Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Golf In France

If you are new to golf in France the best course of action is to apply for a license from FFgolf (http://www.ffgolf.org). As well as providing you with the means to obtain an official French golf handicap, the most important feature is insurance coverage should your errant golf ball hit a building, car or head (or should someone else's ball hit YOUR head!)

The license has space for a "carte verte" sticker, which you can obtain after being accompanied on a 9 hole round by any club pro. The idea is purely to ensure that you can complete 9 holes of golf in under 3 hours and you don't kill anyone in the process. A basic knowledge of rules and etiquette is also expected, but there is no "test" as such.

When you first obtain your license, you are allocated a handicap of 54. This is GREAT - you get 3 strokes per hole over someone who plays from scratch, and this allows you to compete in club competitions far earlier than you would be able to in the UK (bear in mind that in France you need a current medical certificate from your GP certifying your fitness to play golf before you can play in any competitions, even "fun" ones organised by your local club - this has to be renewed each year)

If you have a valid handicap in any other country, FFgolf will simply transfer that to your new French license if you inform them. For the "newbie", you can begin to reduce your handicap by playing in any "proper" competition organised by your local club. These can be sponsored events with prizes, or "classement" competitions which are generally held weekly at every club with the sole aim of allowing people to register a score towards their handicap.

Note that you cannot simply register any old score card towards your handicap, it has to be from a recognised competition where the club will print out official FFgolf score cards which must be marked by one of your co-competitors, signed and handed in at the end of the round - all very official (well, this IS France, after all).

Every license holder gets their own "portal page" on the FFgolf site which allows you to track the current status of your license, whether you have a carte verte, whether you have registered your medical certificate, and the evolution of your handicap (plus stats of your current position in your club, the league, the region and nationally!)

My advice for anyone looking to play over here regularly would be to apply for a French license regardless - it costs 48 Euros a year and gives you the benefit of the insurance. Officially, a license is obligatory to play on any French course, though the likelyhood of that being enforced is remote. Of course, if you have an accident and you are without insurance, things could get tricky...

If you already have a handicap, you can have it transferred to that license, and you don't need to do the carte verte test. If you don't have a handicap but you play regularly, you could probably just explain and ask the club for the carte verte sticker - they might give it to you or they might require that you complete one round with the pro. Probably worth doing, since it only needs doing once and then you are "official", and it really is VERY straightforward to do (not at all like getting a carte grise!)

If you are just an occasional visitor, there is no need to do anything, but you should make sure your travel (or golf) insurance policy covers you for accidents abroad.

As with the UK, there are clubs that will insist you have a handicap to play (proven by your French golf license) and those who don't care as long as you pay your green fees.

I hope that helps - if I have left anything out, just ask. There is lots of info on the FFgolf site too for those who read French.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

English Weather

For several years now we have been very smug about the fact that, although it can rain here (and I mean RAIN, with a capital R-A-I-N), it usually only lasts for a day or two and then returns to beautiful blue skies. And although we can get the odd cold snap in the winter, the temperatures are usually high enough to go out in a light coat - and, of course, it is always sunny, even when cold.

And the rest of the time... well, it's just sunny, with a capital S-U.... well, you get the idea.

So it has been a bit of a shock this winter to have long periods of wet weather with leaden grey skies. Damp, horrible, feel-it-in-your-bones type weather. And every time it looks like clearing up and you think "spring has arrived", it just turns to crap again.

And so it is this week. Only last weekend we were playing golf all day in t-shirts and contemplating how many more days before we go the whole hog and switch from long pants to shorts. And now, here we are again, huddled indoors, staring wistfully through the windows at the leaden skies and rapidly flooding garden.

Even though the English are born to this sort of weather, you get used to the other stuff once you have been here a few years and the crap stuff just seems to hit you harder, for some reason.

Not helped by the fact that the rain gives us an excuse to do the cleaning. How the hell that dog can lose so much bloody hair and not be bald is beyond me. I'm going to clingfilm him....

Monday, April 06, 2009

Golf Overdose

Getting too old to play 54 holes of golf in 2 days.

Yesterday we played 18 holes at Vacquerolles first thing in the morning with Harry, which at least meant we didn't have to walk him separately. Then in the afternoon we went to the Cleveland Golf demo day at la Grande Motte.

The intention was to mooch around the new range of clubs and drool for a while, but the Cleveland guy had other ideas to sucker us in. He determined which range of clubs interested us, then gave us a full set on loan to go and play the course. Well, how could we refuse? One small point regarding the way the French do business here. In England, we would have had to leave a passport, driving license, cheque to cover the amount of the clubs borrowed and a small child as security for the clubs. Here, the guy just took down my name, didn't ask for any ID, and wished us a "bon parcours". Amazing!

And so we found ourselves playing another 18 holes. Given that I already own a lot of the Cleveland driver/wood/hybrid clubs that I need, it was really only the new irons in which I was interested. So much to the dismay of the guy behind us, I was hitting multiple iron shots up the fairway instead of driver/hybrid + small iron. Par 4's were becoming par 8's for me - but at least it was deliberate this time. The guy behind was terribly unimpressed, however...

Today was our regular weekly threesome with myself, Hans and Stuart round Vacquerolles - and very nice it was too. A big part of this weekly event is the time spent at the 19th afterwards, and so it's a jolly good job Lynne was driving...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Vacation

For those of you not following on Facebook or FriendFeed while I was away, you will have missed the pictures I posted.

Here they are again, plus a few additional ones.



I didn't manage to take the Canon DSLR with me on any trips out, since I was taking more video than stills this year. For that, I am using the new Toshiba Camileo P30, which has the distinction of fitting in your pocket (so great for skiing), and yet taking full wide-screen 1080p HD video at 30 frames per second and 5 megapixel stills.

With a 5x optical zoom and macro, low light and backlight modes, it can cope with most situations, and it made a great job of the snowscapes, as you can see. Everything is recorded to SDHC cards (stick to Class 2, it can't handle anything higher), and a 4GB Class 2 SD card (which cost me $1 plus shipping on eBay!) will hold over an hour of 1080p video and several hundred 5MP stills. All this for 180 Euros! Check it out on Amazon. The only problem I found was that it is slow to refocus when zooming (especially in movies), but at that price you can't have everything!

So most of the pics were taken on this camera, but if you notice some in the slide show with poor resolution, they were taken on the iPhone (2MP). Here's hoping Apple give us a significant boost to the camera capabilities (5MP please! Plus video!) when the new iPhone is released in the summer.

Fab vacation with some great weather and skiing for the first couple of days. After that it snowed quite heavily, which only kept us off the slopes for a day, but the high temperatures (it was 25 deg C at the top of the mountain some days!) meant the pistes stayed soft and slow after that.

Still, we all had a great time, especially Harry (his first holiday without Benson) who adores the snow and went potty once we had the heavy snow fall. Now I just have to lose the weight gained from all that melted cheese!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Where Am I?

Just got back from a wonderful week skiing in the Alps, as any of you who follow me on Facebook will know.

This vacation has seen a shift in the way I record my personal comings and goings for posterity. In the past, I would usually take a laptop with me to enable me to offload pictures and videos from my cameras and do the odd bit of blogging while I am away.

Now I take a Belkin card reader with an old 20GB iPod to offload pictures (plus with 4GB SD cards costing $1 on eBay why not just take a whole bunch of them with you and swap them out as needed?) and my iPhone gives me all the on-line access I need while I am away. The laptop stays at home these days.

But whilst the iPhone is great for ad hoc browsing and keeping up with e-mails and social networks, it leaves a lot to be desired on the blogging front due to the lack of normal keyboard (I WISH Apple would let us use Bluetooth keyboards on these things, but that's not even going to be an easy option in the new 3.0 software).

Hence my switch to "micro-blogging" technology such as Twitter and Facebook. For those of you not up to speed with Twitter, it provides the ability to make short 140 character posts for when a full-blown blog entry is simply overkill. I use Twitter extensively to post quick tips, interesting links and short rants and opinions. Although it is easy enough to sign up for Twitter, you don't need an account to follow me on there - you can see the 10 most recent posts on my blog page in the sidebar, or just point your web browser to @bwalder and you can see everything I have posted.

As you can see, I tend to use Twitter for "serious" or "techie" stuff in the main (though not always). Personal stuff will usually go on Facebook, which provides the same micro-blogging capabilities via its status updates. Once again, you can point your browser to my Facebook profile here, but this time, unfortunately, you DO need an account to view it. Bummer, huh?

If only there was a way for you to view all of this stuff in one place. Hey, there is! It's called FriendFeed.

FreindFeed is an "aggregator", which means it can pull together lots of different stuff such as blog entries, status updates, micro-blogs, picture uploads, etc, etc and present it in a single place. No account or special software needed - just go here to view my FriendFeed feed.

There you will see my Twitter posts, Facebook status updates, LinkedIn updates, Goodreads book recommendations, picture uploads to Flickr and Picasa, links to interesting news stories, YouTube videos, and even my blog entries (like this one) will make it over there.

The list can look daunting at first, but you can click on any one of the service icons at the top of the page (next to where it says "Filter:") in order to view only posts from that service. So clicking on the little"F" will show you all my Facebook updates, and nothing else. Clicking on the "Feed" tab at the top of the page will clear the filter and show you everything again.

If you only visit one place to see what I am up to, FriendFeed should probably be the one. But if you want to continue dropping by my blog, all my other social network links are in the sidebar on the right. If you don't see a blog update for a few days but you notice recent Twitter posts, then it is always worth popping over to Facebook or FriendFeed to see what I am up to.

I would encourage you to take a look at these sites (take a trip through all of those Social Network links in my blog sidebar), not only to keep up with what I am doing (yawn!) but to get a feel for what they are about and have a think about how you could use them yourself. They can be fun, and a lot less onerous than keeping up with a full-blown blog - especially when you are on vacation and have better things to do!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Harry Plays Golf

It has been a long time since we took Harry with us when playing golf.

We used to do it when we first started but some people behind us once complained that we were spending more time walking the dog than playing golf. We didn't, it's just that we were so crap at golf at the time that we took forever to get past the par 5's and Harry got the blame. Rather than risk the ire of other members of the club, we stopped taking him.

Problem is, if we don't take him, we have to walk him before we go play (1+ hours), then we play golf (3-4 hours), then we have to calm him down when we get home and walk him again - the last thing we feel like doing after 18 holes.

If, however, we take him with us, he gets a 4 hour walk around a beautiful golf course, and we get one tired puppy when we get back home - everyone wins. That, plus the picture above is how he looks at us as we leave the house dressed for golf - there is only so much of that you can take really...

So we decide to take advantage of the lighter mornings and good weather to get to the golf course for 7.30 and we set off with the mutt in tow. Well, not so much "in tow" as hurtling around the first tee and then dashing between us up and down the first fairway.... thank goodness there is no one else around to see. He soon calms down and restricts his mischief to standing on Lynne's ball when she is trying to putt. By the 10th hole he is knackered and the rest of the round he traipses behind us doing the doggy equivalent of "are we there yet?" every 10 seconds.

We are finished by 11.30 and stop by the 19th hole for a bite to eat. On the way out, Harry spots a large female pooch of indeterminate race, but who probably weighs around 50KG. As Harry passes by, said pooch shows an interest, and promptly pulls the poor lady holding him over the back of her chair and drags her along the ground in her haste to make Harry's acquaintance.

Probably be a while before we dare take him again.....

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

iPhone 3.0

The long-awaited Apple event today was all about the new iPhone OS 3.0, but no news on new hardware :o(

Notable new features include:

* Cut & paste across all apps (really well-implemented - might even have been worth the wait). Can even copy pictures from album and paste into e-mails

* Push notification - at last! Still no background tasks, but maybe that's not such a bad thing given the quality of many of the apps in the App Store - I can see battery life draining to 20 minutes with the wrong app in the background!

* Extended Bluetooth support for new accessories and also P2P (i.e. swap contacts directly with other iPhone users nearby). P2P is via Bonjour - no Bluetooth pairing is required - and can also occur over WiFi. A2Dp support allows use of stereo Bluetooth headphones, but there is STILL no Bluetooth keyboard capability! Why not?

* MMS - new Message app to cover SMS and MMS - send photos, contacts, audio files, and location via MMS

* Embeddable maps - Core Location will finally make turn-by-turn apps possible

* Landscape mode for all Apple apps

* Ability to send multiple photos in mail

* New Spotlight search capability across all apps and content (contacts, calendars, music, etc.)

* Voice recording app vie internal or external microphone

* Extended Stocks app (WTF?)

* Notes will now be synchronised via iTunes (at last!!!)

* Ability to sell additional content from within apps via App Store - for example, if you have a city guide app, you can sell the app once and additional "city packs" as extensions. Or for a game, the base game could include 10 levels, and you can provide the option to buy additional levels only via the App Store. Free apps will not be able to sell content, however - free apps must remain totally free (fair enough)

* Laptop tethering is supported in 3.0 but will remain at the discretion of the individual cell operator (probably no chance in France then!)

Still no video support - bum and poo :o(

And still no way to manage apps properly via iTunes, i.e. grouping in categories or on "virtual screens" in iTunes ready for synchronisation - once you get past more then a screenful of apps you really do need more advanced app management capabilities (especially when you have multiple devices too)

The new OS will be available in the summer as a free download for all current iPhone owners ($9.95 upgrade for iPod touch users)

Monday, March 16, 2009

English Invasion

Since Lynne is off golfing with her girlie buddies today, I decide to have a Men's Golf Day (which is denoted by the requirement of spending as much time drinking as golfing), and am joined by Stuart and Hans.

The first time we have played together, and the first time they have played at Vacquerolles, and a most agreeable day it turns out to be. We are all around the same handicap and skill level, and end up shooting similar scores, although Stuart wins the back 9 match play competition (I note it was also Stuart who suggested it...hmmmmm). Stuart takes 4 holes, I take 3 and Hans 2.

Overall, I shoot exactly to my course handicap, turning in an OK score of 97 in an otherwise unremarkable game. Only 8 fairways hit, 1 green in regulation, 2 pars (though one of them was on the par 5 17th - my first on that hole) and an appalling putting average of 2.1 putts per hole.

Then it is down to the important part - the drinking. Unfortunately, I can't remember much about that bit....

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Day At The Beach

After a day of household chores yesterday (see how I spared you a blog post of that?), we decide to take advantage of the glorious weather and pop down to the beach for the day.

We opt for Grand Motte, since it is one of the most dog-friendly resorts around here. Many resorts simply will not allow dogs on the beach at any time of the year, whilst others restrict access to certain months. Although you can safely ignore these prohibitions in the winter months when the beaches are largely deserted, once the good weather comes along and you have kids building sand castles, a 40KG moron who ploughs through the middle of said kids and/or castles whilst peeing on your picnic usually brings out the Villagers-With-Pitchforks mentality of the local population.

Grand Motte is nice because, along with Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, it maintains specific beaches or stretches of beaches where dogs are allowed. Anyone stupid enough to build sand castles or attempt picnics on these stretches of beach deserves everything coming to them, in my opinion...

Harry is not as big a fan of the sea as Benson was, but he does like to cool his goolies after a long walk in the sun, and there is not much you can do to stop him once he gets the scent of the sea in his nostrils.

Other than wave a donut at him, of course....

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Sacrifice Worked

Well, it was a bugger smuggling a goat onto the 18th green, but it was probably a lot quieter than a virgin, and the end result seems to be about the same - the Gods are appeased!

Today I manage a perfect bogey round on the first 9 holes (45), followed by 47 on the back 9 for a total of 92. Ninety bloody two! Plus 20, and a full 5 strokes under my course handicap. OK, so Tiger Woods wouldn't be impressed (and I am sure, dear reader, neither are you) but....well, it's ninety-bloody-two! And on Friday the 13th as well! Probably the only day of the year I will ever manage such a score.

9 fairways hit, 4 greens in regulation, average drive of 192 metres (with two drives over 230 metres), 5 pars (!) and, most telling statistic of all, average putts per hole, 1.7

I'm happy, even if you did click away from this page two minutes ago...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Gods Of golf Are Angry

Yeah verily, should any golfer have the temerity to assume that just because he didn't suck totally in a game that he might actually be making progress, the gods will smite and smite and bend his putter. And then smite some more.

And they smote today, and yeah I am repentant and vow never again to let myself believe that I might actually be able to hit a ball in a straight line or clear that hazard looming across the fairway. Amen.

A terrible score (50) on the front 9 today, made to look better than it could have been by the par 4 ninth: a 250 yard drive, soaring second shot landing on the green and a 30 foot putt for a birdie. Sweet!

Back 9 was not quite as disastrous, with a 48. When I look at the score card, it wasn't actually that bad. Most of the holes were bogeys (which is good for me, don't forget!), with the odd double-bogey which can't be helped when you are as crap as I am. But it was the three triple bogeys which wrecked things for me - 6 extra strokes in those 3 holes are not easy to recover from.

Gotta get my putting under control, and next time a sacrifice at the altar of the great god Titleist, I think.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Farewell to Siegfried & Roy?

Anyone who ever saw Siegfried & Roy live could not have failed to have been impressed by the showmanship and sheer spectacle.

That their career - long as it was - was cut short by such a tragedy was terrible. Given that many were convinced he would never survive the attack by one of his beloved tigers, to see him recover to the point where he can once again perform on stage, even in such a limited fashion, is truly amazing. That he should share the stage with the same tiger which cut short his career is heartwarming.

I hope he continues to improve and we see more of them in years to come

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Il y a du monde

That's what Marie says to me on the phone when I try to book a depart for lunch time today.

The earliest she can fit us in is 3pm - a bit of a shock given I was aiming for 11am! No good reason for this sudden influx of people, other than - presumably- a strong desire to get out there and play after all the crappy weather we have been having.

Anyhow, 3pm is not much use to us, not really giving us time to do more than 9 holes, so we decide to divide and conquer. Lynne has something else to do this morning, so I try for a slot on my own. Success.

Except, when I arrive around 11am, I find 20 people waiting at the first tee. This is going to be painful. Jean-Marc the starter works his magic, juggling parties and tee times to get everyone grouped into foursomes and tee'd off as smoothly as possible. I end up playing with Morgan Freeman, Three-Fingered Man and Lionel.

It's not the real Morgan Freeman, of course, but he has a very Morgan Freeman-ish thing going on - Morgan Freeman if he was a foot shorter and French. Three-fingered man has three fingers on one hand. Lionel is....well....Lionel, and was the only name I caught during the introductions. Very nice men, none of whom snigger as I screw up my first tee shot.

Naturally, with 16 people standing behind me watching I manage to hook the first tee shot out of bounds on the left. As I hang my head in shame, Jean-Marc suggests I re-take it - probably more to do with the fact that if I can manage a decent second shot it will aid in getting our party off the first fairway as quickly as possible rather than leaving me hacking out of the vicious rough.

While on the first tee I am chatting with the guys who I played behind on Tuesday, where I get to find out why we progressed so slowly. One of them tells me about the party in front of them on the par 3 7th hole - the best of the group shot 8, the worst was on her 15th stroke when she gave up. There was nobody in front of them and a whole queue of groups behind them, and yet they refused to let anyone past. Pretty poor show, and one of the failings of our club that they don't have someone patrolling the course and shooting people who cannot hit a ball past the ladies tee.

Amazingly, given the numbers waiting today, every party plays well and we don't have to wait at any tee. Just shows how smoothly things could run even with a crowded course as long as people keep it moving along.

My best game for weeks as I shoot 97 (first time I have played under my course handicap in ages), including a couple of pars, couple of greens in regulation, average drive of 190 and average putts of 1.8. Big confidence booster. Given that I bogey most of the holes, it just goes to show how two bad holes can wreck your score card - in my case a couple of triple bogeys (one of them on the aforementioned par 3 - d'oh!) spoil an otherwise excellent round.

Quick question for other amateur golfers. When it comes to recording your greens in regulation, do you count them with or without your handicap? For example, on a typical par 4, GIR is 2, but if you have an 18 handicap your par for that same hole would be 5. So now, is your personal GIR 2 or 3?

Lynne manages 9 holes with her friends in the afternoon, so we both finish about the same time. We are so tired, we ditch dance class and opt for pizza and wine instead. I know, I know....

We also watch "In Bruges" for the third time (Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes). Farrell and Gleeson play hit men sent to Bruges to lie low after a botched assassination attempt. Ralph Fiennes plays a superbly over the top gangster, with a performance ripped off from Ben Kingsley's in "Sexy Beast", but that's no bad thing. There is lots of dark humour and violence, though none of it gratuitous, and a glorious ending.

I might only be able to watch this another three times before I have to wait a while before watching it some more. If you have not seen it yet, I highly recommend you give it a go. If you don't like it, let me know on ihavenotasteinfilms@loser.com

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Golf and Sunshine

Feeling very sorry for those of you on the east coast of the US shoveling snow from the greens and having to wear 5 layers of clothing just to go out and practice.

Not wanting to rub it in, but it is t-shirt weather here today, and perilously close to shorts-wearing temperatures (at least for the British ex-pats down here - the French will continue to wear 5 layers of clothing until the temperatures hit 30 degrees!)

Decent first 9 today with a couple of pars and greens in regulation for a respectable 48. The back 9 went to pot, however, with too many three puts and triple bogeys, resulting in an abysmal 52! Driving and long irons are reasonably consistent, but I really gotta work on the approach play and putting.

However, and not to rub it in... no, really.... it was so nice to relax at the 19th hole afterwards in the beautiful sunshine, quaffing a cold beer and watching the following parties make a hash of the 18th.

New episode of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse tonight - this one is shaping up very nicely.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Too Much Golf

WAY too much golf, in fact. Or just way too much TV. Either way, my butt is numb....

The Accenture World Golf Championship started last Wednesday and heralded the long awaited return of one Tiger Woods. With Sky coverage amounting to 4 hours per day on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and then 8 hours+ per day over the weekend, this required some serious commitment to watch.

There was a lot of disappointment as Tiger was dispatched unceremoniously in the second round (this is a match play format), denying us the spectacle of a McIlroy v Woods match-up on the Friday. This disappointment was tempered for those of us on this side of the Atlantic by the number of Brits in the final rounds, only to see our hopes dashed as both Poulter and McIlroy were sent packing in the quarter finals.
This did set up a very exciting all-British semi-final, however, between Paul Casey and Ross Fisher.

Still, Rory didn't lose his match, but was beaten by a very in-form Geoff Ogilvy, who went on to make Paul Casey look very ordinary indeed in the final.

Again, you can't say that Casey played badly (though he did fail to capitalise on the few chances he had), but Ogilvy was just relentless, and in outstanding form. A worthy winner.

And a sad end for poor Ross Fisher, beaten into fourth place by Cink - but if you have to lose, you do want to lose against a bunker shot of that quality!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Golf

Back on the golf course today, even though I swore I would never play again after the last game....

Funny sort of game really. Last time out I shot 97 but felt like I had played really badly. My ball striking was poor, yet I got lucky with a few errant tee shots on the par 3's which rolled onto the green and salvaged something out of what could have been a terrible score.

Today, I shot a truly abysmal 102 (52 out, 50 back), and yet felt I played much, much better and was dealt a few really harsh blows by the very blustery conditions. I had way too many double and triple bogeys, and much of my wedge and short iron play still sucked, yet I hit 8 fairways (despite the treacherous winds), averaged 200 metres on my drives (had 3 over 220 metres, which is getting on for the longest I have ever hit), and averaged 1.8 putts per hole.

I had two great up-and-downs to save par on a couple of par 3's, and played some great 150 metre hybrid shots out of fairway bunkers, so there were lots of positives. Unfortunately I hit only one green in regulation (and even that one I went on to 3 putt!)

Like I say, it's a funny sort of game, because the score card really isn't everything. 50% of golf is in the head. And the other 50%.... well, that's in the head too!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tiger's Back!

Yes, Tiger Woods makes his eagerly-anticipated return tomorrow. I thought this Nike video was funny...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Twitter Spoilers

I was forced to unfollow someone on Twitter today.

This was nothing to do with the depressingly regular instance of blocking someone who only wants to garner followers or spam me with some get-rich-quick scheme, but was necessitated by a difference in philosophy - what I wanted from Twitter was not what he wanted to give.

Social networks can be a boon or bane, and Twitter can be both at the same time, unfortunately. The small posts make for a neat medium for transmitting news items and regular updates. Twitter is how I get a lot of my tech news right now, since it is full of people who have more time, inclination or professional need to scour the internet for interesting tidbits.

If, however, I want more details, I have RSS readers for that and I can go get my sports results, for example, at my leisure.

And herein lies the rub. Twice in the last week I have taped a sporting event to watch later. Twice in the last week some bright spark has announced the result on Twitter. No.... "cover your eyes, here it comes" announcement - Twitter, after all, does not lend itself to that.

It's no big deal, but it highlights the need to carefully assess what each Twitterer is offering. I followed @putt3r because he had some useful golf-related insights in general. But now I have had to unfollow him because he announces tournament results as soon as they finish, and he is in a time zone which usually means I will see the results before I even get a chance to record the program, let alone watch it.

I have also unfollowed a couple of people who insist on giving me a blow-by-blow account of their particular favourite sporting event as it happens. WTF? This is like radio commentary but without all the excitement....

The "always on" nature of Twitter can be one of its greatest strengths - it can also make it one of the biggest pains in the ass.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Golf Disaster

Attempted to play golf today - complete disaster.

Played like a monkey. No - played like a right-handed monkey using left-handed golf clubs. Actually - played like a right handed monkey using left-handed golf clubs and suffering from a severe, debilitating twitch during the downswing. And one eye. And a wooden leg.

And monkeys can't even play golf (this is a fact - they are too short to drive the golf carts)

That's how bad I was.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

When Buffalo Attack!

This is the most amazing wildlife video I have ever seen...

Don't be tempted to stop watching before the end

Friday, February 20, 2009

Death Of The Language?

I was shocked to read this today.

I'm not sure what disturbs me the most. Are those in charge so out of touch that they believe that encouraging the use of unreadable slang in class will help kids learn? Or do they think that it is a good thing that they are promoting illiteracy when they should be teaching those kids how to construct a grammatically correct sentence with minimal spelling errors?

I am not sure where all this will lead, but it can't be good.

Lunch today with Clive and Fabi who introduced us to a new place (for us at least) in the heart of Nimes. Le Chapitre, 2a, place du Chapitre (Tel 04 66 84 93 15) serves excellent French/Italian food at reasonable (though not cheap) prices. We all chose from the 20 Euro menu, and my tarte fine (goats cheese and serrano ham), followed by risotto with pesto, tomatoes and dried serrano ham was superb. The tiramisu was nothing to write home about, but we will definitely be going back.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Doubt

Saw Doubt at the Semaphore tonight, starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams.

Streep and Hoffman are superb as usual, Streep putting in a performance that even had me forgiving her for that abysmal Mama Mia fiasco. This film is not nearly as heavy as you might think from viewing the trailers, relying often on moments of real humour to move it along at a brisk pace. 90 minutes flew by, and I heartily recommend this one

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Golf At Last

Yes, after what seems likes months of bad weather (it's weeks really, which is still pretty unusual in these parts) we finally get back out on the golf course.

The last time we played the greens were solid as concrete and several of them were still partly obscured by snow. Not that that affected my game at all - I can play crappily under all conditions...

Today is no exception. After a promising practice session where everything I hit soared straight and true, it quickly becomes apparent that I have peaked before even teeing off. Shot after crappy shot turns into a dismal 51 on the first 9 holes, and it is only the warm sunshine and empty fairways ahead of us that persuade me to keep going.

With a 23 handicap (26 course handicap at Vacquerolles) I need to shoot 98 or under to play to my index. Amazingly I turn in a 46 on the back 9 to give me a respectable total, but this is one of those times when the score flatters. I hit several appalling tee shots which somehow keep rolling - in the case of both par 3's on the back 9 they roll right onto the greens allowing me to get par. In all, I manage 4 pars and a few bogeys to get that score, to balance the seemingly endless double and triple bogeys on the first 9, but I still didn't feel I played well - more that I got lucky.

For some reason, for example, I cannot hit a wedge shot to save my life right now - I think it is time to go back for lessons.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Curry And Sand

Not together, you understand, but one after the other.

We meet up with Axel & Wendy and Sarah & Steven (and associated offspring) at the curry restaurant in Lunel, which turns out to be excellent once again. I have the korma and Lynne the karahi and they are both very tasty - certainly the best we have had in this region of France.

After catching up on S&S' adventures in Oz and misadventures with their builders, Lynne and I carry on with Harry to the beach at Grandes Mottes. Surprisingly for such a cold day, the beach is packed (well, as packed as they get round here) - maybe it is enough that it is sunny after all the rain we have had recently, 'cos the French (at least in the south) are not normally renowned for trekking around in the cold, preferring to wait for temperatures in excess of 30 degrees Celcius before they take their winter coats off!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Polite Society

Over a very nice curry dinner at Jan & Alex' tonight, we are reminded of one of the strongest reasons we had for moving to France several years ago.

The other dinner guests are William (the mayor of Cannes-et-Clairans) and Christine, and their daughter, Paloma. In England, we would have run a mile on seeing that dinner guests had brought young children (I would guess she is about 8 or 9). The usual reason for dragging kids to a dinner party would be for the parents to abrogate all responsibility for their brats for the rest of the evening while they get steadily pissed, said brats getting louder and more obnoxious (and frequently getting pissed themselves having located the booze store in the garage when no one was looking)

Initially, of course, they would completely ignore you, not even looking up from their Nintendo DS to acknowledge your existence. As the evening wears on, they might deign to move from in front of the TV to demand food different to that which everyone else is eating - definitely to include chips - before returning to the TV to eat it on their laps.

French children are different. Paloma immediately stops what she is doing as we arrive to greet us with a polite hello and the traditional three kisses on the cheeks. She participates in conversation when spoken to by the rest of us, always at a very adult level. She sits down with the adults for the meal during which she is a model of restraint, speaking when spoken to, as she eats the same food as the rest of us (despite the fact that the chances of her having tasted such spicy food at home is pretty much nil). Once everyone has finished their food, she excuses herself to watch TV quietly in the other room while the adults chat, and at the end of the evening we receive three more kisses and a polite "good night".

In short, she is a pleasure to have around, and this, we find, is typical of French children.

I realise generalisations are dangerous - that there are a few English children who are raised correctly and there may even be a few obnoxious French children around (though we have yet to come across them).

But the other thing about generalisations is that they are generally true, and this particular one will ensure that French society continues to be one in which politeness, respect for elders and the importance of family life is drummed into children from an early age, and which will - long after English (and American) society, having long since eschewed the aforementioned qualities, has continued its inexorable decline into the depths of hell - ensure that France remains a country in which it is a pleasure to live.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Death of a Diplodocus


Death of a diplodocus
Originally uploaded by bobwalder
Harry's willpower finally deserts him and the result is diplodocus guts all over the sitting room.

Thing is, it's never HIM who has to clean this mess up, is it?

New Videos Of Harry On YouTube

New videos of Harry available on my YouTube page (click here to view).

Whatever Happened To Free Speech?

This article in the Telegraph just reinforces my post from last Thursday, and makes me even more glad I moved out of the UK if this is where it is heading.

"Free speech is about understanding that some people hold a different view from you, whether you like it or not. When we start to alert the "authorities" to thought crimes we really are one step away from the dystopian world that Orwell invented as a warning, not a prophecy.

Is Britain now adopting a position where people who support suicide bombers and jihad are able to make known their opinions without legal challenge, whereas those who oppose them cannot?"

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Everyone's An Expert

I am increasingly amazed at the number of people Tweeting and Blogging who claim to be experts in the field of new media, internet marketing, and so on.

In my day (hello... sounds like a lecture from my dad coming up...) you would probably expect to spend a few years specialising in something before your peers might reluctantly grant that you might possibly be considered something of an expert in the field.

These days, any spotty oik with a PC seems to think that posting a few grammatically incorrect irrelevancies on a blog entitles them to claim the aforementioned titles of "Internet Marketing Expert" or "New Media Consultant".

I was followed on Twitter by someone of whom I had never heard yesterday, so I did a little digging. His Twitter biography states
"Well I'm a internet marketer,infopreneur, enterprenurer,and a sports fanatic...and love to help people with there problems."
and alongside it is a headshot of an individual wearing a hoody. No, really!

OK... where to start....

Quite apart from the obviously bogus claims (more on that in a minute), it's hard to take seriously anyone who (a) wears a hoody in a pic designed to promote his professional services, and (b) cannot be bothered to spell check his main biography entry. Of course, even if he had managed to catch "enterprenurer", my guess is he would still not have realised "there" should be "their"... ah well....

So this guy - who doesn't actually have a web site of his own - is offering his professional services as a PR/media consultant to help promote other people's sites. I am not sure how anyone could resist his sales pitch:
"hey havent talked to you in a while....but remenber when we talk over email,i offered to promote your website with all kinds of differnet ways to promote your website.......well I'm gonna do us both a fab....and I'll do it for free....if any one eles out there wants website to be promoted talk to me and I'll do it for free all i ask is when you start making sales give me 5% of it"

Sounds tempting, huh? He even claims to have a team of people "wot he has trained" ready to help out (probably the other teenies in his skateboard gang).

But then he goes and spoils the professional pitch by revealing less-than-impressive technical credentials such as (a) he is in his final year of school (so plenty of business experience then?) and (b) by asking basic web-related questions of others, like:
thanks....hey how do i creat a website like you....telling the world all about me...like you do

Awwwwww... I was so close to offering him a job, too. Thing is, I am not picking on this kid (I have not named him, and will not), and if this was a solitary incident I would be more inclined to offer him a few pointers. But it is not - there are hundreds of examples of this nature which I can actually find, which means there are probably thousands of these guys peddling their (there) sub-standard wares to an unsuspecting public.

Hopefully, not even those new to this "new media" gobbledegook will be suckered into employing one of these yahoos - surely spelling and basic presentation skills still count for something, even if we no longer require you to have several years of experience in a subject before deeming yourself an expert.

With every man and his dog claiming to be an internet marketing "expert" these days, we should all remember that classic definition of the word: "X" = the unknown quantity, and "spurt" = a drip under pressure....

(PS. Before the arrival of the inevitable caustic comments regarding my own spelling, I should point out that (a) I am aware that "hoody" can also be spelled "hoodie" - both seem acceptable (in terms of spelling, if not in terms of fashion sense) - and (b) I am British, so all those words you are going to complain about do in fact end in "ise" in the Queen's English, and not "ize" as you might believe)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sinsans Walk

Another month has passed and it's time once again for Bryan's monthly walk in the rain.... except that today it's not raining!

It is, however, ankle deep in mud at the beginning of the walk around Sinsans, which just means that the numerous dogs which have joined us on today's walk get the chance to jump up at everyone with muddy paws and knock them over.... oh the joy!

With 6 dogs in evidence it is quite a pack event at the front, with some jostling for position and supremacy, interspersed with some attempted shagging of Minnie by Harry - much to the annoyance of Max (Minnie's boyfriend/life companion). Boo and Scruffy, meanwhile, eschew mingling with other dogs in favour of much more interesting stuff like chasing passing cyclists - much to the annoyance of the passing cyclist!

The weather is superb, the walk is well researched, and a good time is had by all, but particularly Harry who turns up in the back of the car at the end covered in mud!



Forgive the quality of the photos - I only had my iPhone with me. Roll on summer for the new iPhone and let's hope they beef up the camera to 5 mega-pixels rather than the speculated 3.2.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Living Will

Last night, the two of us were sitting in the living room and I said to her, "I never want to live in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine and fluids from a bottle. If that ever happens, just pull the plug."

She got up, unplugged the TV, and threw out my wine.

She can be such a bitch!

Why People Just Don't GET The Kindle

The Kindle 2 was launched yesterday to huge fanfares from Amazon and underwhelming responses from journalists. Why is it that some people just don't GET the Kindle, and similar eReader devices?

Of course, it all depends on your physical reading preferences. In our house, my wife (Lynne) and I are diametrically opposed in our views of eReaders. I like them a lot, she hates them and the horse they rode in on. She loves reading books - I think the physical handling and smell and feel of books has a lot to do with it, but she will also point to the fact that she finds computer (and eReader) screens hard to read for long periods of time (true) and the battery will always run out halfway through a gripping chapter (also true - and particularly inconvenient if your choses eReader device is also your mobile phone, as in my case).

Now me, I LOVE eReaders, and genuinely think they are the future, and that all forms of paper-based publications will eventually die a death. I don't have any difficulty in reading books even on my relatively small iPhone screen (I use the eReader app) and I love the fact I can pick up from where I left off with my latest novel while I am stuck in a doctor's waiting room.

But the biggest advantage of the electronic book to me is choice. When Lynne and I go on holiday, at least one suitcase is usually stuffed with books - a carefully chosen selection that has to see us through the entire holiday ('cos there are never any English language bookshops where we go!) However, half way through the holiday I will often have a hankering for some other reading material - a book which is still at home on the shelf. Or maybe I just want to look something up - a bit of quick research for an idea I just had.

This is where the eReader really scores. Loading 1500 books onto a single device is not useful from the point of view of providing 1500 books to read before the battery runs out, but it IS useful in providing choice. Today I can read a thriller, tomorrow sci-fi, the day after, comedy. And so on. I can select form my entire library at any point in time, depending on my mood. And, of course, with the Kindle, I could also browse newspaper and magazine subscriptions.

So for me, the Kindle is a no-brainer. I want one. At least I would if it weren't for a couple of minor obstacles:

1. Price - It is just way over-priced. Amazon needs to sell it dirt cheap and make money from the content. Given the way people will use a device like this, it has to be cheap enough (and easy enough to restore from scratch and re-populate with content) so that leaving it on a bus or train (or dropping it in the sea) is not a big deal. This means a $50 price point, not $360

2. No European release - here we are on the second major release of this device and you STILL cannot get one in Europe. What gives?

3. I would prefer WiFi over 3G (or give us both, at least) - clearly this is also the biggest stumbling block for a world-wide roll out, so why not add WiFi and make it a non-issue?

There is also talk about the Kindle content making it to the iPhone, which would be nice, since then you only have to buy once and can choose your reading platform and switch between the two as required - Kindle if I know I am going to be doing a lot of reading, or iPhone when I find myself stuck on the underground unexpectedly (how unexpected could THAT be?)

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Social (Network) Niceties

I have been using Twitter for a while now, and have quickly passed from the "what do you do with it?" phase to the "what would you do without it?" phase. But there is a side of Twitter which irks me greatly.

On the upside, it is an extremely useful medium for acquiring snippets of information, links, pointers or "the mood" of a group of people, although it can sometimes take a bit of work to sift through the dross. As with anything to do with the Internet, the signal to noise ratio can be high, and you have to experiment with who you want to follow to make sure you don't get swamped with irrelevancies.

I use it for personal and professional stuff, and have Profile Peeks, searches and filters set up in my Twitter clients (I use Tweetie on my iPhone and EventBox on my Mac desktop) to try and streamline the information-gathering process. At the same time, the dynamic nature of the relationship each user has with Twitter means that you can reach many people in a single stroke with your Tweets and Re-Tweets, allowing you the opportunity to broadcast your own snippets of information or links to other sites.

But what about the downside? Well, it is not something I have had to deal with personally, since I do not have thousands of followers, but I have noticed a nasty side to Twitter when reading through the time line of someone like Stephen Fry (@stephenfry).

Just last night, for example, the wonderful @danspring wrote directly to Fry: "Stephen Fry has been removed - I'm no longer a follower. The man updates shit 24/7! Bye, bye @stephenfry".

This from a man whose Twitter content seems to consist almost entirely of football results and the price of plums in Sainsbury's... See, if you don't like Stephen Fry, why follow him in the first place? If it turns out that his Tweets are not as interesting as you thought, why not just quietly unfollow him? Why resort to calling him out publicly?

Then you have the idiot @stephen_fry who tries to scam Twitter users by passing himself off as Fry, and blaming Fry for being too touchy when he gets caught out. He now claims that he should be able to do whatever he likes because - in his words - he has a comprehensive education and he is dyslexic and, anyway, it was supposed to be a parody not an impersonation... yeeeeeahhhh right....

There are a number of fakers on Twitter, unfortunately, grabbing celebrity names as Twitter IDs and then passing themselves off as said celebrity? Why?

Of course, you have the opposite too - top quality Twittering from the genuine article whose identity is called into question. Take @harry_winston, for example. There are those who don't believe that a Labrador can post to Twitter.... clearly a misconception since, who else could be bothered to post on behalf of a 40KG mutt with a penchant for dead things?

The Day After Tomorrow

No, this is not another Movie night review (though I did quite enjoy that film).

I was just thinking about the movie as I read through the news stories from the UK over the past week or so. Schools closed, workers not (working, that is), buses and trains cancelled (probably more from the drivers staying at home than any serious snow-related blockages), motorways at a standstill, people abandoning cars and scurrying for council-run emergency shelters, wild animals on the loose eating small children (Ok.... I made that last one up....)

And whilst it did look like a bit more snow fell than usual, one has to ask the question "would our parents have stayed at home?" No, and our grandparents not only wouldn't have stayed home, they would have cleared the roads and paths with their own bare hands before work. Britain is getting soft.... (actually, I think we passed "getting" a long time ago.)

The Federation of Small Businesses said the cost to Britain's economy through lost productivity could be as high as $4.3 billion. So much for global warming ;o)

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Movie Night

After a dull day doing chores (well we have to remove half a ton of Labrador hair from the house at some point...) a nice pasta, glass of red wine (Chateau Langlade oak aged Prestige) and a good movie are the order of the day.

We settle on "Burn After Reading" directed by the Coen brothers. Pitt, Malkovich and Clooney in outstanding form - absolutely hilarious and highly recommended.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Weather Woes in Haiku


Cold grey leaden skies

Winter clouds bring too much rain

When will I play golf?

:o)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

No Explanation Should Be Necessary

Given the concept of free speech and the inalienable right of the blogger to spout crap, I should never have to justify anything I say here. This is MY soap box, and if you don't like what I have to say then you can always.... well, I guess you know what you can always do.... ;o)

However, following some "feedback" I received via Twitter following yesterday's post I thought I would clarify something.

I am not a racist. I am not a bigot. Anyone who knows me well knows that. Anyone who THINKS they know me via a few 140 character Tweets or the odd blog post here should probably put their brain into gear before attacking me. Read yesterday's post again....carefully this time....

I am NOT anti-gay. I am NOT anti-muslim. I am NOT even anti-Milton Keynes.

What I AM is anti-PC. This wave of "political correctness" which has swept the UK will be the death of British culture, if such a thing exists any more. Positive discrimination never works, and yet we see it practised time and time again in Britain now as "minorities" (often not that minor, in reality!) are given preferential treatment over the masses, and the authorities cave in left and right in an attempt not to offend them - rewriting laws, rewriting books, even rewriting history wherever it is deemed "offensive" or too "pro-British". THAT was the point of yesterday's post.

It upsets me that we have to watch what we say at every turn. It upsets me that certain groups can appropriate words that once were perfectly innocent - to have aspirations to be a "gay batchelor" these days has very different connotations to when our parents were young. And apparently we can no longer sing about "baa baa black sheep" or tell stories about "three little pigs" for fear of upsetting some ethnic group or another. I will leave you to figure out which....

What is being forgotten these days is that tolerance is supposed to work both ways. The great "multicultural society" experiment which has consumed governments for the past few decades has proved, like communism, to be a total failure. MULTI-culturism will never work - the old ideal of the "melting pot" only works if everything in the pot does indeed melt, infusing the separate ingredients with elements of each other to achieve a harmonious whole - a tasty stew, if you will, rather than a hodge-podge of separate ingredients which nobody likes.

And this means that we cannot simply subvert or jettison our heritage for the convenience of others. Songs and stories should be allowed to survive, but put into some sort of historical context for the children of today in order to highlight WHY such things became offensive over time and why it might no longer be appropriate to use them. Classics which have survived generations should not suddenly be re-written to eliminate non-PC words or phrases - but people should be educated as to why they must no longer be used in polite society.

Is that naive of me? Maybe - children in the school yard will always discover something they think is offensive and use it, but they will get that from the internet these days, not from reading Enid Blyton. So is it really necessary to butcher or ban Enid Blyton in order to satisfy the cravings of a few PC-Nazis (oh, damn, am I still allowed to talk about Nazis?)

At the end of the day, it is my firm belief that (a) the vast majority of "normal" people never actually recognise the offensive nature of these things, and (b) the vast majority of those people who are SUPPOSED to be offended by them never actually are.

It is down to that smallest minority of all, the PC-censors, to tell the rest of us what we should be ashamed of, and then go about imposing the most ridiculous of changes in response.

And you know what I have also noticed? That those shouting the loudest about the scandalous slur against Milton Keynes residents never actually live in Milton Keynes....

END RANT

And whilst on the topic of discrimination and tolerance, how about this story. Only 116 years to integrate the sexes.

Those uppity women. What next - the vote?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Sex, Politics and Religion

The three things you should never discuss at the dinner table...

Well we don't have sex, but politics and religion we got in spades. Firstly, how we we be so complacent as to allow significant historical monuments rot away, especially when they have contributed so much to our nation's security in the past.

I am talking, of course, about Bletchley Park, which appears to be ineligible for any sort of government funding (well, they have no money left, of course) or lottery funding. Wot, no lottery money? How come?

Not gay enough? No single black lesbian mothers involved? Not muslim enough? Too close to Milton Keynes? After all, who wants to remember one of the birthplaces of achievements which helped win the second World War?

Well, I would like to - I have been a few times, and it makes for a fascinating day out. And if you would to help, you might try banging your head against this particular brick wall by going to the Online petition - Save Bletchley Park.

Onto my second rant of the day.

Peter Hitchens is very outspoken, and very rarely errs on the side of political correctness, and these two qualities endear him to me greatly, even if I do not always agree with his opinions. Of course, he has it wrong in his latest blog entry.

The police were not scared and were probably not lacking leadership - quite the opposite, in fact. My guess is they had been given very clear instructions not to antagonise the muslims, 'cos that's what we have to do, these days, isn't it? Not antagonise them. Grovel. Basically let them do what they want.

In stark contrast, the police were allowed to behave normally when confronted with a single, unarmed, gobby journalist, and he was probably lucky to walk away with all his teeth.

Breakfast for Kestrel

This slide show is pretty self explanatory.

Little did we suspect when we put out the bread and seeds under the olive tree that we would be setting up this unsuspecting starling in quite such a spectacular way.

Don't get too squeamish if I tell you that it was the screaming which alerted me to the goings on, but I didn't feel empowered to interfere given that this same scene will be played out several times a day outside our garden.

If I had succeeded in chasing off the kestrel I would have been left with a starling with a huge hole in its chest which I would then have had to put out of its misery (and the kestrel would have had to go kill another bird for its breakfast!). Nature in all its savage glory...

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Risque d'Inondation

That's what it says on our weather forecast right now, and friends of ours in Salinelles have been warned to vacate their house tonight as the Vidourle continues to rise.

It is no joke when it gets to this stage, and all of us round here can still remember the last time Sommieres suffered in 2002 (see pic).

Here's hoping the rain passes and we get a day or two respite.

On another topic, in being informed of the new development plans for the outskirts of our little village, I find to my delight that we have a web site devoted to the village (and the plans). Fascinating (at least for those of us who live here....) with some lovely old pics. The thing that fascinates me is that when you study those old pics - some of them VERY old indeed - the heart of the village has changed very little since they were taken (right down to the same old lady sitting outside the front door in one of them).

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Rory Breaks His Duck

After two near misses recently it was nice to finally see Rory McIlroy lift his first major trophy since turning pro only two years ago, at the same time becoming the youngest winner - at just 19 - of the Dubai Desert Classic.

He kept us on the edge of our seats though! After playing some outstanding golf and leading for the first three days he seemed on the verge of running away with it as he sunk five straight birdies on the back 9 on the final day to garner a 6 shot lead over Justin rose with only four holes remaining. Rose ploughed on regardless and McIlroy's nerves started to get the better of him as he dropped three shots on the next three holes.

McIlroy and rose went to the 18th with just a stroke separating them, and with Rose on the green and McIlroy in the bunker things were looking bleak. You could hear the chomping of fingernails from the crowd as Rose two-putted and McIlroy made what he described as "one of the best up-and-downs of my career" to win the tournament by a single stroke.

Nail-biting stuff that kept me on the edge of me seat this afternoon, and a great antidote to the terrible wet weather which persists (yes, it's persisting it down right now in fact!) in making it impossible to play golf ourselves.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Head Down

Lynne is out at her book club today so me and the mobile trash can are out for walkies stag.

I decide that it has been a while since we tried to climb the oppidum (we have been driving up to the top and then walking because of the bad weather) so we give it a go today. Whilst it doesn't bother the 4-paw drive, maximum traction Labrador in the least, I find the paths covered in two inches of water and ankle-deep mud to be more than a little treacherous after this week's rains. Back to driving up tomorrow...

Having worked my way through the new Doctor Who series (and Torchwood) recently, I am now watching some of the classic Dr Who episodes featuring the Daleks and Cybermen. Many of these I have never seen because I lost the faith once Tom Baker took over, and it only went downhill from there, IMHO.

However, having got used to the more lighthearted portrayal of the Doctor by Tennant and Ecclestone, and having warmed to Baker in other roles in recent years, I find the early episodes much easier to watch. Incredibly, despite the low budget and limited special effects (you can actually see the feet under the Daleks as they try to cross rough terrain in one episode!) the quality of the writing and story-telling stands the test of time, and these 30-year old episodes are very watchable. I kick off with Genesis of the Daleks (one of the best Dr Who stories ever bar none) and Destiny of the Daleks (the follow-up) and am mightily impressed. The extras are well worth watching too.

The rest of the day it is head down over my C programming book (or rather, C Programming PDF file...) ... ahhhhh, it's all coming back to me.... the long hours... the stiff neck... the dodgy Pointy-Haired Bosses.... the irate users... the crappy salaries....

Who wouldn't enjoy being a programmer?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Harry Goes All Webby

Harry is going mad with this new technology stuff. Don't know how he got my credit card but he has registered himself some domains and got himself a blog.

He posts under his official French name, Arri, so you can find him at:

http://www.arrithelabrador.com

Right now his blog is a straight feed from his Twitter posts - lazy sod. He reckons it's because it's hard enough to type 140 character Tweets when you don't have opposable thumbs.

Any excuse...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cooking Stuff

Here is a quick and easy recipe for those of you too lazy to go out for takeaway:

Take some ingredients out of the fridge. Try to choose some ingredients from each of the four main food groups: animal, mineral, vegetable and chocolate. Try to include as many colours as possible

Anything round, you should dice finely. This is nothing to do with board games, but involves chopping up into very small pieces, each one looking like a very small die. This is an opportunity to show off all those cool knife skills you learned in Chef School.

Put blue plaster on thumb. Put blue plaster in index finger. Did you know I can reproduce? I will send you some baby pictures once you finish this

Anything which is green, shred using very fast knife action.

Put blue plaster on little finger. Consider wearing gloves.

Saute green stuff with some onions and spices until gently aromatic and fruity.

Mix water and animal bones and vegetables in a pan and boil slowly to make a delicious stock. This is the base of all your classic dishes so make sure you make it like chef told you. I find that adding a small pinch of salt at exactly five munute intervals will make the finished stock glossy and sleek.

In another pan (assuming you have more than one of those hot things on top of your stove - if not you will have to wait until the stock is finished) you make a burr-blank. This should be made with the finest of your ingredients. Make sure you melt the butter in the cream slowly like chef taught you and not like that idiot in chef school has been trying to tell you.

Rub some butter on the burn on your thumb. Consider buying an iPhone 2 years after everyone else had one. Spend a few hours deciding how you will split your Abba collection between your iPod and iPhone.

Add some of the animal ingredients to the stock - after several minutes this will turn into a nourishing stew.

Sieve the stew onto a plate.

Pour over the burr-blank. Make sure you wipe any splashes off the edge of the plate using some toilet roll

The shredded green things should be arranged in a pleasing pattern around the stew

Serve with a good wine - some red is best, from France probably. Burgundy, I think, to complement the colour of the greens.

With apologies to Chris, who probably cooks much better stuff than this really...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Techie Day

Futzing around (sorry for the technical term!) today refining backup strategy (Time Machine and Mac Backup are pretty darn good for "freebies", as long as you have plenty of spare Terabyte hard drives lying around to handle the huge amounts of data you can accumulate on a Drobo - CDs and DVDs are just not gonna cut it any more...) and trying to get to grips with various social network sites, figuring out how best to handle to sometimes overwhelming amount of information that can hit your PC/phone in the average day.

Finally knuckle down to some programming work around 6pm!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sucky Weather


Truncated dog walk this morning due to the crappy weather (again!). You would think Harry would be pissed off by this, wouldn't you? Benson would have been - Benson loved water in all its forms, and a bit (or a LOT) of rain would never have affected his desire to go out for a walk.

Harry, on the other hand, is a fair-weather Labrador. He has been known to sit in the doorway when it is particularly rainy with a look that says "OK, you go, and on your way back please fetch me a litter box so I can make with the pee-pee indoors. Thanks awoofully".

The rest of the day is spent investigating Twitter clients and RSS readers for the Mac, and forging ahead with the bone-up-on-C-fest.

As far as RSS readers are concerned, you could do a lot worse than try Google reader - it is a lot easier to track entries from the blogs you follow by using a single reader than by going from site to site via bookmarks. The other advantage of using Google Reader is that I can import all of those feeds directly into my preferred iPhone RSS reader - Pro RSS.

For Twitter, the obvious choice is Twitteriffic. This is a great client for both iPhone and Mac desktop, but although very easy to use, it is somewhat light on features. Tweetie is my current choice for the iPhone, a client which makes it much easier to follow/unfollow, reply, search, and so on. For the desktop, however, there is something of a dearth of good clients. Forget TweetDeck - anything that runs on Adobe Air is doomed to fail IMHO. Adobe Air is another one of those bloated lipstick-wearing-pigs - much like Java - which deserves to die at the earliest opportunity.

Enter EventBox (currently in Beta, from http://thecosmicmachine.com/), which not only provides a very nice Twitter client (very similar to Tweetie), but also RSS reader, Google Reader, Facebook and Flickr support. All my social networking stuff in one place - finally - even at $15 that can't be bad.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Intellectual Challenge

I've decided to try and prevent total atrophy of brain cells by (a) reducing the amount of wine consumed, and (b) brushing up on my programming skills.

OK, so (a) is a non-starter - we all know that. This means I will have to rely on (b). In my dim and distant past, I started my computer career as a programmer, writing very dull programs for large companies to do stock control, payroll, WIP tracking, order processing, and so on. Although this will date me terribly, I will admit that I just missed the PC revolution - although I have always used them (and purchased one of the very first IBM PC clones to hit the UK), I have never programmed for them.

Realising that I have just got myself a kick-ass software development environment (the new iMac) and that Apple actually makes all its developer software and documentation available for free (how cool is that?) I have decided to bone up on my C programming skills so that I can get to grips with Objective-C and Cocoa to write apps for the Mac. Once I have mastered that I will start messing with the iPhone SDK (also free!) so that I can write apps for the iPhone.

Knowing that it will bore some of you to death, but also aware that it will interest others, and exercising the inalienable right of all bloggers to fill the Internet with self-indulgent garbage that will ultimately interest only themselves (and even that is questionable at times) I will be keeping you updated on my progress :o)

Great walk today up to the oppidum for the first time in weeks. Not the first time that we have walked on the top - we have been driving up - but the first time we have attempted the long climb since the rains started. The path up has been treacherous, with fallen trees from the high winds and too much mud from all the rain, but it has just about started to dry out again. So we give it a go.

On the way up we meet Pooka, the boxer bitch who lives just down the road from us and seems to make her own entertainment by buggering off round the village whenever she feels like it. We have never once seen her being walked by her owners, but she does join us frequently on our walks (and we suspect she participates in many other walks with many other packs too!)

Anyway, she loves to run and play with Harry, but all Harry is interested in is sniffing her back end and trying to mount her. Looks like she may be coming into season shortly judging by the amount of drool Harry is producing, but Harry doesn't appear to know what he is doing in the sex stakes so not too much to worry about right now. Need to keep an eye on those two kids, though....

Don't forget to check out Harry's adventures in his own words in the sidebar on the right or at Twitter, and please consider clicking the "Follow Blog" link down there on the right too.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sir PukeAlot

Bad night. VERY bad night.

Woken at 3am by the sound of a 40KG Labrador hurling his guts up outside the bedroom door. Try to get back off to sleep - maybe it's a bad dream, maybe it's real, but either way it can be dealt with in the morning. However, images of shattered pork chop bones floating in pools of yellow bile keep insinuating themselves into my consciousness and in the end I am so wide awake that I figure I might as well deal with it now rather than wait for it to congeal and dry into a horrid mess.

As I get dressed I ruminate on what a bad idea it was to give Harry the pork chop bones right before we all went to bed - but you try refusing a Labrador when he puts his chin on your lap and looks up at you from under his lids (remember that look Princess Di used to give to get everyone to fall in love with her?) with those huge brown eyes. OK, so we're weak, but we often forget that Harry has missed out on a lot of the treats that Benson used to get at his age just because he grew up in a time when Benson was having trouble holding his poo and so any treats liable to induce something of a jet-propelled nature were withheld from both dogs. The result now is that Harry is not used to these occasional rich treats, and I guess we all pay the price.

So I step out of the bedroom door to find the first pool of mess. Passing my study I see the next one just inside the doorway, and the smaller one right under my desk - has he been laying traps in revenge for the fact that I spent all say playing Spore instead of playing with him? Downstairs there are another four pools spread around the sitting room - I know that (thankfully) dog vomit does not smell anything like as bad as human vomit (why IS that?) but, regardless of that minor mercy, I do wish they would stay in one place until they finish chucking up.

I come down to find Harry lying on his bed, managing to cram both a "I'm SOOO sorry" look and a "Who me?" look on his face at the same time, and never quite making up his mind which one to go with. Dogs are always so upset when they throw up - to them it equates to crapping indoors, it would seem - and yet of course you cannot be remotely angry with them for being ill. Problem is, Harry seems to take the lack of admonishment to mean "OK, everything is cool, let's play" and starts to bound around through pools of vomit chucking his freshly laundered cuddly diplodocus in the air.

So NOW I get mad at him....

Long story short - I mop up the pools of sick and shattered pig bones with kitchen towels, Lynne follows behind with mop and bucket, and Harry goes back to sleep. It is 5am before I get off to sleep.... now I feel like crap.

Joke

Lawyers should never ask a Mississippi grandma a question if they aren't prepared for the answer.

In a trial, a Southern small-town prosecuting attorney called his first witness, a grandmotherly, elderly woman to the stand. He approached her and asked, 'Mrs. Jones, do you know me?'

She responded, 'Why, yes, I do know you, Mr. Williams. I've known you since you were a boy, and frankly, you've been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheat on your wife, and you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you're a big shot when you haven't the brains to realize you'll never amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you.'

The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, 'Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?'

She again replied, 'Why yes, I do. I've known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. He's lazy, bigoted, and he has a drinking problem. He can't build a normal relationship with anyone, and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not to mention he cheated on his wife with three different women. One of them was your wife. Yes, I know him.'

The defense attorney nearly died.

The judge asked both counselors to approach the bench and, in a very quiet voice, said, 'If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, I'll send you both to the electric chair.'

Friday, January 23, 2009

Geek Heaven

My new iMac arrived yesterday, so since then my butt has been glued firmly to my seat and I have been in geek heaven as I mess around with it.

It has a 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB of RAM, 750GB hard drive, a hardware-accelerated NVIDIA GeForce 8800GS graphics card with 512MB of VRAM (1920x1200 resolution with 32 bit colour) 5 USB ports (3 on the back of the screen and 2 on the keyboard), a FireWire 800 port and a FireWire 400 port. The screen is 24" of digital wonderfulness - I love it.

For those of you who are only used to Windows, I can make you green with envy by telling you that it takes a matter of 5 minutes of user interaction to set up a new Mac, followed by a few hours of disk activity depending on how much data needs copying from your old machine.

I connected my old MacBook to the iMac via FireWire and booted both. The iMac asked me a couple of simple questions and then I went for breakfast and to watch some classic Doctor Who episodes as the iMac copied over all my data, mail, account settings, preferences - literally everything which personalises your machine. Less than 3 hours later the new machine is ready to use and is indistinguishable in operation to the old one- seamless. Also - the OS itself is full updated in one hit so no need for the usual Windows Four-Days-Of-Downloads-And-Updates rubbish.

Spore - a Christmas present from Lynne - proves more difficult to install and requires that I unplug all external drives and close down all processes before it will update itself successfully. Why is games software still so flaky? I can see why dedicated consoles such as the PS3 are so popular!

However, Spore is not available on a console, so I persevere - and what a spectacular game it is. You control a single-celled organism from the moment it arrives in the tidal pool through all its stage of evolution from simple organism through to space travel, having a hand in designing the look and capabilities of your creature as it evolves. Very engrossing.

Pardon me while I get back to it - we just invented fire.....

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Harry Winston Speaks

I don't know how he managed it - no opposable thumbs and all - but Harry seems to have got himself a Twitter account.

Now we're gonna have to stop beating him and leaving him out in the snow....

Harry's latest Tweets will appear automatically in the sidebar on the right, or you can follow him in full at www.twitter.com/harry_winston or @harry_winston in your Twitter client.

You will also notice a new widget at the bottom of the sidebar, called "Followers". This looks like it could be interesting or embarrassing, so please consider clicking on the "Follow" link so I don't feel all Billy No-Mates.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

You Need To Be So Careful

This is just one of the many reasons I don't have kids.....

Monday, January 19, 2009

Drizzly

Supposed to be playing golf today but what do we see when we look out of the window? Dreary, grey, leaden skies. Drizzle. DRIZZLE! In the south of France?

So I spend the day watching movies and sorting out my backup and data storage issues. I bought a Drobo recently (expensive, but well worth the cost given the level of data security and flexibility it offers) and just invested in a fourth Terabyte hard drive for it, so I have a total of 3TB of on-line storage attached to my Mac now (plus whatever the Mac's hard drive gives me).

With almost 600GB of MP3s, movies and TV shows in iTunes alone, plus video footage, eBooks, photos, etc. I need a different means of backing this up other than DVDs. Yes, I KNOW Drobo will protect me from drive failures, but "Just In Case" I need to make sure I am not going to lose this stuff if ever Drobo goes up in smoke (let's face it, those digital photos are irreplaceable, and there is a lot of money invested in the iTunes stuff).

My local computer store which has just opened in Calvisson is a great source of cheap accessories - WD 1TB hard drives, for example, for just 120 Euros! And he came to the rescue with a neat external hard drive docking station for just 32 Euros. This is a small plastic box which attaches to your Mac or PC via USB and allows you to insert any old SATA drive (2.5" or 3.5"), which then appears as an external USB hard drive on your PC. So I bought one of those, and now I can just buy a cheap SATA drive whenever I need to add some backup storage to my system - pop it in the dock, backup, pull it out the dock, and stick it in a drawer: voila!

I use the Mac Backup utility to do those big off-line backups, but anyone who uses a Mac should also take a look at Time Machine. By sticking a spare drive in that docking station, Time Machine will perform automatic incremental backups at hourly intervals, then daily, then weekly. TM also integrates tightly with certain applications such as Mail and iPhoto, so you don't have to go hunting around a backup disk to figure out directory structures looking for a particular e-mail message or photo. Instead, you fire up the application, and TM will let you step back in time WITHIN that app to restore a single mailbox, e-mail or picture. Pretty impressive. Microsoft users eat your heart out.....

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Wedding Dance

Cheesy? Dunno - given how much we all hate going to weddings, I think I would rather see the happy couple doing something like this than a boring waltz or "English Shuffle" around the dance floor.

One thing is for sure: when they started working on this routine they probably hadn't even fallen in love yet....

Impressive Goal

This is an impressive goal, to be sure. But even more impressive are the almost superhuman, cat-like efforts of the goalkeeper.

Watch carefully, otherwise you might miss his save....

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hard Golf

Yes golf is hard. But it's even harder when the ground is hard - or in this case, pretty much solid. It's amazing that where we are the snow lasted less than 24 hours and our garden is back to normal, yet just a few miles up the road there are parts to the golf course which are still covered in a layer of snow, and other parts which are frozen solid.

It's no fun trying to bash your tee into concrete, and it's even less fun watching your perfect pitch shot rebound off the solid green and carry on for another 50 yards rather than nestle next to the pin. Pitching back onto that same green is no fun either - if your ball doesn't get stuck in the snow then it ricochets off the solid surface to shoot off down the other side of the green - 2 or 3 shots like that and you might as well give up.

So under the circumstances, 49 out and 50 back is a pretty good score, I think! At least I hit 11 fairways and 2 greens, so my battle against the dreaded slice continues to move in a positive direction.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Experimentation

When we were looking for artwork for our walls after we finished the renovation, we decided to try and use some of our own in the form of photos we have taken. One idea was for a gallery of very personal - family, friends, dogs and us - pictures given a sepia tint and mounted in a very geometric way in 24 8x8 frames. It worked well on one of the big walls in our living room (you can see it in the photos I took on Christmas day).

To fill smaller places in other rooms we went for more colour. I didn't have time to mess around with Photoshop so I tried a shortcut. I have an application for my iPhone called Camerabag, which gives you a number of pre-defined settings with which to process your pictures. It is designed mainly to add some "oomph" to the rather feeble 2 megapixel pics taken by the iPhone itself, but I imported a bunch of my own pics (taken on a 10 megapixel Canon SLR) into the iPhone, processed them using the "Lolo" setting of Camerabag and them put them back on my Mac for printing.

With just a single click required for each photo, the result is a hugely over-processed look with loss of resolution, increased grain, increased sharpness, incredible colour saturation and high contrast - pretty much the result I was after. However, it does not give you any control over the border or cropping, which did make some of my photos unusable, unfortunately, due to the severe crop to square format.

Printed up to 5x5 and matted into an 8x8 frame and grouped together in similar colour schemes they work quite well on the walls. The computer screen does not do them justice, but see what you think....



BTW - see if you can spot the joke with the photo of the abandoned truck....

Friday, January 09, 2009

First Snow

We had our first snow fall of the year here - in fact the first serious snow fall I can remember since moving from the frozen north of the Cevennes!

It lasted all of 24 hours before the snow melted and disappeared, but this was long enough for the true Labrador to come out in Harry. It is the most animated we see him on his walk - he clearly loves the snow.

Hopefully we will get to take him on a ski holiday again this year.