Saturday, 23 June 2012

Technology: What A Thing It Is.

It's a funny old business this adventure and the preparation. Here I am on 17.41 from Fenchurch St on a Thursday evening roughing out a post on a Samsung tablet that we bought to make the journey to and from work, more productive. That means not having to take a laptop but still being able to write. Bear with me, this one jumps about a bit. 

Technology what a thing it is? I wrote the first paragraph on the train mentioned above and then found myself without enough elbow room to type (using the on screen keyboard in portrait mode… Oh no he’s talking techno bollocks). As I was tired anyway I just put the idea to bed and tried to nap knowing that I would pick it up again on Friday.  And here I am indeed on Saturday morning doing exactly that… (and on Friday evening but it was late and I just did some more bullet points). In other news on Friday; there was a whole new level to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7 “Ice Cream Sandwich 4” to give it it’s full name… I shit you not (the Ice Cream sandwich bit is the name of the Android operating system version, there's a word for the nerds that think that sort of thing up... but Amanda said I can't use it on the blog) ). Indeed on Friday, the Bluetooth keyboard and book style case turned up, and that makes things very user friendly.
PS: Samsung your website runs slow… really slow.
PPS: Samsung all donations for touting your products gratefully received.

Back to Friday morning; I say morning… what I mean is lunch time, I actually managed to sleep for the best part of twelve and three quarter hours (proof if nothing else that I have been overdoing things). Instead of continuing with writing this post I paired the tablet with the Bluetooth keyboard that came all the way from Hong Kong in four days... Smoke that HSS. I then tinkered with a few settings to ensure the Bluetooth was secured just to the keyboard and not open to the world and his wife, and moved on to matters of decorating in the dining room.

Here’s how things work in real life. I currently commute, I work in the city of London and when I’m busy there is no room for me to do anything for myself, the job can be extremely wearing and that leaves very little energy in the evenings left for anything other than cooking (and lately damp works) a little exercise or gardening (dependent on the time of year) and sometimes (though not often) a little writing time. However there is the commute; which equates to approximately an hour and twenty minutes a day of “me” time. However as anyone who commutes knows, trains get full fairly quickly and using a laptop, while ideal is not always practical… for several reason, nosy bastards looking over your shoulder (mental seeing as what is being typed is public on the blog), not enough elbow room (see above), start up and shut down time of laptops (regardless of type, unless you are careless and I see careless users everyday guess what I do for a living), anyway boot ups and safe sleep modes take time (potentially a quarter of the entire journey time.

This is why after trying using a good old fashioned note pad, a Dictaphone and my own oft overloaded memory, that I finally succumbed to buying a tablet, and the smallest tablet I could find that has some gumption… one must say that one feels a bit of a hypocrite, having slated the iPad set at work for being suckered into buying the gadgets that frequently don’t get used, and rapidly find themselves on ebay or unused in drawers… I do hope to do better by my gadget.

So here’s how virtual things work; I use the tablet to rough out the blog posts, a colleague at work uses his Blackberry to do exactly the same thing for his blog  and it is from talking to him that finally pushed me to dipping my toe in the tablet water. I rough out ideas on the tablet…  (I think on balance and while typing and analyzing the timeline, that I tried all my other options first, knowing that I was eventually going to have to bite the bullet and spend some proper money buying the right kit for the job, which is annoying because I like to use the maxims “buy right, buy once” and “measure twice cut once” which is a similar turn of phrase with a similar meaning…. I think I was being overly cautious… No I’m being generous to myself, I was procrastinating, and in the final reckoning with Dictaphone and speech recognition software, I’ve probably spent more than I’ve saved)… that was mega tangent. Anyway I then synch the tablet to the laptop at home take the rough copy and bullet points I’ve made, that cover such things as tangents, realizations, and just bits I didn’t have time to give a bit of flesh to, and do the full edit in MS Word proper (I use Polaris Office on the tablet, I think it’s pretty good). I then post here on the blog rather than trying to spend a whole evening writing after a day at work, which is frankly impossible.

So here I am on Saturday morning, it’s7.30am, my rough work and bullet points from Thursday and Friday  mean that I have managed to flesh out this post in about an hour. So that for me is proof that I was right buying the tablet.

The only things that I really considered when buying one were: onboard memory and external memory expansion. I was quite lucky, someone at work was selling an un-opened 32gb Micro SD card… I’m going to have nerd moment: I work in IT, that Micro SD card is 32 Gigabytes; for those that would like to know, that’s 32 billion bytes (American). A Byte is a collection of “bits” usually 8 (I won’t get into parity it will just confuse things). Bytes are formed from binary Bits and in turn, form the ASCII codes that represent all the characters on the keyboard (visible or otherwise… the space bar creates a character you can’t see) that you and I use either to type or browse this thing we call the internet, create documents, send email etc. So that’s potentially 32 billion characters on a piece of plastic and silicon wafer smaller in size than my thumb nail. We have an old server at work that has hard drives the size of bricks that only hold 3.4Gb of data, and years ago when I worked at Reuters they had hard drives the size of filing cabinet drawers that only held a megabyte. It’s mind boggling. And I’m writing about it on what would be Alan Turings 100th Birthday… mental.

What has any of this got to do with travel, the tablet, the laptop etc? Everything and nothing… because of the gadgets we can communicate what we are doing to our families via a blog, Facebook, Twitter etc. The tablet allows me to write in a way that means I’m not hankering after time to write and being cross with myself for being too tired to write under normal circumstances. And with access to a Wifi Hotspot or by upgrading my mobile phone contract to 3G (which I will do closer to the time) Amanda and I can both use the tablet to Video call via the Skype mobile app from anywhere to anyone that we usually chat to… we can also use iplayer and all those similar techno telly widgets to be pretty much anywhere and never out of touch. We can even run our navigation through the tablet (though we do have a Tom Tom).

The only minor irritation right now is learning the subtleties and nuance of the Bluetooth keyboard and softening it up a bit, so my spelling doesn’t look quite so dyslexic… not that it matters as I have spell check.

Technology: What a thing it is.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Our Future Homes Makeover. When is Too Old?

In other news we got the gas and electricity (12v) on the motorhome sorted, I make it sound like small beer but it's a massive change and from here on in we can use the motorhome  again (when of course we finish the damp works at home). As I’ve said elsewhere it’s frustrating; I could never be accused of being patient at the best of times even less so when the motor home is now ready to go. The gas works were actually more complicated and extensive than we anticipated, and after some haggling and procrastinating we decided to have all of the old pipe stripped and replaced, and a new manifold installed, as well as the bulkhead regulator that we had already purchased.
We also bit the bullet while the unit was in having the gas done and had the mains connected charger fitted. This allows the leisure battery to charge while the motorhome is on mains hook up. To explain: Motorhomes have a relay from the alternator to the leisure battery, so once the vehicles battery is charged the leisure battery gets charged as you are in motion, it’s a neat and simple solution, that allows something as simple as the fridge to chill down while you are on-route. The new charger augments this facility by allowing the 12volt systems to fully charge while you still get the use of your mains systems on a mains hook up at a campsite. Our motorhome is so old it didn’t come with the charger in the original build, so we were going to install one at some point this year. However with the delays from the damp works at home, it just ended up as another “to do” with an ever shrinking timeline. Fitting the charger is relatively simple, and both my brother and his best mate are Mechanical and Electrical Engineers (sparks with spanners... though in fairness to both they aren’t on the tools anymore, in fact my brother now flies private jets for rich people who don’t like mixing with the hoi polloi). So we did have an option on buying the charger and accoutrements and then doing the work ourselves... but... as the gas fitter was going to be in exactly the same space as the electrical work, it seemed pointless waiting, and of course the “to do” list shrinks by one item and what we lose in cash for labour we gain back in time elsewhere for ourselves and simple things like: Route Planning, which I scribbled about a post or so ago.
If nothing else we have learned a little more about compromise and managing our own expectations. And unpopular as it may be... it is fair to say our only friend during this period has been the miserable weather everyone else has been complaining about. The rain has kept us indoors, out of the garden, and with no distracting sunny days beckoning us to the outdoors. The short respites from the rains have fortunately fallen in slack periods at home allowing us to just keep on top of the garden, with a few motorhome cosmetic jobs of our own sorted out, just on top of the day to day stuff of work and home. And referring up a line or two; staying away from sunny days out by default means that we haven’t pushed our physical limits even further than they have already been pushed. We aren’t builders; using a hammer and bolster relentlessly for four hours isn’t our trade, nor is mixing two and a bit tonnes of sand and cement (even with a mixer). We are both now the mature side of forty five. And we are possibly the only people (except farmers and water company executives) that are happy about the progress of summer weather 2012 so far... I don’t think I’ve been so physically and mentally worn out ever... and yet knowing myself, if I found clear skies to play under I would invariably push myself and Amanda to get out and do stuff.

Last year I on this very day 20th June I had my Lumbar L5/S1 vertebrae fused, I spent three months in recovery, and I guess the whole of the rest of last year and the first few months of this year getting back in shape. During this period I was lucky enough to be put on a pilot Physio program at UCLH and over the course of ten weeks I found and was encouraged to push my boundaries and get back to the sort of fitness that meant that in 2004 I could coast a London Bikathon, swim five days a week, and run fifteen miles in that same week (I couldn’t even imagine doing it now, I don’t think I’m that needy anymore either)... But the point is during the physio course “pace” was emphasised “pace”, not overdoing it, being mindful of your condition. I’m rubbish at pace I just don’t have the right kind of off button... and Amanda is very much the same at heart. If there had been sun this last two months the situation would be:
1.      Two dead middle aged people who took on too much... but did die trying
2.      A damp house and travel plans put off for a year or whenever J
What we have instead is... two considerably poorer middle aged people, but with enough gumption remaining to get to the finish line even if we only get the wooden spoon.

Laying a Milestone

Amanda and I spent the whole of jubilee week digging out then moving four tonnes of damp rubble from our dinning room extension. It has been without the doubt hardest work I’ve done in years, Amanda says it’s the hardest work she’s ever done. The last time I worked that hard was ten years ago, on a voluntary project near Broadwater farm in Tottenham… how easy it is to forget back breaking labour,  and how easy it is to think it was only yesterday and I’m still as able as I was back then.

We had some minor delays on materials being delivered, one major delay for a cement mixer delivery from HSS, who as a company I’ve always found pretty sound, but on this occasion were let down by a total nob of a driver who turned up three and a half hours late on the Friday before the builder was expected. 

In any event the heavy work was complete by Sunday early pm 10th of June. That included the break up and removal of the screed, bagging up and shifting to the dump same broken up screed (eighteen trips). You ask why not use a skip? I say try getting a skip same day or next day in Thurrock. This was followed by tanking with the most noxious bitumen paint, two coats seperated by twenty four hours (it still smells two weeks later, but the final plastering should eventually see off the smell for good), re-lining with DPM and then mixing and laying the new screed over the insulation. We even found time to find the new flooring and get it home, though it will be at least another week from posting before I can lay it.

One has to say that having the use of our builders Selco card made life a fair bit easier (for those that don't know (Selco is builders merchants size of your average Q&Q). We picked up our tanking materials, plaster, sealers etc in with the absolute minimum of aggravation; if you’re a regular B&Q user then find yourself a friend who is a member of Selco and feel the difference for yourself; everything you need in one place and in quantity. The only thing Selco couldn’t supply was the sand for the screed, primarily because their delivery charges to our area were too high, because our order was so small at two tonnes. However B&Q couldn't deliver because their time slot system isn't agile enough. I’ve never heard so much bollocks in all my life, I couldn’t buy the sand from Thurrock B&Q because their delivery slots were all gone, but I could buy it from Basildon because they had slots left… the big problem being that the bloke in Basildon B&Q that dealt with deliveries was off for the afternoon… Could Thurrock B&Q order from Basildon B&Qs stock to deliver in Thurrock and take my money? Could they fuck! Absolute unutterable twattery of the worst kind, and all a waste of my time discovering how shite B&Q can be.
In the end we went to BSG who I’ve never used before but were entirely competent in ordering and scheduling, but were let down by a delivery driver's who from the first moment I met him I knew was a total prat. When he arrived he said he wanted to drop the stuff 15 yards from our house outside a neighbours, all for want of asking me to move our motorhome so that he could parallel our front garden to lift it off the lorry, then he moaned that he had to turn the lorry round to parallel the curb if and when I moved the motorhome (all of two minutes). He subsequently dropped the cement in the back of the lorry because he was rushing the lift, and rather than put the pallet forks on the HIAB he just tried to lift the pallet with the grab. The grab lifted the pallet which snapped in half. Needless to say he didn’t get a tip. It’s a shame because the BSG people had same dayed the sand and cement order. And finally If proof was needed that the man was a prat he dropped the wrong bags of sand (builders not sharp) which I did argue looked and felt wrong... but he was insistent that the sand was sharp... He was wrong and cost us the Saturday to lay the screed, but on balance we had a good clean up at home and took things easy, so no harm done in the long run. I must point out that BSG’s yard were most helpful and prompt in exchanging the sand on the Saturday morning after the builder confirmed what I’d expected. And so on Sunday 10th of June we had screed and a floor at the right level. With only one minor cat related paw print issue early in the process.

Of course that's not the end of things, but just having the floor at correct level and having completed the utter back breaking misery of digging out and then shifting the old screed, and being in the full knowledge that at last there is now an end in sight (it is... if not heart warming, at least another milestone, and it allows the brain to cogitate the future a little more clearly). But it’s a source of frustration as well, because while there is an end in sight, we are still stuck with the remains of the project to get the house ready for sale.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Flaming June

So here we are 3rd of June 2012, the big Jubilee weekend. It’s a shame about the weather for her Maj down on the Thames, you’d think the Giant Intergalactic Spider would have parted the clouds today so she could bask in sunshine, but hey ho Britain is famous for rainy days, so from a philosophical point of view... it’s perfect Queens River Pageant weather.
For ourselves this weekend so far has been hard work. A friend of ours popped round with a Kango to help us break up the screed floor in the dinning room. It took about three hours to “gun up” and will take a fair few trips to dispose of, but it’s done. There’s good news as well with regards to the state of the DPC (damp-proof course), it hasn’t been breached and is set at the correct level on the external wall underneath what’s known as the Bell Render stop. The entire damp issue is due to a lack of diligence on the original builders part, when the original DPM was laid. This means that with good conscience we can PVA and seal the walls once they’ve dried out a little more, then use Synthaprufe; to provide a final seal and lap joint across the subfloor, then as noted earlier lay in the new DMP, insulation and 60mm of new hard screed; followed eventually with the installation of a new 7kw radiator, a complete plaster skim to all the walls and final redecoration.
I can’t overstate how this light at the end of the tunnel moment changes things. It’s exactly the same sense of relief finding the DPC intact and in the right place, as the day I tracked back the damp in the Moho and found the extent and the cause of the leak. Everything that follows is either just graft, or cosmetics (cost is obviously in there but but you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, so c’est la vie).
I can’t say I’m happy about all the extra work and distractions of the last few months; three going on four before we get back to on track and deal with all the travel niggles such as: how do you get from mainland Europe across to Cyprus in September and early October with a motorhome? The answer it seems at first glance appears to be, drive down and across Western Europe through the Balkan countries, into Turkey and then catch a boat from Turkey to Northern Cyprus, and then drive the two and a bit hours from and through Northern (Turkish) Cyprus into Southern (Greek) Cyprus to Paphos on the South Western tip, and there overwinter with Amanda’s sister before, turning round and reversing the process the following spring. “Simples” as the Russian??? Meerkat Aleksandr Orlov would say... one has to wonder how a little Herpestidae like the Meerkat managed to get all the way from the southern tip of Africa to the heart of Moscow, and then become a television celebrity in Britain with his own range of cuddly toys and book available on Amazon; proving if nothing else, that anything is achievable... maybe I need a change of medication. Anyway, crossing the Balkan countries in October could be problematic, not because they were at war just a decade or so ago and the UK, UN and USA intervened with the usual Tomahawk missile based diplomacy (Jokes aside it was the right thing to do).
No the reason going through the Balkan countries at that time of year is an aggravation, is that the weather can be inclement at times, October is Albania’s wettest month with temperature lows of 5 degrees as an example and there can be border crossing issues (often to do with corrupt border guards and random fees). This is why you have to plan your routes and your times well in advance.
Without going into too much depth, the options are take your time and see some sights, or do a five to six day mad rush. Other alternatives include finding a boat service from Southern Italy that goes direct to Limmasol in Southern Cyprus or some other tramp steamer adventure; it’s all very much up in the air. And I bet now you’re asking: why not bypass the Balkans and Turkey and just go from mainland Greece? And the answer is, there isn’t a direct single route ferry from mainland Greece to Cyprus. And Island hoping across may not be an option because of the size of the vehicle we are travelling with. And this brings us full circle, there is a tonne of research to get done, and for three months all we’ve really done is mend and prepare our motorhome (which is still ongoing), and then mend our house and sell it, and these things coupled with workaday life, have left very little time or space to do the essential research.
Today: today is a corner day; we just turned one. No doubt there will be more, but for the first time in a good few weeks, the mind can turn to the cerebral matters applicable to the long game.

Three Cheers for the Queen.
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