Monday, 29 April 2013

News from Nepal -

Asti arrived at Kathmandu airport at 5am hoping to get on her reserved 6:30am flight to Lukla. But she discovered there had been some inexplicable mix-up with her reservation and it turned out to be in her former-married name. Of course she had no documentation or ID in that name and it was heading toward disaster until she phoned her contact/friend in Namche Bazaar. A quick phone call from there to some Powers That Be and the difficulties eased and Asti was able to get on a flight to Lukla. Ah the pleasure of power.

The flight to Lukla is infamously difficult and dangerous and this one lived up to its bad reputation. The wind and weather conditions were so bad that right after Asti's flight landed, the airport was closed for the day.  But after its difficult start, the day started going really well. The helicopter was waiting and took Asti directly to Namche Bazaar. She said it was a great flight and she got some terrific photos she will post to the web as soon as she can.

So far, no altitude sickness this trip but she was prepared. She's acclimating to the altitude well.

Random notes
1. Doha airport is excellent! Great shopping! Smoking Lounges!
2. Breaking the flight in Doha is much better timing than in Mumbai. More even flight segment and saner departure and arrival hours.
3. The connectivity of the new iPad is awesome!
4. Picking up a new sim card in Kathmandu is a wise move.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Packing Done

So as I passed a sleepless night last night, my mind incessantly whirring and plannig, it dawned on me that I haven't had a vacation where I wasn't working 50% in friggin' years! So while I had been toying with the idea of maybe trekking in Mustang or doing some Annapurna Circuit, I've decided instead to just relax for once. Or at least try?

That's the theory anyway.

So I've got my guidebook out and have been referring to it. Checked the weather. And packed accordingly. It's getting fairly warm in the Kathmandu Valley and Pokhara with daytime highs hovering around 30C so I've packed shorts, shirts, sundresses and a swimming cozzie. Plus some warm layers for Namche where it gets as warm as 14C during the day but as soon as the sun gets behind the mountain the temperature plunges back to freezing.. And sunblock. Oh, and my whiskey of course. ;-) And my new 100 lumen head torch.

Will also pack the new iPad from Atlassian. It will com e in very hand because, while I will not be working I will still be job hunting. Indeed, I had a phone interview this morning and will follow it up next week with a video conference interview from Namche.

Gosh, this is sounding less and less relaxing.

Anyway, I've emailed my flight details to Norbu. Just waiting on confirmation back from him. We tried to call earlier but he had way too much background noise. And I've let Sushila know to expect me after all.

So that's pretty much it. Just charging all gadgets and getting ready to pack my technology drysack. And my first aid kit needs to be packed - it's ready but I can't tuck it away until after I take my steroids tonight.

Surely I must be forgetting something. This is too easy.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Bowing to the Inevitable

Well I guess I'm going to Nepal then as no contract has been offered to me. So I trotted off to the Post Office today to get my passport photos for my Nepali visa. I'm not going to bother getting the visa before I go but will rather get it at the airport when I land but what I will do is print out and fill in the form so I can run to the queue instead of filling it out  while the line grows long.

I've also laid in my supply of travel stuff like shampoo, conditioner, etc. and picked up my hair colour so I can freshen it up tomorrow. There's not really much else for me to do other than my laundry. As usual I'm only packing 3 sets of clothes for the mountain and 1 or 2 sundresses and flipflops for town. I picked up snickers bars last night and I've selected the whiskey for this trip. What else is there to do? This is feeling too easy or maybe I've just done this enough times now that I'm not stressing it?

Thursday, 18 April 2013

London Girl Geeks Dinner

So I went to the London Girl Geeks Dinner last night. It was held on the Google London Campus which seems to be some sort of space set up by Google as a startup incubator. I would be interested to learn a bit more about that but the focus last night was on the GGD.

Atlassian sponsored the food and drink last night and muggins here was the speaker. Not sure how it went as I wasn't allowed to use slides so instead I pulled out my bag of tricks and talked though the decision making process for which equipment I bring to run my team from remote locations. I was also utterly shattered from all of the running around I've been doing lately (ACCU conference in Bristol, etc.) and hadn't had any sleep the night before. Still, there were some excellent questions from the audience.

To cap it off, Atlassian presented me with an iPad so now I'm having enormous fun setting it up, installing applications, etc. This will definitely be better for running a project remotely. Don't get me wrong, the kindle was sufficient to get the job done BUT having a bigger screen makes it easier to run the management dashboard, it's easier to use the onscreen keyboard, the web browser is faster and more responsive and it's far more convenient to have the cellular connection built in rather than juggling a mifi or tethering via my phone (which is expensive, burns up phone battery and doesn't work with the iPhone/kindle combination).

There was a great deal of interest in the tech that I use, particularly the powerbars. Quite a few of the gals hadn't seen them before and my point was that they are enormously useful in everyday life, not just when in remote locations. It's always wise to have backup power. I also passed on the point that you have to be careful with li-on batteries and that it's best to have 2 spares and alternate using them - when we hear stories of li-on batteries melting down or blowing up it's usually because they have been used too soon after charging. You should have two that you alternate using so that they have time to sit after charging (tip of the hat to my baby bro Andrew for that info).

The USB dongle that I use for transferring data/files/photos from an SD Card to main machine was also a piece of kit that some hadn't seen before. I use it so that I'm not burning up battery on my camera or other peripheral when I want to transfer items. It's tiny and cost me the princely sum of ~£2.75 so definitely a worthwhile investment.

Another question from last night was "Why don't you use a satellite phone?". I have had this one before (actually, I may have to compile an FAQ) and it's a good question. After all, connectivity can be rather problematic and a satellite phone would certainly reduce the risk of not being able to connect to my team. The answer is, I would love to have/use a satphone but my budget prevents it. If some company like Garmin would like to donate one then that would be awesome but even then  that is just offsetting the cost of the basic equipment. The cost of actually using a satellite connection is still a major consideration.The cost of a phone that works well for both voice and data (as a satellite modem) including a minutes/data bundle would be ~£1500. Realistically the most cost-efficient thing would be to get a satphone sleeve adapter for my iPhone but between that and a bundle of minutes for voice we are still talking about £600-700. Either way we are talking about crazy money and as I pay for my own equipment, that's a big NO. If someone would like to sponsor/donate a satellite phone then this may change and I'm certainly willing to try this method of connectivity.

Anyway, many thanks to Atlassian for the iPad, it will almost certainly make managing my team easier. Now I just have to find a new team! Speaking of Atlassian, I will be at their London RoadTrip in Camden tonight. I'm looking forward to it as there are new versions of a bunch of their tools that have come out recently and I'm quite interested to see what has changed and what new functionality is available. Expect a report from me tomorrow although I am also heading up to the National Museum of Computing tomorrow so results of that visit may supersede tonights event.

Speaking of TNMOC, I have just downloaded and installed their smartphone app  which looks fun. It has a floorplan of the museum, highlights of the displays, events, etc. but I think they missed a trick in that there is no button to make a donation. Until that is rectified though, you can use the button to the right on this screen to make a donation to TNMOC. Don't hesitate, do it now. Remember that 100% of the funds that I raise go to the museum, I do not use my fundraising as a mechanism to subsidise my trips or the technology used on those trips.

Furthermore, I've just learned that the ground rent that the museum pay has been raised to £75,000/year so it's more important than ever that we reach in our pockets and help to preserve our computing heritage.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

New Tablet?

Atlassian - my corporate sponsor - have kindly offered to buy me a new tablet to help me with me Managing  From The Mountaintop. Any tablet I like. Which is tremendously kind of them.

The problem is - do I need a new tablet? And if so, which one do I go for?

I confess that the ability to includea sim in my tablet holds tremendous appeal as at the moment I have to use a mifi so 3G->WIFI from the tablet would be very convenient. But other than that what, if anything, do I need? For example, more real estate (bigger screen) would be great for running a management board and for  onscreen keyboard but a PITA for reading books.

I've also tried to think of any other kit I could possibly use but haven't been able to think of anything. The best I've been able to come up with is something like a tracking thing so people can follow me but even that isn't necessary when I have the right tablet/connectivity.

So, opinions please? iPad or Nexus or WTF?

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Music by Programmers

Quick Update on fundraising for Bletchley Park and The National Museum of Computing - Apr 23rd listening party for the Music By Programmers album (!

It's going to be small and intimate at a jolly spiffy pub nr Holborn. Every penny of the £20 ticket price goes directly to Bletchley Park for maths workshops and a programming club at TNMOC.

And every ticketholder will get a very limited edition CD with bonus tracks. We're only printing 100 of them.

Isles of Skye & Harris

My trip to the Isle of Skye turned into a bit of a fiasco and in retrospect I probably should have stayed home having only just returned from a week in New Orleans but I couldn't resist the romance of Scotland and so I was up at batshit-crazy-o-clock last Thursday to catch the 6:02am train from Greenwich. I had foolishly packed my North Face kitbag - the one without wheels, so had to carry that thing which became a bit much after a while. Lesson learned.

Anyway, Gatwick was dreadful. I can only assume that it was so busy because of the holiday weekend but it took me 32 minutes on the queue just to drop my bag!

But enough of those trivialities. The flight was fine, with me snoring and spluttering as I slept. On arrival at Inverness I liaised with the rest of the group but they were going to tour Inverness while I had Nigel picking me up for the drive to Skye. He'd driven up, spent a night at Glencoe and then met me. We stopped off to pick up supplies then headed to Skye, stopping off at Eilean Donan on the way.

We then headed toward the bridge that crosses over to Skye and made our way to Sligachan. Sligachan basically only has accommodation for hikers and, to be fair, it's an awesome location for a number of hikes up into the Cullins. Accommodation consists of a hotel or a bunkhouse or a campsite. We were a group of 9 with 7 in the hotel, 1 in the bunkhouse, and 1 camping. Unfortunately we only discovered on arrival that the campsite was not yet open so although one could camp there was no water, no toilets, and no showers. :-(

Slight disaster but it gets worse. Stick with the story.

So, next morning we assembled after breakfast for the 10 mile hike to Carbost to visit the Talisker Distillery.

The distillery tour was interesting. Of course I already knew the principles of distillation but the actual equipment is impressive. The tour cost £7 and included a £3 coupon for buying a bottle at the end of the tour plus a natty lapel pin. At the end of the tour we all got a generous dram of the 10 YO which went down a treat plus I had to help one of the other girls to drink hers which all set me up perfectly for hitting the distillery shop. At the shop they have a wide selection of whiskies, not just Talisker. I started tasting pretty much whatever they had an open bottle of so by the time I made my selection I was well on the way to getting hammered. :-)

In the end I think I was remarkably controlled, just buying 3 bottles. For tjose interested, my selections were the Talisker 18 YO because that can be hard to get hold of, the Talisker Storm as it was just released 3 weeks ago and again is a bit rare at the moment, and then a bottle of the Talisker Distillers Edition because I'm a huge fan of a sherry cask finish. All in all, I think I was remarkable restrained but wonder if I should have picked up a bottle of the 57 degrees.

Afterwards we repaired to the The Old Inn across the street for more drinks and dinner. Dinner was decent enough, the local ales were delightful but the real winner was the view of sunset in the mountains.

Needless to say, I got back to our hotel that night and fell asleep immediately. A marvellous day but unfortunately the next morning disaster struck. While I was having breakfast I let Nigel use my shower and apparently that just wasn't on. As I mopped up the last of my egg I got a text from him telling me that the owner had caught him and that he was being thrown off the campsite and I was being thrown out of the hotel.

On a holiday weekend when there are no other hotels or B&B's nearby and what few I had spotted the day before all showed No Vacancy signs. Nigel gallantly offered me his spare tent but it was getting down in the neighbourhood of -10C at night so I refused and instead we headed to Uig to catch the ferry to the Isle of Harris.

South Harris, as it turns out, is fairly dire. And we were stuck there until the 4pm sailing the following day. So we drove along the east coast "road", a narrow one land strip twisting among the rocky coast along a narrow causeway. Very stressful driving. In the end we cut across the south tip to Leverburgh where I booked into a sweet little B&B - Sorrel Cottage where the proprietress (Paula) graciously allowed Nigel to set up his tent on her lawn.

Having established a base of operations we then drove up to the next village along the west coast - Nprthton where we walked across the common grazing area and Nigel scoped out some possible locations for photography at sunset.

We then drove down to Rhodel to take a look at St. Clement's Church.

At this point I went of to The Anchorage for a rather indifferent dinner while Nigel went off to take some pics at sunset. I was uninspired by the light and the locations so just took one or two pics of the ferry to St. Kilda.

The next morning we continued along the west coast and discovered the beaches of the Sound of Taransay and got a few good shots.

I had fun playing with different effects so sorry about the large number of pics.

Not much more to tell really. We got the 4pm sailing back to Skye, I stayed in a hostel ::shudder::  in Portree so I would be sure to get my bus back to Inverness in the morning and then had a top notch dinner at The Granary on the village square. I suspect that, should I return to Skye, I will stay ion Portree as it's got loads of nice places to stay, restaurants, bars and artists galleries.

The next morning I caught the bus to Inverness at 9:10 and along the way we picked up the rest of the team at Sligachan. WARNING: It's a 3 hour trip between Portree and Inverness so be prepared!

Many thanks to Ray from 1000 Ft. Hikers for organising. Will I return to Skye? Maybe. I feel like I've barely explored it and I would also like to spend soem time exploring the work of local artists but I think that next time I will rent a car from Inverness and I certainly will not return to the hotel at Sligachan!