Increasing speeds – except in the air?

I have had an internet connection at home for over twenty years. The earliest (dialup) connection I can remember was using a 14.4kbps modem, with all of the attendant whirrs and boings which signalled connection. Like most people (geeks?) in those days I could tell the connection speed achieved from the sounds made.

As I sit here I recall writing connection scripts, tweaking the settings used for the modem handshake, and being excited as each new technology step was announced by the modem manufacturers (and the ISPs). If my memory serves, 14.4 gave way to 19.2 and then I had 28.8 (what felt like a significant speed increase). I’m sure there was something in the 30s and 40s before 56.6 came along.

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The perils of trusting the locals

This week we’ve had some overseas colleagues with us – some well travelled and savvy, others perhaps less streetwise.  There are a couple of things that have happened which have given us all a few moments of mirth and which are worth sharing:

Strange meal choices

The following have all been seen this week – judge for yourselves whether the choices made were reasonable and the decisions sane:

  • beef bourginon, roast potatoes, and chocolate gateau (all on the same plate)
  • scrambled eggs, fried eggs, hash browns, danish pastry, and tinned sliced peaches (again, all on the same plate)
  • scrambled eggs, baked beans, muesli, and crewm (for breakfast, on the same plate)
  • chicken passanda – phall hot (not so much an odd mixture, just sheer lunacy in my opinion!)

 Food and drink for the gullible

Things which have been suggested for unwitting visitors to order from the waiter – some real and not believed, others clearly very dodgy:

  • (from the waiter)
    • fur burger
    • rumpy pump with cream
    • spotted dick with creme Anglaise
  • (from the bar)
    • a long, slow screw
    • a hand shandy

I’m sure there were more, but those are the ones I remember.  Fortunately all was taken in the spirit it was intended and no-one got slapper or arrested.  By the end of it I’m not sure they believed anything – even the legitimate and very tasty ones.

So, what have you persuaded foreign visitors to order or say?

Out with the old … well, not so fast

My New Year’s resolutions are going reasonably well so far – running more, shredding lots – but there is one area I have noticed where I failed entirely to rid myself of paperwork which I’m holding onto in a vain hope that one day it will come in useful.

Every time I’m on an aeroplane there’s an envelope in the amenity kit for my unwanted money, but some banknotes have made it home where they have ostensibly been saved “for the next time that I’m going to visit that country”.  But there are certainly some countries which I’m unlikely to visit again and I’m now wondering why I have gone to the effort to save, for example, 3 Omani Rials or 100 South African Rand.

So the next time I travel I think the collection envelope will gain an unexpected windfall while I’ll have taken another step further away from hanging onto things “just in case”.

And, just for fun, how many different currencies are in the picture?

The sun has got his hat on (however briefly)

As the sun pokes its head above the horizon for just 7 hours and 55 minutes today I started thinking about solstices, equinoxes, eclipses, and life inside the Arctic circle.

On 11 August 1999 I was standing outside in Southampton: the skies went dark, the birds stopped singing, and the crowds did go quiet as we saw a very-nearly total eclipse. I won’t see the next total eclipse visible from the UK (23 September 2090), but the next biggest partial is distinctly possible on 20 March 2015. There is also total solar eclipse in 2012, but that’s only visible from a very small part of the Southern hemisphere – maybe I’ll go and get a picture.

Longyearbyen, Svalbard

Longyearbyen, Svalbard

From a disappearance of the sun to the its permanence: earlier this year I was lucky enough to visit Longyearbyen, a small town famous for being the Northernmost and well inside the Arctic circle. At midnight I saw both the sun and the moon above the horizon, the light as bright as at any point in the 24 hours.

And so to solstices: what comes to mind? Pagan observance and Stonehenge? Or the conversion of a winter festival to the rather more mercenary Christmas?

Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, or Yule. Are our celebrations really just arbitrarily defined in order to appease as many people as possible – and does that mean that we’ve been politically corrected for longer than might have otherwise been thought?

Irrational decisions

I have belonged to the United States Parachute Association for twelve years and I feel quite an attachment to the organisation.  I have jumped at a variety of US dropzones, and I’ve had a lot of fun.  And now the renewal documentation sits on the desk in front of me and I’m faced with a decision.

Earlier this year I had a bit of a medical event, and it seems it is hereditary.  The symptoms went away on their own (as predicted by the consultants) but recurrence is a possibility.  This combined with the need for travel insurance is a bit of an issue – and premiums for travel outside Europe are eye-watering.  Unless something radical changes, the additional costs now outweigh any benefits of good weather and well organised jumping.

The silly thing is that because the disorder won’t affect skydiving itself in any way I don’t really want to give in and cease my membership … but on the other hand is it worth paying for something which I know I won’t use?  (The money element is small enough not to sway the balance either way.)

And there is the decision to be made: rationally stop unnecessary expenditure, or irrationally pay the subscription because I want hope to triumph over logic?

Judging books by their covers

A couple of weeks ago I had a limo collect me and take me to the airport, and a chat with the chauffeur got me to thinking about how we read people.

A few years earlier (probably in his early twenties), the driver had immigrated to the USA from Haiti only to find that his civil engineering degree and work experience wasn’t recognised – and so his first job was as a night-shift supervisor in a parking garage.  He said that on his first shift he had cried all night – and then decided to go back to University to get a recognised degree and start again.  Parking garage supervisor led to taxi dispatcher at JFK, and then to being a limo driver – and part-time study at a New York college.

I hope he makes it – but his story made me wonder: if I had seen him on his first or second night in the garage, would I have just mentally written him off as a deadbeat in a dead-end job?