For my new laptop to arrive. My old one was blue-screening a few minutes after every power-cycle. Using a temporary one at the moment. It’s old, it’s slow and I am loathed to personalise it with all my creative and publishing tools – as I would only have to do it all over again when I get a new one. So these pages are taking a bit of a back seat as a consequence.

Waiting in line at the cash machine.
(Barclays Bank Ealing Road – strangely the only ATM in the area)

So I’ve been exploring a little:

In late 2005 it was “The Long Tail“. In early 2006 it’s “Web 2.0“. Yes Web 2.0 – which is the great new web rising out of the splatter of the dotcom bubble. Whereas before we had ad banners, web sites, portals, directories and “stickiness is good”, now we have Adsense, Flickr, blogs, wikis, tags and feeds. Yes folks, Web 1.0 was centred around taxonomy, but in Web 2.0 it’s about “folksonomy”. (Answers on a postcard please.)

Whatever. The other day I discovered a potentially useful web application called Netvibes. Not sure who to credit for getting me there – but it’s rather nifty. On one simple web page I can get all my most important news feeds and blog feeds, display my delicious links, photos from my contacts flickr streams and my latest Gmails. Netvibes gives you some control over the layout of the page – which in return for a sign-up can be preserved and viewed from any computer. Whilst this concept of a “personalised portal” is not new – Netvibes has got that “flickr” kindof appeal to it – it feels really nice and easy to use – and it’s not Microsoft, Google, Yahoo or AOL. (Yet.)

Also – I think this concept of “my desktop – anywhere” is becoming much more acheivable. Why should I be limited in what I can achieve if I’m using a temporary laptop – or my friend’s PC – or a computer in a cybercafe on the other side of the world – or better still: a small hendheld on the top deck of the 79 bus? As data and applications become more storable and consumable in the network – there’ll be little value in the terminal device in terms of function (simply input and output) but more in terms of fashion (it looks and feels good – more so for the mobile ones that will be seen in public) and more context-relevant (it’s appropriate for the setting – e.g. TV/media-centre in living room, desktop at work, screen and keypad on fridge door etc.)

I have a few niggles with NetVibes though – the search module only currently supports a few search engines – and predictably not the one that I use. I defected from Google to a9.com nearly a year ago – and I cannot go back. There are several reasons: it’s powered in part by Google anyway – but it’s also enhanced by Alexa site data. But I like it most of all because (unlike Google) it displays all your previous searches and has loads of additional panes for things like images, notes and a view-anywhere boomarks manager that you can drag and drop search results into. (Definitely Web 2.0 this one.) It’s also relatively free of corporate spin which is all the more remarkable given that it’s provided by Amazon.com.

And finally – not Web 2.0 – but more mobile phone. A service called SpinVox. Have been trying this as my voicemail replacement for a while now – and once again: I cannot go back to “normal” voicemail. You see, I get a LOT of calls on my mobile phone every day, and I’m not always able to take them all – meaning I get a lot of voicemails. Which can be a real pain to listen to when the only time during the day that you’ve got is going to the bathroom in between meetings on days when they’re back to back – or rushing for a bus or a train on the way into work or going back home. Voicemail, in my opinion, is so 1990s.

SpinVox, however, takes voicemails that are left for me and converts them into text messages. Again – not a new idea, but the thing that I really like about SpinVox is that the converted text messages are sent to my phone as if they were coming from the person who left me the voicemail – which means the text message appears to come from (say) my mate Aishwarya, if Aishwarya leaves a voicemail for me. Which is great because if I’m in a meeting when Aishwarya calls me – I simply “reply” to the converted text back – which will amaze Aishwarya because of the speed with which I get back to her by text message. And the other thing I like is that the conversion from speech to text seems to be performed by a real human being. And I am convinced that the call centre in which the real human beings behind SpinVox are located is in India. Why? Because everytime someone with a complicated Indian-sounding name leaves a message for me which goes something like “Hi Jag, this is Aishwarya Rai calling …” the name in the converted text message is always spelt perfectly – as opposed to numerous spelling mistakes made with very common European names.

Park Lane Turning

London’s buses are often viewed as a inferior form of transport compared to the tube. Most of the time it’s due to a perception that it takes longer to get from A to B by bus than it does by tube. Which is true some of the time. Some of the time it’s a kind of “snobbish” derision about buses and the sorts of people who ride them. What these sorts of people are not aware of is that your regular London bus rider exercises far more brainpower and is engaged with, and much more aware of, the physical and emotional surroundings than a regular tube rider. Tube riders start with a plan, work out a route and execute it. Or else if they are a “regular” on a route then just proceed like zombies on a route they travel day-in day-out, stopping only to “wake up” if a change has to occur – and that’s pretty much it: zombie mode is exited upon arrival at the destination. Contrast this with bus riders, who not only start with a plan (a plan that tube riders find difficult to work out or understand due to higher degree of “meshing” complexity in the bus network) , but are constantly gauging feedback from environmental conditions and events, constantly adapting their plan, making sometimes split-second decisions in order to refine and hone the act of getting from A to B. The bus rider is much more alert and is processing intelligence gathered from the field throughout most of the journey. This requires bus riders to be much more intelligent.

For example, take this seemingly trivial event: There is a point along the southbound Routes 79 and 204 where the bus turns 90 degrees right at a traffic-light controlled junction where Park Lane meets Wembley High Road. If I am on a 79 then this turn has no real significance – as I always continue with the 79 down through Wembley High Road and Ealing Road until it gets to Alperton – which is where I change onto either a 297 or 83 – or else get a tube. But if I am on a 204 (which sometimes I am if I’ve just missed a 79 earlier and I am bus-hopping my way down through Wembley) then this turn represents the point at which I have to get up in order to get off at the next stop – because the 79 and the 204 diverge at this point.

If I am on a 204, then as I get up at this point I always look left just before the bus turns right. This helps me establish a clear view of what buses are approaching Wembley High Road at the same point, and therefore what buses will be behind my own after we’ve turned. This will help me decide what I do when I get off at the next stop.

Looking out the window: Decisions, decisions.
(Where the bus turns onto Wembley High Road at the junction with Park Lane)

If I can see an 83 (which goes to Ealing Broadway via Hanger Lane, North Circ and Ealing Common) then I know that I’m gonna have to get off the bus as fast as I can, and leg it the 20 metres or so to an adjacent stop, which is where the 83 stops. Although this sounds simple, it’s not always so straightforward. The reason is that the next stop is a very popular stop – and chances are that a lot of people are going to be doing the same as me. And because I like to think I’m a good citizen by sitting upstairs so that the more elderly and not-so-mobile fellow passengers can get much needed space to sit downstairs, there’s a good chance that it’s going to take some time getting off the bus. By which time a following 83 is going to have pulled up at its stop just ahead of mine and will be doing the same thing: unloading and loading passengers. The problem is that the 83 is a much more frequent bus than the 204, and as a result there are fewer people unloading and loading on 83 than on 204. And I have on many occasions missed an 83 at this point as a consequence – mostly because I’m stuck behind a few elderly passengers who are taking a long time to step off the bus.

If the following bus is a 297 (which goes to Ealing Broadway via the backstreets of Perivale, along Scotch Common and Castlebar Park in Ealing) then things aren’t so tense. And this is because the 297 stops at the same stop as the 204. Which means that if it is right behind then it will pull up close behind my 204 when it stops – meaning that it cannot pull off until the 204 pulls off. Which is fine – because I will be off the 204 long before the 204 pulls off, and only have to walk a few metres to get to a patiently-waiting 297 just behind.

If there is no visible bus in the distance at this Park Lane turning then I can just relax for now, get off at the next stop and just wait to see what surprise is in store for me when the next bus turns up. There are, however, occasions when I don’t prepare to get off at the next stop. And this could be because I have forgotten (perhaps I’m absorbed in reading something or I’m daydreaming), in which case I will continue on the 204 until it gets to Sudbury Town tube station (its final destination) at which I will get the Piccadilly Line to Ealing Common at which I will change to the District Line to get to Ealing Broadway or else I will get the Picc to North Ealing and walk to Ealing Broadway from there. Sometimes I do this deliberately (not get off the 204 at Wembley High Road). It depends upon my mood really. But mostly it depends on what time of the morning it is and what the weather is like. If it’s the rush hour and it’s a nice warm day with no rain, then I’ll carry on with the 204 and get the Picc to North Ealing and walk from there. Because if it’s the rush hour then there is a high likelihood that an 83 bus would get stuck in traffic on Hanger Lane approaching Ealing Common – which is all too common, and similarly a 297 in the rush hour would probably take ages to wend its way through Perivale and Castlebar Park due to the huge number of schools (and schoolkids) along the way. Also I do enjoy the 10 minute walk down Madeley Road from North Ealing station at Hanger Lane down to Ealing Broadway station if it’s a nice day. If it’s rush hour and it’s raining or cold then I’ll get the Picc down to Ealing Common and switch to District to get to Ealing Broadway. If it’s not the rush hour then I’ll get off the 204 at Wembley High Road and wait for whichever of the 83 or 297 turns up first. In this scenario, if both turn up at about the same time then I’ll prefer the 83 over the 297 because it should be quicker given that it doesn’t have to travel such a long and protracted route.

Now it can sometimes happen that when I have gotten off the 204 at Wembley High Road and am waiting for a 297 or 83 to turn up, that a 79 turns up! In which case I will jump on that. But not because it adds any further value to my journey to work at this point; you see I would have to get off it in a few stops in order to get a 297 or 83 further downstream anyway. So why do I do this?

Because it’s my bus!

Because of things like this example demonstrate, bus riders have to be more capable of abstract reasoning, risk assessment and information processing based upon sensory and emotional feedback.

It follows, therefore, that people who ride London’s buses are more intelligent than those who ride the tube. Quod Erat Demonstrandum (QED)

The Honeypot pub

Reflecting on the bus journey home the other day, it occured to me that I’ve never been to any of the pubs in my neighbourhood. Why? I think it’s got something to do with the fact that when I first arrived here years ago, the area was a place with “great potential” but not quite there yet. The Woolworths on the High Street was kind of run-down, not many houses had double-glazing and you could park almost anywhere for free because the car per capita density was quite low. Thinking about it a bit more made me realise that there were hardly any restaurants in the area either. That was the mid 1990s. But the housing was “affordable”, which is why I moved here to buy my first home.

Anyway, the pubs. There were quite a few. But in my mind they were pretty much “no go” pubs. You could tell by the look and demeanour of the clientele that would enter and exit those pubs as you walked by; these were the sorts of places that I probably wouldn’t enjoy being in very much. This was often confirmed by the regular articles and submissions to the letters columns of the free local papers that get shoved through the door every week. It seems that several of the pubs were trouble flashpoints, and often the focal point for much resident ire and Police attention.

A lot has changed in the last ten years though. Despite being a fairly average looking London suburb today, there are considerably more people (or else there are more people with more cars anyway) and it follows that there are more people with more money, and therefore more influence. The Woolworths is not as run-down as it used to be. Everybody has double-glazing and a few of the pound shops on the High Street are now small Asian fashion boutiques or vegetarian restaurants. You can’t park your car on the High Street for free any more. In fact you can’t even park your car any more because there’s never any space, it’s that crowded.

And the pubs: pretty much all the “no-go” ones have either closed awaiting redevelopment – or else are under new management and have been converted into family-friendly Indian restaurants instead. The Honeypot used to be one of those pubs. It is rumoured that it used to employ a permanent broken-glass collector. That was then. Now it’s a very popular restaurant called Spice Rack – and has an adjacent paan house and ice-cream parlour.

The Honeypot pub is now the Spice Rack restuarant.
(With adjacent paan house and ice-cream parlour)

So – there really aren’t many proper pubs left in my part of my neighbourhood. I suppose I had better try out the two that are left before they disappear.

New Year’s Day Parade

“Excuse me officer: do you think it’s OK for me to park my car just there?”

“I’m really not sure sir, I’m, not on Parking Control Duty today.”

I was parked at the top end of Piccadilly; the Hard Rock Cafe end (did you know that the London Hard Rock Cafe was the first?). Lucky to get a space so close to the route of London’s New Year’s Day Parade. Not quite sure whether the lucky space was vacant for some specific reason. Hence the reason why I asked a police officer standing nearby. What the heck – I left the car there anyway. The Parade was due to start in 15 minutes and we really wanted to get somewhere reasonable to stand.

The last time (and only other time) I attended the annual New Year’s Day Parade was in 2000. And it was nothing special then. It was just something to do on a cold, grey winter’s day when there’s practically nothing else to do really. This time around it was pretty much the same: too cold to stand around in one place for 3 hours, and slap bang in the middle of lunchtime. And given that you you really need to get there an hour or so before the start in order to get a good viewing position, it means that it helps to bring your packed lunch and thermos flask with hot tea in it with you.

Which we didn’t.

Which means that by 1.30pm we were hungry.

And cold.

And frankly it was quite boring. Colourfully dressed marching bands from America. A donkey preservation society. Some miniature steam engines. A giant plastic inflatable Garfield filled with helium. Clowns and kids with big hair and flares riding old Chopper bikes. More marching bands from America. And some really strange, hard-to-understand, exhibits from various London Borough Councils.

London’s New Year’s Day Parade – lead by a marching band from Missouri
(Click in the above image for another one.)

The car was still there and unclamped when we got back to it. It was nice when it warmed up inside. Drove home and made a stir-fry lunch using egg noodles, beansprouts, pak choi, mushrooms and oyster sauce. Rearranged some house furniture the next day. The net result is an extra bedroom and a bigger studying room – and loads of stuff to take down to the charity shop on the High Street.

Happy New Year!