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A refreshing summer break May 13, 2010

Posted by Peter Hornby in Uncategorized.
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I don’t know how I get on these lists.  Someone, somewhere, thinks that I’m the kind of person who’s likely to spend hundreds of dollars on a hotel room for a weekend.  But this one?

Summer is just around the corner and we’re looking forward to the festive energy the season brings to Wynn Las Vegas.  Escape the heat this summer and let us craft an unforgettable getway for you.

Right.  I’m looking for somewhere to escape the torrid heat of Laguna Beach, and I’m going to settle on Las Vegas?  Are you kidding me?

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The House of Lords at its best March 31, 2010

Posted by Peter Hornby in Uncategorized.
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Jason Kottke, via @BenHammersley, points us to a recent discussion in the House of Lords, concerning the problem of mice in the chamber.  Read this, learn of hypoallergenic cats, and smile with me as you do so.

To ask the Chairman of Committees what measures are being considered to improve pest control in the Lords’ part of the Palace of Westminster.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, the administration is fully aware of the problem with mice in the Palace of Westminster and is taking all appropriate measures to minimise their numbers. We retain the services of an independent pest control consultant and a full-time pest controller. The current focus is on poisoning and trapping, blocking of mouse access points, and more frequent cleaning of bars and restaurants to remove food debris. This programme was intensified over the February Recess and fewer sightings of mice have been reported since.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: I thank the noble Lord for his reply. How many calls have there been to the mouse helpline? Has the accuracy of that information been checked, given that the staff report seeing mice on a daily basis at the moment in the eating areas? Has consideration been given to having hypoallergenic cats on the estate, given the history? Miss Wilson, when she was a resident superintendent in this Palace, had a cat that apparently caught up to 60 mice a night. The corpses were then swept up in the morning. Finally, does the noble Lord recognise the fire hazard that mice pose, because they eat through insulating cables? It would be a tragedy for this beautiful Palace to burn down for lack of a cat.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, there are a number of questions there. I cannot give an answer to the number of calls made to the mouse helpline-if that is its title. I suspect that it would not be a good use of resources to count them up. But I am well aware of the problem of mice, as I said in my Answer. It is something that we take seriously.

As for getting a cat, I answered a Question from the noble Lord, Lord Elton, last week on this matter. I was not aware that such a thing as a hypoallergenic cat existed-I do not know whether our cat at home is one of those. There are a number of reasons why it is not a good idea to have cats. First, they would ingest mouse poison when eating poisoned mice, which would not be very nice for them, and there would be nothing to keep them where they are needed or stop them walking around the House on desks in offices or on tables in restaurants and bars-and maybe even in the Chamber itself. Therefore, we have ruled out at this stage the possibility of acquiring a cat, or cats.

Lord Bradshaw: I have spoken continually to the staff in the eating places in the House and I acknowledge that there has been some diminution in the number of mice around. But could I press the noble Lord, because further action needs to be taken? I know that this is an old building, but mice are still here and we are talking about places where food is served. I have no magic solution, but perhaps the consultant who is being employed might have some answers.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am well aware that there are still mice around. I saw one in the Bishops’ Bar only yesterday evening. I do not know whether it was the same one that I saw the day before or a different one; it is always difficult to tell the difference between the various mice that one sees. We believe that the problem is getting better. Cleaning is one of the measures we are taking, as I outlined in my original Answer. As I speak here this afternoon, the Bishops’ Bar and the Guest Room are being hoovered, so we can get rid of the food scraps from lunch. If you were a mouse, you would rather eat the crumbs of a smoked salmon sandwich than the bait. Therefore, we want to remove the crumbs as quickly as possible.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: Why should I and noble Lords trust the Executive to deal with mice when they cannot deal with the economy?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I do not actually deal with the economy. I am glad to say that that would be above my pay grade, whereas trying to deal with the mice is probably just about right for me.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I was in total ignorance that there was anything of the nature of a mouse helpline until this Question Time. Can the Chairman of Committees tell us what helplines there are for Members of the House on other issues that we do not know about?

The Chairman of Committees: I rather hope that we do not have too many other ones. I was not going to advertise the existence of the mouse helpline, although it was advertised some time ago. Indeed, I invited Members of the House to telephone when they saw mice. The trouble is that when the person at the other end of the helpline goes to check this out, very often the mouse has gone elsewhere.

Spring is here. Bah humbug March 2, 2009

Posted by Peter Hornby in Uncategorized.
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Sping is undoubtedly here, and what a pleasure it is to hear the sound of birdsong once more.  How lovely to hear our feathered friends trilling their little hearts out as they advertise their prowess with their delightful repertoire of songs.

Except that you’re in the tree outside my bedroom window and IT’S ELEVEN O’CLOCK AT BLOODY NIGHT.

Go to sleep already. Everyone else is trying to.

The awesome responsibility of the blogger February 18, 2009

Posted by Peter Hornby in Uncategorized.
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Some readers are never satisfied.

I offer my apologies as follows:

  • To Frank, who spent the entire weekend watching episodes of “The Prisoner”.  Buck up, Frank, they only made seventeen, so you’re over halfway there. 
  • To David, who has now uploaded all his wine into CellarTracker (or at least Patti has), only to discover that he owns a substantial number of bottles that should have been drunk in 2003.  Sounds like a Caymus party to me.

2008 King William’s College quiz January 6, 2009

Posted by Peter Hornby in Uncategorized.
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The Guardian has published the 104th annual King William’s College Quiz.  Just to remind you, this is a lethally difficult general knowledge quiz taken by the pupils of King Williams College, on the Isle of Man.  The students take the test twice, once on sight before the holidays, and once, after what I assume is a pretty hectic couple of weeks of research, after their return from the Christmas holiday.

The questions are set by Dr Pat Cullen, who seems to have trained at the knee of Torquemada.  He takes special care to phrase the questions so that skill in Google searching is of little or no help.

On my first pass over this year’s quiz, I think I was able to answer ten questions out of the 180, which is unusually good – I’d normally expect between two and five.

So, ladies and gentlemen, start your search engines!  The quiz can be found on the school’s website  here

And, to get you started, here’s question 17.6 from this year’s quiz:

17.6 – In which town did la Baronne de la Chalonnière encounter Alexander Duggan at the Hôtel du Cerf?

Where are they now? – the personal edition December 27, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in chorale, personal, Uncategorized, worklife.
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The note in Tony’s Christmas card wondered what had happened.  This was a fair question, since verb. sap. has been completely silent since  late July (not that it was particularly prolific before then).  And since Tony is a substantial fraction of my readership, I feel impelled to bring things up to date.

What happened was that I got a job. 

I’d been looking around, with steadily increasing conviction, since March, and I’d actually interviewed at a couple of places.  Then, out of the blue, there came a suggestion from my ex-colleague and choir buddy Mike that I might consider talking to the company for which he, though ostensibly retired, was still putting in hours.  The company was Agilis Solutions, based in Portland, Oregon and run by an old friend of Mike’s who, like him, was an ex-Unisys VP.  I talked to a number of people at Agilis, liked what I heard, and, pretty much, that was it. I started in early August.

Agilis Solutions is a small software development house.  Typically, we work with software companies facing challenges in bringing their products to market quickly and cost-effectively.  We use a blended model which combines onshore technical leadership and project management with a strong group of smart, experienced offshore developers to allow projects to be completed more quickly, more cheaply and more effectively than would otherwise be possible.

So that’s the boilerplate out of the way. 

From a personal perspective, it’s going really well.  I mostly work from home, although more on that later.  The project I’ve been working on is also Oregon-based, as is my project manager, so I spend a lot of time on Skype with Oregon and Ha Noi, Vietnam, which is where our group of developers is located.  Lorraine and I share an office at home, which works remarkably well, even though it’s an understatement to say that it’s sometimes a tight fit.  The people at Agilis Solutions are wonderful – supportive, outgoing and friendly.  There are less then twenty of us, and it’s such a refreshing change to work in an organisation where you know everyone,  your boss runs the company and what you do actually makes a difference.

I spent a couple of weeks in Springfield, Missouri in September, working with the technical lead for the customer. In October we decided we had to make things move a little more quickly.  The initial plan was for me and the customer lead to spend two months in Ha Noi, working directly with the development team.  Lorraine, the intrepid traveller and selectively occasional corporate wife, thought that this was a splendid idea, and started buying guidebooks while I was trying to organise visas.  So, of course, it didn’t happen.  The team decided that they liked the  let’s-get-everyone-together plan, but the location was moved to Oregon.  So I spent nine weeks in Portland living and breathing the customer’s application, finally returning home a couple of weeks ago.  The work was intense, in a way which I hadn’t really experienced since my days in fly-and-fix field support twenty years ago, but there was a good positive atmosphere around what we were doing, and there were always my new friends at the Riverwood Pub  to keep me sane, which they mostly did.

So there hasn’t been much room for anything else since August.  Lorraine  had a successful Sawdust Festival, her second, in July and August, but the Winter Fantasy festival in November and December was very subdued.  No-one seemed to be buying anything.  In a sense, though, the Festival is its own reward.  We both love being there, seeing artists who have become friends in the space of two festival seasons – people like Christopher Jeffries (with his wife Jitka and their new son Ry), Greg Thorne and Ray Caruso.  We’re both looking forward to next year.

There’s one final thing to record.  The choir I’ve been singing with for almost fifteen years, the Saddleback Master Chorale, had a fund-raiser this year, something which, for some reason, has to be called an Opportunity Drawing.  We sold just over 300 tickets at $25 each, and the prize drawing took place last weekend at the group’s holiday concert.  Imagine our astonishment when my name was pulled from the hat!  So, slightly shell-shocked, we’re now the proud owners of a four-night Junior Suite stay in any Fairmont hotel or resort in the US or Canada, plus round-trip airfare to get there and back.  This is not going to be easy.  Fairmont operates the Plaza in New York, the Empress in Victoria, BC, and – my nomination for the most beautiful place on the planet – Chateau Lake Louise in the Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.  However, the current edition of the plan calls for us to use the prize to spend some time in Montreal, Lorraine’s birthplace, staying at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth. It’s not clear when we’ll fit this trip in, but be sure that we will, and I’ll talk about it here, I promise.

So that’s the brief update.  Normal service will now resume.

(And, for readers with long memories, I’m still stuck on 1453!)

Hummingbird babies July 7, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in laguna beach, local, personal, Uncategorized.
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I suppose the gestation period of a hummingbird isn’t very long. Whatever, it seems that nature has taken its course and the two eggs we saw only three weeks ago have turned into these two hungry little critters. It won’t be long before they’re off and investigating the world around them. Certainly the nest won’t hold them for much longer.

Moving more mail into Gmail April 25, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in Uncategorized, worklife.
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I spent a lot of time some months ago moving substantial quantities of mail from a work-based Outlook mailbox into Gmail. I started on the next step yesterday – moving mail from the Entourage 2004 mailbox on my wife’s Mac into GMail, using the technique written up by Zoli Erdos – configuring an IMAP connection to Gmail, and mapping local folders to Gmail labels.

This didn’t go desperately smoothly, but it seems to be working now. The technique is comprehensively written up by William Smith on the Entourage Help blog. Unfortunately, as noted by commenters, there’s something screwed up in the process, and the timestamp you get in Gmail is not the original Received-Date. So the first attempt didn’t work, and I deleted (in Gmail) the messages with the bad timestamps.

Commenters came to my aid, describing the workaround of using a third mail account, configured using IMAP, and then setting Gmail’s Mail Fetcher to get the messages from the third account using POP. So I set up a temporary Gmail account, and gave it a shot. Well, that didn’t work either. For some reason, my Entourage aborts the IMAP upload to Gmail, in an oddly random manner. Some small number of messages are uploaded (and the number is not the same each time), and then Entourage throws up an “Error 1025” (whatever that is), and a message of “Unable to append message to folder”.

So, back to my friends, William Smith’s commenters. There seemed to be evidence that Apple’s .Mac mail service could be used to supply the third mail account. So I signed up for a free trial, and tried again. This time, it all worked – almost. The messages uploaded to .Mac fine, and Google Mail Fetcher started pulling them in to Gmail. All went well – I transferred several thousand messages – until I got to a particular folder in Entourage’s mailfile. All the messages in this folder were uploaded to .Mac, Google Mail Fetcher reported, eventually (because this takes a serious while – no, I mean HOURS), that all the mails were fetched, but only half of them ended up in Gmail. Very odd.

This time, my buddies the commenters were no help, nor was the Gmail help system. I tried again, uploading the messages which had got lost to .Mac. Same thing. All uploaded OK, all pulled into Mail Fetcher OK, around half seemingly thrown on the Gmail floor. I spent most of this afternoon trying to work out what was going on, until, eventually, I had a forehead-slapping moment. I realised that the messages which were being thrown away were exactly the messages that I’d uploaded with bad timestamps way back in the first step, and which were still sitting in my Gmail Trash folder, waiting for the executioner’s axe. Gmail thought I already had these messages!

So, I emptied the Gmail trash, started over, and everything seems to be running sweetly.

Four fours – 1453? April 4, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in Uncategorized.
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I’ve said this before, but it finally looks like the Four Fours quest has ground to a halt.  I made lots of good progress on our trip to the East Coast, but it looks, for now at any rate, as though 1453 is where it stops.  I’ve used all the tricks I know, and I’m stuck.

California Trip report – I February 15, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in food&wine, Uncategorized.
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We spent just over a week travelling in California.  After a brief stopover with Lorraine’s high-school friend Monika in San Francisco, we headed up to Sonoma to vist Bill and Sandi, the first of our two sets of ex-Laguna Beach, ex-Len’s Wine Cite, friends.

We arrived in time for a late lunch, and were immediately introduced to the wines of one of Sonoma’s newer wineries, Roessler Cellars.  Roessler’s 2005 Alder Springs Pinot Noir is just glorious, with sweet, ripe fruit, classic Pinot character, and great intensity.  Afterwards, we wandered around downtown Sonoma for a while, looking in jewelry stores, before deciding to stop in to Sebastiani‘s tasting room.  There wasn’t a whole lot of time before closing, but we tasted through what they had.  We ended up buying a couple of bottles of their 2006 “Casa De Sonoma” unoaked Chardonnay.  We’re not great fans of Chardonnay, on the whole, unless it comes from Burgundy, but these wines were delicious, somewhat reminiscent of Chablis, with lovely crisp fruit and some minerally notes.

After dinner, Bill wondered idly whether we were interested in brandy, and if so, did we know about California brandy?  We were, and, oddly enough, we did, although we weren’t aware of all the aspects of the remarkable story of Germain-Robin.  Hubert Germain-Robin is a member of a French family which had been making fine cognac since the late eighteenth century.  In 1981, Hubert was hitch-hiking in northern California, somewhat despondent about the fate of the family firm, which had just been taken over by the brandy colossus Martell.  One day, he was picked up on the road by a guy called Ansley Coale.   The two struck up a friendship, and by the next summer, Hubert had shipped a traditional still to Ansley’s ranch in Mendocino County and the two had started experimenting with distillation.  Their first decision, which turns out to have been an inspiration, was to use premium California wine as the raw material, rather than the thin, insipid wines – normally made from Ugni Blanc – which form the foundation for most cognac.  The results are dramatic.  Germain-Robin brandies are just spectacular – gorgeous, smooth, complex nectars.  People who might be expected to know are classing them among the world’s best distilled spirits.

But I digress, somewhat.  It turns out that Bill is rather a fan of Germain-Robin brandies, and was surprised and delighted to discover fellow enthusiasts.  So we spent a good deal of the evening performing critical comparisons of the examples he had, and went to bed feeling no pain.  

It’s probably fair to say that we wouldn’t have timed the private tasting at Roessler any earlier than 10:00am the following day.  But, like true professionals, we were there on time, ready for action.  We tasted through about half a dozen Pinot Noirs, some from single vineyards, like the Alder Springs we’d had the previous day, some what they called appellation wines, where the wines are made from grapes from several vineyards. All of the wines were really lovely expressions of Pinot Noir, made in tiny quantities (only 137 cases of the 2005 Alder Springs were made).  We left with some of the Alder Springs and some of Roessler’s 2005 Hein Family Vineyard.

From there, Sandi took us up the road to Arrowood, where we tasted some of Dick Arrowood’s beautiful Cabernets, including the 2003 Monte Rosso and the 2002 Reserve, and some Syrahs  They’re certainly excellent wines, but it was difficult to taste Cabernets with the memory of the fragrant Roessler Pinot Noirs still on our palates and in our minds.  I should probably also add that our tasting experience was not improved by the arrival of a party of visitors who seemed to have bathed in perfume, and who, we discovered as we left, had pitched up in a Hummer with Idaho plates and had parked in the handicapped spot (with no sign of a permit).  Lots of hot buttons there – although I hasten to add that the great State of Idaho is not one of them.

The next stop was Healdsburg, about thirty miles north of Sonoma, where we paused briefly for lunch,  after which it was time to check out a couple more tasting rooms.  The first was Williamson Wines, where we were graciously hosted by the co-owner, Dawn Williamson.  Dawn had an interesting approach to tasting wine, which we liked a lot.  She was arguing strongly for the symbiotic relationship between wine and food, presenting each wine with a morsel of appropriate food – a little sliver of Stilton, or a tiny piece of lamb.  We thought this really worked well.  Finally, we stopped in at La Crema, where I was a little surprised.  I’d always thought of La Crema as a winemaker at the less expensive end of the scale,  with good quality wines in the $15-$20 region.  Turns out that they also make a series of super Pinots and Syrahs at premium prices, and also some exquisite wines, the Nine Barrel Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines, which run close to $100 a bottle.  We came away with a bottle each of the the 2005 Sonoma County Syrah and the 2005 Russian River Pinot Noir.

And then it was time to return to Sonoma, for an early dinner and an early night, with a busy day in prospect, about which I’ll write later.