Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Ow ow ow, ow ow ow

So for a while now a colleague of mine has been saying we should go climbing.  About 14 years ago I did my 10 week basic course and got my 'yes you know how to climb safely' card meaning that I could go into any climbing center in the UK and climb without having to do their introductory course.

But, that was not long before I left the country, and my life has been too hectic to make any kind of long term commitment needed to improve my ability.  I did a few weeks here, wait a few years and then do a few more years, another gap and try again.

Today I went with my colleague (actually I have only just got home) and tried again.  After a gap of more than 7 years.  I found my climbing kit yesterday and gave it a clean.  Well I say kit.  Shoes and chalk bag is a better description.

We got there and I remembered just how much the shoes hurt!  Heels have nothing compared with a decent pair of climbing shoes!

We tried a few different climbs, and my arms started to seriously hurt.  I had forgotten that too :)  Not only is my technique awful, but my arms are not used to that type of punishment.

After 7 climbs (and a couple of hours) I called it a day.  The pain was too much and I could barely manage the easy ones!  But it was great fun - and we are going to try and make a regular thing of it.  Hopefully I can get to the point where I do not struggle to type when I am done!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

I need a new weekend!

Every year I throw a bring your own BBQ for the my department (plus partners).  I do a bring a steak, bring a bottle just because that way I don't stress about who is going to turn up.  If they do we have food, and if they don't we are not wasting anything.

So yesterday was spent playing with the new computer, cleaning the house and garden, taking a Volvo full of stuff to the local tip and putting up a couple of party tents in case it rained.

I've thrown this BBQ for the last 5 years and it has rained every single year.  This year was no exception - it came down in torrents (OK not New York / New Jersey torrents, but a lot!)  But everyone seemed to have a good time, we ate, drank and were merry.  I managed to keep track of what I was drinking so I had much less than I have in the past.  I didn't eat too much meat either, I was actually a little proud of myself for not going all out.  Until the cup cakes someone brought for dessert came out.  I had 1 chocolate, 1 lemon, 1 blueberry and then another chocolate.  And then felt really guilty!

We got the garden fire out once the rain stopped a little and it started to get dark got that going to keep everyone warm.

As we are all starting to get a little older people start leaving earlier - in the first couple of years people stayed until 2ish, yesterday most people were gone by midnight, and the last left at 1ish.  A friend of Mrs Stace was staying with us, rather than catching a train home, and the three of us chatted away until nearly 2.  I knew when we went to bed that it was too late and I was going to regret it, and indeed I do!  I'm exhausted!  I feel like I have lungfuls of smoke from the fire, and that I need to go back to bed!

Thankfully everything was left quite clean outside, and we can't dismantle the tents until they dry (June next year?) we just have the Kitchen to sort out.  Also not really that much of a problem, I just have to get off the sofa to do it...

I guess I had better do that now, my parents-in-law are coming for a drink in half an hour.  I hope that I can stay awake whilst they are here!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Less than a day... Good and bad...

Well, I've now been a Mac owner for a little less than a day.  I am beginning to learn things (like how to move the cursor by more than a single character at a time) and am playing with various bits and pieces to see test how things work.

I thought I'd put a quick good and bad points list together.  I though that it would be good to come back in a few weeks and see whether I still stand by them.

Always bad news first...

Installations are just a little bit annoying.  Well, very annoying actually.  Office installed like a dream (almost), where as Flash and Chrome were a pain in the neck!  It just wasn't intuitive for me how it installed - and what I had to do.  And once Chrome was installed I couldn't find the app!  I got it in the end, but it was more random clicking than actually figuring out what to do.

Updates...  I opened the machine and immediately installed the free upgrade to Lion (The hoops apple made me jump through to get that onto the machine made me want to throw the machine out of the window!).  And then...  About a GB worth of updates.  All of which required reboots.  So much for starting it out of the box without all of the updates that Windows needs...

It crashed on me!  One of the updates made it restart, and then it just made the bong noise over and over with a blank grey screen.  As it said 'Do not power off during this update' I dared not restart the machine.  In the end I had to hard power off to get it to do anything.  It did reboot fine (phew!) but not the start I had hoped for!

OK then the good news!

The track pad is a joy to use.  Why Windows machines cannot fit a decent sized trackpad is beyond me.  The one on the Mac is a decent size, responds well and doesn't accidentally click for no reason.  I like it a lot!

Scrolling and zooming work as I would expect.  Well scrolling more than Zooming, but neither of them are bad.  On Windows machines scrolling and zooming via the trackpad are always a bit hit and miss.  The zoom never responds how you would expect and there is an unacceptable lag there.  Scrolling is jerky, will it won't it and so annoying that I rarely use it.  On the Mac it's smooth, responsive and is exactly how you would expect.

The screen is on a par with the other laptops that we have in the house, for a machine that is only just four figures I think it is better than I was expecting.  Well, that's an understatement - looking at the Snow Leopard picture that comes with it is just superb!

And finally, the information that OSX gives back for the battery is so nice.  Time to charge is something that I find so useful, not that it has 10% left to charge, but 10 minutes.

Well, I hope that no one finds that list either gushing, or insulting.  Overall it's a probably about as good as I was expecting.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Here is the new, same as the old

You may remember that I am not a fan of Apple.  I dislike their business practices, I dislike that their rabid fanbois refuse to accept that they make shiny toys in sweatshops and that their kit does in fact also break.

I dislike that when I asked for help fixing my father in laws MacBook Pro I was told "It can't be the mac, the router must be broken.  Macs just work."  You now what, they don't.  They are a computer and they are just as annoying as any other computer!  And believe me I have tried a number of them over the few decades!  And now I feel old!

Anyway, getting back to my subject a little.  After all that I say I dislike them (you could even say hate...) I am also not a Linux or MS fangirl.  Linux annoys me, it's fine for my geek side - but I don't want a geek machine at home, I want a machine I can easily use.  MS is just MS.  Windows 7 is great, as long as you have a blank install without the standard bloatware you get when you buy a new machine.  XP wasn't bad. 2000 was good for the time and the less said about ME the better!

Every time I have looked at machines I have given some thought to trying a Mac, but the sheer cost of them to other machines (for no benefit other than an Apple logo) has sent me back to either Asus or Sony Vaio machines.  For example when I replaced my DTR earlier this year it would have been 800 euros more for the Apple for something with a generation older processor, less memory, a smaller slower drive and no BluRay writer.

Well, this is being written on a MacBook Pro 13.3" entry level machine.  The reason - cost!  It is +/- the same price as the Sony or the Asus equivalent and has a metal case.  The specs are slightly less - but it's close enough for me to take the plunge.  Especially with 100 euros off :)

So far my feelings of boot up and upgrading the OS to Lion are that of this is indeed another computer.  We'll see how I feel later, but for now it's nice.  But just as nice as my other machines.

Oh one last thing...  Mac minutes are the same as MS minutes it seems :)  Installing Lion was going to take 33 minutes.  I don't know how long it took but the minutes went up and down like a yoyo.  14 minutes stayed on the screen for a few seconds and 'Less than a minute' for about 5 :)

Here is the new, same as the old ;p

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Icky Mouse!

Midway through the vacation in France we took a trip to EuroDisney - or as I think it's officially known these days "Disneyland Paris'.

I have to admit I was a bit hesitant about this part of the trip.  I love roller coasters, and in times past we would have made lots of trips to Alton Towers in the UK when on vacation. Where we would have done ride after ride after ride until we were about ready to throw up!  But I always though that Disney was more about the Disney and less about the screaming.

It didn't help that we were only going for one day, and so only doing one park (why they split it into multiple parks is beyond me - apart from the be able to charge more of course!).  And...  The park that we were doing was Disney and not the Movie park with the 'Tower of Terror' and other big rides.

And so we turned up went though the gates and onto 'Main Street'.  I can say I was immediately impressed with how well turned out the park is!  That first street makes such an impression when you walk walk into the park.  The buildings look impressive, it is  *so* clean (other theme parks should really take note of this - I can't believe how clean Disneyland is) and really is like walking into a different country.

The first thing we did was stop for coffee whilst looking at the map.  And that was my first disappointment.  I love coffee.  I'm a coffee addict, coffee snob and even took my espresso machine on vacation with us.  So when I saw the 'Segafredo' sign I was over the moon. Nice Italian coffee beans, that produce a smooth coffee that is not too bitter.

I couldn't finish the cup of coffee is was that bad!  I never realised that Segafredo did instant coffee, but I do know that their instant coffee is as bad as everyone else's!  Add to that chemical foam instead frothy milk and the disappointment was complete!  Hohum...

Anyway...  We left the cafe and split up.  My in-laws went to the fantasy land with my niece and nephew and Mrs Stace and I went to the Indiana Jones ride.  We met long queues for the first time.  50 minutes wait before you could ride.  But...  Disney have queues absolutely nailed - again other theme parks really need to learn from this!  I don't know how they do it, but you seem to spend your time constantly moving in the queue rather than standing followed by shuffling, followed by standing still again for a long time.  We thought that had the wait time wrong when we got to the front of the queue and that it was only 1/2 an hour or so, but no it really was 50 minutes, it just felt faster.

The ride was stunning, we managed to get the front seat and as it's supposed to be a mine cart you have nothing in front of you unlike a normal roller coaster so it adds to the fear factor.  Brilliant!

After we went to find the others - they were waiting for the Dumbo ride; amazingly enough they had an even longer wait than the adult rides! And were still queuing for 30 minutes *after* we found them again.  They must have been in that queue for more than 90 minutes!  I'm amazed that a 5 year old and 2 year old coped with such a long wait.

A wander around looking for food followed, and again another disappointment.  The food was terrible, I had a ham and cheese baguette that tasted like it had been made a couple of days earlier and left in the fridge.  Awful!  I did like the look their toasted snacks that was the first choice, but I went to the loo and when I came back plans had changed and we were eating awful sandwiches.  Again  hohum.

We split up again in the afternoon and Mrs Stace and I went on Space Mountain: Mission 2, which is fantastic!  The acceleration at the start is phenomenal!  From the outside when you wait it looks rather lacklustre, but when actually in the ride it pins you to your seat.

After that we tried Star Tours.  The only ride we did where the wait time seemed terrible - but that may have been because we were worried about getting back for the others.  Whilst waiting were were worried that the ride was not going to be worth it - the intro seemed a little cliche...  But it was really fun.  A simulator with some Star Wars type footage.  It's amazing how your brain can be tricked by visual stimulation and slight movement!

We had some Ben and Jerry's ice cream - really good value, and easily the best tasting food of the day as well and met up with the others again.  For the rest of the afternoon we went on rides with the kids.  It's a small world, a boat ride though the fairy tales of Disney and a kids roller coaster.

We waited for the parade (really good, even if the text used in their songs was a little creepy) - and again the organisational aspect was shown off fantastically.  As soon as the last float went past the road was clear and you wouldn't have known that a parade had just taken place.  Amazing!

We had our evening meal, and again a huge disappointment.  Microwaved supermarket pizza for restaurant prices.  Quite how they can have some things so amazing in value and quality and others are so terrible I have no idea!

Then we watched the Mickey Mouse wizard show, with the Genie from Aladdin, the fairy godmother from sleeping beauty and all the princesses.  I had my niece on my shoulders for the whole thing so she could see.  It was a great show.  The they day was over, we did a little shopping and went back to the caravan.

And we slept really soundly!  11 hours of walking, standing and rising coasters really takes it toll!  But a great day - I would like to go back just Mrs Stace and me so we could do both parks and try to do more of the coasters!

Why Icky Mouse?  Well my nephew can't say Mickey yet.  It's so cute he starts shouting 'Icky Mouse, Icky Mouse!'

As we were going to be doing roller coasters I didn't take my camera with me, so no shots this time I'm afraid!  I was going to post pictures of the mementos we brought, but I can't find any on-line.  I'll try to get some shots and repost :)

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Provins - A Walled Town

Well after the brief interlude of all this weeks excitement, I thought I'd get back to the recent trip to France!

The evening after spending the day with the cats we went back to the camp site and had a relaxing evening on the patio. We had a pleasant meal in the outdoor air.  Well the food was pleasant, the visitors that we had were less so!  I have always had a thing against wasps, they freak me out and I constantly panic at the thought of getting stung.

The next day we visited a small town called Provins, situated about 50km's from the camp site where we were staying.  It is a small, medieval, walled town that has the distinction of not growing outside of it's original walls.  Well barely growing out of it anyway - if you take a look at Google earth you can see that it's starting to grow.

We arrived and started with a gentle stroll to the town gate (taking copious amounts of photos of course) taking in the centuries old Ramparts and towers timber framed buildings.  It is really amazing that this is a working, living town still and yet as you walk up the street from the visitors centre to the town gate it is still a castle wall surrounded by countryside.

We found the town square and picked which of the crepe houses we wanted to eat at.  I had never realised that there was so much choice!  Brittany, Normandy and other styles were available there.  I'm ashamed to say that I have forgotten what style we chose, but it was very nice! Crepe with egg and ham inside it.  It was delicious!

After lunch we took a walk around the church, and a tour of the keep later (complete with a couple of vertigo dizzy spells when at the top).

To finish off the day we decided to do the 'train' tour.  It's a small van converted to look like a train with several carriages hanging off of it.  Very cliché I know, but it meant that we could sit down and see what we had missed; and get some information on the buildings that we had seen during the day. There were some more great views to be seen from the roads outside of the town that we would never have gotten by foot - but it was probably the most uncomfortable ride of the week (including the Disney roller coasters) as the suspension of the trailers behind the engine unit seemed to be from the same period as the town!

Here are my photos taken in and around the town:


Friday, 12 August 2011

Wonderful SMSs

When I first told my parents about me 18 months ago one of the things that my mum said is that she wanted to tell her youngest sister so she had someone to talk to.  Her sister is trust worthy, good with secrets and open minded.

I said that I had nothing against the plan - she needs someone to talk to, and it being a family member is probably not a bad idea (one of her friends know, but it's not the same really is it?).  Anyway, it came to nothing as my mum decided that she would wait.  I said don't not do it for me, but if you don't want to do it yet that's also fine.

Fast forward to know, and the place I am in at the moment and she decided that she would do it.  I am guessing that it happened this week, shortly before I got this text message:

Hi there Stacey.  Just to let you know you are always welcome here, and if you ever need a chat I'm here for you.  Love you x x x x x x

I just wanted to share that with you all.  I feel really lucky to have the family that I have, even if they are 800 to 1600 km's away!

Of course there is another aunt that that they were going to speak to this week.  It's the one that I stay with all the time when I go the the UK...  No text from her yet - though I can't think that it went badly otherwise they would have called me.  I assume.  I'll speak to them at the weekend and see how it went (or if they decided not to tell her yet after all)

Thursday, 11 August 2011

I feel so guilty!

I had an external meeting this morning at one of our suppliers; we are looking into changing our database server and wanted to know what the possibilities are.  As it's a difficult thing to get across via email between 4 people I thought it would be a better idea to get everyone around the same table and get some ideas flowing.

I arrived a few minutes before the DBA, buzzed the reception and let them know who I was there to visit and was let into the car park.  Seeing as I had a few minutes before he would arrive I spent my time checking mails and blogs (Smart phones are wonderful, I hate being without mine now - though Mrs Stace does not always see it that way when I am constantly checking it in the evenings...)

Anyway back to the story, the DBA arrived and we had a quick chat about what we wanted from the meeting and went inside. At the reception and let them know we were there, got our visitor badges and waited for out service manager to come down and take us to the meeting room.

When he arrived he was started a conversation with the receptionist about another visitor - I only caught half the conversation but it seems that someone was missing.  I assumed that this would be their logistic and architecture guru who was going to tell us what our options were; after all they are spread across multiple locations and it is not unlikely that they would have to travel across Amsterdam to get to the meeting.

He collected the DBA and myself and led us through the meeting room where he explained that we may be joined by a mystery guest!  Apparently a woman had buzzed to be let into the car park 5 or 10 minutes before we walked into reception but the only people to walk into the building were my colleague and myself.  It was a mystery as he was not expecting any other external visitors that day.

I worked out the time in my head and almost cracked up.  It was me.  I had buzzed reception and then waited for my colleague to arrive - which was 5 or 10 minutes.  Then we walked into the building together and she must have assumed that we arrived together.  Whilst waiting in the car park there was no one else who arrived.

Why the guilt?  There were three other people in the room who didn't know this and I could not explain it to them either - I'm not that out yet!  When we left they were still trying to work out who it could have been.  I did tell the DBA when we left, after all he knows Stacy, and he cracked up - he assumed I had accidentally said Stacy when arriving - to be honest I didn't say anything, just that I had a meeting with the service manager.

But the fact that it happened really made for a wonderful morning.  There is nothing like a little validation when you are not looking for it that can perk you up!

Monday, 8 August 2011

Le parc des félins

On with the travelogue...

On the first day it was decided to go and see some cats.  Apparently there was someone who kept a couple not far from the camp site and so we loaded the cars up and left.  Mrs Stace went with her parents and our niece whilst I went with my sister in law and kept my nephew entertained.  Rather than take three cars everywhere we thought it was best just to fill two of them to the brim.

Not long after we arrived at Le parc des félins, in fact the entrance was quite well concealed so we nearly went straight past it :)

Parked, camera on my back (and nearly falling over! My kit weighs a ton!) we went in.  Seeing as the cars sleep around midday we started with a picnic - something that seems very well catered for around that part of France, everywhere we went they provided covered areas to eat your own food.  Fresh baguette with brie and ham makes a wonderful lunch.  The problem (as with every other lunch over the vacation) was wasps - there were hundreds of the things, and I do not do well with them.  Or should I say I panic at wasps almost more than anything else.  I can't stand the things!

Still we finished lunch, and started to try and find the cats.  Apparently there are over 120 species of them, in a very large park.  The first enclosure was for Cheaters, and they did!  We scanned the area for 10 minutes, searching for the slightest movement, anything that could look like a living creature.


Thinking that they were likely to still be sleeping we gave up and move on.  Then whilst looking at the Lions we notice these Cheaters relaxing next to the fence on the other side.  I managed to get a few shots off and then moved on to the Lions.  We walked for the rest of the day, trying to spot the cats in the various enclosures.  It was a great day, but at the end of it we were all quite pleased to get back into the cars and get off of our feet!

Here's some shots - sorry, but after a couple I lost track of the names of each of them.  I'll number them, if you can give me any names please feel free :)

1 - OK not actually a cat :)

2 - The Cheater

3 - No points for this one

4 - Or this one

5 - OK This one I have no idea

6 - Nor this, but isn't it cute?

7 - Extra points for the sub species

8 - Spot the cat

9 - Any ideas?

10 - Not the same as before

12 - But this is the same as 11

13 - I'm glad I don't have to brush this one!

14 - Just chilling

15 - Possibly the same as 2...

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Well that month went fast...

I hadn't realised that it had been a month since I did a successful post...  Things have been a little busy here - getting ready to go on vacation (and going away for a week) and general life has just got in the way and my muse was present to start a couple of posts, but left before I had a chance to finish and post them...

Anyway...  For the catch up let's start with a few vacation posts (see if I manage them all!)

Last week was spent in a static caravan in 'Crecy la Chapelle', a small village / town about 10 miles away from EuroDisney.  The reason for the holiday was the 40th anniversary of Mrs Stace's parents.  So the whole family joined them on holiday for a week.

Getting there was a breeze - much easier than I was expecting, at least for the first 510km's; the last 3 were a nightmare.  We started the journey with stress - the street of the camping site was a little outside of the town itself and so couldn't be easily found in the sat nav that we have.  Still, point to the town and see where we go from there.  Mrs Stace called her parents for directions once we got there and it seemed easy enough - turn right at the only church  you come across.

We drove across Holland, Belgium and into France without any traffic issues at all - we were warned about several by the sat nav, but by the time we reached that point it was cleared.  Even Antwerp was clear - that is normally a nightmare when we go the the UK!

Through France at a constant 130kmph on the AutoRoute - it may be expensive (15 euros toll from the border to Paris on the A1, and 2 euros to pass EuroDisney) but the roads were nice to drive on.

Getting to Crecy and oh dear...  Firstly, everyone knows how traffic lights work, right?  Red, red and amber (in the UK at least, not on the continent), green, amber and then back to red.  Well in France they have a different system in some places.  Red, Red and amber (but not the normal amber of the light, a new fourth amber at the bottom of the light!!!) that flashes whilst the light is on red to say go if it's safe.  If it wasn't for the two French cars in front of us I would not have known and would have had some angry people behind me at the lights :)  As it was I thought 'Whoa, someone doesn't doesn't like to wait for the lights' as the first car went.  When the second followed I thought more 'hmm, one person jumping the lights I can see, but not two' and then I started to scan the lights to see anything that could explain it.  I spotted the (very dim) flashing amber and assumed that mean I could go if it was clear.  In the week there I never saw that light on green...

In the village itself we found two churches - but neither of them on the side of the road and so went round and round in circles trying to find out where we should be...  At some point Mrs Stace saw the sign for a camp site and we just assumed there could only be one.  At a few junctions we had to take an educated guesses where they decided that people didn't need to know which way to go and lo and behold we left the town onto the ring road we were originally driving on and there was Church.  On the right was the camp site...  If we had not seen the sign for the village and left the main road we would have got there about 1/2 earlier than we did - and less stressed!

The camp site was a revelation for me.  I though that the Brits had a problem integrating on holiday - it seems that the Dutch can take it a step further!  The camp site was 95% Dutch and was ran for the Dutch - all the signs were first Dutch, then French, Germand and English.  Funnily enough the staff were not - so whilst the signs were Dutch you couldn't ask for what was written - you needed to translate it into French :)

Well I guess that's long enough for now - here's some sample shots of the week :)

Our caravan on the first night

A Cheater from the Cat Park we visited on the first day

The keep from one of the small towns we visited - I'll remember the name at some point I am sure

The last day in Paris - Arc de Triumph

You don't really need to know what this on is do you?