Monday, 31 August 2015

A warning light that doesn't

I received disconcerting news from Ashley that his new Acer all in one desktop machine was yet again misbehaving and not starting up as intended. It's cycling in a re-boot - repair mode loop, it seems to be caused by unadjusted power settings putting the machine to sleep or switching off, depending on how long it's been left. Normally the machine is left on permanently, cond configured to stay on, with only the screen blanking on idle. I had to do this when it needed reverting to the OEM Windows 8.1 or else the 148 updates would never have been completed. As it was with those reboots that demand consent, it took several days to get the machine in to a state where the upgrade to Windows 10 could take place. This returned to power settings to default and neither of us noticed, so the same old story started again.

The machine's power tell tale light is so dim, it's impossible to tell if it's switched on. Neither does it  blink when in suspense, so one is fooled into thinking it's switched off. Pressing the power button is supposed to switch on or wake up the machine, not sure which. But prolonged pressing of the power button brings up the 'Advanced Startup' menu, which you may or may not need, depending on whether the machine thinks its been properly switched off or not. Without any useful tell-tales, this produces a vicious cycle, for no apparent reason. Only after reading up on 'Advanced Startup' on the Microsoft website was I able to find a way to understand the issue. But as today is bank holiday, I had better things to do than go into the office.

After a lazy morning, we went for a walk along the Taff Trail as far as Llandaff North and had a drink in the Railway Inn before walking back. I cooked a seafood paella for supper, and made an effort not to think about work and time consuming operating systems of any kind.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Recollection in Bristol

Another visit to St German's this morning to sing the Solemn Mass. Nice to have a late relaxed start to my Sunday. I was asked if I'd be willing to cover more regular duties during Fr Dean's absence, and said yes for three of the four Sundays of the coming month. October Sundays are already fully booked, though nothing beyond that so far.

We drove over to Bristol to see Amanda and James after lunch, and Owain came and joined us, which was delighful. He told us all about his visit to Bristolian artist Banksy's Dismaland Bemusement Park in Weston super Mare, and showed us photos he'd taken on his 'phone. He said how much he'd laughed, how much it made him think, with its hard-hitting satirical social critique of modern consumer society, ruthlessly mocking the fantasy escapist ethos of Disneyworld, and reminding the audience of the many horrors of injustice and violence which mar the contemporary world. 

We also reminisced about life in St Agnes Vicarage when Amanda came to live with us, Owain was a toddler, thirty five years ago and there were aspects of life in the St Paul's area that had some of the bemusing characteristics of Banksy's Dismaland. We drove him back to his place in Redfield on our way home, passing through the edge of St Paul's, down Ashley Hill. Superficially, it all looks less run down now than it did in those days, but looks can deceive, Owain suggested. 

It's thirty three years since we left the St Paul's area, for me to do the career break R.E. teacher training course, which made an adult educator of me, rather than a schoolmaster. Two years later, I bought my first home computer, and a decade before the internet became public property, slowly found my way into understanding the coming digital era and what it meant for society as well as science. 

Sixteen years earlier, as an undergraduate researching data to back my final year Chemistry project in Bristol University, I awakened to the important potential of the development of Information Science, then in its infancy, and the use of computers as its tools. The data processing mainframe computers of those days filled a large room, yet my Amstrad CPC 464 in 1984 was just as powerful, if not more so. How much further have computers and information technology come in the thirty years since then, and the world is such a different place due to what can now be achieved for better or worse through data processing of every kind.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Afternoon in the Beacons

The weather was just right for a country walk, so we packed a picnic lunch and headed up the A470 to the Brecon Beacons, turning off to take the country lane along Pontsticill reservoir, parallel with the track of the Brecon Mountain Railway, which I last visited with James about eight years ago, but first visited as a Boy Scout on a hiking expedition back in 1956-7, when a small group of us took the train from Maesycwmmer to Pontsticill, on a railway line which sadly closed not long after, only to have the reservoir stretch revived by train enthusiasts a decade later. We drove on, up over the pass that leads down to Talybont reservoir, to walk in a steep stretch of forest area that contains a series of fast running streams and waterfalls in a stretch of Forestry Commission terrain little exploited yet well frequented by walkers and picnickers. 

We sat by a fast flowing stream to eat our sandwiches, watching a couple of children exploring the water carefully, barefooted, and wondered how often urban kids got to do things like this with their parents nowadays. We passed an Asian extended family as we walked up, carrying food and equipment to a level clearing where they were going to prepare food for a feast, by the looks of it. Well worth the effort in such a beautiful setting. On our way back down, I noticed several men from the group we saw earlier, gathered at the top of a small waterfall performing their ritual ablutions before prayer. So refreshing to be able to pray together unhindered in the great outdoors, I thought to myself. 

After our walk, we called in for a drink and cake at the charming Old Barn tearoom, set in a lovely garden clearing in woodland, a few miles away from the waterfalls. The farmhouse is quite remote from others at the far end of the lake from Ponsticill village, but whenever we've called in there, it's been busy, as trail bikers and walkers as well as picnickers can easily find it, due to its discreet well placed home made signposts distributed around the area. We're very fortunate to have such lovely countryside to visit within easy reach of Cardiff. 

And to end the day, another episode of 'The Young Montalbano' to make us smile.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Upgrading - various

Wednesday afternoon, as I was going into the office, I bought a prime lens to go with my Sony Alpha 55. No telephoto capacity, just a set focal length F1.8, much like my old Praktica SLR film camera. In fact the 49mm UV lens filter from the Praktica fitted the new lens, although sadly it's acquired a scratch and will only be temporarily useful. This kind of lens works best for portraits and landscape. I shall enjoy exploring how to use it, having got used to variable focal length lenses on all the different digital cameras I've had over the past 15 years. I can't believe it's that long since I started to abandon 35mm film photography.

Thursday was broadband upgrade day - at some time unspecified, the line would drop, and then restart and it would all happen some time before midnight, as the TalkTalk upgrade letter said. It was a day when there were several work matters I needed to deal with and be on-line for, thankfully the old speed link was stable and uninterrupted until just after two. By then I'd done all I needed to do. It was much later in the day when I got around to unpacking the new router and installing it. 

Happily it started up quickly and was soon delivering a much smoother service in getting the household devices all on line without IP address clashes. I say smoother rather than faster, as I've formed the impression that Windows 10 computers still load programs with a degree of latency, more than one would expect for faster modern day computers. Once fully loaded the speed is obvious, but while they load an assortment of internet checks are being made. How I wonder are really necessary? I think it is presumed that people will leave computers permanently on with programs open, or else configured with a pre-load feature operating at boot time, to give you a quicker program start, but a longer wait from switch on to first use. 

It used to take four or five minutes to get a computer system up to speed. Windows 10 gets you to a login screen in under ten seconds, unless inconveniently updating at the time. This always seems to happen to me when I'm in a big hurry to get started. How impatient we've become! Loading programs and work files, brings the time from switch on to starting work down to a minute. In the early days of home computers, there were office suites of programs etched on ROM chips, were extensions of the ROM based operating system. You were ready to find the work file you wanted in seconds from switch on. The nearest matching device for speed today is a Chromebook with fast broadband, though less so when off-line. Such systems are limited in scope, but great if your needs are limited. A good smartphone or tablet always on even when charging, is also quick to get you working, though I'm not a virtual keyboard fan, and prefer a traditional computer to work on. Other devices get used mainly for media consumption.

Today is Kath's birthday. We exchanged messages and greetings in Spanish. They're staying in Toledo on their way home from Sta Pola. I've been enjoying the smooth and uninterrupted quality of broadband access. As at work, this takes a certain tension out of doing what you have to do, as well as reducing delays - except to the imagination, which works at a pace that's not time dependent. After lunch I went for a stroll to Llandaff Fields with prime lens equipped camera to see what I could see and record. I take pleasure in enjoying the bigger picture, landscapes and townscapes are what I look for. The prime lens challenges me to look at detail. Its range of focus gives you a sharp clear subject set in a de-focussed background, so you need to think carefully about what you're looking for in a picture as well as what you're looking at. 

I stopped and had a coffee in Cafe Castan. So glad it continues to flourish, ministering food and drink to park visitors. It's a real enhancement to the locality, and the staff are friendly. Then, late afternoon I went into the office for a couple of hours, and found myself with the task of completing the re-install of Windows 10 on the new Acer desktop PC. It crashed badly and had to be reverted to factory settings, Windows 8.1, then 148 updates had to be made before it could be accepted in the queue for upgrading to Windows 10. 

This dragged on for days, leaving Ashley un-confident about whether or when he could use it, so I finished the job and re-configured it, turning a short visit to talk business into a long one machine minding, so I got home late for supper, resentful that these processes don't always function as smoothly as intended. I never found out why this PC's crashed in the first place. It might have been something simple, sync or an email attachment failing to find an app to open it, locking up the system and leaving the machine useless until it drops into sleep mode. The on/off switch tell tale is so dim, you cannot tell whether it's off or in sleep. At that stage, a wrong move may have caused damage that confounded the various system repair and recovery options. There was no success in recovering settings data stored in OneDrive either, hence the need for a hugely time wasting factory reset.

After supper, we settled down together in front of the TV and watched 'The Last Quartet' a fine film about the middle aged members of a string quartet, thrown into crisis by the impending retirement of one of its members, based around the sublime music of Beethoven's last quartet. Wonderful.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Night out

For our Monday morning drive back to Cardiff, we chose a longer, potentially less congested route, following the A14 north to the M6, turning west on the A45 towards Warwick, for just about half distance, and from there a familiar route across country to the M5 and M50 back into Wales, along the route we use to get to Kath and Anto's. There were certainly fewer traffic queues, but it still took us six hours, as it rained for the first two third of the journey, and we needed several stops. Clare drove the middle section of the journey, the first time she's done a long stretch since her shoulder operation, with no ill effect, which was pleasing.

We returned to find a note from the postman that his attempt to deliver our new high speed TalkTalk broadband router had failed, as we were away, so I'll have to collect it tomorrow. The new service is due to begin on Thursday of this week. Hopefully it will resolve the problems we've been having due to an overloaded slower connection, and justify the extra expense.

This morning, on my way to celebrate the midweek Eucharist at St Saviour's Splott again, I called at the Post Office main sorting office to pick up the router parcel, not to be opened until the new service goes live, apparently. I had intended to go into the office late afternoon, after taking Clare to the Heath hospital for an eye check-up, but I dozed off in the chair, still recovering from yesterday's long drive unfortunately - old age taking its toll. Then Ashley and I conversed at length over the phone and I completed some work tasks on-line. Another good reason for having better connectivity.

Instead of cooking, we went out to Stefano's Restaurant for supper, as they were having one of their live music evenings, with a variety of singers performing operatic and music theatre songs for an enthusiastic audience of diners. Well, why not it's still holiday season, isn't it? said Clare.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Felixstowe Sunday

An internet search last night enabled me to download a useful pdf list of churches in Felixstowe with their Sunday service times. I needed this to find somewhere I could attend an eight o'clock Eucharist, to free me later in the morning to drive Owain back to Ipswich train station for his journey back to Bristol. In these days of clergy shortages an early service can be hard to find, Fortunately, there was one advertised nearest to our B&B at the Parish Church of St John the Baptist, just five minutes walk up the hill. It's a well appointed Victorian High Church gothic building, by Sir Arthur Bloomfield, containing a superb collection of stained glass and a mosaic high altar reredos of the Lord's Supper. 

I was warmly welcomed by several people on arrival. The liturgy was 1662 Book of Common Prayer with KJV readings and a decent address on the Gospel of the day. There were 18 worshippers. I came away refreshed and happy to know that a normal and traditional early service was still available, even though the Parish is currently in an interregnum. 

I got back to Dorincourt Guesthouse in good time to enjoy a cooked Sunday breakfast. Then, Owain, Clare and I drove out to the Landguard nature reserve car park to save time, and walked from there around the peninsula, dominated by its fort, guarding the estuary since the seventeenth century and in continuous use from 1667 until 1956. As well as being an English Heritage site of military interest, the fort is now home to Felixstowe Museum. On this morning it was also host to a classic car rally.
As we were about to turn around and head back to the car, another large container ship rounded the headland, though not one of the giants. It was close enough to shore to identify as the 'MSC Valencia', registered in Madeira. I wondered if she plied her trade from the Puerto de Valencia, as it is also a big constainer shipping port, sister June and I discovered during our visit there six years ago.
After we'd taken Owain the station, Clare and I took a picnic lunch out, and sat on the edge of the promenade with our feet on the shingle, watching two young children running about tirelessly on the shore, braving the waves and getting wet with glee. The rain held off just long enough, then we returned to our room, and enjoyed a couple of hours siesta before joining Eddy and Ann, David and Liz for an Indian takeaway supper and an evening of family conversations. So much more congenial than a six hour return drive back home.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Giants at Felixstowe

We were blessed with a fine day for Eddy and Ann's joint birthday celebration, in the form of a grand buffet lunch for twenty in their lovely back garden at Kirton. Before we drove to Ipswich to collect Owain from the train before joining them, I walked west along Felixstowe's promenade in the direction of the container port for half an hour, as far as the nature reserve on the Landguard Peninsula at the mouth of the Orwell estuary. 
A pleasing feature of modern environmental conservation activity is how information about flora and fauna in the local ecosystem are described in wayside interpretation panels. It enables one to see the environment with fresh eyes. I learned that Landguard peninsula is one of the driest areas of Britain, and that Britain has no less than one third of Europe's shingle beaches. Both factors determine the kind of vegetation that thrives best here.

The east bank of the Orwell beyond the peninsula is occupied by the port. When I first photographed Felixstowe's shore, five years ago, there were five giant cranes on the horizon, loading containers on to ships. Now seven are visible, evidence of development taking place, even during a time of deep economic recession. 

The port now hosts some of the world's largest ships on routine visits to Britain and ports in Germany. Holland and Belgium. Yesterday, we caught sight of one of the giants of the United Arab Shipping Company leaving for Hamburg where it starts its return journey to Quingdao in China.

A quarter of a mile long, holds full to capacity and decks piled high, it carries nearly nineteen thousand shipping containers. Seeing this was an unexpected bonus of our seaside sojourn.

Friday, 21 August 2015

St Edmundsbury Cathedral discovered

After checking out of our hotel mid morning, we drove down the A14 towards Felixstowe, where we are booked for the weekend. On our way we made our first ever visit to Bury St Edmunds, and found, at the end of an approach to the city, marked by traffic congestion, a prosperous old town centre with easy parking, all the modern retail facilities, and a great variety of charming historic buildings to see, on our way to the Cathedral of St Edmund, King and Martyr.
The  building is in origin a fine East Anglian mediaeval abbey, and an equally fine mediaeval Parish church in the grounds next to it. The abbey precinct is large, and scattered with remnants of former buildings. Including its magnificent Norman gatehouse on to the street, adjacent to the Cathedral.
Buildings nearest to the abbey have at some time in subsequent history since the dissolution og the monasteries, been turned into residences or serving the Cathedral. The churchyard and gardens on the site of former abbey buildings are beautifully maintained and attractive. Before the reformation this place would have been a key place of pilgrimage for the region, and had extensive property and land. Whatever the town acquired in this process has been well looked after, to everyone's benefit.

What surprised us about the Cathedral building was learning that the lantern tower above the central crossing, similar to that at Ely Cathedral, was only completed a few years ago, according to a design envisaged by the architect who re-built the nave almost a century ago, and left substantial funds to support its completion.
It's a great accomplishment, perfectly in harmony, like the modern cloister, with the mediaeval character of the building, and a marvellous showcase of traditional craftsmanship which still flourishes in this region, with church support. Here's a link to the photos of our visit.

We had lunch outdoors at the Cathedral's visitor centre restaurant before resuming our journey, and arrived at our seafront B&B in Felixstowe, the Dornicourt Guest House, at tea-time. After settling in, we walked the length of the promenade as far as the Fludyer's Arms where we stayed on two previous visits. Since then, it's been modernised and gone up-market as a stylish Real Ale pub and music venue the key feature of its accommodation offer. We enjoyed supper at the versatile Fish Dish restaurant on the sea front near the pier, offering quiet a varied menu in addition to serving traditional English fish and chips. Another eating house on our visit with Turkish management, offering good service and an interestingly diverse menu.

Thursday, 20 August 2015


After an ample hotel breakfast, we spent the morning seeing Cambridge on foot, visiting colleges, as tourists do, and then took an hour's guided tour of riverside colleges in a punt piloted by an eloquent young man, who happened to be a home grown local lad, recently graduated from Aston University, whose summer job this was. An entertaining experience, and for him, his last day of work before setting out for a year's EFL teaching in China.

After lunch in a cafe restaurant opposite King's College under Turkish management, I headed out of  the town centre to visit my architect cousin Ivor, now living in sheltered accomodation in an inner suburb. It's several years since we last met up. Since then he's been plagued with illness. Now he's getting used to a new way of life, and after a hands-on career as an architect and teaching architecture, he's becoming an historian of modern architecture, drawing on his unique perspective of a lifetime of working experience, some of it spent with his mentor, the renowned Leslie Martin.

He has scholarship funding, and tells me that one of its benefits is the right to have his remains interred in a Cambridge college with which he's associated. I imagine having his work published and available on University library shelves is much more important to him, with such a story to tell. Like art and literature, the buildings of our era are an essay describing in their different ways the values and attitudes to life that matter most. Buildings that much easier to understand when accounted for by those who belong to their circle of authorship.

In the evening Clare and I met with Craig and Mel McKay, whom we haven't seen for over thirty years. Mel was Clare's bridesmaid at our wedding, and married Craig, a Cambridge astronomer five years later. They've lived in the city ever since, she working as a counsellor for thirty years and then in retirement as an historic garden guide, and he at the cutting edge of technological development for space probe instrumentation, still full of the excitement and enthusiasm for the developments of the age we live in. He got to work on building legendary Hubble space telescope quite early in his career, and is working on the Roque de los Muchachos telescope array in the Canary islands. Retirement, what is it? Working on the things you love, but on on a pension.

Here's a link to the photos taken during our stay

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

East Anglia journey

This morning we drove to Cambridge to stop a couple of nights on our way for a weekend with Eddy and Ann, celebrating their joint 145th birthday. We took the most direct route via Oxford, four hours on a good day, five hours for us, due to long traffic queues approaching north south junctions with west-east routes.

We checked into the Arundel House Hotel on Chesterton Road and were given a first floor bay window room overlooking the river Cam across the road and Jesus Green beyond. A little noisy, but a great view. After unpacking, we walked the streets for an hour, then returned for an evening meal in the restaurant downstairs, before turning in for a good night's sleep.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Faithfulness celebrated

I drove to St Saviour's in Splott this morning to celebrate the Eucharist, and on this occasion it was a Requiem Mass for Margaret, a member of the regular worshipping congregation for many years who had died. St Saviour's on Tuesdays is always a-buzz with activity, as it's the morning for food bank distributions, combined with a social time, as well as the weekday Mass. A heart warming experience at the best of times. but even more so on this inevitably sad occasion, when over thirty people came to commend Margaret to God and give thanks for her life with the local community. 

Former Vicar, retired like me, Fr Alan Rabjohns, drove up from Swansea with his wife to take part and he administered the chalice at Communion. Although only an occasional visitor, I could picture Margaret, the way I remembered her, as a cheery faithful member of the church choir. I recall hearing she'd taken a decision not to fight back with chemotherapy, once the seriousness of her diagnosis was revealed, content to have lived her span, ready to return to her Maker. It's good to celebrate that kind of trusting faith, and not to let it be undervalued in this scientific miracle hungry modern world.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Web housekeeping

Sunday morning was taken up with a celebration of the Eucharist at St John's Canton followed by another at St Luke's. The rest of the day was spent doing nothing much ... well, resting I suppose you'd call it. We discussed going out to join the Ecumenical street Procession of Our Lady of Walsingham at St Mary's Bute Street, but not long before it was time to leave, I nodded off and woke up too late to be punctual.

I did however finally get around to ordering an upgrade of Talktalk's Broadband on-line, after the Talktalk Care twitter helpline account manager sent me the appropriate web-link. It was altogether a lot simpler than I'd envisaged. With so many on-line devices in the house, on and off at different times, the basic service is barely adequate, so it's worth the extra to avoid impatience. Service always seems to go flaky when you most need it. I was impressed to get a text message confirming the order and giving a service start date this morning.

Much of today was spent working with my collection of photographs from my last sojourn in Spain. Some albums hadn't made it from laptop to backup drive, and now I have lots of OneDrive webspace, I uploaded over a thousand pictures, first re-sizing them in a Linux batch processing app called Phatch, which does a great quick job with no fuss. As all my photos are now taken full size, to be used sometimes for cropping out wasted space or magnifying one section, I decided to upload only half sized versions. 

OneDrive doesn't seem to offer an automatic 'best for web sharing' upload option like Google's Picasa, so the job has to be done beforehand. 'Best for web sharing' is sensible, not just from a space saving point of view, but if you're viewing them, a larger picture takes longer to display and resolve properly on screen, particularly with slower connections. It's a labour of love, and it is quite possible to do other things while uploading happens in the background. Today there was a job application pack and advertisement to prepare for recruiting a new BCRP Business Crime Reduction Manager. I'd meant to go into the office but ended up staying home all day, even though it was bright and sunny. Must get out more.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Home to a music feast

Up before six, driving for half an hour to Birmingham airport in the rain to take Rachel to her six forty five check-in. So sad to say goodbye to her, even though she's only ever a Skype or Viber call away. She loves rain, and is returning to 40C+ in Phoenix, with infrequent downpours even in the 'monsoon' season, as she calls it. After breakfast, we went to bed again for an hour, before tidying up and leaving for home. It only rained for the first hour. By the time we stopped for a coffee at Strensham services, driving conditions were much improved.

After lunch I went into the office for an hour, which ended up being two hours as Ashley's new Acer all in one desktop stuck and then crashed in the middle of some indefinable process and then hung with a black screen after reboot. I tried all the various repair options in turn without success, and finally resorted to a factory re-set, still running when I set out for home much later than I wanted to. I listened to the Archers on my Blackberry as I was walking to the bus stop, and was late for supper. Cursed machines!

We watched the evening's BBC Promenade Concert from the Albert Hall, modern American orchestral music with choir singing as an instrument, the way the composer and conductor Eric Whitacre put it. One piece paid homage to the revelatory stellar discoveries of the Hubble telescope. In its final movement Whitacre invited promenaders to access a smartphone app (with call handling switched off) to look at pictures taken by Hubble of an area of sky dark to us but emanating light from myriads of galaxies 13 billion light years away, almost as old as the universe itself. If I understood aright, the sound  of Hubble's signal was broadcast from the phone app, and its low level background noise from hundreds of devices written into the musical score. Ingenious, with a genuine touch of awesomeness in its beauty.

Then, BBC Four offered the 1955 movie of Guys and Dolls, digitally re-mastered in brightest technicolour Cinemascope, chock full of memorable songs and witty wisecracking dialogue, fabulous stageing and dance routines. It was late, but irresistible to watch. Though tired, I didn't fall asleep, and staggered to bed very very late, happy to have re-visited my distant youth, with Miles Davis' from the album 'Birth of the Cool' version of 'If I was a bell' ringing in my head, rather than that of inebriated Jean Simmons in the movie. Lovely times.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Kenilworth and faster broadband

We left Plas Baladeulyn mid morning and drove along the A5 to Llangollen to stop for lunch. Parking a difficult, but serendipdy prevail. We found a space just across the street from two tea rooms, side by side. We settled for the Vintage Road Tea Room, where we enjoyed, not only a good meal but also the charming experience of sitting out in their small back yard to eat. All the crockery used is china in traditional patterns, and there's lots on display as well, indoors.

Inevitably the M6 was congested with traffic and slow moving, but apart from that the journey, in good weather, was uneventful, and we arrived in Kenilworth by five. Kath, Anto and Rhiannon weren't there. They'd sent us messages and a few photos from their ferry crossing from Portsmouth to Bilbao on Tuesday, plus a picture of their hotel in Olite, the wine capital of Navarra province in Spain. We made supper, and got ourselves an early night, conscious of the need to get Rachel to Birmingham airport by six forty-five for her return flight to Arizona.

How nice to be able to take advantage of Anto's fast BT business broadband! Instead of two hours at home to download the office file system to this machine, it took twenty minutes. It certainly won't be long now until I put my order in to get faster broadband. All the users on this machine are now completely updated. Hopefully there'll be fewer virtual lockouts due to file system updating issues in future. What's bad is how little control you have over the process.

You can, however, create a user area to work in that doesn't have a OneDrive address to sync to. The system takes slightly longer to boot up, as if it can't believe that syncing isn't required. But then you can access internet without hindrance, and if needs be get files from any OneDrive account by means of a browser, just the way it always was. 

As time goes on, it'll be interesting to see if the amount of comment on tech forums about the Microsoft's use of syncing to 'data-slurp your machine and potentially compromise data privacy increases because users don't have control over what's being sent. Let's hope that complaints will rise into a roar of discontent, and more people switch to run versions of Linux on terms of their own choice instead.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Ascending Yr Wyddfa

Finally we had a good view of Snowdon over breakfast this morning, then we took another drive to Beddgelert, this time to go over the Aberglasyln Pass down to Llanberis, thronged with visitors as ever. It's my father's birthday today, and I though how much he would have loved this adventure. We met other Trigonos guests going up by train, as we set out for the climb wondering how far we'd get this time. It's two years since rain and cloud called off our last attempt at the half way mark. Today's weather was just perfect. 

We made it to the half-way cafe and had our picnic lunch. Clare wanted to quit while she was ahead. I had enough left to accompany Rachel another kilometre up to the steepest section, before returning to join Clare on the descent. Rachel went on to the summit with enthusiasm, and amazed us by jogging back down in an hour and ten minutes to rendezvous with us at half past four.

We waited for her at Pen y Ceunant Isaf Tea Rooms, just at the end of the very steep first section of tarmac road out of the village of Llandberis - you're advised to allow three hours! The tea room is one of the most friendly places I know in Wales. Stefan, who owns and runs it, loves the mountain and its hosts of visitors, and knows how to make every one feel really welcome. Rachel met another couple of Trigonos guests walking, as she descended. There was plenty to talk about over supper.

It was an enjoyable outing, and I'm glad I quit while I was ahead, before ankle joint pains became intolerable. By bed time, my legs felt decidedly wobbly, and I thought I was walking like a really old man. Must get out and exercise more while I still can, even if it does take longer to recover these days! 

I was definitely too tired to stay up and watch for meteorites on the second night of the Persied passage. In any case, the valley sides obscured the south western sky, high up sightings would be that much rarer. One group of half a dozen went on a night hike to a high place. I hope they were suitably rewarded for their effort.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Clare's name day in Beddgelert

After breakfast, we drove up the valley to Rhydd Du, overtaking the train we got down to Beddgelert Railway station for a photo opportunity before going into the town, then out to see Gelert's Grave and walk down the river trail to eat our picnic lunch on the bank above the waters. The weather was cloudy but we were spared rain, so it was quite pleasant and relaxing to sit and listen to the river.

The Parish Church of St Mary was open, welcoming visitors to a flower festival with a curiously interesting mix of traditional and contemporary subject themes. It's impressive that the congregation can achieve this in the busiest visitor month of the year, to this ever popular tourist venue.

We drove on up the Aberglasyn Pass road, as far as the junction for Llanberis and Capel Curig, stopping half way to savour the view and take photos. This is one of my favourite Snowdonia views. On the way back down we stopped at the visitor centre of  Beddgelert's Sygun copper mine, which has a cafe and a small museum.

We weren't interested in going under ground for a tour of old workings, but the small eclectic collection of artifacts, geological and historical, all relating to the diversity and value of minerals found in this region was well worth spending time on. Man made objects on display spanned more than two millennia. All was well labelled and described but presentation and sequencing of exhibits was somewhat quirky. Possibly it's the work of a keen amateur collector. Certainly all the more interesting for not being displayed in any conscious didactic order. Every exhibit could just be enjoyed for what it is.

Another quiet evening of table talk with fellow guests at supper, and an hour of pleasure watching clouds move and change colour, slowly revealing Snowdon's summit, as the light faded and the sky cleared marvellously to make possible a viewing of the early stages of Perseid meteor shower passing by earth, for those with the energy to pass the night in the garden with bats and midges.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Ascent to Y Fron Eryri

The early morning rain cleared up and a breeze blew away low cloud locally, and this encouraged us to set out on the hill walk that starts on a footpath just opposite Trigonos main entrance. We climbed through sheep pastureland for three quarters of an hour, around the edge of the easternmost slate spoil tip, and then above on to moorland as far as the quiet little hamlet of Y Fron Eryri. We met the local postman on his rounds and he offered to take a group photo of us at one of the many stiles typical of the region, made of slate, with iron gates. 

From up there at 250m the views of this industrial legacy, with Nantlle Lake beyond in the valley floor, and the crests on the other side, rising to more than 300m, are simply amazing for their stark and colourful contrasts. I couldn't help imagining the quarrymen from Y Fron and other neighbouring hamlets walking up and down these tracks to their workplace - walking to such drugery and dange - sustained by the beauty of the landscape rising above its own ravaging, and the faith that kept praise and dignity alive in their hearts.

We started our descent on tracks leading us past the only working slate quarry left and through abandoned quarry sites that closed fifty years ago, now slowly, patiently, being reclaimed by wild nature. While we were eating our picnic lunch on the mountainside, two buzzards circled over us on the breeze, calling to each other with a cry reminiscent of a cat. The sun shone, but Snowdon in the distance was still wreathed in cloud.

A memorable walk, but one that called for a siesta and a quiet evening to follow, savouring the marvellous vegetarian cuisine for which Trigonos is famous, with most of the food being grown on the estate, or locally. Visitors come from far and wide, travelling many miles, to enjoy eating meals with very low food miles in comparison to an average restaurant.

Since we last came here, wi-fi internet access has been extended to the main house from the conference centre. It was, with patience, possible to log on, but there was no internet last night, and today laptop network access was virtually impossible, whereas phones and tablets, albeit slowly, could get on line and stay on line. With a couple of dozen devices seeking an IP address at any time, it's not surprising, a bit like an airport lounge. The phone signal also dipped in an out, so it was impossible to do much more than send texts. To sustain a conversation meant going outdoors and standing in a particular the car park - or else walk thirty yards up the track towards Y Fron Eryri, where it's more consistent. 

I didn't have much need to get on line with a laptop, except to retrieve a file to edit offline. The CBS business user account on the newly upgraded Windows 10 laptop was not fully synced. Since Microsoft operations seem to hate being interrupted they hog internet access until they have done what they want to do, and the house connection was too congested to allow access, it just refused to connect - make any different use impossible - that's what I discovered.

I did however succeed in using the BlackBerry as a wi-fi hotspot for just long enough to grab the file from OneDrive accessed through Firefox, but the signal soon dropped. A bit like using an old fashioned modem, but at least I could finish a final revision done on the job description we've been discussing all week.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Snowdonia with Rachel

Owain came over yesterday to spend a 'brother and sister' day together with Rachel, the first opportunity they've had this time around, so Rachel drove them to Ogmore for a walk along the shore, a favourite pastime from years back, and then they went out for supper. This left us with a quiet day to prepare our trip with Rachel to Snowdonia.

My first duty this morning was at eight o'clock at St Catherine's. Clare came too, so that she could be free to have breakfast with Owain and Rachel, when they arose from their night on the town. As I was about to begin I was asked if I could fit in an extra service at St John's before returning to St Catherines for the ten thirty, as the other locum priest was unwell. It's the first time for a long while that I've taken three services in a morning. I wondered how I'd stand up to it, as I do seem more prone to the after effects of cumulative stress these days, but it was fine, nothing to worry about, and by half past twelve, we were heading out of Cardiff up the A470 to Snowdonia for four days at Trigonos, our favourite place to stay in Dyffryn Nantlle.

We started out in rain, and our first task was to get a windscreen wiper blade replaced. The roads were surprisingly quiet, and it didn't rain all the way. We enjoyed a picnic lunch beside a reservoir in the Brecon Beacons, with a flock of pied wagtails busy around the bushes nearby. We arrived at tea time to a warm welcome and some good company and conversation over meals, as is usually the case in Plas Baladeulyn. 

Once again our room looks out over the lake. The last of the hay bundles was being removed from the lakeside meadow, so we missed its exquisite carpet of wildflowers by a few days. But the little blue dragonflies were still around in the garden, and a buzzard family in lakeside trees. Lots of low cloud obscured the peaks and crests above the valley, and Snowdon, making for an ever changing atmosphere of mystery and colour as the sun set. There is clear weather to come while we're here, nevertheless. Rachel is delighted to be here. It's her first visit.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Windows 10 comes home

A sunny Friday morning started with a computer notification that the Windows 10 upgrade was ready for installation – eight days after the new operating system was launched. So, around eleven, I clicked go, then went off to my GP appointment. Thankfully the blood pressure was what it should be again. What it was like at the end of this day, I didn't bother to check, but I imagine it'd be high in the light of what I now report.

The upgrade took about an hour on a machine only a little slower than my office PC, but took another quarter of an hour to configure to my requirements. Again, all installed programs run nicely, the Edge browser is still a fiddle to set up for my default choices, but this time expected.
I started writing my Sunday sermon on another Windows 8.1 machine, my little underpowered travel portable, and it soon gave me an installation notification, but when I clicked on it, downloading the upgrade hadn't finished. An hour later, it changed its mind and let me start. Again this took about an hour and a quarter to get to a state usability, except for one thing.

Internet access speeds on standard consumer 2mb/sec broadband connection plummeted to the point where it took a minute or two to access any new page. Other wi-fi devices in the house were also crippled, and even the phone signal booster struggled to deliver the consistent in-house signal we've got used to relying on. The reason? One Drive was busy syncing 8GB worth of files with both Windows 10 computers entirely from scratch. In fact, when the second sync started, the first stopped in its tracks, and could only be re-started once the other finished. 

The sync process notification said that files were downloading from OneDrive. I was mystified by this, as previously in Windows 8.1, a personal filesystem was uploaded to the internet and disappeared the machine. If you wanted to save work in progress to tackle when off-line, you had to hide it where OneDrive wouldn't whisk it away. This time, when the syncing stopped, after four or five hours, I discovered that all my files had been returned to the hard drive and now could be accessed off-line. Or so it says!

While this initial syncing process was going on, it seemed to consume most of the available bandwidth, to the point that other network attached devices were, for most purposes, apart from receiving notifications, un-useable. Like a denial of service attack, but in effect a provision of service sucking up all the capacity of the system.

It was so bad that when, later in the afternoon, during the sync-fest, I sought to retrieve my half prepared sermon from OneDrive, it wouldn't deliver, as pages were loading so slow they timed out. Finally, after more long waits, my trusty Linux Mint six year old Dell machine managed to slip through the traffic stream and deliver me vital file. Then I was able to complete the sermon off-line and print. It then took several attempts to upload the edited file to OneDrive. 

This may be a one off experience to do with upgrading. It won't much affect people with fast broadband, but anyone with ordinary broadband speed is going to be confounded by the experience, wishing they'd never bothered to upgrade.  In essence the upgrade is a seamless experience, apart from this issue, which is a stumbling block for those unwarned.

What I have been reminded of by this waste of a day is not to rely totally on any Cloud based service or application. Great for back-up, or file sharing, sure, but today's experience reduced fancy new Windows 10 to an offering no better or worse than a Chromebook, and brought the household to a halt.

Admittedly we're running a lot of connected devices on our domestic broadband service. Four wired devices and six to eight wi-fi devices are attached at any time, but most are just idling. Any massive file download is going to disrupt. So, it's time to pay extra for more capacity, and switch to a fibre optic system. Cable has been in the street for over a decade, and the BT cabinet around the corner has boasted of being upgraded for the past two years. 

It may be a long time before we have such a diminished service again, but truth to tell, we're now so dependent on seamless delivery, it's hard to cope with such disruption. Are we right to be so heavily reliant on internet connectedness? Days like this seem to suggest untold disasters if things ever go wrong on the macro scale.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Wedding anniversary remembrance

I had two Eucharists to cover for holidaying parish clergy yesterday morning. I celebrated the Transfiguration a day early, for small congregations at St Luke's and Catherines. It's a feast that has meant so much to me for several different reasons, the most important being that Clare and I married on the 6th August. This morning we went together to St John's for the Eucharist, and sat together in the congregation as Fr Jesse Smith was scheduled to celebrate. A rare treat.

Then Clare and Rachel went off for a swim. I pottered around, then went into the office for a while. We didn't do anything else to mark the day, except savour the delight of last Saturday's family celebration, to add to the multitude of memories of forty-nine years together. It's time to start planning a Golden Wedding fiesta for this time next year. I've decided I'm going to make a photo sequence of all the years to display on the day. Thankfully, I made a start on digitising old family albums a decade ago. There's still more to do, to obtain a fuller picture. Many of the best moments, of course, could never be captured, no matter how vivid they remain in memory. 

Today is the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, suitably recalled in the news and at ground zero. With Cold War confrontation hanging over our youthful years, and blighting them with subliminal anxiety, it seemed right that we should marry on this day, because it is also one the feast days of Christ, and the transforming power of his grace. A small gesture, stating that we we were chosing life in the shadow of extermination. 

The numbers of nuclear warheads is now a tenth of what it once was, but more nations possess nuclear armaments, so the risk of catastrophe is as high as ever, compounded by possible use of fissile material for a 'dirty bomb' by terrorists. So many people are still choosing ways that lead to death rather than life. Have we got any further than living with the Bomb, rather than creating conditions in which it serves no further purpose and can be disposed of, as we now frequently do with outdated technologies.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Keep on taking the pills

I went to our GP surgery this morning for my six monthly hypertension review test - one of the hazards of old age. My blood pressure was worryingly high, but the cause of this was clear to me at least. I stopped taking the diuretic pill while I was in Spain as I was sweating so much, and waking up dry mouthed at night. It took me a good while to get hydration balance correct. Another trial of old age. When I returned from hotter climes, I didn't restart the diuretic although the adjustment to cooler temperatures means I don't need to drink as much to much to compensate.

I thought I'd wait until this morning's test. I wasn't really surprised, as I noticed I muzzy head in the morning, which cleared but slowly as the day went on, and only if I was physically active. Whatever else the little white pills do, they help prevent the body storing toxins. So, as soon as I got home, I took a pill, and within hours my head cleared. By evening my blood pressure measured almost normal again. However, I have been given an urgent appointment with the GP on Friday - just in case it's something else - fair enough.

After lunch Rachel and I drove up Thatcham in Berkshire to deliver Jasmine to her dad for their flight back to America. Happily, we have Rachel for another ten days. On the return journey we called on Amanda and James in Southmead. It was the first time Rachel and Amanda have been together for three years. Time flies. Thank heavens for Skype and Gmail.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Movie outing

It's lovely to have Rachel and Jasmine here. The aroma of pancakes cooking for a late breakfast treat fills the house in the morning. Then the girls went to the swimming pool, and after an early lunch, I went into town and booked tickets for an early evening showing of the 'Minions' film, at Cineworld.

Today is when the bus station closures hit the working week. I wondered how the traffic was going to be managed, and chatted with the driver on my way into town. There are new drop off bus stops and bus lanes in Westgate Street, and now certain buses destined to return from the opposite side of Westgate Street must go left into Lower St Mary Street, and do their turn around in Callaghan Square and then make their way back, as there's no longer entry into the bus station. It seems to be working well. It needs to, as it'll be a couple of years before the new bus station is ready for use.
Then, I went to the office to complete the task of making Ashley's new PC fit for work. It wasn't as easy as I'd hoped to set up the email client to access a BT account, so it's a matter of continuing to use webmail for the time being. Gmail set up with Windows 10 Mail was easy, but I was was amused to receive a security notification from Google, declaring the account had been accessed from Internet Explorer, not from Windows 10 Mail So much for the all-new operating system that does away with I.E.!

At six, the four of us met outside the cinema and ascended to the dizzy heights of the top storey, with its fabulous townscape views, to plunge ourselves into the deafening darkness of the movie studio for 'Minions'. The hi-fi surround sound was too loud for comfort throughout and detracted from the enjoyment. I like to listen and not be bombarded acoustically. I lost count of the movie trailers we saw first, five or six I think. All the advertisements were the same as those we get  pestered with a dozen times a night on TV, in huge HD versions. Boring. They soon cease to be entertaining or informing.

The film's certification said it was fit for children (true) but contained mild comedic (?) violence. Well, like all cartoon movies since the genre was invented I guess, but so much gets tiresome. The film was hilariously funny, a 'prequel' the cartoon movie 'Despicable Me', whose sequel we watched last night. To my mind was better at satirizing American culture than its was at satirizing Britain, the monarchy and the church. It's not something I would have gone out of my way to watch, if it hadn't been an occasion for a family outing. But then the same is true of most things that pass for 'entertainment' today.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

A special family celebration

Yesterday afternoon, Owain arrived from Bristol, and came with us to check in at Llantrisant's Premier Inn for an overnight. Kath, Anto, Rhiannon, Rachel and Jasmine all arrived from Kenilworth shortly after us. Eddy and Ann were already installed, having arrived last night from Greece to Gatwick Airport, and driving across counry to avoid motorway congestion, to stay the night and recover from travel, in order to join us.

Clare and I both turn seventy this year, so we chose a date half way between our birthdays, close to our 49th wedding anniversary, for this family gathering. Sadly neither of my two sisters could travel to join us. Age takes its toll. We booked an evening meal at the Llanerch Vineyard restaurant ages ago, keen to go somewhere special and invite everyone to join us. At last it was happening.
The meal was superb, and everyone was pleased with what they chose to eat, even the children. When we arrived there was a large decorated plastic box with a ballon tied to it on the dining table. This had been brought in earlier in the day by the Kenilworth crowd, a hamper of lovely goodies, to which all the children and grandchildren contributed - favourite things - olives, chorizo, chocolate, wine, hand made soap, handmade marzipan sweets, a framed photo of Rhiannon and Jasmine, poems and cards created by the two of them. Such a lovely surprise. After the main course, an excellent chocolate birthday cake, baked by the grand-daughters. Such joy!
After the supper, the general manager of the hotel and restaurant drove us back to the hotel on his way home. He said he was most annoyed that guests staying just three miles away should have to pay £25 for a taxi to return at 10.00pm, having paid only £15 for the outward journey. This he attributed to the fact that even a local taxi would have to come out to the Vineyard to pick us up, because every taxi in a wide area around Cardiff would be queuing in search of lucrative fares the city centre, not stationed locally as at other times. Cardiff's celebrated night time economy may do the city some good, but isn't it also draining economic life and activity from the surrounding regions?

Still, we finished the evening with a bottle of Prosecco, drunk from toothbrush glasses in our room, before turning in, so happy to be re-united again. The best birthday present of all.

This morning, I was up and breakfasting ahead of everyone else, as I had an assignment to celebrate Mass at St German's at eleven, and needed to leave by, to go home and change. Everyone was home, enjoying the sunshine and drinking a late coffee in Clare's lovely garden when I got back. Lunch was spread out over much of the afternoon, as everyone had eaten a hearty breakfast before checking out of the hotel. Eddy and Ann left first for their long journey to Felixstowe. The rest of us went to the play park on Llandaff Fields for a while, before Kath Anto and Rhiannon left for Kenilworth. We have the pleasure of nearly two weeks with Rachel, but only until Tuesday with Jasmine, who returns early to Arizona with her dad on Thursday.

In the evening we sat and watched the video of Despicable Me II, and laughed a lot. Jasmine seemed to know lots of the lines, so I guess she's seen it several more times than us. Great fun.