Category Archives: Travel

Local UK nerd days out

Pike leaving the field of battle

love this, from resident good science champion Ben Goldacre – it’s a map of nerdy days out, from miniature steam railways, “dead Victorian racecourses, decaying infrastructure” and the like – all things Ben loves. I’m not generally as passionate on the extreme geek front, but I love that people have done this, and will remember it as a reference point for interesting day trips when travelling the country.

Sadly there’s not much on there in my area, but I may need – in a break from my normally self-centred contributions to social media – to add the annual Old Basing Cavaliers vs Roundheads summer battle re-enactment. Whilst it may not reach the same spectacular heights it did in 2010 when the organisers spent a TONNE of council money on making it huge, every year the loyal re-enacters gather to fake duking it out. As anyone who saw Slingshot’s Faintheart may remember, this is a true Sport of Nerds.

Isle of Wight-erval

bestparkingspaceisleofwightApologies for the slight delay to service here on Division6, we’ve been away for a few days – a blissful family holiday on the Isle of Wight, staying at the same B&B we were looked after at when Amanda was pregnant with Emily.

We were lucky with the weather; enough blissful sunshine to spend some time at the beach with makeshift parasols to protect Emily whilst she tasted sand and stones; and our hosts were as delightful and helpful as they were the last time we stayed, making accommodations for Emily and giving us useful tips and guidance for things to do around the Island.

We’ve been to the Isle of Wight three times now and each holiday had a distinctive and different character. I love heading down there – if that’s a sign of middle age, so be it. This trip took us to Ventor, Grange Chine, St Helen’s and Sandown beaches, Sandown Pier, Areton Old Village (and the amazing Maize maze, although we gave that a miss) and a number of pubs and eateries around the Island.

To the management at Southwest Trains

Dear management team at SWT,

Thank you. For the privilege of furnishing me with a ticket to travel on one of your luxuriant trains. For the economies made when I purchased, at a cost of over 3000 pounds, an annual travel card. The ‘gold card’ privileges, I’m sure will furnish me with lavish and extreme comforts at some indeterminate, difficult-to-conceive time in the future.

Thank you for your convenient and spacious parking facilities. It is helpfully located, just far enough away from the station to result in a complete drenching in the event of one of England’s frequent and persistent bouts of precipitation. I find it remarkable value at over 7 pounds a day. Simply remarkable.

Thank you for the morning rush. There’s nothing like the swarm of tired, grumpy people first thing in the morning to kick start your day. It provides the perfect dose of adrenaline to get the blood boiling ahead of a day in the office. Thank you also for refusing to add additional capacity to the line – where would we be without natural selection? And after all, sitting is bad.

Speaking of which, thank you for providing such inadequate seating. It hones my hunter/gatherer skills as I cram my way past elderly ladies in search of a perch. It has made me more appreciative of what I have; I am piteously grateful when I can find a broken fold-down seat next to one of your curiously fragrant toilets.

Thank you for your cracked cooperation with the other rail operators. It is a rousing challenge when, every month when my railcard fails to be read by a barrier gate and I seek a replacement, I have to go to a SWT office and can’t be helped by your partners elsewhere in the British rail network.Truly, Nationalisation is a terrible evil.

Of late, I’ve noticed that you seem to have employed psychic train drivers… they are inevitably and persistently late when I am anxious to get home and invariably punctual when I’m running more than 15 seconds late for a train. I can only assume you have some ingenious mechanism by which the punctuality of a train is in some way powered by the collective unhappiness of the people ahead of or behind it. In this respect, you have adapted the powers of the slime from Ghostbusters 2 as a power supply and should be applauded for it.

Thank you for the disruptive modernisation works you are soon to be carrying out at Basingstoke station. Whilst I don’t immediately see the logic in modernising the perfectly functional ticket hall, in which no regular commuters spend any great period of time, I’m sure there’s a sound strategy behind it and its not at all an enormous, bloated waste of time and money.

Ah, train travel. One of the most idyllic ways to travel, and a remarkable innovation. Every time I stand perched for an hour between a drunk banker and an aromatic systems architect, I marvel at the elegy that is Britain’s rail system. I look forward to the hot, sweaty summer days ahead; to desensitising myself to empathy and building my lower back strength as I stand for the two hours a day I travel with you.

Thank you.

Airline delays and corporate cheekiness

We had a couple of significant hold-ups when travelling, the worst of which was a four hour delay leaving for Finland on ‘BlueOne‘, an SAS airline. A pilot friend indicated to me that when they reschedule or delay flights, they often do it for the minimum possibly window they can to avoid a fine under EU law – which is three hours. Sure enough, the flight was rescheduled by 2h55m and they should have been in the clear… However the flight was delayed a further hour and so I thought I’d write in, checking for compensation.

It turns out, that as the flight wasn’t postponed for commercial reasons – i.e. the airline hadn’t put us onto another, more full-up and therefore more commercially viable flight – but had rather been delayed because of a shortage of cabin crew. The check-in girl told us they were “tired.” This amounts, as far as I can see, to bad planning on the airline’s behalf and if anything you’d think they would have to compensate us… but no, not required to at all, apparently.

It was reasonably astonishing shoddiness, but at least SAS’ customer support desk had the good graces to feel bad about it – to the tune of a token 100 euro gift voucher.

If anyone needs to know the low-down on your entitlements, MoneySavingExpert has a good article on it. The airlines won’t volunteer it, that’s for certain, though, so you have to be proactive in following up an issue yourself!

Airport snow and dodgy landings

An older thought, but one I wanted to capture. When visiting Finland – still covered in a blanket of white in mid April – we wondered why Heathrow seems to collapse at the slightest dusting of snow.

It seems it’s partly due to the lack of expertise, equipment and manpower to clear the snow – but given that aeroplanes are overengineered to cope with adverse weather conditions (as you’d hope), there had to be another reason – and after all, Heathrow could learn its lesson and buy a few more snowploughs for next time!

One reason, it seems, is conservatism on behalf of BAA – with every airline in the world flying into LHR, it hardly matters what standards Boeing manufactures their planes to, or the quality of BA’s training. It’s the maintenance staff at Air Qumran and the risk posed by its hungover pilot who’s never even seen a snowstorm, much less landed a plane on an icy runway slick with a fresh dusting of powder.

I don’t blame them on that front. After all – we all learn defensive driving these day so we are prepared with other driver’s competence – why not manage an airport the same way?

Generational vs cultural differences for the Internet in Malaysia

Malaysia is the 5th “most connected” country in Asia (data 3 years old but should still hold mostly true). So it’s with some surprise when I come visit home that there are vast differences in the way we do things. We don’t check online for local garages – we drive around and find ones that look good or word off traditional word of mouth recommendations. On the other hand, Dominos Pizza in Malaysia accepts online payments, in a country that has traditionally shied away from e-commerce due to high levels of fraud, and we managed to pre-emptively order a lot of Emily’s baby kit from an online store before we arrived.

Hard for me to always establish which differences are due to culture – it’s a hard-bargaining, fraud-averse environment here – and how many are due to generational differences. Most of our visits here are spent with my parents and aunts and uncles – who are of a different age, shall we say.

Regardless of what the cause is, I’ve taken some delight in spreading a few bits of my digital-era practices here. A couple of aunts have been introduced to Apps, I’ve been evangelising true Smartphones whilst battling against aging Nokias and so on. The motivation is more than slightly self-interested – it’s lovely to have my family more connected to our lives as we share them digitally – including the ongoing development of young Emily and our other adventures…

Cousins – what do you think?? Digital Guru Shayna?

Mini-break at Port Dickson Avillion Village Resort

Holiday destination of my youth, Port Dickson is a seaside town about an hour from Kuala Lumpur. We stayed at the Avillion Village Resort, a nice chalet-oriented holiday resort with a couple of pools, reasonable facilities, free wifi (!!) and decent bedrooms. Service was excellent.

The break was great fun, baby Emily had a lot of new experiences and Amanda and I enjoyed the swimming, setting and time together. It was family friendly but with enough dedicated ‘adult’ facilities to ensure quiet time for the grown-ups too – the spa was very scenic – on the sea – and we had a brief but good massage included as part of a mini-break package. The beach was clean and fastidiously maintained, although we were warned of sandflies so not too much time spent there.

There were a few minor inadequacies, however, which I’ll catalogue by way of a heads-up to would be visitors. The air-conditioning was barely functional, the mosquito netting blocked off the ceiling fan almost completely, making temperature regulation in the water chalet tricky. The chalets on the water are a little close together so blinds have to be drawn for privacy, and you don’t get the isolated serenity we witnessed when we stayed at the (admittedly far more expensive) Sipadan Kapalai resort whilst on honeymoon.

The gym equipment was antique and the treadmill didn’t work, so I resorted to an archaic cycling machine. The restaurant, whilst enormous, has a restricted menu and is pricey as you’d expect. The “infinity pool”is set in a beautiful landscape garden, which has the unfortunate side-effect of diminishing its infinite aspect and steeping the pool in pollen, giving it a somewhat murky feel. The TV didn’t work properly and the internet connection was tediously slow. The sea water was the standard PD muddy brown, nothing you’d really want to venture into…

In short, recommended, but be tolerant of its limitations! We were, and had a wonderful time as a result. Review also posted on TripAdvisor (or will be, when they approve it)…

Sabbaticaltastic

I’ve got a couple of months off after today! No detailed itinerary for you, webbiverse, because I want to dissuade stalkers and robbers, but the essence of the plan is to:

  • Take Emily to meet her family in Malaysia and Denmark
  • Train to do a half marathon as quickly as possible
  • Finish creating a universe and write some short stories in it
  • Help Amanda paint the living room and other assorted DIY stuff
  • Spend a load of time with my girls, visiting friends, chillaxing

      It’s very, very exciting. V. grateful to my employers, for giving me the opportunity (a benefit following 4 years service which I’m calling in after 7 years here!) and am looking forward to the break!

      London – tech hostspot?

      Silicon.com (part of CNet Networks UK, a Brands2Life client – my employers, for those who haven’t been keeping up) has published a study into tech hotspots and London figures at no3 globally. Which is nice — and the rationale makes sense — lots of tech companies are based/invested in or near the big smoke.

      But I couldn’t suppress a wry grin given the fact that the Circle Line and District Line continue to play havoc with my commute on a daily basis and we have a Boris Johnson as our mayor — who, despite his entertaining appearances on HIGNFY, probably couldn’t find the front side of an iPhone. And we all know what happened with Terminal 5…

      Surely those things should have an impact on our standing?

      Still, it is a good place for me to be working in tech. Wouldn’t trade it for any other techno-paradise (though I am hoping to visit San Francisco in the not-too-distant future, and who knows what impact that will have on me? Silicon Valley is no 1 on Silicon.com’s list).