Monday, January 30, 2006

Wildlife Photography

British Gas again held their Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition last year and I've been to see the exhibition one previous year and almost entered it too. I went this year on the 20th January, a Friday evening. Until this month they were doing special evenings courtesy of Time-Out, so I could fit it in after work instead of waiting for a free weekend. They were open til 9pm I think, I had a ticket booked for 7.30. The entries didn't seem as good as the first time I went several years ago, but it sounded like they were better than another year when my mate went and wasn't very impressed at all.

My favourite shots were... (to be filled in/commented on later)


Sunday, January 29, 2006


Hurrah, I found a flat. It's a 1-bed (not a share), in London, zone 3 and less than 10 minutes walk from a sub-30-minute journey in to the tube closest to work (if the notorious tube line it's on is running well). Also not so many minutes away from Clapham Junction, which just happens to be the busiest station in England (still?) and a gateway to a tonne of places in the south from Portsmouth, Guildford, and Southampton to the edges of Kent. So it's well equipped transport-wise, and I'm right on the edge of a common so it's not devoid of green bits or trees.

All quite cheaply too, comparatively; the flat has some oddities and isn't GCH (yet - but the landlord might have plans to later in the year) although it does have a gas fire. Very spacious compared to another one I saw at the same price, although further away from the station (that one would have been 2-3mins walk away).

I move in very soon and I've been very busy packing, organising things for the new flat and planning stuff.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Paved with Gold?

1578: Martin Frobisher c1539-1594 brought pyrite rocks (aka "fool's gold") back to London, thinking they were gold. You may well have seen pyrite for sale in those touristy gift shops that sell bits of glittering rock. Of course, being worthless, they had to find some use for them: they were then put to use to pave London streets; henceforth the saying that the streets of London are paved with gold. Allegedly (thanks google, and some canadian site).

A lot of those stones probably don't exist anymore, and London isn't anywhere near as out of reach and glamourous to you or I as it once was - ever since the advent of cheap train travel and the motor vehicle. But an awful lot of people still work and live there and I've become one of them. The 'working' part, so far anyway. The living part I've yet to do. In fact I've yet to live anywhere inside a town/city. Closest I came was my 2nd year at university, when we were on the outskirts of Canterbury. It's always been villages or suburbs outside the towns themselves.

But to get the commute-time down I have basically two options.

  1. live somewhat closer and overground-rail in every day - not all that far from what I'm doing now, but the trip is longer than I want to suffer long-term (dunno how my dad does it year in year out with a similar journey length); or
  2. Move right in, tube/night-bus distance.

Obviously the closer in, the more expensive (for the same quality of housing/locality) so you have to pick a point on that scale, and cross-reference it to a line of the area's aspirations/trendiness that you're happy with.

When I first started I didn't have a clue what I wanted - I had an idea of the general geographic location and pretty rough budget constraints, but I don't know London. I don't know it at all outside of the center in fact. Just from trips across it via the tube - when you don't see it anyway, and museum/tourist-attraction visits as a kid/school-trips. I didn't know where to start. So google came in for some heavy usage, and I pulled in all the resources I could - colleagues at work who'd lived in areas, some luckily having moved around a lot, even an ex-estate-agent (so he rescued himself - you know the stereotype/reputation... sorry.. :-) friends, odd trips I've taken to random parts of London after work some evenings, ...

Some useful links I found or already knew of (maybe you can better these but they gave me a start):

  • miles faster - a postcode overview map (without names on damnit), about shopping areas, and some other less-useful things for the task at hand
  • Up My Street - gives you locality info such as what the bars are like, transport, crime, population distribution, general reviews and comments on the area by the people who live there. Also some discussion boards (forums).


If you want to know why I haven't been posting as much in the last couple of weeks or generally around in the evenings on instant-messenger so much, it's cos I've been energetically flathunting around London. Time has come to get serious about moving closer to work and cutting down that 1hr+ commute each way, I feel I've settled into the job enough and I've wanted a place of my own for a few years.

I'd write more but as you can tell from the post-time it's very late (early); I just woke from snoozing and felt like writing something so you all didn't miss me too much... (yeah right...)

Stay tuned for a (currently in-draft) tips-and-pitfalls style report (I'll try and remember to link to it from here too).

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Internet Vs. Life

blog news:I read a couple of studies last year about how people experience higher rates of depression and social isolation for the first year or two of having internet access at home. After that, they report being happier and more social than they ever were before, because they found the right balance of online and offline time.
(from Sex Drive Daily blog, one I just discovered via another big slashdot-esque site)

Very interesting. I'd agree. I definitely spend more time going out now than I used to when I first had the internet at home, purely as a result of socialising online on forums, chatrooms etc. Switching to broadband two years ago boosted it too, but more because of the indirect effects (not feeling I needed to make the most of my time online due to flat-rate charging) than the speed improvements. Pages arriving quicker just means I'm happier to use it and I leave the computer on longer so less start-up time. It becomes more integrated into my home life. Dial-up seemed to make me spend more time online to be honest, unless that's just my impression.

There is a down-side to having the internet (mostly meaning "the web") so easily on-tap - you tend to forget about other sources of information or assume they'll be harder to access or slower. It isn't always the case. There are still many cases where other sources can be better - you can't beat hardcopy (whether printouts, books or otherwise) for quantity reading still or the ability to scan-read. Full-size screens are too unwieldy and anything less doesn't provide enough display real estate. Compare to a book for it's purpose.

PS: I'll try and tag posts like this with "discussion" unless anyone has a better/more commonly used tag to suggest.


Monday, January 09, 2006

Spectrum of Customer Service

Experienced the whole spectrum of customer service (and shops) on Sunday. From a badly laid out, very hard to browse, too full shop with staff who weren't easy to understand and didn't really want you to look at all their stock (ok, you had to excuse a non-original English speaker). I kid you not. The manager (I suspect) tried to pry me away from looking at one section which was taking me a while (because it was too packed with items and not very clearly laid out, oh and I couldn't get to half of them to move them and see what other (quite different items) were directly behind them on the "rack" - hook, anyway), to try and direct me to look further back in the shop which was equally packed out and uninviting. Barely room to swing the proverbial cat. It was almost like his personal collection he wanted to show off instead of a shop, but things had prices on (well, some did). So I had a quick browse and left. He had another floor but didn't make it clear that we couldn't go down to see stuff, it was just for staff - apparently I was supposed to know what they had down there with - what - my X-ray vision? - and ask to see it, where upon his assistant would bring it up.

At the other end of the Spectrum (sorry, no Sinclair references in this particular post) was a really helpful, polite, knowledgable assistant in a different shop not all that many doors further up on Camden high street (towards the stables). He knew the product ranges, he was being a salesman of course but not pushy; and offered pros and cons and not-in-the-product-labelling information that I wouldn't have known otherwise. Thankyou so much for making my experience there very pleasant; it's places like that where you're more than happy to go back to even if they're a few percent more than the competition. Not that they always are either, so you can win on both fronts. Places you'll go the extra few tube stops for, places worth taking time out to visit again if you just happen to be in the area on a completely unrelated mission. If I'd remembered the name of the place I'd have mentioned it... Doh!


Monday, January 02, 2006

Sennheiser HD515

My main Christmas gift (see the post title) arrived in the post after I got back from visiting the family. Most of my other gifts were food, actually. Most of that was chocolate. Nice, but there's a lot left still and I'm sure it won't help my waistline (although maybe it needs it :-) I'm a slim 32/34 at the moment). Including a couple of boxes of Green & Black's too - good choice, folks. Thanks :-) The other non-edible items were Neuromancer, made rather famous now as inspiration-provider to the Wachowski brothers for The Matrix trilogy, and Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman - a collection of short tories. I've read one which was a little odd in some ways but I wanted to finish reading.

It was a usual Christmas with the family, nice to catch up with them again and speak to my brother in Canada as I haven't phoned since they moved out there.

The Sennheiser HD515 headphones arrived last Thursday, and of course as with any other new addition to the audio chain I wanted to hear how they sounded with the music I love and to find tracks to challenge and test them with. So I spent a couple of hours listening to favourite tracks, tracks with lots of or very deep bass, tracks with complex multiple layers to test separation (eg. some of my classical pieces or rock/electro-funk anthems that do the job well). They sound pretty good. Every speaker has it's own sound of course. They are "open" speakers but as they will mainly be used for in-bedroom listening late at night they don't need to be completely quiet on the outside. I've never heard "open" headphones before actually. I've only owned ear buds (from cheapo free ones to some better Sony's I had for a while til the cable got too stretched/twisted); a capable but unremarkable set of over-the-ear ones I had originally; and my last Panasonic's (£30 at the time) which I liked if only 'cos I'd not heard anything better.

They are better than I imagined. There's good detail, a warm and reverby bass sound that goes well with some music but may be a little too much for others. They certainly don't want for more bass. Having said that, I wonder if these 'phones are good enough that they need breaking in, like my Mission M74's (if I remember the model number rightly) that I have as my main stereo speakers in the room. Maybe I should wait longer before making my mind up as they've only had three or four hours play so far. The Missions are a lot more punchy without losing any delicacy and I like the sound very much, but I did spend a few hundred on them so they damn well ought to be good.

I've also tried a swap with a work colleague who has a nicer pair of Senn's, to see what even more money would have got me. It was then that I noticed the more even mid-range and his stuck out most by announcing an instrument in Vivaldi's 4 seasons that I didn't hear very clearly with mine. I enjoyed the sound of his (I forget the model no.), but I didn't particularly wish I'd had them instead of mine and the (list) price would probably have been edging towards twice what mine were.


Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy new year

Happy New Year

Hope you all had a good one, didn't get too drunk (or recovered/will recover ok if you did), and had fun at least. Wishing you a merry Christmas too (it's still Christmas til 5th January)

I did. Christmas with family, New Year with friends back at home. Almost considered going clubbing or to a pub but preferred the option that left me with people I knew I could have a good eveninig wth rather than chancing meeting people I knew or may have enjoyed the company of at my local or some place in London