01 September 2009

Holiday in Thailand pt2

Today has been short but productive

I started by getting a tuktuk back to the tailors to get any required adjustments made to my suits and organise getting them shipped back home. The tuktuk driver charged me 60baht for 7 minutes driving and place me some distance away from the tailors before directing me the wrong way down the street and driving off.

Fortunately at this point my luck changed and I bumped into a man who turned out to be the manager of the tailors I was going to. We headed to the shop and he asked me about my time in Thailand before taking me up to his office and the fitting rooms. I was shocked to find the trousers and shirts already complete (with no need for adjustments). He explained that they had a factory outside of Bangkok employing about 10,000 people!!!!. Normally they did large orders that were sent to Italy where the labels are added. The label usually says something like Armani or Versace and at this point the price goes up by 500%. They don't normally sell to the public at the price I got (the price Armani pay) I had caught the last 90 minutes of an annual 1 week promotion.

After we had taken care of business he suggested I went for a cruise on the Chao Praya (The main river in Bangkok). I agreed and he left his shop to take me by taxi. I felt guilty that he even paid for the taxi until I remembered how much I just paid him for the suits.

The cruise was on a traditional longtail boat with the tiller, engine, shaft and propeller all connected in a long line on a single 2 axis bearing. This means the guy driving can just point the propeller any direction he wants as deep below the water as he wants and just twist the throttle. They work quite well. The boat went down lots of little side channels lined with quaint ramshackle houses on stilts. It was nice to get away from the bustle and fumes of the city and breathe fresher air for a while. All I had to do was sit in the boat and take pictures of whatever I wanted, fine by me.

After a while my driver stopped by a house. I looked up and saw a little old man with a long pole on the end of which was a yellow plastic bucket full of bread. He told me "20Baht to feed the fish". I looked down and the boat was surrounded by big fish. It looked like fun so I shoved 20Baht in the bucket and grabbed a loaf. I tore off a chunk and lowered it into the water. The fish went mental! I got drenched as they tore the bread out of my hands. However it was fun. and we got pictures. before carrying on.

The next stop was next to a little old lady bobbing up and down in the middle of the river in boat filled with souvenirs. I bought a small wooden Buddha, a small wooden frog that makes a noise that is not unlike croaking when you rub it's back with the stick it has kept in it's mouth and a bottle of beer each for me and my driver out of an ice box she kept next to her. It suddenly dawned on me that fish, bucket guy and souvenir boat lady were waiting for us and all the other longtail boats running tourists up and down the river and the drivers knew this. Nice arrangement.

After that I walked through the city and got lightly ripped off by a little old lady. Without asking me she grabbed my hand and filled it with bird seed repeatedly telling me it was "All OK". I then got mobbed by pidgeons wile she told me I owed her 300Baht. Damn!!!

Finally I managed to get back to the hotel before today's instalment of the monsoon showed up.

Tomorrow I hope to see the Golden Mount, The Jade Buddha and maybe the Koh San Road. In the evening I catch the overnight train to Surat Thani and then the ferry to Koh Samui. White sandy beaches, blue seas, palm trees and large drinks served in coconut shells here I come.

31 August 2009

Holiday in Thailand pt1

I arrived in Thailand yesterday and was hit by an immediate culture shock. Even in the cities Cambodia is pretty quiet. Bangkok is a vast bustling metropolis by comparison. The traffic is chaotic and full of mor large cars, buses and huge 4x4's.

Today I headed out and hired a tuktuk for 60Baht an hour to take in some of the sights. The Cambodian tuktuk is a calm, sedate and civilised affair. Almost like taking a cruise. The Bangkok tuktuk is painted in bright colours, has a set of rear indicators and brake lights inside in front of the passengers face and they go at brakeneck speeds with the engine going at about 5 billion rpm. The effect is like riding pillion on a funfair ride.

At one of the temples I paid for a guide who spent about half an hour taking me round the temple of Wat Benchamobophit. Unfortunatly he was almost incomprehensible except for his repeated stories of how he used to be a kickboxer in his youth.

I also (after recieving the advice of several people) went to an export tailors where I got measured up for a couple of suits at a ludicrously low price. As I am going to a wedding soon and needed a new suitit seemed like a good idea. I am part happy and part regretting it oh well.

Here is Thailands largest sitting Buddha It is very large and covered in 24c gold leaf

30 August 2009

Holiday in Cambodia pt3

Unfortunately my time in Cambodia is drawing to a close. I just checked out of my hotel and am now sitting in the bar spending a couple of hours relaxing before a car arrive to take me to the airport.

Cambodia is an amazing place and I would recommend it to anyone. It is true that it is still recovering from it's tragic history and there is incredible poverty. However there amazing sights and the people are very warm and friendly. The temples of Angkor are vast and breathtaking. A couple of stats I picked up while I was here.

  • An estimated 40,000 elephants were used during the construction of the temples.
  • The Angkor Wat has an estimated mas of approximately 3,600,000,000 tonnes
The best advice I can give to anyone visiting the temples is not to take money or at least to claim you have no money. If the locals selling souvenirs see you buy anything they will swarm on you like piranha. They refuse to take no for an answer, will rip you off if possible and will try to sell you something even if you bought something off them 5 seconds before. The best place I found for tourist shopping looking for unusual gifts is the night market at Siem Reap. Less pressure, lots of variety and much fairer prices.

Unfortunately I managed to sprain my ankle while trekking back from Kbal Spean yesterday but it is already feeling better.

In a little over an hour my Car arrives to take me to the air port and then it's on to the excitement and bustle of Bangkok

I will blog again after looking around

Here is picture of me at the Angkor Wat

27 August 2009

Holiday in Cambodia pt2

I just visited Bantay Srie and Pre Rup, two beautiful and magnificent temples in the Angkor built in a time when the people in the region were mainly Hindu. The temples contain many images of Brahma, Vishnu and even Kali. There are also monkeys and elephants. Since getting to Cambodia I have taken over 300 pics and that is just the start. Expect a major Flickr update when I return.

The journey out was an 1.5 hours by Tuk tuk as Bantay Srie is one of the most remote of the temples. The tuk tuk is an open carriage with a canopy pulled by a moped. It is the most relaxing a civilised way to travel I have ever experienced especially when your driver hands you a wet flannel and bottle of water from the ice box he has stashed under the front seat. I sat and watched the Cambodian countryside roll past enduring a light shower to be replaced by brilliant sunshine by the time I arrived at the temple. The countryside consisted mainly of palm trees and rice paddies. There are also lots of children holding bits of string with a water buffalo on the other end. The buffalo seem to just stand around grazing and regularly adding to the richness of the soil ;-)

The homes are mostly single room open wood and palm leaf structures on stilts with the occasional 2 story marble and glass 4 bedroom house to make you question exactly how the local economy works.

The roads are pretty good quality as Siem Reap probably draws more money than anywhere else in Cambodia from tourism. Angkor is one of the greatest sights in the world and there is a constant flow of tourists even in the rainy season. The only hazards are tourist coaches coming up behind you hitting their horn to remind you that they are bigger and faster and water buffaloes that have a lot of mass and no road sense.

When you arrive at any of the temple you are immediately surround by kids as young as four all trying to sell you second hand guide books (some are to other countries!!!), CD's of local music, T-shirts, silks, DVD's. They start by being very sweet but after about 30 seconds become very very irritating. They all ask you where you are from and when you say England they greet you with cries of 'Lovely Jubbly'. This time I went to a stall and bought two silk scarves (not for me). I tried haggling and we eventually agreed on a price. I handed over the money and heard a mass groan from behind me which I immediately knew meant 'look at how much over the usual price the stupid westerner paid'. I am such a sucker must try harder but to westerners the haggling thing is a bit alien and these guys are good.

I have decide to try taking no money but giving out pens instead. The children all go to school and need these things and it will help feel a bit less guilty about not buying another guide book I don't need (I have 4 now).

I am heading out in about an hour to do a tour of the grand circuit ending with sunset at the top of Preah Pithu Temple.

Despite the many problems faced by Cambodia it's people are warm and friendly and the scenery is beautiful.

Here is a tiny taste of the pictures taken today: -

26 August 2009

Holiday in Cambodia pt1

Anyone following this blog will realise I haven't posted anything for a very long time. Many people would apologise but I will simple explain. I haven't had anything interesting to say.

That has changed because I have just started a 3 week holiday in Cambodia and Thailand.

Yesterday was my second day in Phnom Penh. Cambodia is a country of opposites. The friendliness of the people against the misery they endured during the Khmer Rouge era. The wealth of the palaces against the heartbreaking poverty on the streets. It is also deceptively expensive unless you can say no to the beggars. Giving $1 to a small child or maimed survivor of Pol Pot's nightmare is a way of signalling every beggar within half a mile to swarm on you and you walk away $40 poorer and if you lucky in possession of stuff you didn't even want. It is strange that I experienced this very thing outside the palace grounds where one of the buildings has a floor made of 5.3 tonnes of silver. They have obviously realised I am an easy target.

I also visited S-21 and Choeng Ek

S-21 started as a high school and was converted into the most notorious prison in the Pol Pot era. Presided over by a man known simply as 'Dutch' S-21 saw as many as 20,000 people die inside its walls. Torture methods included beatings, waterboarding, snake bites, scorpion stings, pliers, submerging in filthy water and hanging from a gallows made from the schools original rope climbing frame. The ordinary prisoners were placed in cells built inside the classrooms (1 room converted to 11 cells 2-3'x5' and a corridor). VIP prisoners had larger cells where they were shackled to an iron bedstead with a metal box and a plastic bottle for toilet arrangements and allowed to starve to death. Babies were simply dropped down a well at the back. Visitors to S-21 are welcome and I was taken round by a woman in 50's who told me about the things that happened. She also told me she lost her child and husband there. Photography is allowed but there are signs saying that smiling and laughter are not allowed out of respect for the dead. They are not necessary.

Anyone who hadn't been killed, starved to death, or committed suicide was taken to one of the killing fields (of which Choeng Ek is the most famous) where they would be executed (digging their own graves first if required). Methods of execution included having their throats slit, decapitation and gunshot to the head. Babies were swung repeatedly against the nearest tree and then dropped into one of the mass graves. The reason the Khmer Rouge killed babies is simple, they didn't want them growing up and seeking revenge.

There is a path at the back of Choeng Ek that twists backwards and forwards between deep pits. I walked down this path with my Tuktuk driver and guide Visal who lost his entire family to the Khmer Rouge. He explained that each of the many pits surrounding us was an excavated mass grave some held over 400 bodies. There are even signs saying 'Please don't walk through the mass graves' they are almost comical at first. I listened him talk as he tried to hold back the tears, suddenly he put his hand on my shoulder to stop me. I looked down and realised that even though I was sticking to the path I was about to trip on a human bone (possibly a femur) sticking out of the mud. Cambodia has a lot of rain and bones are still being uncovered by the elements. next it was some partly uncovered baby clothes

In the centre of Choeng ek is a stupa (The Buddhist version of a mausoleum). It is a beautiful tower of white marble with glass on each side you can go inside as long as you go barefoot. The centre of the stupa contains many glass shelves full of thousands of skulls, jawbones and babies clothes dug up from the graves. For a dollar you can buy a flower and some incense to place outside. I bought the flower and the incense removed my shoes and socks and knelt barefoot in front of the stupa. I placed the flower in the vase and the incense in the pot of sand with those already placed by other visitors, closed my eyes and tried to think of a suitable prayer (a tricky task for an atheist). My first thought was to pray that the people responsible all suffer for what they did. My second thought was simply to pray that it never happens again. I feel both prayers were pointless. for there first prayer ther could never be enough suffering to make up these crimes and for the second prayer it similar events are still happening around the world.

Today I leave for Siem Reap. I am sure the treasured temples of the Angkor will be uplifting and wonderful (expect a more optimistic blog entry next time). I have dreamed of seeing them for years and I am not sure I brought enough memory cards.

28 March 2009


Graffiti is something that I have mixed feelings about. Usually it is just ugly tags that make an place look depressing. However occasionally you see something that just makes you smile. Here are a few I have seen recently: -

  • Anything can't happen in the next half hour (written on the back of a seat on a train I was commuting to work on)
  • Go on take a sickie (Written across the bridge at Milton Keynes station)
  • Life is not about the number of breaths you take but on the number of moments that take you breath away (Written on a bicycle chained to railings in London)
  • London Midland trains suck (Written on another train seat (not witty but very accurate))
And my all time favourite written in huge letter across an entire cliff in New Zealand "Chutney, Fuck Yeah".

06 December 2008

Giant banana

I caught the train today while carrying my snowboard on my backpack. The base is yellow and the ticket guy asked me if I knew I was being followed by a giant banana. The other ticket guy said that he didn't think the risk of snow was that great. If only they could put the same effort into running a decent service that they do into making witty comments.

03 February 2008

Wildlife as Canon sees it.

The Japanese company Canon make some of the finest and most popular digital cameras around and their marketing campaign is based around spectacular shots of the natural world. Flick through a photography magazine or a copy of National Geographic and you will probably see one of their adverts containing a rare animal in a stunning backdrop taken in crystal clear detail.

Unfortunately Japan's relationship with the natural world is tarnished by the ongoing issue of Whaling. In December last year the Japanese whaling factory ship Nisshin Maru accompanied by three whale hunting ships entered the Australian Whale sanctuary in the Southern Ocean with the intention of killing of 935 minke and 50 fin whales. The Greenpeace ship Esperanza followed with the intention of documenting, campaigning, reasoning with and disrupting their efforts for as long as the had the fuel to do so. Japan claims that the purpose of it's whaling missions is scientific research. Despite the fact that almost all scientists researching whales state that all useful data can be gathered by non-lethal means. According to an expert pane on Catalyst the science program on ABC Japan had produced 4 scientific papers on whales in the last 18 years that actually had relevance (
transcript) meaning that the average number of whales killed for each of those papers was 1700! The real reason for Japan's continued use of lethal research methods is obvious, the hunts are commercial in nature and any minor science is included simply to legally justify the hunt with the IWC (scientific whaling is allowed commercial is not). Even this makes little sense as Japan does not have a large market for whale meat. The amount of unsold whale meat stockpiled by Japan has been climbing since 2003 and now stands at almost 4000 tons.

So what has this got to do with Canon? The head of Canon Fujio Mitarai is also the head of the Keidanren (The Japanese Business Association) making him the most senior businessman in Japan and a trusted advisor to the Japanese Prime Minister. Greenpeace are attempting to convince Mr Mitarai to issue a statement saying that Canon does not support the whaling industry (

I own a Canon EOS 400D, it is one of my most treasured possessions and I look forward to buying many Canon accessories to go with it. However Canon have sold a lot of cameras by trading on the image of a company that loves nature. Isn't about time they stood up for what they claim to believe in?

Contact Mr Mitarai here.

25 January 2008

My new Dell laptop

I recently bought a new Dell laptop.

Inspiron 1520
2 Ghz Core 2 Duo Proc
250 Gb SATA hard drive
2Gb 667 MHz DDR2 RAM
802.11b\g Wi-Fi
2 Mega-pixel webcam

The laptop is fantastic and I love it. Unfortunatley it came with MS Windows Vista. My first move was to wipe Vista and replace it with Ubuntu Linux 7.10. Ubuntu looks fantastic and almost everything worked right out of the box. I think I have solutions to everything else.

Unfortunatley Dell have totally refused to refund the money for the unused Vista licence. However they did assure me that they working hard to meet my needs (just not the needs that I actually needed).

The blood is the blah blah blah.

Gave blood again today.
Kevin joined me.
It went well.
That is all.

2011 UK Census (surveillance of UK citizens made easy)

The 2011 UK census has been outsourced by the office of national statistics. One of the two companies in the final selection is Lockheed Martin. If they win the contract UK citizens will be legally obliged to fill out a detailed questionairre and then return it to an arms comapny that does 80% of its buisiness with the US Department of Defence. They also focus on serveillance and intelligence gathering to produce what they call "Integrated Threat Information".

Find out more here.

Sign the petition here.

28 October 2007

Paris to Barcelona (a descent into Hell)

I recently went on a trip Paris and Barcelona with four friends (Kevin, Julie, Stuart and Cate)

After a day in Paris we were supposed to take a sleeper train to Barcelona and arrive the next day. Events turned out a little differently: -
  • The 2 days before we left for France Kevin and Stuart spotted that SNCF (French rail workers) were going on strike and our train had been cancelled.
  • Kevin booked an Easyjet fight to Barcelona and a hotel for one night.
  • After our day and night in Paris we get to Paris Orly airport and find the flight had been cancelled as lots of airport workers could not get to work because the trains were on strike.
  • We are standing in a queue for the Easyjet information desk when a rep tells us that there are no hotels rooms in Paris because of the rugby and no available seats to Barcelona for two days.
  • We discuss the situation and decide our first priority is to get out of France.
  • Stuart and I dash off to find an internet terminal.
  • We find one but there is a guy using it to browse flickr.
  • I leave Stuart to queue behind him and try to find another one.
  • I find one, get Stuart and he goes to Easyjet.com to book us on the next flight to Madrid.
  • He succeeds but I have to dash back to the others to get a pen and paper to note the booking ref as the terminal has no printer.
  • Meanwhile Cate's friend is texting her times and prices of flights from Madrid to Barcelona.
  • We fly to Madrid examine the departures board and pick some flights to Barcelona.
  • We then queue at a couple of desks to find the best balance of cost and time for a flight to Barcelona ASAP.
  • We pick one and I try to pay but my credit card is declined even though I have loads of credit so Julie pays. By this point we have paid an extra £250-£300 each.
  • We take off from Madrid one hour and 20 minutes after landing.
  • We arrive at Barcelona and catch a train to the part of the city containing our hotel.
  • I get a voicemail from HSBC saying that they think my credit card was stolen by someone who used to try to buy flights from Madrid (AAAARGH).
  • After an uphill walk with our bags through the dark streets of Barcelona we get to the hotel. It's about 21:00 and we are hengry and tired.
  • The man behind the desk (Alberto) says he will see what he can do and we sit down while Cate and Julie search the internet for anything from five start hotels to youth hostels with no luck. We are beginning to think we will spend the night on the streets.
  • I clear up the HSBC misunderstanding and reactivate my credit card
  • Alberto tells us that he has found us rooms in a hotel 20km's outside of town and they will pay for a taxi and the rooms. He offers us a meal while we wait.
  • After dinner he tells us there was a mistake and the other hotel has no rooms after all. Cate and Julie continue searching the internet
  • Alberto says that there have been a couple of no-shows and if they have not arrived by 23:00 he will call them and see if they are coming. If not we can have their rooms.
  • The no-shows are not coming and the rooms are being cleaned and one of them is being converted into a triple.
  • About midnight we have our rooms and are almost ready to hug Alberto in tears of gratitude. He is sweating and has a headache after 3 of the toughest hours of his career.
  • Stuart discovers that although the hotel bar is closed they have a vending machine that sells beer.
  • The next day our holiday in Barcelona begins it is fab and the sleeper train back to Paris is wonderful.
On our trip we saw the Segrada Familia, Casa Batillo, La Pedrara, Park Guell, The gothic quarter of Barcelona, We also went to the top of the Eiffel Tower (very high indeed) .

I have always hated air travel. I am not afraid of flying even in bad weather but I hate airports that are always full of stress, rushing and security checks followed by sitting on a cramped plane eating vile food and then the same stress at the destination with addition of hoping your luggage is in the same place as you and knowing you are still miles from where you want to be.

When we travelled from Barcelona to Paris we simply placed our bags on an x-ray machine, picked them up and got onto the train. A guy came to our private cabin to check our tickets. We relaxed before heading over to the dining car for a fantastic meal. I had the octopus followed by pork and apple in a mustard sauce accompanied by a very good beer. The food was cooked by a chef and served on china with real glasses and real metal knives and forks on real table linen. We then returned to our cabin to find the beds already made. We could lay in our beds reading a good book while the countryside rolled past the window. We woke up in France the next morning on our way to the centre of Paris with time to reurn to the dining car for breakfast . Because we left in the evening and arrived in the morning we got a great nights sleep and didn't waste any of our holiday time. This was my first journey in a sleeper train (something I have always wanted to do) and I loved the experience. It is more relaxing, more enjoyable, more environmentally friendly and more time effective. Learn more here. The difference in the journey to Barcelona and the journey to Paris really reminded me how much I hate flying.

13 September 2007

Mmmmmm Blood

I just finished giving blood about half an hour ago and can happily await my blue card. Apparently twiddling a juggling ball speeds up my blood flow to 70ml/min. This means it should be possible to completely insanguinate (good word) me in 65 minutes.

They had to get a nurse to find my vein and even she had trouble. The carer said that in another couple of years they will stop sending nurses to the donor sessions at all. However they will be given a new piece of equipment for finding veins by ultrasound.

22 July 2007

Vertical Farms

Approximately 12,000 years ago the human race created one of the most important innovations in history, agriculture. By growing their own food humans were freed from the constant search for food by hunting and gathering. This allowed humanity to get on with the job of creating civilization. Agriculture has come a long way in the last 12,000 years and we have all reaped the benefits. In first world nations we can walk into a shop at any time and be sure of having a large range of fruit, vegetables and meat available.

However conventional farming may not do the job for much longer.
  • By 2050 it is estimated that we will need an additional area of land 20% larger than Brazil to meet the food demands of the increased population.
  • Additional land will be required to grow crops for biofuels to replace oil and coal.
  • Climate change is already causing adverse weather conditions such as drought and flood making crop yealds less reliable.
The increased land use will have a devastating effect on the natural habitats of many species and the human race will still be unable to feed itself. Things look pretty grim. However the vertical farm may be the solution to our problems.

The vertical farm is a concept by Dr. Dickson Despommier of Columbia University, it takes two well established ideas (Hydroponics (growing plants in liquid nutrient solution rather than soil), and indoor farming) and pushes them to their logical conclusion. A vertical farm looks more like a office building than a farm and is powered by solar, wind and self-produced biofuels. Each floor contains 2 layers of hydroponic crops. Depending on the crop this means that at any time each floor can give between 4 and 30 times as much food as the same area of soil. The plants will also act as a water purification system not only for themselves but for the surrounding community. In addition power can also be generated by burning waste plant material. This means that in addition to crops the farm can create a net output of clean water and electricity. It is estimated the 150 of these farms could feed the whole of New York. Vertical farms also have a number of other benefits over conventional farms: -

  • Vertical farms are not effected by droughts, flood or other adverse conditions.
  • Different floors can be simulate different seasons and skip winter allowing an ongoing production of food all year round and multiple harvests per year for each floor.
  • Vertical farms can isolate crops from diseases and pests allowing for easier organic farming.
  • Vertical farms recycle all waste meaning there is no sewage run off.
  • Vertical farms do not use tractors or combine harvesters and can be placed in major population centres where the fodd is needed dramatically reducing the carbon footprint for crop production.
  • Much of the millions of square miles of farmland around the world can be returned to their original wilderness and forest states allowing endangered species a chance at recovery and helping to stabilise the climate.

The task of replacing many conventional farms across the world with vertical farms and returning the existing farmland to nature is a task that could take many decades and be fraught with difficulty (not least of which is what the farms owners would say). However if we have the commitment needed to do it then the benefit to mankind and the natural world could be huge. Vertical farms have potential to help solve our problems with food production, climate change, endangered species and even conficts over resources. More info can be found here, here and here.


It is sometimes the case that a truly simple invention can change the world (The bicycle, the compass, the telegraph). The Lifestraw may be such an idea. The Lifestraw designed by Danish innovator Torben Vestergaard Frandsen is straw shaped personal water purification device that allows a person to drink directly from a contaminated water source. The straw design is incredibly simple: -

  • The straw is made of high impact polystyrene and has a cord to be hung around the neck.
  • When water is sucked through the straw it passes through two meshes (100 micron then 15 micron) this removes particles and even clusters of bacteria.
  • The water then pases through iodine impregnated beads.
  • The water passes into an empty chamber where the iodine can continue to kill bacteria.
  • Finally the water passes through a charcoal filter removing any remaining particles as well as the iodine taste.
A diagram of the Lifestraw can be found here.

The straw costs between £3-4 and is capable of filtering enough water for 1 person for a year. Here is a picture: -

Surprisingly WaterAid have been critical of the device. Their points are as follows: -

  • Lifestraw will not save people the long journeys that are often required to gather water in third world countries.
  • Lifestraw will not provide solutions to sanitation or irrigation.
  • For £15 water aid can supply a person with clean water for life.
I agree with all of these points, Lifestraw is not the final solution to the third world's water problems. But it can still save millions of lives. Half the people in the developing world are sick with a water borne disease which kill over 6000 people every day. I believe that in refugee camps, natural disasters and villages where NGO's such as WaterAid, Oxfam, and Practical Action have yet to complete water projects the Lifestraw can bring immediate relief from water borne diseases. Find out more here.

11 May 2007

The blood is absolutely loads of life

I gave blood again today.

Things went well except that the woman dealng with me decided to cover half my arm in micropore tape. I hate removing micropore from my arm, it hurts no matter how fast you pull it off and you lose all the hair.

On the upside I convinced two friends (Kevin and Roy) to join me for their first time. The both gave successfully and are happy to continue as blood donors. Well done guys.

29 March 2007

Play Pumps

It is not very often that you see a really creative, original and worthwhile idea. It is even less often that child labour in the third world seems like a good thing. Thanks to an organisation called PlayPumps International both of these things have happened at once. The idea of the PlayPump is very simple. A hand operated pump draws water from underground to an 2,500 litre tank 7 metres above ground level from where it is fed to a simple standing tap. If too much water is pumped into the tank the excess flows back down the bore hole.

The idea is simple enough but the clever part is that the pump takes the form of a merry-go-round that children enjoy playing with. The pumps are sited in schools, this means that children who spent much of their time collecting water are now able to get an education. The fact the play pump is so much fun has actually helped encourage children to attend school. Women who also play a major role in collecting water now have more time for family life.

If that wasn't clever enough the water tank is covered with posters that include public health information and commercial advertising, the revenue from which pays for the maintenance of the pump for at least 10 years.

The importance of clean water water in the developing world cannot be overstated. Half the people in the developing world are suffering from water related illness. Also water related illness accounts for 80% sickness in the world.

PlayPumps are doing work that provides real help for a third world communities on many levels. They are also attempting to install 100 pumps in 100 days if you want to help them go here.

Strange Dreams

Every now and then I fall into a strange sleep pattern where I wake up at about four in the morning and then go back to sleep where I have the most detailed, lucid and surreal dreams imaginable. The last one was a couple of weeks ago.

In the dream I was a multi-millionaire and I agreed to help a man start a donkey sanctuary. I told him to take as much money as he needed and left him to it. When I returned the sanctuary was built but had taken the form of a sixteen storey building. The fourth floor was where he had housed the Bengal tigers and the sixth floor contained and advanced system for remote controlling the tropical island of St Lucia which had been modified to allow it to be driven around the West Indies (possibly the whole World).

Unfortunately I woke before finding out if any of the remaining floors actually contained donkeys. Some people think dreams actually have meaning and if this is so then maybe my subconscious is telling me not to leave tasks to other people when I should be involved myself or maybe to be kind to donkeys. It might also be telling me to seize control of St Lucia (that seems more likely).

Anyone wishing to learn more about donkey sanctuary's go here.
Anyone wishing to learn more about Bengal Tigers go here.
Anyone wishing to learn more about St Lucia go here.
Anyone wishing to learn more about weird dreams go here.

That is all.

05 February 2007

My new photograpic career

I recieved an email last weekend from one of the editors of Wikipedia. They had seen one of my photos on flickr and wanted to use it for an article on the Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon ship burial. My photo was of the re-assembled shield fittings and was taken at the British Museum. If your interested you an see the article here. My photo is just under half way through the document and is of a white circular replica of the shield with the original fittings. If you click on the image you will see an enlarged version with my credits underneath.

I know that Wikipedia conatins millions of images from millions of people. However being asked by someone at Wikipedia to allow my picture to be used was quite a thrill. Like most people who write blogs, post images to flickr or videos to YouTube (I do all three), I just do it because I want to share my thoughts or pictures with the world. However it is always a pleasant surprise when someone from a distant part of the world gets back to you and says the saw your post, picture, etc and liked it.

03 January 2007

The blood is even more life.

As anyone who reads my blog (if anyone does) will probably know I became a blood donor about 8 months ago. Unfortunatley my company did not allow people to give blood during working hours or expected them to make up the time. This seemed a little unfair to me and here's why: -

After subtracting public and personal holidays we work about 45 5-day-weeks a year at 7 hours a day. This is 225 days (or 1575 hours) a year. You can only give blood 3 times a year and each donation takes about an hour. This averages out to about 48 seconds per day and saves lives.

Compare this to the 15-20 minutes a day smokers are allowed away from their desks to give themselves cancer and you can probably see my point.

Fortunatley the company I work for is very good at listening to it's staff and I decided to try changing this policy. After a few meetings and a lot of waiting they have finally decided to allow staff time away from work to give blood. I hope that once I everyone knows this then we will have a few more blood donors in the company and save some lives. I might even be able to get some friends to join me the next time I donate

31 December 2006

The true meaning of Christmas

The winter solstice, the darkest time of the year when the days are at their shortest, the nights are at their longest and people are at the furthest point from the last summer and the next. In ancient times people needed to mark this time. It was the point after which each day would be a little longer, a little brighter and one step closer to summer. It was a time when people need some joy, hope and belief that the frozen world would be warm again. Many ancient civilizations had solstice celebrations and legends that accompany them. The Germanic peoples believed that at the solstice Odin would lead a hunting party of gods and the spirits of fallen warriors. Children who placed thier shoes by the chimney filled with straw and carrots for Odin's horse would find them filled with treats the next morning.

Unfortunatley like other pagan celebrations the winter solstice was hijacked by Christianity. and we got Christmas. Christmas has been contantly adapting and we now have the celebrations of today.

I find it shocking that we have gone from a point where people drew together at the darkest time of year in the hope that summer would return to a festival that is centered around high street retailers meeting their end of year profit forecasts. We see stores pushing christmas on us earlier and earlier in an attempt to buy as much as possible. People who have no fear of food shortages or that summer may not return and no belief in the Christian version of Christmas spend time and money preparing for a day that has no meaning other than presents, food and bad television.

I am an athiest and even I find the lack of spirituality and excess of commercialism in this festival very sad. But what really irks me is the fact dispite the fact that for most people Christmas doesn't have a shred of it's original meaning it is still compulsory (even for athiests). Any hint of not joining in turns you into a social pariah. It doesn't seem fair.

However although christmas is past I would like to try a get into the spirit of things.

I hope your grain stocks are plentiful and summer comes again.
Merry Solstice

Finding a new coke dealer pt 2

I would like to apologise to the Coca Cola company for the things I said in my last Coke related post. I accused Coca Cola of : -

  • Hiring paramilitary death squads to murder and torture union members at bottling plants in Colombia.
  • Causing local water shortages in regions of India.
  • Selling lead and cadmium bearing toxic factory byproducts as fertilizer.
  • Selling tap water as mineral water.
  • Cutting donations to schools that fail to sell enough fizzy drinks to their pupils.
  • Creating that awful red and white Santa Claus image.
  • Using 3 litres of water to make every litre of coke.
I would like to say that I have learned that the story of Coca Cola creating the Red and White Santa Claus image is probably an urban myth. However if you want to find out more about the unethical behaviour of Coca Cola as well as other companies you may give your money to click here.

On the up side I have completely broken my Coke addiction now preferring water and fruit juice. I had a couple of cans of diet coke over Christmas and found not only that it tasted a lot worse than I remember but that I felt pretty ill after drinking it. I have no desire to try it agian.

12 December 2006

The blood is still the life

I gave blood again yesterday. After failing to give a full donation on my first visit and having to try both arm on my second visit I was a little nervous. However everything went really well. It seems my right arm s the best for donations and if a nurse can put the needle in then it's better still. I think a lot of donors end up getting a feel for what works for them. I also found that fiddling with a juggling ball can sped up my blood flow by about 3 times!!!. The idea is that moving something around in your hands moves muscles and tendons in the arm which helps blood flow through the veins in that area. The donor carer told me that they used hand out glass rods to fiddle with but had to stop due to fears of cross contamination. I am not sure what makes a glass rod more likely to transfer germs than a donation bed, a chair, the information booklets or anything else that the donors share. However there is no arguing with these things so the next time I go I will take my own juggling ball.

I also arrived on the day the NBS team recieved their award for "Most improved team in London". Many members of the team said they would have prefered a better name for the award. It does sound like they used to be awful (which I can say is not at all true). The award had the upside of lots of celebratory snacks which the team were happy to share. The award also had the downside of being presented by a man in a Billy Blood Drop costume. I have snowboarded, zorbed and bungy jumped, but I never knew fear until coming face to face with a grinning six foot tall mound of blood. AAAAAAAAARGH

05 October 2006

Humorous announcements

Heard over the PA at Padington station today: -

"Would customers please be aware that the floors at Paddington station are wet and slippery, this is due to the the large quantity of water falling from the skies."

10 September 2006

Words of wisdom pt 2

Here is a brief lesson that life has just taught me: -

If you mix Cillit Bang, Cif Oxy Gel, Fairy Power Spray and Detol Multi-Action spray in order to clean stubborn bathroom tiles then wear gloves (or better yet do't do it.)

As I type this my entire body is covered in blotches, lumps and blisters. It is not nice

04 September 2006

Finding a new coke dealer

I have decided to stop drinking products from Coca Cola. The reasons are two fold. Firstly that much diet coke cannot be good for me and I think I was developing a mild caffeine addiction. Secondly I have learned about some of the things the coca cola corporation, it's affiliates and contractors have done. These include: -

  • Hiring paramilitary death squads to murder and torture union members at bottling plants in Colombia.
  • Causing local water shortages in regions of India.
  • Selling lead and cadmium bearing toxic factory byproducts as fertilizer.
  • Selling tap water as mineral water.
  • Cutting donations to schools that fail to sell enough fizzy drinks to their pupils.
  • Creating that awful red and white Santa Claus image.
  • Using 3 litres of water to make every litre of coke.
I have to say that giving up drinking the products made by Coca Cola has proved a bit of a wrench but a friend has introduced me to Whole Earth Organic Cola and it certainly helping. Whole Earth Cola contains all natural ingredients and doesn't taste bad. Unfortunately it is not helping my caffeine cravings.

If Coca Cola can demonstrate any of the above fact are incorrect I will happily correct them.

19 August 2006

Religious rantings

I am an atheist who is about to try to voice some views on religion (please hold tight and don't lean out of the vehicle).

World events always evoke a lot of discussion and opinion and the events of the last few years have been more evocative than most. The subject of religion in conflicts has repeatedly come up as many people claim their beliefs give them rights or moral superiority. It seems that God's primary occupation is being asked to take sides in wars and then justifying the slaughter that results from them.

The US president and UK prime minister claim to be devout Christians but declared war on Iraq based on false evidence and then gave away Iraqi resources to western companies (in breach of 4 biblical commandments and the UN charter). Many Islamic states have claimed that this is a crusade against Islam and the cry has been taken up by suicide bombers. Some of these states have denied that Israel has a right to exist. Israel in turn have used religious doctrine to claim a right to their holy land and commit brutal acts against the Palestinians.

On the smaller stage many people have used their religion as a focus to perform acts of extreme compassion and bravery, others use religion as a platform of smug superiority where they can stand without a trace of human decency and others still use it as a stick of authority to force others to conform to their belief or will. Many people who claim to be religious choose not to be led by the doctrine and rules of their religion but rather to do what they want and interpret the doctrine in such a way as to justify this.

Contrary to the impression I may have given although I am an atheist I try to have total respect for all religions but here is what I believe: -

  • Although a persons religion is sacred to them it is worth remembering it does not have to be sacred to others.
  • Compassion, courage, sympathy, generosity, tolerance and ethical strength make people good, religion simply makes them religious.

Man's humanity to man

I installed the Ubuntu Linux distro on my machine today (Ubuntu is an African word meaning "Man's humanity to man"). As a software developer and tester for Windows based software I have to use Windows all the time. Because of this and the fact that it took me a week to set my machine up the way I like it I didn't remove Windows. Instead I set Ubuntu up in a virtual machine. I have a lot a friends who are dedicated Linux users and like most of their kind they divide their time between declaring Linux to be the single greatest thing that man has ever done and pouring red hot scorn and contempt on anything created by Microsoft. They may have a point. I have tried to get into Linux a few times but never really gave it the time or effort it deserved. The last time I tried it was a long time ago and Linux was a lot less friendly for those with a Windows background but things have changed. Hopefully this time will be different. Who knows I may even join the other side.

I also made few updates to the front page and links page of my homepage.

13 August 2006

The roots of hatred

I have just watched Shooting Dogs. The film covers the true events of a school caught up in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. During the genocide that lasted from April to July over 800,000 Tutsis were massacred by Hutu extremeists. The school (L'Ecole Technique Officielle) became a refuge for over 2500 local Tutsi people because UN peace keepers were stationed there and seemed to offer protection. The title of the film refers to the action or rather inaction of the UN peace keeping forces. The UN mandate did not allow the UN forces to fire on the Hutu extremists that were camped outside the school with guns and machetes screaming for blood unless they were fired upon first. They were not able to act to defend Tutsis in the surrounding area. However they were able to shoot the dogs that were feeding on the bodies of killed Tutsis and therby posing a health risk.

Shooting Dogs covers a small slice of what is one of the worst attrocities of the later half of the 20th century and shows the UN's inability and unwillingness to do anything to prevent it. The film was filmed in the actual locations were the events happened and many of the production crew roles and smaller parts were filled by survivors of the massacre. Much more information can be found here

During the genocide people who had lived side by side went from being neighbours to a relationship of murderer and victim. I feel that this brutal and tragic twist in the human spirit is not as uncommon as we like to imagine. The human race has the ability to split the world into two halves and does this at almost every opportunity. Those halves can be male & female, rich & poor, black & white, gay & straight, christian & muslim, faithful & godless, rational & crazed, group A & group B. However it ultimatley comes down to the very simple idea of "Us & Them". Once we have taken a group of people and seperated them into the group called "Them" it allows us to abdicate moral responsibility for participating or being complicit in the most brutal and barbaric acts: inequality, bigotry, hatred, murder, torture, imprisonment, starvation, genocide, ethnic cleansing, terrorism, apartheid, war. The list is as long as the human imagination chooses to make it. I believe this driving instinct to break the world into "Us & Them" has caused and enabled us to heap more misery and suffering on ourselves than anything else.

I think there must be something terribly wrong with us.

Simple technology for a better world

I studied engineering at university and now work in the IT industry. Some people might think that this would make me a fan of advanced technology. In all fairness they would be correct, I have a very fast PC, a mobile phone, MP3 player and even a GPS. However I am also a fan of appropriate technology. By this I mean technical solutions that are no more advanced than they need to be. This philosophy can best be summed up by two well known sayings: -

      1. The right tool for the right job.

      2. If it's not broke, don't fix it.

Why put nails in a piece of wood with the nail-o-matic ultra 4000 when a hammer is cheaper, simpler, doesn't require batteries and if properly cared for can last a lifetime? I suppose this does tie in with my time studying engineering. Engineers like to solve problems and they usually like their solutions to be simple and elegant.

It is when market forces come into play that technology is driven forward further than is really required. I want a phone that can make calls, send text messages and has a decent battery life. As a consumer, phone manufacturers want me to be able to stream TV clips over 3G networks because if I don't they won't be able to sell me their new phone. These market forces have given us a population desperate to buy gadgets that will only have 5% of their features used.

But what about people who can in no way be called consumers. People in the developing world are among the most vulnerable in the world. For people whose main concern is getting clean water and a steady supply of food appropriate technology can have a profound effect on their lives. It can help them solve problems such as transport, agriculture, home building, energy, water supply and purification. It can help them create successful and profitable industries. Because the technology is simple it is reliable and can easily be maintained, improved and replicated by local people using locally available materials. It doesn't need to be complicated, it just needs to work and it certainly never needs to be able to stream TV clips over 3G networks.

One charity that has done incredible work in this area is WaterAid. WaterAid works in 17 countries across Africa and Asia. When they come to a village they help local people design and install clean water supplies and sanitation, they also teach those people all they need to know to maintain these systems as well as the importance and application of proper hygiene. Having a clean water supply can lead to incredible changes for a village. Women and children who had to walk for miles every day to collect water now have their time freed up for other things. This means more time for family life, education, work on other areas that improve their financial wellbeing. Clean local water supplies and sanitation also dramatically reduce health issues related to water-related diseases. WateAid have helped some of the 1 billion people in the world who do not have access to clean water.

I used to walk past a bookshop on my way to work. It was called "The Intermediate Technology Bookshop". The books in the window fascinated me, they covered such topics as wind energy, water purification, solar cookers, human and animal powered transport, hut building, agriculture and international trade on a small scale. If an asteroid hit us and civilization went back to the stone age this shop would tell the lucky finder everything they needed to know to pick up the pieces and start again. The shop closed (perhaps I should have gone inside and actually bought something) to be replaced by a down-market Italian restaurant which also closed to be replaced by an empty shop.

Fortunately the shop was just one part of the Intermediate Technology Development Group who have renamed themselves to Practical Action (Their site is even more fascinating than the bookshop was). Practical Action are a charity that design and implement a range of solutions to problems faced by people in developing nations around the world. They also make many of their designs freely available online along with a host of technical information. Go on, try making some of them, I dare you. Practical Action have provided such life changing solutions as: -

      • Solar powered cookers.

      • Improved wood burning stoves that require less fuel and produce less smoke (Excess levels of cooking smoke kills 1.5 million people a year.).

      • Gravity powered rope ways in Nepal.

      • Composting toilets.

      • Wind and hand powered water pumps.

      • Bicycle trailers and bicycle ambulances.

      • Small scale electricity generation from wind, hydro, and biogas.

      • Solar water distillation.

Practical Action was founded by a guy called E.F. Schumacher, an economist who wrote a book called "small is beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered" The book suggested that the current economic model of profit and progress that leads to large corporations was damaging both the environment and the developing world. It is hard to watch the news without at least considering that he might have had a point. Schumacher attempted to befriend tree-hugging hippies and scruffy communists alike by suggesting that a better way for man to move forward is the use of intermediate technology based on communal ownership and regional workplaces using local materials. When he published the book 33 years ago it caused a sensation and although the developed world clearly didn't pay that much attention the methods he described are being used by people through the developing world (aided by many fine NGO's) to create improved resilience, prosperity and quality of life for themselves. It can put the lives and futures of people across the world into their own hands. It can help make a better world.

08 August 2006

50 films to see before you die

Channel 4 recently showed a programme called 50 films to see before you die. It was yet another one of the countdown shows that has insidiously worked it's way on to our screens by being cheap and requiring very little creative thought to make. Unfortunately these shows contain some sort of secret chemical that makes them addictive. This means they will force otherwise rational people into spending three hours of their lives finding out what the 250 most shocking moments in a soap opera were.

I found that I disagreed with most of the choices and decided to compile my own list. I have to say as the list filled up it became increasingly difficult to decide which films to include and even worse which films to leave out. I also found the list kept changing as I thought of films that were more deserving of a place. This is my (possibly)final list (in alphabetical order): -

12 Monkeys
2001: A Space Odyssey
Apocalypse Now
Apollo 13
The Big Lebowski
Blade Runner (Original Cut)
Blazing Saddles
Donnie Darko
Enemy At The Gates
The Exorcist
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
Fight Club
The Fisher King
Forrest Gump
The Green Mile
The House Of Flying Daggers
Interview With The Vampire
It's A Wonderful Life
The Italian Job
Kill Bill (1 & 2)
Life Of Brian
The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy
Lord Of War
National Lampoons Animal House
Natural Born Killers
Oh Brother Where Art Thou
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
Pulp Fiction
The Rock
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Run Lola Run
Seven Samurai
Seven Years In Tibet
The Shawshank Redemption
The Shining
Shooting Dogs
The Silence Of The Lambs
Sin City
Spirited Away
Time Bandits
The Truman Show

05 August 2006

Words of wisdom

A conversation with a friend reminded me of a piece of wisdom that life taught me a few years ago and that I now want to share with you all.

If you are going to drink so excessively that you are violently sick, don't do it while wearing sandals.

04 August 2006

The blood is the life

Prompted by my friend's premature baby (see Jamie and Tom) and my mum's constant nagging I decided to start giving blood. The first time I went was 3 months ago and I was amazed at the high level of precautions taken to ensure the well being of the donors and the safety of the donations. I was also disappointed that the needle slipped and I was only able to give half a bag which is at least enough for lab use.

The second time I went was yesterday and I thought I was going to fail again. I flinched as the needle went in and they were forced to remove the needle and could not use that arm again in that session. I also acquired a fantastic bruise (shown below). They wanted to give up but I was so desperate to give my first full donation that I insisted. They swapped arms, made me sign a new set of consent forms, got a new bag and called in their senior donor carer who apparently has 20 years of being a nurse and sticking needles in people. 10 minutes and no discomfort later I had given a lovely fresh pint of O+. Hooray.

One of the frightening facts about blood donations is that the stocks of blood are always so low. At the time of writing the national blood service has only enough O+ to last 3.8 days. Without sufficient stocks of blood care of serious injuries at A&E units as well as many operations would be impossible. Yet only 5-6% of people who are eligible to give blood actually do so. I am ashamed that I took so long to start giving blood and fully intend to continue for as long as I can.

Btw the people at donation centers are always as friendly and helpful as possible. Donors are volunteering their time and effort and this is very much appreciated. I urge anyone reading this who can give blood and doesn't to at least consider becoming a donor. The National Blood Service have a great web site with lots of info. Now for the bruise (which doesn't hurt at all).

31 July 2006

V For Vendetta

I recieved my copy of V for Vendetta on DVD today and cannot wait to see it. The film (like the graphic novel it is based on) paints a bleak distopian view of Britain under the heel of a fascist government. In both versions the fascists came to power after promising safety, security and prosperity during a period of global chaos. They then go on to perform a vast range of human rights abuses and create surveillance state where draconian laws are enforced by a brutal police force. The main protagonist (a mysterious man in a Guy Fawkes mask going by the name "V") proceeds to overthrow the government through a series of well plannned explosions, murders and public announcements.

The novel by Alan Moore was originally written during the Thatcher years. However the themes covered in the story are probably more relevant now than at any time in the past 50 years. We are in a period in history when the percieved threats of war and terrorism are being used to strip away our freedoms one by one. Guantanamo Bay, UK ID cards, The prevention of terrorism bill, The patriot act. The list goes on.

The government claimed that the prevention of terrorism bill would protect us from terrorists by giving police the ability to detain suspects for extended periods without trial based on suspicion of terrorist activities. This act was used to detain Walter Wolfgang, an 82 year old Labour Party member who heckled Jack Straw at a Labour Party conference. The same legislation was used to prosecute Maya Anne Evans who stood near Downing street reciting the names of British soldiers killed in Iraq.

Fear is a powerful means of controling a population because a fearful people will let a government do a great deal to make them feel safe. Unfortunatley once we have sold our freedoms to buy the illusion of security we may find that the price was far too high and we cannot get a refund.

I would rather be free than safe.

30 July 2006

Learning to love the train

Like many British people I loathe commuting to work by train. The reason for this is simply that railways in Britain are some of the worst run, unreliable and over-crowded services that the human race has ever had the nerve to create (I may rant on this subject again in the future.).

That said I find a long journey on an uncrowded train a really pleasant and relaxing experience. You can sit back and read, listen to music, sleep or simply watch the scenery roll past. Although trains are not as fast as aircraft they offer a far better experience. I have traveled by plane many times and although I have no fear of flying I have learned to hate the experience; rushing to the airport to make the baggage check-in, security checks and passport controls followed by sitting for hours in a rumbly metal tube with no leg-room. Once you reach your destination you have more security and passport checks followed by the possibility that your luggage went somewhere else and the fact that the airport is miles from where you want to be.

Train travel to some parts of the world is difficult or impossible However trains can get you to far more places than most people would believe. A site is called "The man in seat 61" gives vast amounts of info on how to travel from the UK to places all across Europe and the rest of the world by train and ship. There are lots or reasons to avoid flying: -

  • It creates a lot of pollution.
  • Some people are afraid of flying (although it is very safe).
  • Some people feel the journey is as important as the destination and an adventure in it's own right.
  • The awful experience of air travel I have already outlined above.
If you have to fly and are wracked with guilt over the pollution created to to get you where you were going you could try carbon offsetting. Some companies will plant and maintain trees for you. They will even calculate how many trees are required to absorb the carbon created by your journey (or household utilities). Some companies will offset carbon use through a range of different project. All they ask in return is that you give them your money.

Two such companies are: -


The CarbonNeutral Company
(They take part in various carbon reduction schemes and also sell a range of environmentally friendly gifts and gadgets.)

I am going to try to use the train for as much international travel as I can (certainly all travel to Europe). if more people did this rather than forcing themselves through the misery of air travel the world would be a cleaner and happier place and maybe we can once again learn to love the train.

27 July 2006


I remember the first time I used the internet (or at least the World Wide Web). It was 1993 and I was at university studying for my engineering degree. I downloaded a picture of a dalek, the picture was not very good and it took about half an hour. I can only begin to describe the excitement I felt. The internet was full of promise; it would let people share their thoughts, ideas, feelings and troubles with the world and by doing so we would all be brought closer together. It was a new fresh frontier that would not obey the old rules and it could not help but empower ordinary people. Sitting in front of the screen looking at the dalek felt like the start of something incredible, like watching the first few pebbles move and knowing that an avalanche is not far behind.

It is now 13 years later and to be fair the internet has lived up to most of my dreams and in many cases surpassed my wildest imaginings (I certainly never saw eBay, Amazon, Google Earth or Flickr coming). However there have also been some bitter disappointments. I watched as the internet bowed inevitably to the rules of established economics and politics as governments and corporations started to notice this new creation. It started in simple ways with pay for use services and adverts included on pages. The realist in me knew that the only way for the internet to move forward was for large companies to be involved and they would only do so if there was money to be made. The romantic idealist in me felt like he was watching a newly discovered rainforest get bulldozed to build a shopping centre.

The one dream that I though was holding true was the empowerment of ordinary people. At first glance it seems ok, I am sitting here writing a blog and sharing my photos on flickr, I can use email and websites to contact my politicians find out what my local and central government is up to and protest if I feel the need to. I can contact likeminded people and join with them in common cause. The internet has given us a voice and when we make the effort that voice can be very loud. However we are the lucky ones there are many countries where the new electronic frontier comes to sudden stop. In these countries speaking your mind online is just as dangerous as speaking it anywhere else. Governments with a history of repression have extended their grip to the internet and many major IT corporations have been happy to help.

Criticizing the government, exposing human rights abuses or calling for democracy has led many internet users to be imprisoned or persecuted by their governments. China, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia are amongst the countries where this has happened. The governments of these countries have been aided by major western IT companies who have contructed filtering systems to aid censorship, shut down websites and handed over email addresses and other personal information belonging to people who have been wrongly imprisoned as a result

Amnesty International
has launched a new campaign called irrepressible.info to put pressure on companies and governments to stop political repression on the internet. From the site you can sign their petition and link your blog (if you have one) to their site and undermine censorship by displaying fragments of blogs that someone in power somewhere in the world never wanted to be read.

I honestly believe that this is a cause worth supporting. That romantic idealist in me feels that maybe if enough people take action then the internet can become the incredible tool for freedom of thought and expression that it looked like becoming 13 years ago.

09 July 2006

Airships of the future

I know this is a bit of an odd topic but I think airships are pretty impressive. We live in a world of increasing environmental concern and one of the largest causes of pollution is jet aircraft. The good thing about jet aircraft is they are really fast. However lots of people don't need fast, in which case jet aircraft are loud, polluting and expensive. I have often thought that for cargo and passenger transport airships are seriously under used.

Imagine that you have a cargo that you want to get to a location on the far side of the world but you don't mind it taking a few days to get there. An airship could take it right to the location of your choice even if there is no airstrip (even in the middle of the ocean). The envelope could be covered in enough solar cells to run the motors by day and charge the batteries to keep it going through the night. Using GPS and satellite comms would allow it to arrive unmanned to it's destination while avoiding restricted airspace and bad weather and letting you track it's location or control it remotely if required. Helium filled airships are very tough (even shrugging off bullet holes) they can deliver goods and aid to the harshest environments on Earth. Cheap, clean, safe and convenient.

But what about passengers? Many people take holidays in which the journey is as much a part of the event as the destinations (think about cruises). How about a cruise where you look out of the window to see clouds and hills rolling past below you instead of miles of featureless ocean. Also such cruises could take place anywhere not just to coastal locations.

Airships can also play a roll in communications. How much money is spent and pollution created launching a communication satellite into orbit? A solar powered airship equipped with GPS can be told to sit at location over 65,000 feet above the ground and hold that position for years on end relaying signals from the ground and aircraft. It can then be told to return home for maintenance and upgrades.

I have often thought about this and wondered why we don't use these things more often. Was no one else thinking like me? Of course they were, lots of companies are looking at airships now and lots of projects are already in place. such as: -

World Skycat

21st Century Airships


Sanswire Networks LLC

It would be nice to think that in a few years the sight of airships gliding silently and cleanly across the world carrying people, cargo and humanitarian aid will be a common one.

Knotty problems

Yesterday I met with friends for a meal at Soho Spice, a nice little indian resteraunt in Wardour Street London. The service and food were pretty good and I would recommend it. We then headed off to Regent's Park where I attempted to teach them some basic knots (with mixed success). I am still not sure why I was aked to do this (and maybe it's best that I don't ask), but fun was had by all.

Afterwards we strolled round Regent's Park taking a few pictures and admiring the scenery. I am always surprised by the way the parks in London can make you feel like you are so far away from the traffic, pollution and noise of the city. Suresh also claims to have seen David Schwimmer but I alas did not. Here are some pics (without celebrities).

06 July 2006

Welcome one and all

I have finally decided to start a blog to record and share any thoughts, ideas and ramblings that I deem worthwhile. Maybe it will be interesting, maybe it will find a theme or subject, maybe I will get bored very quickly and stop posting. Let's find out.