Archive for July, 2004

Brought to you by Marconi

Thursday, July 29th, 2004

Brought to you by Marconi

I am typing this sitting at the foot of the Maroni Memorial column on the cliffs at Poldhu Point. From a small building a few hundred feet to the north east, on the 12th December 1901, the letter ‘S’ was transmitted out over the Atlantic. This repeated burst of three ‘dots’, from what was then the world’s most powerful transmitter, was clearly received by Marconi himself in a small room over looking east over the Atlantic from Signal Hill in Newfoundland, Canada. With this seemingly simple feat, Marconi and his company conquered the challenge of wireless communication over long distances. It seems fitting to type this at the same site, despite the strong offshore breeze and nosey coastal path walkers, knowing that when I hit SEND in VersaMail on T3 it will transmit this post by the Bluetooth and cellular technologies that are the direct descendents of Marconi’s pioneering transmissions. In doing so, I can only marvel at the man’s vision and tenacity in making that groundbreaking leap 103 years ago.

with Palm T3 and SE T610

Cornish Pastiche 4

Thursday, July 29th, 2004

Sunday passed in a blur, with the usual frenetic level of activity that our family of six manage to maintain during the first week of any holiday. We have friends who live in the area, with whom we want to spend time catching up on news and events. Making contact wasn’t easy at first as they were, understandably, always out and about. Given the patchy nature of mobile phone coverage in these parts (tops of hills; centres of towns; most places on the A30), we eventually resorted to the simple expedient of leaving a note on their door. A few time-lapsed text messages later and we were finally reunited with said friends, enjoying a wander on the beach at Polurrian Cove followed by tea round the kitchen Aga afterwards. Another text message from my Swiss niece reminded us that she and her boyfriend were in the vicinity on a camping holiday and that we were to meet up for the evening, before they began the long drive back to Switzerland. And so, with a little shuttling backwards and forwards,
we, the friends and the extended family gathered at the local pub for extremely large and filling meals and a fair amount of foaming ale.

Monday morning proved to be overcast in a light grey sort of way so the niece and boyfriend headed over from their campsite to have a full English breakfast with us before embarking on the first leg of their journey home – a short hop to Dartmoor. Rather than gamble on the beach in such weather, we instead visited the BT satellite earth station on Goonhilly Down. Goonhilly is the largest earth station in the world, one of many facts that were lost on SWMBO. That these antennae have been instrumental in transmitting groundbreaking historic TV pictures, not to mention carrying millions of phone calls and internet connections daily stirred not one sprog’s soul. Whilst my inner geek railed against such ignorance, the Luddites happily shopped for, of all things, non-toxic slime (‘Fun for All Ages!’) or played on the jungle slide in the kid’s adventure area. This area lay beneath the shadow cast by the thousand plus tons of Arthur (which can rotate an impressive 360 degrees in under three minutes), the first parabolic antenna which received the first faltering signals from the Telstar satellite in 1962. When the familial mutterings and murmerings became a roar of dissent, I threw in the towel. The afternoon was taken up with a bracing clifftop walk until the moaning from the kids became unbearable and drove us homeward. Having worked up a decent hunger, I set to and whipped up a turkey balti with a mushroom and courgette curry and piles of steaming basmati rice. This, consumed with a few bottles of red wine, proved to be a hit with all and we all headed for bed with full stomachs and light heads.

After a dash for essential provisions at the local supermarket, I made a quick visit to the FireWire internet cafe in Helston on Tuesday morning. Although my T3 and T610 provide decent enough browsing for low grade tasks, I was in need of high speed access and serious processing power. Having given over half the previous week to advising on the filming of a corporate training video, I needed to download the rushes via ftp so I could view the first rough cuts of the material we shot. Firewire appears to be a new venture, being a clean, almost sparse setup in what was the town’s fire station. However, the coffee wasn’t bad and the service was good – helped by the fact I was the only customer. After a few abortive attempts from the regular customer setup on one of the PCs, the chap kindly booted the machine with an admin profile and I was soon downloading large mpeg files fairly swiftly thanks to the 1mb DSL connection. Reviews conplete and emails to the production company sent, I headed back to the cottage to scoop up the family and drive over to St. Ives. Despite high hopes of the weather clearing, it remained grey and unsettled so, after the long downhill walk from the car park to the very crowded harbour area, we contented ourselves with eating our packed lunch – and a Cornish pasty in my case – sitting on the harbour wall above the small sandy beach. Anyone keen to dine al fresco in St. Ives should be warned that such activities are not without consdierable hazard. Any foodstuff that is left exposed to the sky for long will become the target for the flocks of scavenging seagulls, who have refined their technique to near-perfection. The first gull will carry out an experimentary sortie, flying close to the intended victim to test their reactions. If no response is shown, it or a second gull will circle and swoop again, this time aiming for the food concerned and, more often than not, knock it from the diner’s grasp and onto the sand. If successful, the remainder of the flock will swoop in to fight over the hijacked pasty or chips before returning to their perches to start the process all over again. This being the case, the harbourside is thronged with folks hunched over their food like starving Quasimodos, nervously casting glances over their shoulders for peasants with pitchforks. Tiring of watching humankind being upstaged by seabirds, we wandered back along to the western harbourwall. Here a number hand painted signs promoted the skills of the New Age artisans who now gravitate to seaside honeypots like St. Ives each year, in this case, hairbraiders, henna artists and an Indian head masseur. With four female sprogs, hairbraiding is now as much a part of our summer holidays as arguments over what to do each day, so I gamely forked over the cash and joined the other crop headed dads making lame jokes about having their crewcuts braided and beaded. An hour’s labour produced some admittedly very nicely decorated hair, the comparisons of which diverted the sprogs from moaning about the long uphill haul back to the car park. Drained from the day’s inactivity and inertia, we opted for eating out and plumped for fish and chip suppers in a twee little place in Mullion. The food was great and service charming if a little kooky. When asked what we would like to drink, we said ‘A beer, a lager and four Cokes for the sprogs please’; which is why we were a little taken aback when we were served with a beer, a lager and four black coffees. OK, so maybe we mumbled or were misheard but who the heck gives scalding black coffee to a three year old? That aside, the meal put a smile on our faces and we departed happy and contented.

Yesterday was a lazy day with a little shopping in the morning and an afternoon on the beach with friends for SWMBO and the sprogs. As previously posted, I spent a couple of hours wandering around the small but excellent Marconi exhibition, talking to the radio hams from the Poldhu Amateur Radio Club who staff the facility. Whilst I was there, a couple of American enthusiasts, who had brought their licences with them, were busy talking with friends back home and around the globe from the club’s transmitting room. Watching them, it occurred to me that very few hobbies offered practitioners the opportunity to demonstrate their skill and prowess at the exact birthplace of the technology they used in their pastime.

with Palm T3 and SE T610

Cornish Pastiche 3

Wednesday, July 28th, 2004

Day Three – Settling In

One of the certainties of booking accomodation from brochures is that, even when you know that nothing is ever as it appears in the publicity material, one always hopes that this place will be the one to vindicate your blind faith in the process. It would seem that this year is not the year for such vindication. Allow me to briefly deconstruct just a couple of the myriad descriptions for you. Firstly, the phrase ‘located on a working farm’ means that your chosen holiday home is just one of many income-generating sidelines that the farmer has to supplement the EU subsidies he receives for ploughing barren land and ripping out 600 year old hedgerows. Other activities include something furtive in a barn at the back of the farm and any landscaping or gardening that can be done from a sitting position inside a JCB digger. The second piece of hyperbole, namely that the house ‘has a distinct Olde Worlde ambience’, is holiday-let code for ‘This property is riddled with rising damp, dry root and has been decorated in a half-hearted and slapdash fashion’. The first two give rise to a highly persistent musty odour was has not been entirely eradicated by the third, leading one to suspect that problem areas are simply painted over rather than dealt with. This impression is hardly confounded by the letting company, who have carefully inserted small ‘get out of jail’ caveats throughout the brochure, warning that Cornish properties are often frequented by spiders and insects and will ‘seem’ damp due to ‘the prevailing climatic conditions’ in the area.

with Palm T3 and SE T610

Cornish Pastiche 2

Monday, July 26th, 2004

Day Two – Somerset to Cornwall

After a monster breakfast, more chat and fond goodbyes, we skirted the edge of Taunton and rejoined the streams of like-minded souls on the the M5, heading towards the sunny South West. Not long after slipping across the county border into Cornwall, the inevitable happened and we rolled slowly to a halt behind a few thousand others queuing on the A30 to get to the far south of the county. It took all of two seconds to decide to cut across to the next exit and head across country and, having done so, we pottered in the direction of St Austell until the lure of a pub lunch. There is something particularly English about a pub lunch and the need we have to differentiate it from any other lunch. The phrase immediately conjures up old staples such as ploughman’s lunch (Cheddar, Stilton or Ham), steak & kidney pie (with Chips or New Potatoes) and scampi and chips (with garnish & lemon). However, these days, with pub chefs inspired by the likes of Jamie, Nigella and Gordon, one is more likely to find the menu sporting exotic fare like Thai green curry (with fragrant lemon grass rice), Japanese-style (sic) tempura and Cajun chicken gumbo. Being fairly adventutous home cooks ouserlves, we eschewed such fare and stuck to a variety of ‘…and chips’ dishes that filled us up nicely – though, I noted, at more than twice the cost of the previous day’s Little Chef binge. The remaining hours of the last leg of the journey consisted of fast stretches on open roads, interspersed with slow crawls through the towns en route before we, at last, turned down a narrow lane and started looking for our holiday home.
with Palm T3 and SE T610

Cornish Pastiche – Part 1

Sunday, July 25th, 2004

Day One – London to Somerset

Driving through London and out onto the M4 was easy for, whilst the late morning traffic was heavy, the route is one I commute every day. After a Little Chef lunch – often the highlight of the journey for the sprogs – we continued to Bristol and swung left onto the M5 – and straight into one of the monster tailbacks that the motorway is known for. As our overnight stop as just off a junction further down the same route, there was little to be done except grin and bear it. After a couple of hours of what I call ‘concertina’ driving, where cars repeatedly bunch up and then spread out, we turned off the motorway and headed across the Somerset Levels. Five miles of narrow roads following the tidal dykes and rivers past small huddles of houses built with burnt orange and red brick brought us to a beautiful looking house surrounded by lush gardens and over looking the river. The home of friends who had fled North London a year back for a quieter, more relaxed life in the countryside surrounding Taunton, the house was straight out of a painting. A 300 yearold cottage that had been added to and altered over the years, it was idyllic and we made suitably jealous noise as we flopped around the farmhouse table slurping Earl Grey whilst the kids vanished to various parts of the house to get acquainted. More friends pitched up shortly after and so, with a total of 17 people, the hours that followed were filled with catching up on news, eating too much, drinking even more and generally winding down and getting into the holiday mood. The gathering was not planned – we and the other visitors had called to ask to stay over on the same date within a day of each other – but the mix made for interesting company. Between us, we could count a GP, a middle manager, two hassled mums, a well-know session musician and a hand therapist, so the conversations ranged far and wide until the small hours and then some. Not surprisingly, sleep came very easily.

with Palm T3 and SE T610


Thursday, July 22nd, 2004

Bags are packed.
Coolie box is chilled.
Flat has been cleaned and tidied.
Directions, maps and traffic info printed.
Parents not talking after arguing for days on end.
Kids are pretending to sleep but are too excited to do so.
Tyres have been pumped up and the fuel tank filled on the 806.
Just one more restless sleep and we’ll be on the way to our summer holiday. Two last things to mention:

  1. Any criminals planning on exploiting our absence should know that we have friends flatsitting and pet feeding whilst we are away.
  2. I would ask anyone who appears in my Bloglines bloglist to the right, to cease posting for 15 days so I don’t have to wade through a veritable backlog mountain when I get back.

The next post you’re like to read will be from Chievely Services on the M4, where we’ll be either:

  1. Cursing each other for having left the luxury accomodation details on the kitchen worktop or
  2. Waiting for the man from Green Flag to deal with something expensive like this.

Now, where’s that Saint Christopher?

Not the Tour de France

Thursday, July 22nd, 2004

There were red faces at the offices of Cycling Plus magazine following a typo error in the May edition in an article outlining a cycle route.

“There is the option to dismount, wank along the pavement and cross the main road at a safe point.”

Cycling Plus claim the fault occurred at the printers and not with them.

From a discussion about pedestrians on cycle paths on a mail list I read.


Tuesday, July 20th, 2004

I shall soon be heading off for a little rest and recuperation in a quiet hamlet in a far flung corner of this fair land. One benefit of the location will be the lack of on-tap internet access. I say benefit because I desperately need an enforced break from my online activities to give my arm and wrist a real chance to recover from the increasingly frequent bouts of repetitive strain injury. However, I am a realist and know that I’ll be wanting to send a few mails, check out the weather reports and look up information to help plan days out. With this in mind, I thought it would be wise to check my new mobile + T3 + Palm Portable Keyboard combination before I leave – just to make sure that I can post ‘postcards’ here if the mood takes me. The fact you’re reading this would seem to indicate that my new mobile setup works a treat.

with Palm T3 and SE T610


Monday, July 19th, 2004

DefaultMail is an 11kb app that allows you to do something that Windows XP won’t let you do – set the default email client on a per-user basis. Hats off to Ramesh.

Been there, done this

Monday, July 19th, 2004

As a kite flying father, I can only agree with Robin – and add that, if you take kids kite flying, you’ll have no time to fly your own super expensive kite – you know, the one SWMBO doesn’t know the real cost of.