Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I don't know - the hardest words to say

An Italian restaurant, the Swiss-German side of Switzerland. Italian waiters but an Austrian Sommelier. I want to order some wine. Normally I'd try and go local with the wine: Amarone from Valpolicella in Verona, Tignanello in Tuscany, Chablis where you'd expect and so on - that's great for the UK because unless you're a Nyetimber fan (which would be a reasonable thing to be a fan of these days), you get to drink everyone else's stuff. I'm going for French wine though, mostly because I've never been that keen on Swiss wine (name a single producer, region or even the most common grape type, if you can). The two wines that I've narrowed it down to both carry the letters "MO" next to the vintage (1998 and 1999). I want to know what this means before I order so ask my Austrian sommelier - maybe it means "dodgy label" or "poorly looked after" in German. He tells me that it means that's when the grapes were "geboren" - I'd never thought of grapes being born but I can go with that being how they emerge. It doesn't make any sense though - all wines are born in the year on the label (with a few exceptions, like, say, 1745 Madeira which is a mixture of a couple of hundred years of the good stuff, with very, very little from 1745 in there). So I tell him he needs to think again. He tells me that other wines that say "1999" might actually be from various years - he plainly doesn't know what he's talking about. He goes away. There's much muttering with his colleagues after which he comes back to tell me that he's sure that's what it means and that he can definitely recommend one of them, a Corton 1998. I ask him what language "MO" might translate to - I figure I could make a good guess with some clues. Is it German? No, it's French. Ok, who put the letters there, maybe we could ask them? The F&B manager, who isn't around. Can we phone him? No, he's off today. I give up eventually and my hapless Austrian goes off to get the wine. A good ten minutes later he comes back with a completely different wine, which he recommends even more. It turns out that the wine I wanted isn't available. He tells me he has one in the other restaurant, but that it's locked up. That's not much use to me: I don't have the wine I want, I don't know what "MO" stands for and no one seems prepared to ever say "I don't know". So I get another wine, completely different (but, as it turned out, not bad). It's not unusual for people to be afraid of those three simple words. Maybe it's fear, a fear of "not knowing their numbers" perhaps. I'd understand that if there were terrible consequences for not knowing, but there really are. "I don't know" followed by "but I will do by the end of the day and I'll let you know" or "I don't know, that's a great question" is surely preferable to a made up answer about grapes bring born (or not). How hard can it be to say? P.S. I'm very conscious I owe a follow up post to "know your numbers" - I'm working on it, looking for what's public and what isn't

Thursday, July 13, 2006

e None, government Won - Number 2 in an occasional series

After my last post on this (number 1 in a series, obviously), I was pointed at a new service from the yourlondon.gov site (not to be confused with the yourlondon.com site - what is it about government brands and confusing us citizens with different .com and .gov offerings? I thought we'd got over that when we got rid of ukonline.gov.uk). As usual I was ranting in a less than informed way about how hard it is to report an abandoned car (in this case). The comment pointed me to this page which presents a google earth-driven map of London and a little beyond (wow...government mashups with google - bit gimmicky perhaps, the map doesn't really seem to do much). There's a search box for borough or post code. Naturally, because I still don't exist to government, my postcode wasn't recognised. Then I realised that the search/postcode boxes weren't actually connected to reporting an abandoned car and any postcode returns no results (it's so rare to get a search engine these days that has the temerity to say "no results" without offering some alternative ideas). I'm busy staring at this big map wondering how to navigate it and realise i have to read the text and click a link. I do that, enter my legit postcode, and it finds me. That's a first I think. But the map just shifts half an inch to the left but doesn't zoom in. Having put my postcode in, I figure if I just keep zooming in, I'll get to me - but I end up on top of the House of Commons (hardly appropriate given that it's Ken that funds this). So I go back to the postcode search and, with my code freshly entered, the map zooms back out again - despite the text telling me it will "jump straight to a particular location" - I suppose it is particular, just not my particular one. I wonder if this is something about Firefox on Macs? So I try it on IE on my PC and it works just fine, although it doesn't have a zoomed in image of my place (odd that, google earth does). It tells me to click to go to the local council page. Guess what happens when I do that? I get to a page that gives me a list of things I can report (headlined putting residents first)...I click "abandoned vehicle" and I'm right back in the world of nonstopgov, portals, logins, long forms and name and address details. In other words, I'm right back where directgov put me when I first tried. Oddly, despite going to a new site, it didn't open a new window. I tried a couple of other postcodes. The link to Lambeth is flawless - straight to a page asking which road the vehicle is on, the registration etc (although it says that page is step 1 of 3 - I didn't dare try step 2). I then tried a few other codes, from various business cards I had in the drawer. Anything a bit unusual (WC2R 0QS for instance) produced no results. So I make that egov 0, government 2 at least. Shame - so nearly there.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

New York Marathon November 2006

My fundraising page is up on justgiving ... you can find it here. I'm asking anyone who donates for this race to give just £10, but to pass the sponsorship request on to friends, colleagues and family. I'd like to raise awareness of Macmillan. I'm back in training after a couple of months off. Last Sunday was my first 10k run since the end of April - and what a day the organisers picked for the British 10k. It was around 25C at the start and just got hotter. The route went from Hyde Park Corner to the river, along towards Tower Bridge, over Westminster Bridge and then finished near Downing Street, with lots of doubling back (5, maybe 6 times along the route). The only shade was in the road tunnels near Southwark Bridge, but that didn't stop lots of people from running close to the trees, hoping for even a little shade. It didn't help that the water handed out was as warm as we were, but I was grateful for it anyway. I finished in 48m 18s - not bad considering the heat and, actually, not far off my recent best - but there were what seemed like thousands of people just reaching the 1km marker when I was already at the 8km point. There must have been a huge number of late starters. By the time I was done the temperature in the open was around 30C, so much credit to everyone who got round.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Travelling again ... I wish that ...

... I didn't have to carry so many leads, cables, gadgets and plugs. Even a short trip away, just a few days means: - The charger for my Treo (average battery life, 1.25 days); proprietary connector - The charger for my ipod (average battery life, several days but always runs out when I least expect it to); proprietary connector even though Apple have moved away from firewire and rely on USB - The charger for my shiny black DS lite-training my brain to be young again. It will take a while of course (average battery life - ds not my brain - unknown as it's too new); proprietary connector that looks disarmingly like USB (I nearly did a jig), but it isn't - Charger and PC interface for my Forerunner 305 (average battery life about 10 hours); USB connector but you need an odd little cradle to charge it or connect it to the PC (unlike the 205 that plugged straight into USB) - Power unit for my Sony Vaio TX1XP - Charger for my Nikon S3 camera (average battery life unknown, I haven't let it run down yet) - never go anywhere without a good camera and the Treo is 4 megapixels and a decent lens away from that; proprietary connector, even though it has an SD card that plugs straight into my laptop (i actually did a jig when Sony finally supported a standard that wasn't its own) - Charger for my Blackberry 8700 (average battery life 3 days, a little less with heavy screen usage); USB connector but it seems not all USB connectors are created equal as some others that I have won't charge the BB (the RAZR charger, for instance, doesn't work with a BB). - My wireless presentation mouse and spare batteries (average battery life unknown but it always runs out just before I go on stage) Is it just me or has the world got more complicated? No wonder there are so many delays at airports - how can you blame the x-ray folks for insisting that everything comes out of its bag and gets put in a plastic tray?