Thursday, July 20, 2017

Back to the beginning

After a long period of waiting, it has been decided by the powers that be that I have to be returned to the beginning of the DBA process. Obviously I don't have to resit exams, but I do have to submit a research proposal, have it accepted, then submit an intermediate submission etc. I am not very happy about this although I can understand the reasons for this decision. 

As I've already done a fair amount of the work required for the intermediate submission in April, it wasn't too difficult to sit down for a few hours and take what is needed in order to create a research proposal. I went over it very closely a few times today, deleting material which is irrelevant and rearranging what is not. I imagine that I will be assigned a new mentor for the research proposal (my previous mentor is probably sick and tired of me) and then hopefully I can submit the proposal within a few weeks.

One used to be able to see when the research committee meetings are, but the university's website appears to have been redesigned and I can't find that information. It will be my luck to have the proposal in a form ready for submission only to discover that I have to wait another six weeks. Actually, that isn't very likely to happen as the mentor will tell me when the next committee will be.

Just to recap, here is the abstract. Existing literature shows that there are gaps between the standard functionality provided by Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems and the specific functionality required by implementing organisations. These gaps, known as misfits, are closed by means of enhancements – changes enabled in the system beyond the initial implementation configuration. As business is dynamic, the longer a company is in the post-implementation phase, the greater the need for further enhancements which were not envisaged during the initial implementation. These enhancements can vary in complexity from innovative uses of existing functionality through to the addition of complete, bespoke, modules. Each enhancement should produce a benefit which can ultimately be translated into monetary savings. This research is aimed at Small/Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and is restricted to those using the Priority ERP system. This research utilises the case study approach, being based on interviews with managers and users from multiple companies.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

12 string guitar: the basics

In conversation with my family, I realised that they don't know what a 12 string guitar is and what makes it special. On this basis, I imagine that most of my readership doesn't know either, so I have decided to write a few words of explanation.

A regular six string guitar with standard tuning is tuned (from bottom to top) E - A - D - G - B - E. Apart from the G-B gap, all the strings are tuned in fourths. Questions have been asked on the Internet as to why the intervals are fourths, except for one; the explanation seems to be that this tuning was settled on after decades of trials, as it allows for the easy formation of chords. Tuning the top two strings a semitone higher (thus preserving intervals of fourths over the entire guitar) apparently makes for very difficult chord shapes. A bass guitar has only four strings: these are tuned as the same as the bottom four strings on a guitar but an octave lower.

Since the early 1960s, people have experimented with alternative tunings, such as 'DADGAD', dropped D and open G (Keith Richards). Robert Fripp developed a 'new standard tuning' which is fifths. Joni Mitchell rarely played in standard tuning (as a side effect of the polio from which she suffered as a child) and so developed special tunings: almost every one of her songs has a different tuning.

A mandolin has eight strings: two 'courses' of four strings, which are tuned (from bottom to top) G - D - A - E, which are intervals of fifths. Each string is doubled, which gives the mandolin its special sound; frequently the two strings for each note are slightly out of tune, which gives a chorus effect. One of the bazoukis which I was shown in Rodos has six strings, two courses of three, tuned A - D - A.

After that lengthy introduction, we can now turn to the twelve string guitar. Like the mandolin and the bazouki, this guitar has its strings doubled (that's why there are twelve strings and not six). But instead of tuning the strings in unison (mandolin and bazouki), the bottom four strings are tuned in octaves (the top two are in unison). This is what gives the twelve string its characteristic sound, and is why I wrote yesterday that I will have to learn how to play single note parts on the lower strings.

Where can the twelve string be heard? As a child of the 60s, I instinctively think of the "A Hard Day's Night" album, where George Harrison can be heard clearly playing a twelve string. The nascent Byrds saw the film and heard the music; they turned the twelve string into the dominant sound of their earlier songs. The first line up of Genesis used acoustic twelve strings. Apparently Tom Petty uses a twelve string guitar but I am not familiar with his work. Fairport used a twelve string occasionally, played by Simon Nicol: the opening riff on "Come all ye" and "Run, Johnny, Run" spring to mind.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The deed is done (12 string guitar)

The deed is done, the purchase has been made. After a few months of dreaming and a few weeks of planning, the stars aligned, allowing us to drive to the guitar shop near Modi'in (about half an hour away) and purchase the Fender CD-160SE 12-String V-2 which we saw at the end of May. 

As opposed to last time, I played the guitar for quite some time, and discovered that this guitar requires a different technique from what I am used to. Whilst the guitar is very comfortable, it's hard on the left hand, pressing on all the strings. My right hand technique also has to change: I would like to finger-pick, but that doesn't work too well; it's easier with a plectrum. The problem is to pick the first string of each pair, which is the octave string; this way, one achieves the characteristic sound of the 12 string. And finally: for solo note playing (lead guitar), it is better to concentrate on the lower four strings (which have the octaves) as opposed to the top two strings (which are in unison).

I have been reading and listening about the 12 string over the past few weeks, getting prepared - which is why the first thing that I played was the riff to the Byrds' version of 'Mr Tambourine Man'. Apparently McGuinn's 12-string was recorded with compression (there's also a story about Steven Still's guitar being compressed for the CS&N record) so I was interested in hearing what this actually sounds like. To be honest, there didn't seem to be much of a difference, except for a strange sounding attack, so I decided not to buy a compression pedal.

I took along my Dia violin bass as this requires repair work. The shop salesman (Adam) took the bass and played happily for several minutes: as opposed to my previous attempts, the electrics worked, although at the end we discovered that there is indeed a loose wire inside which causes the pickups to disconnect intermittently. Adam was very taken with the bass - especially the dampener - and said that he was prepared to buy it; my wife refused politely. As I may have written before, part of the binding is missing and so the back of the bass is separating from the body. Although I had been told that the shop takes repair work, it transpires that they handle only goods which have been purchased from the shop. I was given the address of a luthier in Tel Aviv; I will try and send him pictures via email or WhatsApp before going there, as it may well be that the cost of repair is more than the guitar is worth.

It turns out that the owner of the shop knew us: he spent time on our previous kibbutz in the mid-80s as part of his army service. He also knows the person who gave me the bass during that time. His knowing us (or having known us) may have suggested to him to discount the price - or throw in a freebee.

I took the opportunity to try out a few other, iconic, guitars which were in easy reach of where I was sitting. Behind me on a stand was a stratocaster (barely visible in the photograph on the right hand side); I found this quite difficult to play, although of course I am an acoustic guitarist who plays primarily rhythm. I also tried out the telecaster (just above my right elbow in the picture): I have always belittled this guitar, partially because of its look and partially because everyone seems to play it (in other words, non-professional reasons). When I picked it up, I was surprised at its light weight, and as opposed to the strat, it was very comfortable to play. I can now understand its ubiquity. 

I also picked up the Gibson SG (directly above my head in the picture) and showed it to my wife, asking if it looked familiar. She recognised that I have a copy of this guitar in the music room, and asked how it could be that guitar makers can produce a blatant copy of an expensive guitar. I don't know whether the penny has dropped about the bass guitar and Paul McCartney's iconic Hofner violin bass, but then, she isn't interested in guitars.

The bottom line of these last two paragraphs is that most electric guitars don't feel comfortable in my hands - although I wouldn't refuse the tele - and so I don't have any intentions of buying any more guitars. Just as well as there is no free wall space!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Room hiring service design

Giving a small glance into one facet of the work which I perform, I was approached to design a database for a room hiring service, to be implemented in Priority. At first glance, this appears to be the same as a hotel management system: there are rooms which are booked from date until date, each room with its own price. This is fairly standard, although the date handling can be tricky. But what makes this system stand out is the fact that whilst some rooms are 'private', other rooms are 'communal' - a big room could hold fifty workstations, where someone can hire a workstation for a few days. Thus an order for such a workstation would leave the room 'vacant', and other people can hire a workstation in the same room for the same dates. A field will need to be added to the 'parts' table to represent this (1 would indicate 'private', whereas any other value would indicate the number of workstations in the room).

Based on the constraint that the implementation will be in Priority (which simplifies certain things but forces one to work within the framework of Priority), my first decision is that 'each room is a part'. This allows us to use the standard 'orders' screen in Priority, along with the 'order items' screen. Let's see what functionality exists, what has to be added, and where there are problems.

Assuming that there is a part with catalogue number 'ROOM01', a customer can hire this room, stating the period during which the room is to be hired. The 'orderitems' table has a field called duedate, which can represent the date the room is to be vacated, but a field has to be added to represent the starting date (it's definitely not equal to the date the order is opened!). Checking whether the room is vacant during this period is not as easy as it sounds. One approach would be to check whether there exists a record in the orderitems table for this room which straddles the starting date - if there is such a record, then the room cannot be hired. If the starting date is free, then the vacating date has to be checked in the same manner. Unfortunately this check would ignore the possibility that the room has been ordered for a smaller period, falling between the start and end date of this request. I'll leave this aside for the moment.

The room has its default price, so the total price for this line would be this default price times the number of days, which would be 1 + (the leaving date less the arrival date). The number of days would be stored in the quantity field, allowing the total price to be calculated automatically. This last statement implies that the quantity field should be read-only, which is not the case of the standard order items screen.

Priority does not allow fields to be set as read-only at run time, dependent on other fields. While the status of this field could be set in advance, it will be problematic if the user wants to use this screen to insert customer orders for items which are not rooms. As this standard capability should be left as it is, I am tending to suggest that a customised order items screen be used for room ordering, which implies that the order should have a specific type: an error message will be displayed if the user tries to enter the standard order items screen when the order type is 'Rooms', and vice versa.

The owners want to have a daily price, a weekly price and a monthly price. Priority allows multiple prices for the same part, based on a minimum quantity, so three rows can be entered for each part, with prices for quantity 1 (e.g. $50), 8 ($45) and 29 ($40). The appropriate price will appear automatically in the order line dependent on the number of days. Whilst this seems very good, there are two overwhelming problems with it, one internal and one external. The external problem can be phrased as 'what about weekends?' - how many days is it if one orders a room for two weeks? Is this from Monday 17 July 2017 until Friday 28 July 2017? What about the weekend 22-23 July? Is a week seven days or five days? Maybe some people work on Saturdays but not on Sundays. I call this an external problem because its solution is not dependent on Priority per se, but rather a management issue. Weekends can be handled by a series of flags, which will reduce the number of days, but this is messy.

The internal problem is that all the above relates to a room as if it is a whole, and not a room with workstations which can be hired separately. This relates to the quantity: how would a order show that the customer wants to rent 2 workstations for 5 days? The first solution appears to be separating the number of days from the quantity: if the room is defined as 'single hire' (and this has to be added somehow to the parts table), then the quantity will be 1, whereas if the room is defined as 'multiple hire', then the quantity will be however many workstations are required. The mechanism which calculates the total price will have to be amended (it's good that a customised screen will be used!) to calculate 'number of workstations' times 'number of days' times 'default price'. Unfortunately, this means that the multiple prices entered into the price list will not work, as the quantity is the number of workstations and not days.

I think that it would be better not to use the standard price list mechanism, but instead use a discounting system, which would state provide a discount per number of hiring days, for example 5% discount for a minimum hire of 8 days and 10% for a minimum hire of 29 days. This system can be implemented at three different levels: on a global basis (all rooms have the same discount policy); on a 'room type' basis (all rooms of a given type have the same policy), or each room has its own policy. The discount - by whatever means it is calculated - would be inserted into the discount field of the order line. So now the total price for a given room would be: 'number of workstations' times 'number of days' times 'room price' times (100 less discount) times 0.01. Management will have to decide at which level the discounting system will work - probably all three!

Although theoretically a check should be made whilst booking a workstation that there is a free workstation within the room during the given period, I have been told to ignore this possibility. Management is happy to rent 120 workstations a day in a room which holds only 100 workstations. Fortunately, in the first paragraph of this blog, I mentioned the need to add a field to the 'parts' table which allows differentiation between 'single' and 'multiple' hires, so this field would be checked prior to the complicated vacancy check, which is to follow.

Here is the vacancy check problem: someone wants to book ROOM01 for the period 17 - 28 July (this room is a 'single' hire). As it happens, someone has already booked this room for the period 19 - 25 July. How does the program 'see' that the room is unavailable and that the request has to be denied? A naive way of doing this is as follows: after a room has been successfully booked, a series of entries is made into a 'booked room' table, where each row has a room and a date. Thus given the above, this table would have the following entries

Room numberDate

The check would start from the day before the first required date (16 July) in a loop as follows (the flag has to be set initially to 'failure'):
  1. increment date
  2. if there is an entry for this date and room in the 'booked room' table, then go to label 99
  3. loop until the current date is the same as the vacating date (28 July)
  4. set flag to 'success'
  5. label 99
Whilst this solution would work, it requires inserting values into a table, which is going to grow indefinitely. This table is not really needed, as the dates already exist in the order items table, which looks as follows

Room numberFrom dateTill date

The only difference between the code needed for these data as opposed to the earlier data is the second step, which would have to check whether the current date is in any given range. There is no particular advantage in this checking code, but the requirement to build the 'booked room' table has been obviated: a very big saving!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Maybe you want to be a bass guitarist when you grow up?

Before we went to Rodos, Shaked (the grand-daughter) was taking her first hesitant steps, but now she's walking further and longer. Her parents have yet to buy her shoes. She'll be celebrating 14 months in a few days for those who are interested in calibrating her progress.

One side effect of her walking is that there are fewer still pictures of her; these days she gets filmed walking and it's not so easy (nor interesting) to upload such video. 

The bass in the picture is very interesting: it's obviously a copy of a Hofner violin bass, but there are a few noticeable differences. The Hofner does not have f-holes whereas this bass does; the Hofner has its controls mounted on a plate whereas this one doesn't. The most intriguing modification is the bridge; there's a lever on the top (left hand) side of the bridge (it is barely visible here) which when depressed will damp the strings. All of the hits returned for 'guitar string dampener' show something which is connected to the neck, not to the bridge. I can't imagine what this system is meant to do.

The bass was made by a company called Dia, of which I have never heard. I've tried searching for this company but have not made any headway. I doubt whether the bass is worth very much, but even so, this morning I wrote to a vintage guitar site, enclosing a picture of the bass and asking whether they have any information. 

It can't be seen in the picture, but the bass needs a little work: there's a place on the back where there is no binding, and so the back has parted company slightly with the body. I tried playing the bass through an amplifier a few days ago and the sound was very crackly, so the electrics should be looked at. Mind you, this bass has been in storage since about 1983, when someone gave it to me.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Hidden screens and permissions

A few days ago, I wrote a procedure which invokes a screen (form) from which data is collected, then handled in later stages of the procedure. I wrote about something similar here; this time, there was no need to define a file parameter. The twist this time is that the form has a sub-form from which the data is collected. It took me a while to wrap my head around this, but eventually I figured out how to make the form do what I wanted it to do.

Flushed with success, I added the procedure to menu A (this allowing other people to use it) and told a colleague where to find it. The colleague telephoned me in short order, saying that he could see the top-level form, but not the sub-form. As the sub-form is key to the procedure, this was quite a blow.

Normally it is enough that a person has permission to run a procedure; that permission will cover everything included in the procedure. Apparently not so in this case. The problem was originally solved by adding the top-level form to menu B and giving the user permission to use it; this is not ideal, but isn't too bad as for reasons which are not relevant, running the form outside of the procedure does nothing.

Still, the permission problem bugged me. The consultants who support my company came up with an idea: don't change any permissions, but instead remove the form  from menu B. This way, the permissions table might be tricked into keeping the permission. And indeed this works. Strange but true.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Good days for insights

Good days for insights have nothing to do with stunning breakthroughs or grand victories. The key turns out to be having small wins — minor innovations and troubling problems solved — on concrete steps toward a larger goal. Creative insights flow best when people have clear goals but also freedom in how they reach them.

From "Focus - The hidden driver of excellence", by Daniel Goleman, 2013. I have changed the tense of the quoted text from the past ('Good days for insights had nothing') to the present, as it reads better, in my opinion.

Saturday, June 24, 2017


Following my attempts at finding songs which I loved as a youth, I turned my attention to the third Island Records sampler, 'Bumpers', which was released towards the end of 1970. Almost all of the acts who appeared on 'Nice enough to eat' returned to this album, but as several acts had spawned offspring, Island now had enough acts to fill a double album. I was familiar with most of the groups who appeared here, but there were some curiosities which I enjoyed but never followed up on (probably because of budgetary reasons although also as these groups didn't perform in Bristol and I was turning towards folk music).

Whilst researching this blog entry, I came across someone else's blog which covers the entire double album, giving a certain amount of information about every track along with lyrics. There wasn't much information which was new to me, but it's always interesting to read another take on the same record. The collected lyrics are worthy. I remember that the Blodwyn Pig track had a different vocal mix to the one found on its parent album; this factoid is not mentioned.

The first song which I tracked down is "Island", by Renaissance; it quite amused me at the time that they had a song referencing their record company. This group also recorded a song called 'The sea', which possesses the same name as a song by Sandy Denny on the contemporary Fotheringay album: two different songs with the same name. I was able to find the entire album as well as various histories of this group: after their eponymous debut album from which this song is taken, the group split and the name laid dormant for a year or so until another line-up formed and eventually became quite successful. I've been listening on and off to the album over the past few weeks but can't say that I find it compelling.

The other track which caught my interest was "Reaching out on all sides" by jazz-rock group If. The riff of this song stuck in my memory and I often used to play it in order to check the tuning of my guitar. It took me many years to realise that the riff is in 7/4 time. Youtube has the entire album available; again, after listening to it on and off for some weeks, this opening track is the only one which I like to hear. This is a masterpiece of dynamics: maintaining the 7/4 rhythm throughout, the arrangement moves though various sections, highlighting different instruments in the group.

The Bumpers blog contains the following description of the song (which is attributed to Jim Newsom; I read it elsewhere on the Internet but can't find the original at the moment): The song opens quietly, a lone guitar playing a gentle, bluesy intro that becomes a repeating riff in 7/4 time. Hodkinson's vocal arrives, with the first couple of verses accompanied only by the electric guitar floating atop barely audible organ chords. The saxophones appear playing a complementary pattern as the bass guitar and drums sneak into the mix. The song builds for a couple of minutes, the odd-metered rhythm becoming more insistent. Then the guitarist's riff turns into a sizzling two-minute solo flight over smoldering organ, bass and drums. When the horns reemerge to resume their earlier pattern, vocalist Hodkinson returns to take the song to its lyrical climax. Saxophones, organ and guitar build to a climax, until guitarist Smith is left alone for the denouement. I especially like the short passage between the second and third verses.

So, in retrospect, it's just as well that I didn't follow up on these songs then as I wouldn't have enjoyed their parent albums.

Bonus material: I was listening to 'Reaching out on all sides' whilst writing this. When it finished, Youtube then played a song called 'Listen' by Chicago. I have no recollection whatsoever of ever having heard this song, although I do recall that someone at my youth club had a copy of their first album (when they were still called 'Chicago Transit Authority'). The bass line of this song is identical to the tune of a very early song of mine, which was never written down. Did I 'quote' this bass line? I have no idea.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Business rules with functions (2)

I wrote a few months ago about an undocumented way to write complex business rules in Priority. Whilst I was copy editing my thesis again this morning, finding a few errors, I had a minor epiphany when reading the section about form triggers. I have always believed that it is not possible to write a business rule which compares two fields in the form (e.g. display an error message when the production date of a customer order is greater than the date that the customer wants to receive the order) and so have always handled such cases with a trigger.

This morning it occurred to me that it is possible to write a business rule which will compare two fields. In my previous blog, I showed an example which can be read as "Display an error message if the value in the 'towarhsname' field differs from the expression (:$.TOWARHSNAME IN ('23', '999') ? :$.TOWARHSNAME : '!!!'). Ignoring the technical aspects of this, I was using the same variable name in the expression as in the rule part. This doesn't have to be so! It would be very easy to write a rule which states "Display an error message if the value in the 'promised customer date' is less than", with the expression being the screen name for the field containing the production date (:$.TEC_DUEDATE). 

From a meta-programming view, this is another case of being blinkered: originally I was concentrating on how to define a rule which checked two non-contiguous values of one field, that I never considered the possibility of defining a rule which compares two fields.

[SO: 4502; 5, 21, 43
MPP: 812; 1, 4, 6
ELL: 964; 0, 2, 7]

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

DVD recorder problems

According to the invoice which I found today, I purchased my current DVD recorder in 2011 - six years ago. The machine has done sterling service, recording myriad films and tv series. But a few days before we went on holiday, I started having problems with it: I would start recording something and after a minute, the machine would automatically start formatting what it had recorded. This is normally the sign of a bad disc, but after trying several non-consecutive blank discs, I came to the reluctant conclusion that maybe the recorder had reached the end of its life and that it needed to be replaced.

I tried looking for a dvd recorder in the electrical shops nearby but without any luck. The duty free electrical shop in the airport also didn't have one.

Today I turned the dvd machine back on, set it up for long play (maybe that was the problem) and tried to record something. There was no sound coming from the tv when fed from the dvd recorder, but at least the machine did not try to format the disc before time. When I played back what I had recorded, the picture was fine but the audio was one long screech. I put a prerecorded disc in the machine and played this back: again, the picture was fine but not the audio.

I then started disconnecting all the cables and reconnecting. This didn't help, but I did notice that for one cable, the RCA plug had left its male connector in the appropriate connector in the dvd machine. I tried to extract the piece of metal but with no luck. In the next few days, I'll disconnect the dvd machine totally, clean it up and shake it - hopefully the connector will fall out. I may even open the machine up and see whether I can push the connector out.

Failing that, I will have to take the machine to some laboratory for repairs, which is going to be a tedious experience.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Rodos log 6: The Jewish Quarter

I woke up early this morning, so I went for a walk through the old city, which as one can imagine, is deserted at 5:30 am. I was able to repeat some of the video shots which I tried to film a few days previously, which had been slightly ruined by the crowds. Later on, we set off for the Jewish Quarter which is towards the south east part of the city; I thought it would be easier to get there by walking around the city walls from the outside, then entering by the closest gate and walking to the area. This route allowed us to see empty streets which the average tourist does not see. The detailed map which I had was actually rather misleading, as the distances were much smaller in reality than they seemed on the map, so we actually overshot our target. Eventually we found the Kahal Shalom synagogue; I checked the opening times and discovered that we had arrived exactly five minutes before opening.

The synagogue is fairly small, but beautifully upkept. It was exceedingly sad to walk around the synagogue and the accompanying museum, as almost the entire Jewish community of Rodos (then numbering about 4,000 souls) was destroyed by the Nazis in April 1944. A few survivors managed to find their way back to Rodos, but now there are only a handful of Jews living there. We feel an obligation to visit sites of our heritage and honour those who were killed for no reason except their being Jewish. We bought a few items in the gift shop; these were more expensive than their counterparts elsewhere, but the profits go to maintaining the synagogue.

After leaving the synagogue, we were astounded to discover that we were less than 100 metres away from the cafe where we drank the infamous milkshake on the first day. This is another example of the map implying distances which are much less on the ground. Now we knew exactly where we were; we walked back to the seahorse fountain, which is also a Holocaust memorial, carried on a bit more to the fountain which is pictured here, then took the left turn - as opposed to how we entered last week. This was the bottom of Socratous Street; we had been at the top a few days previously.

As opposed to our previous visits to the old city, the streets were much less crowded, which made strolling in them much more palatable. When we remarked on this to a few stallholders, we were told that this is because today is Sunday, which is when many holiday makers return home, to be replaced by new ones. So there are fewer to walk around. Some shops don't bother opening on Sundays.

We stopped in a gift shop where we bought a wide selection of jams, soap, ouzo and sweets. The shop is called Natura Greca and the manager told me that one can order items (though not olive oil, jam or honey) from the website. We were attended to by a very nice sales assistant (well, she must be nice as she laughed at all my jokes) who no doubt steered my wife to spend a bit more than she intended. Thinking about it, there were several shop assistants available, which is not the normal practice. There was also a collection of items carved from olive wood, but these were quite expensive and we declined to buy any. I am sure that the goods on sale are available in one form or another at several other shops.

From there, we continued northwards, in effect taking our evening stroll from a few days ago in reverse. We stopped to talk to one of the stallholders, from whom we had bought linen and dresses for our grand-daughter.

The sharp of eye will have noticed that there is a day missing from this holiday log: yesterday we had nothing planned, which is just as well as we woke up late. This was partially due to the exertions of Symi and partially to the amount of noise (mainly the wind) that night, which made it difficult for me to fall asleep. The only action of note was going to have a massage at the Anesis massage wellness center, which is next to the Blue Sky hotel.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Rodos log 5: Symi

Today we upped anchor and sailed to Symi, an island 41 km north-northwest from Rhodes. Originally I had considered going there by commercial ferry but changed my mind and booked a trip with a tour operator. This would save hassle - especially as we would be picked up and returned to our regular pickup point at the Blue Sky hotel - but we also received the services of a tour guide, who explained to us no small amount of material.

The wiki article states that the island has become a haven for tourists from abroad, especially British and Italians, and is now the permanent home of about 120 non-Greek residents, some 50 of whom are British. The influx of tourists has led to the restoration of a great number of homes (many of which were destroyed during World War II); these restorations, by law, have to conform to "guidelines laid down by the Greek culture ministry's Archaeological Service." Between 1998 and 2006, it is estimated that the price of a "ruin" on Symi increased five-fold. The growing population of British and other expatriates has led to demographic as well as political changes, since EU citizens are allowed to vote in local elections and have attempted to exert influence on the island's politics. Opinions on whether this is a sign of growing integration differ. Our guide told a slightly different story: there is no new building, and as several rich Americans (including George Bush Jnr, if my ears heard correctly) have bought houses, housing prices have risen dramatically, making it very difficult for many locals to afford to live in Symi anymore. Apparently the average age of the town in 55! There are many houses which are unoccupied, due to the high cost of living.

There is a statue in the harbour, which according to our guide, is a tribute to a boy who in the 1950s tried to kill a shark who entered the harbour. This episode did not go well for the boy, and over-reacting, the government prohibited fishing. This was the major source of income for the island in those days, so the prohibition was very serious. The ban might have been expected to last a year or two, but apparently it lasted for 25 years, during which the skill of fishing had almost completely been lost.

As a result, the economy of the island was ruined, and now the only real source of income is tourism. In common with many Greek islands, there is no fresh water available on the island, meaning that almost all forms of agriculture are out. Aside from tourism, the islanders make some money from sponges and spices.

The harbour area is seriously gorgeous and the pictures don't really do justice: the italianate facades are beautiful. But aligned with this beauty is the sad story of the economy and the demographics - a population of 25,000 has dwindled to 2,500 in the summer, and virtually zero in the winter. There is one school with 250 pupils, from grades 1 to 12; as there are very few teachers, it often happens that a class is attended by 8 year olds along with 15 year olds.

After spending several hours in the eponymous town (and being gouged by the restaurant where we ate - the Aris Tavern), we set sail for the opposite end of the island in order to visit the Panormitis Monastery. For some reason, our guide disappeared (I saw him disembark but none of the English speakers found him on the promenade), so I don't know anything about this area. Again, there is a natural harbour, although less closed than the main one. The non-appearance of the guide had one advantage: I could go into the monastery and take pictures before anyone else. We were allocated an hour at this stop, although I was back on the boat after about 20 minutes.

From there, it was sailing back to Rhodos and a minibus to take us home. Very strong winds were blowing, which caused the waves to be very agitated on the west coast by the Blue Sky hotel: no evening swimming. We normally open windows in our little flat in order to allow ventilation and cooling from three directions, but the strong winds prevent this tonight - I could barely close the bathroom door because of the wind. I hope that tomorrow will be back to normal.

A very strong recommendation for this trip!

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Rodos log 4: Lindos and the seven springs

Yesterday we took an excursion which traveled on the western side of the island; today we traveled on the eastern coast to the 'resort' village of Lindos (where the big boat is on the map to the left), which is a 50 km trip. As opposed to yesterday, when we were the last to board (as our boarding place is on the west coast), today we were the first to board, so we could get the plum seats behind the driver. He drove back along the road along which we had just walked, turned left to go to the supermarket, where we picked up some more people, on towards the aquarium and thence down past the old city walls, through a very run down area of Rhodos Town and then onto the open road.

Our first stop was at a place called the seven springs (Epta Piges); no one should make this their final destination but it's ok to stop here on the way to Lindos. There is a little lake with seven numbered springs feeding into it (although we only saw six) and a larger lake with ducks. There are also peahens wandering around the parking area. A bit further on is another psychological exercise: there is a 100 metre long tunnel through which flows water to the depth of a few inches. People walk through this tunnel in the dark and come out the other end. I did this because other people did it; what did I get from this? Nothing. Why do other people do this? Maybe to test their level of claustrophobia. One person writes: if you go there, you really should walk through the tunnel, it's around 200 m long, and I wouldn't recommend it if you suffer from claustrophobia, because it's pitch black, water running under your feet, and it's really narrow ... but if you want something special to remember when you come home, go for it! It's said that if you go through the tunnel you loose all your fears and u [sic] will be 20 years younger, so now am 0 years then :) I saw a t-shirt yesterday evening with the legend "I'm not 50 years old: I'm 18 with 32 years of experience". So I've got nearly 43 years of experience ... but the above comment verifies the statement that "60 is the new 40".

The road to Lindos was fairly boring - to me, it's like being at home as the vegetation is similar.

Just before we got to Lindos, the driver stopped at a lay-by, where everybody gets out and takes pictures. Apparently Lindos is known as "the white town", which is very accurate as every building seems to be white. When we got there, we stopped at a junction outside of the town and took the shuttle bus down to the town square, saving a 1km walk down a hill (50 cents). From there we walked into the market ... and then proceeded to get lost (not literally) in the maze of little streets which were packed with people looking at all the items on display. This reminds me very much of the side streets of Sorrento. It bothers me less than the same thing in the old city of Rhodos town: there the streets are part of a historical site and should be viewed as such whereas here they are simply a market.

Probably the major thing to do in Lindos is climb up to the Acropolis, but as this involves walking up 500 steps (and walking back down), it was clear that our knees weren't up to the job. One can hire a donkey (for 6 euro), but after our experience with donkeys in Santorini, it was clear that this idea was a non-starter.

After about an hour of wandering around, we decided to stop and have a light lunch in one of the many rooftop restaurants. That's me on the left, overlooking some of the white town. After eating, we had to find our way out of the maze again, but this we managed to do without much difficulty. We discovered that we still had plenty of time before our bus was to leave, so we had a final cup of tea. To think that at one stage we were considering spending three days in Lindos: I would not recommend coming here to anyone who is on a tight schedule. The prices are also higher: the book about Rhodos which we bought in the old city for 7 euro costs 10 euro in Lindos.

In the evening, we went to the 3D cinema near the harbour, which is showing a twenty minute film, "The throne of Helios", which tells in very dramatic terms some of the history of Rhodos. Apart from being entertaining (the 3D effects were enhanced by moving chairs, "rain" falling from the sky and bumps in the back), the film also imparts a great deal of history. Following that was a six minute fun film about a chariot race: no dialogue but plenty of action. I had had the foresight to request a non-moving chair for this film as I was sure that my balance problems would give me grief. Everyone else in the audience was screaming whereas I was simply enjoying the film. This was definitely a highlight and strongly recommended. The history film costs 10 euro, and the chariot film an extra 3.

The evening finished by walking back to Mandilara street, having a light supper, then walking through the pedestrian area which was mainly composed of full restaurants with live entertainment. In the middle of the road was one almost empty restaurant - I wonder how they must have felt.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Rodos log 3: Filerimos and the Valley of Butterflies

The day's primary event was a trip to a hill called Filerimos, then continuing on to "The valley of butterflies". We reported, as requested, to the Blue Sky hotel pickup point by 8:50, even though the minibus only came about ten minutes later. We had to wait about 15 minutes before leaving as apparently someone had booked but not turned up. When we did start, we traveled on the road to the airport.

Filerimos is a hill overlooking Rodos town: there is a monastery which we did not visit, and about 1000 peacocks/peahens wandering around the grounds. The major point of the trip is the views: one overlooking Rodos (although this is one is hard to get as vegetation gets in the way), and one over the southern part of the island, along with the western coast. Apparently the site is popular with young people who go there to get married. We were given an hour to spend there, which is probably just right if one goes to the monastery, but otherwise is far too long.

After returning to the airport road, we continued traveling for another half hour or so, past the airport and on to the Valley of Butterflies. This was not quite what we had been led to believe: first there was a 1km continually ascending hike through dense woodland, with a stream and waterfall on one side. The path was mainly cobbled stones, making the walking hard. The only wildlife which I saw was two goats; I did frequently stop and look for butterflies, but I could see none. Eventually the part ceased and I arrived at a large open space - a cafe. There were paths which lead to another monastery but again, I didn't enter.

In the wasteland behind the cafe - some natural open land - I eventually saw some butterflies; at first I jokingly thought that there was only one, flying around, but eventually I saw some more - maybe five in all. After this, I decided to retrace my steps and return to the parking area.

I was very disappointed in this trip, but didn't see the disappointment reflected in other people's face - there were plenty of other people, although the place was not crowded. This is like a psychological experiment: people are told to visit here, so they visit, but they won't admit that they didn't enjoy themselves. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone.

Coming back to town at 2pm, we rested for a while, then went into the Old City via the  Gate D'amboise, which is in the north west corner, only a few minutes from our flat. At first I was very taken by the architecture, which is the palace of the Knights, dating from the fourteenth century, but my appreciation was sorely tempered by the fact that almost every available space was taken by either stalls selling more and more tat or by restaurants. Our "entrance area" had only a few people, but by the time we entered Socratous Street, the area was crowded. I was enjoying myself less and less.

Eventually I managed to navigate out of the maze, to an exit by the harbour. Just before existing, I chanced upon a music shop, selling bazoukis and other instruments. The name of the shop is Sakellaridis and the address is 9 Museum Square. The cheapest "real" bazouki costs 85 euro (although the proprietor is willing to give a discount for cash) whereas a toy bazouki can be bought for 35 euro. These prices are a bit too much for me, so I decided to compromise on a karimba and some pan pipes. My grand-daughter should have fun with the karimba.

From the harbour exit, it was only a short walk back to the modern harbour area which we know; we stopped for some refreshment then walked back to the flat. There was plenty of potential today but all in all, rather disappointing.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Rodos log 2: the Old City

While we were walking around the harbour area the previous night, I picked up a leaflet for a hop-on hop-off tour around Rhodes city: this is exactly what we wanted, but for some reason, our landlady was unaware of it. I could see from the map that there was a pickup point quite near us, although exactly how near wasn't clear. I woke up at about 5:40 am and went out for a walk: the first port of call was to see how to get to this pickup point ... five minutes away on a street behind us, next to the sea. After walking there, I then walked back via a different route, in effect retracing our steps from the previous day, putting everything into context, filming here and there and looking closely at street names. I discovered that we are staying at a different address from what I had been led to believe: at the corner of Fanouraki and Ammochostou.

After breakfast, we walked to the Blue Sky Hotel, which is the bus pickup, and waited. We arrived a minute after the published departure time of the first bus, but don't worry: the bus was a few minutes late. Tickets are 12 euro each, which is a reasonable price. Apart from us, there was only one other couple on board. We set off for another pickup point, then doubled back to get to the Aquarium, which is at the northern-most point of the island - one of the places that we intended to visit. From here, the bus cut through to the port area, where we had been the previous evening, and then onto the old city - stop number seven.

Here we alighted. The idea was to cover as much of the market streets as possible before being overwhelmed by the surge from the two large tourist ships docked in harbour (one of which being Israeli). This plan worked to a certain extent, in that the first streets that we walked through were almost deserted, but soon we met the surge: this was because we were entering from one gate whereas they were entering from another gate, and so we met in the middle. This picture shows that we were the first to arrive at this fountain.

By the time we arrived at the next fountain, the roads were already crowded and the restaurant barkers were in full voice, despite it not yet being 10am. Fortunately, the barker in the picture was silent, but there were others who compensated for him (also the parrot). After several more shops and about half an hour, we decided that we had seen enough and that it was time for a drink. We stopped at a cafe which was quiet and ordered a milkshake; "small, medium or large?" was the question. I plumped for a large banana milkshake as I was thirsty: big mistake. I should have asked to see what each size was like (and how much it cost) before ordering. The "large" milkshake was huge - the waiter told me afterwards that it contained 1.5 litres of milk!! It was also very expensive - 20 euros. It also filled us up so much that we had no need to eat lunch, which is probably just as well. In fact, even by evening I was still feeling full.

This cafe turned out to be right next to the entrance by which the day tourists had entered, so we were shortly out of the old city. We visited Rodos about ten years ago when we were on a cruise, for a few hours in the evening: this is where we entered the old city. Once outside, we walked around the wall, going back to the pickup point, where we waited for a few minutes in the brutal sunshine. Along came the bus and off we went. After the next stop (the tourist harbour), the bus drove around the southern part of Rodos town, which is less interesting but probably the only reasonable way of getting to the Acropolis, which is a high hill at the back which apparently allows a view of the southern part of the island. We didn't get off as it was very hot.

The bus continued on its journey, reaching the western coast, then traveled north, passing the first and second pickup points on its way. This road is full of hotels, which is why the bus passes here. We didn't get off at point number two, but instead continued again until the Aquarium, where we did get off. This being underground, it was cool, providing a respite from the heat. The aquarium itself was disappointing: whilst the exhibits - and fish - were good, there simply weren't very many of them. 

From here, we waited for the bus again, did a complete round trip, got off at pickup point 2, walked home and collapsed in the shower. It was now gone 3pm. After resting, I did a quick food run, then showered again. We intended to eat dinner early, but got waylaid by our landlady's mother who talked to us for about half an hour; whilst the personal touch is very nice, it wasn't particularly what we wanted to do. 

We went to the same nearby restaurant where we had eaten the day before, this time ordering lamb chops (wife) and chicken souvlaki. Whilst the food was very good, the service was also very slow: when we asked about this, we were told that the food is cooked over charcoal (which we knew) and apparently takes longer to cook than in a frying pan (which we didn't know). Tell this to the hordes of Israelis who cook over barbecues on Independence Day! 

We didn't leave the restaurant until 9pm, me smashing a plate by accident on the way out - but hey! it's a Greek restaurant, where plates are smashed on purpose later on in the evening. Our original plans for the evening had been ruined by the time, but I hoped that at least we could save one thing: booking some tours at the tour operator shop which was a minute's walk from the restaurant. Fortunately this was still open, so we booked trips for the next coming days. This required a little flexibility as not every trip runs every day.

See you at the Blue Sky Hotel at 8:55 tomorrow morning for the pickup.

Rodos log 1

As of yesterday, we are on holiday in the large Greek island of Rodos (Rhodes) for a week.

Yesterday, we got up at 3am in order to be ready for our 7:25am flight with Arkia (a daughter firm of El Al which handles short flights, both internal and external). Everything pre-flight went smoothly, and the flight itself was short: we were in Rodos by about 9am. We were met at the airport by our 'landlady' - we are staying in a small flat in the northern part of the city, a few minutes walk from the sea, the harbour and the old city.

The flat itself is smaller than I thought it would be (isn't that always the case!), but it does come with a small kitchenette and a very large outdoor space, which is not a balcony but rather the roof over the flat on the lower floor. We are right at the top of the 5 storey building, with access via a lift to the fourth floor.
After a quick trip to a store to get some supplies (I misunderstood the directions given by the landlady and ended up in a shop with a very poor selection of food items), we laid down for a rest as we were both tired and it was very hot outside. Later, we went for a short walk around the neighbourhood, found the mini-market where I should have bought supplies, ate a very tasty (and very expensive, relative to our budget) sea bass, found a touristy pedestrian only street with some interesting shops, and finally a good supermarket (this is at the end of Mandilara street). We bought needed items then returned home.

When the heat cooled a little, I showered then went to sit on our 'balcony', reading and listening to music. After this, we went back out on the streets, turning right to the harbour district. We walked around this area for a bit, going out on the "long wave braker at Mandraki harbour" which stretches to the windmills and fortress, before returning home.

Everything is very close: walking at my natural speed would take me all of five minutes to get to the harbour on one side, and to the beaches on the other side of Rodos.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The music room (2)

It seems that I was slightly premature in uploading one of the pictures of my new music room - my wife did a little more interior decorating today.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The music room

The pegs which we bought last week have now been fixed on the walls and guitars have been hung on the pegs. So it's time to see what the music room looks like.

In the first picture are two mandolins, an autoharp, a Yamaha PSR-E 303 keyboard and a semi-acoustic bass guitar (influenced by Paul MacCartney's Hofner violin bass) which I've had since about 1980.
The only new instrument in this picture is my Avon copy of a Gibson SG, which I bought in 1976. The door leads to the bathroom.

Here we have the piano, Washburn semi-acoustic (in stand), Ovation acoustic (on wall), MIDI keyboard (on shelf), melodica (in case, at top), two amplifiers (on piano), and a few mini-instruments which are bronzes and not for playing.

Not pictured - because they are elsewhere in the house - are a violin (playable), an oud and the bagpipes.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sgt Pepper

I wrote a few days ago about an innocuous event which occurred 50 years ago, which later took on much more importance. A few days after that event happened another, whose importance was immediately recognised - the release of The Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper" album. Like the inaugural Fairport gig, this too passed me by at the time....

I've been trying to recall when I first heard any of the songs on this album. "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" were well-known, as they were the double A-sided single which should have been on the album, but for the others, it seems that it was several years before I heard them. I definitely recall hearing "She's leaving home" at some stage during 1969, but without knowing what it was.

My English teacher in 1969, Mr Patten (who also taught PT and unfortunately died at an early age), once played for us "A day in the life" during a class. This would have been in the autumn term of 1969, as I remember that I and my classmates knew by then how to handle an album sleeve. He was illustrating the kinetic lyrics of the middle part ("Woke up, got out of bed"), before dissing the rest of the song.

When I first went to Israel in the summer of 1972, some of my friends amused themselves by singing all the songs from "Sgt Pepper"; I remember hearing the title song and thinking "aha, they're singing Sgt Pepper", but for me, this record was already passé. Back in Bristol, someone who sort of created a group with me (we never really played a gig) asked whether we could play "Lucy in the sky with diamonds"; I had seen the sheet music in a Beatles' song book and as it didn't seem too complicated, I said yes - without having heard the song, as it had been banned by the BBC. I think I eventually heard it in 1973, and when I did, I asked myself whether "this is that wonderful song that everyone has been praising for years?"

I get the feeling that I never heard the album in its entirety until I bought the cd in 1991. Now, a new deluxe two cd version has been released: the first has a remixed version of the original album, whereas the second contains out-takes and remixes of the single. I am still underwhelmed. Without deliberately trying to be contentious, my favourite song from the album is probably "It's getting better", followed by "Fixing a hole" and "She's leaving home", although all the songs are totally eclipsed by "Strawberry Fields" and "Penny Lane". I enjoy most of the other songs but don't feel any real enthusiasm to listen to them, unless I've been reading (once again) how the tracks were created. Typically, it is the second disc which I find more interesting: hearing the backing tracks for "She's leaving home" and "It's getting better" without vocals, which reveal hitherto unknown details.

By 1969, when I started listening seriously to music and "Abbey Road" was the Beatles album, I still preferred listening to "Unhalfbricking" (Fairport) or the first Nick Drake album. It wasn't until John Lennon's death at the end of 1980 that I (and probably many more) started listening once again to The Beatles.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Fifty years of Fairport

27 May 1967. I was just a schoolboy in short trousers, a few months shy of my eleventh birthday, waiting out my final term at Henleaze Primary School before taking up my scholarship at Bristol Grammar School. At the same time, four young men walked onto the stage of a church in Golders Green, London: they had just begun calling themselves Fairport Convention. At the end of their show, another young man approached them and said that he could drum better than their current drummer; a tradition had set in right from the beginning of having a fluid line up.

I first became aware of Fairport at the end of 1969, from a magazine article entitled "Sounds of the 70s", in which the writer(s) discussed acts which were expected to achieve success in the 1970s. In the time between that initial show in Golders Green and the publication of that magazine article, a mere two and a half years, Fairport had already released four albums (a fifth, 'Heyday', featuring songs from this period would be released twenty years later), had recruited and released three singers, had suffered the misfortune of the van crash on the M1 in which the drummer died, and most significantly, invented the genre called 'Folk rock' - not the wishy washy American version, but full on rock treatments of traditional songs.

1969 was quite arguably the most successful year that Fairport had. The 1970 version lacked Sandy Denny, the 1971 version lacked Richard Thompson, and in 1972, the final remaining original member, Simon Nicol, left. Several very temporary line ups appeared under the Fairport name, but it seemed that the group had run its course - after five very full years. But no: Swarbrick and Pegg put together a new line up, combining forces with some of the survivors of Sandy Denny's Fotheringay, and a stable configuration appeared ... for about a year and a half. I didn't see the five member version, but I did see the group after Sandy returned.

That line up didn't last very long, and soon the group returned to the wilderness. I went to a festival in Southend sometime in 1976 which featured a very unusual line up - their picture appears on the sleeve of the atrocious "Gottle o'geer" record, but half of the people in the photo didn't play on the record. Fortunately, Simon Nicol (who engineered GoG) returned, and there was a very strong group for the years 1977-8, which I saw several times (including two times in the same week, when I finally met someone in the group). 

But by 1979, I had emigrated and the group folded - I know for a fact that my emigration did not play any part in the group's ceasing to exist. It wasn't until around 1986 that the group reformed and recorded "Gladys' leap". Although initially this was only a temporary group, Maartin Allcock and Ric Sanders soon joined to make a permanent group - which played together for an unprecedented ten years, at which stage Maart was replaced by Chris Leslie. A year later (1997), Dave Mattacks - drummer since 1969, although not during 1977/9, left, to be replaced by Gerry Conway (ex-Fotheringay). 

That line up is still playing, twenty years on! Full marks for longevity, but the sounds that they make are boring to my ears and only make me wish to hear the original recordings. 

So raise a mug to Fairport on their fiftieth birthday! They have been a part of my life for almost ever. It has to be said that their first ten years were so much better than the latter forty years.