Top Of The World

Posted on 26th August 2007

Day Six: So that was it, our holiday in Torquay. We headed home, and Nicole once again took photos as we crossed the bridge over the River Avon. It's quite amazing the difference a week made. As Phil from Malvern LUG had mentioned that we ought to call in on the way home for a cup of tea, I decided to take him up on the offer. However, Nicole wanted to the opportunity to see part of The Malvern Hills. We weren't planning to walk up the whole way, but the path up zig-zagged in such a way as to be quite easy to leisurely stroll up. Even DanDan and Ethne walked virtually all the way there themselves. I only carried Ethne the last few feet on my shoulders.

It really is a lovely view up there and I think we'll be going back to climb The Worcestershire Beacon, the highest point of The Malverns. But today we managed to make it to the top of Sugarloaf Hill, and that was just about enough. It took a while to get up the energy to walk down, but it was quite pleasant just watching the world pass by, even if the wind was a bit too much for me.

Once we got back to the car, we finally headed off round the corner to visit Phil. we spent a couple of hours chatting and finally the kids were getting a little too restless and we left Phil to walk Pepsi (their dog), and made the final leg back home. A great holiday, and I think we all enjoyed the break. Definitely thinking of going back again.

File Under: family / holiday / malvern / photography / walks
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Caught Somewhere In Time

Posted on 26th August 2007

Day Five: The holiday was coming to an end, but there was still far too much to see. We opted for Kents Caverns and Bygones Victorian Museum.

Kents Caverns was actually Nicole's favourite sight of the whole holiday. There is so much history there it really is quite staggering. Dave, our guide, was brilliant. A great sense of humour and a good rapport with his audience made for an excellent tour. At the end of the tour I asked him if he was studying archeology, but it seems not, he's a Sociology student :) The Caverns themselves are huge and very impressive. It was a shame that my camera work wasn't up to much as there were points when I failed to capture some of the awesomeness of the rock formations and patterns. The light in the caverns is all artificial, and at one point in the tour, the lights are switched off to show how dark it really is. It's probably the first time I've ever been in complete pitch darkness and you really can't see anything in front of your face, even a few millimetres away.

After coming out we discovered that due to the weather, the Caverns had become quite popular today. It seems we had arrived at just about the right time. They also have a kids discovery area, which both DanDan and Ethne enjoy being archelogists and uncovering fossils. They they got to draw on the chalk boards.

After lunch we headed back to Babbacombe and to the Bygones Victorian Museum. We had passed the museum earlier in the week and it looked like it was worth a visit. It's quite amazing just how much they have crammed into the building. They even have a small full size engine, which you get to walk onto the footplate. Although it is very much centred on the Victorian era, it does also feature a small section on the World War I. DanDan was a bit too unnerved by it, but Ethne didn't bat an eyelid. It is probably the only part of the museum that is potentially frightening for kids, as it is quite dark. It's quite amazing just how much memorabillia they have managed to accummulate or recreate about the era. However, I think DanDan and I would have to agree the traditional cream soda was the defining moment of the visit :)

File Under: caverns / devon / family / holiday / museum / photography / torquay
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Another Journey By Train

Posted on 26th August 2007

Day Four: Like my Dad, or more likely because of my Dad, I've liked steam trains from a young age. My grandparents had the Gwili Railway at the bottom of the garden from 198?, and as I was growing up from about the age of 8 I had watched them clear the old track, lay new ones and construct the station and line from Bronwydd Arms. I also got to ride on it while they were making it too. Since then, riding on steam trains has always been fun. In Torquay we had a choice. The Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway or The South Devon Railway (running steam trains from Totnes to Buckfastleigh). We opted for the latter.

I had mistakenly thought that there was a train connection between Paignton and Totnes and thought getting a train from Torquay would be a good idea. The train station was only a few minutes walk from the hotel, but after buying the tickets and looking at the map on the wall, I suddenly realised my mistake. In order to get to Totnes we had to go back up the line to Newton Abbot and then down again to Totnes. Had I realised this I would have driven there in about 20 minutes. As it was it took 2 hours with all the waiting and connections and delays. It was frustrating as I felt we had lost half a day, but as Nicole pointed out, the kids enjoyed it and Ethne did keep us entertained with her dancing and singing on the platform.

We just made it to the train for The South Devon Railway, otherwise we would have had to wait around 45 minutes for the next one. Although there were other things we could have done at the Totnes station, most of the things to see were at the Buckfastleigh station. The journey was lovely and once again the kids really enjoyed watching the scenery fly by. A brief stop at Staverton station was a good photo opportunity too.

Once we finally reach Buckfastleigh, we had a wander around part of the museum there. We then took an old double-decker red london bus to Buckfast Abbey. It's been a while since I was here last, and it's actually smaller than I remembered. Thankfully the sun was just right and I was really please with some of the pictures I got to take. We had a wander around the Abbey itself and the gardens, and had a lot of fun trying to pose DanDan and Ethne. It didn't always work, but it was great fun trying :)

We took the bus back again, this time through Buckfastleigh village, where we could eaisly reached out of the bus and touched the walls of the buildings. The last steam train for the day was just about to arrive, so while they took the time to change ends, we wander further around the site and got to look in the repair sheds. Unfortunately the minature railway wasn't working as I would have liked to have taken the kids on that. It was probably just as well as by the time we got back to the platform, the train was just about to leave. After reaching Totnes station we walked back to the mainline station. It was then that I'd noticed that there were sigs for the castle. We hadn't eaten and it was getting towards tea time, so it seemed a good idea to find a cafe somewhere. I managed to persuade Nicole that walking up the hill to the castle would be a good idea. Unfortunately when we got to the entrance, although we had an hour left to wander around, it was perhaps a little too expensive for just an hour, especially for 4 of us. We decided that it would be better to plan to come another time and take more time wandering around. In fact we'd missed a few things at each end of The South Devon Railway, so a return trip is definitely on the cards.

The return trip on the mainline was less eventful, but it was nice to just relax and let someone else take me where we were going :)

File Under: abbey / buckfast / devon / family / holiday / photography / torquay / totnes / trains
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The Beach

Posted on 26th August 2007

Day Three: Our first proper day on the beach. Oddicombe Beach and Babbacombe are on the far side of Torquay, so we had to drive there. However, in the write up for the hotel, it mentioned we were only 5 minutes from the beach. Each time we had passed Abbey Sands Beach in the car, the tide had been in and it hadn't looked like it was very big. However, in the morning we took a stroll down, passing the Torre Abbey, and watched the tide slowly drift out. A portion of the beach was already uncovered and we set up camp. As the day wore on more and more of the beach revealed itself and it really was a good beach. Apparently the sand on this beach is considered to be the best in Torquay for making sand castles. We all spent time digging holes, burying each other, buidling sand castles and generally have a lovely time. It was such a good day we complete forgot to take photos after the first few in the morning!

Nicole and I did make one mistake though. We covered the kids in sun lotion and sun block to protect them from the sun, but complete forgot to do the same for ourselves. I managed to burn my feet, my knees and my forehead didn't look too great. Thankfully it wasn't too bad and after a trip to a local supermarket we did rubbed in some of the after-sun lotion to soothe the itchiness.

As we were on holiday we had decided to eat out somewhere nice. Being a fan of curries I manage to persuade everyone that the ? was a great idea. And indeed it was. The kids shared a korma and both Nicole and I were absolutely stuffed after ours. Although DanDan had been complaining earlier about his neck and he didn't eat too much. We got a bit worried and got him some medicine to help relieve some of the pain. The night before DanDan had fallen out of bed and woken up in a very confused state, so we weren't sure whether he hurt himself as he fell out. It wasn't until the following day that Nicole suddenly realised why he was complaining of his neck. The TV in the room was mounted quite high and he'd been straining his neck trying to watch it! After a good night's sleep he seemed to be much better.

File Under: beach / devon / family / holiday / photography / torquay
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Back In The Village

Posted on 26th August 2007

Day Two: The following day we headed to Babbacombe and in particular The Model Village. I've always liked model villages, but Nicole has mostly tolerated them. We took the kids to see the one at Bekonscot last year (I'll have to get around to putting those pictures online too), and they seemed to enjoy it. Babbacombe seems to be bigger than Bekonscot, but that may just have been perception. There certainly seems to be a lot more going on, not just for the model village, but also the "behind the scenes" workshop, the model film sets, the model circus, trainset and the 4D cinema experience. Many of the models are moving models, from lorrys, trams and trains to fire breathing dragons, the Loch Ness monster and a wind farm. The 4D cinema had a 15 minute film showing, which in addition to the 3D presentation also had the physical experience of things like the chair shaking or fine water droplets sprayed at you. I thought it was well worth the £1 entrance fee, but DanDan was quite scared. He held my hand in a vice like grip on several occasions. I tried to make light of it for him, but he kept taking the 3D glasses off so he couldn't see the images so close to him.

After lunch we headed round the corner towards the local beach. To get there we had to ride on the Cliff Railway. Both DanDan and Ethne loved it, as they both got to sit at the front and watch the other carriage come up and pass us as we went down. Once off we got to spend our first day on the beach. Oddicombe Beach has more shale than sand, so it wasn't exactly sand castle material, but we did try. Ethne experience her first paddle in the sea and kept wanting to go back for more. It was a hard job persuading them to come out and dry off at the end of the afternoon. We managed it by tempting them with ice cream ;) In fact it was delicious ice cream, and I'm not really one for buying a cone. I prefer iced lollies. But the choices on offer were just too tempting.

We walked back to the Cliff Railway and rode back up to the top. There is a nice little cafe at the top, and being shattered we decided to have tea there. I'm glad we did as by the time we got back to the hotel, all I wanted to do was flake out. The weather reports promised much better weather for the rest of the week, so tomorrow was looking good.

File Under: beach / devon / family / holiday / model / photography / torquay / trains
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Heart Of Glass

Posted on 26th August 2007

A couple of weeks ago, the family and I went on holiday down to Torquay. It was a great holiday and we got to see and do lots of things while we were there. I took lots of photos too. Over the next few posts I plan to unveil a few galleries of pictures highlighting some of things to see and do in and around Torquay and Devon. In fact there is so much we missed out, we thinking about planning ahead and going again next year :)

On the way down, we drove over a stretch of The River Avon that is notorious for flooding. However, I've never seen it this bad. I'd spent the previous week working from home due to the results of the floods across Gloucestershire, but this was the first time I'd got to see any of it first hand. Nicole took photos as we crossed the bridge and I was staggered to see what ressembled a lake in place of fields and the normal course of the river. One the way back she took some more after the flooding had subsided. Quite a difference.

Due to all the stop/starting of the traffic, it took us 5 hours to get from Birmingham to Torquay, although that did include a half hour break. As such we checked in and headed for a local restaurant for food. The weather wasn't great and with the tide being in, the sea looked decidedly unsuitable for a holiday. Hoping that the weather would pick up, we decided to visit some of the sights first.

Day One: The following morning we sorted through the flyers for the various places to visit and picked on two that were further north of the town. The weather was overcast, but didn't look like it would rain too much, if at all.

Our first sight was The House Of Marbles. It's partly a Marble museum and partly a glassworks. Both are free and you can just wander around at your leisure and watch glass blowing, see some amazing marble-runs or play outside with the kids. The big marble-run in the shop was fascinating, and I could easily have watched it for hours. DanDan and Ethne enjoyed playing in the garden with the building blocks and skittles. By lunchtime the sun had come out and it was quickly turning into a very pleasant day. We had lunch and headed a little further north.

Our afternoon trip was to The Original Miniature Pony Centre. If you have kids and are not too far away, this is well worth the trip. You can go inside the enclosures and see the sheep, goats and ponys up close. It's great for kids and Ethne seemed to love it, especially during her interesting conversations with the sheep! Ethne also got to ride around the paddock, while DanDan headed off to the adventure playground. As we walked around, both DanDan and Ethne took a shine to some of the Shetland ponys. Come the end of the day, Ethne even got to feed them too.

It was a long day and we were all tired by the evening, but it had been a great start to the holiday. And even the sun looked like it was going to stay.

File Under: devon / family / floods / gloucester / holiday / photography / torquay
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Light Of Day

Posted on 25th August 2007

Back last year, I went to LUGRadio Live and was extremely impressed, as most people were, with the plasma screens around the building, particularly with the imagery they were displaying. It turned out that Aq had written it as a quick PHP/HTML hack. It certainly did the job and impressed me so much that I asked if I could use for the YAPC::Europe conference we were hosting in August. Aq was delighted.

The original code was written in PHP, but seeing as I don't do PHP, I rewrote the whole thing in Perl. I simplified some of the HTML and CSS, but essentially it was still the same concept. We lauch the code for YAPC::Europe and again people were suitably impressed.

Since last August I've been meaning to package up the code and release with a proper Open Source licence. I asked Aq whether he minded me using the Artistic License as used with tradional Perl libraries, and he was happy to release it. So here it is ... The Plasma Application.

All being well the guys in Vienna might be using it for YAPC::Europe 2007, but we'll have to wait and see.

File Under: conference / opensource / perl / web
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New Dawn Fades

Posted on 14th August 2007

The Factory Club with Peter Saville, Tony Wilson & Alan Erasmus (Photo copyright Kevin Cummins)

The Factory Club with Peter Saville, Tony Wilson & Alan Erasmus (Photo copyright Kevin Cummins)

In recent years there have been several people that have passed away, who helped to shape my life. John Peel, Tommy Vance and Alan Freeman all helped to promote different forms of music and introduce me to many styles and genres that perhaps otherwise would never have discovered for myself. They all gave young bands a chance and help to change a generation. My generation. One other man also did that, perhaps more than I realised at the time. Tony Wilson.

Tony Wilson first came to my attention back in around 1975/76 when he used to present Granada Reports. A regional news programme for the North West of England (Lancashire, Manchester and Cheshire), that was partly an alternative to the mediocre Nationwide that BBC put out. Tony along with Bob Greaves presented local news, but also occasionally featured music from the North West too. Tony's passion for promoting music from Manchester enabled him to get So It Goes on the air. Although it wasn't only about Manchester acts, it did help to create the image of Manchester being a vibrant music scene.

The Haienda FAC51 membership card

The Haienda FAC51 membership card

In 1979 Factory Records released their first piece of vinyl, A Factory Sample EP featuring among others Joy Division. On FAC 6 they introduced me to Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, who long before they were a pop band, were a UK alternative to Kraftwerk. They helped to bring several Manchester bands to national notoriety. Although with Happy Mondays that wasn't necessarily a good thing. Tony also created the In The City music festival, which was great way to celebrate music across the city. Bars and cafes would become venues and put on all sorts of music throughout the week. When The Haçienda (FAC 51) was opened it was like a breath of fresh air. For many years one of my most prised possessions was an original The Haçienda membership card, until it got stolen.

I moved from the North West in 1982, but regularly made return trips for various gigs. I met Tony once, along with Rob Gretton, all of New Order and several other Manchester musicians over the years, and always found it an inspirational experience being around the Manchester scene. I still see Manchester as a kind of spiritual home and it holds a lot of memories. That's partly thanks to Tony Wilson, for giving the city pride in itself and its music. Thanks Tony.

R.I.P. Anthony Howard Wilson (20 February 1950 - 10 August 2007)

File Under: manchester / music / people / roadie / tv
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Dreams Never End

Posted on 8th August 2007

After promising a while ago to upload some of my code, I've created a new section on the site. Click the Code tab on the menu at the top and you'll see what I've done.

My first launch is the latest version of my dbdump.pl utility. I use it to backup my databases to remote servers. It supports MySQL and PostgreSQL at the moment, but potentially it could support others. At some point I'll get around to packaging other utilities too. If you find the code useful, please let me know.

File Under: database / opensource / perl
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Wipe Out

Posted on 7th August 2007

Recently I've been looking for an alternative venue to host the Birmingham Perl Mongers social meetings. Although The Wellington is a nice pub with some excellent real ales, it doesn't have a free wifi connection. The pub itself is wired live to the internet, as the instant a pub runs dry the staff update the website, so they do have the potential to add a wireless router. However, in most of the pubs that do have wireless, they seem to be signed up to people like The Cloud.

While trawling the web looking for alternative locations, I happened across an article posted last year, that highlights two things about the wireless internet business in the UK.

First off is that the prices are way too high to be anything but greedy. One person connected to The Cloud for 24 hours would be enough to pay the bandwidth on a 4MB broadband line for a month, and at least 2 routers, with the rest covering any administration charges. Public WiFi in the UK is expensive. If a company wants to make money out of the use of a service like this, why are they charging such a high rate. Think about it. One person might pay £2.99 per 30 minute session, but you're more likely to get more than 3 if it was under £2 per hour. I also don't get why the pubs, cafes and the like don't put more effort in to promote free wifi and get people like The Cloud to charge the venue a standard fee. This fee would then be offset by attracting more people to their establishments and selling more drink and food. In this day and age there are more and more people are carrying portable wireless internet enabled devices, whether it's a laptop, mobile phone or a Nokia N800. What better way to attract them in for a quick pint or two than to allow them to do some web surfing at the bar?

The second issue is about the content people are viewing, and why some may fear being prosecuted for transmitting that kind of material. With companies like The Cloud routing all web surfing activites through central servers, internet level security companies, such as MessageLabs, are well placed to enable that peace of mind and block all inappropriate content. There is no reason for the fear, other than for the service providers to give a reason why they need your credit card information so they can track your surfing habits.

Free WiFi internet access is growing in other parts of the world, because the pubs, bars, cafes and clubs all realise the additional revenue it brings in, when punters buy their main retail items such as drink and food. The UK seems so far behind in this realisation that it's almost backward. I only know of one pub in the whole of the Birmingham borough (not just the city centre) that provides free Wifi. If it wasn't in such an odd spot, I would move the Birmingham Perl Mongers socials there ready for the next meeting.

After I started to write this piece, I've been well informed (thanks Kake), that JD Weatherspoons now have a special deal for WiFi users in their pub. Buy a pint and you get 30 minutes free wireless internet access. This is exactly the kind of thing that pubs should be offering. After all, if they're going to offer free WiFi, the least you can do is buy a pint. Though it does pose a problem for slow Guinness drinkers like myself ;) We have a social meeting tomorrow, but it's a little late to change venue, but we may well look to see whether we should decamp for next month to The Briar Rose (only a few doors down from The Wellington).

File Under: beer / birmingham / pubs / rant / wifi
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