Thursday, April 27, 2006

eine kleine gay fuhrer

Yesterday I went to see a musical called The Producers. Well, it was supposed to be quite famous and very humourous. And it was. I don't know about famous, but hilarious it was. Imagine seeing a gay Hitler, a crazy german soldier still in-love with the Fuhrer singing Deutschland uber Alles, pigeons giving the nazi salute, in a play put on stage by some crook producers wooing old ladies and dreaming about a carefree escape to Rio with their millions. Well, on the stage is much better and so funny. I'm not a fan of musicals on tv (I think it's a bad idea), but in a theatre, live, listening to the live music and seeing the live performance of actors - it's altogether a different experience. It was worth departing with 30 pounds for the performance.

What else is new? Well, I am so stressed about the appartment ... I think all solicitors are a pain in the arse, they must do nothing all day, how can a letter take weeks to arrive to the other solicitor? All morons ... they're like black holes, everything disappears in them and you don't know what they're actually doing all this time. I'm not making sense here, that's because all my frustration is very hard to put in words.

My tv died (sounds like one of those stupid 3 word sentences when you learn a new language - not anymore, after this comment hihi - I'm so smart). Such a lamer, dying on me like that, all of the sudden. Well, one oddity is that this tv (and many others) can't be turned on from the buttons that they have on the actual tv. It's only from the remote. From the buttons on the tv, you can only turn it on (which means put in "stand-by" mode - waiting for the remote) or off. How strange! So, if the remote happens to die on you, or let's say the batteries go flat during something really important on the tv, you're screwed. Who designs these things? They should definitely get the Nobel prize for the most user unfriendly design ever. Anyway, even with the remote, it's not working.With my limited understanding of electrical devices, I really hope it's a blown electrical fuse, that's easily replaceable even by a twat (smile to the camera Ciprian, we're talking about you!). So, I might have a go at DIY-ing. At one point this era!But how can the bastard die on me right before the world cup? Sacrilege!

Well, the plan is to go to Toast for some cocktails tonight, maybe a walk in the park too, and even a french crepe (not crap, please) perhaps. Maybe this time we'll see John Lennon in that place. Ah yes, this comment always pops up when talking about Toast, because it's the place where M&M allegedly (they'll kill me for this "allegedly") saw Paul McCartney one day. Well, if we have enough cocktails, we'll see them both. I mean ... they'll soon hang out together again anyway, if you know what I mean. :D

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

images from brussels

The European Comission building, we stayed at a hotel really close to it



Unfortunately the weather was brusselian and we had to admire the view from under a 5 euros umbrella that we had to buy locally.



We had lunch on one of these narrow, cobblestoned streets ... lovelay!! :-)



The Atomium, the pride and landmark of Brussels...


Brussels' got the balls...



From Atomium looking to Little Europe, an open air show with miniature representation of different cities/towns around Europe.



And here it is ... the miniature Big Ben and Parliament, overlooked by the Atomium...


How life would be in the skin of a 6 foot tall grumpy ogre...


But beside everything else, Brussels is a city of chocolate ...


... where chocolate bunnies sing!

O Sole Miooooo....

Friday, April 21, 2006

Helping Science @ Home

I must say I'm the type of person who thinks science is a great thing. There are many reasons for that. One would probably be that, as a kid, I was reading a lot of sci-fi, I was part of a sci-fi club and with another 5 or so friends I've organised a RomCon (Romanian Sci-Fi Convention) in my home town when I was in highschool. Wow, some memories, huh? I also used to write sci-fi short stories, winning a second place in a contest back in Romania in highschool.

But also my background is in maths and computer science, which is science. I also liked physics although I always had a complex about not being good enough there. Also liked chemistry - that was before I went to highschool and realise what a nightmare it can be.

And to read about new science discoveries is great. Have a look at www.newscientist.com for instance.

So, in true support of science, I undertook two small initiatives that you can too, if you truly support science. Here they are:
1. Yesterday I signed the People's petition. It's about supporting medical research in the UK. That is research that uses animals too - responsibly. Many people might argue with that. However, if they discovered they have cancer for instance (touch wood), many people would suddenly change their view on things and they would love to have a cure at hand at any cost. Research is vital for us. Of course, it has to be done responsibly and the UK has one of the most controlled research legislation in the world.
Here's the petition: http://www.peoplespetition.org.uk/

2. The second thing that I've done today was to donate spare CPU cycles to science. In particular to the Folding@Home project: http://folding.stanford.edu/. This is a distributed network that tries to understand the folding of proteins which might help providing cures for different diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's Disease and others.
All you have to do is download an application that runs in the background, with low priority and this application is given computational work to do by a main server at the Stanford University. So in the end, there's a network of 200,000 computers around the world, all provided by donors, working to solve different computational models. There have been some nice results and papers published in the domain, due to this initiative. So it's not in vain and it's helping science.
I wasn't a participant in the SETI@Home program, which functioned (and maybe still is) in the similar way, but with the purpose of searching for extra-terrestrial intelligence, by computing the huge amount of data that Earth is bombarded with from space every day. I think that's pointless because the chances of discovering something like that are too slim.
But scientifical research is different and in this area there have been results from this program.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

mounting debt

I got convinced and bought tickets for the Reading Festival for Sunday27th of August. It's a bank holiday. So, in preparation I'm listening to Pearl Jam intensively. I used to listen to their first album Ten, back in the 90s when it was big on Mtv. Ah well, it's been a while...

Tragedy struck yesterday when I checked the matches programme for this year's World Cup. The final is on the 9th of July. I went pale when I realised I will be on a flight from Budapest to London exactly at the time of that match. :~*( I can't believe it. It's a nightmare.
But not if I can do something about it.
I changed the time of flying, so I'm still flying on the 9th, but in the morning, 11 o'clock. So I will be able to see the final in the UK. :-) Hurray!

The price difference was 25.50 pounds, but hey, it happens once in 4 years... so that makes it 6.375 pounds per year. Dividing by 365.25 -> 0.017453798767967145790554414784394 pounds per day. I guess you'd agree with me that we can safely cut some decimals there. So, in the end it's costing me 1p per day over 4 years. Geez, I can't believe it's so expensive. I was expecting something less when I started the calculation. A life of debt awaits me for the next 4 years. Sigh!

But given that I've changed the booking to watch 90 mins of football... let's calculate how much every minute costs. A staggering 0.283p per minute. But if we divide by 60 and ignore decimals from the 3rd onwards ... it's just 0.00p. Not to mention if we have some extra time and/or penalties. So in the end it's nothing really. It was a good decision.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

za trip to Bruzzelz

On friday morning my alarm went off at 6.15 and I must say I wasn't very happy with that. It's bank holiday for crying out loud. Yet my backpack was already prepared and Roberto was already on his way to Waterloo where we were supposed to meet up at 7. Living so close to Waterloo is so convenient, I could wake up just 45 minutes before the meeting time.

I jumped in a bus and in 10 minutes I was in Waterloo. Once there I realised I've printed a lot of pages about Brussels, Bruges, the confirmation email, all except the Eurostar booking number which was vital in getting the tickets from the automatic ticket machine. So we had to find a phone, connect to the internet, pay 1 pound for 15 minutes of browsing, access gmail (I was afraid the BT phone-browsers wouldn't handle the gmail ajax very well, but they did). That was stupidly well spent 1 pound.

With the code, we got our tickets, we got through the barrier, with the British "officers" that x-ray the luggage for automatic weapons speaking a dodgy English. Well, they are cheap workers from Poland. Globalisation is a fantastic opportunity for polish workers to learn English!

The trip to Brussels was un-eventful, except for some 4 English "beauties" next to us speaking incessantly "Oh, she got married? I didn't even know she had a boyfriend! Oh, have you seen Brad Pitt's armpits?" And shit like that, at 8 in the morning. Unfortunately the X-ray polish workers took all our scissors, nail cutters, knives and automatic guns ... so we could only visualise mentally different ways of killing the bitches.

The hotel was very nice, a 4-star hotel with twin beds (did I mention twin?) not double bed (twin folks) ... so don't you think that me and Roberto slept in the same bed. It also had a tv with a lot of channels, the room was big. It also had a sauna which we used one evening after walking all day.

It was also located right next to the European Commission and the European Parliament - which by the way were empty as it was Easter, and for Easter, european politicians dose off at their own homes.

We walked all the way from the railway station, Bruxelles-Midi, to the hotel, a long walk. We had our first laugh after we checked in the hotel and we went to a local restaurant near by to have something to eat. We said ... ah, we don't want to eat, just a coffee and a croissant. "Impossible, it's too late" said the guy speaking "like zis!". "Impossible, it's too late for breakfast. 2pm is already too late for breakfast". It was cracking to see this religious approach to breakfast. If it's 2, it's too late for breakfast and it would be sacrilegious to eat a croissant at any other time except breakfast.

We had to accept the ruling as it came from Brussels, and everything that comes from Brussels is good and quickly implemented into law! For a split of a second we thought of taking our case to the Human Rights Court which happens to be in Brussels ... but nah. We ditched the croissant. I bet it wasn't that good anyway! :-)

The weather in Brussels was crap though. It's not just the weather in London that proudly deserves this epithet. It even rained, and we had to buy 5 euro umbrellas and sightsee Brussels with umbrellas. But otherwise Brussels is nice, an interesting, sometimes "out-of-place" combination of new and old, with cobble-stone squares and medieval churches staying next to modern building hanging the european flag. If you were to describe Brussels (and maybe Belgium?!) in couple of keywords, they would be:

1. Waffles - geez, so many waffles, everywhere, at every street corner, everyone selling them to armies of wafflo-maniacs

2. Chocolate - Belgium is the choco-land, no doubt about that. Every street has at least one chocolate shop, each of them boasting of drawing their roots from the early years of 1500 or something similar. And the chocolate is very good and cheap. Yeah yeah, i ate some, kill me now! :P

3. Cobble-stone - phew, this is nice, but if you have a car, or high heels, it's a nightmare. And I remember when driving through Belgium some years back, they have cobble stone motorways too. Well, not many, but still. Phew, get a grip Belgium!

4. Beer & chips - yeap, it's not just Britain and Germany. I expected Stela Artois to rule though, but I found they had a more popular local option called Jupiler which I haven't seen before in the UK or anywhere else.

Eating out in Brussels is very easy, there are some nice narrow streets full of restaurants, one next to another - I confess I can't remember the name of the street, but it's close to the Grand Market (or whatever it's called :-). And they have competitive deals. For instance ... we had a 3 course meal for 12 euros and 12.50 euros. That included a "Soup of the Day", which was very nice soup by the way; then the main dish, Chicken with some mushroom sauce and chips or Roast beef and chips - quite nice. In the end we had dessert too. For 12 euros, it's a bargain.

We also visited the landmark of Brussels (as I consider it) - it's the Atomium, a large scale representation of an iron atom, with electrons as big steel balls in the sky. We got into it, used the escalators - it's not much to see really. It costs 7 euros, something like that.

But what's nicer is the Little Europe, which is very close to Atomium. It's an open air 'museum' showing miniature version of famous cities and buildings in Europe. Big Ben and the UK parliament is there, the Eiffel tower is there, the greek Pantheon is there and many many other stuff. It's a nice overview of nice places in Europe, places you can add to your "to do" list. Don't miss it if you go there. Well, except if it rains, as it's in open air.

In Brussels they speak mainly french, although the official languages in Belgium are flemish (a sort of Dutch) and french. But Brussels is mainly french speaking. That's not the case for Bruges, which is less than an hour away from Brussels by train, going west. In Bruges they mainly speak flemish. But worry not ... most people in Belgium seem to be speaking both languages, flemish and french, they might study both in school. And they also speak English, which is a nice surprise, because not many french speak english, so it's interesting to see french speakers speak english. If you speak english, you won't have any problems in Belgium.

Bruges is very nice, much nicer than Brussels, although it's unfair to compare them as Bruges is a small, laid back town, although vibrant and full of tourists. But the tourists mostly invade the town centre, which is specially designed for tourists. But the other parts of the town are really quiet. The contrast is very nice, because you can have the best of both worlds. We also saw a very very nice photography exhibition in a church. Portraits of people around the world, mainly from developing countries. Very nice, I even left a testimonial in their guest book, that's how much I liked it.

But Bruges is lovely, well worth a visit, and it's full of tourists as everyone seems to agree on this one.

We had a nice late lunch outside as the sun was out too. It was more expensive than in Brussels, due to the army of tourists that compete for seats, but it was nice.

The meals out are very very long in Brussels, in a latin tradition. You go there and spend 2 hours, so be ready to have a bag full of topics to talk over lunch. It's all very relaxed, you don't feel pressured to eat as quickly as you can and free the seat for the next customer as some places in London sometimes make you feel. Don't be surprised if lunch becomes dinner before you know it and you're still in the same place.

We left Brussels early in the morning too, had a baguette in the railway station and then just dozed off, on and off on the Eurostar. All in all, a very good escape, I wish the weather was a bit better though. Ciao!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

huray, huray, it's a bank-bank holiday

Yeahhhh ... 4 days of holiday. Beautiful!

However, for me they might be more unpleasant than normal working days, especially tomorrow morning when I have to wake up at 6 at the latest, ah comon, 6.30, let's negociate ... ok, I have to wake up early, so that I make it at Waterloo at 7am (sigh!) to meet this other globetrotter Roberto. Yeap, after being drunk for 2 days celebrating Berlusconi's loss of power... (nah, I'm kidding about him being drunk part)

So tomorrow morning, 7am, Waterloo, get our arses on Eurostar, destination Brussels ... Funny thing today, I tried to check my Eurostar reference number as it's supposed to be 8-letter reference and mine is 6!!! (sheesh, I foresee a cloudy future tomorrow morning, touch wood!) ... and when I typed www.eurostar.co.uk I was taken to the french version of the website. I type www.eurostar.com - same thing, the page I get is in french. My, have I woken up in a parallel universe where the french have won the last battle? (well, let's be generous here ... any battle?!). I quickly put my wits to work and I delivered this message:

"Why do I type www.eurostar.co.uk or www.eurostar.com and I'm taken to a website which is in french without an option to switch to English?
Is it a new marketing technique to encourage more English to learn the beautiful language of Voltaire? How can I use Shakespeare instead?"

to their support team. Thanks to this latest state of the art technology called "email", I got my own message back in their reply, so this is the exact message I sent. Now, I don't want to spark a religious war here on who's better, Voltaire or Shakespeare ... no one could care less anyway, as it's not about football.

The reply came prompty and from a human operator named David. It's a nice surprise, given that other companies blatantly ignore your emails but they proundly put links on their website saying "Contact us".

Well, the guy tried to teach grama how to suck eggs in that he explained to me what cookies are ... well, I'm a software engineer dude, I eat cookies every day (actually I don't anymore since my dentist said ... either you quit or your teeth will). The end of story is ... it couldn't have been cookies, because I have never accessed their website before from work (not to mention setting my default on french - who in the right mind would do that? answer: a french) and my settings on the browser doesn't allow other parties to set cookies for different domains than their own.
And especially that I delete my cookies and offline content every month or two - since I can't view page sources in IE because of that (sigh!).
He also lectured me about how to delete the cookies.
Of course I didn't delete any cookies and of course that 5 minutes after that, without me doing anything to my browser, the site was magically back and working as expected.

Could this be another french trick in their quest for world domination?
It could well be.
Or I can also imagine a geeky hacker smirking somewhere in a dark room, not having left that room for 35 days in a row and with an uptime of 2 years, 45 days, 5 hours, 20 minutes and 6 seconds sharp. 7 seconds now...

Anyway ... another funny thing that happened today ... we were lunching and talking bollocks as usual (oops, excuse me, can I say bollocks online?) and somehow the word "Romanian" came into the conversation.
Automatically a woman next table, 45-ish, with a heavy eastern european accent said to us : "What do you have to say about Romania?" like she was a bit upset, a how-dare-you sort of question. We were all confused for a second or two ... this was highly unconventional. We're in England for God Sake, you don't just go talking to strangers just like that. You wait for someone to introduce you. Sweet heaven!
Quickly I recovered from the shock and I said simply "Nothing." The woman said "Ok" and that was it. Most likely she was a romanian. Duh. And then I remembered that very close from where we work there's a company called "Black Sea Company". It could have some romanians aboard.

So that's about it folks, I wish you a happy escape, fingers crossed for some sun or mid-finger raised for rain, as the forecast is rain-rain-rain and some sun right about the time that we're supposed to come back to London. Ah well, we'll probably hide in some dodgy tavern and indulge in pleasantries with Stella. Stella Artois.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

What happened this weekend?
I've been to A place in the sun Live (www.aplaceinthesunlive.com) exhibition, not because I want to buy in the sun, but for testing the market, for business :-)
To my surprise, the show was saturated with companies wanting to sell properties in Bulgaria. Bulgaria was the main attraction, it was everywhere, from advertising in front of Excel (all the ads were about Bulgaria) to so many stands trying to sell properties. Well done Bulgaria!
There were also 2 romanian small stands somewhere in a corner, 2 companies from Bucharest. So few, so few comparing to Bulgaria. They're way ahead in this game.

I've also seen a demo of an interesting Vita-mix blender (http://www.vitamix.com/household/international/UKchoice.html). Very impressive, I was almost about to buy one, but then the price is 399 pounds. Ah well, I'll travel for that money...

I've also managed to see 2 films this weekend. One is "The inside man" with Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster - quite good and entertaining. The other one is "Firewall" with Harrison Ford - it's a bit boring. Both films are about robbing banks, but in different ways. It's interesting how the bad guys in both (although in one of them the notion of bad and good is very volatile) are british and speak with a british accent.
Actually it's simple ... they play on the simple human psychology ... whatever is different, foreign is bad, is a threat. The unknown is a threat. So, they choose people from abroad to be the villains while the good old americans save the day.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The shiny new passport is here!


Hello world with less visa requirements!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

With the works on Wembley stadium awfully late and with public services being seriously overcrowded, you'd think everything takes ages to get done. But, if anything is efficient in this country, it must be the passport service. Less than one week after I sent my documents, I got my supporting documents back. That would be my romanian passport! Hurray, I can go to Brussels as planned, no matter what. Well, of course, I can't say "no matter what", but the passport won't be an issue.
My new shiny british passport is supposed to arrive one of these days too.
The service was supposed to take 2 weeks, but hey, they've done it in less than that. And I've heard from other people that it is like that. Heil to the passport people! :-)

My friend George recommended "Ice Age 2", I'm so keen to go, but I promised Chris that we would see it together, so it will have to be after Easter.

What else, what else? Nothing much, caught up with a friend from Symbian, we were colleagues when I used to work there. We saw Arsenal drawing with Juventus in a goal-less match. A poor game, but Arsenal is going through. Who's gonna win the champions league? Well, it can only be ACMilan, Villareal, Arsenal or Barcelona. Where would you put your money? Hmm ... I think I'll go with Barcelona.