the same with French ones.

The eye trip comes complete with a cinematic show in "4-D", that loudly (deafeningly, perhaps) shows off various perspectives of the Eye, in a 3-D cinema. The "fourth dimension" is provided by the physical experience of real bubbles being blown at you when the film shows it happening, real fake snowflakes at the appropriate moment, and so on. I was glad that the seagull that led us through the scenes in the film was not similarly realistic.

We walked in the sunshine along the embankment towards Tower Bridge, to lunch with a diffferent friend, who works in the area. She told me she reads this blog (hiya!) and asked about progress on the infamous falling-apart cart, so I promised an update. To follow.

Meanwhile, here's some pictures taken of and from the London Eye.

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