Gone to the other side

Those that know me won’t be all that surprised, but I’ve moved to New Zealand. Its all about a girl, you see. I probably don’t need to say any more than that. 🙂

New Zealand’s a pretty different place to London, so I’m going to see how it goes for a few months. I might find it a bit quiet after the Big Smoke, but I reckon the opportunity to own a house, with a garden, and a view over the bay, and the mountains only a few hours drive away, and everything else that’s great about NZ might be enough to convince me to stay.

I’m in Auckland – drop me a line if you’re here and fancy catching up for a beer.

Tuscany and Umbria

Last week I went to Italy on holiday to visit Florence, and the Tuscan countryside. Highlights were:

– Learning about renaissance art (including seeing a bunch of great sculptures in Florence)

– Strolling through Siena

– Experiencing some wonderful Tuscan views from places like Montalcino and Cortona

– Fitting in a stay with one of Kim’s friends at a vineyard in Umbria

The only downside was having to deal with the mad Italian drivers on the hair-breadth tuscan roads – speed limits, indicators and correct side-of-the-road all seem to be optional…

I’ve put some photos up here.

Bluffers Guide To Doing Wimbledon

Yesterday I made my first trip to the Wimbledon tennis championships. I had a fantastic time, without spending much money, so here’s my suggestions of how to enjoy it. 🙂

– Go on a day when the English football team are playing in an international tournament – the queue to get in will be about a quarter what it normally is

– Get off work early at 4 pm, get to Wimbledon after 5 pm so only pay 9 pounds to get in.

– Meet up with parent who has no. 1 Court tickets and wants to get home early to watch aforementioned football match

– Use these tickets to get into a show court and watch a terrific match where a French Open finalist struggles against unseeded opponent

– Drink Pimms

– Finally, sneak into Centre Court to watch the last 10 minutes of the day from 4th row back.

Step-in bindings are lame (but snowboarding's fun!)

After being hassled by some of my mates for the last couple of years, I’ve finally gone snowboarding for the first time. Not wanting to do things by halves, I’m in Whistler, near Vancouver, for a fortnight. Whistler is (apparently) one of the best snow resorts in the world – I’ve got nothing to compare it with since I’ve never been skiing either. The weather’s been great and the views are stunning.

I’ve just finished 3 days taking the Burton Learn to Ride course. Its a little pricey but was definitely worth it. The instructors were all knowledgable and friendly, and I was linking turns on my second day. The LTR board mentioned on the website didn’t make an appearance – I started out straight on a Burton Cruzer but that seemed friendly enough.

The problem with the learner board though happened to me at the end of day 2. My instructor that day was so impressed with our improvements (well, that’s what he said anyway) that we rode down the hill from the learning area. Just as I got into a blue run, my left foot ‘stepped-out’ of its binding. This left me accelerating down the hill on my back with my right foot flailing behind me still attached to the board. It was probably a comedy sight to behold but somewhat disconcerting for my 2nd day. Day 3 started with me ditching the step-in board and upgrading to a Burton Custom (with strap-in bindings) – a lot less forgiving but at least I felt more confident that both feet were going to going to remain in close proximity to the board.

Its been fun so far – I don’t think I’m going to be pulling off 540’s before I leave but you never know. 😉

Goodbye Boston, see you later America

5 Months ago I was sitting on a plane to Boston for my first extended stay out of the UK. Today I’m sitting on a plane going back home.

Its been a facinating summer. The United States has such a variety of attitudes, cultures and environments that its strange that its only 1 country. I’ve been to 5 US cities this summer – Boston, New York, Chicago, New Orleans and San Francisco. Boston has (as everyone told me before I came) a very european feel, yet there is an unmistakable north-eastern ‘no BS’ attitude about the place. It also has a commuter-city feel about it and there seems to be a conflict in attitude between this largely republican middle class cross-section of american life, and the massive liberal student populous that also inhabits the city for most of the year.

New York City could be London’s younger brother that has outperformed its sibling. It must be the most concentrated, cosmopolitan city on the planet. It is full of life, opinion and opportunity. 9/11 was obviously a tragedy, but I can understand why an enemy of the west would want to strike at New York since it is an arrogant city in some ways and also highly visible to the world, yet there is enough strength and hope there for it to have picked itself up and carried on unperturbed. There is no way I would ever want to grow old there, or bring up a family there, but I definitely hope to live in NYC for some period of my life.

Chicago has the feeling of someone who has been there, done that and is confident in their own abilities. It is an open, friendly and relaxed place that offers much to all walks of life. Chicago is one of those few world-class cities that I *could* imagine bringing up a family in (the only one I’ve been to apart from Chicago would be Auckland, New Zealand). Chicago will be on my ‘must-live-in’ list just as soon as I can come to the terms of living through a long, freezing winter. 🙂 (Oh, and how to cope with traffic problems even LA would be proud of…)

My visit to New Orleans was brief but surprising. After being in the 3 ultra-modern cities described above it was strange to visit NOLO and see how it had not rushed along with the rest of the country. New Orleans really shows up the embarrassment of riches that the US has with regards to culture. Its one of the smaller cities, yet it still has unique music, architecture and lifestyle that are worth experiencing. NYC has become a safer city for newcomers and tourists in recent times – I hope New Orleans manages find the resources to follow suit as it is a gem of a place.

San Francisco, and its bay area, is miles away from the east cost more than geographically. The arrogance and brashness that the world sees stereotypically in the US just doesn’t seem to fit out west. I don’t know whether its the fantastic amounts of sunshine Californians get but they definitely have a more relaxed view on life. The Bay Area’s geography is stunning and beats anything the UK has to offer.

But Boston’s where I’ve spent most of my time and I actually feel a little sad about leaving. Its a hard place to be by yourself, since its not a big city by ‘world’ standards, and for the most part I’ve felt quite alone being here. In the last few weeks though I’ve started appreciating it more (finding some good friends helped!) I think yesterday summed it up – there was a jazz festival in the ‘south end’ of the city that if it had been in London would have been packed out. But this was Boston so we could sit on some grass with plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the music, the sun and some good barbeque’d ribs. There was a large mix of people – from students to families, black and white. We walked back to one of my friend’s apartments (Boston’s small enough to do that) and then went to a couple of (very different) bars in the evening. It was an enjoyable, chilled day.

So the US is a place of extremes. There’s things I don’t like about it, including the overridingly right-wing and money-oriented politics of the country. But it has so much to offer in exchange including a richness of culture, and sense of opportunity, unrivalled in the world. I hope the US manages to reconcile its leadership in the world with some more humanity-based politics and then it really will deserve its place in history.

I hope to come back and live here again. 🙂

Settling back in London

I’ve now been back in London for a little over 3 weeks, living in a new flat about a mile north-west of Paddington (so about 5 minutes walk from Warwick Avenue on the Bakerloo line 🙂 ). Its great to be back and have the chance to catch up with everyone I’ve missed over the summer.

Its strange, but memories from America are already fading, I think mostly due to how busy I’ve been sorting everything out at home. I’m looking forward to going through photos of the summer to remind myself of all the places and people I was fortunate enough to see.

Across the Golden Gate

So the holiday rolls on (and I’m using my computer, I know, I know…) Wednesday we mooched around a bit, including going up Mount Hamilton on the eastern side of the valley. Unfortunately there was too much haze / smog to get a good view of below once we’d got to the top.

Thursday I took the scenic route from San Jose to San Francisco – up the 280 which sweeps through wooded foothills while you can watch the cloud creeping over the main valley side, then along the winding 92 to Half Moon Bay, then up Highway 1 along the precarious cliffside. Once in San Francisco I saw large lumps of Golden Gate Park (including the buffalo!), parts of the Presidio (check out the photo of me by the Golden Gate bridge here) and finally the Palace of Fine Arts (which is functionally pointless, but beatiful nevertheless!) Then I picked up one of my friends and we drove up to the Russian River area, about an hour and a half north of SF, where we’re staying for a few days. I like being on holiday. 🙂

Back in California

So after 3 1/2 years, I’ve returned to California for a holiday, and its great to be back. 🙂 I’d forgotten just how stunning the geography and climate are here.

Today was spent waking up in San Jose, then visiting Monteray and the adjacent spectacular 17 Mile Drive. During this trip the temperature varied between 60 and 90 degrees (15 and 32 degrees for the rest of us!), and that was all during the day without climbing to any kind of altitude.

California is so different to the east coast, where I’ve been living for the last 3 months, that it might as well be a different country. The buildings are different, the attitude is different, even the road signs are different (well actually, there aren’t any. Not any of any use that is. Not that I missed the on-ramp to the 101 or anything, nonono…)

Photos to come (eventually!)

MP3s & Album Art

I was walking to work this morning, scrolling through my iPod choosing what to listen to, and I thought “wouldn’t it be great if I could view by album cover, just like MusicMatch can”. I think it would be good since there’s some weird emotional association between the album art and the music itself.

Then I was checking my news feeds this morning when I got it in and saw Clutter which is kind of along the same lines.

All of which makes me think that if a lot of mp3 players (software and hardware) had the ability to show album covers then mp3’s would take off even more. I think this would also make packaging mp3’s as a sellable form more appealing. Certainly I’d start buying mp3 format rather than CD format.

If you bought your album in mp3 form with the album art, why stick to static pictures though? Why not have a little repeated film loop or something? Imagine the Sergeant Pepper cover where everyone on the front was moving around. Maybe the album art could change over time, or change based on the time of day (so the White Album would actually be the Black Album at night). That would be cool.