Category Archives: Opinion

More hassle at airports


Last year, 2006, when I was traveling back from Dussledorf, my flight was “rearranged” on my behalf by the airline.  This meant that I had to spend a few hours hanging around the airport.  After you’ve browsed pretty much every shop available, including those that you would never think of even going into, never mind browse, you have to concede and find a seat.  This is what I did at Dussledorf airport (back in 2006).  I found a seat near a plug, opened the laptop out and started typing.  I found myself sat in front of some over-zealous credit card touts who were going out of their way to try and rope in punters.  And this being Germany, the touts were leggy blondes…


Over a year later, I find myself hanging about Edinburgh airport, for today I have chosen not to fly on the red-eye (first flight of the day at 0600ish).  Instead I chose to fly on the second flight of the day, heading to London on the day when there is a Tube strike, smashing.  Anyway, I digress. 

My arrival at Edinburgh airport took the usual route: park in the multi-story car park then enter the airport on foot.  Entering the airport is fine, however getting upstairs to security/departures and onward to airside is a problem.  The escalator is the primary and most obvious route to departures – it’s protected by a couple of credit card touts, usually ladies. 

Avoiding eye contact is the key, then pretending to be deaf as it can be difficult to ignore “excuse me sir”.  Having props, like a passport and a slip of paper in hand (this could easily be your pre-printed boarding pass) whilst hurriedly looking towards check-in, then sharply running towards the escalators is another trick that works. 

However, I have a trick that is guaranteed to get you past the inconvenience of the credit card touts.  Upon entering Edinburgh airport from the multi-story car park, instead of turning to the right to head up the stairs and into their trap, turn to the left.  Here you will be greeted with access to lost property and a lesser-known set of stairs that takes you upstairs without any hassle at all.

This is all very well and good, and you would think that once you are airside, you are free from touts and their fishing lines. Sadly, the touts have got wise and have also installed themselves airside.  Slap bang in the middle of the primary shopping area of the departure lounge.   Instead of leggy blonds, we are presented with middle-aged balding blokes with glasses.  it just doesn’t work for me.  Of course, once they’ve made that first step towards you, closely followed by “excuse me sir, do you live in the UK?” (to which the answer that seems to work is “no”), eye contact inevitably follows. 

Why should they be here at all?  For most people, being at an airport is a stressful enough time, without them believing that they have to sign up for a[nother, unwanted] credit card as part of the “airport experience”.  Business is business, but when business become invasive, it becomes annoying and puts people off.  Whilst I still use the bank that was rather over-zealous in Germany last year, I can’t see myself using the bank that employed Rowan Atkinson for its advertising campaign.  Over-zealous and invasive marketing  techniques are analogous to shooting yourself in the foot.

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At airports, there are two kind of people…

Spending time at Dussledorf airport reminded that there are two kinds of people at airports, excluding the staff. Any airport, not just Dussledorf. Indeed, some train stations exhibit the same problems…

There are those people who are going places, they walk with a purpose. Then there are those people who don’t really understand what their purpose is, they just lurk about in small groups. These small groups are geographically dispersed in such a manner that it makes it rather difficult to walk from point A to point B (as a purposeful walker). They just stand there, hanging about, looking around, looking for screens to give them a clue about where they should stand next. To these people, anybody who is walking with a purpose is as good as invisible – they do not see us coming and make no effort to rearrange themselves such that there is a “fast track” through their self-arranged minefield. It just gets worse when they rotate through 45-90 degrees…their luggage carefully re-positions itself to inflict pain on the purposeful walker with creation of a most inconvenient trip hazard.

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Gig: Bryan Adams: Edinburgh: 21 July 2007

For the third time this year I found myself at Murrayfield. Two gigs and one rugby match. I don’t know what was worse, watching Scotland getting beating by Italy in a matter of minutes or the two gigs.

The first gig, back in May was a truly bizarre mix of tribute bands: The Beatles, Abba, Queen and Led Zeppelin…that was 50% “ok” for me. Except that it wasn’t, Led Zeppelin (tribute) weren’t at all good and Queen (tribute) was recognisable, but nowhere near as good as One Night of Queen from 2006.

Today’s gig, Bryan Adams, should have been a “dead cert”. After all, I’d seen him live in 1991 at the Milton Keynes bowl (along with Thunder and three other metal acts that can’t have been that memorable). Sixteen years ago, he played to a full stadium, glorious sunshine. Today, he played to a pitch load of wet fans and some less wet fans in the lower east stand – no sign of the summer sunshine that we should have at this time of year. With the weather we’re having, anybody would think that we’ve done something to alter the weather over the last forty-fifty years.

After this disastrous gig, I have a number of recommendations:

1. Umbrellas should not be allowed. If the band don’t need them, why should you?

2. Camera ‘phones should be banned. It felt like everybody had one of these damn things, filming and photographing, all I could see was a huge array of 2″ screens. People: you are there for the gig – why spend half of the gig trying to get a handful of shots on a low-resolution camera? Not 10 years ago, cameras were banned at gigs, heavyweight bouncer-types would descend upon you and relieve you of your spool (film).

3. Open-air venues only work if the sound system is designed and installed by people who are expert at it. The sound system use at this event and the tribute acts was appalling. Unless you were close to the front at the centre, which was impossible for Silver ticket holders for reasons I will discuss in a moment, the sound was grossly unbalanced, tinny and very distant. I’d like to bet that Metallica at Wembley earlier this month sounded awesome…I won’t be missing my next opportunity to see them live. I was thwarted from getting to the gig because of the excessive cost of that “Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” show in the West End – my missus wanted to go to that whilst I was getting a sore neck at the ‘tallica gig. I lost out because of the cost of some other show…how does that work? [rhetoric, of course]. I digress.

4. Scam 1. Never have seen a sizeable square shaped area in front of the main stage reserved for people who bought Gold or VIP tickets. That’s just extortion. I don’t believe for one minute that Bryan Adams would entertain scamming his true fans in this way. I believe that it was a venue scam, designed purely to raise more cash to compensate an ailing events business. With the exception of Yngwie Malmsteen (great video here), I’ve never attended a gig that wasn’t sold out…except at Murrayfield. Don’t scam fans.

5. Scam 2. Just after the ticket desk, there was a portacabin with a banner: “food/drink tokens, 3 for £10”. Naturally we challenged the vendor, “what, can’t we just pay with cash money?” I’m sure you can imagine the response: “no, but you can buy tokens inside, but there will be a queue”. So we bought a 9 tokens for £30. One token == one beer OR one item of food OR two soft drinks. Net result after we got home – three tokens left over. So the venue/event organisers scammed us out of an extra tenner. Well done. This act alone is enough to make me never attend a gig at your venue again. And since everything was served in plastic bottles, I do wonder what the plastic recycle policy is at such an event? Don’t scam fans.

[photo via here]

Oh, I almost forgot, the music. Adams did the right thing by opening the gig via the centre stage, as can be seen the photograph above. This meant that the Gold/VIPs folks got a raw deal. However it didn’t last, after a couple of tracks he retreated to the main stage, only to return to the centre stage for the third encore which saw him hand pick the local talent from the audience. Incidentally, the centre stage performance was much better than the main stage, even though the main stage speakers were still in use. Centre stage performances, a’la Def Leppard at the Glasgow SECC, are far better, giving the whole audience a sense of involvement – event organisers, please note.

I couldn’t help but notice what I thought was miming on more than one occasion, it turns out I wasn’t alone in my thoughts about this either. This was confirmed when I spotted Adams running from one side to the other, no microphone in sight, yet still the vocals could be heard…I got the impression that Adams’ primary guitarist (almost a look-a-like) was also chipping in as and when required. Summer of 69 arrived fairly early in the set…which was odd, perhaps because that was one of the few songs I was there for. Anyway, I put up with the rain, the idiots with umbrellas, the pratts with their camera ‘phones, the selfish fans who put their 5 foot tall offspring on their shoulders thus blocking the view for a lot of folks behind them, including my party.

Overall, Adams stage performance was pretty damn good given the weather. However, I don’t think those were his speakers of choice. The event sound did not fill much past the main stage and lacked any depth or power. The light show was basic, little use of the late evening darkness was made. That said, the centre stage lighting was reasonable.

So I’m sorry MurrayFieldLive, I won’t be back at a gig until things change for the better. The truth hurts, but honesty is my only excuse. I’m gonna get me some of those “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” icons from somewhere…

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Cyclists in the UK – above the law?

As a car driver, I find myself waiting at traffic lights quite frequently.

Today, I was at the head (front) of the queue, patiently waiting for them to turn from red to green. There were two lanes of traffic, I was in the outside lane (2) – it was a pedestrian cross too. Whilst waiting, I was dumbfounded to see, in my offside wing mirror, a cyclist approaching at speed, straddling the centre line between us and on-coming traffic. The lights were still red. The cyclist, a he, proceeded to weave through two pedestrians using the crossing. He then returned to the inside lane (1) and continued his journey.

I see this a lot. I know that as a car driver, I am obliged to stop at red lights. Do cyclists have some sort of exemption that allows them to go through red lights? Surely not? [of course, this is a rhetoric question]

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Forth Road Bridge – Podcast #2

My return trip north over the Forth Road Bridge, for Monday.

FRB Podcast #2 [2MB] – the one with the 4×4 driver. Monday 11/12/2006, Edinburgh to Fife, depart 1735, arrive 1826.

This one runs a little fast, you can hear the clicks between edit points. I edited a lot of content out, this one is just 10 minutes long.

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Forth Road Bridge – Podcast #1

I don’t know what compelled me to do this, but after The Scotman’s campaign for a second crossing (be it a bridge, a tunnel or something else) over the River Forth Firth Of Forth [thanks Colin!], I’ve decided to record my experiences crossing the Forth Road Bridge.

I’ve chosen to podcast my entire journey, edited down such that the 75 minute drive is a 30 minute podcast. I’ll cover the route south, i.e. from Fife over to Edinburgh and back again.

Over the course of a week, you’ll hear a lot of my views and opinions on what’s wrong with the commute over to Edinburgh. Editing the podcasts takes about an hour, so please be patient, I will get them all uploaded as soon as possible. Also, the sound quality isn’t production quality, but it’s clear enough to get the point across.

I’ve got a lot that I want to say about this journey, I’ll try and put together a blog post “real soon now”.

FRB Podcast #1 [6MB], Monday 11/12/2006, Fife to Edinburgh, depart 0745, arrive 0900. Notice the slight frustration build up towards the end of the podcast!

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Where do you think you’re going?

Recent press and television broadcasts (Tonight with Trevor McDonald, Friday, May 12) merely confirm what I have been thinking for a while. SatNav, what do we think we’re doing with it?

Today’s Computer Weekly carries a letter outlining the sorry story of the Clifton Suspension Bridge which sees a steady stream of juggernauts approach toll-booths that are too narrow for them. Similarly, today’s Times carries a piece relating to how the ambulance service, who I believe should have known better, followed the SatNav route which turned out to be longer, but more scenic…not that the injured party was overly keen on the passing scenery whilst en route to hospital.

Ever since the first affordable, mass-market SatNav kit hit the market, folks have become so obsessed with it. I even know of a situation where an employee (in my last job) used TomTom to find his way to his base office…an office that he drove to plenty of times before the arrival of “turn right in to Arden Grove, you have arrived at your destination”. What’s worse, the offending employee was on a conference call using his mobile ‘phone at the time…everybody on the call realised the faux pas!

I have been driving now for nearly 20 years, never have I needed more than a road atlas and some brief instructions on how to cover the last couple of miles…of any journey. Of course, today, I use MultiMap to give me the last couple of miles, and why not? It’s free, unlike the millions of SatNav units that are being sold world-wide. Fair enough, the profusion of devices has bod well for the likes of ARM whose chips can be found in millions of SatNav-capable devices world-wide.

We’ve become so reliant on SatNav, what on earth will we do if the underlying positioning system suffers from overload or fails? There you are, you’re merrily driving along, under careful instruction of your chosen SatNav device and “puff”, that’s it, no more directions, silence, what do you do? Where do you go? Hint: the hard shoulder is for emergency use only, your SatNav giving up the ghost is not an emergency. And if you’ve got a celebrity voice-over installed, say Richard Wilson, you can imagine what he would say when the positioning system fails to respond…”I don’t believe it!”

I’ll tell you where you go. You go back to basics. You learn about maps, you learn how to use them. At the end of the day, it’ll make you a safer driver. SatNav devices are bound to cause serious accidents, if they haven’t already actually caused any. After all, it’s all very well listening to the nice lady “in 50 yards, take the next left” but there’s also that little animated screen. Now that’s clever. Not only are we privy to an audio broadcast of where to go, that little PocketPC screen can show us where to go. And it looks very neat, very impressive. Nice, graphical depictions of roundabouts, the route ahead, speed limits, etc. It’s nice to watch, but then, so is the road ahead of you and all around you. I’d rather you watched what was going on around you and ahead of you because one day, I might be crossing the road ahead of you. I’ll be the one with the generic MP3 player and I will be wearing headphones, listening to my tunes. It’ll be dark at the time, I’ll be wearing black for your benefit. And if it isn’t me, it might be somebody you care about.

Worried about unemployment in your locale? Stick SatNav devices in to taxis and suddenly the local equivalent of the knowledge is no longer required. Anybody can drive a car with a SatNav device fitted and start calling themselves a taxi driver. Wouldn’t you prefer a local driver with local knowledge who was capable of answering your questions about the locale?

The bulk of the SatNav population have forgotten where they’re going, just plug a post code into the dashboard toy, listen to the instructions and you’re off. Suddenly we’ve become a nation who can’t read maps, who can’t drive past the end of our own driveway without the basic TomTom, or worse a celebrity keeping us company. That said, I find the thought of John Cleese providing directions more than amusing.

Should we be leaving the SatNav devices for those folks who really need it (such as the military and emergency services)? The same technology that we’re using today, has been used by the military for many years. They’ve used it to find their way around unknown territory during close knit battles, it has saved countless lives. And here we are, using it to get us to the chip shop, the office or our mother-in-law’s house.


My brother-in-law has a talent for drawing:


This is one of many drawings/artistic jobs that he has done for us, each has turned out really well.

He drew Monty, the dog above, from a photograph.

Perhaps it’s time he took this up professionally?

Tax on personal Internet usage…the Treasury has something to say…

Further to my posting about the tax on personal use of the Internet whilst at work, it seems that the power of The Times has forced the Treasury to announce that the tax will affect so few people that it makes me wonder why they even thought it up in the first place.

The chances of anybody having to pay a tax charge on personal use of a business computer are virtually zero.

The full article can be found here. And there’s more here and here.

Do you send personal e-mails using your employer’s computer?

According to a piece in today’s Times newspaper, employers may find themselves having to record their employee’s personal Internet usage (including e-mail) or both parties may face a “new” stealth tax. Stealth, because it was sneaked in to the recent budget without any hullabaloo, blink and you might have missed it.

Unless the personal usage is “not significant”, in which case the tax is ignored, both employee and employer will be taxed. Obviously there is clear debate about the use of the term “not significant”, however it is unlikely to be within the bounds of reasonableness, a word clearly not in the Labour Party’s dictionary, as events surrounding Prescott’s Promiscuity, Clarke’s Convicts and Hewitt’s Heckles, all of which are now in the public domain, can confirm.

Personally, I use my employer’s e-mail facility to manage what I need to do “as a whole”. I send e-mails from my office to my personal desktop such that I can manage my time better. I don’t want to find myself reading newsletter after newsletter whilst I’m at work. I receive notification of the newsletters at work, sift through them at a content-level (i.e. scan them), then I forward the relevant ones to my home PC where I can spend a little more time reading them and surfing. Now, if Gordon Brown wants me to read the newsletters whilst I’m at work, that’s fine, but he should find some way of compensating my employer for around 6-8 hours per week. IT is a fast moving game, how else can we keep on top of it without constant learning?

And who’s going to pick up the cost of implementing a system that can accurately monitor personal vs corporate e-mail/Internet usage? Sure, there are products on the market that claim to do this, however in my experience unless they are set up correctly, they tend to get in the way of real work. Less able firms, with absent or inadequate IT direction, will struggle with this ruling, perhaps opting for a “personal blacklist” whereby overtime known “personal” addresses and domain names are blocked. I would take umbrage to this kind of mentality for a number of reasons:

  1. I use my blog to record information that I think might be useful to others…it’s also my way of ensuring I have some information “to hand”. I refer to some of the code samples and links on my blog a couple of time per day, it helps me with my day job.
  2. I communicate with a number of people (using e-mail) to organise social events (personal) and to conduct job-related business, the “personal blacklist” wouldn’t work in this situation.
  3. I send myself e-mails between my home computer and my office e-mail address that act as reminders, things to do etc. I also use shared tasks, shared calendars, etc. between my home computer and my office computer.
  4. The previously noted “newsletter” scenario.

I think it’s fair to say that those of us who find it useful to mix personal/business like this, do so because we find ourselves more productive as a result. A taxation of this kind would see my productivity take a hit, I would have to change the way I work because of a tax introduced by Government I didn’t vote for. Taxation doesn’t win votes. Taxation encourages emigration. When it’s votes that count, you can’t help but want to reduce emigration because emigration not only affects the number of potential votes, but it affects the economy too.

The recent scrapping of the Home Computing Initiative, whereby employees could purchase a PC via their employer with some for of tax relief, this is yet another blow to the promotion of IT uptake in the UK. I know of a handful of employees who would rather “ask a friend” for a little help with their office PC than go to some corporate helpdesks – more so for the “lesser done, easily forgotten” tasks in popular word processors or spreadsheets.

This is another fine example of the Government hitting on the masses, whereby we’ve seen taxation on travel (airport taxes, etc.) and massively increased fuel prices. I am surprised that there is no obvious taxation on the sending/receiving of SMS/MMS text messages as the sheer profusion of them sent every day seems to be an easy and obvious target.

What’s next Gordon, a tax on the office Biro that I use for personal business inside and outside of office hours?

With the current Government’s inability to differentiate between public and private, I refer to of course the aforementioned threesome, how can they possibly be trusted to enforce a IT tax like this?

Alas poor Delphi, do I see a sharp future ahead?

[Warning: thought gathering rambling follows, coherence might be sacrificed.]

Following Tod Nielsen’s letter announcing that Borland would be divesting their IDE product lines, driving an even tighter focus on the Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) market, what future lies ahead for those of us who have been using Delphi for most of the last eleven years?

I know that I am not alone in having an opinion about this divestment, and it’s one that may result in a further blog posting. Even some Microsoft employees have a very heavy interest in Borland’s divestment plans, some who were/are very close to the Delphi scene.

However, the purpose of this posting to two-fold:

  1. to plug Gnostice’s PDFOne – their .net 1.1/2.0 PDF creation components. It’s a great product, I reviewed their earlier Win32 VCL offering, eDocEngine and found it to be totally awesome (as this review confirms!). However, and this is not a criticism by any means, but the PDFOne demonstrations are written using C#. I believe that this is decision to use C#, and Gnostice are not alone, is a key driver that will dictate the direction of the “Delphi Language”.
  2. to try and understand, whether in this posting or a follow up, what might happen to Delphi as a “language”, if all vendors in the .net space move their demonstrations and support over to C#

Gnostice have produced a product for use in the .net environment. Without splitting hairs, that means products like: Borland Developer Studio 2005/6 (Delphi 2005/6), Visual Studio 2003/5, Visual C#/VB Express Editions. Given that Delphi 200x targets .net 1.1, Gnostice were wise to produce assemblies for both .net 1.1 and .net 2.0. The demonstration application that is supplied with PDFOne is written using C#…which means that it will work with Delphi 200x (via its “C#Builder” or C# personality) and it will work in the Microsoft IDEs too.

Of the other vendors who are moving their components (demonstrations and documentation too) from the VCL to .net, what if a number of them started ignoring true Delphi and provided C# examples? I guess most of us would just muck in and convert the code on an as-needed basis, after all, it’s not very difficult converting C# examples into true Delphi code (and vice versa). Certainly it would make me think about whether I should be writing any new applications using true Delphi code.

The importance of the “Delphi Language” is gradually being eaten away by the almost omnipresent C#. There are folks out there who believe C# is the best thing since sliced bread. However, us folks in the Delphi world have enjoyed virtually everything that C# has to offer today. Granted language progression slowed down somewhat when Anders Heilsberg joined Microsoft (see his TechTalk here). C#, and parts of the .NET framework (especially 1.1) are not as well abstracted as people might think, especially those of us with a Delphi background, a point that I made during my recent lament about Borland and .NET:

…is .NET 2.0 up-to-date with regard to the needs of today’s developer? I’m not so sure: Delphi was the first product to simplify Windows-based development with its glorious abstractions around WndProc and the Windows messaging sub-system. No longer did we have to write code to create treeviews, add nodes, or draw them in special ways, etc. Win32 development with Delphi was almost reduced mouse clicks. Visual Studio for .NET 1.1 brought a similar IDE metaphor to the .NET world, however it lacked a number of Win32-style events that we in the Delphi world take for granted, such as the simple ability to have owner draw controls (have you never wanted to make root nodes in a treeview bold?) In .NET 1.1, it’s back to basics, you have to implement everything yourself (as described in these hoops and by the example here.)

So Delphi 200x IDEs may be relegated to being competition for Microsoft’s IDEs. Is that such a bad thing? Can the market withstand such competition? Well, Borland obviously have a view on the competitive aspects of their IDE – they’re selling it off. By selling it off, they are telling me two things:

  1. They’ve got something else to focus on, in this case ALM. Presumably this is the next big cash-cow and we all should be buying shares in any company that promises big things in the ALM space.
  2. They’re hoping that the potential buyer will work with developers and the market space, and will progress the IDE within the competitive environment. I certainly hope this is the case.

Delphi itself, as a product, has always enjoyed a lot of kudos because of its legacy support, i.e. applications written using previous versions would re-compile with newer versions. The only problem in this legacy support scenario is third party components. [Borland, please note, this is not a criticism] For years Borland have charged circa £1000 for an upgrade to the next major version or nearly £2000 for a new purchase. Now, I am a Delphi fanatic and have been for 10 years. That’s a lot of upgrade cash. I’ve lost track of the number of Delphi developers who recite the same story to me, especially at user group meetings and developer events.

It’s one thing migrating a vanilla Delphi application from one version to the next major version, it’s another thing to migrate an application that is “third party component heavy”. It’s another thing because we have to shell out for the third party components that match the version of Delphi we’re upgrading to. If you’re doing well, the third party component vendor(s) have kept up and their products are available when you need them…not months after the release of Delphi itself.

On the other hand, and keeping things equal, I like the Microsoft IDEs too. Whilst both Borland and Microsoft IDEs require huge amounts of desktop real estate (screen resolution), each of the respective IDEs have a number of features that make them a delight to work with. Granted, in terms of developer productivity, they are behind the likes of IntelliJ, although it’s authors are making great efforts to correct that as Rob Lally confirms in his write up here (expect a Resharper review to appear here and over at Scottish Developers real soon now!)

I wonder if the recent emphasis on C# signifies the demise of what we know as the “Delphi Language”? Two things will provide the answer: time and the new DevCo who take over the Borland IDE market space. Will there be developer consultation? Will there be a customer satisfaction survey that lets us suggest what language features to important to us? I certainly hope so.

Further Reading
Borland rides Segue on trip out of IDE biz
Borland gambles without developers
Marco Cantu’s Support Delphi blog posting.
DavidI’s posting is here.
Hopefully this posting is merely an April Fool’s joke?
Product Roadmap
Borland wants to be a Red Hat for developers