Monday, 30 July 2012

i read a comment, and am sent on an Olympian trail

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I was very fortunate to have picked up Nikki-ann's comment just before I headed off to some more meetings in the distant town with a mysterious road system.

Nikki-ann had commented that if I was back there I should look out for a few other places.

Now, to be honest, I was heading back towards a motorway when I spotted the sign to Much Wenlock. "Ahah!" I thought, "that's one of the places Nikki-ann mentioned."

So I followed the signs.

Actually I didn't have a clue if it was nearby or a few country miles away. Then my sat-nav pinged up 'Much Wenlock Lane' and another place called Little Wenlock showed up on the map.

It was getting sunnier and also around lunch-time, after meetings that had started at eight o'clock, so an opportunity to flâneur.

I kept driving and found the delightful little town, which also, to my even greater delight, was the place where the modern Olympics is claimed to have originated!

Local resident Dr William Penny Brookes was a great believer in physical education and in 1850 set up the Wenlock Olympian Games. This led, via the Shropshire Games to the the National Olympian Games.
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It turns out that Dr Brookes and Baron Pierre de Coubertin met several times at the Raven Hotel to talk about plans for what we now think of as the Modern Olympics and Dr Brookes is credited as a founding father of the Games.

It also turns out that there's a regular Wenlock Olympian Games which is a four-day event during the second weekend in July and a feast takes place at the Raven to celebrate. The Raven also has some display items from the Brooks and de Coubertin correspondence.
wenlock
And only then did it click with me that the Olympic mascot called Wenlock is named after this founding town.

A pretty cool diversion for me on may way back home and entirely unplanned. Thank you, Nikki-ann, for this great suggestion.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

digging holes in air, alone

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Well, the Olympic bicycle road race didn't go quite to plan today. The Brits held together a decent pace and influence, but a slippery group managed to break away and create a somewhat unpredictable result.

The small number of riders in each team meant it would be almost impossible for a single team to control the speed of the race. Although the Brits made a gallant attempt, there was no other team prepared to help keep the main body of the riders up with the break-away leaders.

I suppose it was not that surprising, with the Brits fresh back from their overwhelmingly good results from the Tour de France. They'd planned to position the fast sprinter Mark Cavendish to whizz to the line.

Not to be though, because when a few other riders got ahead, the opportunity for another country to help out was quietly overlooked. No-one wanted to help the peloton, because all they would be doing would be to increase the British chance of victory. So they all hung back, giving the front work (making a tunnel through the air) that much more difficult for the Brits.

Still, a fascinating race, and well played Team GB.

the isle is full of noises

olympic rings
It looks as if my quick tour through the birthplace of industry came in useful for later in the week as we saw an idyllic and fluffy cloudy British countryside of sheep, geese, plough-horses, cricket greens and picturesque cottages get transformed by industry.

Of course I'm talking about the Olympic Opening ceremony yesterday evening, with its rather British slant and an attempt to edit thousands of years down to about an hour.

Preceding it, the GB Sports Minister managed to lose his clapper when ringing a handbell but Bradley Wiggins hit the mark on the big bell at the start of the ceremony.
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Some parts might be lost on a global audience; the playing of the Shipping Forecast during the 20:12 countdown sequence, the blast of the Archers theme tune from a mini car radio; the inevitable slight pause for the drum beats of EastEnders whilst the viewpoint hovered over the Dome.

Mix in a skydiving Queen, James Bond, a choreographed NHS bed sequence, a proper Bow Bell to celebrate the East End base for the Olympic village. Pause for breath. Shakespeare, The Suffragettes, the Yarrow Crusade, J.K.Rowling reading Peter Pan, a squadron of Mary Poppins arriving by brolly, the invention of football, oh, and Tim, the creator of the World Wide Web. Even with both a mosh pit and a posh pit it was much more about everyman than about royals. It was inevitable that with so much available to include that the reduction must have been a major task in itself.

And did I spot a double-decker bus? And did I notice that it wasn't red? Maybe that's because it was drawn by horses.

Designed by Danny Boyle, to be a show that celebrated the people, it also used a genuine cast of thousands of ordinary folk.

It may not have had the same big bucks budget as the preceding Beijing ceremony, but I think it created a uniquely memorable and appropriately quirky view of the British - didn't overplay 'London', and also provided references for global viewing.

Although I can't help wonder about the voiceovers for some countries, attempting to explain some of what was happening.
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I'm sure there will be some scoffers, but I'll nail my Team GB flag to the celebratory mast for this one.

And then, the march of the athletes, from something over 200 countries. Let the Games commence - Next I'll be watching the Brits cutting a leading path up to Box Hill in the cycling.
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Tuesday, 24 July 2012

through the birthplace of industry, a little too quickly

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I was back in that town with the difficult to access filling station during this week.

Actually, I sort of chickened out. Whilst still at home I checked the gauge on the car which was 'half full'. Easily enough to do the 200 or so miles to my destination. Maybe not quite enough to get back as well.

So I filled up locally, with the specific intention of not having to go all around the houses again at my destination.

It didn't stop me from a little side diversion on the way back though, to meander through the sunshine splashed Ironbridge Gorge.

The area is described as the birthplace of industry and is rich with museums and free-standing exhibits related to industrial heritage. I'd guess theres about a dozen actual venues to peruse as well as further evidence of furnaces and similar along the roadways.
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On this hot day, incongruously suited and booted from my earlier meetings, I strolled across the famous iron bridge having left my car parked in a short term bay. Then onwards through Coalbrookdale, for a short stop at the Museums, which I decided were impossible in the time I'd got, but I've noted for a return visit.

I did drop into an art installation, and spotted that out here in Shropshire, it was still classed as part of 'London 2012'.

So here's a tiny taste of Core, from the digital installations of Kurt Hentschläger.

Monday, 23 July 2012

vinyl moment

Saint Etienne Words and Music
I received a little unexpected gift today. The result of a Northern shopping expedition which didn't involve me. An album. Yes, vinyl. And new, a 2012 release.

Up to now the record player has been working it's way through albums from the vinyl age so a new one is an interesting turn up.

Also the cover art of the album just wouldn't work on a CD and would disappear without trace on a digital download.

Time to put the needle on the record.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

ramped

spaghetti junction

I drive around London and even with the one way systems and random road closures I don't get lost very often.

Unlike the small town I drove around earlier. My benchmark tricky road system is Boston, MA, where I have got onto ramps and then been whisked to completely different parts of the city.

I have just had a similar experience in a much smaller UK town. I just wanted to get some fuel before heading back south. I could see the filling station across the seven exit roundabout. I drove towards it, but there wasn't an accessible entrance. I had to keep going.

No problem, I can turn at the next roundabout. But no, they'd built a cunning one way section to stop me.

The filling station was on the edge of a car park. There was a sign to go into the car park. I followed it.

Wrong.

It took me up a concrete ramp into an adjacent multi story car park. The concrete side walls prevent me from turning around. I had to take a ticket at the barrier and drive around the car park and then exit again back into another one way system. I idly looked for another filling station.

No, I would have to follow the road system around to the other side of the filling station which I could now see was across a different car park.

A few minutes later I could see the entrance to the car park.

Another barrier, another car park ticket.

I drove across the car park towards the filling station.

Exit the car park. A big 'No Entry' sign to the filling station.

I decided they did not want to sell me any fuel.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

At Zerelda Lee's candy store

TV show timeI've been on the road again this week and Tuesday mid evening I arrived and flipped on the hotel telly which was showing the latest star-hunting vortex.

A formulaic hunt for a singing Jesus, complete with a stairway to heaven.

Still, it gives an excuse to post Tom Waits' Chocolate Jesus.


Sunday, 15 July 2012

tack attack at tour

bike
My bike riding was a bit erratic in June and I've only partly picked up in July, with 118 miles in week 1 and 79 miles last week.

My mileage is nothing compared with the guys in the Tour de France, I'm only doing their 'warm down' type mileages, but I as I've set myself a 40 mile per week target then I don't feel so bad.

Today was a case in point, where I had to decide whether to go for a spin or watch the Tour on telly. I decided to go out, but still caught the end of today's bizarre stage.

I expect it will get called #tackgate or something in the reports because some of the main riders including Cadel Evans received punctures from carpet tacks strewn on the road, which really disrupted the stage.

Interestingly, a gentlemanly code of conduct kicked in. Overall race leader in the yellow jersey, the Brit Bradley Wiggins, got the whole peloton to slow down and wait for the punctured leaders to get their bikes fixed and rejoin at the right point.

Technically, it became impossible for the ones that had been sabotaged to catch up, but sporting Wiggins' decision effectively neutralised the end result where everyone (except the justifiable leaders) finished on the same positions as at the end of the prior stage.

The rest of the hundred and fifty or so riders followed the decision and even made some sprint drama for the crowds at the end of the stage without affecting the outcome.

Yes, and they cycled 191 kilometres through rain and parts of the Pyrenees for this disrupted end result. But I still have a sneaking suspicion that their legs ache less than mine at the end of today.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

i see a spacecraft, but will wait for the ticket price to drop

Virgin Galactic
Aside from the planes, another of the interesting things at Farnborough was the space craft. You'll spot that my picture isn't from the display area, but I think it gives more of an impression than the rather rain-swept item in the show.

Richard Branson had been in earlier in the week and is already building the second Spaceport, this time in Abu Dhabi, alongside the one already in New Mexico.

I guess both locations have the desert for very long runways and extended air traffic space for long ascents and descents.
Galactic VSS Enterprise
I can't afford the ticket price for this thing (it's around US$200k) but in the scheme of things an astronaut level flight for that type of money strikes me as relatively affordable. No wonder Virgin Galactic already has more than 500 people signed up for flights.

I know it's only targeting a very low earth orbit at circa 62 miles (100km) rather than even at the 500 mile plus level where low earth orbit (LEO) satellites fly, but then I think of that picture of the Wright brothers around 10 feet above the ground in 1903 and it all starts to become quite thought provoking. And come to think of it, the LEO space is getting filled up with space junk which would need to be dodged.

Below is a short video of the testing in the Mojave desert, when the Mothership Eve (named after Branson's Mum) first lifted N33955 VSS Enterprise and then released it for a trial descent. That's the same vehicle that was in Farnborough.

Fascinating stuff and there's more in the rather glossy brochure and a link to the main Galactic website

Friday, 13 July 2012

no air exclusion here today

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I saw a few different shaped planes today coincident with London getting its temporary air exclusion zone ahead of the Olympics.
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The controversial tower block mounted anti-aircraft missiles are also being deployed as a further statement towards any potential trouble makers.

I'm not quite sure how a rocket launcher over the capital would work actually, in terms of detonating anything over the London skyline.
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But the planes I saw today were pretty varied, from an American configured A400M Airbus, to a South Korean T50 jet and the noisy and incredibly manoeuvrable F/A 18 Super Hornet.
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Yes, I had strayed into the muddy fields of Farnborough, ahead of this weekend's air show. It was fascinating to see planes being used as exhibits (like the RAF Vulcan below), then somewhat implausibly being towed onto a runway and doing a turn in the air.
Avro Vulcan
Although this wasn't a main 'public' day, there was a wide variety of hardware in the sky, including some, like this Marine Corp Osprey which didn't look as if it was ever really intended to fly.
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And not forgetting the extensive selection of historical planes spread around the aerodrome.
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But I'll finish this short extract from my currently unsorted snapshots with another picture of the earthshaking Vulcan, this time, glinting in the sky and a link to my own mini air show pictures
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Thursday, 12 July 2012

security games - rapier and pillage?

Rapier Missiles configuration
I hear that the people providing security to the Olympics are falling behind with their recruitment. It's one of those stories that the TV series 'Spooks' could have used.

Instead of saying we are going to add a larger military presence to the Games because of a 'Heightened' security level, they could say that there's insufficient civilian security folk.

The sums are interesting, although no-one seems to be commenting about it. The security firm is getting paid £280,000,000 (£280 million) to provide 10,000 people. That's £28,000 per person at a simple pro-rated amount. Not their salary, of course, simply the cost of provisioning them.

Assuming all 10,000 were used for a year, thats £28k, pa, but actually most are only used for a month or less (2 months at some of the London venues).

Checking the Stratford site job adverts, the SIA badge-holder roles (e.g. to run the gates) are from 20 July to 12 September at £8-£12 per hour.

Let's assume its 40 days at £12ph = circa £4,000. Then double it for overheads and tax and stuff. £8,000. Now did I say each person was being costed at £28,000?

That creates an interesting potential surplus that should leave the main provider with some cash to pay any the fines for under-recruitment.

I also notice that the 3,500 military people to be used are reckoned to cost around £20m - At that rate 10,000 military would cost about £50m?
Someone should take a look at this example of a Government initiative being let by a private company, to another private company.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

a quick sunny flight on the air line

Untitled I'd packed a waterproof jacket for my journeying around town today. In practice it wasn't needed with some unexpected sunshine and blue skies.

A short excursion from Westminster to Canary Wharf gave me a few minutes to spare, so I thought I'd check out the new Air Line at the recently named Greenwich Peninsula - which was a five minute Jubilee line ride away.

It's interesting when areas get given new names (or previously existing names get emphasised). The Greenwich Peninsula is actually the area to the right of the Dome, when walking from Greenwich tube station.

They are also advertising new walks across the roof of the Dome at the moment, and I did spot a group of people doing this, although it looked like some sort of engineering expedition, with everyone in the same blue overalls.
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My slightly whimsical objective was to cross to Royal Docks on the new Air Line gondolas, which have been opened for about a week.

It was actually very quiet, with a handful of other travellers, who looked mainly local and casually dressed, some families and a few people like me in suits probably checking out the route.

The flight time on the cable car is about 5 minutes, and gives some good views of the Dome, across to the skyline of Canary Wharf and along the Thamess to the Barrier and City Airport.

I was slightly amused that everyone in the cabin on the way to Royal Docks had a camera and was taking snapshots. Even of the somewhat 'under construction' area on the approach to Royal Docks.
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I'm wondering if the lack of people was because most people don't know about this route yet, although it's not the most obvious way across the river.

I used my Oyster card to pay instead of queuing and it was a simple touch in/touch out for each half of the journey (and I think was discounted compared with the normal fare).

Boarding was like any cable car gondola, although this one seemed to travel particularly slowly in the station area and I was amused to see the TfL style seating which reminded me of a London bus.

It's already on all the tube maps as a normal route, it will be interesting to see what kind of uptake it gets.
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Sunday, 8 July 2012

Nerina Pallot and a bumble bee

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Kew Gardens yesterday evening. We'd arrived by a fairly circuitous route and armed ourselves with various prior music festival give-away plastic ponchos so we were prepared for all eventualities.

Anyway, the fifteen or so of us that morphed into and out of a somewhat P&B (Pimms and Bubbles) group throughout the evening had a storming time.

Quite literally, actually, because it bucketed with rain whilst we were in front of the stage, to the extent that I abandoned photographs on this occasion.

Well, except in the early evening when I saw the lovely Nerina Pallot for the second time.

Those that were there will recollect that her uplifting set was accompanied on stage by a very musical bumble bee for part of the show.

A few more pix here
Spot the Bumble bee

Saturday, 7 July 2012

bankster fat cat food with its fable on the label

Banksters
I loved the Economist cover this week

A few of us were in a wine bar in Central London when we first heard about the Barclays fine levied because they'd been tinkering with bank rates. It's one of those times when the mainly American word 'leverage' springs to mind. In this case a tiny adjustment that generates millions of dollars.

I couldn't help saying to my fellow sparkling water drinkers that the £290m fine was a mere drop in the ocean compared with the effects of the rate manipulation. Although, like the Higgs boson, most of us don't really understand how it all works unless its described in comic sans.

In the first stage the small tweaks to the rates seemed to support trader personal gains creating Bollinger magnum sized bonuses. The advantage to Barclays would have been tens of millions per day.

It all appears to have run for well over ten years. Such accumulation starts to make the £290m fine seem rather small.

Then the strangest thing, after years of these shenanigans, the generally high Barclay rate suddenly dropped into general alignment with everyone else.

It seems to be at around the time that UK Government was grappling with what to do with errant banks teetering on collapse. We saw other UK banks pressed into takeovers of one another and some getting bailed out by large injections of UK taxpayer money.

This bank escaped those fates, but maybe perhaps conveniently so at a time when the sheer affordability of all the other bail outs must have been a question for the Exchequer.

I wonder if we'll ever know? Even if we ask the man in charge of the bank.

It must be tough for him at the top, on his £20 million per annum package and now to get a further £16 million payoff. That's around 1/8 of the equivalent of the total fine the bank paid. Who needs lotteries?

And he knows nothing about any of it. Until just a few days ago. Top man.

I find it inconceivable that a fairly wide group of people wouldn't have known about this in the chatty Big Bang deregulated City.

I'm similarly bemused that the Financial Services Authority can be based a ten minute walk from the Capital Markets floors where this would have been operating, yet only flagged any of this a short time ago - just ahead of the FSA's own impending disbanding.

Maybe there is an invisible force field around the financial system that no one can see and that can only be broken in very special conditions?

It certainly feels like a very dark matter.
cern-higgs-boson

Friday, 6 July 2012

I notice the progressive creep of the pink and blue

Olympic Route Network
I mentioned the pink and blue makeover for London in an earlier post and here's a quick example of it.

Its mainly the new signage that has been turning up in different parts of the central area. Train stations have big extra signs showing the way to key exits and there's been a progressive addition of large scale plastic pop-up signage along some of what will become the key pedestrian routes. A few of the signs are quite hand-wringing in their comment that traffic and access could be quite difficult and to plan alternative routes.
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Even as pedestrians we are also getting some areas blocked off, like the whole of the access to St James Park and the Mall. It has been curtained off with steel mesh and consequent black signs showing alternative longer walk-arounds.
Driving with EfficienctDynamics
I've also started to spot the blue and pink cars with the Olympic logos. I gather that BMW has supplied 4,000 vehicles to ferry VIPs around between the events in the special lanes that are being created. I wonder if there will be a pecking order between the different cars on offer?

It looks as if there's some route testing occurring at the moment, so that the drivers won't get lost in their specially created outside lanes.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

shard

Shard
London is always in a state of flux. At a smaller level there's the varied installations along the South Bank (currently a South African arts project). And the recent addition of the logo to Tower Bridge.

Because of my delayed entry to the capital today I found myself gently looking for the early signs that I was approaching the middle, by spotting the obvious markers on the skyline.

Anyone that commutes will recognise some of the symbols. Red buses, four rails on overground tube train lines, distant but distinct buildings. Like equivalent glimpses of New York's skyscrapers on the way in from JFK.

But the familiar landmarks of London are changing rapidly too. From the older outline of Battersea Power Station, or Westminster Tower, to Canary Wharf's HSBC and Citicorp, the later Gherkin and Eye and more recently the newly completed Shard. Then there's the emerging and slightly inappropriately named City Tower next to where the new American Embassy will be (in Nine Elms, sarf of the river) and now the Cheesegrater in the proper City just along from the Gherkin.

And Thursday evening marked the preview opening of The Shard, accompanied by laser beams and Schardenfreude from Boris.

Only a week or so since the new cable car opened across the Thames.

Some are being critical of the new skyline, but I'll embrace it. A few more symbols on the map for the capital city. We can have a separate debate about ownership.

And alongside these bigger changes we have the whole central area getting its short term pink and blue makeover.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

in which i acquire accidental disaster movie (lite) powers

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I started to wonder if I'd inherited some accidental disaster movie powers today. Nothing too widescreen, just some accidental mishaps as I moved around the city.

The first was innocent enough, I'd picked up some train tickets yesterday for a trip today but when I arrived at the station this morning I discovered that it was closed.

Simply a delay to last night's engineering works. A bus service would be provided, but I calculated that this would cause a major disruption based on where I needed to be by 8 a.m.

So it was into the car and off to a different station where I did pick up a train, although it too was delayed because of a previous train that had broken down on the track.

Then to meet my colleague and off to our meeting, where we discovered that there was to be a full scale building evacuation as a test run ahead of the Olympics.

We managed to leave before the start of the test and I then headed into a Boots the Chemist, just as it started to have a power failure. Flashing lights and all, although the till still worked and I managed to get my hay fever tablets.

Then onward uneventfully, until later when I decided to buy some milk but discovered that the supermarket (in a completely different area) had closed all of its chilled food for some indeterminate reason.

I then had to rescue my car from the off-route place I'd left it earlier in the day (did I mention that the parking ticket machine hadn't worked either?)

And back homewards, via a petrol station which - yes - had sealed off the pumps for some kind of maintenance.

I feel as if I've spent the day in a Peter van Greenaway novel.

Monday, 2 July 2012

set your nightingales to stun

bird

After my rescue of the pranged nightingale, I spotted the imprint it had left on the window. It's not as well defined as the ones from robust pigeons flying headlong into glass, but as this one appeared to stun itself, I thought it worthy of a snapshot.

Somebody will know what the coating is that the birdies have which makes the marks, but I'm not convinced the mark on the window does anything to stop other birds from accidentally flying at the same glass.

My theory is that the bird can see through to another part of the house with a window and thinks its a safe flight path.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

in which we need to keep taking the tablets

codiene This weekend didn't really go to the original plan.

It started on Friday when we were phoned to say that the place we were supposed to be staying on Saturday had been flooded. They offered a refund and we scrapped our plans completely, although some tickets became unusable.

I'm reminded that I'd seen a single magpie in the garden but am not superstitious in that 'one for sorrow' way, although a little later a novice nightingale flew into a window and succeeded in knocking itself out.

I moved it into some bushes and a few hours later saw it hopping about again. Stunning stuff.

Then we had a mini illness sweep the house. I'm okay, but we ended up getting a supply of antibiotics and narcotics from the weekend doctor.

Personally, I'll be sticking to drinking coffee. Freshly ground at the moment.

So Saturday was scrapped and Sunday diverted. Normal service should have resumed by Monday.