It's all just sick.

I've spent the last 3 days trying to fix issues with my computer caused by the upgrade to the latest and greatest (?!) OS, Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard.

I had an urge the other day to watch one of the DVDs I brought with me. It happened to be a PAL DVD, Region 2 encoded, as it was one I ordered from here a couple years ago. It didn't work. In any way, shape or form. The built-in DVD player is very DRM-laden and very adherent to the way media content creators want players to behave, meaning with my DVD drive currently set to Region 1 playback I couldn't watch a Region 2 disc with the standard software player. That would be fine except all other players failed.

It's not a format issue as a CD I bought shortly after arriving came with a bonus DVD, and that disc plays back fine in Apple's software player even though it's PAL. The key is that disc is Region 0, and for some reason that baffles my mind not only does the Apple software prevent one from playing a Region 2 disc in a Region 1-set drive under Leopard, I couldn't even use any ripping software or other means to circumvent the issue relating to my (legal) DVD.

I hunted down a firmware update for my DVD drive to change it from RPC2 to RPC1, aka region-free. However neither it nor the bridge software (the hardware can be region free but the OS still thinks you're region-locked so you need intermediary software to tell the OS that it's seeing something it's not) operate under Leopard, so I had to set up an install of the previous OS version so I could use the patch and bridge. That's when all hell broke loose.

I've spent the last two days (and then some) prepping the machine for the second OS. It's been a trial of partitioning the drive, optimizing the drive, installing, false starts, stupid blunders, obvious wrong paths and so on that have finally all been swept aside and after today's escapades (create a single-layer DVD version of Leopard so I can burn a bootable disc: 5 hours; optimize the HD: 4 hours; partition the HD and install 10.4: 2 hours; update 10.4 with all the latest patches since the version I own was released: 1 hour) I've got the machine dual booting and the DVDs work as expected under 10.4. The reason this is important is because future DVDs I buy here will all be Region 2 and therefore with my laptop as the only means of watching DVDs, I need it to be able to operate as expected, even if it's via a kludge.

So that's been my week, basically. That and I've had a cold. I woke up feeling iffy on Sunday and it's been up and down since then with coughing, nasal issues, dehydration (despite drinking 10-15L of water a day!) and the usual gamut of cold-style crap. I blame sitting outside at the pub last Friday night so I could actually hear the people I was with speak as the inside was overcrowded. I dressed warmly, I even wore a scarf (which I rarely do) yet I wound up with a cold. Oh well, it's one of those things that has to be dealt with.

Basically this week, other than meeting someone on Sunday for a couple drinks, I've done nothing except futz with the computer and gone nowhere except the market to buy food. It gets boring to be sure (especially when I've read most of the books I've brought with me and I can't use my computer while the 4-hour defrag took place!) but it's one way to not spend money I guess.

Apple on Friday (technically now today since it's nearly 2am as I write this) is having is Black Friday sale for parts of the world other than the US. I don't know what's on sale or how big discounts are or if I even need anything (I'm sure I don't) but as soon as the Apple Store (online version) is back up I'll see what's what and maybe if I feel up to it take a trip to Regent Street and do some retail therapy.

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John Barrowman

Yesterday afternoon on the tube I was glancing at someone's newspaper and noticed an ad for a CD signing with John Barrowman (star of Torchwood, Doctor Who, and of course Shark Attack 3: Megalodon) today at HMV on Oxford Street. I saw nothing about it on the Doctor Who sites and was surprised to learn about it given the lack of press. I thought about going and decided that I didn't really want to do so since it might be too crowded -- and I especially didn't want to go after seeing you had to be there before 9:00am to get a wristband in order to get in the autograph line for 12:30pm. I had no idea what I'd do for 3 hours or so between getting the wristband and queueing for the signing.

But, I nonetheless went. I decided later in the evening that although things like this happen every now and then, they're not an every day occurrence and I'd like to at least experience one of these autograph sessions. I was wiped after yesterday's walking so I'd taken a nap from about 6:30-8:30 yesterday evening and decided after getting up that I'd give the autograph session a try. I got up not long after 6:00am in order to have time to get ready and get to Oxford Street early enough to queue up. I was on the train before 7:00am and at HMV about 7:20, with time in there to stop at McDonald's and get crappy coffee to wake me up.

I stood in front of the store for a bit only to be told by a security guy after a little while that the queue was around the side of the building. I was the first person standing out front when I got there and was happy about that, and dismayed when I learned I wasn't in the right spot since that likely meant there would be others in front of me. There was a limit of 250 wristbands to be given out and I had no idea how busy it would be, hence getting there nearly 2 hours in advance. Once I turned the corner I was happy to see there were only about a dozen people ahead of me, meaning I was in good shape to get a wristband.

I queued up, they let us in just past 9:00, I got the wristband, and it was 9:10 and I had no idea what to do with myself for 3 hours. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archeology wasn't too far away, at the University College of London, a bit northwest of Goodge Street tube station (about a 20 minute walk) so while it didn't open until 1:00 I thought I might as well take a walk over there to find out where precisely it was, and it was a good thing I did that since it's tucked away in a not too easy to find place, and once I got to the campus it still took me 15 minutes of walking to find it, and I only found it thanks to a map I found.

I left the area, now knowing where to go, and still had over 2 hours to kill. I began just walking around the Tottenham Court Road area and wound up doing some energy survey at a church (that killed 10-15 minutes) and talking with some canvasser for a charity helping deaf/blind people (another 5 minutes killed). I wandered around the Virgin store (it was called Virgin when I was there a number of weeks ago and bought the latest Underworld CD there, but was now called Zavvi; an interview I saw the other day with Richard Branson featured him discussing how CD stores are going down the tubes, so I don't know if Virgin sold the chain of CD stores or just changed the branding) for a bit, I dilly dallied here and there, including a stop at the BT Tower (formerly called the Post Office Tower) just to see how impressive it was up close (it's kind of impressive up close). Around 11:00 I decided since I'd not eaten yet I'd hit the Pizza Hut near HMV for their cheap lunch buffet, so I went there and that killed about 45 minutes while I ate slowly, and then it was time to go back to HMV.

I queued up a second time outside the store, got in, waited in line for nearly an hour, and then finally got to the front of the line to meet Barrowman. He was at the store promoting his new CD of pop cover songs (I downloaded the CD before its official street date, but am now legit after buying a copy at the store to have signed)... he always came across as a nice chap in interviews and of course in person he was very courteous and nice. It was very nice to meet him, even if it was quite briefly, and I look forward to the next time I head to an autograph session with someone Doctor Who-related (which is Lalla Ward on December 1 out in Barking at Tenth Planet; unlike today when I went on my own and ran into none of the Doctor Who people I met at the Fitzroy, I'm specifically meeting some of those folks on December 1 for the next signing).

Pictures are being posted now, and it's time for me to have a bit of a nap I think.

Edit: I forgot to mention initially that after HMV I went back to the Petrie Museum, but didn't stay for long as it wasn't overly interesting. Archeology is neat, but not so neat that I enjoy looking at broken jar after broken jar. Some of the areas where they had limestone carvings or cartouches or etchings were enjoyable, but overall I didn't enjoy the visit. I wasn't there more than 15 minutes before I decided to head back. Oh well, at least it was free and finding my way there killed some time this morning.




Today I decided to check out the Bank of England Museum, which as one could guess, is a museum about the history of the Bank of England, the English monetary system, and the like. I'd not been around the area of town (well, not really) where the museum resides, so I thought it would be good to check out the museum then do some exploring.

The museum itself is rather tiny yet security is the tightest and most annoying of any place I've yet been. You're forced to empty your pockets of all metal items, have bags run through an x-ray machine, and go through a metal detector just like at an airport. The security guard at the desk even likened the process to going through airport security.

Overall I spent about an hour in the museum though if I hadn't read nearly every word on every sign the journey would have taken much less time. As with several other places I've visited, photography was disallowed. This time, however, I didn't see the signs indicating no photography was allowed and once inside I snapped dozens of pictures before an attendant noticed me and asked me to put away my camera. By that time I'd gone through most areas of the museum so I really had no objection to cease my photography at that point.

After leaving the museum I saw a signpost for London Bridge and for the monument to the Great Fire of 1666 (previously photographed from atop St Paul's Cathedral) so I thought I'd go check those out. I'd not been up close to the Great Fire monument so that was my chief destination.

It didn't take long before I got sidetracked and noticed I was maybe 7 or 8 blocks away from the Swiss Re building, aka 30 St Mary Axe, aka The Gherkin. I thought since I was so close, why not go up close and see how impressive it is from nearby. After weaving through a few streets (no street near me had direct access) I made my way to the front of the building and got some pictures. According to Wikipedia, it's the 6th tallest building in London and I must say it looks quite impressive from the base. Although it's curved inward as it goes up, it was nonetheless a literal pain in the neck looking up toward the top. A very cool sight it was.

I left the area and knew I needed to head south by the river to get to London Bridge, but what I hadn't noticed was how far west I'd walked and when I started to head south I wound up right by the Tower of London. I walked around the perimeter of the Tower grounds and made my way to the north bank of the Thames to continue my journey.

After going a ways down the walking path adjacent to the Thames I noticed I was right by the Great Fire monument... however it's undergoing cleaning or something and is all covered in scaffolding so it just looked silly and unimpressive. Nevertheless I snapped a couple photos and since it's near London Bridge I considered going up to street level and going across the bridge but ultimately didn't.

Rather, I kept going along the river path and went up to street level at the next bridge, Southwark Bridge, but only because the path stopped there. I wasn't far from the Millennium Bridge so I figured I'd cross at Southwark and go along the south bank to the Millennium Bridge and north to the St Paul's tube station and call it a day. That's exactly what I did, passing areas I'd previously been like Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the Tate Modern art museum and St Paul's on my way back here.

When I finally got to the tube station, after nearly 2 hours of walking around, it was of course busy since it's on a busy tube line and it was a busy time of day and the first train to come by was too packed to get on. The second wasn't much less packed but I still squeezed on and rode the 4 stops to Mile End. I went to the market to grab some stuff for dinner and made my way back here and that's where things are at now.

Pictures are being posted as I type this, and now it's time to kick back for a bit and chill.



Go, go, go Joseph...

After wanting to do so for months, and even moreso since arriving in London, tonight I finally got around to seeing the revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat starring Lee Mead. Most would not be aware of it, but this past spring on BBC1 there was a national karaoke contest (Pop Idol-style) to find the next Joseph for the West End. Thanks to the intarwebs and places like YouTube I was able to watch a few episodes. Normally I despise such shows and go out of my way to avoid them, but Joseph is quite probably my favourite Andrew Lloyd Webber musical so I succumbed and watched the odd bit.

While I doubt Lee Mead is the best Joseph to grace the stage (certainly Jason Donovan and Donny Osmond were better in my opinion, at least based on recordings and video-released productions I've heard and seen), the production was still brilliant and wonderful. The sets, costumes and logistics were top-notch, and the whole cast was on the ball (save one small instance where Mead fumbled his mic during Close Every Door). One thing that made me happy was the inclusion of a female in the role of the narrator, something which to me makes any production of the show better. There are too many male supporting roles and it's nice to have a female voice in there for balance. The one complaint I had about the woman cast, Preeya Kalidas, was that at times in songs where the narrator and Joseph both sang her voice would overpower Mead's.

It was also very hard to sit there and not want to sing along to the songs, and throughout the first act I was able to do so but finally gave in and followed along (silently, of course) here and there after the interval. I would absolutely see the production again.


National Portrait Gallery

Another venue disallowing pictures, today I went to the National Portrait Gallery, which is really just how it sounds. It's a gallery dedicated to portraits, chiefly painted ones, of historic figures from around the UK over the past 500 or so years.

The exhibition goes back to the Tudor monarchs and, through a collage from Andy Warhol, finishes up with the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. I wasn't completely sure what to expect there, but a nice history lesson accompanies each segment of the archive, as well as some specifics being noted alongside the portraits themselves.

Thousands of portraits await visitors, and it took me well over 2 hours to tour the venue from top to bottom, finishing with the retrospective of Diana, Princess of Wales on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of her death.

I had some time to kill this afternoon so after the National Portrait Gallery, I went around to the other side of the building where it's located and stepped into the National Gallery.

Art and I really don't get along. I just don't get the attraction, it doesn't entice me, it does nothing for me, but nevertheless it was rather cool to see original works by notables such as da Vinci and Raphael. I didn't spend much time in the National Gallery, so alas I didn't see works by the other Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Donatello and Michaelangelo.

After the National Gallery, I went for dinner. For a couple weeks now I've been craving Mexican food, and let me tell you, if you want good Mexican food, London is NOT the place to go. Out and about in Greenwich the other day I saw a couple Mexican restaurants which really didn't look all that wonderful. However, a couple weeks ago on another jaunt I came across a place called The Texas Embassy which looked passable. Alas while I remembered the name, I didn't remember where it was located. I ran across it again today, and for the curious, it's on the same block as Canada House, just a smidge west down Pall Mall from the National Gallery.

The food was tolerable, but certainly not fantastic. I've been to Mexico but once, and that was on a day trip to Tijuana when I was 11 and visiting San Diego with my mother and sister. I don't recall us stopping for food then, but my affinity for the fare started in San Francisco, and California is absolutely one place you can go for kick-ass Mexican food. In the past I've tolerated places like Julio's Barrio (which is mediocre at best) and I'd probably have to rank The Texas Embassy about on par with Julio's. Not terrible, but far from the best I've had. My craving for Mexican food doesn't kick up often, but the next time it does I probably would not go back there.



Imperial War Museum

I took my first trip on the Bakerloo Line today in order to get to the Imperial War Museum. I'd chosen that destination for today as it seemed somewhat fitting for Remembrance Day. I was not alone in that decision, as there were a good number of others at the museum today, though not an overly large amount.

The museum has some nice displays featuring tanks, guns, cannons, planes... the sort of thing you'd hope to see in such a place. Most were from the WWI/WWII era, which is my particular era of interest for military history (though my preference lies with WWII over WWI).

I'm not going to get into a great amount of detail here, rather I'll let the pictures I've posted tell the story for me. However, there were some areas that disallowed photos so I'll at least make mention of those here.

One of the areas was the war poster display, featuring posters from all angles (US, Britain, Spain, Germany, etc.) from all across the 20th century, not just posters from WWI/WWII as I would have expected. There were hundreds overall and it's almost comical to look at them today, despite the fact many spoke the truth about life during the world wars. Of course such devices were rife with propaganda as well.

The third floor of the museum was dedicated to the holocaust, and there was even a warning at the entryway saying children under 14 might get scared by some of the displays. Indeed there were some VERY graphic images contained in the display, along with some eerie items like a recreation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

My time was running out by the time I began walking around the holocaust display, and I'd certainly like to get back to the museum one day and take a proper look around as it's incredibly in-depth. The fourth floor of the museum had a display about crimes against humanity, focusing on genocide and ethnic violence. I didn't have time to get to any part of that display, so that doubly makes me want to go back to the museum when I have more time to look around. As it was I spent over 2 1/2 hours there, taking in the sights and flashing back to school when I first learned about various aspects shown at the museum. Thankfully admission is free, so the only cost is tube fare and time.

For anyone interested in military or wartime history, this museum is not to be missed. The downside is that I'd read the displays at the Churchill Museum are close enough to those at the Imperial War Museum that some people may find it too repetitive to see both. Regardless of that opinion, the Churchill Museum is still on my list of places to see, and if not for the £11 entry fee to it would probably have been my choice for today. Nevertheless I'm glad I made the choice I did, and it looks like this might be the first museum to which I want to make a second trip.



Royal Observatory

I've been looking for an excuse to take a spin on the DLR (Docklands Light Railway, akin to the Edmonton LRT but with more stops and serving a specific area of town) and in checking my guide book last night I saw the Royal Observatory at Greenwich was near the Cutty Sark DLR station so I figured what better way to have more science fun and try out the DLR than to go there for the afternoon.

The nearest DLR station to here is about a 10-12 minute walk and is 11 or so stops from where I was going. The DLR (chiefly) services the south docklands region (hence the name) around the Isle of Dogs and other parts of the southeast end of town. It's really no different than any LRT station that's overground (very little of the DLR goes underground) so it wasn't overly impressive or anything. Unlike the LRT, it doesn't go from start to finish on one path, it branches off at varying points so you sometimes have to change over as you would with the tube. Overall, other than the train cars being a bit wobblier than the LRT it's about the same. There was even a fare inspector on the train on my way back, the first time I'd seen any such person on public transport here.

As for the observatory itself, it was reasonably basic. Its chief focus was the advent of clock changes (daylight savings time/british summer time) and timekeeping in general. Of course there was the shutterbug-friendly display about the prime meridian which runs through Greenwich, but one of the most breathtaking aspects of the place is the view.

The observatory resides in the middle of Greenwich Park, which was apparently once a hunting ground for the king at the time it was established (Charles II), and there's nothing but green all around. The observatory is built at the top of a hill and from up there you can see a wide scope of the north side of the Thames. Being you can only see north it's not as nice a view as from St Paul's Cathedral or the London Eye, but what you can see is nonetheless impressive. Pictures have been posted for others to check out.

After tinkering at the observatory for a while and enjoying the view, I went down the path to the planetarium to go catch a show on the life of stars. Overall it didn't really teach my anything I didn't already know, but I mainly went because it's been more years than I can remember since I was at a planetarium and such places are usually pretty fun and informative. After the 30 minute show I wandered around and hopped back on the DLR at Greenwich station (one south of where I got off initially) and called it a day for sightseeing.

I'm not yet sure what's next on the slate, or what's on the slate for tomorrow, but I made a list of places I have yet to visit and want to visit so I've got about 10 choices for where I want to go next.



Overly complicated

I've got a better head for numbers and figures than most people I know, but not even the most number-centric person out there would have any hope of memorizing the fee chart for British Telecom pay phones. This thing is insane! I don't doubt that's due to more and more toll numbers coming into use over here but wow... it's just outright insane!

For those interested in topics such as this, perhaps also take a peek at the Wikipedia article on the UK Telephone Numbering Plan. It's a little bit of work to wrap your head around it but overall it's pretty ingenious when you look at it overall. My personal favourite bit is the mnemonics embedded in some of the geographical exchanges (see section 2.2 of the article for that bit). When I first looked at that page months and months ago I sat there scratching my head for ages before it all finally started to click. Never let it be said the Brits aren't creative.



Conspicuously absent

I've not posted anything in a few days simply because very little has been going on. I've not seen any sights this week, and I've really done very little other than the bare necessities for a few days now.

Today, however, I finally got a bank account sorted at Lloyds TSB. They're willing to do an account that gives me a Visa debit card that I can use in shops and online without me yet having a job. That means once the card arrives (presumably in a week as it comes in the post) I can get down to Carphone Warehouse or wherever and get a mobile phone sorted. That gives me the contact number that I'll need to do my job hunting without having to waste money on pay as you go plans (eg. the cheapest phone I saw for pay as you go was £30, plus whatever airtime would cost on top of that). So, one step out of the way to getting back into the regular swing of life.

One plan for this week was to go to BBC Television Centre at Shepherd's Bush and take the tour there, but I'm not sure when I'll actually get around to it. The BBC is selling that studio in an effort to cover a deficit, but it's not scheduled for sale until 2012 or 2013, so there's lots of time to see it yet.

Over here, Friday is the launch day for the Apple iPhone. While I'm definitely not going to buy one (as much as I would like to do s0) because the rate plans are abysmal compared to non-iPhone plans (the cheapest plan for 200 minutes/month and 200 texts/month is £35 versus what I'm looking at for a Nokia N95 - certainly no slouch of a smartphone - where I can get 600 minutes/month and 500 texts/month, plus unlimited weekend minutes, for £30), I'm quite tempted to sally forth to the Apple Store on Regent Street Friday afternoon to check out the hype machine in action. There's no expectation (according to any article I've read from any source) the launch will be as uproarious as the US launch in June, but I fully expect a good number of people to be present to pick up a shiny new toy -- though I'd definitely expect far fewer than were present on Oct 26 for the launch of OS X Leopard.

Perhaps to save a little on tube fare I'll combine the BBC tour with visiting the Apple Store on Friday (each of the BBC Television Centre, the Apple Store and the nearest tube stop for me are on the Central Line, and it's very convenient even if generally very busy) and make a day of it. The only downside is one is expected to pre-book for the BBC tour, and the BBC uses an 0870 phone number for bookings, which is a toll number and I'm not yet sure how much I might have to pay to make the booking from a pay phone. I intend to find out that information between now and tomorrow though, since I'd be ringing them no later than tomorrow for a Friday tour.



West Ham United v. Bolton

For something different I thought today I'd check out a Premier League football match and it just so happened West Ham United was playing at home today, and their stadium is but a few tube stops east from me by Upton Park tube station. The match started at 4:00 so I left about 2 so I had time to buy a ticket and find my seat and take in the atmosphere.

Except, despite the WHU website saying match day tickets were available, I was told at the ticket office the match was sold out... therefore I couldn't go. For the sake of adventure (such as it was) I spent about an hour walking down the high street in the neighbourhood (which, as it turned out, was chiefly Indian, Pakistani, etc. markets, food outlets and clothing stores, definitely nothing interesting) before hopping the tube back west.

Tomorrow is Guy Fawkes day, which is a big deal here, and the nearest events for it are at Victoria Park north of here. After getting back to Mile End I figured I'd take a walk up to the park to see where it was and how far it was. I found it alright, and it turned out to be a little better than a 20-minute walk from where I'm staying to the park. The bonfire and such get underway around 7:30 tomorrow so at least I know how far in advance to make my way up there.

I've got the podcast to record in a few hours but other than that I think I'll just take it easy. One day soon I'll go and set up a bank account, so long as something said to me by a rep of Lloyds TSB was correct in that their basic account allows me to get a debit card (as opposed to an ATM-only card, which is silly but nonetheless a big difference here) so that I can get some other stuff sorted such as a phone (an O2 rep told me a debit card was sufficient to get a monthly contract set up, meaning no wasting funds on pay as you go for the first while). Also, before tourist time ends for me, I've decided to head west and take the tour of BBC Television Centre. I'm quite looking forward to that one.



Fitzroy Meetup

Every month, on the first Thursday, there's a meetup of Doctor Who fans at the Fitzroy Tavern in Fitzrovia (yes, that can get confusing, especially since there's a Fitzrovia Tavern a block away). Tonight was the first one to occur since my arrival in London and I definitely had to check it out.

Not long after arriving I noticed no less than three distinct pockets of Doctor Who fans, and wound up sitting with one group of folks to talk about the show. Time passed, beer flowed, fun was had by all, and I met some very nice people. It's very refreshing to get one's geek on with like-minded folks, I must say.

There was rumour at one point of Steven Moffat (noted DW writer) being in the building but despite looking from top to bottom a few times I didn't see him. Nevertheless I did see and meet Clayton Hickman, former editor of Doctor Who Magazine. He was a very lovely chap indeed.

The place was not just packed to the rafters as the evening wore on, it was packed outside the rafters in the sense that there were as many people inside as there were standing and chatting outside. It was a very pleasant night temperature-wise otherwise I'm sure there would have been fewer people outside. I was told by one of my compatriots that the brewery which ran the tavern was famous for its cheap beer, and at £1.78 for a pint of bitter, I'd have to agree about the price. I stopped at a sports bar for lunch the other day and paid £3.30 (an outrageous sum) for a pint of Carlsberg.

Altogether I had 6 pints of bitter, a pint of stout, and with a few others a shot of tequila, and when I felt it was time to go I stumbled off quite happy about the evening. I've got tentative plans to meet up with some of the people from tonight at other events before the next Fitzroy meetup in December, however, regardless of anything else I will indeed be in attendance come December 6 for the next event.