• The roof of the world

    What Ho!

    It’s been a bit quiet here. The front row has been recovering from the camino experience.

    The tighthead is currently recovering hard with The Sheep and the Decorator. Were I a betting man, I might suggest that some rugby will be watched and some beers consumed, even as I type. Stu will also complain about the cold one hundred and thirty two times and how hungry he is, eighty four times. (Today).

    The loosehead, concerned by slight camino-induced weight loss, resolved to bulk up. After a month’s solid, non-stop eating, the concern has lessened, particularly as he can no longer see his feet.

    The hooker. Last we heard, the Duck was in remarkable form, having greatly enjoyed the camino. Naturally, his reaction to walking one hundred and twenty miles in six days was…to go for a walk.

    rsz_topoftheworld

    Delighted though we are that the Duck has been ‘en vacances’ with his charming son Leon, Laurent is in sole possession of the vast majority of the photographs – some of which, we rather hoped to share here. Carrier pigeons and bounty hunters have been despatched.

    This picture is from day one, our passage along the route Napoleon through the Pyrenees. At this point, it is fair to say there were some gritted teeth. The enormity of what we were taking on was hitting home. Stu, obviously, stayed behind me at points like this, well away from any drop-offs.

    At the summit, it was cold and wet. We had passed through the clouds, and the wind was icy. It really felt like the roof of the world.

    The descent into Roncesvalles is steep and many of the surfaces are loose. Rain doesn’t help. I was thankful that none of us was carrying any injuries.

    “Ah boys. I forgot.”

    “Did you hear that Stu? He didn’t swear.” (I really am that annoying.)

    “If I fall, and there is any bruising or bleeding – you must take me immediately to the hospital.”

    Stu and I looked at each other, and then surveyed the stark emptiness all around.

    “Why?” We chorused.

    “Ah…I don’t know. Something to do with the f*****g drugs they give me?”

    “Anti coagulant?” I ventured.

    “Yes. That’s it.”

    I counted to ten in my head.

    “Right. So, as we tackle these vertiginous scree drops, we should keep in mind that should the Duck go arse over tit and cut himself, he will bleed to death all over us.”

    The props shared a look and put their heads together.

    We tacked down the hill, looking to all the world like skiers with no skis and no snow.


    Later, as we waited for dinner, the Duck asked,

    “What did you two say at the top of the hill?”

    “Ah, nothing Laurent. We tried to imagine what Terry would have advised us to do.”

    “Mais Non! Put***. What did you decide?”

    “If he dies, he dies.” We answered in unison, raising our glasses to him.

    “Bunch of c****” he replied with a laugh.

  • Hold the front page! Candidate wins election.

    tantrum

    Oh, I’m sorry. But really. Can we not just get over ourselves?

    What has actually happened?

    The USA has chosen its 45th President (The 20th Republican).

    There is some debate over the exact allegiance of some of the Presidents, but one reasonably popular set of numbers is 15 Democrats, 20 Republicans (including the Donald), 4 Whigs, 4 Democratic-Republicans (really), 1 Federalist and 1 George Washington.

    I am far from a fan of the winning candidate. I find many of his utterances utterly repulsive. In their intention, their content and frequently their grammar. I am not alone in those feelings.

    Yet 60 million (give or take) Americans voted for him in the election.

    Depending on whom you listen to, this is because those voters are stupid or sexist. Racist or angry. Scared or scary. Some will tell you that he only won because the opposition was so poor.

    As I write, disappointed citizens are demonstrating against the President-elect. Social media contains images of people likening Mr Trump to Adolf Hitler. The pollsters, the same ones that got the election completely wrong, are telling us that the redneck, misogynist, racist dumb-asses have won the day.

    A detached observer might note that hip, liberal, political elite are throwing around unfounded hyperbole and nonsense about all those who voted for hyperbole and nonsense.

    Many in the media are drawing parallels with Brexit. Not least the Donald himself. Once can see why. In both campaigns there was a degree of complacency. The British public wouldn’t vote Leave, surely. The Americans wouldn’t elect Donald Trump, obviously.

    In both cases, there is a rush to explain how the redneck/mysogynist/racist/sexist/scared/scary dumb-asses have thrown the world to the dogs with scant consideration for themselves or their children. My God, think of the children!

    Look, I am prepared to accept that I might be wrong. The UK may be about to plunge into depression and need to beg the Greeks for a bailout. Donald may be the front-man for the four horses of the apocalypse.

    Is it too much of a stretch to believe that people voted for what they believed was best, quite probably for a whole range of reasons?

    The British people have voted to leave the European Union.

    The American people have voted for a Republican candidate in the election.

    Those that disagree with those choices have every right to continue to make their case, voice their opinions and even demonstrate. These are rights in a democracy. However, I’m not sure that patronising and insulting those who disagree is a very effective way of winning them over.

    This xenophobic cockwomble, for example, would still vote for Brexit.

     

     

  • Hello, Google

    google-logo

    Yesterday, I posted about my love affair with Apple coming to an end.

    This was a little scary – as over the last few years, my brief encounters with Windows machines have not been happy ones. Never-ending updates, relentless malware attacks…

    What was the alternative?

    Since 2014, I have been using Google Apps – now suggestively renamed GSuite. It allows me to use Google’s e-mail, calendar and other apps under my own domains.

    I had vaguely heard about something called a Chromebook.

    These are typically pretty low specification machines that run a web browser, specifically, the Chrome browser. The processor is old, the memory is tiny. There’s nothing to them. They are cheap though. And fast.

    The principle is that you keep everything in the cloud. All of your files. All of your e-mail. All of your programs.

    Useless. How could that possibly work? I do far more than online stuff.

    Actually…No. I don’t. Or, rather I do very little that cannot be done with a chromebook.

    What do I actually do with my device?

    All the top procrastination tools are online – Social media, online shopping, email.

    Spreadsheets? GSuite has Google Sheets that can view and edit Excel. Likewise for Word and Powerpoint. There is even a work offline mode should the broadband go down or if I’m on the road. Microsoft programs are all available as web apps.

    This post is being written on WordPress – a web app.

    So – I bought a Chromebook. I’m writing on it now. Naturally, being me, I bought one that is premium. This is an HP, with a metal body, a gorgeous high definition screen, B&O speakers. Frankly, it looks a lot like a Macbook. Currently there are 8 tabs open. The machine is like lightning.

    The laptop boots up in seconds. There are no programs taking an age to start up. Virus protection is done server-side by Google. As there are no programs, there are no updates. I like it.

    Oh…and you can have two for the price of a Macbook. Three or four for the price of a high spec Macbook Pro.

    I’m told that I will struggle to mix my next single or edit my 4k video release on this machine. Not things that I do.

    rsz_img_20161108_093158

    Are there limitations?

    Maybe.

    First. Everything is stored on GDrive, in the cloud. Navigating around that does not come naturally to me – but I I suspect a little research and I will discover a quicker way.

    Second. I write (not enough) on Scrivener. Scrivener is great on a Mac, OK on a Windows machine, doesn’t work on a Chromebook. I will need to write elsewhere. Thus far, Google Docs looks favourite. It has only a tiny fraction of the functionality of Scrivener – but it has the bit that I need. 99% of Scrivener is wasted on me.

    My Iphone has been retired too. I have a phone made by Google, called a Pixel. I tried an android phone before – and regretted it. This one however is great, and just works. A bit like Apple used to.

    My hardware is built for Google apps. I’m using Google apps. Unsurprisingly, it’s seamless.

    I suspect the real cost of this is that Google has everything. I have no doubt that it hoovers up all this data. Privacy? What’s that?

    But, truth be told, I suspect that the privacy ship sailed a long time ago.

     

  • Bye, Apple

    rsz_img_20161108_093158

    I wrote here about my penchant for gadgets and my frustration with the big IT names.

    In an effort to simplify my tech life, I had worked myself down from four devices (Imac, MacBook, Ipad and Iphone) to two. (MacBook and Iphone.) I even have a ‘dumb’ phone – for when being unconnected is a blessing.

    What was becoming apparent was that my beloved Apple was losing its way. I do appreciate that it remains an absolutely massive company with huge sales and profits. However – I am going to stick to my guns here – over the next few years it is on a relentlessly downward trajectory.

    Apple made amazing beautiful innovative stuff that just worked. Was pricing premium? Yes – but the kit was gorgeous and desirable. Ipod, Iphone, Macbook Air – wonderful, cutting edge tech.

    Then Apple started doing strange things.

    The watch. “You can get a text on your wrist!” Hmm…the whole world is talking about how to make tech more useful but less obtrusive, about the power of not allowing tech to dictate your life. So Apple make a device that can vibrate on your wrist every time a friend posts a picture of their breakfast on social media.

    Iphone. “Like the last Iphone. But better.” Oh. Great.

    “Look! This new Iphone won’t work with your headphones. You need to buy wireless ones.” Gee. Thanks.

    Ipad. “Look! Like the last one. And look, a little one! Wait! A huge one. With a stylus.” Didn’t someone say something about a stylus being the sign that the wheels were coming off?

    I was pinning my hopes on the new Macbook and latterly the Macbook Pro. The Macbook is really light, has a great screen and is an attractive piece of equipment. It only has one port. To make it really thin, the key board is different. Look. Its OK. It’s a nice piece of kit. But it’s not special.

    Finally, after years of waiting, the new MacBook Pro was released. The good news is that your old headphones will work with this.

    Yep. Apple’s flagship mobile phone announces the death of the wired headphones. Launched a month later, Apple’s flagship laptop announce the renaissance of the wired headphones.

    What else is on the new MacBook Pro? Well – a spectacular price tag for a start.

    There is a funky thing called an OLED bar. Which is essentially a strip of touch screen at the top of the keyboard.

    The rest of the computing world has launched machines where the whole screen is touch – and laptops can now be hybrids – part computer, part tablet – but Apple has a strip. Right.

    Dell, HP, Lenovo are all making laptops that are as pretty, as well-built and HIGHER spec than the Apples – for much less money. I mean a lot less money.

    IT experts have been saying this for years – but to a layman like me, Apple stuff just worked and visibly better quality than the competition. That’s simply not true anymore.

    So – I have jumped ship. I am using no Apple hardware at all.

    What am I using? The photos is a pretty strong hint – but that’s a whole new post on its own.

     

     

     

     

     

  • Ink, Ink and more Ink

     

    rsz_img_20161107_142929

    I recently rediscovered the pleasure of real pens, using real ink on real paper.

    This was as a result of considering techniques for writing, and I was led into a new world of stationery by writing-buddy Amanda Fleet, who blogs about writing here and about stationery here.

    It was Amanda who introduced me to Bureau Direct.

    Now – be warned. The link above takes you to Aladdin’s stationery cupboard.

    I recently had a look for ‘lined envelopes’. One hundred and forty choices. (All of which I could find a use for.)

    Need a notebook? Four hundred and ninety eight options. (Not counting colour choices.)

    Amanda and I correspond by letter. Yes. Really. Hand-written, on paper, in an envelope, with a stamp. (Any younger readers – ask your parents.) She has lovely hand-writing, and always has several fountain pens inked up and ready to go. Her letters are always an explosion of bright ink.

    I have horrible handwriting, but am quickly catching up on the pen front. So it was time for me to start experimenting with some more coloured inks.

     

    I had ordered the J Herbin Ten Inks Set. (£26.95 after my special discount.) OK, anyone can get the discount – sign up for their newsletter; but I still prefer to believe it’s just for me.

    Inside the beautifully presented ‘coffret’ (just sounds better than box) are ten bottles of ink, each of 10ml. In order to test them out, I used a J Herbin glass pen that I had bought from Bureau Direct a few weeks ago. The paper is an Age Bag notebook, by Clairefontaine, available at, you guessed it, Bureau Direct.

    rsz_img_20161107_150555

    Check out Amanda’s excellent review of the paper here. I can only imagine that when naming the range, the Clairfontaine marketing team had risked the second bottle at lunch.

    The ink is lovely to write with, even as this left-hander wrestled with the glass pen. In truth, the glass pen is not hard to master – as soon as you discover that rotating it will alter the breadth of ‘the nib’.

    Colours – entirely subjective. I like them all, but I am particularly taken by the Gris Nuage. I suspect that tomorrow, I may have a different favourite.

    The team at Bureau Direct are knowledgeable and charming. Delivery is fast and efficient.

    Just be careful. I’m now mainlining stationery…