Election 20151915

By the time you read this the election will (probably) be all over and the squabbling will have begin before we end up with some mish-mash of parties in an alliance of people who come together in a marriage of inconvenience.

However, what stuck me was just how antiquated the whole process was. It cannot have changed since the 19th century. Bit of paper, pencil on a string, big black box etc.

Why can’t we vote via the web, Twitter, or even Facebook? The reasons given are concerns over electoral fraud but having just gone to the local primary school and simply given my name and address (no identity check) I’m not sure how the government considers that system more secure.

In fact I enjoyed the whole process so much that I have been back five times today and voted for my neighbours too! It won’t affect the outcome however as where I live the result is a foregone conclusion. As we have John Redwood as our MP it proves that people must vote along party lines rather than for the individual.

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Hadrian’s Wall

“All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

Well, they built a bloody great big wall running from the River Tyne to the Solway Firth, a total of 70 miles, and over the weekend I got to visit.

The friends that took us tried to manage our expectations but that really wasn’t necessary as I thought that it was fascinating. The weather (it was blowing a gale and bitterly cold) also really helped to give a sense of what it would have been like to be posted out there and have to keep the barbarians at bay.

The wall itself isn’t that big in either height or width but it makes the most of the rugged surrounding countryside to make it difficult to penetrate. Along the wall there are forts that would have housed the poor soldiers that had to stand freezing their nuts off offering protection and every (Roman) mile a “milecastle”.

The Romans were clearly pragmatists as the mile posts had what must have been gates in them through which one can imagine all sorts of trade passing through so not everyone travelling south was unwelcome.

We walked along a short section of the wall and it appeared to be pretty complete but it turns out that large sections of it were rebuilt by the Victorians which is why it appears so pristine. Still it does give a much better sense of what it was like complete, rather than a pile of bricks.

Apparently it isn’t possible to see Hadrian’s Wall from space…

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Record Store Day Virgin

Many years ago I had a large record collection but as time moved on I spent more time listening to CDs and then MP3s and we needed the space at home and so they went. Now vinyl is cool again and each year independent record shops in the UK take part in Record Store Day one of the few imports from the US I approve of.

As part of this artists and record labels release albums just for the day. These are limited pressings, sometimes original works, some with special covers or coloured vinyl and so on.

I had never been before but this year it just happened to fall on a day when we were free and so I decided to make a visit to The Sound Machine in Reading who were taking part.

Not having been before I had no idea of what to expect but from what I had read elsewhere I knew that there would be a queue at opening time. While I was keen to go I wasn’t going to get there at 5am! I had found out that the opening time was to be 8am and so I aim for then but due to me forgetting that the bus times were different on weekends I was slightly later and, as expected, there was a queue.

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It took a hour for me to reach the shop door by which time I had made a new friend! Given the number of people there wasn’t any opportunity to browse and all those around me seemed to have a list of requirements anyway.

And this is what it was all about. I went with two things from the list that I wanted to get if I could: a Genesis boxed set and a copy of original Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips Geese and the Ghost with a signed insert. I had sort of convinced myself that with only 1,000 copies of each spread over all the independent record shops taking part that each shop would only have a small number of copies and, given the queue in front of me, long gone.

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As you can see they had both and then came the biggest shock – the price. I paid £108 for the boxed set and the single LP. Ouch! However, by the time I had queued for an hour and they had what I was looking for I wasn’t going to walk out with nothing.

Now all I need to do is buy a turntable…!


Portchester Castle

Fresh from an exploration of a hidden London gem on Saturday we visited somewhere that has been hiding in plain sight pretty much all my adult life.

For four years I went to Portsmouth University (or Polytechnic as it was then) and twenty odd years later my son did the same. In the intervening years I was a regular visitor. Somehow it was only very recently that I bothered to look across Portsmouth Harbour from the M275 and noticed that there was a castle across the water. This transpired to be Portchester. How I could have missed it I am not really sure. Probably I was too busy concentrating on driving to notice.

This weekend while visiting some friends I got to take a look and it is equally impressive close up. Portchester itself is a beautiful little place spoilt, as so often, by the stream of cars on their way to, in this case, the castle.

Built in a defensive position overlooking the harbour to be ready for any sea attack it now offers a great view back to Portsmouth city with the Spinnaker Tower prominent. The castle buildings cover a relatively small area of the whole grounds which includes within its walls an active church. The central area is just grass today but you can imagine it teeming with people and buildings in the Norman times. You can also get great views by going up the tower.

If you are down Pompey way it is well worth a visit, especially if you are a English Heritage (or Heritage England as I think they are now called) member and can get in for free. Although the majority of the grounds are free, you pay to go into the museum and up the tower.


Hidden London – Camden to Paddington

I like London. It’s a great city. I wouldn’t want to live there and nor would I want to have to commute up there everyday to work but it is a beautiful and richly varied city.

A great example of this is the almost jarring contrast between Camden Market, with it’s brash high street and shops with large footwear adorning the frontages, and the canal-side walk from the lock to Paddington. This weekend we did the walk for the first time and is a beautiful 2.5 mile stretch of path.

At one end lies Camden Town with it’s market selling mainly tee shirts with humorous slogans, mobile phone covers and other tacky souvenirs. A number of the shops had 3D objects attached to the outside signifying what they sold: shoes, clothing etc. In a way it reminded me of the touristy shops along the 192 in Florida and those selling buckets & spades at the seaside.

At the far end is Camden Lock on the Grand Union canal. It’s a pretty spot, teeming with tourists and noisy but walk just a very short distance along the tow path and suddenly it is quiet as few bother to make the trip, which is their loss.

The tow-path is very quiet and, for the most part anyway, lined with trees. At one point you pass through London Zoo and you can see a bird enclosure on your right. A little further up on the left hand side are several large buildings. It is not clear if they are houses still but there is no doubt that they are worth a bob or two.

Eventually you reach a point where the canal passes through a tunnel which you cannot walk along and have to make your way through over the top. Once the water emerges you can see a number of boats moored where people are living permanently. While this seems great when the weather is fine like it was the day we passed I do wonder what it would be like in the winter.

Then you reach Little Venice where once again there are a number of private boats that are residences – it’s a lovely area.

Finally you reach Paddington station and there is an entrance that takes you right to the ticket barriers of the underground.

If you have the time I would definitely recommend the trip – you won’t believe that you are in London.


Spot the April Fools’

Over the years the amount of effort put into creating April Fools’ jokes has increased exponentially, with some more plausible than others (see above). Some, such as Google and Amazon go to the trouble of creating really slick websites and videos such as these from Google (love the girl’s reaction at the end):

And Amazon for its Dash button:

But what happens when you release a new, genuine, product on 1st April such as, well, Amazon with it’s Dash button because it’s for real.

I woke up, checked the tech stories, saw Amazon Dash and initially dismissed it as an April Fool but then I saw it on the BBC website and thought about it and that it might actually make sense. Later other stories started appearing suggesting tht it was for real.

So why did Amazon release it so close to April 1st? I can only imagine that Amazon thought they would get increased exposure by linking it as people checked it out and blogged about it – just as I have done!


Always the Bridesmaid…

I have written about my younger son’s playing of League of Legends before. Yesterday was the culmination of months of games in the NUEL (National University eSports League) with over 300 teams having been whittled down to the final two with Mat’s UoB Storm pitted against Nottingham Bears. Unfortunately they lost out but it was still a mighty achievement and we are incredibly proud of what he has achieved.

Thinking about Mat’s participation reminded me of a post I wrote way back in 2009 about something I saw, with Mat as it happens, at Gadget Show Live and my comments. Part of the show was seeing the Guitar Hero World Champion in action. This is what I said at the time:

He must have been about 16 and while quite impressive you can’t help but think that his parents would probably have been more pleased if he put in the same amount of effort on revising for his GCSEs than the enormous amount of practice he must have put in on Guitar Hero!

One of the boy’s parents subsequently contacted me to say how proud they were of their son and how well he had done in his exams.

Fast forward six years and I find myself in a similar position with Mat in the final year of his degree and as parents wanting him to do well and here’s the thing – he is, very well. It seems that, my offspring at least, are capable of managing their time more so than perhaps I have given them credit for.

It’s hard as a parent to realise that your children have grown up and don’t rely on you anymore but sometimes you’ve just got to let go. It seems that they are quite capable without our support – it must have been they way their mother brought them up!