Monday, June 25, 2018

Priority: writing 'direct activation' reports which are called from a son form

Priority allows one to write reports which are activated directly from a form. In some cases, one doesn't even have to do anything special in order to create such a report, as the following example will show. Let's say that we have written a report which produces data about customer orders; as such, one of the parameters to the report will be the order number. This report can be defined as a direct activation and will work without problem, as Priority 'enters' the order number behind the scenes.

But what happens if one wants to write a direct activation report which is called from a son form?  There is no obvious unique number which can be entered into the report, and some son forms don't have a single primary key, which makes life even more awkward. When writing a procedure which will be activated directly from a form (top level or otherwise), one always has to use the parameter PAR, which will hold one line of the table upon which the form is based. For example, PAR in the context of a customer order will hold a line from table ORDERS, where the value of the primary key ORD will be the value of the order currently displayed.

So, if one wants to write a direct activation report which is activated from the ORDERITEMS screen, one has to write a procedure, in which the first stage gets the primary key from PAR, which is then passed to the connected report. This is done as follows:
LINK ORDERITEMS TO :$.PAR; ERRMSG 1 WHERE :RETVAL <= 0; SELECT ORDI INTO :$.RDI FROM ORDERITEMS WHERE ORDI > 0; UNLINK ORDERITEMS;
Parameter names can only be three characters long, which is why I had to use the unobvious name RDI.

But what happens when the form has multiple fields in its primary key? I faced this problem yesterday when writing a direct activation report based on the DISTRDATELINES (distribution lines per date) form, whose underlying table has a primary key based on three fields. No problem: one simply extracts the three fields from the table linked to PAR and passes all three to the connected report.
LINK DISTRDATELINES TO :$.PAR; ERRMSG 1 WHERE :RETVAL <= 0; SELECT DISTRDATE, DISTRLINE, ROUNDNUM INTO :$.DAT, :$.LN, :$.NUM FROM DISTRDATELINES WHERE DISTRDATE > 0 AND DISTRLINE > 0 AND ROUNDNUM > 0; UNLINK DISTRDATELINES;
It may be that the triple detection for zero is unnecessary; checking for one non-zero value may be sufficient, as there should only be two rows in the linked table (one all zeroes and one with data).

Note that a direct activation report which is defined for a son form cannot be activated as a standard procedure!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Priority: subtle problem explained

My last blog entry was a bit muddled; I think that I'll rewrite it before posting it on my LinkedIn page. Thinking about some of the collateral problems whilst walking the dog, I found an explanation for behaviour which I have taken as a given until now.

The primary key of the junction table linking devices and waivers was the autoincrement key of the device along with a synthetic autoincrement field (kline). It is tempting to calculate the value of kline in the screen's pre-insert trigger: this way, the field will have a value before the tuple is written to the database. Unfortunately, an attempt to do this will result in an error message, that kline does not have a value ... even though it does. But does it?

One has to remember that the internal, automatic, triggers always execute before any triggers which have been added to the screen. In this case, there is an automatic pre-insert trigger which checks that all the fields which constitute the primary key of each tuple have a value. Kline has yet to have a value when this automatic trigger is executed, which is why an error message is displayed.

This means that the value of kline should be calculated either in a pre-form trigger or else in the post-field trigger of a mandatory field (in this case, the waiver code). This is what I have done, precisely because inserting the calculation in the pre-insert trigger doesn't work. Only now have I understood exactly why this is so.

Priority: adding a field whose description can change

One of the companies for whom I consult asked me to program a screen which would be a 'son form' of the device/serial numbers screen; this new screen would hold values which are defined in a separate screen. The company calls this table 'waivers', which is defined as 'the act of intentionally relinquishing or abandoning a known right, claim, or privilege'. They're using 'waivers' as a way of documenting changes which are knowingly made, such as using a different kind of power supply than that listed in the bill of materials.

This type of requirement is fairly standard, so first I created the 'waivers' table along with the screen which allows one to define the waivers. This table initially held an automatic, incremental number, a unique code and a description. A log of changes was requested, so I added another table to the database which would hold the changes log, then programmed the required screen.

The next step was to create a 'junction table' which links between the 'father' screen, the serial numbers, and the 'waivers' table. After defining this, I was then told that there would be at least one type of waiver whose value could be changed when entered into the junction table. Although I am familiar with screens which have such a variable (for example, the OrderItems table allows certain parts to have differing values; this requires that the part have a 'allow changes to description' flag set to true), I have never programmed one myself.

My first step was to add a 'non-standard' field to the junction table, and a 'allow changes' flag to the waivers table. I reasoned that two 'general' waivers could be added to the junction table for the same device, and so I would need to add the non-standard field to the junction table's primary key. I copied and adapted the code which is used in the OrderItems screen for the variable part variable, but it took me some time to get this code working partially correctly. Even so, I was unable to store a record into the junction table; I kept on getting the message 'missing nonstandard value' error.

Eventually the penny dropped: I was trying to store the value 0 in the non-standard field; Priority does not allow fields which are part of a table's primary key to be 0. So I had to remove the non-standard field from the primary key, and replaced it with a synthetic 'kline' field, whose value would be calculated at run time. Whilst writing the code to establish the value of kline, I realised that the 'waiver' code did not need to be part of the primary key either; this should consist of only a pointer to the device and the synthetic key, kline.

I then fell foul of a mistake which I have made a few times. The original code to calculate 'kline' was
SELECT MAX (KLINE) + 1 INTO :$.KLINE FROM TEST_SERNWAIVERS WHERE SERN = :$$.SERN;
This snippet gets the maximum value of 'kline' which has been assigned to this device and stores the incremented value in the screen variable 'kline', which will be stored in the record. This is almost correct: what happens when this is the first time a waiver is being stored for the given device? The above code will fail and the screen variable 'kline' will still be at its default value, 0 - and we learnt a few paragraphs ago that Priority does not allow fields which are part of a table's primary key to be 0. The trick is to use an auxiliary variable before the 'select' statement, and increment this variable after the select.
:MAX = 0; SELECT MAX (KLINE) INTO :MAX FROM TEST_SERNWAIVERS WHERE SERN = :$$.SERN; :$.KLINE = :MAX + 1;
This is a lesson which I have learnt several times and sometimes forget.

But what about the code needed to store a changing description? First off, the screen should show the value stored in a field which I called 'wdes', whose value is
(TEST_SERNWAIVERS.NONSTANDARD <> 0 ? NONSTANDARD.TEXT : TEST_WAIVERS.WAIVERDES)
which means 'if the value of non-standard for this line is greater than zero, then use the value stored in the 'non-standard' table else use the standard description. A piece which I missed originally was that WAIVERDES has to be a hidden field in the screen and it has to have a POST-FIELD trigger as follows:
SELECT :$.@ INTO :$.WDES FROM DUMMY;
which means 'save the value of this field (i.e. the waiver's description) into the WDES field. This causes the WDES field to display the original description before it is changed. The WDES field needs a CHECK-FIELD trigger to check that the current waiver allows its description in the junction table to be changed.

I'm sure that most of the above is somewhat incomprehensible; I shall try and streamline it in the future so that I can use the technique again, and teach it in my 'classes'. This blog shows how I got things wrong at first and how I corrected them.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

New arrangement for song

I wrote a month ago about a very old song of mine, "Gemini and Leo"; after writing that entry, I couldn't get the song out of my head. I sequenced it for MIDI nearly 20 years ago; I took that arrangement and started work on a more modern arrangement for Reason. 

As always, my old MIDI arrangements are too 'thick', so my first task was to 'thin' it out, i.e. have fewer instruments playing at the same time. I changed the introduction as it sounded too bland and old-style; I added an instrumental section in the middle, which allowed me to repeat the bridge section. I took sections which were played on one instrument and transferred them to a different instrument; I added a drone over the first two verses.

All in all, I spent a great deal of time and care working on this arrangement, making it light and interesting. I listened to it on and off when we were in Italy and realised that there were still changes which needed to be made. I implemented these a few days ago, and I think that now I have achieved a very good arrangement (although after a while I can always find something else which needs to be improved).

Now all I have to do is record vocals, which shouldn't be too difficult. I've been thinking about how I want to arrange them - double tracked in the bridges, no effects solo at the end, etc. I realise that reading the above might seem frustrating as there's no way to hear the song - at least, not yet. Even if I did find a way to post the song here, it probably wouldn't make much sense without the vocals.  Strangely, I often prefer the 'karaoke' version of my songs: the backing track without vocals. One can hear properly all the little pieces which I take so much delight in adding.

Yesterday I also listened to another arrangement which I completed over a month ago,  another old song called 'Cream on the pudding'. Again, I worked fairly hard on this arrangement; listening to it now, I can find a few things which need to be improved. I had forgotten some parts of the arrangement, so they came as a total surprise (that's good). There are actually three versions of the arrangement, all of which are basically the same. The differences lie in every fourth bar (the song  basically consists of four bar phrases): the first version is in straight 4/4, whereas the second version drops two beats from each fourth bar. 

The third - and final - version drops only one beat from each fourth bar, which makes for interesting listening. I've only sung this song a few times (checking that the key is right) and already I can foresee problems: most vocal phrases begin with an anacrusis (or 'pickup') and it's going to be difficult to remember how to fit the anacrusis over a shortened bar. Normally my tunes begin after the opening beat of a bar - I think that I do this subconsciously so that I can hear the opening chord which helps me pitch the vocal.

Monday, June 18, 2018

This must be the place

When we were in Torino's cinema museum last week, one of the musical films which were shown was David Byrne singing "This must be the place", as part of the soundtrack of the eponymous film. I was extremely taken by this infectious piece, staying on my couch until I saw it a few times. I even filmed it on my video camera before I realised that the clip would almost certainly be on YouTube. Indeed it is.

Looking past the music, there are some somewhat strange moments in the clip. What is the beginning supposed to be (the woman at the pool side)? I like how, at about 3:20, everybody lowers themselves then returns to a standing position; I like the little dance steps of the female backing singer at around 2:25. What I don't understand is the distribution of parts between the violinists; the third to Byrne's left seems to have little to play, whereas the violinist to her right is playing almost all the way through.

Once I discovered this version, I quickly discovered that there are many other versions available. Three are by Byrne - the original with Talking Heads, an interesting version on Jools Holland and a very recent (29 April 2018) but not too interesting version in which the choreography seems to be more important than the song. There is an article about this tour on the Guardian.

Of all the other versions, the most interesting seems to be by the (badly named) Ham Sandwich, a version which at least tries to differentiate itself from the original. There's also a swing version which I didn't like that much.

Looking back on my interest in the song, I note that it is almost played with one chord; generally I don't go for such minimalism. Also - so many people have recorded covers of a song of which I was totally unaware of until a week ago.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Italy 2018 - Parco Valentino

Today's weather might not have had four seasons, but it certainly was extreme. At one stage, it was fairly hot (and humid); the next minute, there was a thunderstorm with hail. More about this later....

Instead of going into the town centre, today we 'turned right' and walked the short distance to Parco Valentino, a very big park which runs along the west bank of the River Po. We had seen some of this park on Sunday when we rode on the hop on/off bus, but then the park was crowded with the last day of the annual automobile show. We decided to return to the park when it would be less crowded.

At first, we walked down a tree lined path which was next to the road, which was very pleasant. We later turned into an area called 'the rocky garden', which is like a park within a park. Whereas the main park was mainly left to itself, one could see that the rocky garden had been paid a great deal of attention. The relationship between this area and the main park is something like that of Golders Hill park and Hampstead Heath (or at least, how it was 40 years ago).  The two lamp-posts are an example of the sights visible in this section of the park.

Eventually we reached the area of the 'Fountain of the Months' (follow the link to see good pictures). In real life, the statues look a bit more tired than they do on that web site. Also, the fountain itself wasn't working.

At this point we turned back, but instead of following the path upon which we had come, we followed a path which ran along the bank of the Po. Just as well we did this, as shortly we came upon 'The medieval village' which is a realistic replica of a 15th century Piedmontese village built in the early 1800s. Just as we got there and I began to film the streets inside the village, bangs were heard in the sky ... and a thunderstorm began, complete with hail. I took refuge under an arch, which sheltered me from the worst parts of the storm. Again, the picture to the right looks more 'alive' than the real thing, whose colours are somewhat more drab. The rain didn't help.

Eventually the rain stopped, allowing us (and the six other people who were sheltering) to continue our stroll along the riverbank promenade. Finally we came to the end of the park, near enough where we had begun. By this time, we were fairly tired and hungry; fortunately there was a small cafe just across the road from where we were. A pasta al pomodora along with a cup of te calda were exactly what we needed to restore our spirits. Thinking about it now, the tomato sauce here was much tastier than the spaghetti which we had in Pisa and Lucca.

As we are going home tomorrow and as Torino is the town of chocolate, of course we had to buy some chocolates for people back home. There is an exclusive old-style chocolate shop on the corner of 'the main road' and 'our street', so we chose it for our purchases. In the window were some special chocolates: keys, locks and wrenches (the photo to the left isn't very clear), along with tea pots, cups and even cutlery, all made out of chocolate. We bought a selection of items. For ourselves, my wife has a bag of hazelnut chocolates, purchased after tasting a few when we had tea yesterday afternoon in a fancy cafe; I have my mint chocolate.

I am reminded of the taxi driver who took us from Pisa airport to our hotel in Pisa, when he asked about our plans. "Why Torino?", he asked in a questioning voice, as if no one goes there. We can know tell him that there are plenty of things to do in Torino and that we very much enjoyed our stay. I had prepared a few day trips to outlying villages but we didn't need these, finding enough to do in the city. Some might say that we could have done more with our time; I would reply that we are on holiday, which means that drinking a relaxing cup of tea in a cafe by the side of a piazza, watching the people walk by, is just as important as walking around an art gallery.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Italy 2018 - Four seasons in one day

Today started off cool and dry, although humid. The weather forecast predicted rain, which made today a good day to visit a museum ... not any museum, but the renowned Egyptian Museum. On the way to the museum, it started raining: not heavily, but that annoying rain which gets one wet with little effort. I don't know how much effect the rain had on other people, but the museum was quite full.

As per the cinema museum, we were issued with multimedia players and headphones; unlike the cinema museum where the players synchronised with each station, here the players were totally unsynchronised. It took me some time to figure out how I could play commentary which was connected to the room in which I stood at any given time. So we wandered from room to room, reading the captions and trying to understand what we were seeing.

Maybe the above doesn't sound very enthusiastic, but the exhibits themselves were excellent; possibly the best was saved for the end, the so-called Kings' Gallery, which had statues of Rameses II, at least ten of Sekhmet, as well as others. An excellent way to finish one's visit. The two statues outside of the building (see above) are also of Sekhmet; for some reason, there are hundreds of statues of this goddess.

After the museum, it was time for lunch; today we slummed a little and ate in McDonalds, which is on Piazza Castello. From there, we crossed the piazza and went into Palazzo Madama, which wasn't exactly what we were expecting. The museum has mainly medieval pictures and pottery, along with a garden. As it happened, we met two of the gardeners who were working at the time, and my wife had a learned discussion with them.

From the Palazzo, we walked a little way along Via Garibaldi until we came to the Juventus store, where we bought a jacket for our son. The prices in the store are outrageous, but then the prices of mementos in the Egyptian Museum were also very high. On the subject of prices, we have been trying to find a baseball hat in Turino; the first that we found was from the opposing club, Torino FC, a snip at only €20! The baseball hats in the Juventus store were priced at €32, whereas those which we found yesterday in a shop called 'Comte of Florence' was selling hats at €35. Needless to say, we have yet to buy a baseball hat; we are hoping to find one at the airport.

This business with hats epitomises something which we have noticed about Torino: there are extremely few foreign tourists here, and so there are very few shops (if any) selling tourist tat, and everyone speaks Italian. Sometimes this can be problematic (e.g. in McDonalds) and sometimes not. At least the hop on/off buses have commentaries in several languages; the Egyptian and Cinema museums have every caption in Italian and English.

Something else which I have not mentioned here: most Italians, even teenagers, smoke most enthusiastically,  which is exceedingly annoying. Many people in Pisa ride bicycles - because it's flat; at first I didn't see any bicyclists in Torino, but they were out in force over the weekend.

After the Juventus store, we walked home along Via Lagrange until we came to the Kazanova store; I describe this shop as quintessential Italian - the goods are beautifully designed and arrayed in the shop and most are essentially useless. The triumph of form over function! Fortunately, many of the items are very cheap so we managed to pick up a few items.

Why is this blog entitled 'Four seasons in one day'? Because the day started off dry and cold (autumn), then it rained (spring); after lunch it was fairly warm (26 °C) and we've just had a thunderstorm and rain (at 9pm). 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Italy 2018 - Hop on, hop off

I was woken this morning at about 7:30am with a WhatsApp message from someone at work. For me, this is a very late hour (which is probably why the sender felt justified in doing so); I felt pretty awful after I got up. This is no doubt due to the dehydration and very mild sunstroke from the day before: I have a huge red v on my chest where the open top of my shirt let the sun in. After several cups of tea and a cold shower, I started feeling better.

The city of Torino - or at least the part which interests us - is laid out as a grid, so one can take alternative paths and still get to the same destination. Today we walked up one pedestrian street, took in a detour to see a new piazza and statue, then found ourselves once again on Via Po. Our destination was one corner of Piazza Castello, which is the base for the local hop on/off buses. There are three lines (A, B and C) although I get the feeling that line C wasn't running today. I bought tickets for lines A and B.

First off was the line B bus, which set off down Via Po then toured around the south of the city. These are areas that we would never have seen on our own, which justifies taking the bus. That said, much of what we saw was industrial and not particularly interesting. We came back to Piazza Castello via a new route, so we saw lots of buildings which are new to us.

When we got back to base, there was a line A bus waiting, so we jumped onto this bus. The route of line A is shorter but more interesting: again, down Via Po, but this time we crossed the river Po and spent some time looking at the fancy buildings on the other side of the river. We then crossed back, went past the Valentine gardens which are very large, then turned into the main road which goes past the railway station (which is near to our flat). We also went around the market area before coming back to Piazza Castello.

The tickets are good for 24 hours, so theoretically we can walk to the bus stop of line A which is close to us, get on the bus, ride with it almost a complete circle to the gardens and get off there. Coming back we might be able to ride once more from the gardens to our local stop. No one checks the tickets anyway.

After we finished riding the line A bus, we walked back home via another road, Lagrange (named after the mathematician, who was a local boy). First we had a pizza (my first) and an ice cream, then carried on down the road, past the Egyptian Museum and many shops, and thence to the railway station.

Today was hot and muggy, my least favourite combination of weather; it was a relief to get home and into the shower. 

I wrote yesterday that we had lost the electric key button which opens our building. I went to the desk which manages the hired flats and told them; the girl there then produced the button! It transpires that it fell off the key ring in the hallway outside our flat and someone (maybe one of the cleaners) picked it up. A weight off my chest.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Italy 2018 - The market, Mole Antonelliana

As opposed to yesterday, today was dry and HOT! For some reason, we didn't take our straw hats with us today which was a big mistake.

The first location which we visited was the market Mercato di Porta Palazzo; this is situated "behind and to the left" of Piazza Castello. We walked there reasonably quickly, including a stop for tea in the piazza. By the time we got to the market, it was exceedingly hot and there was very little shade. We walked around some of the market, looking for the weekly antiques part, but couldn't find it. Later on, I walked around the entire market but still could not find the antiques, so we cut our losses and left the market. We took shade near a tram stop for the No. 16; I saw that its route would take it to Mole Antonelliana which was on our 'must see' list. We waited patiently for the tram to arrive, then rode on it for about fifteen minutes.

After alighting from the tram, we stopped for a vegetarian lunch at a little cafe; this gave us a welcome break from the sun. From the cafe, it was a few minutes walk to the tower, although we had to wait about fifteen minutes in the sun before we could enter. After we entered the building, we waited (again) in the queue for the lift which would take us to the top of the building (or at least, as high as the lift goes!). The ascent, which lasted maybe two minutes, took us to an observation floor which allowed us to see all of Torino. Obviously this means less to us than to the locals, but it was still very interesting.

The building houses the national museum of cinema, which is mainly on the first and second floors. The first floor is historical, showing the various attempts at making moving pictures from the 19th century. This was interesting, but it paled into insignificance by the exhibits on the second floor. Here, it seemed as if the entire building was hollowed out. The main hall was filled with couches from which one could view two huge screens, one showing songs from classic films whereas the other showed parts of films in which their musical themes were played (see picture below).

Along the walls of the building was a continual walkway which had dozens of exhibits, clips of films showing how films used music and how music changed the films. One heard the music via personal headphones which played music according to where one was. Thus we had the early musicals ('Singing in the rain' and 'On the town' with Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin), musical documentaries ('Don't look back', 'Woodstock' with Jimi Hendrix, 'The Last Waltz'), later musicals ('Hair', 'The Rocky Horror show'), rock operas ('Tommy'), music videos, et cetera, et cetera. I very much enjoyed this!

We ended up spending several hours in the museum, so by the time we came out, the sun had lost its fury and we could walk happily back to our flat. When we got to the building of the flat, I discovered to my dismay that the electric key button which we needed to enter the building had disappeared from the key chain which was connected to a ring in my bag. I emptied the bag but couldn't find the button! Fortunately, we were also given a regular key for the main door, so we were able to open the door and get to our flat.

Dinner: fried salmon steaks and spaghetti.

For some reason, I was able both this morning and this evening to connect the video camera to the computer, download all the footage and convert it into a format which can be viewed on the computer. I don't know why this didn't work previously.

We haven't yet decided what to do tomorrow.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Italy 2018 - Getting to know Torino

Just as I finished writing yesterday's blog, there were several bangs in the sky: a thunderstorm had started. Sometimes the rain came down heavy, sometimes light: it was clear that we would not venture out of the flat! During the course of the evening and the night, we discovered that however good our flat is, there is one thing that wasn't mentioned: the area is very noisy. My wife says that the streets didn't get quiet until about 3am. This evening there's been a very loud blues jam (primarily mouth organ) which started at around 6pm and shows no sign of finishing (it's now 9:15pm). We have had to close all the windows and still we can hear the 'music'. Very annoying.

There were still a few drops of rain falling this morning when we went out, although they cleared up fairly quickly. We walked along the main shopping streets - Via Roma and Via Po. The latter street was disappointing: I thought that there would be many modern shops but in fact it was very old fashioned. Via Roma has many international chain shops and was more up to date. We also went through a few huge piazzas, especially Piazza Castello. We will be retracing our steps tomorrow when we go to the Mercato di Porta Palazzo, which is a huge outdoor market.

We had a very disappointing late lunch in the train station; in order to compensate, we've just eaten fresh spaghetti, sauce, salad and tuna, all courtesy of our local supermarket. I cooked the spaghetti.

Italy 2018 - The best chocolate in the world

Several years ago, we were at Rome airport coming back from Venice when I bought a bar of chocolate. It was the best chocolate that I had ever tasted, but by the time I realised this, it was too late to go back and buy some more. Ever since, I've been on the lookout for this chocolate; I would ask friends who were flying to Italy to buy some and I also tried to order by means of the Internet. I never succeeded.

Today we were walking the streets of Torino when we stopped at a gift shop. The first thing which I saw was the display of chocolate on the left - different products of the Baratti and Milano line. The second thing that I saw was the bar on the bottom shelf, second from the right - Cioccalato extra fondente con Cristalli alla Menta - the chocolate which I have been looking for these past years. I immediately snapped up four bars.

Maybe this time I'll be able to find someone who sells it via the Web. 

Actually, the manufacturers do sell it (I tried this before but something didn't work): the mint chocolate can be found here, at 'only' $9.50 each. I bought four bars for €12!

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Italy 2018 - Travelling to Torino

Today started in the same way as the past few days - breakfast in our hotel. I have to write a good/excellent review of the di Stefano hotel on TripAdvisor. After breakfast, we went upstairs, packed quickly, then came down again for a taxi to take us to the train station.

As intended, we bought tickets for the same train on which we travelled to Riomaggiore the other day. This time, there were no first class tickets available, so reluctantly I bought second class tickets. The advantages of first class tickets are more leg room and more luggage space, important advantages for a 3.5 hour trip. As it happened, there was also plenty of luggage space and leg room in second class, so we actually saved money (the tickets cost €48 each, which is the same as one way first class from Pisa to Riomaggiore).



After arriving in Torino, we found the taxi rank from where we were taken to our dwelling, which is actually very close to the station, but involved a slightly longer ride, due to the one way streets. I write 'dwelling' as we are staying in a self-catering flat. Like in Venice, this flat is well appointed: we have a large lounge cum kitchen cum dining room, a luxurious bedroom and an even more luxurious bathroom - although there is nowhere to hang towels! The picture on the left is missing the couch, which is opposite the kitchen counter, and the entrance area.

We had been expecting rain and/or cold weather today, so we dressed appropriately; instead it's 27°C and fairly humid (as I write these words, my wife tells me that it's now raining). After a short period of doing nothing, I found our shopping trolley and went in search of a local supermarket; by chance, I found one a few minutes away. I stocked up on foods that we need, although I missed a few items (mainly because I don't eat them, like sugar). The bill came to €37 - much less than our meal in Riomaggiore, but will last us much longer. This is one of the main advantages of a self-catering flat; the per diem cost of the flat is also less than that of the hotel in Pisa. We've just had a late lunch/early supper of tea and tuna sandwiches; probably this would cost €10 in a cafe, whereas here the cost is negligible.

Somehow I doubt that we will do much this evening; if it's going to rain tomorrow, then we'll spend our time getting to know the shopping area around via Po which appears to be about 600 metres from where we are.

One little extra: internet access here is much easier than it was in Pisa. There we had to connect via a login page, whereas here we just need to type in the password for the router. As a result, my phone is now connected to the Internet (and to WhatsApp), but more importantly, I can connect directly to the servers at work via the regular VPN connection, instead of the more problematic connection which I had in Pisa. This may not mean much to most people, but it makes my life much easier.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Italy 2018 - Pisa/Lucca

This morning we went back to the tower, reasoning that at 8:50am, there wouldn't be many people there. We were almost right: there were some people in the Piazza dei miracoli, but much fewer than the previous time that we were there. This enabled us to take several pictures of me doing Tai Chi and holding the tower up, as well as several of my wife. As can be seen from the photograph, it was very cloudy at that hour.

Afterwards, we left via streets which we had not previously visited, but took a wrong exit at Piazza del Cavalieri: although we eventually got back to 'the main road' aka Via Carducci, it took longer than expected. Once back in the hotel, we had a quick cup of tea (thank you to the manager who let us make the tea in the breakfast room although breakfast had officially finished) which we drank on the terrace. After partaking of tea, my wife wanted to be photographed with the tower in the background.

The manager asked where we were going today; when we told him that we were going to Lucca, he said that we could travel by bus, as there was a stop nearby. Whilst the bus might take longer to get to Lucca, we didn't have to walk down to the train station. Italy has the quaint tradition of selling bus tickets in tobacconists; it took me three attempts to find the one who sells the tickets; only 3 per person each way.

Eventually the bus came, but it must have taken a very circular route as it took nearly an hour to get to Lucca. By this time, the early morning clouds had disappeared and it was getting fairly hot. We walked down the narrow streets, then chose a cafe at random for morning tea. Moving on, we passed Piazza Pucchini with a statue of the composer (which for some reason does not appear on my map) before arriving at the Piazza S. Michele. After filming from several avenues, we chose a corner cafe for today's portion of spaghetti al pomodoro, today accompanied by a banana milkshake. After lunch, we walked back via a different route, buying a set of salt and pepper pots at a price somewhat less than what we could have paid in Amalfi a few years ago. Thence to the bus stop for the return journey.

I 'rested my eyes' during the trip back; obviously the driver must have taken a shorter route back as suddenly I noticed that we were approaching the stop from which we had boarded the bus in the morning. Once back in the hotel, we had a short rest before setting off for the botanical gardens. Getting there was very easy - we walked down to the end of the road in which the hotel is situated, turned right ... and then we were in Piazza del Cavalieri again!

Whilst the gardens might not be everybody's cup of tea, it spoke volumes to my wife. At least the weather was better than it was when we visited the botanical gardens in Palermo a few years ago. The gardens included a section housing medicinal plants as well as a greenhouse housing many varieties of cactus. It was surprising how many of those plants and cacti grow on our kibbutz. To round it off, we saw a very medicinal plant (see the picture to the left).

After leaving the gardens, we had a light meal in a street side restaurant (I had minestrone which was excellent, and bruschetta which wasn't), we stopped at a gelateria where I finally had some mint ice cream (heaven!), then walked back once more via the piazza - which had been set up for a free concert this evening.

Back in the hotel, I finally filmed the exterior (a very tatty street) and the interior - very well designed and furnished, with some of the walls showing original brickwork. Tomorrow we pack and head north for Torino, where we are staying in a self-catering flat. I very much doubt that there will be a blog tomorrow, as we will be spending four hours on a train, then getting organised in our new base.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Italy 2018 - Cinque Terre/Riomaggiore

Following on from yesterday, not being able to connect the camera to the computer seems to be a problem with the USB cable; apparently not all USB cables are created equally. Unfortunately I only brought one suitable cable with me so we'll have to wait until get home before we can see what I have filmed. This is somewhat ironic as I brought with me my home computer in order to transfer the videos. This also causes another problem: my home computer happily connects to work via a VPN whilst I am home, but it's a different story when I'm abroad. Eventually I was able to connect to work last night and this morning in order to send reports and do a little maintenance. I don't remember having such problems with my work computer when abroad. But this may well have to do with which ports are open in the router through which I am connecting and so the work computer might also have such problems. Anyway, enough of the commentary of technical problems and on to the holiday!

The hotel has a rooftop patio which allows a view of the Pisa skyline. I was up there yesterday evening, but the sun was right behind the leaning tower so I couldn't film it well. I went up again early this morning and got a much better result.

After breakfast, we set out for the railway station in order to travel to Riomaggiore, which is the southern-most village of the five, and supposedly second best after Monterosso. Getting to the train station from our hotel is very easy: walk about 50 metres south, turn right, walk another ten metres, turn right - and then one is on the road which leads directly to the train station. True, one has to walk for about 15 minutes (or stroll for half an hour), but it's an easy walk which is all pedestrianised. There are shops along most of the way, which makes the walk interesting, but in the morning (just after 9am) most were closed. Few people were walking the way which we were, but many were coming the other way.

We arrived at the train station at about 9:40, which left us 15 minutes in which to buy tickets and find the platform. I tried my luck on the automatic vending machine: first class to La Spezia plus a ticket to Riomaggiore would cost 48 (La Spezia to Riomaggiore costs 4). We had to go first class as there were no second class tickets available. For some reason, the machine would not accept my credit card so I had to pay in cash. After having paid, I realised that I should have pressed the 'credit card' button which would have caused the machine to accept the credit card. We validated the tickets then found platform 5. The arrival of the train was preceded with an announcement that the first class carriages were at the back of the train, so we started walking to the back. When the train did arrive, the first class carriages were of course at the front, so we had to retrace our steps. First class tickets come with pre-assigned seats, so we found them and had a pleasant journey to La Spezia. There we changed trains, finding a seat on a very crowded local train to our destination.


Once at Riomaggiore, we wandered around for a little until we realised that the village is not where the train station is, but rather a few hundred metres south; one gets there via a tunnel, which is next to the train tunnel! Once out of the tunnel, the main tourist road of Riomaggiore reminded me of the tourist road in Amalfi: twisty and going uphill. Our first task was to buy hats: I broke with my long standing tradition of buying a baseball hat of wherever I was, and bought a fedora. After wandering around a little, I had my first taste of ice cream for this trip - lemon and strawberry. Good, but not excellent.

We then descended to the harbour area in order to see what our options where regarding sailing to another village. Although there are boats from Riomaggiore, they seem only to sail to Monterosso, and as we've already been there, we decided to forego the experience. So we looked for a restaurant which serves fish - as opposed to seafood - and eventually found one. We both ordered grilled sea bass; I think this was the best sea bass I've ever eaten, really tasty. Below appears the fish after the waiter had skillfully deboned it.


After lunch, we realised that there wasn't more to do, so we returned to the small train station and bought tickets for La Spezia. The train came shortly afterwards, but after alighting in La Spezia (and buying tickets back to Piza, this time with the credit card - only 7.60 each), we had to wait over half an hour for our train, which stopped at every station on the way (the train in the morning stopped at only two stations before La Spezia, which probably accounts for the difference in price). 

We arrived back in Pisa at 5pm; our first port of call was a cafe in the nearby piazza, where we had a good cup of tea and some cake. Walking back to our hotel, the road was full of people - but again, most walking the other way (i.e. to the station). Into the hotel and shower. The weather in Pisa is partially cloudy, but it was hot (28 °C) in Riomaggiore.

I think that Monterosso was better than Riomaggiore; today was good but not excellent. Tomorrow we will travel to Lucca.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Italy 2018 - Pisa

After turning our backs on Italy in favour of Greece last year, it's back to Italy. This year, we're starting off in Pisa then moving further north to Torino (Turin) for almost a week.

Pisa itself - apart from the tower - is not much of a big deal. The reason why we are here is that we can see the tower, it's reasonably cheap, and it's easy to get from here to Cinqua Terre, which is where we will be tomorrow.

Our flight left Israel at 9:25 am which is a very civilised hour. We were in Rome just after 12, and our connecting flight to Pisa took off just after 2pm. After a flight of less than an hour, we arrived at the somewhat dilapidated Galileo Galilei Pisa International Airport; a driver picked us up and took us to the hotel. Whilst a driver is something of a luxury, it's needed as we would never have managed to navigate the small streets of the old town of Pisa.


After a quick freshen-up, we were off to the leaning tower, which is only a few minutes walk away. The area around the tower and the accompanying duomo is very large with well kept lawns. There were plenty of people there, but little sense of crowding. Many people had the same idea of being photographed whilst supposedly holding up the tower. There was a festive atmosphere which made it very pleasant to be there.

We spent about an hour in this area then walked back to the hotel, looking for a suitable place to eat. Unfortunately, Italians like to eat meat (which is frequently pork or ham) along with cheese, which is not a suitable meal for us. We found a local pizzeria just outside the old city walls, where we ate spaghetti al pomadora and drank tea.

Thence to the hotel and bed. At the moment, I have not been able to connect my video camera to the computer, so I can't copy any of the footage which I shot today.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

New chic shoes

I have a quiet fetish for shoes, or rather for loafers, casual shoes which don't have laces. I've mentioned this a few times in the past, notably buying shoes in Florence and in Sorrento. I see that I've even created a 'shoes' tag for this blog. I also bought a pair of leather lace-up shoes during our first visit to Florence in 2002 (?).


Over the past few months, I've seen many adverts for 'New Chic' shoes popping up whilst browsing the Internet; of course, none appeared today. At one stage, I decided to give in to temptation and so ordered the 'Men Large Size Old Beijing Style Casual Cloth Shoes', which are very much the sort of shoe that I like. These are remarkably cheap, so I ordered two pairs: one in brown and one in blue. As my shoe size varies between 42 and 43, I decided to play safe and ordered them in size 43. They arrived quite quickly; I started wearing the blue pair the day that they arrived and had no adaptation pain, which can happen with new shoes or sandals. My wife was very appreciative of their appearance.

After a while, I realised that the inner soles of the shoes were exceedingly thin, which made walking distances (over a kilometer) not a good idea. My wife suggested buying inner soles in a shoe shop, but then I had a better idea, which I implemented today. I have a pair of fake leather crocs, also size 43, which my wife doesn't like; I took the thick, rubber, inner soles from those shoes and inserted them into the Beijing shoes. Fortunately they fit like a glove, and I've just come back from my first walk with them. It will take a few days to get used to the new feeling - if the shoes were slightly too large before, now they are a perfect fit - but I'm sure that I have improved the shoes.Now it feels like walking on air.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Once more Hebrew on Windows 10

The OP had bought a new Dell mobile computer which naturally came with Windows 10 pre-installed. She had installed the Hebrew language, but we discovered that all my Hebrew programs displayed Hebrew as a series of question marks.

After playing around for a bit, I discovered that Windows 10 can define a language for non-unicode programs, exactly in the same way that Windows XP does it. The only problem is finding that setting - as far as I remember, it's in Control Panel > languages > advanced. 

Once I had changed this setting, all the programs displayed correctly.