Goodbye Blackberry 8900, Hello Nokia N8 – Confessions of a techno-junkie brand-whore!

SmartbeanIn case you haven’t yet figured it out, I am not like most people. The vast majority of us tend to stick to what is familiar and comfortable. Most major brands count on this single fact for much of their success. The recent ‘I am a PC!’ campaign by Microsoft as a response for the fierce loyalty of many Apple users is testament to this fact. I, on the other hand, am annoyingly fickle. Let’s take cars for example. Over the years, we have owned (in chronological order) Mazda, Honda, Ford (German), Ford (North American), Dodge (Mitsubishi), Mercury, Honda, Chevrolet, Dodge (North American), Oldsmobile, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Audi.
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Not much brand loyalty there, is there?! The truth is, I don’t believe that any one brand will consistently have the best product for my needs, so why should I limit my choice to the brand that I currently own? Besides, if I stick with one brand, I risk missing out on a great many innovations! Those of us who do not believe in monopolies should spread our largesse around so as to encourage competition. I must admit to always having a soft spot for the underdog! Furthermore, being an ardent technophile, I am also what is commonly known as an early adopter. Some would say that this is someone who pays top dollar for something that does not yet have all its bugs worked out 😉

Which brings me to the case in point. A few months ago now, when Blackberry announced the advent of the Torch, I began to re-evaluate my then current handset the Javelin or 8900. Although it had served me admirably as a phone, I decided that it was sadly lacking as a smartphone. I had seen glimpses of other models and brands and realised that the screen, web-browser, keyboard, camera and media player were all under par. It was obvious that Blackberry was all too aware of this fact and the Torch was its attempt to play catch-up. And there, for me, was the problem. Even though this new model would address some of the deficiencies of previous ones, it was still lagging behind the leaders.

And so I started on a journey of discovery. For about 3 months, I spent countless hours on the web checking out all the latest and greatest smartphones of all sorts. Although I didn’t have it fully formulated at the time, I already had a fairly well delineated shopping list.

  1. Smartphone or not, this would primarily be a phone and therefore must have above average reception and call quality. This was the one area where I could not fault the Blackberry in any way. The phone and speakerphone functions were superb.
  2. The camera/camcorder function would be the second most important functions since there are times when I forget to bring my camera along. The Blackberry, although better than many with its 3.2 MP camera was sadly lacking in this department.
  3. Ease of connectivity to Wi-Fi was my third requirement. Again, the Blackberry was sadly lacking here, since most of the time, even when connected to Wi-Fi, there was no way to know whether or not it was using it or diverting data over the cell network. Since my then current plan only allowed me 1.5 meg of data without significant surcharges, this was a huge stumbling block.
  4. Decent screen real-estate was my final major need. Although the screen on the Blackberry was OK, viewing pictures, browsing web-pages or watching videos was generally a fairly painful experience. Since most movies are now in widescreen (16:9) format, having the almost square (4:3) screen as the 8900 does is also not optimal.
Blackberry Javelin 8900

Byebye Blackberry!

As time went on, I frankly became somewhat bewildered by the sheer abundance of choices. Although I was still not counting the Blackberry Torch out, it became clear that there was some serious competition out there, much of it with much more to offer. I often had to remind myself that I was not looking for a new iPad or netbook but for a smartphone. The state of convergence is such that it is now becoming difficult to know where one ends and the other begins. When I looked at the situation closely, it became clear that the main points in favour of Blackberry were largely irrelevant to me.

  • Blackberry Messenger was never an attraction for me. Although I do know a few people who use it, I never sent a single message and could never remember my PIN # to give it to anyone else.
  • I do not need to have access to a corporate Blackberry server as many others do.
  • Special data encryption is also not a big thing with me. If anyone wants to hack into my email transmissions, they are not going to find much worthwhile.
  • Finally, Blackberry’s supposedly more stingy data transmission footprint is moot now that Dorothy and I have 1gb of share data bandwidth each month.

Slowly but surely, it became apparent that Blackberry was almost certainly not the best choice for me but as you will see in our next instalment, there was going to be one final nail in Blackberry’s coffin that would come from an unexpected source!  (to be continued)
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The Common Sense Imperative, Pt. 2 – Safety First?

Canadian Common Cents

“Common sense always speaks too late. Common sense is the guy who tells you you ought to have had your brakes relined last week before you smashed a front end this week. Common sense is the Monday morning quarterback who could have won the ball game if he had been on the team. But he never is. He’s high up in the stands with a flask on his hip. Common sense is the little man in a grey suit who never makes a mistake in addition. But it’s always somebody else’s money he’s adding up.”

Philip Marlowe, in Playback (1958), by Raymond Chandler
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There are so many areas of our lives where common sense is lacking that we hardly know where to begin. However, some are so egregious that they stand out above the rest! Let’s start with the recent fad of having people be forced by law to protect certain parts of their anatomy when engaging in activities deemed by others to be dangerous! All manner of sporting and leisure activities, even when carried out in a leisure or hobbyist environment now require an endless supply of safety equipment such as helmets, gloves, wristguards, facemasks, goggles, elbow pads, shin pads and the list goes on….

" But mom, I just want to play in the sandbox!"

Now don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that safety equipment is not a good idea but I don’t believe that governments should have the ability to coerce me into using it against my own better judgement. Let me give just a couple of examples from personal recent experience that highlight the foolishness that can result.

Just last year, while on holiday in Peru, I went paragliding in Lima. The flight begins with one taking a running jump off a cliff with a sheer drop of several hundred feet. My attire was shorts, t-Shirt, sneakers and a helmet. The helmet was mandatory and one could not participate without it. Now, in what possible scenario was a helmet going to make the difference between life and death? I can see the coroner’s inquest now:
The coroner asks the Medical Examiner: “What was the cause of death?”
The M.E. replies, “Massive trauma to 85% of his body due to a fall from 600 feet”.
“Only 85%?” the coroner queries.
Well, after all,” quips the M.E. “he was wearing the mandated helmet.. His head remained in near perfect condition. He is still just as dead though!”
The moral here: If at first you don’t succeed then paragliding is probably not for you…..

A few years prior to the Peru trip, I was roller-blading in the neighbourhood and was going downhill. I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt and no other protective gear. I lost balance when I hit a small crack in the road and fell at considerable speed. My right wrist was broken. I spent much of the next year overcoming significant health problems which all stemmed from that broken wrist and a subsequently bungled treatment at a local hospital (part of the wonderful public health system extolled by Michael Moore). When I finally visited a surgeon to discuss possible surgery to correct a now incorrectly reset bone fracture, he told me that he had treated many injuries resulting from roller-blading. I asked how he felt about wrist-guards. He answered that for him it made little difference. In most cases, if the speed was sufficient to cause a fracture, the wristguard merely transferred the position of stress. Instead of a broken wrist, he would instead be dealing with a double fracture of radius and ulna!

I must admit that I now wear both a helmet and wristguards when I lace up the rollerblades but this is because I know that I am liable to fall again! In fact, I did so this summer. I got some nasty bruises on my buttocks as a result! Perhaps I should start a movement to force everyone to wear a hockey girdle to prevent this. I also wear a helmet when I cycle but I am much less convinced of its necessity or practicality. As a child, I had numerous spills whilst cycling and thrice ended up in hospital as a result. Once with a broken wrist and another time a torn ligament in my leg and the final time as a precaution with no other ill-effects than a sore groin! Not once would a helmet have helped!

This summer a situation arose where we had to use our common sense. We had visitors from France and were planning a cycling trip. We had enough bicycles and helmets for all five participants. However, we discovered that none of our helmets could be adjusted to fit one of the riders. Is it possible that the French have bigger heads? Accordingly, with his agreement, he travelled without head protection. We were not going to be travelling on roads for much of the journey and he was not accustomed to wearing a helmet in his own country anyway. If we had done the same outing in France, in all probability, none of us would have been wearing helmets! And yet, on the Tour de France all participants wear helmets. For me, this is common sense in practice. The likelihood of a fall is increased and with all those cyclists in close proximity and at those speeds, head protection just makes sense.

All through my school years, I played soccer, cricket, rounders (baseball), tennis and rugby. Most of the time, this was totally without any of the safety equipment that is now the norm. Many of the things we did in the gym without safety nets or harnesses would make today’s parents cringe. I am sure that there were the normal assortment of bumps, bruises and the occasional sprain or broken bone. However, to my knowledge, no parents ever threatened to harass the teachers or sue the schoolboard and there was no clamour for protective equipment. How ridiculous is it that almost all of the playground equipment that we used as children is now banished? Slides, swings, see-saws (teeter-totters), maypoles, roundabouts have all been either modified to the point where they are totally lame or eradicated altogether. We want our children to forsake the video games and take to the outdoors but we want them to do it in a sterile, harmless environment where they can not possibly come to any grief. Not only is this not fun, it also does not teach them how to fend for themselves. To put it bluntly, we have become a society of sissies…..

Don’t think that we only restrict ourselves to limiting our children’s fun in order to protect them from themselves. Within the last 12 months, I have come across numerous instances when hiking or visiting monuments, national parks etc. where access has been barred due to ‘dangers’. One of the most ridiculous is where access is barred to the edge of a cliff on the South Downs in the UK. To stop people from falling off? And yet people wishing to commit suicide at Beachy Head near Eastbourne still seem to find a way!

I had forgotten just how namby-pamby we have become in North America until I visited Peru where guard-rails and fences were all but non-existent. On the Inca Trail, you sign a paper to state that you are responsible for your own safety! When climbing WaynaPicchu one of the highest, steepest and most treacherous parts of Maachu Picchu, there are no guard rails and often even no handholds. In some parts, where only a single person may pass but there is two-way traffic, one must yield or both will fall to their deaths. There are no wardens, first-aid people or security guards in this section either. People must either behave safely and co-operate or face the consequences. Still, I heard of no accidental or other kind of death while we were there, though we did see one young lad being helped by his two friends back to their point of departure because he had sprained his ankle and was 24 hours walk from civilisation! Those are the risks and if you are not prepared to deal with the possible unfortunate results of your actions, by all means do not attempt the Inca Trail. It’s just common sense!

Would it have helped if this guy had been wearing a helmet?

One afternoon an avid golfer woke up in hospital with severe head injuries. The nurse beside him asked, “What happened to you?”
“Well,” he said, “I was playing golf yesterday with my wife and we teed off at the second hole. I hit a beautiful drive 280 yards right down the middle of the fairway. My wife teed off and she sliced the ball into a field of cows. We searched for several minutes and then I lifted the tail of one of the cows and spotted the ball lodged up its rear end. All I said was ‘This looks like yours, dear!’ and that’s the last thing I remember!

He was probably not using his common sense…..

(More to follow)
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the common sense imperative

“PERHAPS the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.”
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense Philadelphia, Feb. 14, 1776.

Although most of us would believe that the human race has progressed significantly since 1776 when Thomas Paine wrote the above, I would maintain that the Common Sense that he talks of is still sadly lacking today! You want proof? I just checked the Doomsday Clock and apparently it is six minutes to midnight! Some of the worlds greatest minds believe that we are that close to the abyss!

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In my personal view, one large part of the reason that we stand at a crossroads today is that we have given over the protection of our own personal and collective well-being to ‘big brother’, whether that be government, NGOs, QUANGOs, doctors or any other person or body that we consider to be authoritative! In almost every area of our existence, we have regulations, guidelines, folklore and/or generally accepted principles that tell us what we must do in order to be protected from ourselves and each other. And nowhere in all this tangled mess of often contradictory directions is there mention of, or indeed room for, good old, plain common sense.

When I think of the changes in the ways that we collectively treat our children within the last 50 years, I am truly saddened! So much of my own childhood, which I happen to believe was not so terrible, would be unlikely, if not impossible for a kid growing up in today’s world. I am reminded of the words of a nursery rhyme from my youth: “Leave them alone, and they will come home, dragging their tails behind them”.

There in a nutshell is the very thing that we individually and collectively can no longer do: ‘Leave them alone!” More than 50% of our day as kids was spent doing things that today are considered dangerous, anti-social, unhealthy or prejudicial to some minority’s perceived rights. A child today can literally not even sneeze without someone coming to administer antibiotic to the offender and passing face-masks to everyone else within sight. And this is progress?

Today, we want to wrap our kids up in an impenetrable cocoon that protects them from all the worlds ills and potential threats. The real problem is that even though it is utterly impossible to foresee all the threats, the children never learn to protect themselves and become even more vulnerable when the coccoon is breached or, heaven forbid, removed.

“There is nothing more uncommon than common sense.”Anon

In almost every area of our day-to-day lives, freedoms are being curbed in the name of the good of the majority. And if you think that I am being alarmist, let me cite a few examples:

  • In many neighbourhoods around the world, you cannot choose what colour to paint the exterior of your own house.
  • Increasingly, in schools, authorities dictate what your children may or may not eat and drink. Personally, I did not know what a peanut allergy was as a child but it would NEVER have been a collective responsibility in those days merely an individual one! Today, the tail wags the dog!
  • In order to go to school, your child must have had certain injections whether you like it or not. Billions of taxpayer dollars were spent last year inoculating for a flu threat that never materialised.
  • If you let your grass grow too long in many locales, the city will come and cut it and send you a bill or a citation.
  • Most places you need a complicated, time-consuming and expensive permit to make any modification to your residence (which will often be denied)
  • In many countries, you can be fined and or locked up for merely displaying a flag, symbol or message deemed to be inappropriate by the powers that be!
  • In Ontario, if you are under the age of 18, you cannot ride a bicycle on public roads without wearing a helmet.
  • In Ottawa, if a tree trunk is less than 50cm in diameter, you may cut it down. If it is more, you need a permit, even if it is about to fall on your roof!
  • If you park a car in your driveway, it must have a current plate even if it cannot be driven!

These are just a few of the inanities that abound on the statute books around the world. Entire books have been written on the subject usually in a comic vein. Unfortunately though, it does not augur well for our collective future. Unfortunately, in this world of instant communication, every time that there is an unusual, accidental death, there is always some overzealous, nervous-nelly ready to take up the cry and remove another choice or freedom.

The real problem is that most of us have subjugated our common sense in favour of the plethora of so-called experts, most of them TV personalities, who we seem to believe to possess some special power to find the solution to all our collective problems. If we accept blindly what they say, and most of us do exactly this, then we don’t have to think too hard for ourselves and we have someone else to blame for our woes when something goes wrong. After all, it is much easier and safer to follow the crowd than it is to blaze a trail. The only problem is that from the back, you can’t see where you are going and have no control over where you will end up. Remember, it is only the lead dogs that get a change of scenery!

Every so often, a new public guru arises who has miraculous answers to problems that we didn’t even know existed. A perfect example of this is the recent meteoric rise of Dr. Oz. Everyday he has a new revelation of some bug that is threatening our existence that we didn’t know about and the magic superfood, calisthenic exercise or other miracular solution that will banish it from our lives forever. If you don’t watch the show religiously, just think of all the dangers and their solutions that you will not find out about!

And that, folks, is where good old common sense should come in. For several millennia, the human race survived without Dr. Oz and I am pretty sure that we will be here long after he has gone. Now, I am not saying that he doesn’t have some good points but scaring people and making them paranoid about bacteria that are omnipresent in our world, serves no useful purpose, in my view at least. Whatever happened to ‘prevention is better than cure’?

There is plenty of evidence that bacteria, like humans, are going to survive, no matter what we throw at them! Life has a way of overcoming every obstacle put in its path, unless you are a dinosaur and the obstacle is a monster meteor! To me, common sense dictates that the best defence against disease is to maintain a healthy body! Unfortunately, we humans always want an instant magic pill that cures our ills rather than having to actually work for a solution. Why bother to stay thin when you can get liposuction or go on a crash diet? We sit around on our fat asses watching virtual life on an LCD screen while stuffing our bodies full of junk and then wonder why we are falling victim to more and more attacks from microscopic invaders!

Experts like Dr. Oz. are at least open about what they are trying to do. Others are a little more subtle but just as insidious. Think of the power that individuals like Al Gore, Robert Moore, Oprah, Doctor Phil et.al. are able to exercise. They are not the smartest or most knowledgeable amongst us but they have literally millions of followers blindly accepting their word as gospel.

If you doubt that the foregoing is true, just imagine the following scenario. I write a book that has little or no literary merit. It also spreads the message that dying one’s hair blue is a great thing to do. However, I somehow manage to hoodwink Oprah into giving it her seal of approval. She adds it to her book club and promotes it on her TV show. She also has a few people on her show with their hair dyed blue.

What are the chances that:

a) My book WON’T be a best-seller? and

b) that people, the world over would start dying their hair blue?

Oprah’s endorsement won’t change the intrinsic value of the book but it will change the behaviour of millions watching the show. My worthless effort would become a bestseller overnight and blue hair would start popping up all over the globe!

Recently, Michael Moore in one of his so-called documentaries managed to convince many Americans and others around the world that Canada actually has a First Class health system. I’m guessing he never needed an MRI here! Most Canadians, none of whom appear in his movie, know the truth and would immediately be on their guard. Many others around the world believe every bit of it. After all, it’s a documentary and Michael Moore is a celebrity so it MUST be true!

So much for common sense…..

(to be continued….)

The Land of the Free?
Here are our Top Ten Nonsense Statutes still on the books in various U.S. States:

  1. Arkansas: It’s illegal to mispronounce the name of the state of Arkansas. (Well phonetically “R can saw” is better than “R cans ass!”?)
  2. California: You may not eat an orange in your bathtub. (Tangerines O.K?)
  3. Iowa: One-armed piano players must perform for free. (You’d think they’d at least be able to charge half-price!)
  4. New Jersey: It’s against the law for a man to knit during the fishing season. (I guess he’s supposed to wear the Old Jersey?)
  5. Minnesota: It’s illegal to paint a sparrow with the intent of selling it as a parakeet. (Shades of Monty Python?)
  6. Massachusetts: No gorilla is allowed in the backseat of any car. (But may he drive it?)
  7. Kentucky: Every citizen is required to take a shower once a year. (If you take two, they’ll lock you up?)
  8. Wyoming: Unless you have an official permit, you may not take a picture of a rabbit from January to April. (This way, the Easter Bunny gets his privacy?)
  9. Tennessee: Selling hollow logs is strictly forbidden. (Now who wood do such a thing?)
  10. Rhode Island: You may not bite off another person’s leg. (Personally, I see no ‘arm in it!)

 

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Fabulous Fall Foliage or a Fallacious Photoshop Fabrication?

They say that the camera does not lie! Even back in the days of processed film, this was a dubious assertion but today, in our digital world, this is no longer even close to the truth. In the modern, increasingly complex, digital cameras of today, many significant decisions are made by either the photographer or the camera itself prior to the shutter release, each of which can and will significantly affect the end picture. And that’s only half the story. Once the picture is transferred to the computer, software like Photoshop can enhance, modify and morph the content to the point where it no longer even resembles what the original viewer or camera saw with the naked eye.
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In some ways, I miss the old days when all I had to do was point and shoot my trusty old Kodak Brownie 128. I still have a few shots salted away somewhere in the archives that proved that even an inexperienced teenager could occasionally get a good picture every now and again. Today, since most of the time, even when I am using my so-called point-and-shoot  Panasonic FH20, I refuse to let the camera have total control over my finished product, I have a plethora of decisions to make before I press the shutter button.

And then, just when I was beginning to think that I had things under control, I started to learn about shooting in RAW format. I have had a camera with the capability to shoot in RAW, a Panasonic FZ50, for over 3 years but until recently, I had no idea why I would want to do so. Then, I was given a subscription to a Photographic Magazine as a birthday gift which shed substantial light on the subject (and many others beside). Although post-shot processing in Photoshop can achieve many things, sometimes, you need the raw camera data prior to the in-machine processing to get the end results that you need. When using the RAW data, you can even roll back or negate some of the camera settings you made if you are unhappy with the results.

Ever since I discovered the extra leeway that you have when shooting in RAW, I have switched both cameras that have this capability to shoot in that mode. Some cameras can shoot in RAW + jpg and this might be an option for some users but personally I find that it simply clogs archives with unnecessary files. I shoot in RAW and then convert to jpg. Finally, I move the original RAW file to an archive in case I need the unedited data again in the future.

What I did not truly appreciate until fairly recently is the fact that no camera, even the most expensive and sophisticated, can match the combination of eye and brain even though they seem to be coming closer with each new generation. Whether you like it or not, you will have to make some decisions and compromises about how you capture what you ‘see’. Even if you use your camera on fully automatic, that is, in fact, a decision that will have a far-reaching impact on your final picture and you will be totally at the mercy of your camera’s ‘brain’ to make most of the decisions for you.

All of the above is background to the gallery below. This last week-end, we decided to take a trip up into the Gatineau hills to see the fall colours. I took with me my Canon 500D (T1i) and a Sigma 18-200mm zoom lens. I am still very much a beginner with this equipment. Although I have most of the theory down pat, I am still learning how to put it all into practice. The one thing that I have learned is that there is just no short cut to experience. All the knowledge in the world will not replace the trial-and-error method of improving your skills. On the other hand, if you take enough shots, every now and then you will get lucky and pull off a rare gem. For me, one of the biggest problems is deleting the so-so shots. Once transferred to my computer and post-processed, they become like hatched chicks and just to difficult to send into digital oblivion!

Just to illustrate the difference between what the camera shot in RAW and the finished post-process result, we have added the following before and after examples:

Original RAW file converted to JPG without post-procesing


For the techinically minded, the original camera settings were: 1/100th, F/6.3, F.L. 18mm, ISO 100
Of course, personal preference has a lot to do with how one post-edits any particular shot. However, certain things are obvious in these two examples. Firstly, in the original shot, the sky is lacking in both colour and definition. Parts of the clouds are blown out. Also, since the object of the exercise was to shoot the fall colours, the browns and reds in the trees seem somewhat muted and washed out in the original. Also, the grass in the foreground barely seems to be green. Yes, I may have stretched reality a little with increased vibrance and saturation, but the end result is more satisfying to my eye at least.
Without further ado, here is the balance of how I interpreted and embellished what the camera saw that autumn day in the Gatineau hills.


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England Travelogue – Final Effing around Sussex, Food, Family, Flowers?

My sweet, sinful secret!

No trip to England would be complete without bringing back the booty!

And so our UK holiday was drawing to a close. For our last few days we decided to stay close to home and spend time with the family. Of course, there was last-minute shopping to do to fill those remaining nooks and crannies in our luggage. We had been sure that since we had brought over a fair amount of gifts and special requests from Canada that going back would not be a problem. Of course, the reality is that we can get almost anything in Canada now that is available in the UK (or Europe, for that matter). There are two very large caveats to this however. Firstly, the cost in Canada is often 3 or 4 times the UK price. Secondly, and far more important, is the fact that what we buy in Canada is often made under licence and is a sorry reflection of the real item.

A perfect example of this is confectionary. Cadbury’s chocolate fabricated in North America is just not the same! Who knows what will happen now that Kraft has had it’s evil way with this British institution.Maltesers made by Hershey? It’s tantamount to treason! But then Tim Hortons and The Bay haven’t  been Canadian for years now and nobody seems to notice or care?

Anyway, I digress! For the last three days, we spent the whole time in and around Eastbourne. My camera was relatively inactive during this time except for when we were dining out. Fortunately, we did this 3 times in the last couple of days of our stay. All three visits were memorable.

You probably know by now that I grew up in the South of England. Although I studied in Coventry in the Midlands, I lived in Eastbourne, on Gore Park Road pictured at left, for most of my teen years. The UK has undoubtedly changed a great deal in this time. However, looking down Gore Park Road, with the South Downs rising in the background, I am immediately transported back 35 years. In this particular shot, very little has changed noticeably, with the exception of the number of cars parked on the street. You could be forgiven for thinking that this doesn’t look too bad, but 35-40 years ago, during the day like this the street would have been practically  devoid of vehicles. In the evening, there will not be an available spot anywhere to be seen!

In the previous picture, you see us heading off towards Albert Parade where we are making the customary pilgrimage to the Trident, our local chippy, which has become almost legendary due to Dorothy extolling its virtues to all and sundry. If you perhaps think that it looks more like a bank branch than a fish & chip restaurant that is because it was formerly exactly that. I could insert a pun here about the manager having his chips because he got up to something fishy, but will refrain  from doing so! Dorothy and I subsequently took the rest of the afternoon working off our lunch in the certain knowledge that we would be eating out once again in the evening with my brother David and my sister.

I think that I may have mentioned in an earlier post how friends and family in Sussex give me credit for a way better memory than I actually possess. It is true that as a child and teenager, my work and leisure activities left me with a better knowledge of local geography than many who have lived there all of their lives. However, the intervening years have eroded vast portions of that mental map. When Joanne recommended that we go to the Gun Pub at Chiddingly, she might just have well have been talking Chinese! Yes, the name Chiddingly did vaguely ring a bell but I could not even have pointed the car in its general direction. Almost every time that I return home, I get very little time to just sit and chat with my brother and sister, so I deliberately left my camera at home this particular evening. I wanted the evening to be calm and relaxing. The picture of The Gun here is one from the pub’s own website. In truth though, we were so blown away with the food, and in particular the desserts that I was forced to borrow Dorothy’s camera to document at least that part of our meal.

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The next day, our penultimate in Eastbourne, we had agreed to take John and Daphne to a local garden centre where they could pick up a few bits and pieces that they needed. As fate would have it, this took us right back to within a mile or two of the Gun Pub, although we had to circle a time or two to zero in on its actual location. The problem was that the only two fully-sighted people in the vehicle did not know where they were going. The two others, both legally blind, were convinced that they knew but somehow couldn’t agree! In any event our reward for acting as chauffeur was lunch at The Malt House in Hailsham. This was to be our final gastronomic treat, since we were due at Heathrow early the following morning.

It seems fitting that our final picture of this memorable trip should be of the floral symbol of England, the Rose. If you take the trouble to view the Gallery below, all the beautiful roses featured there were shot on the ten minute walk from Gore Park Road to Albert Parade a distance of perhaps half a mile. It s is not hard to see why the rose was picked for England’s emblem. Of course, I still like the Maple Leaf (not when in the plural though), but the rose makes a much better photographic subject!

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England Travelogue – Day 6&7, Somerset & Hants

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On day 6 of our England sojourn, we had to get up at an ungodly hour in order to get Christa & Mik, our daughter and son-in-law to Gatwick airport in time for their respective flights. I don’t recall the exact times because my mind tends to block out such unpleasant memories. I do recall that the length of the check-in line for EasyJet was enough for me to try to avoid them in future. Anyone who was anal enough to show up more than 2 hours in advance would spend the lion’s share of that time in the line. Anyone else would stand in line until about 30 minutes before their flight and then get ushered ahead of the bulk of the aforementioned suckers. A ridiculously inefficient system that likely causes more than its share of temper flare-ups and anxiety.

Having fulfilled our parental duties and unwittingly contributed to the Gatwick Airport redevelopent fund by means of the exorbitant parking fee, we headed off for Somerset to meet Dorothy’s aunt Anne. Once again, our Tom-Tom informed us that we needed to steel ourselves for another dodgem car session on the M25. In my mind, I think of London as a huge ant’s nest and the M25 represents the millions of worker ants dragging their flotsam and jetsam hither and yon according to some master plan unknown to the individuals in question.If you are getting the impression that I am not altogether a fan of this necessary evil, you are right on the mark.

Once we emerged from purgatory and traffic was down to a dull roar, we thought about stopping for breakfast. I must admit that, on the whole, I find Britain’s motorway services to be superior to those of North America and we decided to take a risk on one. You can read our full experience here. With full stomachs, we set out once more heading West.

Burnham on Sea turned out to be one of those quaint little English seaside towns where one imagines that retired blue collar workers go to live out their lives ambling along the seafront or perhaps participating in a rousing game of lawn bowling. We didn’t actually get to see that much of it but you can quickly get the flavour by perusing the municipal website. You might also want to check out their 24hour webcam which is pointed at the town’s main claim to fame: the shortest pier in the UK. Although we weren’t exactly ravenously hungry at this point, Anne treated us to a very pleasant meal at Bonomo Ristorante.

By mid-afternoon, we were once more on the move slowly heading back to Eastbourne, with our next stop being overnight in Portsmouth with an old schoolfriend of  Dorothy’s who she met during her extended stay on St. Vincent in the Caribbean. Now I am sure that there are lots of things to both do and see in the Portsmouth area but this time around, we were only going to have time to visit with friends (and briefly at that). We enjoyed a home-cooked meal and a great evening chatting like we had been close friends for years when  two of us had never even met before. Once again, our gracious English hosts left us with free range of their home in the morning and we had a leisurely breakfast of cereal and toast before setting out on our homeward journey.

We were barely a few minutes underway when we hit a solid wall of traffic and spent the next two hours sitting at a virtual standstill with the GPS chirping annoyingly at us every couple of minutes that it had just recalculated and we were still on the fastest route! We never did discover exactly what the hold-up was. By the time that we reached the blockage, it had apparently already been cleared. At any rate, we decided that we would no longer stick with the major highways and attempt to take a more sedate and hopefully more scenic route. After a while, we saw a sign for Bognor Regis and on a whim decided to check the place out and find somewhere to have lunch.

Bognor, which like Burnham, also has a pretty stubby pier, cannot claim that it is the smallest. Although it includes Regis (of the King) in its name, there is nothing particularly regal about the place, especially now that Butlinshas one of its three remaining holiday camps situated along the seafront. Butlins is about as working-class as you can get and no member of today’s royal family is likely to be seen anywhere in its vicinity!  Compared to Eastbourne, Bognor definitely comes off looking like the poor relative! You can get a good idea of the place from the gallery presented below!

Once we left Bognor in the mid-afternoon, we headed East again hoping to miss the majority of the rush-hour around Brighton, Hove and Worthing. Even at the best of times, the main coast roads are well travelled but during morning and early evenings they make the 401 through Toronto seem leisurely. One thing that stands out though, is that much as North Americans complain about the eccentricities of the ubiquitous British roundabouts, things would be much worse without them. Of course, nothing really helps when you are bumper-to-bumper for miles on end.

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England Travelogue – Days 4&5, Seven Sisters & More!

After the revels of John’s birthday party on the Saturday, it was a pretty sure bet that the Sunday would be a slower day. The only set event was a family barbecue to be hosted by my brother Les and his wife Chrissy on the site where their camper van was currently located not far out of town. The one thing worthy of note here other than the subdued tenor of the proceedings was the fact that their campsite could have been one of many almost anywhere in the world, except perhaps Texas! Missing were the behemoth land yachts that only people with more money than sense would have the gall to call a recreational vehicle rather than a mansion on wheels. Fortunately, my brother and his wife have settled for something a little less ostentatious. 😉 One other thing that was indicative of our trip that appears in this picture is the English flag. As the World Cup was approaching, England had very definitely caught the fever. This was all the more noticeable for me because in my youth, one rarely even saw the English flag. The Union Jack was seen by most as the national emblem. Now, with regionalism rearing its ugly head in so many parts of the world, so even the staid stick-in-the-mud English have taken up the cause (albeit hopeless as it subsequently turned out). Luckily, the English disappointment in their team would be dwarved by the international embarrasment which was the French soccer team! Anyway, as you can see from the picture at the top of the page, a beautiful sunset augured well for a promising day on Monday!

Our day began with a trip to Middle Farm located near Firle on the A27 between Eastbourne and Lewes. For myself, it is a pilgrimage that I have made several times in the last few years but the variety of products available mean that one never bores of perusing the shelves. Just the selection of beer alone is amazing even though their apparent specialty is ciders which are stored in vats. You are permitted to sample any you might like before making a purchase. I must admit to having sampled a good few myself that particular day! Our very international group (Aussies, Canadians, French and Brits) came away loaded down with goodies, much of them destined for transport to faraway lands!

After wandering through Middle Farm and seeing all the exotic wares to eat and drink, mot of us had worked up an appreciable hunger and/or thirst. So, we all headed back to John and Daphnes’  for a spot of Lunch before heading out on our South Downs hike. Front and centre is a medley of the the freshly made sausages that we picked up that very morning. And to wash it all down some local brewed beer but French wine! At home too, there have been many changes since I left in 1972! Recently, I wrote on our sister blog that growing up, good old English Cheddar cheese was about the only one to be found in our larder. Here, however, you may note that no less than 5 varieties are on display! We had to be careful not to lose sight of the fact that overeating lunch would not be a good start for our hike!

The South Downs Way is a collection of trails stretching from Eastbourne to Winchester which initially follows the coastline West past Worthing where it turns slightly inland. Within the last year or so, these trails were officially joined together and formed into The South Downs National Park. We chose to follow an 8 kilometer stretch which starts and ends in the Cuckmere Valley not too far from Middle Farm but on the A259 coast road. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I will let the pictures tell the story of our hike!

Even though we had eaten a hearty lunch, we had no problem walking most of it off. Therefore we were more than ready for the Eastern (Indian) culinary delights of K2 the family’s favourite get-together eating place in the Eastbourne area. Happily, I seem to end up there almost every time I visit and it has yet to disappoint. Although it is located somewhat off the beaten track outside Polegate on the Hailsham Road, the drive is well worth the trouble!
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England Travelogue – Day 3 Eastbourne, The Main Event

People had come from far and wide to pay their respects to John Tanner, who was about to celebrate his 80th birthday. For the Canadian contingent (Myself, Dorothy, Christa (in exile in France) and Mik (Canadian by association), the day got off to a leisurely start. Although we were quite ready, willing and able to help with the preparations, there was not really a great deal to do, since the party was being held at a local pub, the Arlington Arms,  just around the corner on Seaside Road. Those of you who are following the progress of our trip can be forgiven for thinking that we are pubaholics, since this would be our 3rd pub visit within the first 48 hours of  landing on English soil. In our defence, I will simply say, when in England, do as the Englishmen do!

Since the function itself was only due to start at around 1:30PM, we took the morning to reacquaint ourselves with one of Eastbourne’s most notable attractions: the seafront. When I lived in Eastbourne as a teenager, I remember the stated population being around 60,000.  Now, in 2010, it is has almost doubled to near 110,000. No wonder there is nowhere to park a car! The seafront, however, is one of the few parts of the town that has not really changed very much. Perhaps one notable  addition is that of cyclists and roller-bladers which are a hazard that we did not have to contend with in the sixties. We have included a few shots of the seafront, so that you can get the general idea of the atmosphere!

Eastbourne is one of the few South Coast seaside towns that still has an operational and relatively vibrant pier. In my youth, it was one of  THE places in town to hang out, especially in its amusement arcades, which have lost much of their former glory now that youngsters get their electronic jollies at home from their, WIIs, Playstations and X-Boxes. Usually, Dorothy, who is a closet gambler, likes to make the pilgrimage and lose some loose change down glitzy gaping holes! Alas, this trip it was not to be. Perhaps the pier’s loss would be the pub’s gain! 😉

After our morning constitutional, we all got dressed up in our finery and made our way to the Arlington Arms. Don’t be fooled by the photo, which makes the place look much smaller than it really is. One of the ‘tricks’ the British have had to learn is how to get the maximum amount of  utility from even the smallest spaces.  Coming from Canada where space is a commodity that we take for granted, I must admit to a feeling of claustrophobia after I have been back in the U.K. for a while!

The ‘do’ was to be a plowman’s lunch which is fairly typical English pub fare. When I was a kid, a plowman’s lunch consisted of  half a French Baton loaf (French Stick) slathered with butter and filled with thick chunks of cheddar cheese and adorned with Branston pickle. The idea was, I believe, that a plowman needed a lunch that could be eaten on the run without knives, forks and plates etc. If you click to enlarge the picture here, you will note that this particular ‘plowman’s’ was a little more involved.

Once everyone arrived and the party got going in earnest, it struck me that if you take away the minute details, this get-together could have been happening almost anywhere in the world and the main elements would have been similar: A gathering of family and friends to celebrate a person’s age milestone accompanied by food and drink (usually alcohol) and dotted with music, camera flashes and, above all, laughter! My own family is no different from most in that there are many skeletons in the closet and there are always a few minor feuds hanging in the air but on an occasion such as this it is gratifying to see that petty squabbles can be held in abeyance so that everyone can have a good time.

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W3Junkie IS the Continuing Sage!

W3Junkie, The Continuing Sage in his ceremonial gear!

It all began with a simple typo! Now, I will be the first to admit that I am not good at checking my work. The version of WordPress that I use does have a built-in spell-checker and I do avail myself of its services 90% of the time but in this instance it would not have mattered. The first person to notice or perhaps just the only one to care was my son Ian. Of course, he took delight in pointing out the fact that when I recently wrote of our trip to the UK, I told readers that they could check back for the next instalment in our continuing sage (meaning saga, of course).

For a couple of days, I just let it go. However,  every so often, Ian would needle me about it. I decided that I should at least correct the error on my blog. The thing was, I didn’t feel like having to read the entire blog to hunt for the exact place. Now, fortunately for me, I knew that Google does a good job of cataloging my pages so I duly entered ‘continuing sage’ into my search bar and fully expected that I would be on the first page if not the very first entry. I knew enough to enclose the words in inverted commas so that I did not get spurious results which simply included the two words but not contiguously. Imagine my surprise to discover that not only was I not top, nor on the first page, I did not even find my own gaffe within the first half a dozen or so pages. Not surprising on reflection, since Google recorded ‘about 4670 results’.

I thought that perhaps Google had neglected to spider this particular page, so I re-entered my search but now added ‘w3junkie’ as a search term as well. Voilà! I was now the ONLY result. By now, this whole episode had really got my attention. I went back to my original search and started really looking at the entries. Finally, I found my own entry inauspiciously tucked away at the bottom of page 19. I thought perhaps I would find that, in many instances, writers were referring to either ‘sage’ , the herb,  or ‘sage’, the wise man and that the sentence construction included the word ‘continuing’ as a modifier. No such luck! There were indeed a very few entries where this was the case but probably less than one percent. Even more troubling was the fact that most of the entries did NOT appear to be typos!! A large percentage of the population seems to believe that the word sage is synonymous with the word saga! My typo was paired up with some pretty auspicious company. There were public, corporate and academic sites all apparently believing in the reality of continuing sages.

It is really a sad comment on our education system and the state of the English language that such a volume of erroneous written material abounds. Of course, the Internet has done a great deal for making general knowledge on a wide variety of subjects available to the public. However, this particular exercise has caused me to wonder just how much of that information is completely useless. Unfortunately, there is not yet a ‘commonsense filter’ that allows the unsuspecting reader to sort the wheat from the chaff. I am now convinced that there is a not so small segment of the population who will keep looking for the balance of the continuing sage…..

Out of desperation, I went to dictionary.com just to be sure that I was not in the dark as to a new meaning for the word. My search reassured me that a sage was: 1) a profoundly wise person; a person famed for wisdom. 2) someone venerated for the possession of wisdom, judgment, and experience. Not a single reference to epic stories or anything like it. However, upon reading the correct definition of the word, it suddenly occurred to me: “Why, that describes me to a T!”

And thus, W3Junkie, The Continuing Sage is born!

P.S. I am willing to bet that within 24 hours of posting this blog entry, you will not be able to recreate my search results since Google will have gobbled up this content and re-ranked both this and the original entry pushing them much higher in the relevance of the search term.

P.P.S. Within 30 minutes of posting, I was already in position #2 😉

England Travelogue – Day 2 High Rocks – Tunbridge Wells

Floppy, the bunnyWhen we awoke on the second day of our England adventure, the only member of the household there to greet us was floppy, the bunny. As I mentioned in our previous post, both my brother and his wife work long hours and had left the house a couple of hours before Dorothy and I even stirred. We had a typically English breakfast consisting of toast, jam and tea (myself) and coffee for Dorothy. Around 10:30, we made a leisurely departure from South Woodham Ferrers and headed towards Royal Tunbridge Wells and certain adventure 😉

For the second, but not even nearly the last time, we were soon stuck in the morass of traffic that seems to have a death grip around London on the M25. Although many modern cities have traffic congestion, I question whether many of them have quite as much as London for as many hours of the day! Fortunately, we did not have to stay on it for too long but still had to negotiate the Dartford Crossing (over the river Thames). Even though one can use a transponder and avoid the worst of the traffic back-up at the toll booths, remarkably few of the stoic British seem to do so. It is almost as if the long-suffering commuters are actually taking some perverse communal glee in sitting in the glaring heat inching forward to pay their dues at one of the myriad toll booths manned by other glum Brits.

Once again, we are putting our faith in the GPS to find our way. Dorothy has checked various sources and selected a site called High Rocks as our interim destination before picking up our daughter, Christa and her husband Mik, as they arrive at Gatwick en route from Strasbourg. Even though these devices are far from infallible, it is hard to remember just how difficult it used to be navigating the countryside without them.

Our real adventures did not begin until we approached our destination. When we were within a mile or so, we missed a turning and took a wrong one instead. Upon back-tracking, we discovered that the GPS was leading us down a somewhat suspect lane. Dorothy thought that maybe it was the beginning of a walking path to High Rocks since there were a number of vehicles parked willy-nilly at the sides of the road. Unconvinced, I coaxed our trusty Meriva down the garden path. The lane curved and twisted, widened and narrowed for a while and then, all of a sudden, our GPS chirped: “You have reached your destination!”. Only, we obviously had not…. All we could see was fields and more fields. Nary a rock to be seen, high or not. Behind was a possible walking path. Ahead, the lane appeared to degrade into a cart track which promised to lead us away from our destination.

Dorothy was in favour of turning around and following the ‘footpath’. I managed to convince her that we should venture ahead for at least a little, however unpromising it might appear. At first, it seemed like our worst fears were to be realised as the road became less and less promising. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a cluster of buildings appeared with cars parked left and right. Obviously not High Rocks but at least some semblance of civilisation. We drove past and soon were back into unrelenting countryside. We gave up on finding High Rocks but decided to head back to the agglomeration of buildings and perhaps ultimately to the ‘footpath’. As we neared said civilisation cluster, we saw an entrance to what appeared to be a public parking lot. There was no sign to this effect that we could see but the main gate was open and beckoning to us.

As we pulled into the parking lot, it became apparent that this was something that could be or have been popular, since there was space for 100+ cars in the main lot and another lot just out of sight. However, at this time, there was little sign of life with fewer than a handful of cars dotted about. We decided to park and explore a little, since we had pretty much given up of finding the elusive High Rocks. So, we set out across the main lot to the track that lead to the second overflow lot. From this second lot, we saw an unmarked but obvious walking path and decided to follow it. We wandered around aimlessly trhough farmers fields, forests and meadows for half an hour before coming across a couple of workers chopping trees. Upon further investigation, we discovered some kind of park with some kind of fence around it and somehow, we managed to be on the inside of it. After a little more poking around, we found and explored some interesting rock formations. It slowly dawned upon us that perhaps we had stumbled across the elusive High Rocks.

We made ourselves at home for a while  and wandered around. Finally, we found what appeared to be an official entry/exit gate and found that it brought us out in the middle of the cluster of buildings that we had seen just before the parking lot. The main building turned out to be a pub: The High Rocks, no less. Entry to the grounds that we had stumbled upon was £3 to be paid in the pub. At this point, neither Dorothy nor I was inclined to fork over said sum under the particular circumstances. We made up for it by going into the pub and having some lunch! You can read about our Pub Lunch experience here on our sister blog – JustRW -Home of the Un-Chef.

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