John Hawkins



Dr John Hawkins

Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff, home to a huge load of pictures, and my daily blog.

My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.

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Recent Entries:
Another Long Day
Communication Difficulties and Non-Alcoholic Beer
A Long Day Culminating in a Burger
Off to California Again
Luggage
New Phone
Vidalia Chop Wizard
Historic Pubs
Not in Switzerland... at all
Gratin
Monday
Aftermath
My 30th Birthday Party Thing
Friday
So I'm 30 then
Last day of my Twenties
Not Much
Groan
Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon
Old Friends and Tom's Birthday
Chinatown and Cake
Social
Wednesday
Routy-toot-toot
Whisky, Jam, Cheese, etc
Sunday Dinner
We've Got the Internet!
End of the Working Week
Curry and Podcasts
Potatoes in their Jackets
Boxes but no Internet Connection

Another Long Day
[Thursday 29th March]
The team from the London office had been told we'd need to demo something in front of big management types on Friday afternoon, however the part of the system we're working on is completely non-user facing and there just isn't really much to look at. Still, given that part of the reason we'd been dragged over here was that we'd been deemed to be under performing I was determined we'd have at least something to show. So today I really broke my back, putting in about a 13 hour day, in order to create some visualisations of the data we were working with.

I just took a brief break for lunch and then dinner - at dinner time I drove over to the station to pick up Chie (on her way back from a day out), we stopped off at a pizza place to get something to eat, then I dropped her off at the hotel and went back to work. I stayed there until around 11 at which point the general fatigue was starting to make me hallucinate.

I really don't want to get into the habit of working these sorts of crazy long hours, but at the same time we've been threatened with having to come back to the US again at the end of April, and given how much I hate flying and business trips I'm hoping "busting my ass" this week might get us out of having to do that.
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Communication Difficulties and Non-Alcoholic Beer
[Wednesday 28th March]
Not much to report really. Slept well the previous night so got into the office "late" (i.e. 9AM) this morning.

In the evening there was a sort of team dinner at this Mexican place which I also took Chie along to. The food was quite nice, but I found it was a bit noisy and hard to hear what anyone was saying - maybe I was just a bit tired. It has occurred to me though that I have real communication difficulties in America - typically more a problem of me making myself understood rather than other people understanding me. The differences between American and British English are a lot bigger than you at first think. Even seemingly basic phrases like "over the road" are apparently strange and unfamiliar here (they always say "across the street").

Despite the apparent American slackness on the issue I was determined not to drink and drive. So I confined myself to a couple of non-alcoholic beers. Non-alcoholic beer appears to be very much maligned, but I have to say I actually quite liked it. It was cold, came in a beer-like bottle, tasted vaguely beery, and the first sip produced more or less the same "aaaahhh" reaction as a regular beer.
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A Long Day Culminating in a Burger
[Tuesday 27th March]
Surprisingly, jetlag wasn't up to it's usual tricks. As has often been discussed on this blog, usually the morning after a long flight I am guaranteed to wake up at 4AM and not be able to get back to sleep. This time however I managed to sleep right through until 5:30, when I probably could have slept a bit more had I put my mind to it, but I decided as I had a lot to do I should get up and go to work.

So I was in the office by just after 6 - and then didn't leave until almost seven in the evening. I did have a break for breakfast and lunch, but even once that is taken into account I put in a solid 12 hours today.

After leaving work I went to pick up Chie, and went out for dinner at a burger place I'd heard about. I felt like we ought to get the full American experience while we're were here.
[2 comments]

Off to California Again
[Monday 26th March]
So I flew London to San Francisco again today. Given how much I hate flying I was really not happy at the prospect, but it's just one of those things I suppose.

The flight was long and boring but just about bearable. Again owing to "issues" with the company travel policy I had to fly economy, which I was even less happy about. I did attempt at the airport to use my mileage to upgrade, but apparently I would have needed to pay out some cash first to adjust the booking class for my ticket before it would be eligible for a mileage upgrade. Apparently this would cost 400 quid on top of the 10,000 miles - one way. Slightly ironically a little later on I was approached by a member of airline staff, completely unrelated to my earlier enquiry as far as I could tell, and told there was a spare seat in premium economy which I could upgrade to, for cash alone, for about 400 quid. I am beginning to wonder if air miles aren't just a complete waste of time.

Having said that, apparently once I have an economy ticket in that fictional booking class which no-one would ever actually pay for up front, I could then upgrade all the way to Upper Class for 30,000 miles (on the way out I was just a few short) so I may consider that on the way back. Whilst on Virgin flights Premium Economy is better, it's not 400 quid of my own money better. I've never experienced Upper Class, but I have a feeling that might be a better use of the 400 quid.

Anyway, I landed in SF around 2, but was waylaid at immigration for a while owing to some problem with my fingerprints. Those little holding rooms at immigration are exactly as you'd expect them to be - a Russian guy who couldn't speak any English, an Indian guy who was being given a hard time because he wanted to visit his brother, etc etc. Anyway I just sat and waited for what seemed like ages and in the end was called up and handed my passport back without any awkward questions. I guess it was just a problem with their system or something.

Chie had arrived before me, and it was really nice to walk through those arrivals and see her. It's been a long running thing of mine - most of the time I fly it is by myself, and there's almost never anyone to meet me the other end which is always a bit sad.

From there we picked up our hire car and I drove straight to the office. By that time it was already the end of the working day, so I didn't really do much apart from a few emails, and a round of saying hello to people. Chie and I got a quick dinner at the office (one of the nice perks of the company) before heading back to our hotel where I basically just fell asleep as soon as we'd checked in.
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Luggage
[Sunday 25th March]
Did a spot of shopping again this afternoon - I decided I finally ought to get some more plane suitable luggage. Whilst I stopped short of buying an actual suitcase (far too grown up) I did get a sort of hold-all with wheels, which almost amounts to the same thing.

Didn't really want to get any food in as we'd both be flying of to California the following day, and it would inevitably go to waste... So instead we ordered in pizza. As a rather unusual side order, Chie made cauliflower with umeboshi (Japanese salty pickled plums) which sounds a bit odd but was surprisingly really nice.
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New Phone
[Saturday 24th March]
Having put up with a somewhat outdated mobile phone in the couple of months since returning to the UK, today I finally decided it was time to put it to rest and get something a bit more 21st century.

One of the main motivating factors was to get something Triband so I could use it in the US. While I was at it I thought it would be nice to have something that would give me the opportunity to use the web now and again. I went for a Nokia 5300, and stuck with T-Mobile with the hope of keeping my original number. T-Mobile also seem to have a quite reasonably priced deal for mobile internet access - to start with you pay per kilobyte downloaded, but it is capped at a sensible one pound per day. This suited me perfectly - I didn't have to pay for it at all on days when I didn't use it, but on those days where I did need it I wouldn't have to worry about running up a huge bill. A surprising bit of common sense pricing from a mobile phone company!

Other than that not much to report really - made a lasagne for dinner which was very nice and prompted both of us to overeat horribly.
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Vidalia Chop Wizard
[Friday 23rd March]
Not a very productive day at work, probably I'm too old for going out on a school night now! Oh well, have put in a lot of overtime the rest of this week so I suppose it can be forgiven.

For rather complicated reasons, which I probably can't explain here because of my NDA, I was given a kitchen gadget at work a while back. It's a Vidalia Chop Wizard - I find the video advert on the website bizarrely entertaining.

It's one of those sorts of kitchen miracle thingies that gets advertised on daytime TV (does anyone else remember the "Raptou"...?). It had stayed on my desk at the office for the last few weeks, but today I thought I finally ought to take it home. At the risk of sounding like I've got shares in the company, it does actually seem like quite a good idea. Tonight I wanted to eat sauteed potatoes, and it cut them up a treat. We also had some Quorn fillet thingies (with goat's cheese - nice touch) and good old broad beans with parsley sauce - very nice.

Oh, and look what I found on YouTube:



Go on, you know you want one.
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Historic Pubs
[Thursday 22nd March]
So a guy had come over from the US office just over a week ago to "sort us out", and today was his last night in town. Having experienced the sheer banality and dreariness of business trips several times myself, I had made a bit of an effort to help make at least one or two of his evenings pass slightly less drearily. So tonight I had planned for a bit of an historic pub crawl. Similarly to yesterday it seemed everyone on the team couldn't make it for one reason or other, so it ended up just me and the guy from the US.

We went to many of my old favourites, including The Blackfriars, The Old Bank of England, The Seven Stars, The Cittie of Yorke and Ye Olde Mitre. Oh and as an additional bit of a treat we ate at Matsuri High Holborn. On the expensive side, but I rather liked it.
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Not in Switzerland... at all
[Wednesday 21st March]
There was a conference on in Switzerland this week, which me and the rest of the guys on my team were originally planning to attend. However we didn't go - whilst the powers that be at the US office didn't come right out and say we shouldn't go, they strongly implied it would be much appreciated if we didn't etc etc... One guy was over from the US office this week (and some of last) and partly to compensate the plan was to take us out to a Swiss restaurant - my old favourite St. Moritz*. However, it turned out everyone on the team couldn't make it for one reason or another so we didn't go there either.

Yes, today was probably the least Swiss day I've ever experienced. Not even so much as a faint and distant yodel.


* incidentally I rather like this website - it emanates cheese, both figuratively and literally.
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Gratin
[Tuesday 20th March]
Chie made a very nice potato and cauliflower gratin for dinner tonight. The cheese sauce was just lovely.

Oh and we probably watched some episodes of The Mighty Boosh.

Other than that nothing much to report.
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Monday
[Monday 19th March]
Am writing a few days hence and don't really remember what happened today. I think Chie made curry for dinner, and we may well have watched some episodes of The Mighty Boosh. Oh and I think I spent some time working on the Maison blog scripts, to try and clean up some of the spam comments we've been getting...
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Aftermath
[Sunday 18th March]
Hey, guess what I spent today doing? Yes, that's right, being hungover!

It wasn't the worst I've ever had, but given that the previous evening had culminated in me falling asleep on the sofa, fully clothed and at a funny angle, I wasn't exactly bright and breezy by the time this morning came around. In fact I spent most of the day slobbing around the flat, and had a good long nap for a while in the afternoon.

In a strange way it was actually quite nice though. Yea, I felt a bit crap, but I didn't have anything particular I needed to be doing so I could just wallow in it.

Lunch was a cooked breakfast (yea I spot the error there too), made by Chie, which I initially found a little difficult to get down, but I think it was a big help.

For dinner I decided I should cook, so as not to appear to be a completely useless oaf, and I knocked up what I vaguely described as an Irish Stew, in an approximate homage to the fact it was St. Patrick's Day some time around now.

Oh and we watched a couple more episodes of The Mighty Boosh in the evening. Rob lent us the DVDs last weekend, and despite finding it too odd for words in places I am actully quite enjoying it.
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My 30th Birthday Party Thing
[Saturday 17th March]
Given that my birthday fell midweek, I had decided to postpone any serious celebrations until the following weekend (a sign of getting old in itself - gone are the days of heavy drinking on a school night!).

The main thing I had a hankering for was a bit of a sing song, so I first booked a couple of hours at a karaoke place in London, and then planned the rest of the day around that. It turned out that karaoke place only had a free room between 5-7, and so I determined what was needed was a chance to have a pleasant few drinks first, and then somewhere to go for dinner afterwards.

So for the before-the-karaoke bit I decided it would be nice to have a sort of picnic on Primrose Hill. Not sure if picnic is entirely the right word, as we didn't really eat anything - as Chie and I got there around lunch time we had a bit of bread and cheese, but everyone else turned up later and just stuck to the wine. Anyway, it was very pleasant, and I nice kick off to the evening's proceedings.

From Primrose Hill, we took a couple of cabs back down into the city centre - this was great as I was able to get in the second taxi and proclaim simply "follow that cab". Marvelous.

The karaoke was very much the main event, and was a lot of fun. Or at least I had at lot of fun, I assume everyone else did too but maybe they were just humouring me! Having done a brief review on the web, I'd plumped for a place called Lucky Voice. Clearly karaoke places in London are not quite up to the standard of Tokyo, but they were having a good go at recreating that atmosphere at least. I particularly liked the "Thirsty" button - slightly reminiscent of the little button you have on planes to call the flight attendant, but without the sense of worry that if you press it too often you'll get offloaded.

From there we went on to dinner at Royal China on Baker Street. I have to admit this was a bit of a blur, but my camera informs me I had a really fun time with the lazy susan. Which must have been nice.

Finally a few of us went for one last drink to a bar called The Social near Oxford Circus. Again, a bit of a blur really, but presumably we had fun there as well.

So all in all a fun evening. There was a good turnout too - we were 8 in total - me, Chie, Rob, Kate, Simon, Vanessa, Leon and Yukari. I couldn't help but observing how grown up that was - everyone came in couples, and most of us were married. Having said that, I don't think I was any better behaved than I was on my 20th birthday, but whether that is a triumph over getting old, or a sad reflection on my inability to grow up, is a matter of opinion!
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Friday
[Friday 16th March]
Nothing much happened today. Usual Friday at work, although as a nice break from the norm Chie came in for lunch. Had the usual beer and pizza at the end of the day. Back at home Chie made okonomiyaki for dinner.

That's it really.
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So I'm 30 then
[Thursday 15th March]
Thirty years ago today my mother very helpfully gave birth to me. Arguably this has been a significant contributing factor in all the accomplishments of my life ever since.

Thanks Mum!

As discussed in yesterday's post, turning 30 comes with mixed feelings, as I'm sure it does for most people. Still, as I write I'm inclined to be positive about the whole thing. I guess I've done OK so far. Before I turned 30 I managed to get that bloody PhD out of the way, I got married, worked for two of the (apparently) best companies in the world to work for, and managed to achieve a state of relative financial security (well I'm not in any debt at least!). Maybe life might not be quite as care free and fun over the next decade, but at least I can feel like I've achieved something whilst having all that fun over the past decade. Realistically I don't really have a whole lot more to achieve now - so you'd have thought that would actually leave more room for fun over the next ten years.

Despite it being my birthday I did a really good day's work today - I got in at 8, and worked really solidly through until 6, when I let myself call it a day so I could go and meet Chie for dinner.

Chie had found a place for us to go and have dinner - a vegetarian restaurant in Soho called Mildred's. I have to admit to always having a bit of sceptisicism about vegetarian restaurants - they always seem to be wound up in "healthy eating" which is just not my sort of thing. Despite being vegetarian, I really like rich hearty sort of food, not the beansprout and chickpea salad school of vegetarian cooking. Whilst this place did seem to have a couple of things like that on the menu, they also had a thoroughly excellent porcini and ale pie, which was deliciously rich, and came with some very satisfying no-nonsense chips. Just my sort of thing. Plus as it was my birthday and I'm now stinking rich it seemed only appropriate to have a bottle of champagne with it.

We rounded off the evening at the whisky club - just a couple of wee drams. A splendid night out.

Oh one other thing to report from today - I got this email at work today, apparently there's another guy at my company also called John Hawkins. This I wasn't all that surprised about, as it is a reasonable sized international company, and both John and Hawkins are relatively common names. The surprising thing, however, was that it turns out today was his birthday as well! So what are the chances...?

So let me conclude by saying, to that very exclusive group of John Hawkinses who were born on March 15th, Happy Birthday!
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Last day of my Twenties
[Wednesday 14th March]
So today was the day before my 30th birthday - my last day of being a twenty something. I have swung from one extreme to the other on this issue - from the standard "well it's just a number", to the slightly more pessimistic "it's all downhill from here". Still, either way, getting older is just inevitable I suppose.

As for the day itself, the US office had sent a guy over at very short notice, which had raised a certain amount of alarm (with me at least) especially given that my team at the London office was scheduled to be going out to the US the week after the next. Having been left with a vaccuum of information to try and come up with my own explanation as to why the guy needed to come over, I had developed visions of being fired dramatically and so on. This of course didn't actually happen.

It seems there had just been something of a disconnect between how much the US office was panicking about this project (apparently it's a real big deal in terms of future expansion of the company, etc etc) and how relatively laid back we were about the whole thing over here in the UK. That's not to say we haven't been working - I think we've made great progress - but somehow I suppose we just hadn't communicated what we'd done all that well, and thus the emergency measures of sending someone to sort it all out.

So, in the end a storm in a teacup really.

Having experienced the general misery of business trips a number of times myself, I had a certain amount of sympathy for the poor guy who had been sent over here, and so thought at the very least we should make sure he had something to do in the evenings while he was here. The rest of my team somehow all vanished by the time the issue of dinner came up, so it was down to me to entertain our guest. We went to an Indian restaurant - not the most imaginative of nights out, but hopefully this was slightly better for him than dining alone.
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Not Much
[Tuesday 13th March]
Really not much at all to report. Chie made a sort of noodley dinner, the highlight of which being this wonderful new invention she has knocked up - kind of roasted mushrooms coated in the stuff they use in Japan for kara-age (deep fried chicken). Tres bon.
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Groan
[Monday 12th March]
Found the day at work pretty stressful, not really sure why, possibly just general Monday syndrome.

It is looking like I'm going to have to go to California again quite soon - possibly the last week of March. Groan.

The evening was really quite dull as well - in the absence of a TV Chie and I have fallen into the habit of spending the evening tapping away on our respective computers... and after a while I just decided I was bored of the Internet.
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Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon
[Sunday 11th March]
We'd stayed the previous night at Rob and Kate's flat in Reading, and as we had no particular plans we hung around today for a bit. The four of us went for a very nice relaxed lunch at good old Cafe Iguana - I think their all-day breakfast was possibly even better than I remembered it. After that we went to a pub for a couple of lazy Sunday afternoon drinks, before eventually heading back to London towards the end of the afternoon.

The evening was pretty uneventful really - we rather lazily bought ready meal type food at Marks and Spencers on the way back (I have to admit to being mildly addicted to their potato gratin), and other than that didn't do very much really.
[6 comments]

Old Friends and Tom's Birthday
[Saturday 10th March]
Saw lots of old friends today which was great.

First off, Simon and Vanessa happened to be in London, so we met up in Hyde Park, and the four of us went for lunch together which was jolly nice. This also worked out rather well as our next engagement for the day was in the Reading area, and so we could get a lift with them on their way back towards the end of the afternoon.

The timing all went very well indeed - we'd arranged to be at Rob and Kate's at 7, who were then going to take us on to the venue (the Angel in Woolhampton) for the must-be-there-by-7:30 deadline. Both of these timing constraints were met rather perfectly.

Tom turned up just before 8, and whilst it was a surprise, it was a very grown up sort of a surprise (i.e. without party poppers or jumping out from behind sofas) but he seemed very pleased nonetheless.

The evening was a very civilised affair - I guess we're all getting old!

Anyway, it was great to catch up with Tom and Sarah (and Rob and Kate) again.
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Chinatown and Cake
[Friday 9th March]
I fancied Chinese food tonight, so after work I popped back home to pick up Chie, and we headed off to Chinatown together. We ended up going to the usual place - New World - and had dinner there with some nice hot sake. For dessert we went round to a nearby cafe Chie rather liked - Maison Bertaux (top points for any name involving Maison), and had a very civilised slice of cake and cup of tea each.

A nice evening out.
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Social
[Thursday 8th March]
I felt like going out this evening, having become concerned that we're spending a lot of time just staying in our flat and not really taking advantage of the fact that we're living in London. It's a strange kind of irony - our flat is expensive because of the location, but to take advantage of that we've actually got to not be in it.

So after a quick dinner (very nice spaghetti bolognese Chie knocked up) we headed into the centre of London. I had initially got a vague idea to try and find some form of Japanese bar, but that didn't really work out so in the end we went back to one of our old hangouts (well, a place we'd been to a few times a few years ago) - The Social. The downstairs bar had loud music which made me feel a bit old and boring, but the upstairs bar was very pleasant.

It was nice to get out and about a bit for the evening - I think we possibly enjoyed wandering around London's vibrant steets as much as we did the bar itself.
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Wednesday
[Wednesday 7th March]
Not very eventful. Chie made dinner, some vegetable pies with broccoli and parsely sauce which was very pleasant.
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Routy-toot-toot
[Tuesday 6th March]
Well the highlight of today was receiving a wireless router (blimey, I have no life anymore!). As instructed by Kev, I'd ordered a Netgear thingymajig. It is very nice indeed, and it is very satisfying to have hassle free and secure wireless Internet at the flat.

Of course, it now strikes me we've got this connection, with apparently no download restrictions, and it's being largely unused. So I need to find some other things to plug into the router now. Will hopefully get my Mac Mini back at some point in the not too distant future (currently its in storage) and then I can set that to doing various servery type tasks.

Chie made mediterranean food for dinner - halloumi, houmous, broad beans in tomato sauce etc. It was very nice.


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Whisky, Jam, Cheese, etc
[Monday 5th March]
A couple of old work friends (from the company before the previous one) were going to be in London today, so I'd planned to go out tonight, but in the end it didn't really work out.

I'd got myself in the mood for at least a bit of a night out though, so as a substitute I decided I'd pop over to the Whisky Society after work, and see what was on their latest bottling list. I had a very interesting selection of drams, with the surprise highlight being a jammy (yes, jammy!) Glencadam.

I didn't stay that long, and so was still back home in time for dinner. Chie made pancakes filled with a spinach and cheese sauce (very clever use of the leftover batter and some assorted odds and ends of cheese), which were very nice.
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Sunday Dinner
[Sunday 4th March]
Didn't really go anywhere today, personally I blame the novelty value of the new internet connection. Our only one brief outing was towards the end of the afternoon to go and buy some food for dinner.

Since we moved to Japan in the spring of 2005, I hadn't really had a proper English kitchen (i.e. one with an oven) I could call my own, so in all that time I hadn't really had the opportunity to do a proper Sunday dinner. Today felt like very much the right day to correct that.

It came out splendidly well - our new flat came with a really good new oven, which did the Yorkshire puddings perfectly (a particular surprise as I'd taken a very random approach to measuring the ingredients for the batter). It gave me a very solid and tangible feeling of "Ah, we're back in England" - and unlike many of the other points at which this same thought has occurred to me over the past few weeks, this time it was actually a positive sensation!
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We've Got the Internet!
[Saturday 3rd March]
So Virgin Media came good second time round, a nice young man came round this morning to do the cabling, and shortly after he left I was online and feeling quite jolly about the whole thing.

It turns out cable modems, despite having an Ethernet port, can only work with one computer at a time - I'd naively assumed I could just tack on a regular Ethernet hub and it would let me and Chie connect at the same time. That wasn't quite the case though apparently - I won't go into the intricacies of DHCP leases here, but basically it wasn't having any of it. So I determined we needed to buy a router. We headed out towards the end of the morning for a bit of a wander about, and to take a look at Tottenham Court Road.

We went a very roundabout way - going via Liverpool Street as there was a market on that Chie wanted to visit, and we also had a passable but over priced lunch at the Sausage and Mash place near Spitalfields Market. Their vegetarian sausages are not bad, but sorry, seven quid is too much for two moderately sized sausages, a less-than-generous serving of mash potato, and a splash of gravy.

I found Tottenham Court Road every bit as disappointing as I remembered it. As Chie put it, the scent in the air that you're going to be ripped off hits you immediately as you walk through the door of any of those shops. I'd thought they'd be at least trying to compete with Internet prices these days - I wonder how they stay in business. This was another thing I know I'm going to miss about Japan - there are plenty of shops there selling very reasonably priced electronic goods, and staff that inform you about products in a helpful manner, rather than trying to pin you down with the hard sell as soon as you walk in the door.

I'd seen one particular wireless router on the web for just under 40 quid, which came to about 45 quid once the shipping cost was added in. I thought I wouldn't mind paying a few pounds over that for the convenience of having it there and then, but the high street prices were more in the region of 70 quid. Perhaps my over priced lunch had put me in a miserly frame of mind, but I couldn't justify spending 25 pounds more for exactly the same product, just for the sake of having it a couple of days earlier.

So eventually we headed back to the flat, and I straight off ordered a router over the web. I was then concious we'd need to spend a couple of days sharing the connection somehow, so spent a frustrating couple of hours trying to sort this out. Windows ICS was just totally hopeless, and the Mac version was not perfect either, but I did eventually get something working this way - connecting the Mac to the cable modem, and then sharing the connection to Chie's Windows laptop via wireless. On the downside it seems it is actually impossible to use WEP when you're doing this, so I just had to satisfy myself with restricting connections to a mac address. I'm sure this is less than ideal security wise, but it's only a short term measure until the router arrives.
[3 comments]

End of the Working Week
[Friday 2nd March]
I left work "early" this evening - in the new job I seem to have quickly slipped into the bad habit of working fairly long hours. This week I've been in by or before 9 pretty much every day, and have often stayed until 7 or later. By tonight though I felt I'd done enough for the week, and so after our usual end-of-the-week all hands wrap-up meeting (which includes free beer and pizza!) I was out of the office bt around 6.

It was raining, and Chie very kindly offered to meet me somewhere half way with an umbrella so we could then go and do a spot of shopping. I decided to wait for her in a little pub I had spotted, which is roughly inbetween where I work and where the flat is. The pub turned out to be a bit of a disappointment - a bit cheap and nasty and very smokey, so as soon as Chie turned up I made a quick getaway.

We popped into our local Sainsbury's and got some bits and pieces for dinner - I decided to make a batch of vegetarian chilli, which clearly had to be accompanied with a few bottles of Sol (it would be rude not to). This came out rather well, although I had a sense of impending regret over the amount of Jalapeno that went in.
[2 comments]

Curry and Podcasts
[Thursday 1st March]
Chie made curry (of the Indian variety) for dinner, which was jolly nice.

I passed some of the evening with my iPod. If anyone is interested here's a brief rundown of some of the podcasts I subscribe to.

The Show with Ze Frank. I don't always know what he's going on about but do find something oddly engaging about this. Tonight I watched the one where he was doing an interview with that American pastor of "I'm about to whip somebody's ass" fame, which I found, well, oddly engaging.

Learn Japanese. I think I like this even more since coming back to the UK, as I find I actually quite miss the sound of Japanese being spoken regularly. It's particularly interesting to me because of all the Osaka dialect they use, rather than sticking to stuffy textbook Japanese.

Russell Brand. Yes, pretty much like everyone else and his dog in the UK. For better or worse though I do actually find these chaps quite funny.
[3 comments]

Potatoes in their Jackets
[Wednesday 28th February]
Not much to report - Chie made potatoes in their jackets (a euphemism of my Grandmother's) for dinner. She served these with grated cheddar and baked beans which was just delightfully British. Erm that's it really.
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Boxes but no Internet Connection
[Tuesday 27th February]
Two major events today - first of all the boxes we had shipped over from Japan arrived, which was jolly nice. Nippon Express had given us a half hour delivery window (why can't British companies ever manage that?) and whilst strictly speaking they were about 5 minutes beyond it, I had given them my address in a slightly confusing manner, so I am more than willing to forgive them for this minor transgression. The standard of service really was excellent, the delivery guy was Japanese, and behaved just like delivery men in Japan - he was super polite, took his shoes off before coming into our flat, and seemed quite happy to take the boxes to wherever we wanted them. Great.

The other event was a non event really - we didn't get out Internet connection as I'd hoped. That was a failure on the part of a British company then. I felt very let down, and I suspect Chie was secretly a bit smug about it. A definite score of Japan 1, England 0.

Trying to setup an internet connection has been something of a high priority activity for the new flat - over and above the telephone or the television. We seemed to broadly have two choices - the phone line / ADSL route or the cable broadband route. As the building was already wired up for cable I'd (perhaps ill advisedly) decided that might be quicker and easier.

NTL appear to have been recently subsumed into Virgin Media, which gave me some sense of optimisim for a turnaround in their famously bad customer service. I think I may have been a little too hopeful here. I'd phoned up and ordered broadband last Friday, and was told we would be using it by today. That didn't happen - instead yesterday we'd received a confusing letter saying our installation date was a day earlier than I'd been originally told, and they'd be coming to install it at, errr, midnight. That didn't seem right. Either way, Chie had been in pretty much constantly for the last couple of days, and no-one had been to try and install anything.

So I phoned up trying to work out what was going on, and it turns out they didn't have a clue either - I kept getting passed from department to department, each time having to explain my situation again in full, until eventually I got to a guy who told me he didn't know where to transfer me to any more. I kept getting told it wasn't the right deparment for my area, and "they couldn't get me up on the system". I couldn't help but wonder in this age of computers and networks why the area I was in should matter at all.

Eventually (the following day) it turned out there was a completely different number I was supposed to phone because of where I lived - why they couldn't just put something on "the system" to point customers to that number straight away after hearing their postcode I don't know.

Other than all that frustration, the only other news is that Chie bought some pots and pans, so for the first time I could cook us a proper meal at the flat, which was nice.
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