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Bad service in Luxembourg; it’s not just me!

*Humph. The pictures are missing*

I was pleased when my visitors recognised the “lack of warmth” one feels from Luxembourg’s retailers, particularly in Luxembourg Ville. It simply boggles the mind how rude they can be, not to mention their antiquated opening hours (like the bakery that closes at lunch time every day – I just don’t get it).

There was an editorial article in the local English language paper, the 352 (Lux’s country code) back in January which summed it up pretty well (top article on the left).

Then in this week’s issue there was a letter from an irate shopper, so I just had to blog it immediately. For some reason, I feel vindicated when I read these articles and letters. Our weekend visitor was surprised to discover that it wasn’t just me that felt this way (I can be pretty intolerant at times and like to rant from time to time).

Will they ever change? I’ve been here almost 6 years and it has got no better.

And don’t get me started on the roundabouts and drivers!

Barge & Nam visit

My good friend Barge and his wife Nam came to visit for a few days. Hamish was still poorly with his chesty cough and Lorraine was suffering too, both from her bronchitis and her lumbago.

On Saturday I went into town with Freya, Barge and Nam. First stop was Little Gym, where it was show day, which serendipitously meant that friends and family could come in with cameras and enjoy the fun. So Barge took camera duty and we had a lot of fun. 

Then we headed into town. I found out that the restaurant we were looking for had changed into a rather nice chocolaterie. We wound up in a Mexican restaurant so Freya could have chips and chicken nuggets and ice cream (with no chocolate) and then to the toy shop to see if we could find a bus. We did manage to find one and also a rather nice wooden fire engine. And, of course, I had to buy both.

Then it was back home via the supermarket for supplies so that Barge could make his delightful dahl and saag aloo. Hamish was really suffering and his breathing had us so concerned that we ended up taking him to the A&E. It turns out that he has croup, poor wee mite.

After dropping Nam off at the station on Sunday, Barge and I took Freya to Remich where we had some fun running around the bandstand, playing in the park and feeding the swans and ducks. We had some crêpes for lunch then headed into Germany for a random drive. We stopped at a random town while Freya was asleep in the back so that Barge could go for a smoke, but Freya woke up when we stopped and wanted to go for a walk. Thank goodness she did as the place turned out to be really quite something. It was called Saarburg and had a waterfall right in the middle of the town that used to spin a waterwheel for milling flour. It was such a shame that the whole family couldn’t have been there, but now we know where it is we’ll have to go back to visit the chocolate river.

All in all it was a really great weekend for me and Freya, but not so good for Lorraine and Hamish.

Bread


We visited some friends of ours last year and were intrigued with the bread making machine that they had. We tried some of the bread and were, quite honestly, blown away by how good it was.

The bread in Luxembourg is not really our cup of tea at all. It’s all so continental. My favourite bread back in the UK used to be the freshly baked farmhouse and granary loaves from Tesco.

So, we thought we would get one of them there bread machines ourselves and start bakin’ our own. A quick visit to the supermarket quickly revealed that bread makers are yet another example of where Luxembourg is trailing behind the UK in terms of what’s available (and, more importantly, what’s NOT). And this leads to another problem of being in Lux: online UK-based retailers that are unwilling to ship to other European countries. After much hunting we found one reseller that would ship, but they were out of stock of the model that we wanted. So we placed an order anyway and waited about a month before it arrived. But it was worth the wait.

Of course, there is no suitable flour in the supermarkets either – it needs strong flour – but luckily our favourite UK product shop has Hovis and Allinson flour (white, brown and wholemeal) and the right kind of yeast.

For a nice loaf, all it takes is:

Ingredients

1. A teaspoon of dried yeast
2. 400 g of flour
3. A teaspoon of salt
4. A tablespoon of sugar
5. A tablespoon of milk powder
6. 25 g of butter
7. 300 ml of water

Just dump that lot into the machine, switch it on and get a nice loaf within 2 hours. It also has a raisin and nut dispenser that you can fill with whatever you like and it drops it into the mix at the appropriate time. I like to put dried cranberries in, but Freya makes me pick them out again. It’s also nice with mixed seeds and pine nuts. You can also program it to have the loaf ready for 8 am, so you get up to the smell of freshly baked bread. Lovely.

Set the controls

We make a loaf pretty much every other day and wouldn’t be without it now.

Asset management

Lex’s post about photo management software got me thinking about that and I see it as an example of how digital asset management in general is changing.

Take iTunes as an example. It has a feature to allow it to manage your music for you, or you can do it manually. When I installed it for the first time back when I got my first iPod (a 1st gen 20 GB with an engraved message from my loving wife as a gift for our wedding in 2002!) I left the default setting which, at the time, was to allow iTunes to take care of the management side of things.

So, each CD I ripped was placed into a folder of iTunes’ choosing. After a while, I realised that iTunes’ idea of file management was not quite the same as mine, so I quickly disabled that feature and have since been taking care of it myself.

Right, so that’s the file management taken care of in terms of where and how it is stored on the hard disk. Next is the metadata. I can hit Ctrl + I to bring up the Get Info window in iTunes. From there I can adjust the tags as I please and it’s really easy to do. But, and here’s the kicker, this doesn’t amend the metadata of the files, rather it keeps all that info in an xml file. So, the xml file has to accompany the files, otherwise iTunes gets a bit shirty. And watch out if your xml file gets corrupted or you want do something like move your files. It took me a while to realise that the best thing to do was to map a drive letter for iTunes so that whatever changes are made to my system in the future, I know that all I need to do is map the letter I:/ on my system and iTunes is happy.

[update: I just tried amending the title field of an mp3 in iTunes and it seems that I was wrong; it does actually amend the file itself. Who knew?]

I prefer to use mp3tag to edit the metadata of my music files. It’s a fantastic program and is as easy to use as iTunes for editing tags.

And on the photo thing, once again, tagging is the feature that I’m looking for. And, again, it’s down to what takes care of the data management. Picasa is a great tool for managing photos, but is no good for tagging. Adobe Photoshop Album Starter is good for tagging, but is not quite as good as Picasa for photo editing and management. And, once again, from the limited time that I’ve used the Adobe one, it seems clear that it does not edit the files themselves, but probably uses an xml file in the same way that iTunes does.

And that’s what has got me thinking. Is it better to have the information embedded in the files themselves, or to use an iTunes/Adobe style of information management. I had always believed that the former method was the most effective, but I’m beginning to wonder now.

Gmail is a good example of how tagging can work. No longer do I need to have a strict hierarchical structure to store my e-mails to make them easy to find. I just add some tags, hit Archive and I’m done.

Desktop search (I use Copernic, but an old version as the latest would bring my XP system down) pretty much means that I no longer have to keep a tidy hierarchical system of filing. The metaphor of folders and files on the PC is, apparently, becoming obsolete. Rarely now do I hunt through many levels of folders to find content when all I need to is type some text into the Copernic box down on the task bar. I guess Vista will have desktop search integrated into the OS. And this affects bookmarks too: I don’t bookmark sites any more on my local system; I del.icio.us tag them.

But what do I do? Simply abandon my disciplined ways of storing files, emails, etc. and put my faith in tags and desktop search? I mean, at the end of the day, it’s all just 1s and 0s stored on a magnetic platter.

And how about those xml files? As I type, I’m watching iTag go through a directory of photos so I can tag them. It’s taking an unacceptably long time to create the thumbnails, but it might be worth it in the end as any tags I apply with that are actually written to the files (keywords in the IPTC tags). I just don’t know what I will use to take advantage of the tags in terms of filtering.

I’d be keen to hear what others think of tagging and the ways that digital asset management seems to be changing.

New Year Posy

I got these flowers on Hogmanay morning as a wee New Year gift to my girls.

I do plan to learn to use Photoshop this year. I have a great set of tutorial DVDs (the Total Training series for Photoshop CS2) and just need to find the time.

In any event, the flowers look very pretty in our living room.

 

Alone

It’s weird, but I expected to be feeling happy. My wife and two children went back to England this morning to visit the grandparents and to let me work solidly for the week and give me a fighting chance of meeting my deadline. I dropped them off at the station this morning and felt the tears begin to well up as I waved goodbye to my 2-year old as she stood by the train doors. She looked so sad.

I came home to an empty house and had actually been quite looking forward to the sense of freedom to do what I want. But, I’m now coming to realise that what I want is to be with my family, so I’m actually free to do anything else besides what I really want. And that’s what’s so weird.

Having children changes one’s life in ways that one can never really comprehend until one has children. Everyone says it’s a life-changing event, and pretty much no one would argue with that, but until it really happens, you just never really know. At least I didn’t.

It’s a right miserable day today, which does nothing to lift my spirits.

They are on a pretty long journey involving a train ride, a bus ride, a flight and then another flight (with baggage collection and check in between the two flights because it’s Ryanair). The second flight is about to leave and she hasn’t called. That just makes me feel more depressed. She forgot her mobile phone in the dash out the door this morning and I guess getting to a payphone with two kids and luggage is too difficult. I’ve already been to the post office to mail the phone and charger to her so that at least she’ll have it for the way back.

So this is only day 1 and I’m feeling dejected already. Maybe it will get easier as I get my head stuck back into my work again, and I’ve got some things lined up for the evenings to keep me from moping at home.

I’m a family man now, and I wouldn’t be anything else. I miss my family and hope that they’re having an okay trip. They were all tired and our 2-year old has a stinker of a cold. When she’s tired, she gets crabit and stops cooperating. And so, back to my work then with the the phone by my side. I guess I won’t hear from them now until they reach grandma’s. Sigh.

Translation in the morning

I went to bed last night at 8.30; I was feeling kind of low and too tired really to concentrate on anything. I switched on the TV to watch some drivel and, as soon as I saw Laurence Llewelyn Bowen’s coupon on the screen, I knew the best thing to do would be to switch it off and go to bed. At least then I’d wake up early and be able to get some work done, rather than wasting time just because it was too early to go to bed.

But did I wake up early? Nope. I got up just after 8 a.m. and immediately started feeling glum about how I’d overslept and how much work I could have done.

But now I’m sitting at my desk and have translated a paragraph. I’ve got my 16 oz Starbucks cup filled with Scottish Breakfast tea from Taylor’s of Harrogate and the sun is just starting to peep through the skylight window (a big deal in the attic office as it’s usually dark enough to require lights on for most of the day). Having had plenty of sleep, I can see that my translation output is pretty good. My thought processes are working well and I should manage, if I can stop blogging for long enough, to get through my quota for today before the lunch-time rush starts. I can’t really work in the afternoon as I’m downstairs watching Hamish.

So, best foot forward and all that as I delve into today’s quota. Wish me luck!

Merlin Mann & Getting Things Done

Merlin Mann of 43 Folders often participates in the various podcasts that I listen to (basically the twit.tv suite of “TWiTcasts”). I decided on Friday that I would check out Merlin’s own podcast, so I downloaded them all and listened to the first 18 episodes on my iPod as I did the weekly shopping on Saturday morning. And man, what a great bunch of podcasts!
First of all, you should know that Merlin has a wicked sense of humour, so there was no shortage of chuckling as I pushed my trolley around the supermarket.
Where it gets good and serious though is in much of his content. Merlin is a productivity guru and he talks a lot about getting things done (and Getting Things Done). The episode entitled It’s Just a Cup struck home, as did the one entitled The Richard Scarry Book of the Future, but the real ring-a-ding-dinger was The Perfect Apostrophe. These are about work practices and it was interesting to hear him describe my working method as if he had been sitting in the room watching me. By that, I mean the ridiculous amount of time I can spend preparing to work, rather than actually working. In The Perfect Apostrophe, he talks about how he spent three days preparing to start writing a book, ending up on a quest to find the exact typeface for the apostrophe used in the font for the O’Reilly logo.

 It was gratifying to hear that I’m not completely messed up though. I’m a translator by profession and the episode entitled First-time Sex & the Beauty of 1.0 also explained my working method, but this time from a positive perspective. This is about the idea of getting something out there, producing something, even though it might be utter rubbish and eventually be completely discarded. That’s the 1.0. That is how I deal with translation. I start by translating literally using what I call Russian English (basically English words and Russian word order). So when I get to the end, I’ve read the whole thing, thought about it some, done some research and am much better equipped to start from the beginning again with the experience I’ve gained. It’s a whole lot quicker than deliberating long and hard to get the perfect translation of each sentence.

In his later episodes, Merlin conducts a series of interviews with David Allen, author of Getting Things Done. I think I first hear about this book on a TWiTcast a while back; I’m not quite sure, but in any event I bought it on iTunes and tried to listen to it on a car journey one day. I found the style too dry and couldn’t really follow it. After listening to Merlin’s interviews (I’ve still got two to go), I tried again to listen to the book, but again found it too hard to get into. This might very well be down to the fact that I’d just spent the last hour or so listening to Merlin talking to David and was all tired out.

After spending some time today clearing my bills and what I refer to as my ‘admin’, I realised that, in my own way, I too am a GTD guy. I have a system that works and I only really get overwhelmed with my translation work when the deadline starts to loom (as it is now).


Translation wise, some of the technology that’s available now has made the process easy to breakdown. I use Wordfast, which is translation memory software that breaks the translation down into chunks. That helps to remove the scariness of having thousands and thousands of words still to go, eliminates any chance of missing bits out and, of course, gives you the power of memory and glossaries. I also have a spreadsheet into which I enter the daily work quota and it automatically updates to show me how much is left in percentage terms and how much I’ve done (which can be both encouraging and discouraging).

I do plan to listen again to the Getting Things Done book and see if I can get more involved with it. I do need to watch out that I don’t spend so much time learning about GTD and participating in discussions about it that I don’t actually get things done!

So, back to my translation. I’ve not done today’s quota yet!

My first blog entry… EVER!

So I’m a blogger now I guess. Although I suppose that having a blog does not make one a blogger. It is the act of blogging on a blog that makes one a blogger.

I’ve never done a blog before and, to be honest, am not sure about how it all works. I found my way to Vox after seeing Anil Dash of Six Apart on episode 36 of Cranky Geeks. It seems to have a nice interface with a similar feel to Backpack, which I love and is the only Web 2.0 service to which I have a paid subscription. (I do pay the $2 donation to Leo Laporte each month).

On the subject of Leo Laporte, I discovered podcasting about a year ago and it’s annoying that I don’t recall exactly how it came to my attention. I think that the first podcast I listened to was Steve Gibson’s Security Now podcast, co-hosted by Leo. It wasn’t long until I discovered TWiT and all the other TWiTcasts. The first TWiT I listened to was episode 24 (26 September 2005).

I guess I really discovered Vox on Inside the Net when Mena Trott of Six Apart was on there (episode 28), but I’m a bit slow to catch up with blogs and things.

Podcast Cover Art

I actually have my own podcast, called Wood & Steel and hosted at Big in Japan (which I also learned about on Inside the Net). I’ve only done three podcasts thus far, but plans are in the works. It’s going to be interviews of acoustic guitar players and builders. It’s available for subscription through iTunes and it should get off the ground in the new year when I finish translating the book I’m working on on Russian archaeology (currently 80% done of the first draft with 15000 words left to do by 15 December – yikes!)

I think it will be a lot of fun to keep this blog going and it will be useful for me to refer back to things. I’ll see how it goes.