Copthorne Hotel Slough-Windsor

The first nightIn my line of work I am occassionally given the opportunity to visit far larger players in the field of telecoms.

On this particular occassion I have the pleasure of making my second visit to Reasearch In Motion (RIM), in Slough. Research In Motion are the Canadian eggheads that turned a simple pager system into the technical wonder that is BlackBerry; the purpose of my visit is to top up my BlackBerry Enterprise Server training, now that BES 5.0.1 and BES Express have been released.

My last trip to Slough was much longer, over a weekend and with company. We stayed in Slough Travelodge last year, and whilst the amenities were basic, it had everything we needed: Bed, hot showers and a barkeep who came and had a chat if you sat in his bar.

This eveningSlough is not the most salubrious of places and last year’s visit was made all the better for friends in the area taking me out on random drive-by searches for booze and food. This year’s trip is too short for that kind of shenanigans and instead of the trusty budget travelodge, our awesome finance/accounts team have booked me into a hotel that is much closer to RIM’s UK head office (assuming that the Egham office isn’t the head office).

I am currently sat nostalgically listening to Megadeth in a room on the third floor of the Copthorne Hotel “Slough-Windsor”; a hotel that has both vexed me and given me hope of a good night’s sleep!

WindowMy earliest experience of hotels (as opposed to B&Bs) was at budget hotels in France. Sometimes, when my family and I traveled to France we would stay in £20 a night auto-hotels; no receptionist to hassle you, just a clean room accessed by credit card. I loved them at the time, something about the starched sheets and the smell of auto-exhaust.

trainingI still enjoy the Uk equivalent of booking a cheap advanced travelodge or premier inn so maybe I am preconditioned to rail against the pseudo-affluence of Copthorne. My initial experience has been less than great.

As I mentioned earlier, our awesome accounts team booked me the room. A week or so ago, well in advance the room was booked, paid for and a second night appended to account for my early arrival. On arrival I was surprised to learn that I had to check out the next morning and then check back in due to the system having initially allocated different rooms to me.

I spent the first night flustered, as I always do after a heavy period of travel. The shower on full heat was frosty, even by my Efreet-esque standards and the evening meal 1 of 9 possible permutations (2 of 3 courses with 3 choices for each) each of which being largely bland an unimaginative (I had the hotel equivalent of baxters soup followed by ‘oops with a few spinach leaves this evening). By this point I’ve added my new Mastercard Debit (replaces Switch/Maestro) to the room to cover sundries, so a couple of pints of wife-beater get added to my room’s tab and I go to bed.

Spackman's WayThat night I have the strangest night’s sleep that I have had in a long time; I was both restless and relaxed. I left the window open as best I can and the curtains parted just enough to let the sodium lights of urbanity filter through; I was up and atom at the crack of Gryphon dawn (opposite of Viper dawn, Gryphon dawn lies between 5 and 6 am).

I think that despite being a country boy, I have a soft spot for urbanity – I have no idea where from. As a youth in Linthwaite, I used to sit with my head out of my bedroom’s sash window and listen to the cars go by whilst staring into the shadows cast by the orange street lights.

So I arise hours before I had planned, leisurely shower (hot water this time) and then dry off before having a greasy, soggy breakfast that has probably undone the year’s efforts at the gym. I take the time to plan the best route to walk to RIM’s offices (10-15 minutes fast walk away) before eventually heading down to check out.

Ninja PleaseOn checking out I find that my room has not actually been paid for yet. A five minute argument and I depart, the room’s payment unresolved. I am staying a further two nights but the reception team can’t seem to make the connection. Needless to say, BES training takes priority over arguing with ESOL staff.

With great thanks to my work colleagues, the situation is resolved; funds provided for room payment and a more sensible receptionist has merged the room bookings so that I can pay Thursday. I still can’t help feeling that the situation could have been avoided by merging the bookings in the first place.

So as far as Copthorne is concerned – There We Are Then, Sorted!

  • The room is traveldoge standard, with a bit more leg room and a window that won’t stay open.
  • The shower is a pikey cracked affair that spews forth ice water any time after early evening.
  • The work desk has no nearby plugs and the TV stand (that holds the locked mini-bar) has more plugs than you would ever need – albeit too low to the work surface for the standard HTC charger.
  • There are so many mirrors in this room that eastern europeans would run out of the family sheets, were there a bereavement;
  • and finally, the room stinks of nicotine – depsite smoking being banned from the entire premises.

There are positives however:

  • The evening restaurant staff bend over backwards to help.  Even if you’re obviously out of place in the rich person’s restaurant (£30 a course – “We can give you a £15 discount with the meal tariff you have booked sir”).
  • The evening restaurant staff are actually wannabe care-home assistants who treat you like a beloved geriatric in need of comfort and beer.
  • There are no other positives.

Wife BeaterI did venture out this evening to look for nearby amenities.  There are none.

Actually there is a throatcutter 10 minutes walk away on “High Street” and a renowned titty bar called The Flags (I was warned about this place by a work colleague this very evening) which you pass on the way to the ‘cutter.

I am in two minds as to whether I would stay here again. They do organise trips to Legoland Windsor, which is nice, but then so do Travelodge. The only real benefit to my mind is that the place is within walking distance of RIM.

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Pseudo-Democracy #debill

Most people will have heard or read this morning about the passing of the Digital Economy Bill yesterday night.

The bill was passed 189 for and 47 against. That’s 236 MPs that could actually be bothered to drag themselves to parliament for the last day before the general election and represent their constituents. 236 out of 646.

I say “represent their constituents” but did they? I wrote to my MP raising my concerns at the bill. Not only didn’t she respond to the issues I raised but she is listed as one of the 189 MPs who voted “Aye”! I know she got my letter as I received confirmation of receipt in the post.

I’ve since wrote to her again, expressing my disappointment at her choice to rush the bill through without reasoned debate. I wasn’t going to vote for her replacement anyway but had I been a Labour supporter, I certainly wouldn’t be now.

In the aftermath of the bill’s passing, many people have commented on the potential problems the bill causes but there are positives to be claimed from all of this:

Jim Killock from The Open Rights Group have stated:

this is a huge victory for transparency

He has a very good point. In rushing through this bill, not only has the UK government highlighted that the system is broken in our pseudo-democratic state; but also we find that thousands of influential voters are now aware of the flaws. Jim Killock also says:

Thousands of people watched and commented on what would have, a few years ago, been a quiet, barely public event.

The entire third reading of the bill was documented and blogged; it makes for harrowing reading. Such an important bill rushed through by only a third of parliament; and it is there for all to see. This is what democracy means in the United Kingdom. An estimated 61 million people represented under pressure by 236 individuals, a quarter of whom will have been aware of the issues surrounding the bill, the rest just happily following the party whip.

So what does this mean for the future?

You can take part in online discussions as to what to do if you’re erroneously accused of copyright infringement.

With the general election looming you can find out if your MP actually cares enough to represent you. Mine did, although she didn’t represent my point of view. (The site linked to actually says she couldn’t bothered – but I have seen the list of MPs who voted for and against, and she is listed).  If your MP didn’t turn up then maybe you could ask them why?

You may not believe it but your vote counts. I strongly believe that our country needs political reform and at present there only seems to be the Liberal Democrats willing to push for that reform. The recent US elections were won on the basis of change and I feel that we could see real change in this country, if only people would get up and vote.

Take a look at online polls and register your own opinions, see how they compare to those of others.

Have a read of some of the more eloquent articles on the bill’s passing:

The Digital Economy Bill passed: The internet watched live as a handful of MPs ignored democracy in their attempts to control that they don’t understand.

The Digital Economy Bill: a nightmare of unintended consequences

And remember, the bill can still be passed back to parliament by the House of Lords.  It’s unlikely to happen but there is still a chance that whatever parliament we have after May 6th will have the opportunity to debate this properly.  The state the bill is in at present is a travesty; on so many levels is the bill flawed that it will need to be addressed by whoever takes power.

Church of Pfizer – 5 a Day Keeps the Pills Away

I was horrified to read this morning that:

Eating more fruit and vegetables has only a modest effect on protecting against cancer

As a Type 1 Diabetic, I’ve seen my fair share of dietitians and conducted my own research into the dietetic benefits of certain foodstuffs; when it comes to fruit & vegetables, cancer is the least of my worries.  There are so many other benefits to eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, that I think this is scaremongering media at its worst.

The story has got me thinking though.  Why release the study now when there are far more newsworthy events to report on?  I still don’t know what happened with the digital economy bill yesterday, for instance.

The headline itself has massively negative connotations; the link to everybody’s favourite medical nightmare, Cancer being the greatest part of it. The big C is guaranteed to stir butterflies in the belly of anyone and to be told that eating my “5 a Day” will not protect me from its ravenous clutches? Well, it makes me want to throw out the fruit bowl straight away. Some people (you can tell I have a low opinion of some people) will even misinterpret this as to think that eating “5 a Day” therefore gives you cancer!

I have to ask myself.  “Why put  a negative slant on eating fruit & vegetables?” Surely, the existence of other benefits mean that it is wholly irresponsible to be discouraging folk from eating a healthy diet?  Maybe that’s the point? Maybe the “5 a Day” message has begun to hit home and people are becoming healthier for it?  A healthy population may be good for the health service but where does it put the pharmaceuticals – the very people who fund this kind of research?

If more people are healthy then less people are worshiping at the altars of the Church of Pfizer. I’ve blogged about the Church of Pfizer before, that lofty conglomerate of pharmaceutical companies and scientific institutions whose word we take as gospel when it comes to scientific studies. Could this news be a way of making less people healthier? A drop in public health would certainly seem to increase the money spent on health care, and the pharmaceutical companies are the only ones who benefit there.

So what are the benefits of eating your “5 a Day”? If its not going to stop you dying of cancer, what will it do?

The NHS have this to say about your 5 a Day:

Fruit and vegetables are part of a balanced diet and can help us stay healthy…

… the health benefits of getting five 80g portions of fruit and vegetables every day.

They go onto give five reasons to get five portions

* Fruit and vegetables taste delicious and there’s so much variety to choose from.
* They’re a good source of vitamins and minerals, including folate, vitamin C and potassium.
* They’re an excellent source of dietary fibre, which helps maintain a healthy gut and prevent constipation and other digestion problems. A diet high in fibre can also reduce your risk of bowel cancer.
* They can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
* Fruit and vegetables contribute to a healthy and balanced diet.

Well the point regarding “some cancers” may be contested but the rest are fairly valid. Not being ones to side with the scientific wisdom given by the Church of Pfizer, the UK government are likely to stick to their guns on the overall benefits of eating your five a day, they collate more information on the benefits here.

It is worth adding that the UK is actually taking the World Health Organisation’s minimum recommendation of 400g per day.  Some countries actually advise their citizens to consume more!

The Other Ben Sugden

Sugden Coat of Arms

The Sugden Coat of Arms

I’ve recently taken an interest in SEO, Social Media and the like; this interest is encouraged by a work colleague but is probably fuelled by my recent blogging.

My interest in SEO has led me to take more of an interest in the back end statistics of this blog.  I already monitor the monthly statistics for my employer’s website. Every month I get a pdf detailing the various search engine terms used to find our website; these are drilled down to specific search engines and countries, which is nice.

The WordPress statistics are much more concise but just as interesting. For instance, the “Top Searches” leading to my blog at the moment are:

i buy – killing joke – tim burgess, ben sugden computer games, dragon age origins mods xbox 360, i buy – tim burgess & killing joke, tim burgess i buy classic rock

“i buy – killing joke – tim burgess” has been the number one search since I blogged about the collaboration weeks ago.

What is noteworthy today is the new entry, at number two, of “ben sugden computer games”. Some people would be a little worried at the thought of people googling their gaming activity. I have no need to worry though, as I know the real reason; you see Ladies and Gentleman, I am not the only Ben Sugden in the world, nor in the United Kingdom.

I have long been aware of several other Ben Sugdens in the UK, some are even employed as techies. The greatest of these is a Ben Sugden who works for Lionhead Studios, famous for games like Fable and Black & White.

I first came across Ben in relation to Black & White 2; like most people my attention is instantly grabbed when I notice my name in print. What are the odds, two people named Ben Sugden who work as Software Developers? I’ve since been contacted by people wanting to get hold of Lionhead’s Ben Sugden and thinking that I am he, naturally i corrected them and pointed them in the right direction.

Since then I have looked into social networking sites like facebook and LinkedIn to see how many other Ben Sugdens I could find. I’d already been added to facebook by a Benjamin Sugden across the pond.

It is interesting to note that as I gather the links to embed in this post, I see that Ben Sugden from Lionhead is 3 degrees away from me. LinkedIn shows you if you know someone who knows someone you are looking for. A chap I worked with over a decade ago has somebody in his own contacts who has Ben Sugden in theirs. Fascinating!

Three results in LinkedIn, all techies by trade and nineteen results on facebook. A google search has my own facebook profile at number one, a 123people.co.uk listing for all of us at number two and my twitter at number three.

It used to be that I’d maybe show in the first page of google results due to forum posts or details of old LRP games; add Huddersfield to the criteria and I now dominate the first page. I suppose that this all shows that I’ve been unwittingly using SEO without realising it. All those forum posts and facebook friends must be upping my relevance to google.

I wish the other Ben Sugdens well of course, a part of me wonders what kind of people they are; do we share anything in common other than our names? Are we related, way back down the geneology tree? It seems a little too stalker-esque to actually contact them and ask though.

The Secret Sacred Well of Crosland Moor

Map to the Holy WellA friend of mine recently sent me a few interesting links regarding the possible existence of a “Holy Well” near to where we grew up together.  The possible location for this hallowed site at first lacked credibility; having spent our most formative years in the area, neither of us could credit the existence of a “Holy Well” on the steep carved embankments to the south of Manchester Road in Milnsbridge, West Yorkshire.

The posts on The Modern Antiquarian and The Megalithic Portal tell of a recent history, a generation before my own; local children visiting the well to fetch water during the drought in the seventies and children a generation earlier drinking the “fresh” well water after playing sports.

View from Manchester Road

Looking up, towards the well

After a few moments comparing the map my friend sent (top left) with both google maps and my memory of the area, I decide that I have a pretty good idea of where the well may be situated and make the suggestion that we make a quick venture out to the area.

Neither of us drive and so it was with much gratitude that my friend’s partner dropped is in the carpark of The Warren House, one of Britains many closed public houses; driven to dereliction by the recession, the ever increasing taxation of alcohol and the introduction of the smoking ban. To be fair, the pub may still be open – its appearance would hint otherwise.

The path from Park Road W

The path from Park Road W

A short walk from the carpark (best accessed when traveling from Cowersley lights towards Huddersfield) towards Park Road W (the main road that connects Milnsbridge with Crosland Moor). Turning right and up, Park Road W has a number of possible turnings right and towards the well.

We took the wrong turning at first but discovered our mistake on our return.

The correct turning is the first turning right, it looks like a path up towards somebody’s garage. If we had taken this path first, our journey would have been a lot quicker.

Our first path

Our first path was too high

We actually walked up through the local estates passing through a recreation ground and wandering the top of the hill.

There are a number of footpaths carved out in a stepped manner alongside the steep hillside.  The area is obviously popular with irresponsible dog owners and makes for an intersting walk, even without the added lure of a sacred well.

The area is known as “Holy Well Woods”, which is our primary clue to the well being “Holy”.  The nearest similar area to myself would be Holywell Green in Calderdale, the Holy Well in that area is not as hidden as this.

From the top

The stone box from above

We knew we were on the wrong track, despite being limited in our use of GPS by the rain; my HTC Touch Diamond is not great in drizzle.

Having walked two thirds or three quarters of the distance towards Deep Lane we turned back, scouring the hillside for signs of the well.

We have the well marked as being near the convergence of two footpaths but it turns out we have confused the paths on two different levels.

Closer to the box

Closer to the box, the path is easier from here

Finally we spotted a “stone box” down the hillside, it matched the estimated location of the well on our ordnance survey image.

It was relatively easy to forge a path down the steep decline, although this became slightly vertiginous once we reached the box.

The final section of our route is actually made up of stone steps, this gives us hope that we are on the right track for the well.

The box and the overflow

The box and the overflow, just visible in the undergrowth

The box itself was obviously once a water tank, possibly feeding the houses below.

Looking down the hillside we see a companion “tank” towards the foot of the hill. A rusted overflow pipe appears to project from one side of our tank, although it is hard to see, so overgrown is the area.

Graffiti

Inside the box

I cautiously investigate the tank’s ability to hold my weight; by which I mean that I clamber onto the stone slabs without regard for the possible fragility of the slabs or the 50 meter drop.

I make note of the rest of the box lying around the area, the inner graffiti possibly hinting that local youths have destroyed the tank over time. Quite chilling to think that the damage could have been carried out by youths who were older than me when the damage occured.

The Holy Well

Is this the Holy Well?

From here, we are sure we have the well.  The view down the hillside matches what we would expect from the images we have seen online.

We think the water tank must have been filled from the same wellspring as the “Holy Well”.

Sure enough, set back from the tank and into the hillside we find a circular hole, full of water and decaying bracken.

The area is overgrown but undoubtedly the same well as depicted in the posts on the links from The Modern Antiquarian and The Megalithic Portal.

The well and the tank

A view across the well to the tank

On our return from the site we have compared our images to those taken a few years prior.

We are confident we have the same site but we share the doubts of the original poster, insofar as we think there may well be another well or at least other outlest for the spring.

The walk back shows whole sunken tracts full of scorched vegetation.  Filled with  a variety of different kinds of rubbish, these tracts look like culling fields for old MFI furniture.

There are a few areas where we think we’ve found some other possibility but each turns out to be discarded stone or a collapsed wall.

Kids Today

Kids today huh? I remember when Graf was an art form!

The main problem with investigating the site is the level to which the site has declined. Walls have shifted, overgrowth has overrun the well and the whole area is plagued with fly tipping and graffiti.

I honestly don’t understand how half the junk gets there, it isn’t the most accessible place, it would be easier to take these things to the tip than haul them across the narrow footpaths.

We will make a return to the site, probably later into the Spring or early Summer.

At the very least we can dredge the humous from the well and clear some of the undergrowth back; after all it is supposedly a “Holy” well. As to how holy and in whose name, I have no idea but I like the idea of a holy well so close to villages with legends of Barghasts and Spectral Horsemen.

Lorien Trust Website

It has been a long time in the making and technically isn’t brand new but the Lorien Trust have a cracking new website.

I know that is still a work in progress, with online booking a possible future feature but for a work in progress the site is looking pretty good to me. There are full details on the rules and game mechanics as well as details on the game world itself. As an NPC for the Gryphon faction, I’m particularly proud of the section on the guilds and factions.

The site’s new forums went live yesterday, allowing existing and prospective a means of asking questions about the Lorien Trust system, its game mechanics and for people to get in touch with faction and guild leaders.

I’ve attended LT events for the last 10 years; the last decade has had its ups and downs but the recent changes to the system have shown me that the system is worth sticking with.