I couldn’t resist taking a short video of the very entertaining pedestrian crossings in KL.
When I looked out of the plane window and saw driving rain as we descended into Gatwick on Friday night, it felt a long, long, way from warm—t-shirt weather—sunshine we had enjoyed as we sat outside to eat a late lunch in Bordeaux.
The reason for the visit was a software workshop so most of the three days were spent cloistered inside a classic 1960s academic building at one of the city’s universities. On the last afternoon though I did get chance to wander around the stately low-traffic and pedestrianised centre admiring its classical 18th century sandstone buildings now listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. For such a picturesque town it was surprisingly functional: the ultra-modern tram system was efficient, although never less than moderately busy.
While the Bordeaux area is most famous for its wine, the city also seemed to cater those who liked shopping with what seemed like un-ending streets of shops. This is part of the historic Aquitaine region so I was sad not to have chance to visit the well-reviewed, and free, Musee d’Aquitaine. For dinner, the concept of an entire restaurant dedicated to cheese, Baud et Millet, and its 94 cheeses, could not be passed up. Despite its anglicised name, Italian owned Le Wine Bar also served up some tasty vittles of ham, cheese and local specialities.
This gallery contains 29 photos.
I remember leaving Kyoto thinking it distinctly un-charming but with the memories of hordes of tourists and tired feet receding, it is these highlights of the beautiful temples and zen gardens that force me to reconsider my previous opinion.
The HTC One V Android phone was recently added to the list of devices I am called upon to provide technical support for, and this weekend I had the chance to have a good play with it (i.e. its owner found it to be acting up and I had to help).
This is not meant to be a full review but rather a couple of observations, and a record of some “features” that lacked adequate documentation. Overall I found it to be a nicely put together piece of hardware with good ergonomics. On the software side the “pattern swipe unlock” requires less brain power to use than PIN, and gestures to switch between tabs in the web browser made multitasking on the web as easy as multitasking between apps.
On the negative side, the keyboard was awful. I have written entire blog posts on my iPhone keyboard of similar dimensions, yet could not enter a simple web search correctly first time on this one. A few Android users have recommend installing Swype, but that’s not available from the official App Store. It also turns out to be completely unnecessary as the HTC One comes with a built-in “trace keyboard” hidden away behind Settings -> Language and Keyboard -> HTC Sense Input -> Trace Keyboard which, in just a few minutes of testing, seemed much more useable.
General impressions aside, the reason I was called upon was because events added to the calendar application were not being synchronised to Google calendar on the web. This seemed odd, since synchronisation to Google’s services is supposed to be Android’s forte. The problem was that all new events were defaulting to a calendar called PC Sync, that was not synchronised anywhere, and no where did it seem possible to either change that default, or remove that calendar from the phone. Searching the web revealed only other people complaining of the same problem, and no solution—the cause though appears to be that HTC have replaced the default calendar application with one of their own that has this inexplicable and inexcusable “feature”. Fortunately there is now a workaround available—download the official Google calendar app from the App Store!
Fresh snow every day made for an awesome ski holiday, albeit we are now completely spoiled for future trips! The constant snow fall did mean poor visibility every day except the last, but the snow was so soft there was plenty to ski anyway.
The last day did gift us with photogenic blue skies and bright sunshine, which was just the icing on the cake as we explored off-piste areas with untracked waist-deep powder.
Val Thorens, at 2300m, is the highest ski resort in Europe. Part of the Three Valleys ski area, it also had a good party atmosphere—this was definitely a fun holiday. Low visibility and high winds meant we did not make it over to Meribel and the rest of the Three Valleys, but with snow this awesome we did not feel we missed out on anything!
This gallery contains 28 photos.
I wrote about our trip to the Japanese Alps in a post entitled Matsumoto. The altitude meant that the Autumn colour had arrived a little earlier than the other places we visited.
This week Internet photo sharing site Instagram made headlines for an apparent change in its terms and conditions that would, it was claimed, allow the site to sell users’ uploaded photographs without further compensation. A few days later it made an apparent u-turn.
In the midst of the storm of dis-proportionate rage and indignation, Never Mrgan makes the point that even if Instagram did claim the right to resell a photograph without compensating the owner1, properly licensed high quality professional photographs are better and of more certain provenance. I think broadly this is true, but online photography fora are also full of stories of traditional media outlets ripping off photographs from websites such as flickr (where copyright licence terms are clearly asserted) and then claiming ignorance of copyright law and/or offering only negligible compensation when challenged by the owner.
Since many people just click through terms and conditions without reading or understanding them, any publicity that increases public understanding as to how online services work and make money has to be a good thing. For many people finding themselves to have taken a highly sought after photograph, perhaps of some rare or newsworthy event, the fame brought by being properly credited as the owner will be sufficient. But the clear message here is that if you ever think you might be in possession of a photograph or video more valuable than five minutes of fame, be very careful where you post it.
Perhaps this week’s outrage is also a symptom of the division in Internet photograph sharing between those photographers who prefer niche sites such as flickr and 500px, and everyone else who uses Facebook. The first group know that Facebook’s ability to disseminate content through its social graph is far greater than the dissemination available on their preferred platforms and they had hoped Instagram would bridge that gap, providing the features they wanted with the distribution potential of a social network.
This was also a potential missed opportunity for Instagram. The aforementioned copyright thefts by large media companies happen because a copyright holder has pursue each infraction individually, usually against corporate legal departments. If Instagram were to start selling sub-licences to photographs but promised to return a portion of the money over some large threshold to the photographer2 then Instagram would be the platform of choice.
Kyoto receives a lot of good press but except for the magnificent monuments, I found it to be a rather charmless city. Getting between these islands of beauty also required using the city’s slow and overcrowded buses, or a long, dull walk. I am glad to have seen the sights of Kyoto, but I don’t think I would go back.
On emerging from the train station in Himeji it seemed that someone had obscured the view of the famous castle with an ugly modern tower building! A minute later we realised that the building was in fact the castle encased in scaffolding for a five year restoration. It was easy to imagine how impressive it would look normally! While the main castle is closed there is an alternative tourist attraction which takes visitors up a lift inside the scaffolding for an “egret’s eye view” of the outside of the castle—it’s pretty cool to be able to view the roof tiles and sculptures from above instead of below! There was also a lovely volunteer tour guide who gave us the full history of the castle and being a mostly clear day we had great views all the way to the Inland Sea. So while we could not visit the castle in the usual way it was definitely still worth the day trip to Himeji for a unique castle experience.
One liberating thing about having an unlimited rail pass is that when you find yourself at a loose end for half a day, you can look at a map and train timetable and go for a bit of an explore.
We decided this was an opportunity to step off the standard tourist track and visit the island of Shikoku, a place the guide book claimed many visitors overlook. The crossing from Honshu island is a huge bridge which afforded some lovely views of the Inland Sea and its islands—although we only realised this on the way back when we had no seats reserved as on the way out our allocated seats were on the lower deck of a double-decker carriage and we missed out!
Takamatsu had a “small city” feel to it, there were some tall buildings around the station but also enough open space that you felt they had plenty to spare. The main attraction is the Ritsurin-kōen garden, the largest in Japan at 750000 square metres. It was probably one of the best gardens we have seen so far, and also a very relaxing place to spend the afternoon after two busy days jostling with other tourists in Kyoto.
Returning to the station we had a walk by the pleasant harbour watching the sunset behind some of the islands. There was also a funky fountain that cycled through a set of different patterns, including what seemed to be a steam mode. But the views from the train on the return journey were excellent.
A little taste of the adventure of travelling in Japan. There’s just enough English on this card in our hotel room to make me believe that I can dial 3 and coffee will be delivered, and it will probably only cost me ¥380 (which is in no way outrageous for Japan). So what is the rest of it saying?!!! The “on and off time” thing is particularly intriguing…
After the frenetic pace of all-night Tokyo it was nice to get off the train in the peaceful highland city of Matsumoto. There were still plenty of bright lights and a couple of 24 hour shops but these seemed to be confined to the area near the station, and many of the bars and restaurants seemed so quiet (even for a Tuesday night) that I wondered how they survived. The Rough Guide provided a recommendation for an excellent tempura dinner washed down with sake at a small and friendly restaurant called Kura—one of the aforementioned places so quiet that we would never have ventured in without the book’s guidance.
Our main reason for visiting Matsumoto was to enjoy the mountain scenery in the Japan Alps and we duly had a very enjoyable day’s tramping at Kamikōchi. Some of the trees were beginning to turn from green to the bright fiery autumn red which really added to the beauty of the setting, although this area is so popular that the lower trails were quite crowded with groups of camera-toting pensioners.
A crowd would also be a feature of our visit to Matsumoto’s impressive 16th century donjon (castle). This time the group was a large number of very excitable and boisterous school children but our friendly volunteer tour guide took it all in his stride and insisted on taking photos of us together in each photogenic spot—is there anywhere else in the world where you find people willing to give excellent hour-long private tours in a foreign language for no recompense?! (Japan has no culture of tipping so it was completely free.) Next to the castle, and included in the admission price, is the small and a-little-bit quirky Matsumoto City Museum (also staffed by very friendly people) but sadly we had to catch a train so could not explore beyond a quick walk around the ground floor.
Matsumoto had been such a pleasant and friendly place that I was a tiny bit sad when we boarded the train to the renowned Kyoto for the next part of our adventure-holiday.