Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It is sNOw problem

Let me tell you what a great Tuesday I have had. It's been quietly epic and busy enough that I had no time to write this up until the early hours of Wednesday December 1st.

Things started off casually in that I did not have to get up before 05:00 to get to work. Instead I had a nice lie in bed till at least 08:30. Positive luxury.

Most of the morning was spent starting out on the enormous backlog of months of starred RSS articles stored in Google reader. Of the 500 plus technology articles I read a day at least 30 of them might require some practical investigation. For example, Oracle NLS, or DB2 Database verification. It was time to crank up various virtual machines and give it a try, and then when all was understood, store the results in my DokuWiki.

In the afternoon I thought I'd do some Swiss Tax planning. You may not know but Switzerland taxes your assets like bank savings, the value of your car(s) etc.. Example: You deposit 10K francs into an account and dont touch it for 5 years. Yes, for those 5 years you'll pay tax on that 10K asset. So if you have any bills to pay or loans to repay, process these before year end to reduce your "asset" tax bill. We had to pay well over 1000 CHF last year. It was not fun.

At regular intervals throughout the day the constant snow was being battled by a small army of snow clearing machines. I can see them on the street outside my study window. They were just about keeping things even. But by the evening the snow was starting to win.

So it was time to go out running in the snow. With the Salomon Speedcross 2 shoes firmly attached I had a lot of fun. I ran the few Km downhill to our local Swimming Pool.

After a long swim I popped in to look at a sick computer for a friend and then it was another really fun run back uphill to home.

The snow had settled on the roads and I passed an anxious BMW M3 driver. He had the sort of "At least I'm not driving a Mercedes" look about him, but he was certainly not happy.

I came back and did some surfing and joined the Fon network. I'll blog it when it arrives, but essentially a N series wireless router that also creates a public Wi-Fi network. Anybody else with a laptop or phone and a FON software client installed who is within the vicinity of my wifi can use it, and in return I can use any other FON user's wifi. Wonderful!

Meanwhile I also noticed that Dell have announced their Vostro V130 notebook. This might be a good (economical) replacement for Agata's 4 year old HP laptop.

As darkness fell it was time to go out to pickup Agata apres work, running of course! So close to midnight I put back on more running gear and ran to meet her at the tube station. It is so great running in the Snow. I think all runners (equipped with suitable shoes and thermals) should give it a go right away.

Hopefully the owners have other means of transport

Well not all it seems ... time to walk I think

Snowed in

The Princess is rescued

Time for bed!


Leaving Town

As the overbearing boss thundered down to his employee: "Pick a window, you are leaving". To all people in the process or changing their employment, careers, or life directions ...

Monday, November 29, 2010

More car Shopping

Despite having closely studied car specifications, videos, and read numerous articles we thought it was time to visit the local car showrooms to look at some cars in person. Even cars we felt were not compatible with our most basic requirements, that of

So with our credit cards safely at home, and our most rational brains engaged we set forth into Lausanne to face the overly smiling, flattering and polite demographic, that of the Swiss New Car Salesman.

Here are the comments so far:

In Switzerland 90K buys you a 2006, 997 Carerra 4S. 911 Swiss prices are remarkably resilient to change, which is great if you own one, and terrible if you'd like to buy one.

As you can see, in Credit Crunch UK you can get a car that is 4 years younger for the same money. It is absolutely unbelievable.

On the net there are many imported or tuned GT-R. here is the text from a sample:

! WARNING! EXCEPTIONAL VEHICLE!, You want to ride every day possible!, You want to ride on the racetrack, you can!, You want to ride as a family is the GTR! XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, It is equipped with approximately CHF 30 ' 000 .- accessories, with an output adjustable between 480 and 600CV!, Exhaust complete GTC GTC Admission and mapping, Cobb AccessPort, anti-roll bars COBB, Injector INJECTOR DYNAMICS, Actuators FORGE turbo, brake hoses ENDLESS, Tow Hook HKS, supplemental cooling box DODSON, Carter aluminum, thermostat and special filter DODSON, brake discs and pads special oils and bridges WILLALL box springs, special height adjustable, various other accessories, More Details on the spot! XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, A very special car for aficionado, a passionate performance and does not see every street corner! XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, This car was part of RTGs that had the recall campaign official NISSAN for engine change . Its engine has only 14'000km.

It's a tempting car but the rear seats dont fold and the price from Nissan for 4x(winter tyres + rims) was an extra 13,500 CHF. The new uprated model is of course due 1st quarter 2011, but I'm not sure the extra power will be noticed in CaptainSlow Switerland.

We sat in the A1 and were impressed by the beautiful detailing. The car is wonderfully small but underpowered (even if the 180 BHP 1.4 ltire engine arrives). Also it's quite possibly the only 2 wheel drive Audi. Since the S1 is a rumour and the RS1 is even further away, this is not going to work.

The Audi S3 was impressive in the flesh but does not really add anything to the current TT, except it's got more room in the boot and it too tall

We got chatting to a couple who were doing the final negotiations on their new X3 at the BMW showroom. Quite ironically due to the snow all test drives for this Saturday were cancelled. Hilarious!

Well I never knew that the 4 wheel drive BMW 3 series coupe cannot have a Dual Clutch gearbox. Unbelievable. Also I found out the car is actually wider than a Nissan GT-R.

The BMW salesman tried to be diplomatic as we eyed the beautifully compact BMW 135i with Dual Clutch. In the snow he stressed, you might choose to drive another car. I think that says it all about the rear wheel drive only, but otherwise beautiful car. And of course the forthcoming M 1 series will be no better.

We sat down with the Audi salesman as he made an on screen config of the TT RS, something we had already done at home several times. It is our perfect car!

The results were a 107K CHF car and this comes down to 98.5K after a 9.5K discount (not shown above). If you recall from an earlier but still totally accurate blog post. The TT RS price is 31% higher in Switzerland than in the UK despite VAT rates of 7.9 and 17.5% respectively. I still feel deeply insulted that Audi Switzerland wants me to pay such a high price even with their special offers and free servicing deals. Just drop the frikkin price ... please.

The BMW saloon (aka Sedan in US parlance) is available with Dual Clutch, and Four Wheel drive. But it has 4 doors and looks so ordinary I think I'd rather shoot myself than buy this car.

Well we looked at the R8, which was upstairs in the showroom. The keys were locked away in a safe so we could not open the front trunk to check the luggage space. On our budget we'd have to go far a 20K KM plus 2008 Automatic model. The 2007 model had gearbox issues.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Four Wheel Drive

Four Wheel Drive (4WD) for Cars. Well, of course why not?

Four wheel drive means the Engine drives all 4 wheels and not the more traditional rear two or front two. To me the advantages are many:

  • In conditions of adverse weather e.g. snow, ice, heavy rain you need all the traction you can get, even when driving carefully. If all 4 wheels are driven your survival chances are higher. The above picture from our balcony is the result of a single days moderate snowing!

  • Did you every try crossing a moderately muddy field in your car? In races we're sometimes asked to park in grassy fields. Calm power delivery, keeping the torque low, and four wheel drive get you out afterwards without drama

  • The relative factor: When you are out driving on a snowy mountain pass and if you see 2 wheel drivers shooting past you , you sort of feel, well if necessary you can put your foot down and keep up with traffic, you must have more traction and stability than them!

  • For a high(er) performance car the old and still pretty much valid rule is, significantly more than 100 BHP per driven wheel is asking for trouble! 4 wheel drive balances the power output, at the expense of course of additional weight and drivetrain complexity

    An overpowered rear wheel drive car is prone to wheelspin (which looks impressive but really means you'll need to replace your tyres if you keep doing it)

    An overpowered front wheel drive car is prone to torque-steer, whereby the car pulls to the left or right under hard acceleration

Once you have experienced the extra confidence that 4 wheel drive conveys to a driver it is difficult to turn back. Pick the sound combination of 4WD and winter tyres and your visit to the ski resort, a snowy town centre, or the snow covered driveway become just another drive and not a major headache

Swiss Motorway, the road is covered in Snow!

Even after the Snow ploughs have gone ahead signs warning signs abound

Our Driveway after 1 day of snow

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Is our Blood good enough

Agata and I decided that we should do our public Swiss duty and give some blood. We figured our blood might be good enough to enter the Swiss bloodbanks, but we found it was not so simple.

(We found the donation facility is less than 1Km away from us in Epalinge. We were ready to go)

Here are the rules:

Simple reasons which deny you from donating blood (length of Swiss Ban)
  • After dental treatment or dental hygiene (72 hours)
  • In case of illness with a fever over 38 ° C (2 weeks after recovery)
  • In case of labial herpes (up healing of injuries)
  • When taking antibiotics (2 weeks)
  • Before or after an operation (time varies depending on the operation)
  • After an episode of allergy as hay fever (2 weeks after symptoms disappear)
  • After vaccination (between 48 hours and 4 weeks, depending on the type of vaccination)
  • After a stay in a region ravaged by the West Nile virus (U.S., Canada) (4 weeks)
  • After a stay in the country at risk of malaria (mainly African, Caribbean and Asia) (6 months)
  • After tattooing, body piercing or permanent makeup (6 months)
  • After a gastroscopy or colonoscopy (within 6 months)
  • In case of pregnancy, one year after childbirth
  • If you have had sex even protected sex with a new partner (within 6 months)

Officially: If you require additional information about a situation potentially indicating cons-blood donation, please call this telephone number 0800 14 65 65

What are the major cons-definitive guidance to donate blood?
  • If you have received blood transfusions since 1980
  • If you stayed more than 6 months in total, between 1980 and 1996, England
  • In case of cardiovascular disease such as angina pectoris, myocardial infarction or coronary artery surgery.
  • If you have cancer or are cured from cancer (except certain skin cancers and cervical)
  • After any Transplantation of human or animal tissues
  • Any operation of the brain or spinal cord
  • During injection of illicit drugs intravenously
  • If you have had male to male sex after 1977

Question: Is it true that homosexuals can not donate blood?
Yes. More precisely, it refers to those men who have had sex with one or more male men since 1977. Epidemiological data show that the prevalence of HIV infection in the male homosexual population is active about 10 times higher than in the general population. This precautionary principle vis-à-vis recipients of blood products is similar to that applied to many groups that are also excluded from donating blood, as those who stayed in England between 1980 and 1996, or those with received transfusions of blood.

In Marcus's case he was in England for more than 6 months from 1980 to 1996 so he is excluded!


And the cupboard was bare

I could fairly claim that the above picture is in line with the line of austerity measures that we are implementing in our family based on the first day of my unemployment.

Except perhaps for the fact that we are still looking for an expensive replacement car. We've already looked at multiple cars but no car is all of: available, 4WD, Double Clutch Gearbox, Folding Rear Seats and not an Audi TT. Note that hatchback is preferable but not mandatory.

The next best alternative is being considered but a call to the Zurich dealer has revealed the cost of a set of winter tyres and alloy wheels will come in at a cool 13,500 CHF. [[car not included]]. Welcome to Switzerland as they say.

So we are going to give Audi one last chance this Saturday and see what kind of trade in they might offer on our beloved TT, the car that really does everything so well. The TT has been our sophisticated successor to our Honda CRX, which was recently sold for pennies and is still sorely missed.

We already made a checklist of all the Audi cars and their unsuitability. Audi dominates the shortlist since 4Wheel Drive and a Double Clutch Gearbox are pretty much non negotiable

A1: stylish but currently underpowered, S1/RS1 not even announced, unusually not 4WD

RS3 Sportback: Not available yet, looks like a sausage, 5 doors bad, will be grossly overpriced in CH

RS4: Seemingly not made any more, plus no DSG

RS5: Large and lumbering, uber expensive. Not as accomplished on the road and around corners as specs suggest. Does it all though, but in CH at a price over 130K CHF (aka over 80K GBP for a large saloon sir!)

TTRS: Our favourite car, but super overpriced in the Swiss market. Car does it all, gracefully and subtly.

Quattro: Still a concept i.e. no firm production, will be R8 pricey

R8 4.2: A bit pricey, especially in CH, not true DSG,no space even for a weekly shop, price rockets further when you select bespoke luggage, LED lights and fancy seats.


Tech Note:
If anybody knows of a Tyre/wheel supplier that can supply the following to Switzerland at sane prices, contact me immediately: Bridgestone Blizzak LM-25
Front 255/40ZRF20 97W, Rear 285/35ZRF20 100W. Front rims 20x9.5 offset 45mm, Rear rims 20x10.5 offset 25 mm

Friday, November 26, 2010

I knew that

Some say that one of the marks of maturity and even greatness is that you are not afraid to fail, or perhaps in my case broadcast a mistake.

This is an embarrassing story about Ethernet Cards. Non computer people can stop reading now.

When I rebuilt and consolidated our Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) computers into one I was eager to keep multiple dedicated 1 Gbit Ethernet adapters per environment.

Although most motherboards come with 2 Gigabit planar ports I thought another 4, on a separate PCI express card might be good. I designed ...

  • 1, 1Gbit port for the Backup Server(s) e.g. IBM Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) and Microsoft Windows Home Server (WHS)

  • 1, 1Gbit port for the SAP servers (e.g. 46 Legacy and CRM)

  • 1, 1Gbit port for the Webserver

  • 1, 1Gbit port as a spare for future expansion (Planned ESX environment as a child of the existing VMware based Virtualistation)

I noticed that most 4 port Ethernet, PCI Express cards are quite expensive, then I found the sensibly priced Supermicro AOC-UG-I4 card

In Switzerland you can buy it from internet.ch here

Now without cheating can you see what the problem is???

Here is the working replacement card, the Intel i340 Server Ethernet Card . You can get it from digitec.ch here

Now can you spot the critical difference! Well the Supermicro card has the bracket and Ethernet slots ON THE OTHER SIDE of the electronics. So when you plug it into a regular PCI express slot ( i.e. not a UIO slot which is designed to take this backwards adapters to save space) the bracket at the back does not align with the hole, thru which the Ethernet cables will pass, nor the hole to screw in the card.

So throwing caution to the wind for the last months I have place the Supermicro Card in the slot and held it against the back of the case with duct Tape! Then I saved up for the Intel card, and when I "tweaked" the VMware configuration this morning at 00:30 I caused a total system crash. I decided it was now time to make the hardware change.

2.5 hours later we are back up: In VMware Virtual Network Editor I made a change that caused the crash. On reboot, the logon screen is displayed but the keyboard and mouse are disabled! I found out that disconnecting the network card, then rebooting allowed the keyboard and mouse to work again. Then back into VMware and backout the Virtual Network change, close VMware, shutdown. Put back the new i340 card. Reboot. Start Webserver, start SAP. Now 03:00. Goto sleep.

Today is my last day at work and I have to get up at 04:50 anyway, so it's only just about worth it. Mind you it has been the first full night of snow, so it's going to be an exciting last day's drive


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Getting Naked for the TSA

In the land of the free, large and often obese , Wednesday November 24 was National Opt Out day.

In essence Americans are now to be so out of shape that the very thought of subjecting an underpaid operative of the Transportation and Security Agency (TSA) to well over 500 naked people daily via the Advanced Imaging Technology airport scanners was an unimaginable cruelty.

Passengers were therefore told to opt out and go for a grope fest search instead. Then I got to thinking.

How many times per week do friends get to look at me completely naked:

  • Every time I go to a Sauna

  • Every time I go to a Spa

  • Each morning when I go to the showers in the Gynasium

  • Every time I use the Public Swimming Baths

  • Any time I enter a Sports competition or Race

Overall it is certainly over 5 times per week. And wait, it is not just friends who get to look but perfect strangers of course since the above are at public facilities. And wait, they get to have a good look, not a Scanner picture, but a close up view. And sometimes they even come up and start up a conversation.

So really, get over it Airport prudes
, stand in the scanner and realise that the poor TSA operative is trying to keep you safe and for the 10 seconds or so when they are looking at you naked, well it's nothing personal, it is just their job.

Going Shopping

A Swiss friend admitted today that they were going to my home town (of London) to do some Christmas shopping.

This is both an obvious and great idea. In the last few years Brits have seen the exchange rate fall from 1 GBP = 2.4 CHF down to today 1 GBP = 1.57 CHF. In other words a change of 35%. So Swiss can get a bargain and help pull the UK retailers out of recession. It is surely a win-win situation.

Here are some suggestions. [[Of course these don't really work for us, because as we have said before, we already have everything]]

I would do the principal shopping at Westfield Shopping Centre which is just west of Notting Hill
  • Marks and Spencer biscuit bargains

  • Muji stationary e.g. wallets at the Whiteleys mall

  • WH Smith Magazines or books

  • Running shoes e.g. Asics Gel Kayano 17. You could save upto 50% on Swiss prices

  • Casual or Business Shoes

  • Nuts from Waitrose or Marks and Spencer

  • Homewares from Dwell or Habitat (and Marks and Spencer)
In this above list everything is available at Westfield. Assuming you would be wise enough to stay near Notting Hill, the other stores like Tesco, Muji and WholeFoods are in the vicinity.
  • Visit a Tesco or Waitrose supermarket and marvel at the choice, quality and prices. Boxes of Twinings tea make fine an unusual (for Switzerland) presents.

  • For an amazing fresh food visit Wholefoods Kensington

  • For the best sport stores consider Kensington High Street (though Westfield has the same names with almost as good a selection)

Other Tips
Buy an Oyster travelcard so you can travel on the underground or bus without having to get money out. You simply go to the ticket counter, ask for the card then put some money (e.g. 20 GBP) onto it.

Westfield retailers operate a VAT back money scheme but for individual purchases of less than 200 GBP it is not really worthwhile. If you do consider it you MUST take your Swiss residence permits to proove to London Customs at the airport (who have to stamp the form) that you have Swiss residence.

If you have a MiFi gadget you can cheaply buy a Virgin or O2 data subscription. Don't under any circumstances surf from your Swiss mobile, unless you like large telecom bills.

Optional Destinations: Today it is not necessary to visit Oxford street, though if you need to enjoy crowds, a poor selection, and roadworks this could be the destination for you. Similarly if you want to Window shop high prices you can visits Harrods (in Knightsbridge) and other shops in the area.

Good Walks: Try Kensington Gardens, the impressive and adjacent street to its West called Kensington Palace Gardens (lots of impressive Embassies and tranquility), exit South and walk past great landmarks like the Royal Albert Hall. Close by is the Natural History Museum

Marks and Spencer online
Westfield Shopping Centre

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cadillac STS review

Like a holiday romance, the initial view of the holiday hire car can become a little distorted. We thought therefore to give it a weeks breathing space before writing this mini review of the Cadillac STS that we hired recently in America

Fast in A Straight Line
We got the 2 wheel drive V6 car, not the V8 with optional All wheel drive. Still it is a good performer. But exit the freeway a little too fast and it can become a frightening experience. This is certainly the equal of the Forth Generation 5 litre Mustang I used to drive in the US, but that was a 1995 car, and now it is 2010!

Generic Manual:
There is a general purpose manual covering things the car might have like a compass in the mirror (absent in our model) and things like 4 wheel drive, which again our car did not have. At over 500 pages we wish we had the time to read it because not doing so caused problems with all the buttons!

The car felt solid and fast in a straight line. However it is no match for a BMW 5 series particuarly in terms of handling, but also in terms of build quality, quality feel inside, gismos (like iDrive), or even performance at the same cost level.

We wanted an all American car on holiday and we got America's finest (although we were told later that a Lincoln Town car would be a better bet). The car is good but not brilliant.

Now some pictures:

This is actually a good looking car, quite angular but robust and stylish.

There are a lot of buttons on the steering wheel and on the dashboard.

Gizmos and Innovations
Two of the best innovations were proximity sensors on the left and right which tell you if there is a car in the blind spot not covered by the driving mirrors. Also a system which (probably based on vibration?) detects if you stray over your lane onto a white line. if that happens an audible warning sounds. Another plus is the heads up display which I first used on a C5 Corvette and BMW M5. It displays the speed and when in Manual mode also the selected gear.

Also useful were the heated and ventilated seats and auto dimming headlights.

The mirror was not like in the manual. A Swiss looking button was not described and I thought it might be the compass. It turned out to be the emergency Onstar assistance button! I pressed it and sure enough a rather nice America man in a calm voice tried to assist me. I told him there was no emergency and he did not know where the Compass button was so we called it quits.

The Centre console has a combined DVD driven GPS Satellite Navigation unit and Radio and Setting control. In our case the DVD for our states 8,9,10 was missing so we could not use this Satnav. I can't hold that against the car, merely the hire car company. Also this display manages your radio AM FM and satellite radio options. XM satellite radio offers lots of choices.

Finally the display allows you to customise things like settings to be stored with each of the 2 ignition keys, like seat position and airconditioning preferences. Not quite iDrive but that sort of thing.

A car with substantial room in the back. The rear seats do not fold down, but the boot is huge.

The Caddy key. It can rest in a special place in the centre console to program it.