20 Aug 2011 Borough Market

Borough Market is something of a "foodie" place near London Bridge Station which we have been planning to visit for over a year. Every time we've set aside a day to visit, something has cropped up- until today!

The experience was worth the wait.

As we entered the market, we were greeted with a waft of smells which tantalized our noses and taste buds.  Garlic, Smoked Garlic, Cheeses, Herbs,............... The range of foods was immense. We had made the mistake of eating breakfast before leaving home so we couldn't sample the various snacks on offer. To call them burgers or hot dogs would be like calling a Rolls Royce a "banger".  The range of fresh vegetables and fruit was huge and the quality outstanding.  Fresh fish and shell fish like you rarely see in this country.  The range of meat  was equally impressive.  Add the general friendly atmosphere and the willingness of the traders to discuss their products and offer samples and you are in foodie heaven.

We bought Ostrich steaks for dinner (outstanding), strawberries, apples, Welsh cheese, Olives, Flat Nectarines, Tomatoes, ........ 

We have resolved to make regular trips to Borough Market. I'm already planning what to buy on our next trip (the Cider Brandy sounded very tempting).

 

19 Aug 2011 The Joy of Car Maintenance 

Since 1983 we've tended to buy new cars and so have not needed to do a lot of major car maintenance. Prior to to that,  older cars meant more time in the garage maintaining the car. Having said that, we tend to keep our cars a long time so they do, eventually, need maintaining.  I actually quite enjoy maintaining our cars and, over the years, have tackled some quite major jobs.  However, these days maintenance tends to be limited to servicing and things like replacing brake pads and discs.

A few weeks back Linda's car needed new pads and discs, a job which, as the garage was a bit cluttered, was less than enjoyable. Definitely a "had to be done job".  Conversely, after tidying the garage, I serviced the other two cars in a couple of hours and thoroughly enjoyed it.  In the process, I noticed the MX5's brake pads were worn and, with the MOT looming, a change would be worthwhile.  A new set of pads was ordered (front and rear) which eventually arrived in time for me to fit them today.

Once again, with the garage tidy and the correct tools, the job was a pleasure. Victoria provided a "third hand" to hold the rear caliper while the rear pads were positioned and assisted in the final pre-MOT checks.

I think there is something almost primeval about men repairing cars and enjoying it, perhaps a modern day alternative to killing sabre toothed tigers.

 

18 Aug 2011 A Level Results Day

I'd not realised how long it was since I'd updated the blog but today couldn't pass without an update.  A Level results day and this year the twins' results were awaited. Their offers were demanding, as you'd expect for their chosen courses (Medicine and a Masters in Chemistry) but their predicted grades were higher and the module results more than promising.  So, when the UCAS system was checked before breakfast time this morning, the confirmation that both had secured their first choice offers was no surprise.  A mid-morning trip to the school confirmed the actual results were  in excess of the required grades (A*A*AA).    

Yes, we are chuffed to bits. Any parent who won't be isn't normal. 

A family lunch to celebrate was called for so off we went! 

Now there is just the pre-University preparation to do- a printer each, bedding, pots, pans, books, .........

 

4 Oct 2010 National Hamfest and a new toy for Linda

 I visited the National Hamfest  (held on 1/2 Oct near Newark) on Saturday and really enjoyed it. I traveled up to the area on Friday, stayed over in a local hotel, and was at the Hamfest in good time for the gates opening. 

By UK standards, this was a big amateur radio event (I don't like the use of ham radio to describe my hobby). Not on the scale of Dayton Hamfest in the US but a great event none the less. Lots of "goodies" to buy, or just look at, and a great opportunity to meet old, and make new, friends.  A great appetizer for the RSGB Convention next weekend.

I bought a few things at the Hamfest but the key purchase was a handheld radio for Linda. Linda wanted something small and light and, after looking at several options, we settled on one of the Wouxun range. Initially, the idea was to get a 2m only radio but there was a good deal on a 2m/70cm one which is also a tad smaller.  So, we bought a KG-UVD1P.  A few minutes modifying one of my programming leads and downloading some suitable software made programming up the memories very easy and Linda seems quite pleased with her new toy. Of course, as 2 Oct was also our  34th Wedding Anniversary I had to "top up" the present with flowers and chocolates! 

The RSGB Convention is only a few days away and I confess to feeling like a youngster the night before Xmas. The lecture program looks very good, all the UK examination sessions are organised, so everything looks set for another great Convention. I've lost count of how many Conventions I've attended- perhaps 5 or so- and they've improved year on year. I need to find some time for some last minute tweaks to my lecture but I should find the time for that this week. 

All the planning is done for the next Train the Trainers session, which is in Jersey, and demand for further sessions remains steady.  Northern Ireland will probably be next and there is even interest from foreign societies.   

 

13 Sept 2010 RSGB Convention- not long now!

 (For the non-radio amateurs I'm referring to this: http://www.rsgb.org/rsgbconvention/

The RSGB Convention is just under a month away and is probably my favorite radio event of the year.  The lecture programme looks even better than last year and I'm told the new venue also an improvement.  There is always a very good social side to the Convention and a contingent from my local club usually attend. I'm lecturing again and organising the UK examination sessions but I usually manage to see a good selection of the lectures.

The weekend before the Convention  is the national "Hamfest" ( a term I detest but others like it). I couldn't make last year's  Hamfest  but I've got special permission from Linda to be away on our wedding anniversary this year.   

At last the drive is finished. I had some earth radials run under it and hope to get those connected to the rest of the RF earth system at the weekend. We've got someone (hopefully) working on the front garden tomorrow and will get the turf laid etc. at the optimal time. (I'm told this is important. If I could get some extra earth radials under it, I could accept it is important.) Plans are afoot for an "easy to erect" mast at the rear of the house. It won't be permanently up, I just need something for some experiments I can raise quickly and get down as quickly. 

Work is very busy, the extra A level classes are proving a real pleasure.  CRV is getting some TLC to fix some "shopping trolley" type dents so the MX5 is getting some extra use. It is a pity the weather isn't conducive to having the roof off. 

 

12 Sept 2010 Why we Lost the Empire

Last Night of the Proms is something of an event in the Reay house but, for the first time in probably 30+ years, we couldn't watch it live and so we recorded it.  The master plan was to have our own "Last Night" this evening and, as I type, that is what we are doing.

In case the recorder had malfunctioned, I scanned the recording this afternoon. To my dismay, the programme has omitted (again) the highlight of the evening- a Fantasia on English Sea Songs.  It was replaced with an arrangement of some thing from "Pirates of the Caribbean". What is more, there is an American singing "Rule Britannia". Don't get me wrong, few Brits are more pro-USA than I am but there are limits! Linda's suggestion (from the Peter Mandelson school of  "spin") is that this is the USA's way of recognising we do rule the waves,  is as imaginative as it is unconvincing. It could be worse, perhaps Jack Sparrow will be singing it next year.



With the lowering of standards like this, is it any wonder we lost the Empire?


1 Sept 2010 First Day Back at School. 

Today was the first day of the 2010-2011 school year, albeit a staff only day- the pupils arrive tomorrow.  Even though the first day back marks the end of the long summer holiday, I still find it exhilarating in many ways- not least because we get to see in greater detail the GSCE, AS, and A level results.  The results this year were excellent  across the school and I am especially pleased with my  classes' results. Having said that, I came home absolutely exhausted only to find I couldn't  "put my feet up" due a problem with the drive (which we are having re-laid).  I could really have done without that today.

My timetable looks good and  there are  even more A level classes  this year, which is even better.  I know most of my classes from previous years, although there will be some new faces in year 7 and year 12.  Quite a few new members of staff but the new "ID" badges will help when learning their names and subjects. 

 

29 Aug 10 Reflections on a Trip to Greenwich. 

When we were students we frequently visited Greenwich, walking along the south side of the Thames from our (student) home in Woolwich. Sometimes we would venture to the north side of the Thames, using the pedestrian tunnels at each end and, when we felt adventurous, the Woolwich ferry. But that was 30+ years ago and today we wooshed up the M2/A2 in the MX5. 

Greenwich has changed a lot in some ways and not at all in others. On the plus side, the "old" Royal Naval College is now open to the public (well worth a visit and free). On the downside, rest of Greenwich seems to be a building site. This would be fine if the new buildings (or renovations) added to the charm of Greenwich but we Brits display a remarkable talent for getting such things wrong- at least in modern times. It is sobering to think that the same Nation which produced the Royal Naval College (formally a hospital / retirement home for sailors), now cannot seem to design a building that doesn't resemble an anaemic brick or a twisted pile of metal and glass. It isn't often I find myself agreeing with Prince Charles but, on this, I'm with him.  

The Royal Naval is a real treat, especially the "Painted Hall" and the Chapel. Both are tear jerkingly beautiful.  Odd to think the same site had previously included "Jason", a small nuclear reactor used for training (nuclear) sub-mariners. 

The covered market in Greenwich is well worth a look. Again, some items of great beauty (I especially liked some hand painted ceramics from Israel).  However, there were also some paintings which, to my eye, resembled the floor of a room after painting the walls and ceiling. Perhaps they were examples of "painting by numbers" executed (and I chose that word carefully) by someone devoid of any understanding of numbers.  I was sorry to see that Pratts had gone. Pratts was an old fashioned motorcycle shop, from which I purchased a motorcycle some 30+ years ago.

There was, of course, a Starbucks (a plus in my view) but it was the smallest Starbucks I've ever been in. The coffee was as good as ever (I like their skinny latte) but I didn't risk the "facilities" after my Covent Garden experience (see 18 Aug). The "facilities" in the Royal Naval College were fine and had a Dyson hand drier, the one bit of Dyson kit that seems to be any good in my view.  

The Cutty Sark is covered in scaffolding and plastic (like so much of Greenwich). I do hope that, when it is "unwrapped", it looks like the old Cutty Sark and not some "PC interpretation".

I could not see "Gypsy Moth IV" and, having done some "Googling", I see she is for sale (250k).  When Sir Francis Chichester completed his single handed circumnavigation of the world in 1967, he captivated the nation.  It seems these days we don't wish to celebrate such achievements and selling of the evidence brushes it all under some carpet.

All in all, a very pleasant day out, worthy of repetition.

Finally, it cost 4 to park. I assume I now own that bit of Greenwich and the deeds will be posted on to me in due course. 

Things Amateur Radio (if you are not a radio geek the following may seem odd).

Over the last week or so  I've been playing with some digital modes, in particular  Easypal, PSK31, and WSPR.  

Easypal is a means of sending pictures over the radio and is being tested/evaluated by the local RAYNET group. While I'm not a RAYNET member, I know several of the local group and often get roped into some of their experiments.  

PSK31 is a means of sending text like messages to other radio amateurs.  Very clever but not really my thing.  I will no doubt use it from time to time but I can't see it replacing SSB voice as my preferred mode. 

WSPR is an amazing toy. I feel the urge to set up a system running 24/7 on receive and transmitting when I'm around. That will need another antenna............

On the subject of antennas, I came close to buying an Arrow 2m/70cm satellite antenna from the USA. However, plans went awry and I will have to continue my search for a UK source. 

Over the holidays I completed one of those "some day" projects, a GPS locked frequency standard. I used the G3RUH design and I'm delighted with the results. I can now lock my frequency counter to a reference good to <1ppm, using a homemade box of tricks the size of a box of cook's matches. The point at which the local VXO locks to the satellite derived reference is very obvious and takes about 4 mins. 

Further GPS related projects  are planned, including an APRS system for the car. 

Also over the holidays  I've been investigating remote control of my station over the internet. The system is working over the internal network but the "bridge" to the wider internet (so I can access the radios from anywhere) needs work to see off some security issues.  

Enquiries from those wishing to take their amateur radio licence examinations at the RSGB Convention are starting to come my way.  I've been organising these sessions for 5 or so years now and this phase is a welcome reminder that the Convention is not far away. Once again, I've been asked to deliver a lecture so I need to do some work to update my material.

The RSGB Education portfolio has come my way, to add to my ARDC role, and has led to more RSGB Board related work. 

FInally, I'm really missing the regular SolderSmoke  podcasts from Bill Meara (www.soldersmoke.com). I do hope they return soon before I have to go "cold turkey". 

 

19 Aug 10 Examination Results

Today we collected the twins' examination (AS) results, the twins being "otherwise engaged" on work experience (Vicky in a hospital) or Army Cadet camp (Michaela doing her 3 star- from which she returned with another "stripe").  The smile from the Head teacher as we arrived said it all and the outstanding results were confirmed on opening the envelops. All  on track for a clean sweep of A/A* in their final exams. 

University visits are already in hand, I especially liked Brighton but I'm not the one looking to go there. 

I also received some very pleasant Emails from my students who secured not only their University places but excellent results in their A levels. It is nice to be appreciated! 

 

18 Aug 10 Reflections on a Trip to London. 

We decided to take a trip to London yesterday to have a bit of a "wander", have a meal, and visit the Theatre.

All in all, a very good day out. We visited the Royal Institution, did some window shopping around Old Bond St. etc. Linda decided she rather liked a 1940s Rolex. I thought the price ticket was 1500 and said "Why not have it?" She declined. Over lunch today she mentioned the watch again, it turns out the price was 15,000 !  Whew.

We paused in Leicester Square gardens on our wander towards Covent Garden. For some reason the grassed areas were cordoned off.  Only it England's capital would this have been done with red and white plastic tape and some rusty metal poles. What a mess.  Why don't we have any sense of civic pride?

Covent Garden was very pleasant, including a very good street performer with the "gift of the gab".  The new Apple shop is quite amazing and we played with an IPad.  A very neat bit of kit but it didn't strike me as being very practical for anything more than some internet surfing, Email, Facebook etc.  Found the Rohan shop and got some more of their clothes.  Had a meal and coffee in Starbucks (which had a "gents" in a disgusting state), then on to the theatre.

The theatre was excellent. We saw "Woman in Black" at the Fortune.  The play itself was captivating and very well done. The theatre is "cosy" with the smallest bar I've ever seen.

We walked back to Victoria. The area was "buzzing" in a very nice way. Had we had more time, I'd have liked to had a drink in one of the many pleasant establishments on the route. 

However, Trafalgar Square was a mess. Litter everywhere. Other countries seem to keep their streets clean, why can't we?

Should the Mayor of London ever read this, why don't you get yourself out and about in London to see the state the streets and squares are in?  Perhaps you could take a black sack and pick up some of the litter. You'd win more votes than you will with your various articles in the Telegraph!

 

10 Aug 10 Automated Call Centres and my new mistress  Aviva 

It is the time of year to renew my car insurance on the MX5. I've been  with Aviva (previously Norwich Union) for many years on this car. Renewal notice came through and price was good (I'd already had a look at other options) and I decided to go with Aviva again. 

Normally, renewing is a matter of a simple telephone call and a brief chat with a real person. But this time there was a discount for renewing online so I decided to try that. Several days of not renewing hell followed and I've come to hate automated call systems with a passion! The trick is to keep saying "Advisor" until the silly computerised woman connects you to a real person.

First I could not register (I will spare you  the details), so I called Aviva. It appears their system was down, so registration wasn't working and they couldn't renew over the 'phone for the same reason. It was expected to be working the next day. 

Next day, no joy. Not able to register and couldn't get hold of Aviva by 'phone (well not without waiting in a queue on a premium rate number) and spent so long "chatting" with a silly computised woman that Linda thinks I've a mistress. 

Ditto the next day , so I left a complaint on the website (still no response).

Rang Aviva's Head Office, they couldn't contact their customer complaints section ("line busy" - I wonder why?). They took my number to arrange a call back, which they've still not done. 

(Were it not for the hassle of arranging insurance with another company, I'd have left Aviva some days back.)

Good news at last:

I rang Aviva again this morning (last chance). With minimal delay, I spoke to Les in the Norwich call centre. Les knows how to sort out problems and look after a customer. 

In a few moments, policy is renewed, with my on-line discount and a 20 voucher for me to spend in Sainsburys.  All done like it should be. Thank you Les.

If Aviva ever read this, I suggest you shoot whoever put your new "system" together and your complaints section then recruit a few more call centre operatives like Les. 

 

9 Aug10 A Day in Whitstable

Linda and I spent most of yesterday in and around Whitstable (one of our favourite coastal towns). Weather was wonderful, warm enough to be pleasant but not too hot for walking. 

We had lunch in Pearsons:

http://www.pearsonsarms.com/newRestaurant.html 

Being the seaside, we had to have Fish and Chips (a habit going back to our courting days some 34 years back!).

Pearsons do a very nice, but no the best in Whitstable,  Fish and Chips. Their other menu items looked very nice and the ambience of the restaurant was very nice.  Staff were very polite but not intrusive. A 8/10 on the Brian and Linda scale of places to eat.

A few months back, we tried the Fish and Chips here:

http://www.crabandwinklerestaurant.co.uk/

Again, not your typical Fish and Chip restaurant, so don't expect to get lunch for 5 (more like 40 for 2). 

Fish and Chips were really very nice- no surplus grease and a good (but not over generous) portion- in fact just the right amount. Ambience very nice (Linda preferred this to Pearsons but I favour Pearsons for ambience), staff were very polite but not intrusive. Their other menu items looked very promising. A place to revisit and a 9/10 on the Brian and Linda scale of places to eat.

 

25 May 10 Laptop Woes and Joys

Eldest's laptop "died" some weeks back, thankfully while under warranty. Two return trips to Medion and it is working again. Meanwhile she borrowed mine and took it to University. You can guess the next bit. It has died. It is under warranty so Medion will have the pleasure of repairing it.

During the middle  stages of the saga, "Senior Management" suggested we buy a "spare" laptop which (in such emergencies) the girls could take to University (the twins will be off to Uni. in a year or so and will need laptops).  So, we buy another one, this time with Windows 7 and (yet) another Medion. Fantastic machine, does all sorts of clever things, but won't quite work with some of my special radio interfaces (driver issues). 

Eldest returns home this weekend, bringing my dead laptop and to collect her repaired one.

Busy Times at School

Y12 and Y13 ("Sixth Form") are in the early stages of AS and A level exams so lots of revision classes to be run. C1, C2, M1, C3, C4, ...........not to mention Further Maths and Y11's GCSEs ("O" levels).   Then there are also extra classes to support another school. As busy as it gets, after school sessions, Saturday morning sessions. Roll on Half-term.

Next year's time table looks good, more A level classes to teach which will relieve the preparation workload if I can synchronise the modules I'm teaching across the classes.

Plans for Half Term

Lots of days out with "Senior Management" in the MX5 and walking by the coast. Not quite a full week of this as I've to visit Yorkshire on RSGB business. I don't like Yorkshire beer. 

 

7 Feb 10 New and Old Toys

Last week, I decided to buy a new toy a new Samsung netbook (radio amateurs are inherent techie geeks who like new toys). It is surprisingly quick, given the slow (by modern standards) processor and only having 1G of memory.  By connecting it to my mobile (an E71), I can surf the internet like a real geek from anyway with mobile coverage. 

The network drive on our home network has developed a fault. While running on the network it powers itself down from time to time and won't power up unless you cycle the power. It seems fine on USB. Then it lost the account information, although the data is safe and can be retrieved via t he USB port (which does not use accounts). 

I've backed the data up and will have a more detailed look later, probably at half-term.

I had planned to attend the Canvey Rally today but a pile of marking needs doing and, if I have time, I plan to modify my IC-2725 so I can use it as a cross-band talk through unit. 

Old Friends

I invited an old friend and work colleague to our Lodge Installation yesterday. We had a great evening and I realised that I should really make more time to keep in touch with old friends- life gets just a bit too busy at times. 

 

17 Jan 10 Dover Rally

I drove down to the Dover rally today. What a great time.  Lots of quality junk, which only radio amateurs know the true value of. Lots of socialising etc. Only regret is not taking the MX5 as the weather was surprisingly  mild.

I picked up some connectors which I've been trying to get for ages. They were in a rummage box under the table.  I picked out several connectors and some other stuff.  On presenting it to the trader he said 2. A bargain, so I added some more and represented saying "That must be a fiver."  "Oh" he said  "how about 4." Result, but not how I thought haggling worked.

After the rally I went to our  favourite tea rooms in St. Margaret's  Bay.  A pot of Earl Grey, a toasted teacake the size of a dinner plate, and a fine view over the Channel, all for 4 including a  tip.   

I've had an old IC32E (bought at a silent key junk sale as a "non-worker") on the side of the work bench for some time. I'd convinced myself it had a relay fault in the external power/internal battery switching area. Symptoms were right and matched the diagnosis by looking at the circuit diagram. However, the relay is a "special" and I can't find a form, fit, and function replacement. Not wanting to mess the job up, I left it to the side pending finding a relay.  I took the opportunity today to speak to one of the Icom engineers and he confirmed this was a known failure mode on this radio (the set is 20 years old so I can hardly complain).   In the end, I decided to rework the circuit to replace the relay with diodes. The physical size is such I could deal with this (despite my dexterity issues).   The radio  now works a treat and will serve as a reminder of its previous owner, who was a good friend of mine. 

"Senior management" has returned from a weekend in Butlins (Bognor Regis) with 4000 Brownies.  Her weekend was "eventful". Lots of travel sickness, horizontal rain, etc. Add to that a delayed and extended journey home and she was ready for a glass of red wine tonight. 

What do I say when she asks if I've had a good weekend ;-)

 

24 Oct 09 Soldersmoke

A few weeks ago, just before the RSGB Convention,  I learned one of my amateur radio heroes, Bill Meara N2CQR, would not, after all, be attending the Convention. This was a great disappointment, as I'd suggested the Convention Committee invite Bill.  However, I was asked to arrange a "Video Conference" with Bill to replace his live appearance. After a few Skype calls to Bill, all was arranged (including a "fall back" pre-prepared video in case of failure of the technology on the day). 

To my great relief, the technology worked and Bill delivered an  excellent presentation which captivated the audience. 

Bill has written  Soldersmoke- a Global Adventure in Radio Electronics.  It is mix of an amateur radio biography, a record of an (essentially) non-engineer's experiences of learning the technology of radio, all set against the back drop of the 1960s/70s etc. Bill is more-or-less my age and it is interesting to see how some of his early experiences mirror my own- albeit that I followed a technical route into engineering, whereas Bill......... well, I will leave you to read the book.

 I hope Bill can make next year's convention and I, at last, get a chance to meet him. 

Some weblinks related to the above:

http://www.soldersmoke.com

http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/soldersmoke/6743576

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_R15jYyf6I

 

 

22 Mar 09 A Blog is Born.

At long last I've succumbed to the idea of a blog. I've configured the set up of my home network so that I can easily add to my Blog from either my main PC or my laptop.

Other things today.

I've been playing with "Twitter". I'm not convinced it is the sort of thing I like  but time will tell. My Twitter name is G8OSN. I've not succumbed to linking my 'phone to Twitter yet!