Full Nerd II: Nerd Harder

It seems that people really enjoyed my post about the computer history museum. At the time I wrote it, I was worried that it might constitute just a little bit too much nerd, so I held back on my initial impulse to put in more pictures and gush enthusiastically about how awesome it all was.

With hindsight, perhaps I can afford to ignore that particular mental stopcock, at least for a little while. I do not, I regret to tell you, have anymore pictures of the teapot. I do intend to buy myself a Melitta teapot at some point quite soon, however, so that it may sit in my flat and act as a most nerdy in-joke.

“Tea, anyone?”

“Yes, please.”

Pause.

“Why are you grinning like that?”

I do, however, have pictures of many other fun things. Let’s start with a reference to my current employer:

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This is one of the original Google server racks. At one point, if you typed a query into the Google homepage, this is where the magic happened. If you have any familiarity at all with how servers usually look, you might be scratching your heading and thinking that this one does not look entirely right. Let me help you with that:

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Yes, you can see all of the components. No, that is not normal. Yes, each individual server would normally have its own case. No, under normal circumstances sheets of cardboard would not be used as the insulation between motherboard and shelf. Yes, that is an awful lot of servers to fit into a single rack. Yes again, that would require very good air circulation, but you’ll have a bloody difficult time finding a case that gives better circulation than no case at all. No, you would not expect a server to bow in the middle like that…

Two things the early Google was known for: providing the best search results; and being very, very frugal when it came to equipment purchasing.

Let’s talk about something a bit more fundamental, though. Hard disks, for example. The one in the computer I’m writing this on has a capacity of around 120 GB (depending on how you measure a giga byte, but that’s a different story). Wikipedia tells me that is measures around 69.85 mm × 15 mm × 100 mm, so quite small. This is also a hard drive:

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Assuming I haven’t gotten mixed up here somewhere, this is the worlds first hard disk, and is made up of 50 24″ disks, holding a grand total of 5 million characters. Now, if  each of those characters is a one byte ASCII character (or similar) that’s approximately 5 MB, or 0.005 GB. Quite the difference in storage density, no?

Here’s a (slightly) more recent example of a hard disk, one which I’m told is actually still in use to some extent:

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Now, if my understanding is correct, this next piece looks like a hard drive, but is much closer in function to RAM:

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What’s particularly neat is that it’s based on an original design by the regrettably late, extremely great, and utterly brilliant Alan Turing.

The museum has an entire section devoted to the evolution of storage, and it’s quite fascinating. Another of the forebears of modern RAM is magnetic core memory, which looks like this:

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Now that’s quite cool, but I’d say that it’s also quite pleasing to the eye. I think I’d happily frame that, mount it, and have it hanging from the wall in my flat (somewhere close to the teapot). People walk through castles and talk in hushed tones of all the many things “these stones” have seen. All of the stories they might tell, if they could only speak. But this… unlike your average rock, this is unquestionably memory, and memory which lived through very exciting times in the development of our society. Here’s something I look at and wonder what stories it might be able to tell, and what stories it has been forced to forget.

There are many things at the Computer History Museum which are very cool and certainly raise a smile (as well as an appreciative thought as to how far things have come). There are also things which just plain stop you in your tracks; the Difference Engine, for example. Well, at the risk of repeating myself, I’m going to post another picture of it, this time from the other side, so you can see a little bit more of the mechanism:

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Now there’s a thing I would really and truly love to have in my flat. Ideally in a more coffee table friendly size, of course.

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A Different Kind of Tourism

If a person were to walk from downtown Mountain View (in so far as Mountain View has a town to be down of) to the Computer History Museum, and then kept going, they might find themselves wandering into Shoreline Business Park. This is where you would find the silicon in this part of the valley.

Of course, there isn’t actually a lot of touristing to do in your average industrial park. We’re in Silicon Valley here, though, surely there must be something to see? Well… there are signs for reasonably exciting tech companies, with logos and everything… for example:

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Here’s a fun one. 23 and Me is either a very cool company, or an utterly terrifying one, depending on your point of view. The basic idea is that you send them some of your spit (and some money). They use this to do some basic DNA profiling and tell you about your genetic predisposition towards certain diseases, your genetic predisposition to certain drugs, and a limited amount regarding your actual genetic ancestry. This all comes wrapped up in a neat web interface which updates as new discoveries are made. I’m generally of the the view that this is pretty cool.

Further in we find even more companies, at least one of which you might have even heard of:

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LinkedIn is basically a professional version Facebook. Sort of a fancy online business card holder, networking centre, recruitment system and industry conference all rolled into one. As such, it allows you to show your respectable side to your business contacts, whilst still being able to display that photo set proving that you can get your entire fist in your mouth to your friends. It can be quite useful, but more on that in a moment. I had no idea who the other companies on the sign are, and have not, as yet, felt too much of a need to enlighten myself.

There is, of course, another tech company with a fairly large presence in this business park, but I can’t for the life of me remember their name. Oh, wait, yes. I remember:

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When in doubt, follow the street signs. While I’m sure it is helpful to have signs pointing to stuff (other examples in this estate include “movies” and “amphitheatre”) hanging above the road, making them indistinguishable from street signs is bloody confusing, in my opinion.

Google is, of course, the whole reason I’m in this town, and in fact in this country for these two weeks. For the record, I was recruited via LinkedIn, so it definitely does have it’s uses. One of the reasons for this wander was to get a general idea of the lay of the land surrounding the Googleplex. My overall opinion: it’s big. Luckily, the Google bikes were very much in evidence:

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Often being found looking slightly forlorn in the strangest places. I’m fairly sure the local teens play a bit of cat and mouse with security guards and joyride around the park on them at weekends. This one was close to one of the volleyball courts:

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There actually is a reasonable amount to see, wandering around the campus. Google really does live up to a lot of its hype. One of the more famous landmarks of the campus was actually bloody difficult to find, though. It took a serious amount of detective work, comparing photos from the web to views from Google Maps, but I finally tracked down the “Android Lawn”:

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As it turned out, if I’d just stood up and looked over my right shoulder from the place I was performing all of this furious Googling, I probably would have just spotted the damn thing. Such is life. Strangely enough, I was feeling a little hungry at this point, so I headed home.

Finally, it is important to note that while all of this touristing around is fun, and Google is a fuzzy and well meaning company, you should never forget that these are serious guys, doing a serious job. One most always strive to live up to the standard set by those who come before you, and always act in a professional and responsible manner when surrounded by such a high caliber of people.

Seriousness. Responsibility. Decorum.

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That is all.

The Process and the Platform

The effort required to actually publish that last post was… considerable. Several factors contributed to this:

  • I have slow internet access at my hotel;
  • Currently, my only (full) computer is my work laptop;
  • This doesn’t have iPhoto installed (this is mostly for reasons of simplicity, I’d probably get it if I asked).

In the end, I wrote the text of the post in Evernote on my iPad (using an external keyboard), since I’m supposed to install an absolute minimum of third party software on the laptop. Next, I did a copy paste into BlogPress, a blogging app which lets you insert images inline. In theory the official WordPress app also does this, except that the upload always fails for me. As you may have gathered, I inserted the images here. This also rescales them, so you don’t need to upload all 12 megapixels. Next, I uploaded it to my actual blog as a draft, and used the web interface to fix any formatting errors and add any extra formatting, since BlogPress doesn’t allow bold or italic text (that I’ve found). That done, I hit the publish button, and: presto!

Needless to say, this is not an ideal workflow. I like using Evernote for writing the actual text (on both iPad and Mac) because it has about the right amount of functionality and it backs everything up and synchronises it between all of my devices. I like having that always available record which I can look back over and search as I see fit. I also like being able to drop one device, pick up another and keep working on the same document more or less seamlessly.

Digression: I also like that I can use it as a permanent record of my notes. Before I moved down to London I was part way through scanning my notebooks from my PhD into Evernote. Evernote runs OCR on the images, finds the text (when my handwriting makes this feasible) and make it searchable. Brilliant. It’s like being able to carry all of my old note books around with me, all of the time.

What Evernote doesn’t allow you to do is freely mix text and images, however. The WordPress interface does (obviously), but that leaves me with the problem of uploading the images. This is where the low bandwidth and lack of iPhoto were became problems. I suspect the cleanest workflow would be to immediately upload an album to Flickr (or other photo sharing site) and then use the appropriate URL to include the image in the blog post. Searching through the iPhoto library manually sure as hell isn’t ideal, and that’s the only real option for doing it image by image in the web interface.

The most pleasant experience I’ve had for putting together blog posts with both text and pictures was actually iWeb, and by a metric mile. iWeb uses the built in OSX controls and lets you select images according to meta-data and what they look like, rather than their file name, as though you were working with a file system specifically designed for serving you images. The iPad does more or less the same thing, in fact, so that part wasn’t actually too bad. Using iWeb leaves you with very limited options for your blog, however. It’s made me think I should look at using a dedicated program, such as MarsEdit, for writing my posts, or at least for the final stages.

Ideally, I need to find a decent workflow, which doesn’t break down when I’m away from home and likely to actually have semi interesting things to blog about, but doesn’t restrict me when I am at home. Ideally, it should allow me to jump between different machines with a minimum of effort, and not require me  to always add the final touches from the same machine. The workflow should also not break down when no internet connection is available. Text is fairly easy. Images make things more difficult, especially if the images were recorded using my own camera.

Lastly, I’m giving some consideration to porting this blog over to Blogger (only if I can transfer all of my posts and comments, however). It’s not a coincidence that I now work for the company responsible for Blogger’s infrastructure. Becoming more familiar with that platform can only really be a good thing for me here. Blogger also gives me a couple of options which WordPress doesn’t, though. Thoughts?

…In Which I Go Full Nerd

Jet lag is a funny thing. Right now it actually seems to be working in my favour; it’s managed to knock a couple of bad habits out of me. Specifically, these happen to be the not entirely unrelated habits of going to bed too late (then making it later by reading for a good long while) and getting up too late. Right now I seem to be fighting to keep my eyes open by around nine, and then being wide awake by seven. Which is more or less the position I found myself in on Sunday. Since day one at Google camp was a couple of days away I thought I’d check out my immediate surroundings.

This may come as a bit of a surprise to you, but there isn’t actually a lot to do in Mountain View. One of the things there is to do, however, is the computer history museum, which I’d been told is exactly as awesome as it sounds. In case my meaning isn’t clear: really awesome. There is no sarcasm here. Look at my face. Awesome. This is not my sarcastic face. Awesome. Face. Awesome.

I have a rental car, but the brakes scare the shit out of me, and the place didn’t look too far away, so I decided to walk. Now, I’d been warned that no one walks in America, but I wasn’t quite prepared for it to be true. I must have walked 5 miles on Sunday and saw a grand total of perhaps 3 other pedestrians, and found that drivers looked at me as though I was a crazy person. I think perhaps one reason for this might be that the pavements (or sidewalks, if you like) are… well… shit. Anytime you have a height difference of more than an inch between two slabs… that’s bad.

Slightly thankful that there were no other pedestrians to see me trip, I arrived at the building in question. Externally, it’s kind of neat. You might mistake it for the headquarters of some hip new tech startup. If it wasn’t for the big sign saying “Computer history Museum” outside, obviously. Inside, though, it reminded me quite of bit of the Science Museum (“which science museum?” “The Science Museum”). It’s nowhere near as grandiose, and has a much narrower focus, but the comparison feels apt.

The scope of the exhibits is quite impressive, starting with slide rules and abaci, moving though Babbage (oh, I’ll come back to Babbage), on to Turing and right up to the present day. Here are a couple of examples of things which made me smile:

The Altair 8800, quite an important machine in the history of Microsoft, of which the fictionalised version of Steve Jobs in Pirates of Silicon Valley says “I never had any problem with the Altair… until I tried to use it.”

You know what’s better than that, though? A computer made out of wood. If you bought an Apple I you received a box of parts and some schematics. You hade to supply the case yourself. You know what else is awesome? UNIX is awesome:

You see? There’s a badge and everything. What says awesome more than a badge? Oh wait, I know:

Oh yeah. That’s right. I bet you wish you were cool enough to have that licence plate. As a side note: I wonder if anyone does have that licence plate, since I assume this one isn’t real. Furthermore: what kind of car would you put that on? This is fodder for Pimp My Ride right here. They should get on that (“Yo, we heard you like UNIX…”).

There was a lot more at the museum. Too much, in fact. I arrived about an hour after it opened and literally left as they locked the door behind me. I probably skipped about half of the section on the internet, and only had time for a brief look at the exhibit on the history of computer chess. Did I mention that they have half of Deep Blue? They also have something else very, very cool, and that’s one of the two Babbage Difference Engines which we only very recently developed the capability to actually build:

You really can’t do justice to this thing in a photograph. It’s beautiful. A marvel of engineering, it actually works exactly as Babbage said it would, and he built it entirely on paper. In 1849. Somebody should build an Analytical Engine. That, my friends, would truly be something.

One last thing:

I think this might be THE teapot.

Update: Someone is building an analytical engine!

Another update: there is a follow up post here.

This Morning.

You’re going to have to wait a little while longer for the Computer History Museum, Silicon Valley Wandering and San Francisco based updates I had in mind, since I still haven’t found a good way of adding the images I wanted to. In the meantime, I thought I’d tell you about my morning, in a similar (if significantly smaller in scope) fashion to Tim Bray’s semi-famous post.

Now, Google is very transparent internally, but also has fairly strict rules about what you can and can’t talk to people about, regardless of whether you’re talking to your friends, your family, random people on the street, or potentially random people on the information super highway (that’s you). I haven’t entirely gotten my head around them yet, so I’m limiting myself to things you could find out by yourself, either via the internet, by wandering around in the general vicinity of a Google office, or being invited in as a lunch guest. This latter option is not too uncommon; it’s actually something we’re encouraged to do (up to a point).

Be that as it may, this morning I drove in to the campus*, and parked in a nice easy space a reasonable distance from the building. I’m not entirely used to driving on the right wrong side of the road and I’m not going to take any chances, so I was looking for a space with no other cars around. Someone had left one of the Google bikes next to where I parked, so I jumped on, rode straight past the the building my class was due to be in (I’m here for training) and headed over to one I knew had a cafe which served a decent breakfast.

Side note: the Google bikes are distinctive in many fashions, one of which is that they lack brakes. This is good knowledge to have, and personally I would have liked to have found out when I was a little further away from the speed bump. Now you know. You’re welcome.

I stood the bike up near the door, next to a pack of its siblings, and badged my way into the building. The breakfast did not dispoint, and I actually broke down and grabbed a smallish portion of the french toast /crispy bacon / maple syrup combo which always tests my willpower (but thankfully doesn’t seem to be an option at the London office). It was, on the whole, a very good breakfast. It does, however, leave me with a bit of a dilema: do I return to this cafe tomorrow, or try a different one?

As I was leaving, a girl walked her bike into the cafe and propped it up while she filled a takeaway container with yummy, yummy breakfast food. Then, as I was gabbing a coffee before my class, a guy wandered past with his St. Bernard. Google is a very different kind of a workplace, that’s for sure. Did I mention the building my classes were in yesterday has a four lane bowling allay and a dance studio?

After that, I…

REDACTED

…all of which was very interesting. In all seriousness, though: I’m getting a lot out of this trip.

A brief update

Most people can definitively trace at least one or two traits directly back to one of their parents. In my case I can definitely lay the blame for two at the feet of my father:

  1. I know the rules of cricket inside out;
  2. Walking right across town doesn’t faze me in the slightest.

The first isn’t really important right now (unless you need to know the specifics of the leg before wicket rule STAT), while the second is the result of a father who likes to walk. A lot. In fact many of my childhood holidays consisted of a series of walks across various British cities, often culled from the pages of an impressively large (and impressively modular) Reader’s Digest walkers guide… to British cities.

Thus, for the past two days I eschewed the use of my rental car and went wandering. Yesterday (that’s Sunday) I wandered around Mountain View itself and today I took a train to San Francisco and did the same thing there. I want to tell you about it. I plan to tell you about it. SOme of it is actually worth telling you about. But I want to throw some of the pictures I took into the mix, and right now I don’t have a good way of doing that. The Google provided free WiFi which covers the entire of Mountain View is very useful indeed, but it’s not super fast and thus not ideal for uploading a bunch of pictures.

Tomorrow I’m heading into the office for day one of my Google training (I’m told there’s some awesome Kool-Aid, so I’m looking forward to trying that) and I think I may have access to a slightly better connection there (just a hunch), so I’ll see what I can do.

Fourteen Days in the Valley

I can see the mountains, but I suppose that’s only to be expected. I am in Mountain View, after all.

As of today, I’m in Silicon Valley for my “noogler training,” something which most companies would just refer to as an induction. At Google, though, there’s a bit more too it than that. There are a lot of tools and technologies to to learn, because so much of what we use is built in house, and there is a lot of culture to adapt to, because most companies don’t function the way google functions. Hence, all new hires get shipped over to the mothership, partly to centralise all of this learning, and partly (I suspect) because the Googleplex is really, really cool. I’ve been told I must try all of the cafes and slides.

The flight over was truly awful. It felt like crossing the Atlantic in the jet plane equivalent of a council tower block. My entertainment system was broken, so I had to relay on what I had with me. Fortunately, I had prepared for this eventuality and loaded my iPad up with some films and TV shows, and the iPad has a much nicer screen, anyway. What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was how shit the cabin crew were going to be. I must have pushed the call button thirty times during the flight and they did not respond once. I always had to flag someone down or walk to the galley. Before you ask: it did occur to me that maybe my call button was malfunctioning, but no the crew confirmed that it was working. Perhaps, then, they were busy? Some of the time yes, I’m sure, but I also watched them standing around chatting as I pushed the button. Not cool, British Airways, not cool.

Speaking of happier things, I arrived in San Francisco and proceeded to the hire car stan to be greeted with a huge queue. I don’t want to oversell how long the queue was, but some of these people had tents. A moment realisation dawned, though: since I work for Google I automatically have Hertz #1 Gold status, so I walked straight passed that queue to the garage… and proceeded to wait in a shorter queue. Still, I call that a win.

As of right now I’m sitting in my very pleasant hotel room trying to decide what to do for a couple of hours before I can legitimately go to sleep. Aside from getting dinner, of course. That’s the next problem. I’m probably a little strung out right now, so if this post reads a little incoherent, let’s just go ahead and assume that’s the reason why, m’kay?

Tomorrow I’m going to go for a bit of an explore. I’ll let you know if I find anything exciting. Stay classy.

Magic!

Okay, you’ve probably heard about this already, since it seems to be spreading across the internet like some sort of tube based wildfire/hot cakes hybrid, but it’s still awesome. Check this out:

This is exactly the sort of thing I love to see as an app on a smart phone. It’s a very cool use of augmented reality, it’s actually very useful, and it has a near perfect user interface. As in: the interface (and the device itself) essentially becomes invisible. You’re left looking through a magic window into a world in which you can read all of the writing. I’ve been playing with it and it’s very, very cool. It’s not perfect yet, and tends not to deliver imperfect translations (occasionally with hilarious results) and bad grammar, but it seems to be close enough most of the time for you to understand the general meaning. I recommend downloading the (free) app just to play with the demos. They let you either remove words from the scene or reverse the order of the letters; the language packs cost extra. You can find the developer’s website here.

Disclaimer: this may sound like an advert, but it’s not. I’ve received nothing from these guys. I just think this is really, really cool.

What todo?

The return train ride after a visit to my parents’ house is, if anything, more pleasant that the outward journey. This is not least, of course, because it ends in Edinburgh, rather than Doncaster*. Be that as it may, this is perhaps a good time to pick up the thought I left hanging at the end of my last entry, in which I talked a little about ways of keeping notes and writing down ideas. Having dealt with information, we now come to action. From stasis, to process. Less obliquely: what, exactly, are you going to do about those ideas?

For the longest time I never kept todo lists. I tried to keep my goals and the individual steps required to reach them inside my head. Sometimes this worked quite well; thoughts are things which are simple to rearrange and update as requirements change, after all. Other times, not so much. In short: I forgot things.

My first attempt at organising these things was quite simple. I wrote a todo list down in my lab book. Paper is always I good place to start for a lot of things. Simple is generally a good place to start, also. I’d say this worked almost flawlessly on the occasions when I finished every item on the todo list I wrote on a particular morning by the end of that day. The problem appears on the days when this doesn’t happen. You don’t always carry out the tasks in the order you wrote them down, because that doesn’t always make sense, and there’s no way to rearrange the order of the items short of rewriting the list (yeah, right). As result, you end up with a partially completed list to be carried over to the next day. Worse still, often times a single item will subdivide into numerous smaller tasks when you come to take a closer look at it. So now you have two lists on different pages of your book, with some miscellaneous notes (and quickly jotted down take-away orders) separating them.

Version 2 worked a lot better, and I still use it from time to time. Basically, you write each item down on a post-it note (the 2.5*7.5cm ones are ideal, though a little hard to find) and stick it on a flat surface close to where you work. You’re then free to re-arrange them to you hearts content and, best of all, when you finish an item you get to take it down, screw it up into a little ball, and throw it in the bin. Very satisfying. Take that todo list! Obviously this isn’t as mobile as version one, though you can pull the post-its down and stick them in a book to take with you. If you always work in the same place it’s pretty great though. It’s also fairly obvious, so apologies if I’m not telling you anything new here.

What version 2 doesn’t do is allow you to easily add things wherever you are, share your todo lists, or integrate into your more everyday todo type scenarios. In particular, I do not recommend using this approach for shopping lists. That isn’t going to work. As a result, I started looking at more computer based approaches (surprise, surprise). I gave Remember The Milk a try for a while, but the browser based approach doesn’t work for me. I like applications to integrate with my desktop.

This was around the time that the brilliant OmniGroup announced OmniFocus. I already use (and love) OmniOutliner and OmniGraffle, so this looked like a pretty good bet. Plus they later announced that an iPhone version was coming as well. Perfect, or so I thought. As it turned out, I much prefer Cultured Code’s Things, however. It is, quite frankly, the desktop todo manager of my dreams. It’s Mac only though, which doesn’t help me if I think of something at the office, or on the bus. Fortunately, there are also iPhone and iPad apps available, which are equally sweet. They like one crucial feature, though: web sync. Sure, I can sync them over wireless, but this is much less use to me. I have to actively do it, rather than just fire up the application and wait for the magic to happen. It’s on the road map, but I’m still waiting. Side note: OmniGraffle does have web sync, but I don’t like it as much, and it’s a lot more expensive. It might be perfect for your needs, however.

Which brings me sort of full circle, to my shiny new Clockwork Aphid project. At this point I’ve mostly just been implementing things as the mood takes me, maybe planning a couple of steps ahead. I probably need a bit more structure than that. The post-it note and Things based approaches both have their benefits, but their are a couple other things to take into consideration. First of all, I’m using the fabulous BitBucket.org to host my source code, and that come with a handy issue tracker. Especially handy should anyone else join the project once it get a little bit more fleshed out. Another interesting possibility is the Mylyn plug-in for eclipse (my code editor of choice), which provides you with a “task based interface.” In other words, it hides the clutter and shows you only the parts of your project you need to care about for the particular task you’re working on. That’s quite interesting, but works best when you link it up to a central issue tracker. Frustratingly, it doesn’t work with the BitBucket issue tracker. It does work with Atlasian’s Jira, however, and Atlasian recently acquired BitBucket, so hope is not lost.

These approaches are clearly better tailored to what I’m actually doing, but neither is as user friendly as either the post-its or Things, especially when it comes to adding new tasks, and that’s the bit you need to do quickly, brain-dump style. The search continues…

I, of course, welcome any alternative todo list solutions you’d like you leave in the comments. <subliminal>Please comment on my blog.</subliminal>

* Know this: no written text, regardless of italicisation, can accurately reproduce the tone of my voice when I say the word “Doncaster.”

 

The right kind of holiday

It has been, by my count, at least 18 months since I last had a holiday (aside from one weekend spent in Cardiff). It’s getting to the point where I’m starting to feel that I really need a one. But what kind of holiday?

Having stopped to think about it, I’ve realised that most of the holidays I’ve taken have been of the package type. With the skiing holidays this isn’t so bad, it’s possibly even ideal. The rest of the time… not so much. It feels a little too much like being cattle, it feels very lowest common denominator (largely because it is) and you’ll tend to spend a lot of time around British Tourists (if you know what I mean). The holidays I remember enjoying most are the other kind. The ad hoc ones. Three stand out:

Something like five years ago my friend Pete was living and working in Barcelona for the summer, staying with a friend he’d met while previously living in Switzerland. My friend Ruth and I made our way out there (slightly haphazardly, in my case) and spend a fantastic week, sleeping on Pete’s floor and trying to spend as little money as possible, whilst also trying to see and drink as much as possible. Pete’s friend also had a couple of friend’s kipping on her floor, and they’d also befriended an Irish fella they’d found in the bar Pete worked in. It was a great time. When I think back on the seriously happy moments in my life, swimming in sea at 1 am on Barcelona beach while holding onto a bottle of white wine in an attempt to cool it down a little… yeah, that ranks pretty high up there.

A couple of years later I (English), together with my friends Mark (Scottish) and John (Irish) made another ad hoc trip, this time to Italy. We flew with Easy Jet, rented a cheap but very comfortable villa in the hills and drove our selves around in a rental Alpha Romeo. We ate some great food food, played some cards, looked at some very pretty cities (and some very pretty girls), and accidently drove up the off ramp of an Italian motorway. I highly recommend it (except for the last one).

Lastly, and most recently, I spent a long weekend in a hostel in Berlin with 7 friends. We saw the sites, ate lots of pig and starch based products, probably drank too much, and wrapped up very, very warm. Only one of our number actually spoke German and he had to go elsewhere for the last night, leaving us to end up in what turned out to be an awesome and Very cheap socialist bar. Though there was an tense few minutes when we were sure what kind of socialist bar it was (it was the good kind).

I would like to have more holidays like this. Now, if I could just figure out a good way of setting them up…

BUNAC appeals to me (and I only have two years left to try it, depending on the country), as does farm working my way a cross a (hot) country. Burning Man is also not without it’s a appeal…