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Renzo and Joe

May. 1st, 2011

09:40 am - guitar chaperon

Having taken the three days off work between Easter and the royal wedding bank holiday, I have signed up to being chaperon son two as he visits guitar shops to select the guitar of his dreams. He is a budding heavy metal musician, and accordingly for me the experience is akin to turkeys voting for Thanks Giving/Christmas.

I truly admire the dedication of son two in this pursuit. He currently spends a few hours a day practicing, and he is convinced that what he needs to make the right sound is a guitar with Humbucker pickups. So I have been roped in to accompany him testing guitars. Luckily he seems unimpressed by price and bling on guitars, but really wants the one that suits him. He is torn between a flying V and a more traditional guitar. (For you experts, he is currently looking at Schekters and Ibanezs).

However, an hour or two in a guitar shop accompanied by heavy metal riffs (shred, I am told) to me is as boring as watching paint dry!

Apr. 29th, 2011

08:35 am - Moncks Spur Road, Redcliffs

This morning while reminiscing about the past, I decided to do a web search on an incident that I vaguely remember from my late teens. I was living in Christchurch, New Zealand at the time, actually on Moncks Spur Road, a very steep residential street in the Redcliffs. The street went straight towards the bay and stopped at the top of the cliff. It had a little dogleg road that went to one side that wound its way to the main road along the bay below.

My memory of the incident is that one day a driver of a dust cart lost his brakes while emptying the rubbish bins on Moncks Spur. Children were on their way to school on the street. The driver of the dust cart stayed with the vehicle so that he could steer to avoid the children, and went over the cliff at the end. The dust cart landed on, and destroyed the public lavatories below on the main road.

I don't remember the gory details, but do remember that the dust cart driver was killed.

A quick search of the internet has not been able to find this incident which I would expect to be enshrined in folk history, especially as the dust cart driver must be a local hero.

Can anyone else remember this incident?

I also lost my brakes on Moncks Spur while riding a bike and used a hedge to slow me down.


 

Apr. 22nd, 2011

10:52 am - The push for efficiency - warm weather - holidays


The last few days have been abnormally warm for England at this time of year. The children are on their Easter break from school.

In the last couple of days three events that have effected me personally point to the drive for efficiency in IT systems having gone to far to the point that they add significant risk to our activities:

1. We are a BT Broadband customer and have a 5MB service (i think). Several times recently the service has ground to a halt, and tests have shown that the speed has been as slow and 0kbps and sometimes 20kbps (I think I can type faster than that). Each time I have approached BT about this they have claimed it was a problem with our set up. On Wednesday afternoon the service again ground to a halt. BT did their normal tests and claimed that they were seeing 8mbps to out router. We were getting 20kbps. So being the sucker I am, I bought a new router. Low and behold, no difference, later in the evening as the temperature cooled our service recovered.Yesterday as it warmed the service degraded again. I contacted BT and they told me that there was a "hot VP" issue. Try googling hot VP issues and you will discover that these are the nighmare of internet users and take miles too long to fix. 

From what I can understand a hot VP issue related to overheating equipment at the local exchange, causing the degradation problems. I think the temperature got up to almost 30 degrees centigrade yesterday. You would have thought that BT could ensure that their exchanges had the required cooling to cope with 30 degrees, and be able to model the usage, power consumption and air conditioning requirements, such that the problems were solved before they exist. Clearly this is not the case.

BT are saying that they hope to have the Hot VP issue resolved by 27th April at the earliest. I think this is unacceptable.

2. This morning child 1 dragged both persevero  and me to his PS3 to fix networking problems. He couldn't log onto to the PlayStation network. Because we changed the router yesterday, parents were to blame. But no, the playstation network has failed and Sony are projecting 2 or 3 days to get this resolved. Children - Holidays - No PS3!!!

3. The ultimate in redundent computing is the cloud. But slashdot have reported that even with regional diversity Amazon's cloud computing offering is having problems and outages.

Clearly, the balance between efficiency (and hence profits) and risk to service has gone to far in the direction of efficiency, with little margin of error such that when problems occur they can be quite serious.

Apr. 2nd, 2011

08:39 pm - Syrian Cuisine in support of the people of Dra'a (Deraa)


Tonight persevero  and I and the two children (though one barely counts being as near as damn it six foot tall and with UK size 15 feet) in support of all those who have suffered in the recent altercations in Syria, and especially in Deraa.

Unlike most people in the world, I had heard or Deraa before three weeks ago. In fact I had heard of Deraa a couple of months ago, shortly before the trouble started in Syria.

I had been reading a fascinating book "East of the Jordan" by Selah Merrill, subtitled "a record of travel and observation in the countries of Moab, Gilead, and Bashan, published in 1881. I read this sort of stuff to fulfill my desire to understand  journeying through the Middle East when it was largely unspoilt and underdeveloped. Bear with me for the moment while I share with you a couple of paragraphs from this book.

Chapter XXVII of East of the Jordan is entitled "An underground City". And it starts:

" El Bejjeh - a fine lake. Ruined towns. People of Dra'a friendly. Exploring the underground city. Skeleton and frightened guides. Three cities one above the other.Wetzstein's report. ......"

The chapter describes Merrill's travels in the area. But he also kindly translated Dr J G Wetzstein's account of his visit published as "Reisebericht über Hauran und die Trachonen" (Berlin 1860, pp.47, 48), which is as follows (please excuse the long first paragraph).:

"I visited old Edrei, the subterranean labyrinthine residence of King Og, on the East side of the Zumlc hills. Two sons of the sheikh of the village, one fourteen and the other sixteen years of age, accompanied me; we took with us a box of matches and two candles. After we had gone down the slope for some distance, we came to a dozen rooms, which at present are used as goat-stalls and store-rooms for straw; the passage became gradually smaller, until at last we were compelled to lie down flat and crawl along. This extremely difficult and uncomfortable process lasted for about eight minutes, when we were obliged to jump down a steep wall of several feet in height. Here I noticed that the younger of my two attendants remained behind, being afraid to follow us.We now found ourselves in a broad street which had dwellings on both sides of it,whose height and width left nothing to be desired. The temperature was mild and the air was free from unpleasant odors, and I felt not the slightest difficulty breathing. Farther along there were several cross streets, and my guide called my attention to a rȏsen (a window or hole in the ceiling for air), which like three other that I saw afterwards, was closed up from above. Soon afterwards we came to a market-place, where, for a long distance on both sides of a pretty broad street, there were numerous shops in the walls, exactly in the style of dȗkkan (i. e., shops) that are seen in the Syrian cities. After a while we turned into a side street, where a great hall, whose roof was supported by four pillars, attracted my attention. The roof or ceiling was formed of a single slab of jasper, perfectly smooth and of immense size, in which I could not perceive the slightest crack; the rooms, for the most part, had no supports; the doors were made of a single square stone, and here and there I noticed also fallen columns."

"After we had passed several more cross alleys or streets, and before we reached the middle of this subterranean city, my attendant's light went out. As he was lighting it again by mine, it occurred to me that possibly both our lights might be put out, and I asked the boy if he had the matches. 'No' he replied; 'my brother has them.' 'Could you find your way back if our lights should be put out?' 'Impossible!' he replied. For a moment I began to feel alarmed in this under-world, and urged an immediate return. Without much difficulty we made it back to the market-place, and from there the youngster new the way well enough."

Well I thought I new a little bit about the area and would know of subterranean cities lurking in Trans-Jordan. So with surprise I started some desk based research without much success. I finally enlisted the help of a middle eastern archaeologist, the ex-husband of a friend of mine, who is a well respected academic in the field, and he too was at first surprised that he had not heard of this place. But with a bit of research he emailed me the following:

"Der'a is in Syria, about 10km north of the Jordanian border. "Collective tombs cut into rock were excavated by salvage operations at Tell al-Ash'ari and Der'a in the 1990s." [The Arch of Syria (2003) Akkermans and Schwartz CUP] The refs that are given for the reports on these excavations are for Al-Maqdissi in Syria 70:443-576 and, for a burial tumuli excavated near Der'a, Nasrallah in  Syria 27:314-44.  As the book only covers the period ca. 16,000 - 300 BC there are no refs to the Roman town there."

A few weeks ago I  suggested to persevero , that with our 20th anniversary looming, perhaps we could visit Deraa. I have previously had spectacularly poor timing when suggesting other trips to the Lebanon, etc..

So that is about as far as I got with my research before Deraa, Dra'a or Der'a, or what ever it is called, became front page news in the major papers in the UK with the death of protesters against the Syrian regime.

So in sympathy with those who are suffering I purchased a copy of Greg and Lucy Malouf's "Saha" and tonight we ate Syrian cuisine. Son one with the size 15 feet gave it 95%, and son two, who is practicing to be a carnivore, gave it 90%; very high praise indeed from him (as there was no steak in site). Now I suspect we will be eating more Syrian cuisine in the near future.

Let the troubles end!

Mar. 6th, 2011

02:08 pm - Bristol Cars 1945 - March 2011 RIP


One of the great British anachronysms has finally come to the end of the road. Bristol Cars has gone into administration and all staff have been made redundant.

Bristol Cars, formed in 1945 in collaboration with AFN (Frazer Nash), started life with the blueprints for the pre-war BMW sports car and its remarkable 6 cylinder, hemispherical combustion chamber with push operated valves, engine, that were liberated from the BMW plant in Munich at the end of the war. The engine, a rather complicated affair, is the very same engine that would power the AC Ace, and other British sports cars of the period. The first car powered by their development of the BMW engine was the Bristol 400 http://www.collectioncar.com/detailed.php?ad=3787&category_id=1.

Bristol utilised the skills and methodology from Bristol Aviation in their new car manufacturing enterprise, building fast, very high quality, and always somewhat quirky cars. From the start these cars had a faithful following from discerning motorists who wanted a bit more engineering integrity and character in their vehicles.

As time went by the 6 cylinder engine was unable to provide sufficient power for an expensive grand touring coupe, and Bristol followed the tried and tested European/American hybrid route using big Detroit iron. So from the early 60's to the current day, the cars have been powered by V8s and more recently, Bristol's crazy Fighter sports car was powered by the Dodge Viper V10.

Bristols were generally understated, with some being elegant, such as the 411 MkIV http://www.bristolcars.co.uk/usedcars/lrg-1977-411s5-2.jpg, but there have been styling  disasters such as the Zagato styled 412 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bristol_412_ca_1980_near_Bury_St_Eds.JPG .

Clearly the recipe of oldfassioned construction, large engines, heavily padded leather seats, planks of wood, and horrendous fuel consumption is no longer viable. But it is a real pity for yet another iconic British car maker to cease production.


Current Mood: sad

Feb. 13th, 2011

02:55 pm - Crazy Kisuke

On my way out the door to collect child one & two from cheder I glanced out the bathroom window and saw a clutch of female pheasants beneath the bird feeder. Next moment a black and white object entered my field of view at about a meter off the ground and landed in the middle of the pheasants. Both the pheasants and Kisuke seemed startled, and Kisuke was left on his own.


Current Mood: amused

Jan. 23rd, 2011

02:39 pm - Persevero's tractor


persevero  is the keeper of a 1962 Massey Ferguson MF35X deluxe tractor that we use a few times a year to cut the meadow or similar. It lives outdoors and is rust coloured. When P first got it it had a seized clutch, and a rusted silencer box. But since those were replaced in 2004, the only parts that the tractor has demanded were two new front tyres. Until the recent cold snap, that is.

A few weeks ago I noticed that there was a dripping from the water pump, which I suppose is not surprising after 49 years, So this weekend I undertook surgery on the old feller. Having anticipated that it would need a complete new set of water hoses, I had the forethought to order these along with a new water pump, gasket, thermostat, and hose clips.

Amazingly enough it all came apart relatively easily, though I did loose skin from three places on my right hand. Even the old hose clips were persuaded to undo with the help of copious amounts of penetrating fluid. The only casualty in the process was a rusted split pin in the top radiator bracket.

This morning I put it all back together, and ran the engine up to temperature and there are no leaks and it all behaved well.

Eldest son was persuaded to help lift the bodywork back in place.

As I was putting the tools away, throwing out the old hoses and hose clips, I looked  at the old water pump, and discovered that it had a very nice brass plate that was designed to be sandwiched between the water pump and the aluminium(aluminum) block of the engine. Oh bugger. So next weekend, when I have purchased a replacement water pump gasket, I will need to disassemble it all and reassemble it with the plate inserted.

No peace for the wicked

Current Location: At home
Current Mood: stoical

Dec. 7th, 2010

09:43 am - Young Maestri


I_g last night came back from the office in London to the frozen waste lands of Cambridge (-6˚C) and went straight to the Queen's Rooms in Emmanuel College to hear a concert by 4 local young classical musician talents. Jay, Samuel, Hannah and Damian are between the age of 11 and 15. Jay and Damien are both pianists, and Damien also plays the recorder. Samuel plays the violin, and Hannah plays the guzheng, a chinese plucked instrument which is a bit like a horizontal harp, but where the player can also bend the notes.

What was astonishing about this concert was that the four of them tackled some really pretty challenging music and performed with good technical competence and with an excellent feel for the music.

Jay played Greig's 'Wedding Day at Troldhaugen', Chopin's 'Nocturne in G major op 37 no2', and 'Prelude in D flat major op 25 No 15'

Samuel performed Bach's 'Air on a G String' accompanied by Jay.

Hannah performed Gesen Dajie 'Early Spring in Snowy Mountains', Wang Cangyuan, Pu Mingfan's 'Dongting Lake', and 'We wish you a merry Christmas'. The youngest of the troupe, she performed with amazing musical maturity.

Damian Thomson played Boismortier's 'Rondeau' on recorder and then played Debussy's 'Les fées sont d'exquises danseuses', a truly challenging piece.

The group then came together to perform their arrangement of 'Walking in the Air' from The Snowman, arranged for piano, recorder, violin and guzheng.

This was an altogether fun event, totally organised by the kids with encouragement from parents.

Having just had my first close up experience of a guzhang, I was surprised to hear on the radio a little later last night that a rare and old guzheng had been sold at auction in China for a very large amount of money.





 


Nov. 5th, 2010

11:45 am - Sir Samuel W Baker, Pacha - MA FRS FRGS

I have discovered an interesting Victorian explorer and slavery abolitionist called Sir Samuel W Baker, Pacha. I have come across the 1st volume of his book ‘Ismailia’ published by McMillan in 1874. This is truly the stuff of Victorian legend.

Samuel was employed by the Khedive of Egypt to mount an expedition into the interior of Africa (Sudan, etc.) to stop the illegal slave trade. The expedition is on a magnificent scale with many steam and sailing boats and travels down the Nile encountering all sorts of problems  - geographic , political, corruption, intransigence, self-interest, navigability of the Nile, wildlife, etc.

Just to make things more interesting, it appears that Samuel’s second wife, Lady Florence Baker, was stolen from a slave market in Eastern Europe and lived in sin with Samuel for many years before they were married. Accordingly, Queen Victoria, whose morals were above reproach, refused to meet Florence (though from what I have read, the same did not apply to Samuel - Duel standards?). Florence appears to have been game for anything,  accompanying Samuel on all his many trips, and dressing in similarly practical clothes.

Samuel’s exploits in Ismailia would make a superb Hollywood film in the vein of Indiana Jones.   

Current Mood: busy

Nov. 4th, 2010

11:20 am - Wewelsburg - The Permanent Exhibition "Ideology and Terror of the SS"

Yesterday I visited Wewelsburg Castle in North Rhine Westphalia. The 17th century castle is in an extraordinarily beautiful setting in rolling hills near to Paderborn, 100Km or so east of the Ruhr Valley.

The castle has been built in the form of a triangle with circular towers, one of which is quite large and the other two smaller. Currently the castle serves three purposes:

1. It houses the KreisMuseum - A Historical Museum of the Prince Bishopric of Paderborn;  
2. One and a bit sides of the castle form a youth hostel;
3. The last part of the castle has been kept intact following its restoration by the SS during the second world war for use as a meeting location for SS officers. The SS had plans to build a whole SS town centered on the castle.

Recently, the Guard House adjacent to the castle has been converted into a permanent memorial museum to remind the world of the horrors of the SS ideology and their actions. The exhibition is largely in German, but has some translations into English. It covers the ideological foundations of the SS through to the criminal consequences, while also covering the organisational structure, the religious (cultish), artistic and political ambitions of the SS, the mechanisms of exclusion and extermination suffered by the victims of concentration camps, exemplified by the Niederhagen-Wewesburg Camp.

The exhibition is extremely thorough and tracks the lives of both SS officers and victims of the SS during and after the war.

The large tower in the castle was restored by the SS to form two rooms that are shrines to the SS cult and they feel very spooky. These have been maintained in the form they were in during the SS occupation.

The museum has been planned for some time, but has been seen as controversial as some neo-Nazis have idealised the site of Wewelsburg. Accordingly the opening has been delayed until recently.

One has to admire the precision with which the exhibition has been created. It does not feel as if there is any attempt to hide skeletons in closets, rather this is a full on shocking exhibition.  It is a superb historic record that delves deep below the surface, the level of detail making it a quite chilling experience.

I would recommend that anyone who wants to learn more about the wackier, more cultish, more extreme sides of Nazism should visit this museum and put aside a good few hours to see it.

www.wewelsburg.de


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