Monday, 20 July 2009

Delhi bound

NOTE: I've edited this post to move the beligerant travel rant to the end of the post, so to find out how I got to Delhi, you'll have to wait.

I land at around 23:15 and on entering Delhi airport I first pass the health check desk where white coated, mask wearing staff take my swine flu questionnaire (it pretty much boiled down to "do you have swine flu? - y / n") before I can clear immigration. At baggage reclaim there are about 5 guys per active conveyor who lift the bags down to the ground. Past customs, the exit channel brings a sea of bobbing name plaques and I walk slowly down struggling to find my name. By the end, I still haven't spotted it, so I walk up the sides and finally spot my name and thus my driver. As we exit the airport and just at the moment that the heat hits me, I see four guys all mopping the same bit of floor. No one stops or walks around where they've cleaned, everyone just goes straight over the top; I wonder if the clean/walk cycle goes on forever?

Did I mention it's hot? I think the pilot said 32 degrees, but it feels hotter and it's now past midnight. A short walk to the car park reveals my transport for the next 2 weeks, it's some kind of 4x4. There's a newspaper for me on the back seat. On the way out of the car park, one guy is writing down the number plates as the cars leave, while another takes payment. There are a lot of people doing a lot of jobs. Getting out of the airport is interesting, there are about 5 lanes of traffic crammed into 3 lanes of road, with the situation worsened by checkpoints where blockades introduce a chicance and take it down to 2 lanes. The cars seem to drive inches apart from one another, both front and back and at the sides. There's a sharp contrast between cars with a single passenger (like me) and those that are overflowing with Indians and luggage. Auto-rickshaws (tuk tuks), mopeds and motorbikes weave through the traffic, beeping their horns and flashing their lights. In fact, everyone is beeping their horns and flashing their lights. A pretty girl wearing a headscarf and riding side saddle on the back of a motorbike pulls level with my taxi, I smile at her and she smiles back.

At the final blockade there are 3 armed guards from the Delhi police. They aren't stopping anyone and one of them yawns lazily as we drive past. Between the airport and the expressway I see people with no shoes lying on top of burnt out cars, I see small, simple brick buildings with open fronts and bright lights, I see a herd of cows and calves mingling with the traffic and causing more beeping horns. By this time, the traffic has thinned out. On the expressway there is no lane discipline, save that of being half in 2 lanes most of the time. More beeping and flashing as we weave through the traffic, over and undertaking. Thankfully the inches between vehicles have increased to feet. In the back of a lorry with its rear gate half open, two pairs of eyes flash back at me from amongst the boxes and crates. We overtake the pretty girl in the headscarf, she has no helmet and her head is pressed into her driver's back; she is still riding side saddle.

The hotel offers up more security. This time 2 guys with metal detectors and 1 with a shotgun. The driver pops the bonnet and opens the boot so that the metal detectors can do their dectecting. I enquire if this is normal, it is; it happens every day. I'm momentarily blinded as my glasses steam up as I step out of the car. My luggage magically vanishes while I tip the driver. I'm greeted with a smile and a bow by a man in traditional dress and I have to walk through an airport style metal detector to get into the lobby. My bag is inspected by another man with a metal detector. Once I've checked in, the guy tells me he'll take me to the room and arrange for my luggage to be brought up. He picks up the phone and dials, I hear the phone ring on the desk opposite, about 20 feet away. In the lift there's another smiling, bowing staff member. After guiding me to the room, the check-in guy insist that I sit down and "make myself comfortable after a long flight" while he takes me through the paperwork.

The room is impressive and well equipped - perhaps the best hotel room I've ever stayed in. The pillow menu tantalisingly offers "The Wheat Pillow - Our grandmother's pillow, filled with 100% grains of wheat." AND "The 'Anti-Stress Millet Pillow - Allows you to evacuate stress and muscular tensions filled with 100% gains of millet.". Along with the pillow menu and all the standard hotel items there is a BOSE SoundWave, 3 500ml bottles of complimentary TATA water and a huge, glass walled, wetroom style bathroom with both a monsoon shower and freestanding bath. Speaking of the bathroom, it's getting late so I'm going to go and brush my teeth with bottled water and then get to bed. More later in the week.


I awoke at 05:45 this morning and got picked up from the house at 06:15. I got to Heathrow for 07:40 and checked in at the T5 business class desks (section G fyi). Next I t ook the "Fast Track" through security which turned out to be the slow track. In the BA Lounge, I hit the Elemis Travel Spa and had a 15 minute acupressure massage from an "intelligent chair". The back and legs bits worked well, but the combination of squeezing foam pads and rotating rollers on the feet was a little bit unpleasant and claustrophobic. I grabbed a thorough breakfast consisting of: a bacon roll, mushroom roll, fruit, pastries, bran flakes with dried apricots, sparkling water and green tea.

On boarding I proceed to my "cocoon" at 14E, I wish I'd spoken to Adam before I chose my seat as in retrospect I think a backward facing window seat is actually the best option. The Club World seat is spacious, comfotable and highly adjustable, and travelling backwards is certainly a novelty even for a jaded flyer like me, but it felt like there was less privacy than in Virgin Upper Class. The service was pretty hit and miss, with long delays waiting for tray clearance and the need to remind the crew for your sparkling water a few times before it actually arrived. The inflight entertainment selection was also lacklustre and had nothing I really wanted to watch. I settled for "In The Loop" to check out the gratuitous swearing as penned by Simpso's Uncle and then Trans Siberian which was a mediocre thriller featuring Woody Harelson as a meek Christian.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

How to cook a perfect poached egg (the easy way)

Eggs are amazing, and undeniably poached eggs are the finest of all the eggs. However, they're fiddly to do well and getting the cooking time right can be tricky. Most of the recommended cooking methods involve making a vortex in the boiling water and adding some vinegar, but having used this method for a number of years, I found it produced unpredictable results and made for a washing up is a nightmare.
It sounds pretty weird, but I suggest you try poaching your eggs using cling film. This is a cooking tip that I picked up from b3ta a couple of years ago, and have spent a while perfecting.
You will need:
  • A fresh egg
  • A mug, or glass
  • A square piece of cling film
  • A little oil
Start by tearing off a square of cling film and laying it over your mug/glass to create a shallow plastic well. Ensure that the centre of the cling film is in the middle of your receptacle. Grease the inside of the well by adding a drop of oil and running it around the with your finger (this makes for easier egg removal).

Next, crack your egg into the ready-greased well, then carefully gather the corners of the cling film together - I usually pick a starting corner, grab the opposite corner and move around until I have all the corners neatly together. Next, seal the egg in by twisting the cling film round. Make sure you remove all the air from the cling film pouch when you do this as air bubbles prevent perfect cooking.

Finally, loosely tie the top of the cling film and your egg is ready to cook. If you're doing a batch, you can pop it on the side now while you wrap your other eggs.

To cook, bring a saucepan containing enough water to cover the eggs to a fast bubbling boil, and then drop your eggs into the pan. Set a timer for 4 minutes and then use the cooking time to get on with making your toast/beans/tea/coffee etc.

Once 4 minutes is up, fish the eggs out of the water and pop them on the side.

To serve, cut the knot off the top of the parcel and gently pull the cling film apart to release the egg. I usually go straight from the cling film to the top of the toast.

Voila! A lovely poached egg, cooked on the outside and runny in the middle with no messy washing up. Give it a go and let me know how you get on.

Please note that the example is quite a long way from my normal standard. I was so caught up in taking the photos that I ignored the timer for a bit too long and also burnt the bacon. May was not impressed.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Spotify. The next big thing?

is somewhat old news. It launched silently launched in the UK back in October last year and received a small amount of press coverage at the beginning of this year. Spotify provides a free streaming music service over the internet, it's like iTunes but you can only listen when you're online. The other key difference from iTunes is that you can listen to full tracks and albums free of charge.

At launch, Spotify was invite only so that they could control their growth rate. I recieved an invite from Morcs back in January and after signing up I quickly dismissed the concept when I discovered hat I'd have to install some client software on my PC to use it. "You're going to stream me music, and you want me to install something? Haven't you heard of software as a service?" I cried in an indignant technological rage. A few months later, when there was a lot of noise amongst my friends and colleagues about Spotify I bit the bullet and installed the client. I've been using it for about 6 weeks now, and I'm so impressed with it that I've become something of a Spotify bore/zealot.

Here's the key reasons that I'm so impressed:
  • It's a free, legal internet music service which has the support of the record industry - The record industry have been absolute dullards when it comes to harnessing the internet as a platform for retail and distribution (a topic worth a whole post in the future I think). Despite the idiocy of the music industry and their currently small user base, Spotify already have buy in from Sony, Universal, EMI and Warner and have commited to provide their entire catalogues for your listening pleasure. They've also recently signed Record Union, who are a distributer for independent artists, so hopefully this will bring even more interest to the music available. Currently, they're adding around 150k tracks a week - I've seen the fruits of this as searches for artists which I like initially returned zero hits and are now returning entire discographies (6.9 hours of Hybrid anyone?).
  • Excellent audio quality and user experience - Spotify uses the Ogg q5 codec which is roughly 160kbps and sounds great. Search results are returned lightning fast and even though they're streamed to you, tracks start playing almost instantly (it turns out that you need to install a client because P2P techniques are used, which I'm sure helps with the instant play feature). Spotify even works reliably over a 3G connection.
  • Playlists, sharing and collaboration - You can create your own playlists quickly by dragging and dropping albums and tracks. Brilliantly, playlists are tied to your login not your computer so they are accesible wherever you login from. Tracks, albums and playlists can be shared with friends via simple HTTP links, and playlists can be made public so others can add to your existing song selections.
  • Spotify radio - Only want to listen to 80s disco? No problem, With buttons to select time periods and music types, you can let Spotify play you tracks randomly based on your choices.
So what's the catch then? Well, crucially you can currently only use Spotify when you're both at your computer and online. In addition, the free service is paid for by adverts, so every 20 minutes or so, a 30 seconds audio advert get played inbetween tracks. At the moment these are invariably hilariously lo-fi and I haven't found them irritating, although with a limited selection of ads at the moment they can get pretty repetitive. I'm finding the adverts are a small sacrifice in exchange for unlimited, high quality, legal music online. Further, this catch actually leads onto another great Spotify strength:

  • Smart premium options - currently there are 2 premium options available in the UK, a monthly subscriptions (£9.99) or a day pass (£0.99). Both bring the benefit of no advertising, and the monthly premium option also brings a higher quality stream (Ogg q9 which is roughly 320kbps), unlimited use of Spotify while abroad and additional invites so you can share Spotify with your friends. The day pass is particularly clever as it enables you to put together a party playlist which you can then stream advert-free all day for less than the price of a loaf of bread. For more nerdy types, the premium subscription also enables you to use the open source DeSpotify client if you wish (The free service blocks DeSpotify, and rightly so).

Looking forwards, Spotify are certainly one to watch. I firmly believe they have the potential to revolutionise how we buy, store and listen to music. So what can we expect from them in the future? Well, given that they've just added their first audiobook, perhaps they will branch out into delivering other types of media such as TV shows or movies. Mobile clients have already been confirmed with iPhone and Android apps in development, and their jobs section suggests they're also working on a client for Nokia's S60 handsets. In the video below, you'll see that they're demoing a syncronisation feature to enable you to play tracks on your mobile even when you're offline - you can bet that this will only be available to paying subscribers, but the prospect of unlimited music both at home and on the move for just a little more than a single album from iTunes is highly compelling.

When the mobile clients launch, I can forsee Spotify partnering with the handset manufacturers or mobile networks to bundle the client onto new phones, or include a premium subscription within the price of a data bundle.

I also think there's an opportunity for an additional charge on top of the premium subscription which could be used to give you access to pre-release music. The idea would be that as soon as you heard the new Dizzee Rascal song on the radio, the label would have made it available to Spotify and you could go and listen to it online before it's release. This would hopefully cut down on the piracy of pre-release music by enabling people to get their fill of brand new tunes legally, but without diminishing their appetite to buy them on release.

Finally, my pipe dream is to see them enable the synchronisation feature for the desktop client and then intergrate the client directly with the iPod. Of course desktop synchronisation is fraught with pitfalls because of the record labels hang ups about digital ownership. Individual files for synchronisation would need to be DRMed and achieve this with the iPod, Spotify would probably need to licence Apple's FairPlay DRM technology. I actually doubt Apple would ever allow this to happen, but it seems to me to be the best way to make Spotify mass-market - there are a lot of people who'd need some serious convincing that they should use their mobile handset instead of their iPod to listen to music on the move.

It's going to be very interesting to see if Spotify can overcome the hurdles in front of them and emerge as the success that I think they deserve to be. Can they scale their service? Can they make the model profitable and attract the elusive 50 quid man? Can they win users from iTunes and Amazon? Time will tell, and I for one will be watching closely.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Status: June

June 1
07:05 Tim has had a really long day. In Monterey, CA now. Dad still suffering waves of intense pain every few hours, I can't remember having seen him like this ever. Called the Doc and he arranged a prescription of maximum strength vicodin for us to pick up on arrival in Monterey.

June 2
00:16 Tim is at the dentist in Carmel with his Dad.
01:55 Tim is pretty overwhelmed by the kindness of Californians. The camp dentist looked at Dad, did an x-ray and referred him to a specialist free of charge. Apparently he has the 'best infection of 2009' in his jaw. Off to see surgeon tomorrow.
06:06 Tim has had another long day. After dentist, drove Dad round 17 Mile Drive on the Monterey peninsula and visited Pebble Beach golf course. Fingers crossed that his swollen face and infection are much improved by tomorrow and that dental surgery is not required.
21:02 Tim is back in the dentist's waiting room, Dad getting sedated for absess draining and a tooth extraction.

June 3
01:11 Tim is out whale watching on the Pacific Ocean.
07:04 Tim has had quite a day. Dad's tooth extraction and then seeing humpback whales, pacific dolphins and seals in Monterey bay.
18:14 Tim is having a better day. Dad is up and out, and has taken his camera, so he must be feeling a lot better. Long drive ahead today though, south on 1 to McWay waterfall, then loop back north before heading to Yosemite.

June 6
22:59 Tim is in Yosemite National Park. Beautiful things are all around. Only May is missing.

June 9
06:27 Tim is in the Ahwanee Hotel, Yosemite National Park, CA on the free wifi. Back to the UK on Thursday.
18:49 Tim is going rafting on the river Merced.

June 10
18:29 Tim is headed for home. Drive from Yosemite to San Francisco and then Virgin Premium Economy to Heathrow. A lot of sitting to be done today.

June 11
00:41 Tim now boarding VS20 from SFO to LHR.
11:44 Tim is back in the UK. Mum is a bit planed out and near sprinted off the plane and headed for the nearest loo looking sick.
19:46 Tim is back at home and very grateful to May for the airport pick-up.

June 13
13:19 Tim is - god damn Tim De Pauw in Belgium for bagging timdp.
16:02 Tim is going camping on Purbeck. Yeah!

June 14
19:46 Tim is rocking out the red neck look. A shit load of factor 20 doesn't cut it for my pasty ghost skin it seems. Time to stop pissing about and get a load of factor 50.

June 15
08:36 Tim is back from holiday with a bump, back on the commuter train to LDN. Backdoor Boogie in my ears making it bearable.
18:35 Tim is not in California anymore. I'd forgotten the barely concealed looks of hatred you get from fellow commuters just for sitting down.

June 16
08:45 Tim is working on the train and listening to Backdoor Boogie again. Hayfever quotient is high today.
16:12 Tim is amazed by Audi UK. They have no A3 2.0 Tdi SE Sportsbacks available in the whole of the UK for demonstration. I'd better get the Beemer then.
19:29 Tim rocked out a short LDN run, 2.05k in 9.42. Now on the train to Basingstoke for hot tub and bbq. Girl sat next to me's pink see through thong is massively on display.

June 17
23:39 Tim is at Finchley Road by mistake. Whoops, not paying enough attention to tube route.

June 18
09:01 Tim had his worst nights sleep at the Metropole this year. West Wing rooms overlooking the flyover FTL.
18:03 Tim is running late for massage in Pimlico. Boo.
22:21 Tim is catching up with the Malmaison crew's music recommendations from last night. Now playing: The Presets.

June 19
07:58 Tim is listening to some idiots talking crap on the train.
19:14 Tim has finished work and is off out round London Bridge for Gaurav's leaving do.

June 20
13:24 Tim is at the Audi garage waiting on a test drive of an A3 SE.
16:10 Tim is off to London to meet Tom. After spotting Da Screen in the same carriage as me I've been studiously avoiding his gaze. Thank jeebus for the A3 brochure.
21:08 Tim is full of Persian food and headed for Amazingstoke for hot tub before May's 5k tomorrow.

June 21
10:58 Tim is at the Basingstoke Race for Life. Go May and Clare!
11:47 Tim is really proud of May, 27.16 in the Basingstoke Race for Life 5k.

June 22
19:08 Tim 's mental sprint through Waterloo, running up the escalators 2 steps at a time, has got him onto the 1905. Woo!

June 23
07:52 Tim 's word for the day is 'earlier'. Another sprint, another train caught by seconds. Thanks to the kind guard who let me on.
18:57 Tim is NOT at a TweetUp. In your face Tweetees!
23:37 Tim has fixed the unfixable wifi on May's laptop. In your face DSIS. If I got LEAP working too, I am god.

June 24
08:08 Tim is inspecting the lousy change he's picked up in London so far this week. One '10p' (quarter dollar), a Gibralta pound coin and an Isle of Man 20p. Check your change.
11:38 Tim just had a massive mouse related LOL. Brave 3rd floor office mouse caused a full on scream by mooching around on the floor.
17:58 Tim is going to Boxwood Cafe for dinner tonight. In your face Gordon Ramsay.
22:51 Tim thought the Boxwood Cafe was ok, food on a par with Malmaison, slightly nicer ambience and service. Malmaison on the 2009 voucher wins hands down on price and cool factor though.

June 25
12:12 Tim is meeting May for lunch at Leon behind the Tate Modern, what a nice treat!
19:06 Tim is really pleased that the combination of physio and massage has stopped his arms hurting, woo!

June 26
09:06 Tim is travelling light today so he can run after work. As such, no netbook today so making do with Radio 1 through my E71.
12:57 Tim is using his work issue anti-swine flu hard surface wipes to remove Borough market lunch stains from his raincoat.
17:56 Tim gave a new meaning to running for the train with a run from work to Waterloo:
23:46 Tim is answering the age old question of whether or not you can tell the difference between coke from a bottle (glass vs plastic) or a can using statistics.

June 27
15:49 Tim is on a narrow boat on the Stratford canal. I understand the naming now.

June 28
10:42 Tim is lying atop a narrow boat on the Stratford canal, covered in factor 50. It's a beautiful day today.
14:55 Tim is operating canal locks. Who knew lock doors weighed 2500kg?

June 29
18:42 Tim is all boated out. Looking forward to getting home and relaxing. Need to pack for Prague though.

June 30
18:39 Tim is filling out his visa for India.