Friday, 31 August 2012
The iMac is back to full functionality using a modernised and streamlined selection of software. I could have simply run a restore from Time Capsule, but I'm glad I decided to clean up instead.
When I first started using Macs (quite a few years ago), I originally decided to see how far I could get with just the base software (e.g. OS/X, iLife and eventually iWork). It was a good plan although I did allow myself to add a few very basic utility items (mainly the Yellow Mug programs and a flickr uploader).
Then I added a few other Apple programs (Aperture for working with photos, Logic Pro for music mixing and Final Cut Studio for video)
Oh, and the inevitable Photoshop.
Aside from a few plugins from the likes of iZotope (music related) and Nik (Photo related) and that's it. The data (photos, music, videos, documents, spreadsheets etc.) are all stored elsewhere and are separately backed up.
So this cleanup has allowed me to revert to that streamlined format and I can now see how well it still works.
I suspect I now have fewer programs on the iMac than on my iPhone.
Thursday, 30 August 2012
We were along to see the first night of a new production of Cabaret, the dark musical that starts at new year 1931 in pre-Second World War Berlin.
I think I’ve seen three very different versions of the stories by Christopher Isherwood, which is set mainly in apartments and at the KitKat Club during the time when Berlin was a pivot between a hedonistic cabarat world and the terrifying rise of the Nazi party.
I’m guessing most people are familiar with the film version of the story starring Liza Minnelli, Michael York and Joel Grey. There’s many similarities in the stage version although the story lines chosen are different. The film musical is already dark but suffice to say the stage version is even darker with a most ‘un-Hollywood’ ending.
This version follows the story of the struggling American writer Cliff Bradshaw as he arrives in Berlin on New Year’s Eve and befriends Ernst who rapidly introduces him to the ways of Berlin.
He meets nightclub singer Sally Bowles and they share an apartment in a house full of colourful bohemian characters. There’s a parallel doomed love interest - different from the film version but entirely in keeping with the main story themes.
The backdrop of the increasingly violent persecution of Jews in Germany rachets up throughout the action.
The whole story telling is framed by the EmCee, who opens the show and provides narration becoming a sort of cipher for what is happening in Germany.
Will Young plays the chameleon of the EmCee, singing the difficult lyrics with deft Berlin intonation. Equally strong is Michelle Ryan playing a cut glass English Sally Bowles, also strongly singing tremendously well-known songs from the show.
There’s an excellent band who kick up a Kurt Weill-like atmosphere driven from John Kander’s musical score. There’s the additional songs that tell other parts of the story and are sung away from the KitKat Club.
The ensemble dancers and singers provide great energy, decadence and promiscuity both in the club scenes during cabaret performances and also in the various backstage and other moments.
The staging uses mainly black flats, lit to provide atmosphere, as well as plenty of Kabaret style flashing lights.
This being a first night, there were some attempts to involve the audience in parts of the show and I can see that this will develop as the cast get more fully into their roles. This could also be tricky, given the nature of some parts of the show.
I noticed that certain elements from the symbolism of what was happening in Germany had already been dialled down in the performance.
There’s no pictures yet from the show, which hasn’t reached Press Night status yet and it will be interesting to see how it develops as it moves to the London stage in a few weeks.
Not from the show, but clearly a musical influence from the time, I’ve picked this little 1930-ish recording of Lotte Lenya singing Kurt Weill's "Mackie Messer."
Wednesday, 29 August 2012
As part of the 'fixing the iMac' project, I decided to clean up the iTunes library by de-duplicating some of the excess tunes. I think it's a factor of the number of devices that get plugged into the Mac and sometimes upload their tracks to the main list.
A side effect was that the next time the iPod in the car was plugged in, it wanted to be reset to the new library. Fair enough, it would be far more convenient to listen to the Decemberists without 20 copies of 'Eli the Barrowboy' popping up during the play sequence.
I left the rebuild to run overnight and plugged the iPod back into the car today. Just one thing I hadn't expected. My old default "won't offend anyone" Norah Jones startup was replaced by an intense nosebleed inducing Hed Kandi mashup when the iPod first boots.
It doesn't look good at traffic lights playing filthy disco and bomb blast bass lines as a default selection.
I've decided to go with something far more mellow by the delightful Tiny Ruins instead. The video version above is a live acoustic guitar take of the piano and double bass version on the album. It's one of those albums to play all through with a quiet glass of wine.
There's another chain reaction from the iMac incident - I've noticed the number of sundry disk drives that have sprouted and should really be rationalised. Worryingly, I can remember eventually getting to the first Terabyte of data but nowadays that seems to be a minimum increment (gulp).
Tuesday, 28 August 2012
I suppose there comes a point when I need to post another straightforward London picture. The type with a bus and a taxi in it.
A sort of punctuation that the holiday type gadding around is coming to a close for a while and more normal work type things will resume.
We've actually had a few trips around different parts of London over the last few days. One day I was back on the Air Line - which I discovered others had thought was some sort of hoax, although I can vouch for its authenticity, having made four trips on it now.
I know it is supposed to be a sensible way to cross the Thames, but it is also a good tourist type trip, especially if coupled with a look around the Dome and maybe a trip along the river on one of the fast Clippers.
Suffice to say we've done all of these things over the last few days, including noticing the changes at the Dome for the Paralympics, which was all signposted and had various entry gates ready for use.
Across at Royal Docks there were more gates and systems linked with the ExCel centre, and I must admit at one point to getting confused at a roundabout that had been coned and nearly started to go around it the 'French' way.
Oops. But I do know I am back in London.
Friday, 24 August 2012
Early in the year I re-watched some of the Spooks series, which had run its course and finished after its ninth (?) series. We joked at the time about whether they'd need to come up with a privatised version next and 'lo' it appears to be so.
It looks as if the initial premise of the new series will be an agent Samantha being hunted a la Jason Bourne - with a dash of Homeland surveillance.
An observation about Spooks was it's London-centric nature and I think the new series starts here, although the private enterprise spin of should make it easier to move to other locations.
We shall see - although it's slightly worrying that it is already being advertised as an Autumn show. I like to think we are still in Summer.
Thursday, 23 August 2012
I had to open up the iMac to fix the disk problem.
Fortunately everything was backed up, although I've decided its about time to reset it to a clean image instead of just restoring all the programs that have accumulated on it.
Opening an iMac is relatively straightforward (don't try this at home etc.)
The screws are behind the screen glass, which is held on with magnets. I just prized a corner with a guitar plectrum and then gently lifted the glass out.
Then it's the aluminium body screen, which is held in with torq screws. There's also a screw underneath where the memory goes. Its a phillips.
The metal body can then be lifted off, exposing the LCD screen screws, also torq. Undoing them gets down to the innards, but the screen is also held by three ribbon cables, including a very tricky one.
I decided to unscrew just the one to the left of the centre and then kind of 'open' the screen like a page from a book. That meant I only needed to undo one of the three cables.
Then it's easy to get to the disk, which has a small thermistor stuck to it with tape and sponge. The actual disk is only clipped in and easy to remove.
Undo the screw mount, transfer to another drive and put it all back together again. I blasted it with canned air before re-assembly. It took me about 45 minutes and I decided to upgrade the old 1Tb disk to 2Tb whilst I was inside the case.
And now its back in business, albeit with a rather streamlined software selection.
Wednesday, 22 August 2012
The other broader logos and signs for the Paralympics are still in place as well as appearance of the different logo for the next set of events. As I passed under Tower Bridge I spotted the new logo in place being made ready to be lowered into view.
I understand that Paralympics is a separate series of events and has its own identity, but it did seem slightly strange to have so much additional work to switch everything over, rather than perhaps having an amalgam for the two events.
It must have taken quite a team to wipe out all the olympic lanes and the embedded logos more or less overnight, ahead of the different preparations for the next set of Games.
More later, but after I've figured out why (a) the water upstairs isn't flowing from the cold taps (airlock?) and (b) whether I need to replace the hard drive on the iMac which has suddenly developed the click of death and refuses to operate.
Tuesday, 21 August 2012
Back to the UK today, via the Ferry from Calais. We decided to take a somewhat meandering route from Épernay, rather than just hitting the A26. I'd already adjusted the seats in the back of the car, which gave us some extra space for - er - Épernay produce.
We did actually visit a couple of the champagne houses, Mercier and Castellane. They both do good tours of their caves but the feeling is quite different in each of them. Mercier is multilingual with a video show and laser guided train around the 18 km of underground tunnels where the champagne is stored. There's also a focus on the early marketing of Mercier through to the huge barrel hauled by 24 oxen from Épernay to Paris for the World Exposition. We were told that Mercier is the most consumed champagne in France.
The nearby Castellane tour is French language only and the visit through the caves and factory is on foot. It shows the whole process, from initial fermentation of the grapes, right through to the labelling and packaging of the finished product.
The two adjacent visits together build a complementary picture of the creation of champagne and also of the sheer scale of the underground caves where the bottles are stored at a consistent 10 degrees C, some 30 metres below the ground.
There's dozens of champagne houses in Épernay and many of the hillsides are covered in the vines of the three main grape types of Pinot noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.
So what could we do other than use some of the newly formed space in the back of the car to convey some of the local produce?
Monday, 20 August 2012
And onward to Champagne country. Eperney right now, staying in a converted brickworks. Actually, it's one of the places that we try to visit if we are in this neck of the woods.
The last time we actually stayed here was when I was picking up my car from the place where it was made and I drove it home on it's temporary foreign number plates.
We had decided to make a weekend of it and stayed in Champagne country whilst thinking of a use for the boot of the car.
At the time, we drank the bottle of bubbly that was in the mini-bar and took the bottle home. It had a sketch of the hotel and convenient address information that has subtly reminded us from its window-sill position in the kitchen.
When we looked in the mini-bar this time, the champagne was there, but it wasn't specific to the hotel. Words will be spoken.
But I mustn't be too critical, after all, the goodies in the room included a pretty wide selection of petit-fours, chocolate champagne corks and those yummy flying saucer shaped things.
Still, I have a sneaking suspicion that there may be a visit to a cave somewhere in today's plans.
Saturday, 18 August 2012
Our overnight objective was Strasbourg, and to stay in le Petite France, although exceptional navigational skills are required to get into the area around the various traffic restrictions.
Mission accomplished, we joined the throngs of visitors on foot, winding through the Rhineland half-timbered medieval centre of the town, complete with its twists, bridges and canals. Its a real crossroads of cultures that stretch back to Roman times and has its share of violent past across the centuries.
Tomorrow we plan for flammekueche before leaving the area.
Friday, 17 August 2012
Well the plan to get to Böblingen worked, although the Autobahn from Munich to Stuttgart is one long set of roadworks.
I remember the estimate was always that it would take two hours for that part of the journey, although the sheer number of chicanes and holdups as well as a lorry that had shed a tyre added a significant amount of time to the trip.
We'd allowed for time for it though whilst we were still back in Austria, and had visited the Schwarzsee where we'd paused for a rather lovely iced coffee before starting the journey.
We'd also headed off through a valley between the mountains instead of following the main Autobahn route. It added some time but meant that we had good scenery until we were eventually forced onto the A8 with all its roadworks.
But what can you do when you arrive? Head for Cafe Frech of course and enjoy a slice of cake and a coffee.
Thursday, 16 August 2012
We decided to use some other forms of transport on Thursday, based upon the splashes of rain and more limited visibility.
After a navigation across to the other side of the town to the train station, we caught a gleaming express to another small place, which seemed busy with steam locomotives to transport people to various summits.
The rain was lashing down at this point but we took a gamble to catch one of these small trains go in any case, where this time there would be a lake at the summit, and perhaps a boat.
Naturally the trains ran to time as did the connection to our boat, which glided around the lake as we watched the weather slowly change.
Later, on our return trip, we improvised catching a Munich to Vienna train and I was reminded of earlier Inter-rail journeys, with, in this case, others with big backpacks taking up all of the space in the compartments.
Amusingly, we discovered another station in our town. It was right outside our hotel. I'm still not quite sure how we missed it on the outward journey.
Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Yesterday evening we headed into the town where many of the townsfolk were dressed in the traditional tract and dirndl of the area. It soon became apparent that there was a festival, complete with a Volksband and Schuhplattler.
Unexpected, and great fun to be there.
Today included a trip up the Hahnenkamm but this time under power instead of by foot. My legs took a little while to recover from the Swiss mountain a few days ago.
As it happened, there was a mountain bike race on the side of this one, and of course it was 'up' the mountain rather than down.
I arrived at the top to see various bikes parked against the edge and the start of the awards ceremony in a suitable cafe.
There's sensational views from this area. I could see across to the Wilder Kaiser, to Matterhorn and also right across to Grossglockner.
And the inspirational view soon made me forget my legs were supposed to be aching, as I headed away from the busiest area to just drink in the view.
Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Now we've moved from the Alps to the Tirol, complete with that slightly indeterminate border area where the towns are named in German, the street signs are in Italian, you've passed the Zollamt but it's still Switzerland for a couple more kilometres until suddenly there's an Austrian flag and a new set of traffic speed reminders.
I refuelled in Switzerland to squeeze the value from the last of the Swiss coins getting a solitary SFr5 cent coin in return for my planning.
Monday, 13 August 2012
Sunday, 12 August 2012
We crossed the border into Switzerland and I got one of those vignette things for the car so we can travel on the motorways. The backup of traffic at the Swiss border created the comedy moment of two or three major roads system narrowing to a single lane and then a right turn to a single track road to get into the country.
Today we headed for the mountains and I've got aching legs this evening to prove it. The particular mountain in question is the Weissfluhjoch at 2,693 metres high with beautiful views across various valleys and across to other peaks.
The efficiently placed signs indicated it was a 2.5 hour ascent from the valley to the peak.
I think this timing must have been for proper alpine types because my sunny descent took more than three hours, plus or minus a couple of breaks to sit and soak in the scenery.
Highly enjoyable and my boots still have that patina of mountain dust.
Friday, 10 August 2012
Still in the Black Forest, for a day of wandering in a pretty and unstructured way. A case of putting on the walking boots and striking out to find an interesting path.
It didn't take long to be out in the fields and then amongst the trees, with a glimpse of another town with its prominent Dom in the distance.
Time for a look in and a cup of coffee before working out a different and circuitous route back to base via a couple of huts along the trail.
Thursday, 9 August 2012
I've been enjoying tranquil moments in France at the small location in the picture. I walked past the source of the River Marne to get the snapshot. The water really is blue at the source.
Now we've moved on to the Black Forest area of Germany. I even celebrated with a Schwarzwälderkirschtorte at a beautiful and entirely random Gasthof somewhere on the twisty roads. The mountain of Schlagsahne piled on the cake may not be entirely compatible with my bike riding (460 miles last month), but it had to be done.
We are currently adopting a fairly unplanned traversal of some of the hilly bits of central Europe. We’ll probably go as far as Austria and I do want to head back through my one-time home town of Böblingen, in Baden-Württemberg, southern Germany. I’ll probably have another BFG there, at Cafe Frech, which is next door to my old apartment on Stuttgarter Straße.
My work life is usually quite structured with meetings and schedules so it’s good fun to drift off in an uncertain and idle way. Last year we were in the deserts of Arizona and the year before we were along part of the east coast of the USA heading up to close to the Canadian border, so it’s about time to give Europe another road-trip spin.
But the idea of the Idler is a tricky one to balance. I know professionally I'm required to be a 'results and outcome' sort of person, so the 'slow down and find the dreams' part requires an interesting gear shift.
As tonight's sun sets, I'm on the balcony of a new room in a fresh location. A nearby clock is striking the hour, a crow caws from a nearby tree.
Life is good and I feel ever so slightly idle.
Tuesday, 7 August 2012
I'm watching a different kind of Olympic reporting now, as I'm currently in France. Coincidentally, on Sunday night (Monday early morning actually) I was close to the French TV channel that were based in a central London hotel. Today I can see their output on French telly.
It's comparatively subdued compared with the Brit coverage and you need to hunt around the channels, but I guess there's a difference in the number of wins. Because they will interview the French athletes, it's easy to spot that French tracksuit doesn't look as stylish as the Brit one. A simple blue seems to be prevalent. It's noticeably less of an event here (says a Londoner!).
But in my travels I did notice a French roundabout today resplendent with the Olympic circles. In the middle of the central one was a Union Jack flag, which would be hard to imagine in reverse in the UK.
So tonight I've enjoyed a convivial dinner, and an adjacent table full of Australians commenting on their own performance in the Games. I couldn't help notice the deceptively casual excellence of the meal and its accompanying perfectly judged wine.
I guess there's more than one way to win.
Monday, 6 August 2012
There's so much coverage of the actual Olympics, but less on the spectator experience, so I thought I'd mention a few impressions from the journey to the park and within.
It's in the context that central London has received a makeover and that many familiar routes have been changed. This has been happening over many weeks, with both road closures and even pedestrian route closures, especially around the Westminster central area.
It makes it worth a few minutes of extra thought to consider the route to the main venue.
Our journey on Sunday was a case in point, because of bridge and road closures over much of the central area. My satnav had red cross roadblocks all over it. This was a consequence of the women's marathon, which was right through the centre so we routed east to Tower Bridge to cross the Thames. Excitingly, until we dropped off the car, we could also use the Olympics Lanes which had were switched off for a while.
With the combination of increasing traffic and tube lines being busy, it made more sense to take a main line train out to Stratford, a single stop from Liverpool Street.
I haven't used that line for a long time and there's a great view of the whole complex that slides into view as the train halts.
Five minutes of walking through tunnels with a left/right decision to shops or Olympics and then into the noticably international world of the games park.
Very multi-lingual announcements, smiley-smiley people everywhere and a walk through a crowd to the main entrances, manned by friendly Commandos operating the security system. They were in their camouflage uniforms with the addition of little shoulder badges in Olympic colours.
Then inside the park.
It's huge area like one of the bigger Disney parks in Florida. Immediately ahead is the main stadium seen in the opening ceremony and to its side the improbably squirmy Orbit tower.
The sleek Aquatic centre is nearby across a bridge after a walk through a prettily assembled garden. In the other direction are other stadiums, but they are so far away as to be out of sight.
Beyond the Orbit is a large McDonald's - one of the more obvious signs of sponsorship, but although large, it turns out to be the small one, comparatively dwarfed by the other one further towards the centre of the park. I generally didn't find the sponsorship presence in the park overbearing. It was there, via various buildings and exhibits, but not overstated.
We skipped the McD experience instead trying other food from the smaller serveries dotted around. I was mildly surprised by the pricing which seemed very fair in such a venue with mainly simple food that was pleasant and even felt like good value.
The Megastore is the Olympics 2012 warehouse shopping experience for tee-shirts and mementos (OK, we were already in Team GB attire). Amusingly the Union Flags for Great Britain had completely sold out - as indeed had many of the other Team GB clothing items. This is only half way through the event, so presumably there are more supplies somewhere.
From the store it is a short walk to the broadcast hub being used by the BBC. It's on a stack of freightliner containers, which reminded the East Londoner in me that Stratford once had a huge freightliner terminal on part of the Olympics site. Temple Mills, I think it was called and I recollect that the original Temple Mill (an actual mill) was built by the Knights Templars back in the 1100s.
But back to the plot.
From this more central area it is possible to see the fabulous Velodrome, the Riverbank Arena (where the hockey is played), the basketball arena and the still distant BMX stadium.
Across from the basketball arena is the Olympic Village, where the athletes live and it is possible to see various flags and captions displayed on the outside of the different apartment blocks.
I haven't mentioned the noise, but even from the vast thoroughfares, there's a continuous surround sound of roars from the different venues, and every so often an extra loud one for something amazing.
Inside the venues, the flags and cacophony continues, with a notable increase for anything from Team GB. If there's a gap in proceedings, for some of the events there is also extra razzmatazz from dancers or other acts.
Whilst we were there I think the entire Park stopped for the Usain Bolt 100 Metres final. First silence and then a huge roar as he crossed the finish line.
There could be no doubt of the winner of that event, nor of the clear success of the whole Olympic staging.