Sshh. Don’t Mention It.

There are some things in life that it is not good to mention in polite company. Heathrow Airport is one of them.

They used to joke that you shouldn’t mention The War (at least not in the same breath as the English World Cup victory of 1966). Maybe they still joke about it, I am not sure.

Then again, perhaps it wasn’t a joke. Maybe people were serious about that and, in polite company, you shouldn’t mention The War. I thought it was a joke because Basil Fawlty first taught me that mentioning The War was not good: although spilling soup is not good and he didn’t seem overly concerned about pouring hot tomato down the front of your trousers. So, I may be wise not to cite Basil Fawlty as a mentor (and wiser to steer clear of such conversation topics).

Still, it’s fair to say that The War has been replaced in recent months with Heathrow Airport. It may seem odd that a stretch of land to the west of London can be compared to one of the most terrible events of the 20th Century and I am obviously not comparing the great evil which attempted to take Western Europe to a mass of concrete and jet noises in any way as being being on a similar scale but take it from me you don’t want to be talking about either.

You see, right now, people will work themselves into a purple-faced rant about how terrible Heathrow is in a way that makes me wary of mentioning it. You should not make the mistake of saying the words ‘flying to Oslo’ and ‘terminal three’ in front of anybody who has been out to, what was, the Great Western Aerodrome for you will be subjected to an outpouring of such rage that you will wish you’d said something all together different (I wanted to use a comparison there to something truly awful but decided against it lest people think I was serious about the previous paragraph).

Heathrow has become the chattering class’ villain du jour (and you know it’s serious when you invoke a du jour). Nobody likes it. Ken Livingstone doesn’t like it. Kitty Ussher (City minister, did you know we had one?) isn’t keen and former Chancellor Lord Lamont labelled the airport a “national disgrace”. Really, Heathrow is not winning a popularity contest right now.

The problem? Well, that depends on who you ask. To some the airport looks shabby and not a giant gleaming temple to London’s greatness that some think it should be. To others it the baggage (or lack of) that seems to cause consternation. While others think the queues are to blame. All of which is nonsense. Regular readers (well, the regular reader) will know I travel regularly on business and I often go from Heathrow. And I have been laughing in the face of these naysayers for months. My mantra was ‘read the rules and ye will have a speedy voyage’.

On recent trips I have been astounded by people who were passing through. The large signage reads ‘only one cabin bag allowed’ yet there is a lady with three and she’s getting frustrated that she’s having to go the back and check the others in. Then it says ‘No bottle over 100ml’ and yet, lo, here’s some chap with a bottle of aftershave containing enough liquid to give us wave power for twenty years. Put your metal objects in your hand bag before you go through screening? Well, it must be written in invisible ink given the number of times the alarms go off. We’d actually given these people passports.

I am a Heathrow fan and these people, as my mother would say, were just showing themselves up. Give yourself time, pack properly and all will be well. At least, that’s what I had argued until Monday when I headed for Oslo from LHR T3 where I was greeted by an enormous security queue and a, probably very pleasant, young man. You know the sort, his power simply oozed from his fluorescent yellow jacket.

I present to you, gentle reader, the man whose job it was to ensure the right people got through the queue at the right time. So, only people whose plane was leaving within the next two hours could join the line of passengers waiting to be scanned. The rest of us had to wait patiently until our time was called. A sound and reliable plan (and the lack of seating for the waiting crowds was not his fault).

“Not time yet sir. Only planes leaving before half past,” he would say.

“Please come back two hours before your flight. We’re only letting people through then” he added in a reassuring ‘you won’t miss your flight’ way.

All in all, a very sound and sensible approach to the growing crowds and the lack of resources to screen everybody quickly. No earlier than two hours. Please don’t cheat the queue. Get yourselves a Pret while you wait. Except for one little problem. The man charged with filtering stressed passengers and tasked with keeping the calm and encouraging the nervous flyers to wait until they still had two hours to get to the plane didn’t have a watch. Not only that he didn’t have a clock. He had no clue about the time. You can imagine the rest.

A Mastery Of Technology

Technology is good for us. But sometimes it gets the better of us. Like today when it wasn’t that helpful. My train was rebooted this morning. I was heading to the airport and sat in my train seat waiting to leave the station. I had a nice cup of morning coffee in my hands (I was still in England, it’s civilised like that).

I am writing this episode of .org on one side of the screen while watching an episode of Queer As Folk (US version) on the other side of the screen. I’m playing it from my computer’s built-in DVD. I am doing this as I am sat in a hotel room in Oslo. See, the relentless march of technology allows me to mutli-task in ways I would never have imagined a few years ago.

You could almost say I am stunned. But I am not. I am just bored in a hotel room.

Having said that, it would be great if all that technology stomping around the world managed to get a coffee machine or kettle in this hotel room. As it is I had to take the lift and fetch a cup of over strong coffee from the reception area. Really, Scandinavia is supposed to be so much more advanced. All this wood, heated bathroom flooring and sweet herring is all well and good but I want a good old fashioned cup of Costa Coffee and there isn’t one to be had.

Sorry, back to that relentless technology marching. I am seeing sleek back and silver gadgets marching in perfect unison through Red Square; USB cables tightly rolled and ready to attack at the first sight of an invasion. General Mac and Air Marshall Windows quietly surveying their battalions with stern pride and swelling chests full of medals. But this is modern tech. It would fail. It would let you down. The connector would be the wrong size or the driver would be missing. The intruders would conquer and a few bits of bare wire and broken hard drives would litter the streets.

See, I am well aware that technology is not fool-proof. How many times have you sent that email to somebody who should not have been on the cc list? How many times have you wasted half the paper in the printer because you forgot to check how that document would print? How many times did your Sat Nav take you the wrong way down a one-way street? How many times have you called somebody on your mobile that you didn’t mean to call? How many times have to had to reboot your train?

Yes, honestly, my train was rebooted this morning. I was heading to the airport and sat in my train seat waiting to leave the station. I had a nice cup of morning coffee in my hands (I was still in England, it’s civilised like that). I was thinking ‘which terminal?’ and wondering if those people on the platform were going to be charged excess baggage for the small van-load of cases they were taking. Then the train driver announced a small problem they were working on. A few minutes passed. We were late. The driver came on the tannoy again: now the power would be turned off and back on again. We weren’t to panic as we were plunged into darkness and the doors locked themselves. So we sat there in darkness with all the power gone. And then somebody switched us on again and – as with all turn it off and on agains – we were good to go. So we did. Go, that is.

Seriously, they turned my train off and then on again to fix it.

And it was at that moment I knew that technology had gotten the better of us. Machines now rule and we are relegated to the bit parts (every pun intended).

36 For 06

I have been re-arranging and organising some of my photographs on the site today. In a bid to ease the effort it really would take to maintain this site I am moving all my online photographs to Flickr. I have been using Flickr for a number of years and my installation of Gallery on this site had not been used for a long time. So, shortly, the domain for photos.curnow.org will point to a new page about my photographs.

2006 Mobile Mosaic As a result I realised that I had not created the mobile set for 2006. In recent years I have been collating photographs taken with my mobile ‘phone camera into a story board for the year. In 2004 I selected 100 but for 2005 I only managed 50. In 2006 I was again able to select 100 images that told a brief story of the year. You can see the 2006 set at Flickr. The last couple of sets were illustrated by the inclusion of thumbnails of each picture. I decided against that this year and instead created a mosaic to showcase a random selection from the 100 best mobile picture.

So, the mosaic is a brief selection of the 100 mobile pictures that tell the story for 2006. Click here for the full set and feel free to comment the set at Flickr.

Better In Just 14 Days

Is Bifidus Digestivum a made up term or is it real? Scientific proof that fewer blog comments makes you less gassy. So, I turned them off.

Today must be like a good dose of Bifidus Digestivum for my database. You know the tellybox ad that tells us that digestive discomfort affects 56% of women, or some such statistic, and then tells us to eat a pro-something yoghurt type thing and in two weeks we won’t feel like we want to fart so much?

Think of junk comments (15,481 of them) and junk trackbacks (3,598 of them) as well as the undetected junk comments & trackbacks (about 7,000 in total) as that bloated feeling and the delete button as a daily helping of tasty Activia from Danone (this blog accepts freebies if you want to contact me). In fact, to help my database get over the discomfort I thought about buying it a blanket and some cushions but it said another Rhubarb Fruit Yoghurt or a tasty Prune Fruit Layer would be better.

So there we go, scientific proof that fewer comments makes you less gassy. So, I turned them off.

Read The Manual

I am configuring my new ATMT Network Hard Drive (and, according to the box it’s a Samba Server & FTP Server too). I plugged it in and it was seen straight away on my network. Lovely job.

I am configuring my new ATMT Network Hard Drive (and, according to the box it’s a Samba Server & FTP Server too). I plugged it in and it was seen straight away on my network. Lovely job.

I am using it as a network drive to store music, photos, documents etc. and share it to all the PCs on my network without ever having to have any one particular machine switched on. Great for sharing my iTunes library with my work laptop when I bring it home and stuff like that.

So, there it is, on the network and I start copying files to it. They all appear and all my machines can see them. Very nice.

But I didn’t think of the file structure on the new server. For example, would it be easy to map parts of the system as different network drives? Of course it wasn’t. I have to set the different shares up in advance through the browser-based GUI on the drive. Which is why I am now copying all my music from one partition to another and will have to let it run for the next few hours.

Aggghh. Now I wish I’d read the manual.

Anything You Can Do

The latest advertisement from Mercedes is one best-timed and well-pitched pieces of advertising I have seen for a long time.

I haven’t written much here for a while. I don’t really know why but I haven’t gone away – perhaps I am just spending all my time moving my Windows Media library across to iTunes. Yes, I gave up and switched to an iPod Nano. And, after all those trials and tribulations with other music players, I am very happy. I even bought the Nike+ kit so that I can track how far I have run at the gym. Seriously, I’ve tried many of the music players and they just don’t have the ease of use and integration that the iTunes has. It’s the seamless interaction that makes it all work so well.

Still, that’s not why I picked up the keyboard today. Earlier I watched the European Formula One Grand Prix; and boy what a race that was. But I don’t really want to talk about the race itself (I am sure you can read all about it here) but I did want to talk about one of the best pieces of advertising that I have seen a long while.

Even if you are not a petrolhead follower of Formula One – and especially if you are British – you can’t have failed to have read some piece about the Championship scrap between Lewis Hamilton and his McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso.

The latest advertisement from Mercedes (which is of course the team they both drive for) plays on this rivalry beautifully. Anything you can do, I can do better:

I just think the whole thing is really well pitched and they seem to have had some fun making it.

A Ten Year Old’s Happiest Memory

The happiest memory I have is the time I visited the studios of Piccadilly Radio in Manchester in the Easter holidays in April 1981. We were shown around by Julian. We got there ar quarter to four.

As I’ve prevously written, when I was much younger  I was a huge fan of Mancheter’s Piccadilly Radio. So much so that when I was eleven I spent hours writing a letter asking to see their studios. That didn’t quite work out but I got there anyway. A couple of days ago I was sorting through some old papers and discovered that, apparently, when I was in class J3C at Standish High School I declared that visit to Piccadilly as my happiest memory. To read it amuses me now but it’s recreated here for nostalgic reasons:

My Happiest Memory

The happiest memory I have is the time I visited the studios of Piccadilly Radio in Manchester in the Easter holidays in April 1981. We were shown around by Julian. We got there at quarter to four.

First we went into the master control room in which programmes are recorded and it is where the producer sits to make sure the programme is runnning smoothly. At four o’clock we went into studio two w(h)ere DJ Phil Sayer was getting ready for the second hour of his show. As the news was on he told us how the cart machines work (cart is short for cartridge). The carts are jingles and advertisments played on the radio station.

As Piccadilly is an independent radio station it plays advertisments to cover the running costs. Businessees can buy an advertisment to be played at the time of day they pick. It can cost them well over a hundred pounds! There are a maximum of nine minutes of advertismentsin each hour.

After the news finished and Phil faded down the record he announced the first competition of the day, ‘Beat The Intro’ in which you have to guess the name of the record before the words start. It was a phone-in competition but nobody cuuld get through because Julian had pressed some buttons and jammed the lines. When somebody got though, Phil read out one name, there was a crackle, and somebody else got on the air. Phil Sayer was in a panic so he put another record on after the competition and looked in the control room window, saw what happened and told the phone girl to put things right. We left quickly …

Julian then showed us the editing and commercial production booths. When we left my dad bought me a t-shirt. I also got a lot of stickers.

It was a very interesting day. We were there about an hour.

June 2009: I scanned a photo of the original, my ten-year old handwriting isn’t that bad, really.