Northwest passage is Open

According to the BBC news today, the fabled ‘Northwest Passage’ that links Asia with the Americas via the northern coast of Canada is now open. Due to extensive shrinkage of the sea ice in the area, the route is now apparently navigable:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/6995999.stmย 

There is now a time of debate where Canada want to govern who uses the route, since it is within their territorial waters, and the American and European countries who claim it should be open for all to use no matter what.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think anyone should use the route. It should remain closed and protected from human activities permanently. All that can happen is one more delicate ecosystem is going to become polluted and permanently damaged from spillages of fuel and oil, and suffer the detritus of human activity such as litter. This area, for so long in delicate balance, will be supporting an unknown level of wildlife that is about to face its biggest threat. We are apparently about to be deciding the future of this location, and what is the rationale for this?

It has got to be money. By using the northwest passage, shipping firms can save millions in fuel costs and time simply by using a much shorter route. They will no doubt not pass on those savings to anyone, let alone begin to pay money to repair the untold damage they have already caused throughout the world. They will almost certainly get richer and fatter, build bigger and bigger vessels and carry on with what they normally do.

Sod the wildlife, the shrinking ice is simply an opportunity.

Go for it fellas, and let’s hope that you don’t get ice-bound or strike too may icebergs en route.

The Police in Concert, Review of London Gig, 8th September 2007

The policeThis was the first time since 1983 that The Police have played together in London and I have to say it was an incredibly good gig! I have always liked the music they produce, with some very firm favourites including ‘Every Breath You Take’. However, I have never seen them live and so I was delighted to have the opportunity to do so on Saturday 8th September.

The venue was Twickenham, home of English rugby and every time I visit the stadium I am in awe of the place. This visit was no different and the very feeling of being in the ground made it a special occasion for me. With seats in the middle tier of the East stand we couldn’t have been further form the stage so it was with some relief I saw large video screens in place.

At 8.25 the lights dimmed and a roar went up from some 80,000 people. On walked three tiny figures and out came the most amazing sound – opening the gig with ‘Message in a bottle’ was brilliant! The sound stacks were well placed and the delay between the visual and the audio was quite small, but definitely noticeable. The set raged on with classics such as ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’ and ‘Roxanne’, Walking On the Moon’ and ‘Invisible Sun’. In fact there was very little that wasn’t recognisable as a top 40 hit at some point or another. Crowd pleasers were definitely ‘Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic’ and my all time fave – ‘Every Breath You Take’. No messing around with the arrangements, these were right out of the old school, sounding as perfect as they could given the intervening years. Stuart Copeland was simply awesome to listen to… so busy and still so creative. It was worth going for that alone – except when he decided to talk to the audience right at the very end. Stuart – great drumming but leave the mic alone! We know you are American, and are delighted that your heart is in London. Please keep playing the music with such passion!

Being the length of a rugby pitch away from the stage could have been a disaster. The video screens were a Godsend and the audio was astonishingly good for such a large venue. The acoustics must be pretty good in there.

By 10:15 we were done. It was a night to remember for sure, and the crowd leaving the venue filled the roads to capacity. No cars were going anywhere for a while, that was for sure. The only dampener for me was getting out of the parking area we had used – a school about a mile from the ground. It would normally take a little over an hour to drive from Twickenham home, but instead it took two and a half. Sigh. On the other hand, it was well worth it!

If you are wondering whether or not to go and see this group, just do it. You won’t be disappointed if you (like me) spent your formative years with them in the UK charts each week. If you can get a seat near the front then great, if not, enjoy the lights and audio, watch the big screens and revel in whatever song is your favourite… if it got into the charts, it’ll be played on the night, I think. I wish I’d kept a set list, but from memory (but not in order) these are what made the cut:

Message in a Bottle, Can’t stand losing you, Wrapped Around your finger, Don’t stand so close to me, Driven to tears, King of pain, Walking in your footsteps, Walking on the moon, Every little thing she does is magic, De do do do de da da da, Every Breath you take, Roxanne, So lonely, Invisible Sun… and probably one or two others.

Looking for B&B or a small hotel in the New Forest?

Having recently visited the New Forest for a short break, I was amazed at how popular the place is. Nearly all of the accommodation gets booked up early, so for the first time in ages we stayed in B&B.

Having done so, I can’t see why I would want to stay in a hotel at all now. The standard of B&B in the New Forest is extremely high (at least, the ones we tried were excellent). Check out Orchard House B&B (they don’t advertise, but are on the way to Lymington from Lyndhurst, past Brockenhurst and on the left hand side),ย  but also check out Burwood Lodge, right in the centre of Lyndhurst. I can’t say how brilliant these places were (for different reasons) but if you want a near hotel experience go to Burwood Lodge. If you want a real family experience try Orchard House.

The only slight issue with Burwood Lodge is the location – being in the middle of Lyndhurst makes it ideal in so many ways, except if you are driving… Lyndhurst is akin to the M25 on a Friday. Static, mostly ๐Ÿ˜‰

VoIP phone system

Running a small business you want to save as much money as possible. One obvious area for savings is the telephone system, which is why at Cleveratom we are using Voice over IP. Our number (non-geographic) is supplied by Sipgate free of charge. The problem is that with one number you would think that only one person can be on the phone at once.

As it turns out, the SIpgate service allows multiple connections. Let’s say that you have got four telephones connected via IP to your router and all configured for the SIP service. When a call comes in all four will ring. If you answer one of them and a second call arrives, the other three phones will ring. You can also dial out at the same time (in theory) as an incoming call. This is all new territory to me, but it sounds as if the SIP number is in fact a trunk line.

Having spent a good deal of time looking for a VoIP system for the office all of this came as a nice surprise. It isn’t exactly enterprise class stuff – more of a DIY approach – but it seems to offer considerable savings when compared to buying and installing a complete VoIP system, or using a VoIP gateway.

The phones all need to be configured slightly differently to get this to work, and your router needs to have some port forwarding set up, but it isn’t rocket science (well… it isn’t now I have found out how it works!) and you should be up and running in no time. Your biggest limitation is the broadband connection. A SIP call takes about 100Kb in each direction, so for full duplex that’s 200Kb per call. Given that our business ADSL is approximately 8Mb down and 800+kbps up, this means we should be able to have 8 separate conversations happening at the same time. I wouldn’t want to test this, mind you, since all our outbound network traffic uses the same connection. Imagine uploading a massive amount of data and trying to have a conversation… ๐Ÿ˜‰

So, four phones for a small team should be OK. Once I have got it set up and running, I’ll report back. What phones to use? Well, as ever, we are starting off with the low cost option – which may prove a false economy in the end, but time will tell. We are using Grandstream 101 phones which allow us to do all we need. When we want a menu structure to direct callers to the right department we’ll no doubt upgrade to a bigger system, but for now we should be fine with a low tech answer.

It takes a while to decipher the jargon associated with VoIP if you have never done anything with it before. At one point I was convinced we would need a ‘gateway’. We don’t – a gateway allows you to connect your normal phone line to a VoIP system. In our case we just need the ADSL line to do the work. I guess a second ADSL line would be useful if the call volumes start to increase, or we could look at an Asterisk system… or a bespoke VoIP system fully installed… or even a centrally hosted VoIP system. All of these are possible, but let’s take it one step at a time.