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!