Thursday, May 28, 2015

Vinyl log 11 - 28 May

DayMonthYearArtistTitle
28May1976Richard Thompson(guitar, vocal)
28May1976FairportGottle o' geer

Whilst I remember buying the Richard Thompson double vinyl album, I seem to have blanked on the Fairport album, which is not too surprising.

In May 1976, I would have returned to university after having worked for six months in the food industry (Schweppe's). I recall spending part of my lunch breaks wandering around the small shopping centre in the Elephant and Castle district of London, which was close by. I would often go to a greengrocer and buy a pear; there was a shop which sold records (I think that it was a branch of W.H. Smith and Sons) and I would browse the racks.

I don't remember whether I knew that this album had been released, or whether finding it was a happy surprise. Which every way, it was a very welcome addition to the RT canon: it contained bits and pieces from earlier days (especially 'Ballad of Easy Rider' and 'Poor Will and the hangman', two excellent Fairport tracks) alongside two very long guitar workouts from the November 1975 tour. I don't think that I knew at the time that this album signalled RT's temporary retirement from music, as he went off to a Sufi commune in Norfolk.

Fairport (having temporarily lost the Convention part of their name) were in their second nadir,  after 1972. Then they rebounded with 'Rosie', which is part Swarbrick solo album and part left overs from Fotheringay; the result varies from reasonable to charming. But this time round, their final Island album was a waste of vinyl. There were maybe two interesting tracks on the album, but it was not something which I enjoyed listening to.

The sleeve features a six piece Fairport line up which toured briefly but never recorded - certainly they did not play on this record. I actually saw this line up in Southend at a day long festival. I remember riding there and back much more distinctly than the concert itself: I was nearly in an accident whilst riding there. In the evening, it rained; it took me two hours to drive back to London and due to the rain and cold, I "froze" into position on the motorbike. Someone had to help me get off the bike and thaw out. I remember going round a roundabout two or three times as I couldn't figure out which exit I needed.



While I was in Italy, the anniversary of a few record purchases flew by. I'll try and fill in the logs in the coming week.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Venice log 4 - Waiting

This is the entry that shouldn't be.

We got up this morning at 5:30am, had breakfast, cleaned up then went to the vaporetti stop at Redentore. Because it was raining, I couldn't take two suitcases at the same time whilst holding an umbrella, so I had to make two trips. A number 2 vapo came in time which took us to Zattere, where there was a blue line vapo waiting to take us to the airport. This part of the trip took about an hour. It turns out that the blue line terminus is at least one kilometre from the airport; some of that distance is covered but some is not, so I (and the suitcases) got quite wet. Fortunately, I found a trolley along the way which helped.

Marco Polo airport in Venice was packed this Saturday morning. We got there at 10:00 am which seemed early enough for our 12:10pm departure. After queuing in the correct queue, we were told that there were no tickets for us: our original return flight from Florence was still in the computer. After a hurried phone call to our travel agent in Israel (fortunately she is a freelancer who answers the phone on a Saturday morning, otherwise we would have been in real trouble), it turns out that she made reservations for us to return from Venice today but apparently did not actually order the tickets.

A tense fifteen minutes passed in which she bought new tickets for us; our names now appeared in Alitalia's computer and we were issued tickets for the flight to Rome, and from there to Tel Aviv. After passing though security and finding our gate, we discovered that the flight from Venice to Rome had been delayed from 12:10 to 12:45pm.

Once on the plane, we were then informed that we had missed our take off slot and so we would be leaving at 13:15 or thereabouts. The flight was uneventful but again, there were delays getting off the plane. We landed after boarding to our flight to Tel Aviv had already commenced (about 3pm). From the local arrival lounge, we had to get to gate G10 which so far away and in another building that there is a bus which takes people there. Once in terminal G, we raced to find our gate only to find the gate abandoned; the plane was already taxiing for take-off (this may be over-dramatic; the plane may have already have taken off).

It turns out that we were not the only people in the same position: there were at least three others from our flight who are continuing to Tel Aviv and possibly other people may also have missed their connecting flights. As this is Alitalia's problem, it is also their responsibility to get it sorted; we have tickets for a flight leaving at about 10pm. So even though this time I specifically requested not to return on a night flight, fate thought differently. I can confidently expect a night of restless legs. At least we were given a voucher with which we can buy some food later - a sandwich and a drink.

So, here I am in the restaurant of Rome airport terminal G, drinking tea and typing these notes, waiting for a flight whose check in will begin in another five hours!  We did nothing wrong today: we made an effort and arrived in good time at the airport. But our travel agent and the airline let us down. Unfortunately there is no way to get any form of compensation. Fortunately, tonight and tomorrow is the harvest festival in Israel, so tomorrow will not use another day of holiday.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Venice log 3 - Raining

The programme today was to travel to Burano, isle of lace. We have fond memories of this island where we spent a few hours during our 2001 trip to Italy; we sailed there from St Mark's at 11am precisely, the hour at which (according to our guide) Venice gets overrun by tourists. Then we had good weather, but in keeping with the past few days, today it drizzled all day long.

How to get to Burano from Giudecca? The 4.1 vaporetto leaves Redentore and travels all around the main island to Fondamente Nove; here one changes for the number 12 vaporetto-style boat which runs to the islands Murano, Torcello, Mazzorbo, Burano, Treporti and Punta Sabbioni. Using public transportation to get to these islands is far cheaper than guided tours as basically it is free (we have a 72 hour ticket, so the marginal cost of each trip is zero). 

The 4.1 (and 4.2, 5.1 and 5.2) is a circular line which travels around the outside of Venice without touching the Grand Canal and so is more for residents than locals. Indeed, I couldn't understand why many people boarded at Palanca (the stop after ours) with shopping trolleys; only when they alighted at the final Giudecca stop, Sacca Fisola, did the reason become clear: they used the vaporetto to do their shopping at the co-op near Palanca, and instead of walking back (which may be impossible as there is at least one canal which chops Giudecca in half), they take the vaporetto home.

Whilst we were on the various boats, the rain of course did not bother us, but it did interfere mightily when we touched down at Burano. I hope that I can be excused for saying that this is mainly an island for women; there are two kinds of establishment on the island, restaurants and shops selling handmade ladies' garments in lace and cotton. Had it not been raining, I could have found a quiet corner and read my Kindle whilst my wife browsed, but as it was, I had to move unhappily from shop to shop, trying to keep out of the puddles.

For lunch, I chose a restaurant which was off the main street and seemed deserted (excuse the lame pun). It turned out that the restaurant was full and that we had to wait for a table. In retrospect, I wish we hadn't waited and had gone somewhere else as I didn't enjoy the meal at all. Surprisingly, the menu included grilled sole, which I ordered along with grilled vegetables. We thought that we ordered two portions of sole, but only one arrived - we had to wait for another to be cooked. Although the sole looked large, it wasn't substantial. The grilled vegetables were served cold - I thought that they would be hot. We also ordered tea with cold milk which tasted strange; I think that we were served UHT milk. To make things worse, the bill came to 48.50 euro, which is nearly the same as what we paid for an excellent lunch a few days ago in sunny Monterosso. I suppose that one can't win them all.

After a bit more trudging around in the rain, we made our way back to the boat station. Here, quite a crowd had accumulated so the boat ride back was very crowded. Once back at Fondamente Nove, there came almost immediately a boat which took us home via the rest of the circle so again we saw places that most tourists would not. This boat was extremely small and it was some time before I had a seat. The eponymous Jeff of yesterday's novel would have felt at home on this ride as he was in Venice for the Biennale arts festival which is held at Giardini, one of the stops on this section of the route.

Back to our residence: off with wet shoes, wet socks and wet trousers. After drinking several cups of hot tea (made with the right kind of tea bag and milk), I began to feel much better.

Over the past few days, I've been working on the movie of this trip to Italy. Every day I have been uploading the clips filmed during the day and converting them to WMV. I pasted them roughly into a new film project but yesterday evening I devoted a few hours to grouping and editing them into a final form. Today I completed the Venetian part of the film and it seems complete at a touch under an hour. As opposed to the Sorrento film, I have included a few stills and have learnt how to add subtitles to clips. I was quite ruthless in deleting clips which didn't add value - I used only about half of the footage which I recorded in the Uffizi, in Siena and San Gimignano. I managed to salvage about thirty seconds of usable footage from the Segway trip and included about a minute of my SEMS talk.

I haven't given much thought yet to the music. I know that the Venetian sections should probably have Vivaldi and that Florence should have Renaissance music, but that's about it. There is a little footage of someone in a gondola serenading tourists with 'Volare'; unfortunately his singing was drowned out by bells which started ringing just as he started singing. I'll have to dub in the tune.

Tomorrow morning we return home. I've just checked how to get to the airport from Giudecca. Starting from Redentore, we cross the canal to Zattere then buy tickets for the Blue line Alilaguna boat, which runs to the airport. With some luck, we'll catch the boat leaving at 8:40 which arrives at 10:10, but it's more likely that we'll travel half an hour later. Our plane from Venice to Rome leaves at 12:10pm, then from Rome to Tel Aviv at 3:30pm.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Venice log 2 - Walking

Once again I awoke far too early this morning, so I quickly got dressed (my clothes and shoes had dried overnight) then went out to film the waterfront of Giudecca. There weren't many people about at this time which made my job easier. The island is very narrow, at least where we are staying; one can walk from one side to the other in about three minutes.

After having a leisurely breakfast in our luxury apartment, we set off for the main island. From our local vaporetto stop, we took the number 2 bus to San Marco then joined the thousands wandering around the plaza. From there, we walked slowly through the alleyways until we came to the Rialto bridge. Unfortunately, the bridge today doesn't look like the picture on the left, which was taken in 2011. The left hand side is being renovated, so the facade is covered with a huge picture of what the bridge should look like. 

We came from the right hand side of the picture, crossed the bridge then wandered around on the left hand side. The canal side is packed with restaurants, all of which are probably serving the same food at the same price (I joked that there is one huge central kitchen which cooks for them all). That price is fairly expensive - and Lemon Soda costs 4.50 euro here as opposed to 3.00 in Florence and Monterosso - and they charge 12% service as opposed to 10% elsewhere in Italy.

After lunch, we went back over the bridge to the vaporetti stop which is on the right hand side; there I intended to take the number 2 bus (yet again) to the Accademia stop. Not being too familiar with the buses and which stop goes where, we ended up going the wrong way, back to the train station. It should be said that at least we had not seen this section of the grand canal before. Once at the train station, we got off then found the correct stop for the number 2 going the other way; unfortunately, the first vaporetto only took us back to Rialto. Here we got off (no choice in the matter) and found the correct stop for Accademia. Eventually we got to where we wanted to go.

Why Accademia? Because this is the closest stop to the Guggenheim Collection. Whilst some of the paintings on display were excellent (Picasso, Magritte, Ernst, Kandinsky, Braque, Chagall, Klee), there were also some which were dire and could have been done by school children. I was dismayed to discover that there was only one painting each by the above (as Max Ernst was Guggenheim's husband, there were a few of his and maybe two by Picasso), but that there was a special exhibition of paintings by Charles Pollock which explain why modern art often has a bad name. 

There were also more than a few paintings by his younger and more famous brother, Jackson Pollock. I am reminded of the scene in Woody Allen's "Play it again, Sam", where early on in the film, Allen goes to an art museum to pick up girls. He sees one who is staring at a JP and says "That's a nice Jackson Pollock. What does it say to you?". The girl answers in a monotone voice that it speaks of nihilism and the end of the world. Allen then asks what she is doing on Saturday night; "committing suicide" is the answer. Allen then asks what she's doing on Friday night; the girl looks at him then gets up and walks away.

Items in the museum shop were very expensive so we didn't buy anything.

After the museum, I saw that instead of returning to the Accademia stop and having a long ride back to Giudecca, we could walk slightly more to the Zattere stop which is on the 'outer' side of Dorsoduro and directly across the channel from Guidecca. Forewarned, I found the correct stop; when the vaporetto came, it cut immediately across the water to the Palanca stop, then continued for a few minutes to our stop, Redentore.

We went into the supermarket to buy a few more items: a big mistake as when we came out, the weather had changed. After being cool but dry all day, there was a sudden thunderstorm and the rain was bucketing down. Even though we had umbrellas, we still got very wet on the short walk back from the shop to the flat. My poor new Florentine shoes: they got soaked yesterday (twice), dried out overnight, then got soaked again today.

Of course, after we finished eating the hot minestrone which I purchased in the supermarket, the rain stopped and the sun came out again. Somehow I doubt that we will follow my tentative plan of going across to San Marco again this evening.

My balance problems have come to haunt me: I am sitting at a table and writing this, but inside I feel as if I am swaying from side to side, up and down, as if I am still on a boat. The currents in the grand canal are probably very weak, but they are strong on the Giudecca canal.

At the moment I am reading "Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi" by Geoff Dyer; I think that I originally found this book because Dyer mentioned Van der Graaf Generator in one of his books. This book is divided into two: "Jeff in Venice" tells the tale of a hack writer who spends a hedonistic weekend in Venice. Reading it this morning, I saw that Jeff goes to a party on Giudecca, probably not far from where we are staying. I didn't get very far with the second half of the book; maybe this time will be easier. Anyway, however much I follow in Jeff's footsteps, I won't be adopting his regime of too much drink, sex and drugs.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Venice log 1 - Arriving

Today's motto is: the longer the distance, the easier it is.

Apart from walking to the train station (which doesn't count), the longest distance today was traveling from Florence to Venice; this was accomplished very easily. The trip from the train station to our local vaporetti stop, Redentore, was ok, although problematic at first. The shortest distance was from the stop to where we are staying: a walk of 200 metres became extremely difficult because of the heavy rain.

So: after doing the laundry in a launderette behind the hotel in Florence, we checked out and walked to the station. I tried to buy tickets for the 11:30 train to Venice, but that train was sold out. There were no second class tickets available for the 12:15 train either, but this time I realised that it might be better to travel first class, with reserved seats and more room for luggage. The train was one of the fast and sleek ones: no compartments for first class. We did have a waiter who walked up and down the carriage offering soft drinks and coffee (I had some orange juice at one stage). I paid 63 euro instead of 45 euro, but I think that this time it was justified. As it happens, I suffered badly from restless leg syndrome on the train back from Monterosso and I didn't fancy going through that again - although normally this strikes only in the evening or night. The weather was fine.

When we got to Venice, it took a bit of time to get orientated, then I bought 3 day tickets for public transport. We waited about 20 minutes in air which was getting steadily more humid for the number 2 vaporetto. The ride took about half an hour, during which heavy rain began to fall. When we arrived at our stop, there was no option but to walk through that heavy rain. I got fairly wet, as did my shoes.

After we arrived at what turns out to be a fairly luxurious apartment, it was my job to go to the supermarket. This is between the apartment and the boat stop, so it isn't that far away. Unfortunately, the rain was still falling quite heavily on the way there, although it had stopped by the time I left. Now it's raining lightly.

This rain is going to make quite a dent in our plans - and it's due to last until Saturday, which is when of course we return home.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Florence log 5 - Monterosso

Last year, when we were coming back from Sicily, we had a long chat with one of the ground staff from Alitalia in Rome airport whilst waiting for our flight to Israel. This came about partially because there was no one else there and partially because she has a friend in Bet Shemesh - she recognised this name in my wife's Israeli passport. There have been stranger connections.

Anyway, she recommended that we visit an area called Cinque Terre in North East Italy. This looked interesting when we looked at it, but its location seemed problematic. Even when I knew that I would be coming to Florence, it seemed almost impossible to get to. There is a coach trip from Florence to CT, but this leaves early in the morning, returns in the evening and requires walking. I did some research on the internet and discovered that someone had written about how to travel there by train: it takes about two and a half hours each way.

There is a train from Florence at 8:30am and one at about 10am; the first would have been ideal but it was too early. So we left just after 10am on a train to Pisa; there we would change to a train going to Milan, via Monterosso, probably the most accessible of the five villages. On the first train, the conductor pointed out that I hadn't validated the tickets but did not make an issue of this. Once at Pisa, I found the appropriate machine and validated our tickets for the second half of the journey.

When the second train came, we boarded and sat down, only to be told by someone that we were sitting in their seats. I hadn't realised that the tickets were numbered - the whole purchase process in Florence was somewhat traumatic and I hadn't really looked at the tickets. When I now looked, I saw that not only did we have specific places, but that they were also in a first class carriage. I don't recall being asked by which class we wanted to travel, but then I did say that the purchase process was traumatic.

We found our seats in the very first carriage - very nice. The trip from Pisa to La Spezia was unremarkable, but after this last station, the rest of the journey - about ten minutes - was within a tunnel. There were brief moments when we exited one tunnel before entering another in which we could see our surroundings - beautiful sea on our left. One could here sounds of encouragement and groans of frustration from surrounding compartments as the sea appeared and disappeared. The Norwegian couple sharing our compartment said that they had visited Monterosso fourteen times in the past eleven years!

Once we arrived and we got our bearings, we discovered that the new town of Monterosso has a sea front promenade: a familiar sight. Our first task was to eat (it was now about 1pm): several promenade restaurants seemed full so we were lucky to find a table in a shaded courtyard. We had fish and chips - a very tasty meal - in a restaurant called Cantina di Miky: highly recommended.

After lunch, we walked along the promenade, enjoying the sun and the sea, on the way to the old town. We passed a gelateria; their mint ice cream, whilst not as good as that in Sorrento, was excellent, even though it was missing the chocolate chips, .

The old town, maybe a kilometre from the train station, is everything an old Italian town should be: an imposing church, small alleyways, colourful vegetation and small shops. One could say that this was much like San Gimignano, although more compact, less crowded and more sympathetic. We very much enjoyed our few hours here.

Come 4:30pm, and it was time to return to the train station. Another traumatic experience with the automatic ticket machine ended with the machine not accepting my credit card; in retrospect, I think that I put the card in backwards. It didn't help that there was prompting from those behind me in the queue. With time running out before the 5:05pm train to La Spezia arrived, I finally managed to buy the tickets, saving 20 euro by not buying first class; I validated the tickets and the train arrived a few minutes after we got to the far platform.

After alighting in La Spezia, we had a few minutes to decant then find when the next train to Florence would be - in a few minutes, from platform 6 (of course, the furthest away). The train was waiting at the platform but would not leave for another five minutes. Two hours later, we were back in Florence.

So: a day trip from Florence to Monterosso is definitely doable. This means, though, that only one village can be visited. Probably had we left earlier in the morning, then there would have been enough time to sail to one of the other villages. There are trains which stop at the other villages, so this needs to be carefully planned. On the other hand, four hours in Monterosso is definitely enough.

Intermission: how to crop an AVI file (Florence log 4A)

As I wrote in my previous blog, looking at what was recorded [at SEMS], I see that I am in a small square at the bottom of the picture; I found a video editor on the net which enabled me to crop the film and I'm converting it as I write these words. What I didn't know until after the conversion had finished was that the program had placed a watermark on the picture - on all the resulting video. Obviously I could not keep this result, so I deleted the file along with the program and started looking for another program.

The second program which I found placed a less obtrusive watermark on the cropped version but this too was unusable. I should state that both these programs have free versions (for a given period) but the watermark is their method of causing the user to buy the program.

Further searching led me to a true freeware program called VirtualDub. It took me some time to figure out where the crop function was and even longer to find how to save the resulting file, but eventually I was able to create a cropped video. Strangely, the input file is less than 1GB in size but the cropped file is 14GB.

When I imported this file into the AVI->WMV converter, I noticed two things: the picture was in black and white, and that it was slanted. I also noticed that the converter has a crop function of its own; I tried converting the original file from the camera but the crop function was greyed out. Hmmmm. After a bit of thinking, I realised that VirtualDub might be doing something to the AVI file which caused the converter to enable the crop function; this might have something to do with the huge size of the file.

So: I used VirtualDub to create a copy of the original file; I merely chopped off the beginning and the end, which I didn't want. I then ran this version through the converter: the crop feature was available, so I could choose the section of the picture that I wanted. The conversion took some time, but eventually I had a 750MB WMV file, lasting about 28 minutes and showing what I wanted it to show. Success!

I probably won't ever have to do this again but it's worth documenting. I will probably include only a small section of the talk in the final Italy film (this is easy to do within Microsoft Movie Maker) but I may make a DVD just of the talk itself.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Florence log 4 - ICSE 2015

Today provided the reason for our trip to Italy: the 37th International Conference on Software Engineering.  Under these auspices the 2nd International Workshop on Software Engineering Methods in Spreadsheets (aka SEMS) took place, in which yours truly presented a paper. It all sounds a lot grander than it actually was: there were only twenty of us, and half of those presented papers. I was on sixth, the last before lunch.

The morning started with a short introduction by Felienne, who looks much younger in person than she does in the pictures on her web site. She introduced a product manager for Excel from Microsoft who talked about new features to be introduced in the 2016 version. This was fairly interesting.

Next up was a colleague of Felienne who talked about the Enron spreadsheets. As I have already read the papers about these, the talk was going over material which I already know. Still, it was interesting.

We then had a break, followed by a doctoral student of Felienne, who wasn't very impressive. Next came a professor from Canada who talked about his method of teaching students how to develop spreadsheets. This was interesting, although a bit simplistic. I shall try and introduce his methods at work.

Following him was an Italian graduate student; I confess that I didn't listen very much to his talk, partially because I didn't understand what he was talking about and partially because I was getting very nervous.

Next up was yours truly. On the basis of yesterday evening, I decided to take with me the action camera; I pointed it in what I believed to be the right direction, turned it on as the Italian was finishing and turned it off after I finished. Looking at what was recorded, I see that I am in a small square at the bottom of the picture; I found a video editor on the net which enabled me to crop the film and I'm converting it as I write these words.

The talk went very well, lasting for about 25 minutes. Unlike the Italian before me who basically read his presentation from the screen, I displayed my presentation but talked a great deal around it. I referred to three of the previous talks which showed that at least I was listening. Of course, I tried to be provocative: I actually started the talk by saying that I was different from every one else in at least two aspects. The first is that I work full time in industry, having academia as my hobby whereas they are full time academics. The second is that they are praising spreadsheets whereas I believe that they should not be used in an ERP environment.

During the morning break and during lunch, I had several interesting conversations about my presentation.

After lunch, I am sad to say that nothing grabbed my attention. In fact, I had difficulty staying awake. I think that this is primarily due to the release of tension which had built up prior to my talk. That said, I didn't find the post luncheon talks as interesting as the pre-luncheon ones.

Above is the timetable for the workshop. If one enlarges the photo, one can actually see my name. Overall, it was quite an interesting day, especially when one considers that most events like these which I attend in Israel are less interesting.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Florence log 3 - Take it easy

Today we adopted a more relaxed approach to Florence. We started off in the market near our hotel - I wanted a restrained Florence t-shirt (ie the fleur de lys only, preferably with no writing whereas my wife wanted a hat). After walking around the hundreds of stalls selling virtually the same products, we eventually found what we were looking for. As we were so close to the hotel, I walked back and left the items there.

We then set off for the centre, using a different route from the one I had used the day before. This one goes down alleyways and both shorter and more picturesque. Once near the Duomo, we took a left turn and ended up in Piazza San Lorenzo. Today was very hot, so we cooled off with an ice cream; to quote my wife's guidebook, a minute in Italy without an ice cream (gelato) is a minute wasted. I hadn't indulged as the weather had been too cold in our first few days but today it was a necessity.

I was aiming for the Great Synagogue of Florence, which is some way behind the Duomo. I found it, but because there was some kind of inter-faith conference taking place, I couldn't go inside. The building looks extremely strange for a synagogue: as Wikipedia puts it, The synagogue was opened in 1882; its Moorish motif and design was based on the Byzantine cathedral of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.

From there, I walked back to the Duomo, getting partially lost in the vast network of streets "behind" the Duomo, eventually realising where I was when I stood outside the 'Lush' soap shop - via del Corso. I then picked up my wife, who had stayed in the Duomo area, then went back to the hotel, stopping for a lovely fish lunch in a trattoria in via Faena.

When I got reconnected to the Internet, I saw that there was a message from Felienne Hermans; we had intended to lunch together, but there was a series of missed contacts. We agreed to meet at around 4pm; she came to my hotel, we went out for a cup of tea, discussed life, PhDs/DBAs and spreadsheets, then I walked her to the ICSE conference area, where she registered (I had registered in the early morning).

In the evening, we went on the Segway tour: this starts from the Segway shop which is hidden behind the Duomo. As it happens, we were the only participants, so we had the guide to ourselves. I strapped the camera on to my helmet, turned it on, asked whether it was working then trusted that it would film something. I've looked a little at the footage: something was filmed although not necessarily what I wanted to film - mainly the second floors of buildings. The film cuts out prematurely; this certainly is not because of running out of 'film' - the file is 1GB in length; maybe the batteries died. At the moment I don't have the 40 minutes to look at it.

The tour itself was interesting, not least because we had to manage riding on the Segway. This is something which takes a little time to get used to, and riding over cobbled stones doesn't help. The tour didn't go very far from places where we had already visited, but this time we got a personal explanation from a knowledgeable guide.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Florence log 2 - Siena

First of all, some updates from yesterday.

I apologise whole-heartedly to the hotel for having written that there is no hot water available for drinking. I discovered in the evening - after having written the blog - that in the breakfast room there is a jug of water and a jug of coffee on a hot plate. There are tea bags and sugar there but no milk. This service is available from 3pm.

For supper yesterday, I went into the supermarket which is just across the road. The front is extremely unassuming but inside it's like the Tardis: very large and a huge selection. I bought only rolls and sliced cheese, but it occurred to me later that I could have bought a wider selection of goods. Today we bought fruit, milk, more rolls and smoked salmon. A feast fit for a king.

As usual, I woke at around 5:30am; immediately fully awake, I decided to go to the Duomo. It took me six minutes to walk there, which means that it's about 0.75km away. As expected, there was almost nobody there (apart from a few sanitation trucks) cleaning so I could take as many pictures as I wanted without anyone getting in the way. Unfortunately there was a metal grill in front of the gates of paradise, which meant that photographing them was problematic. Maybe I'll get a better shot during the Segway trip on Sunday evening.

Today's activity was an organised trip to Siena and San Gimignano. This involved a drive of about an hour and a half to Siena, which is situated about 60km south of Florence. Depending on one's point of view, the Tuscan countryside can be beautiful, but to me it seems like Britain - green fields and forests. Once in Siena, we were handed over to a local guide who told us at length about the various wards into which the city is divided. This was interesting to a certain amount, but possibly overdone. She took us to one of the ward's museums, which is in a basement underneath a church.

Whilst walking around the old city of Siena through its many alleyways, I was reminded of Robert Silverberg's comic novel, 'Up the line', which is about a tourist guide who takes groups around Istanbul - only in the past. He (and other guides) visit the same sites several times but due to the paradoxes of time travel, they have to disguise themselves and ignore previous versions of themselves; each time they have to find a new approach to their tour. Today, there were very many tour groups, and each guide had to find a different route and a different ward museum to show before descending en masse to the Piazza del Campo. 

As a result, the first part of the visit was very interesting, but the huge piazza, in which are held horse races between the wards, was packed with people. To make things worse, there was also some kind of vintage motor car rally, 1000 miglia, which also drew the crowds. The top of the piazza is filled with restaurants and stalls all selling the same souvenirs. The phrase which describes today is "More of the same". We picked a restaurant at random and shared a pizza.

After leaving Siena, we drove part of the way back to Florence before stopping in the medieval town of San Gimignano. Unfortunately, this too was filled with tourist groups, and because the options are much fewer than in Siena, it seemed totally over-run. Nevertheless, we had an interesting talk about the history of the town in the museum, reserved only for our group, then had free time to spend. We had a well deserved cup of tea in an outside restaurant, and had the piazza not been so full, this would have been delightful. We had to pass up the chance of tasting 'the best ice cream in the world', as one gelateria titled itself as we had a long walk back to the bus.

I am sure that I would have enjoyed the trip more had the sites been less crowded.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Florence log 1 - Getting to know you

This morning, I awoke early, and unable to get back to sleep, I decided to film the streets of Florence at 5:30am. At first, they were fairly empty - there were a few people wandering around, pulling suitcases behind them - so there was little to distract. I filmed mainly streets although I did pay quite some attention to the church Santa Maria Novella, not least because we probably won't be going there at all. Wandering around, I stumbled on the conference centre, which is only about 100m from the hotel, straight down one road.

Returning to the hotel, we had breakfast then went out for a short walk. I wanted to buy credit for the Italian mobile phones which I bought last year in Sorrento; the local TIM shop is a two minute walk from the hotel. Also next to the shop is one of the outside markets of Florence, Mercato Centrale; there is an outside market, full of stalls selling leather bags and belts, football shirts and souvenirs, and there is an inside market (where we didn't go) which apparently sells food and other items.

From there, we walked to the Duomo, which would take me about ten minutes (if that) on my own but took about twice the time with my wife, who doesn't walk at my pace. I knew it was close but I didn't realise it was that close. Although the streets were still fairly empty (thus making it relatively easy to take photographs without extraneous heads), I knew that we couldn't stay as we had to get to the Uffizi Gallery - we had tickets for 10:45 am. The walk from the Duomo to the Uffizi was slightly further from the hotel to the Duomo.

Once at the Uffizi, I was somewhat taken aback when I saw the lines waiting to enter. I had pre-booked tickets and was told by an attendant to join the queue at a building opposite the main entrance. There we joined other people who had also pre-booked; they were queuing to obtain their tickets before joining an even longer queue to enter the gallery. Everyone at least took the wait in good spirits. I should mention that the weather was suitable - between 18-20 degrees. Sometimes there were even spots of rain. Much better to wait in weather like this than in sweltering heat with no relief from the sun.

Once in the Uffizi, we spent about two hours walking around and absorbing the pictures. My wife had studied Renaissance painting whilst at school so she was in seventh heaven, looking at all the pictures. She even forgot about most of the pains in her legs while walking around.

After the Uffizi, we split a pizza in a restaurant just behind the Uffizi - I had my favourite Italian drink, lemon soda - then continued on to the Ponte Vecchio. I had been looking forward to this, but the reality was far from the dream: all the shops belonged to jewellers and they were very expensive. While we were taking pictures, I was 'accosted' by a lady in white face who, without words, insisted that we have our picture taken together. I gave her two euro for the pleasure.

Continuing back to the Duomo, we stopped at a few shops which we had skipped earlier in our haste to get to the Uffizi in time, leaving more than a few euros behind. The clothes and shoes look so beautiful in the shop windows; I told my wife that we should regard them as art and not as clothing. We resisted the temptation to have a cup of tea for 7 euro each in a prime location opposite the Duomo, instead electing to walk most of the way back to the hotel before stopping at a local watering hole opposite the Italian War of Independence (1820-1822) war memorial, where a cup of tea (actually two cups for the price of one) cost only 4 euro.

This reminds me that a review of our hotel stated that there were always hot drinks on hand in the hotel lobby and so I decided not to bring the small traveling kettle which I bought in the aftermath of Sorrento. No kettle and also no hot drinks in the lobby. Oops.

Once in the hotel, I resumed my Internet browsing from the early morning, looking for the photographic supplies shop which is supposed to be nearby. I noted the address and saw approximately how to get there; the shop is outside the tourist area of Florence, but then we are on the edge of that area so it took me only a few minutes to walk there. Fortunately there was another sports camera on sale (about 430 euro) so at least the staff knew what was required. The booklet which came with the camera mentioned an FT card, but the salesman knew that a micro-SD card was the required item. I had the choice of 16 or 32GB and plumped for the latter, at the cost of 45 euro (too much?). The salesman placed the card in the slot provided, I turned on the camera and a blue light came on. I thought that this showed that the camera was working.

On the way back from the shop, I turned the camera on again and even wore the camera (probably looking like a Cyborg), filming a little of the streets. When I came back to the hotel, I used the supplied USB cable to connect the camera to the computer, located the directory where the files would be ... and discovered that nothing had been filmed. Disappointed, I read the 'manual'; here I discovered that supplying power to the camera is not sufficient; there is an extra button on the camera which has to be pressed. I experimented with this a little, creating a few AVI files which I immediately deleted. I don't see how this button can easily be pressed when the camera is being worn and how one can actually check that the camera is working (the blue light blinks when it is filming). Probably I shall start filming before attaching the camera to the helmet; this prefix can later be trimmed.

Outside, it is raining; there was a brief thunderstorm, but already it seems that the rain has stopped. We may go out for supper or I may go to one of the many cafes to buy sandwiches.

All in all, a good day.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Florence log 0

Thursday, 14 May: the beginning of our trip to Italy to participate in an academic conference in Florence.

When I came home on Wednesday, I discovered in my (physical) post box a note that a package had arrived for me which I assumed that this was the headband camera. Had I been living in a town, there would have been no possibility of collecting the package before leaving, but as I live on a kibbutz, all I had to do was telephone the person who deals the post and explain the situation. I was told to come to her house and collect the keys to the office so that I could open up and retrieve the parcel - which I did swiftly.

Once I opened the package, I discovered that the camera requires a memory card, and not just any card but something called a TF card. DX sells many of these but the chance of ordering one today from China and having it arrive in Italy before Sunday are zero. I hoped that I would be able to buy a suitable card at the duty free in Tel Aviv but they too did not have one.

My next step was to start browsing on the Internet, looking for a suitable place in Italy. I found one online shop but I couldn't find what I was looking for. A quick visit to Trip Advisor cleaned the address of a good shop in Florence, so I sent them an email, hoping for the best. Their reply (which I read in the evening) was also negative.

So: a day of traveling. We thought that it would be good to fly at 10:30 am as opposed to the more usual 7am, but I'm not so sure. We weren't hurried in the airport (which is why I had the time to send the email), but otherwise.... As opposed to most flights in Tel Aviv, where one simply walks onto the plane via a tunnel, we had to ride in a bus to where the airplane was parked. This time, we were one of the first on the plane so we didn't have the usual problem of walking down the aisle with a heavy case.

The flight to Rome passed without incident. When in Rome (do as the Romans do), we missed the sign for connecting flights and so found ourselves in baggage collection after passing passport control. Someone directed us from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1, which is where the internal flights leave. After walking ten minutes outside, we arrived; we would have had to have walked this anyway, but inside the airport. Here we showed our boarding passes (which we had been issued in Tel Aviv - hurray! Last time we had to pick them up in Rome), went through security then found our departure gate - next to one for a flight leaving for Naples, signs of deja vu. As always, this flight was delayed for about half an hour, so we were already losing interest.

The flight itself to Florence was mercifully brief; we were met at the airport and taken to our hotel by two youngish people with poor English. The hotel itself is within a small courtyard off a main street, which is why some people (on Trip Advisor) say that it is hard to find. Once we reached our room, we discovered that we were very tired and very hungry, so we changed our normal routine: left the suitcases unpacked and went across the road to a Chinese restaurant. The youngsters in the car had recommended us one restaurant and the receptionist in the hotel had recommended another, both close by, but we decided that we would save those recommendations for when we would appreciate them more. 

Once revitalised, we returned to the hotel and started unpacking. The internet problem took some time to be resolved, but eventually I was able to connect all mobile phones and computers. I then went out for a short walk ostensibly to buy a large bottle of water but also to check out the neighbourhood. We are situated very well, being only about 200m from the main train station, on the edge of the old city. There are several alley ways here, which remind me of Sorrento and Palermo, although here they are more crowded (very crowded). There is even a laundromat. I will film this area one evening.

As I wrote above, the hotel is in a courtyard off one of the main streets and is an oasis of quiet. The room is fine, we have a little balcony overlooking an empty courtyard, and the shower is powerful and hot (not like ours at home!). I look forward to breakfast.

I am still on Israel time, waking at what was for me 5am (here 4am). Hopefully my internal clock will adjust to waking at a more suitable time - although of course, I do have time for updating my blog and connecting to work!



Traditional Yemenite pre-wedding ceremony

The twin brother of my son-in-law is getting married next week, to a girl of Yemenite extraction. Unfortunately, the date clashes with the date of my conference (and 'lecture') in Florence, so we had to decline the invitation. We were able, however, to attend the traditional Yemenite pre-wedding ceremony, which is known as a 'hina' party (henna, in English).

As described at Wikipedia, in Israel, Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish women sometimes choose to have a hennah party about a week before the wedding. The hennah party is smaller than the wedding, as only closer friends and family members are invited. The bride and groom wear traditional costumes as do some of the main guests. There is much dancing and music, especially when the hennah is brought out. The hennah is usually presented in a deep dish with lit candles in it and carried by the grandmother. She applies the hennah onto the palms of the bride and groom and they are blessed. Subsequently, guests stain their palms with hennah as well. There are variations in customs and dress between the different Jewish communities (Yemenite, Moroccan, Indian, etc.).

The evening was produced by a family of 'professional Yemenites' - apart from compering, singing and dancing, they also provide traditional costumes: obviously for the bride and groom, but also for anyone else who wishes to dress as a Yemenite. They also provide props, such as a well (from which water would be drawn if it were a real well), pots to carry the 'water', a wedding canopy and sundry other accessories.

The evening was very well produced and I did enjoy myself to a certain extent; at one stage, I was sufficiently moved to join in the dancing, between the groom and my son-in-law. I expect that this turned a few heads. Here is a picture of the bride and groom.

Unfortunately the evening was too long and far too loud. There were many people smoking inside the hall which gave me a stomach ache, which I still have. Maybe it's just as well that we're not going to the wedding as it will also be too long, too loud and too smoky.

Serendipity strikes again

Wednesday was my final day at work before going on holiday, which I spent in our offices in Tel Aviv. Many times during the day I had to warn people that I would not be at work the following week, which led to the following series of questions: where are you going? (Florence), how long for (just over a week), what will you do (attend an academic conference). Most people were very impressed by this; some even asked whether I was ready for the conference and I could assure them that I had prepared my presentation (one person even read it in full, another saw the conclusion).

Towards the end of the day, I got a call asking me to meet someone. This person turned out to be an architect who works for one of Israel's smaller banks and uses Priority. I explained to him the basis of my research and he was all too happy to help. It turns out that his wife is also a doctoral candidate (in cancer research) so he is aware of the problems that candidates have once they finish the theoretical part of their work and turn to the practical.

He promised to complete the questionnaire and to involve as many of his colleagues as possible. This kindness overwhelmed me. In the evening, after getting everything ready for a trip, I sent him an email with all the various documents and questionnaires, and hopefully by the time that we return, I will have more data for my database and can at least complete the pilot study.

As it happens, that same morning I saw an advert for a Priority Users conference. Normally when I am using a browser, I don't pay any attention to adverts so this one passed me by until I had moved off the page with the advert. Then I realised what I had seen, but returning to the same page didn't display the same advert. It took a little time of mindless surfing to redisplay the advert; it turns out that there will be a day long meeting with presentations on 1 June. This isn't a very good date as far as I am concerned but that's what there is. I registered as a user. 

A bit later on, it registered with me that I had been waiting for this opportunity: I would have at least a hundred Priority system managers under one roof! Obviously there would be no opportunity to give a talk about my research - the timetable has already been set in stone - but this will enable me to set up a table near the registration process, hand out introductory letters and talk to whoever is interested. This will require personal skills which I don't really have but it is a golden opportunity.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Vinyl log 10 - 13 May

DayMonthYearArtistTitle
13May1977SpiritFuture games

This one presumably was bought in 'Our Price Records' in Golders Green, which had become my usual record shop. I bought the album because I had been impressed by the previous offering by Spirit, "From the time zone - spirit of 76", which confusingly had been released in 1975. I received this double album in my guise as record reviewer for the university magazine, but by this time, I was no longer writing for them.

Anyway - I was sufficiently moved to buy the followup album. In retrospect, I wish I hadn't. I don't have this on cd and haven't heard the songs since 1978.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What I saw on this morning's walk

Sometimes, when I'm in detective-novel mode, I fantasize that I will find a dead body on my early morning walk with the dog. This scenario has happened a few times in the DCI Banks novels, but fortunately has yet to happen to me. I once phoned in a suspicious object found on a street in Tel Aviv, but there's been no further involvement with the police. Until this morning ....

Our early morning walk takes us to the car park of the local secondary school (and normally, into the school premises through a gate which is unlocked, but today it was locked). There was a car in the car park; whilst one might say that this is the purpose of a car park, it's unusual to see something there at 5:40 am. This car was different.



Someone had driven this car to the car park then torched it. One side of the car looks fairly normal whereas the other side is toast. I considered phoning it in, but it wasn't urgent and I didn't fancy waiting around until the police arrive. Let the school headmaster call the police.

By 2:30pm, the wreck had disappeared, leaving only carbon on the ground.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Madam Secretary

Three months ago, I wrote about the American TV series, "Madam Secretary". I have now seen 16 episodes ( I understand that there are only one or two more), whereas my original blog was written on the basis of the first two episodes. During that time, a great deal has changed about the series. What started as a one minute background thread in the pilot has blossomed into an all-consuming plot in later episodes. Along the way, the superficial diplomatic solutions which so frustrated me initially have all but disappeared, leaving a much more interesting show to be broadcast. 

The episodes are still somewhat superficial and a great deal of suspension of belief is required - would the secretary of state really get her hands as dirty as shown? - but the tension and depth of involvement has definitely increased.

Whilst I have recorded all the episodes (bar three, due to an accident), I have passed them on onto a friend, so I can't watch them again, even if I had the time to do so. Probably they will all be shown again, and no doubt these will work in the same way that reruns of "The West Wing" helped me understand the story and deepen my appreciation.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Investment fund manager

The kibbutz, being a collective, decided years ago to take out insurance for what Google Translate coyly calls LTC - long term care. This is for members who are unable - at various levels - to take care of their bodily needs. The idea is that every month, everybody pays a small premium, and should the time come, the insurance company will pay a monthly stipend to help cover costs (mainly for nursing).

At the end of 2013, the overseer for insurance decided that such collective insurances were problematic and risky for the insurance companies as the ratio between premium and stipend was far too low. He decided that there should only be personal insurance programs. A wise person (no irony intended) on the kibbutz examined the situation and saw that for members aged over 50, the required monthly premium would be too high. Enter the kibbutz solution: create our own "insurance company" (hereinafter 'fund'), which takes premiums from the members and pays stipends, should the need arise.

I was asked whether I was interested to serve on the management committee of this fund about six or seven months ago; it took a long time for the subject to come to ballot. When it did come, about three months ago, my name had inadvertently been deleted from the names proposed (four chosen out of six), so the election had to be postponed for another month. Two months ago, I was elected, and on Thursday night we had our first meeting.

The meeting was mainly taken up with the kibbutz secretary (who serves as a de facto member) explaining the charter of the fund. The explanation might have gone faster had not one person slowed down the pace with worries about members deciding to opt out (reasonable if one already has suitable insurance) then dropping their external insurance and demanding that the kibbutz treat them. I won't discuss such matters here as they don't interest me - I'm probably too naive.

The committee has to elect itself a chairman; towards the very end of the meeting, the secretary asked "No'am?" and I agreed. No one said anything. Such is the old fashioned way of accepting responsibility on kibbutz. I don't know whether I will be an effective chairman but I certainly hope to be an effective fund manager; this position allows me to utilise some of my talents, which unfortunately have been totally under-used by the kibbutz. 

Incidentally, we're talking about annual premiums of around 700,000 NIS (around $210,000); a monthly stipend is fixed at 2500 NIS (both premiums and stipends are inflation linked), and no stipends will be paid in the first three years of the fund's existence, thus allowing capital to be built up. I made a quick calculation which shows that if the number of paying members is between 200-250, then about 20-23 stipends can be paid without touching the acquired capital. Hopefully, the number of stipends will be much less.

After the meeting, various ideas popped into my head. I am listing them here for I won't be able to discuss them for some time (because of the trip to Florence):
  • Most of the money paid into the fund will be invested; should that investment be maintained by means of a bank or by a private investment company? Whilst I am capable of managing the investments themselves, they have to be stored somewhere. This is basically a matter of charges: there will be a monthly or quarterly charge for simply storing the investments (this charge is very annoying) and another charge every time an investment is bought or sold. I shall hold meetings with a few organisations to see which is cheaper.
  • Should the book-keeping be done with a separate database within the kibbutz's Priority program or should I write a simple book-keeping program? Using Priority is overkill, there are problems of security and access for me to the program. On the other hand, the authorities may require a certified accounting program, and Priority will also aid external auditing.
  • An investment policy has be established. Whilst the charter states that the fund may invest only in solid investments with a fixed and known rate of interest, this is a problem in these days of minimal rates of interest. As no stipends will be paid for the first three years (one has already passed), all the incoming money is candidate for investment. So for the first three years, liquidity will not be a requirement which means that the idea of commercial bonds and similar can be entertained. Once the three years of grace have been completed, the monthly income should still exceed the monthly expenditure.
  • How democratic is the management going to be? Obviously there will be a need to two signatories but is every decision going to be debated or just the policies? I doubt that the other three elected members have much knowledge of finance and investments (even I lack practical experience at this level); I may have to give a short lecture about the market. Fortunately, there should only be a few decisions to made, especially now. Obviously there will need to be two signatories to the account, which makes me wonder how internet investing can work when two people have to sign an order.
  • How will the fund be audited? Obviously, I intend after three months of activity to present some form of annual balance sheet with an eye to the future, but I could be less honest that I actually am.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Preparing for Florence (2)

In the week since I last wrote on this subject, more preparations have been completed.
  • It seems certain that the extra battery for the video camera will not arrive in time, if at all. I received an email two days ago stating that my order has failed to pass the airline security check as it contains lithium batteries/knives or products that contain liquid which are now under extra scrutiny in world air cargo services. We therefore have switched it to another delivery channel to ensure the order is sent to you as soon as possible. The concept "a slow boat to China" comes to mind.
  • I am beginning to suspect that the headband camera won't arrive in time, either. Maybe I'll be able to find one at the Israeli airport.
  • The conference organisers sent an email a few days ago about travel arrangements. It seems that they can meet us at Florence Airport and transport us to our hotel for 8 euro, despite the fact that we are arriving four or five days before the conference starts. A taxi would cost 20 euro whereas two bus tickets would cost about 16 euro (I don't remember exactly).
  • Yesterday I booked tickets for the Uffizi gallery, which is the recommended thing to do. Although I asked for a 10am entrance, I see that the tickets show 10:45am. For the cost conscious, the price for two full price tickets was 43 euro; we don't qualify for any discounts. 
  • I considered buying on-line tickets for the Guggenheim collection in Venice which has been recommended to us. Apparently the demand for entry is less here so there is less need to book in advance. Tickets are 16 euro each. The Guggenheim is full of 20th century art, which I like and my wife doesn't, as opposed to the Uffizi, which is Renaissance art.
  • I have booked the day trip to Siena and the evening Florence tour by Segway. All the prepayments mentioned here were accomplished via PayPal. I have had problems in the past getting authorisation for payments made directly with a credit card (for reasons which I won't go into) whereas PayPal is hassle free.
  • The small shoulder bag which I generally use is sufficient when all I have to take with me is the Kindle, some papers and reading glasses, but it's very difficult to squeeze in a video camera and a water bottle together. Hence yesterday I bought a larger and roomier bag. More expensive than I expected; I could have waited to buy something in the markets of Florence but again, this might not be what I want. When discussing this a few days ago, my wife made a very funny Freudian slip - she said that I could buy an "Armenian" bag (in Hebrew, Armeni) when in fact she meant Armani. There probably are knock-off bags with the Armeni (or Gocchi or Gucchi) tags, but according to WikiTravel, it is illegal to buy these from street vendors in Italy.
  • I dug out the Italian mobile phones. I am debating whether to take them with their boxes or without.
  • I have been thinking vaguely about preparing a PowerPoint presentation for the conference next week. I shall try and start work on that today. Knowing myself and the material, it probably won't take long once I actually get started.
[SO: 3889; 3, 16, 37]

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Vinyl log 9 - 7 May

DayMonthYearArtistTitle
7May197710ccDeceptive bends

Like many other records which I have written about, I have no actual memory of buying this. It is, however, connected in my mind with a specific event, so I'll write about that. 

It was the time of the Queen's Silver Jubilee and there was a long public holiday. A few of my friends and I decided to go for a walking trip in the area of Hindhead, staying in youth hostels. I still had my youth hostel membership card (bought for Habonim), and in those days, a group needed to have at least one member in order to use the facilities. We traveled to the Hindhead railway station, then walked from there to a small hostel. The only guests were the four of us and a group of three girls, but no mingling took place (and that's not a euphemism!).

The next day we walked a fair distance, around the Devil's Punch Bowl, to a larger hostel, only to find that the girls had also arrived. That evening, we reverted to our youth leader personae and ran a series of the silly games that we knew so well. I had my eye on one of the girls and managed to orchestrate a solo meeting during on of those games, but nothing came of this.

On the third day, we walked (without the girls) to yet another hostel. This was more anonymous; we arrived, unpacked, ate and went to bed without interfacing with anyone. After we returned to London, I found myself at a loose end on the Sunday and walked down to Swiss Cottage to see (once again)  "A touch of class".

What is the connection? The fifth 10cc album, the first without Godley and Creme, had just been released and we had seen a video of "Good morning, Judge" on television. We spent a fair amount of the trip singing this somewhat stupid song. I now see that in fact the Jubilee was on June 6, a month after having purchased this record! The tricks of memory: the events of the youth hosteling certainly occurred as I described them, but the link between them and the album is tenuous at best.

It wasn't a very good record. The best song was probably "The things we do for love", which would have been considered merely average had it been included on earlier records. What can I say? I preferred Godley and Creme to Stewart and Gouldman; the latter duo were more than competent but they were 'professional' and lacking the manic tendencies of the first duo. I wrote a little about this record a few years ago.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Losing the grouping

This morning, the Vice President of Furniture Sales called me about a problem with a report, which lists all the orders of parts which have been made from a specific catalogue. He mentioned a certain order and gave me to understand that the order does not appear in the report.

I ran the report and the order appeared. It turns out that I misunderstood him: the problem was that the order was not appearing with the correct price. In the report which I created via Priority, each of the three lines appeared with its total; following these lines was a total for the order. I looked at the order itself and the totals matched. So what was the problem?

Then the penny dropped: the VP had created the report from Priority but had displayed it in Excel. When one does this, all the grouping which exists in the native report gets lost, so he saw only three rows, without the total of the order. This is not a problem of Excel per se but rather a problem in the Priority/Excel interface, about which many people seem not to be aware.

Below is what the data might look like in Priority
OrderKL151234Customer nameAppleTotal
P123Tables32,0006,000
P456Chairs121,0001,2000
P789Accessories102502,500
Total


20,500

And this is what is looks like in Excel:
KL151234AppleP123Tables32,0006,000
KL151234AppleP456Chairs121,00012,000
KL151234AppleP789Accessories102502,500

The VP saw the order number and assumed that the first line represented the entire order, whose value had suddenly dropped to 6,000 only.

This is another reason why I don't like to display Priority reports in Excel.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Preparing for Florence

As I have written earlier, I am attending in two weeks time an academic conference which is being held in Florence.  This is a good excuse for a holiday. As we visited Italy last year, I hadn't originally intended to return again this year (I was hoping to attend a conference in Greece) but that's the way the chips fall. 

I have been in Florence before: in 2001, we went on an eight day tour of Italy which included 24 hours in Florence. We arrived in the early afternoon and went straight to the Duomo. The next day, we started off early by visiting a park outside of Florence which has splendid views of the city, then descended into the city to see Michaelangelo's "David" along with other examples of the Medici financed Renaissance. At some stage we also went to the Santa Croce church - I don't remember at what stage this occurred. This is where Galileo is buried, along with a few more dignitaries from earlier days. The facade of the church includes a Star of David, which surprised me. I remember asking the guide as to what this meant, and he replied that the church's architect was Jewish; he was allowed to include the star.

That visit was very brief and didn't allow any time for stretching out. Hopefully, this visit will be different. Apart from the conference, we have a day trip to Siena and an evening tour of Florence on a Segway scooter lined up; I also hope that we will get to Cinqua Terra. 

After nearly a week in Florence, we will then travel by train to Venice where we will stay for a few more days. After having difficulty in finding a suitable hotel (there are so many to pick from but they all seem so expensive), we plumped for a self catering flat on the island of Giudecca. Again, we were in Venice for a day during that 2001 trip and again, we were too rushed to enjoy it to the full. This time will be more relaxed. I have a mental image of us strolling on the Giudecca shore line with the sights of Venice visible across the water - the reality will probably be less picturesque.

Whilst working on the home movies, some ideas presented themselves as necessary preparations for this trip. The first idea was buying a 'head band' camera - a simple movie camera which is worn as a head band. This will be ideal for the Segway trip. The camera is quoted as creating an AVI file; I don't know whether this can be included as is or whether it has to be converted first to WMV.

The second idea is even simpler, and I'm surprised that it took so long for the penny to drop: buy another battery for the video camera. I even remarked here that there was a lack of footage from our 2013 trip (and some surprising omissions from Sorrento 2014) which was probably due to the battery run down; the obvious solution is to pack another charged battery. My wife films a certain amount of video with her smartphone and I intend to take mine as a last resort camera (it won't be receiving calls). I have even started planning (in my head) various shots which will later be incorporated into the movie. I wonder how I will get footage of my talk in the conference.

I ordered the head camera and battery from Deal Extreme and I hope that both items arrive before we depart. One problem with the battery is that it can only be charged whilst in the camera - there doesn't seem to be an external charger.

I also have to dig out the telephones that we bought last year. Obviously we will have to top them up when we get to Florence, but they will be useful there for local calls.

On Independence Day, a documentary channel showed several programmes made about Israeli Nobel Prize winners. The most interesting for me was the one on psychologist Daniel Kahneman; I have read some of his books and am familiar with his theory of loss aversion, which was developed with the late Amos Tversky. The connection with this blog is that he talked a bit about people making memories by photographing.

I am trying to develop a philosophy of photography: not simply "videoing" everything that I see but trying to concentrate on the interesting parts. The resulting movie should work on two levels: on the simple level, one has a visual record of places one has visited (and as it happens, when a neighbour came round, wanting to hear about Amalfi, I could lend her our movie so that she can see for herself what it's like); on a higher level, one has personal memories which get triggered by the visual record. Of course, there are the occasional events which get recorded - like my degree ceremony or my talk - but these are fairly rare and don't happen on a regular holiday.