Thursday, December 16, 2010

WARNING: violates privacy

This morning I was trying out the site "", as I thought this may be an interesting site for collecting many things together, in the same way as many social networking sites do. I used my facebook login to connect this site to facebook. While browsing I noticed an option for premium users (costing a fee) which allows to check who is searching for myself, but I did no action on this.
Later, I noticed on Facebook that this site had sent a status message to my FB account, as if I myself had recommended this option, stating something like "this is co sool". I can definitely affirm that this was not me who posted this. In fact I find two objectionable things in this: first, that a status message is posted automatically, without me knowing it, in my name, posing as myself. Second, the fact that searches (they claim that even Google searches would be included) by anyone could actually be monitored by this site. This is, in my opinion, a clear violation of generally accepted privacy.
Therefore, I decided to delete the account on MyLife, and I want to warn you about that site.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Snow in Leeds

The snowfall started on last Friday. I had just arrived from my trip to St.Poelten in Austria, it was shortly after midnight, temperature was just below 0 Celcius. My car on the airport long term parking had been frozen over, so I had to scratch the windows free. Shortly after I had started driving, it began to snow. I came home safely, and in the morning there was a snow cover of maybe 1-2 inches in and around Leeds.

This is very unusual here in UK, to have snowfall that early in winter. In the astronomical calendar it is officially not yet winter ...! Only the Eastern part of the UK seemed to be hit by that snowfall, when looking towards the Yorkshire Dales, the mountains there appeared to be bare without any snow.

The following days and nights there was some further light snow, and since the temperature remained below freezing, the snow kept accumulating. And then today after 10:00 am there came a big snowfall, as I was at work: there were thick snow flakes, and they began to accumulate quickly. When I checked my car, there was a cover of about 4-5 inches on it!

When I returned from lunch, my colleague from the neighboring office asked me if I could give him a lift home. He only lives a 15 min driving distance from our campus, but in the morning it had taken him almost 4 hours to come to work, using buses. A main meeting that had been scheduled for the afternoon was cancelled - many people could not make it because of the snow. And Leeds Met closed down at 3pm. So I drove my colleague to his home; took about 30 minutes. The road was quite full, traffic was moving slowly. Cars started to skid as soon as there was a slight incline.

The Smart car is not really ideal for these snowy conditions: it has rear wheel drive, and its automatic clutch does not give me any control over a soft starting. But I managed anyway, just had to be very careful when accelerating - and avoid using the brake, just rolling out a slow speed instead. The northern Ring Road in Leeds was full of cars in both directions: this road has quite a few hills, and any incline, either downhill or uphill, present a major problem for driving, as cars easily start to skid. I avoided Ring Road by driving through local roads in Adel and Alwoodley.

I had promised another colleague at Leeds Met to give him a ride home too, so I drove back to Leeds Met. Since the Ring Road was full, I had to drive a longer way than I had anticipated, going all the way East to the A61, then driving south to the city centre. This direction was quite empty, but long lines of standing or slowly driving cars were heading out of the town, inching along through the slippery roads. At one point I missed a right turn and had to drive quite a detour because I did not want to drive back into that long line of waiting cars, and in one location I also started to skid and almost hit a fence at the side of the road. But I managed to avoid the collision and slowly moved further on. 35 Minutes later I was back at Leeds Met, picked up my colleague, and drove him too to his home.

In the news today on TV the main topic was the weather and the traffic chaos. Not sure if LeedsMet is open tomorrow. I have teaching of a class scheduled for 9am - and I will try to be there. As a reward for students who will show up to this lecture I will bring some German Lebkuchen and Pfeffernuesse - if I manage to keep away from eating them myself tonight.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Visit at BRP Rotax

My flight back from Vienna was later in the evening on Friday - this had been the cheapest available flight, so I had recommended to book this one. This meant that after my visit at FH St.Poelten which I had done in the past 3 days, I now had Friday morning and early afternoon available for other activities, and it fit very well to my schedule that I received an invitation by Johannes Christian to visit the company BRB-Rotax. This company manufactures petrol motors for a variety of vehicles: small airplanes, snowmobiles, fun vehicles. Johannes' work is in the area of teaching and training in the "After Sales" context, which means training for maintenance. He investigates here the use of Augmented Reality for intuitive new training methods.

I got up quite early - the train ride from St. Poelten to Gunskirchen took 1 1/2 hours, I had to change trains in Linz. This day was foggy, and some snow flurries began to fall down.

The company buildings are right next to the train station, so it was easy to find. Then we had a chat about Johannes' work, and he showed me around in the training centre where I had the opportunity to test-sit one of those "fun vehicles". He also gave me a tour of the manufacturing hall - very impressive!

At 12:30 the train left. The ticket machine at the train station did not work properly - when trying to pay with a card, it could not connect to authorize the payment. Since I had too little cash, I entered the train without ticket - although it said in several places that on this train line one could NOT purchase a ticket on the train. Well, I would have to discuss this with the conductor. But there was nobody checking the tickets on this train to Linz... When I got of to change the train, I rushed to the nearest ticket machine - there it worked fine, and my ticket was now 4 Euro cheaper. Well, the OEBB needs to get their act together and fix their ticket vending machines, if they want payment for train rides!

The Railjet is a nice comfortable and fast train. It has three classes: standard economy, first, and premium (which would cost an additional 25 Euro). I chose the cheapest option, good enough for me now. The train leaving at 13:10 from Linz was quite full, so unfortunately I could not get a window seat.

Arrived 14:40 at Wien Westbahnhof. Bought at a bakery a nice dark rye bread to take with me for the next days. Then with the bus to the Airport.

Everything fine there. Vienna Airport has free WIFI, which is nice! I even used it to make a Skype call from the iPhone through Wifi.

In AMS the announcement that the flight to Leeds would be delayed and would take off at 22:15 instead of 20:45. Decided to spend 5000 Miles from my KLM Flying Blue account to get into one of their lounges. Had not done this for a few years now; back in the time when I was travelling more often, the admission to the lounge had been free.

The flight departed then more than 2 hours late, but arrived ok in Leeds. No snow there yet, but the car was covered in frost. When I began driving, the snowfall started, but I made it home fine.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

3rd Day in St.Poelten

Today on Thursday was now the rest of my ERASMUS teaching at FH St.Poelten: I gave an overview on some "historic aspects of Augmented Reality", talking about my work at RSC on marker and building tracking and explaining some of the issues related to head-worn displays. In the afternoon I gave a lecture on my work in developing SCORM shareable content objects (SCOs). I also met with Prof Dr Alois Frotschnig, the Technology Department Director of FH St.Poelten. And for the fourth day in a row, I came back to the hotel after 22:00.

Three very busy days, but well worth spending. Tomorrow I will travel back to Leeds, but before my flight there is another highlight planned: a visit at a factory which employs Augmented Reality in their employee training.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Second Day in St.Poelten

On Wednesday the Forum Medientechnik continues. I meet with the Executive Director of FH St.Poelten, Dr Maria Gabriela Fernandez. Later that day I also meet Dr Alexander Seewald from Seewald Solutions, a really ingenious inventor in a wide variety of areas: computer vision, augmented reality, music recognition. In a Viennese Heurigen Stube, he uses his software on an iPhone to automatically detect the music style of the two musicians who play Viennese music - and it properly recognises a waltz. Brilliant!

Again I return back to the hotel late - 23:40. Will I see St.Poelten also some time during daylight?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

First day in St.Poelten

Tuesday morning I walked again through downtown St.Ploelten. This time there were actually people there, the stores began to open. Went north through the railway station to the other side of the railway tracks, passing the hospital, then approaching the Fachhochschule (University of Applied Sciences). A simple contemporary building, glass and steel, three stories high. I register for the Forum Medientechnik and join the other participants in the auditorium. There are talks about new media 3.0, about the use of Twitter, and about guidelines for software / web development for mobile phones. All very interesting. I meet Thiemo Kastel, one of the main organisers of this conference, and Hannes Raffaseder, Vice Rector for Research at FH St.Poelten. In the afternoon I join a tour of the media facilities, where a complete studio is available with green-screen technology and tracking, also an AVID system for studio production. Frank Angermann from Metaio who also gives a talk about mobile AR and the Junaio Mobile AR system, joins a student seminar with a group of Thiemo Kastel's students who are working on a mobile AR tour guide for Vienna. There are a few interesting new things about to come regarding the Junaio project... am not allowed to say more!

In the evening is the award ceremony for the Golden Wire 2010 Media Prize in which student project receive awards. More than 18 different projects in 6 categories are shortlisted, and a jury decides the winners. Quite impressive work - animation, short films etc. At 22:30 I return to the hotel, after again a night walk through the empty streets of St.Poelten.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Arrived well in St.Poelten

A long day. Why does it seem to be so difficult to travel from Northern England to Eastern Austria? There is not a single direct connection to Vienna from any of the Northern England airports. One would assume that at least Manchester has one, but no... the only connections are from the London airports, Standsted and Luton. But this would have meant a 4 hours hazzle train ride from Leeds. So the only reasonable alternative is to use KLM from Leeds-Bradford airport. Not ideal; the very lowest-cost flights would have left me stranded at the Vienna airport at night, because no further trains leave to St.Poelten. So I had to choose a "reasonable" flight during the daytime, with a 4 hour transit time in Schiphol airport (Amsterdam).

Everything went well in the morning, I decided not to take a taxi and instead drive to the airport, the parking for a week costs as much as the two taxi rides. Takeoff from LBA on time, then walking through the AMS airport. This is in my opinion the best airport in the world: besides having a museum with paintings of Dutch masterpieces there, they now also have a library! The four hours go by fast, as I stroll around, exploring some electronic gadgets (Sony has a digicam with 360 view video capture! And there are quite a few micro pocket projectors available - would be good when giving talks or demonstrations where a projector is not available). Can also do a bit of work. Then I proceed to the gate B15. Flight to Vienna, departure 17:40. I sit there and read a magazine, waiting for the boarding call together with other passengers. The plane at the gate is from Austrian Airlines. I did not know that this KLM-flight would be a code-share flight - there was no mention on my ticket and boarding pass! Well, maybe they have some nice Austrian food during the flight. As the call for boarding comes, they mention the Star-Alliance. That cannot be right - since when is KLM a member of the Star-Alliance? I go to the desk and ask if this is the right flight - no, it is not. The KLM flight to Vienna, at 17:40, is at another gate. How could I be so stupid not looking at the flight number? That never has ever happened to me before! Now I have an opportunity to test my sprint capabilities, as I run to gate B36, fortunately on the same letter track. They are about to close the gate, but I can still go in. Lucky, I made it. Everybody is seated, and they just make the announcement that they are waiting for a few late passengers and are about to unload their luggage...
How can there be two flights at exactly the same time, to exactly the same destination? Well, next time I will be more careful and will check exactly the flight number, to rule out any confusion with code-sharing.

The flight goes well, and we arrive actually on time in Vienna. Now by bus to West-Bahnhof. Takes 45 minutes, through some narrow streets in the "12.Bezirk" of Vienna. The Westbahnhof is a huge construction site - the main hall is basically stripped of everything, not sure if they will actually turn it down. I know that they are rebuilding the Suedbahnhof into a new main station for Vienna (Hauptbahnhof). From the schedule there are only 5 minutes to buy the train ticket now and to get onto the train, but the bus has arrived a few minutes early. So I catch the proper train to St.Poelten, and arrive there at 22:00 local time. 20 min walk from the station through the empty and silent, but well illuminated town centre; my two rolling suitcases make a lot of noise on the rough pavement.

Then finally at the hotel. The travel day is over.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Launch of Safe4

On Tuesday evening I was invited to the launch event of the company Safe4 which took place at the Club LS1 in Leeds City Centre. Safe4 is a start-up company which offers a safe online keeping of important documents, primarily targeted for businesses. I saw a demonstration there, and was quite impressed with the ease of the user interface. The online storage of the documents is encrypted and provides good data security.

At the launch Keith Madeley introduced the company and also spoke about the Middleton Railway, which will soon (in 2012) have its 200-year anniversary of the world-wide-first successful use of a steam locomotive in a commercial context (coal transport).

Also attending were the Lord Mayor of Leeds (Councillor James McKenna and Councillor Andrea McKenna), HM Deputy Lieutenant of West Yorkshire (Michael S Fox), and the Venerable Peter Burrows, Archdeacon of Leeds. We had a nice chat about the Berlin Stadtschloss and discussed if it should be rebuilt or not.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Brian Lewis speaks at the opening of the Rivers Movement exhibition in Castleford

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In Castleford, exhibition in Bridge Gallery, by the Rivers Movement Group

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Investment Forum by Connect Yorkshire

On 7. July, Connect Yorkshire organised the Investment Forum, a one-day event at the Aspire in Leeds with the opportunity for investors to meet businesses with good potential for future growth. I was involved in two roles in this event: In one role I have been a mentor in the group of advisers who would give businesses advice on their presentation at this event, where they would seek funding and would show their prospects in the best possible light. In the other role I represented together with Prof Rod King (Carnegie Faculty) our own project "Virtual Runner". Unlike most of the other participants, we did not plan to give a presentation, but we simply presented our poster, next to the "Proof-of-Concept" fund table.

We arrived in the morning around 9am at the venue. Unfortunately, setup time had been between 8-9am, and while I was carrying our poster to the setup location, the first investor guests already had arrived, zipping their coffee and mingling around for networking. At our table I realised that we did not have any stand for hanging of affixing the poster - I must have miscommunicated our requirements... fortunately Danielle came up with a few stripes of Duck tape, and we could affix the poster to the big column next to the table. We setup the Virtual Runner software on Rod's laptop, and were able to give quite a few demonstrations to many people who were interested in seeing it. The two lovely ladies Amanda Robinson and Danielle Ward did a great job in making sure that the exhibition of the posters and the whole organisation of this event went well!

The presentations by those companies who were seeking investment were very interesting. Quite a mix, from simple but innovative solutions to high technologies. Very interesting to observe the different presentations styles. A panel of three experts from the venture community were moderating and were asking questions to the presenters after their talk.

The Aspire building is a very interesting architectural structure from Victorian times. It has been remodelled and modernised inside and is a very nice venue for these kind of events. One remarkable feature which I got to enjoy were - the gents toilets. Never have I encountered anything similar: somewhat indirect lighting, there are candles lit in glass containers, the main pissoirs are long glass bowls along the walls, the water for washing hands flushes from flat and wide fossetts into the basins. After entering these rooms it takes a while before one realises the purpose of all the installations, so unusual is their design!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Game over for England...

On Sunday I had the choice: to work more on my latest music project, or to watch as history would be re-written at the football (soccer) worldcup game England-Germany. Since the weather was unusually good - temperature up to 27 deg C, blue sunny sky - I decided it might be ok to give Gustav Mahler a rest and instead drive to the East coast, to Filey, and have a dip in the water. On the way everywhere the George-cross England flag. The fans clearly were looking forward to this game. The press in the UK did have its usual headlines full of pun, when it came to talk about the upcoming match: "Herr we come again" and similar. I guess this verbal German-bashing is part of the local folklore here - without it a match against the German team would just be half the fun. Interesting is that this agitated attitude that can be seen in the press is not at all present in anybody I spoke to: all the English people I know had a quite differentiated attitude, being critical about the performance of their team, and admiring the success and strength of the German team.

I was looking forward to this game, especially because I could be happy either way: it really did not matter to me if Germany (my home country) would win, or England (my host country, which pays my wage). I even had both flags, still left over from the last world cup in 2006. Well, deep inside I probably would root for the German team...

Many pubs on the way had signs outside stating "World cup game on big screen", so one could watch inside. Also at the beach in Filey there was one opportunity to see the game - with a window view over the water. The beach was, as expected, relatively empty. But there were still quite a few people who clearly were not interested in football: they were just strolling along the promenade, some of them mumbling something about football being the most boring thing in the world. But this attitude here in the UK is clearly in a minority.

10 minutes before 15:00 I headed to the Coble Bar, which had the sign outside that there would be a TV for viewing the game. I got a Shandy and a Sunday roast (for an incredible 4.95) and sat down. There were several beach goers who starred at the 32" screen. Strange atmosphere: no Hooliganism, but silence, like in a church, as everybody was watching the initial minutes. A unisono "ouww" at the 1:0 for Germany. Another one at the 2:0. One woman said that England will loose 0:6, and that these guys are way overpaid. Then a loud cheer when the 2:1 happened, and another one at the 2:2. That one turned into a disappointment, as it was not awarded, and from then on it went downhill. I must say that not awarding this goal was a stupid decision - it should have been counted after the video replay. Well, I am sure that the rules for this will be changed soon.

The mood in the Coble Bar was somber at the end when the official score was 4:1 for Germany. I would still count the score as 4:2, which is also quite bad for the English team. Germany won deservedly: they had a great team play, with some text-book-like goals. The English team was not working well together, although they did have some good chances and were playing aggressively.

I really feel sorry for the English fans. They are truly committed to their team, and were so looking forward, in a way in self-denial of the overall bad performance in past games. On the way back from Filey there were much fewer flags on houses and cars.

On Monday one of the newspaper headlines had something along the lines "If the defence in WW2 had been like this, we would speak German now". (They just cannot stop here with references about the World War, but that is ok - part of the folklore here.)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

World-War 2 Re-Enactment at the Great Central Railway

World-War 2 was a horrible event. The countries who won it, celebrate their victory in annual events, those who lost it have events commemorating the horrors and crimes which have been committed. Nobody in his right mind would celebrate the war itself, right?

Well, wrong, there is one country which does exactly that, and this is England. A celebration of the war itself may be strange to most people who think that war is a terrible thing and that the only thing to celebrate is that it is over. But in England the mood is somewhat different, for various reasons. A country which had been largely a victim in World-War 2, such as France, Poland or Russia, would never have a re-enactment of these events - the memories are just too horrible, or too embarrassing. Of course, in Germany itself such a re-enactment would be unthinkable. What would one re-enact there? Concentration camps? Air raids? Destruction of whole cities? No, there is absolutely nothing to celebrate. And the USA? Well, most of the country during 1941-1945 operated almost as before, with a few limitations and restrictions, the troops were fighting far away, and life for many people seemed mostly to go on as it did before.

This puts the UK in a very special position: on the one hand the country was subject to severe war action, by air raids and bombings which led to significant destruction and presented a danger to everybody in the country. And on the other hand, because the country did not experience an invasion, it did not suffer the very bad consequences which the occupied countries did. Furthermore, Britain is in the unique position of having been the only country in Europe that successfully resisted the Nazi-German aggression after September 1939, staying true to its commitment to Poland and standing up against dictatorship and for democracy. This fact still fills many people here with pride, as I could notice when observing the general attitude of people and the reporting in the news. The war time in Britain also brought people in the country closer together: everybody made sacrifices; taxes were 50% and up for everybody; holidays were cancelled, people tried to save resources, worked overtime, often in volunteer work. This overall attitude of personal sacrifice for the war effort appeared to have engrained itself into the collective memory, as this overall attitude disappeared after the war. This is what many of the old veterans and contemporaries of the war time talk about in their memories, and so it is very understandable that Britain is very proud of its role in World-War 2.

One should also consider that after WW2, the situation in the UK remained austere for quite some time - in 1955 the country still had food rationed and people were not allowed to take money with them when travelling abroad, whereas in Germany which was the physically and morally defeated country, the "Wirtschaftswunder" (economic miracle) had already brought back prosperity to wide parts of the population. These facts and the economic downturn in the following decades in Britain (loss of coal and steel industry, decline of much of the manufacturing industry) also made these 1940s appear more glamorous than the present times.

Therefore, these 1940s weekends in which the wartime itself is being commemorated and celebrated, started being organised sometime after the war, and they have grown into joyous celebrations of the time back then. People dress up in costumes from the 1940, with original hairdo and makeup, original uniforms, period-correct cars and other vehicles. One of the calendars of 1940s events reveals just how many individual such events are being organised throughout the year! Many of these events are organised around heritage steam trains: these provide the realistic backdrop, with steam engines from that time, and with train stations which have been restored to accurately represent the 1940s.

Since the English are good sports, these events not only show the English history, but also include "the enemy": the re-enactment includes the ficticious assumption that one train station would be located in occupied France. And suddenly, one of the train stations is decorated with the Nazi-Flag and is swarmed with German officers and soldiers, and also the odd SS-Obersturmbannfuehrer walks around, with the Swastica-armband well visible. The actors who play those Nazi officials seem to enjoy their roles and pay meticulous attention to details in the uniform.

When I saw such a re-enactment for the first time a few years ago, I was somehow shocked, after all the pre-conditioning from TV documentaries: turning around a corner in Ingleton and seeing a man in black SS-uniform sipping a cup of tea, discussion with his English-uniformed colleagues. Looked very real and unreal at the same time. Last autumn I visited a 1940 weekend at the North York Moor railway, and there too were those friendly SS men. Well, these are British - I assume the originals were not as friendly.

And this weekend, when my friend Kishor (who is originally from India, but is a US citizen who now lives in Denmark) came for a visit, I decided to go with him to the 1940 weekend of the Great Central Railway. Everything was there: Steam trains, people in original 1940s clothing, impersonators of Churchill and Montgomery, British troops in uniform, military vehicles, also US soldiers, and - the Germans. Two stations were designated as being in German-occupied France: Rothley and North Leicester. Rothley had German beer for sale, North Leicester offered red wine and baguette with Camembert. There was a control post at the North Leicester station, controlled by German soldiers. With the ticket for the day we had been given "ID cards": one side in English, the other side in German, with all the period symbols and icons there... In the train an SS 0fficer checked these ID cards before we arrived in Rothley. There a battle was being played: English soldiers attack a German army unit. Lots of explosions, smoke, gunfire. I suppose the English won.

At Quorn station which was at the centre of all the events, a Spitfire airplane flew by and showed some acrobatic flying.

I still felt strange when seeing those German uniforms: they stand for so much horror, and one might think that one is not supposed to enjoy such a theatrical re-enactment when so much serious history is behind it. However, this historic play does have a positive effect: it makes the history somewhat more alive than just watching a documentary on TV. One can be immersed in the past (to some degree) and get a real experience, and this experience contributes to a more lasting memory than anything else. Of course one must replace in mind those friendly re-enactors with the rough reality... but we know that already from all those documentaries.

So I must say that this celebration of the 1940s in England is a phantastic way of experiencing history, as long as one is taking into account that this in some ways a bit of a glorification which leaves the real negative parts out.

I put the pictures of this event in a set on Flickr. Below are a few selected photos.

Friday, June 11, 2010


In recent weeks I have taken a break of posting to this blog, and so I will recapture some of the activities since then. First, our planned travel to India was "vulcanised": the morning when our flight was supposed to leave from Manchester, the first flight bans had been introduced in the UK. When we rebooked to the following week, the ban was still in effect, and so we cancelled all our travel arrangements and postponed them - probably for January 2011. I had taken these days off, and so I stayed at home, working on some of my music recordings. In the beginning of May I travelled to Germany to attend the funeral of my grandmother. On the way back the Icelandic volcano again interfered - and it took me a day longer than planned to come back. Since then I have done a few weekend excursion trips, the pictures of which I will post on Flickr soon.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

No more Skype on Windows Mobile Phones

I just wanted to put Skype on my Windows Mobile phone, but I found out that Skype no longer offers Skype for Windows Mobile (since 25.February 2010): they give a quite strange and dissatisfying explanation for this decision. I wonder what was the real reason...

In the meantime, Skype for Windows Mobile is still available for download on other sites - here is the download through CNET.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Franki-Pasti at "Weinstall" in Castell

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Day in the Lake District

The weather was great - even with that invisible volcano ash cloud in the sky. And so I decided to drive to the Lake District this Saturday. Lake Ullswater has been compared with Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstaetter See), and when one sees it in reality, one can understand why. The mountains are not as high as the ones in Switzerland, but the overall atmosphere is somehow similar.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Travel to India - With Obstacles

After the proposal submission which had kept me busy for the past few weeks I finally could relax - and prepare for the next venture: I had one day to get ready for the travel to India, in relation to the "Rivers' Movement" project. We had postponed this travel already twice: an original travel plan back in November did not work out due to schedule conflicts, and a travel in March was not possible because of that proposal work. But now I was ready for the 600 movie channels on Emirates Airlines, and for the scorching summer heat in Gujarat where it is now about 48 deg C.

In the morning of Thursday, Brian Lewis called me, telling me that he heard about a volcanic cloud from Iceland which prevented airplanes from taking off. But we decided anyway to go to Manchester airport and see the situation there. Well, the flight was cancelled. Pretty strange: the airline employees at the help desk were not able to help us, we had to call the central reservation line. And that was broken for a while, a voice message was played "this is a test message" and nothing else. But finally we got through, and were able to rebook our flights for Tuesday, 20.April. Then we had a cup of tea and sat down for a while, before returning back to Leeds.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Submitted a Proposal for Funding

These past weeks I have been very busy with mainly one activity: to prepare a proposal for funding from the European Commission. As some of you may know, there is the FP-7 programm which provides several billion Euro 2007-2013, for all kinds of activities. It is quite difficult to find out which funding opportunities would be available, although the EU has published all of that on various web sites and portals, one of them here on their CORDIS portal.

What I did in this process:
1. I registered on CORDIS to have a user ID. This allows to post profiles and project ideas.
2. Then I posted a profile of myself, plus another one with a specific idea here on CORDIS. This allows other interested parties to find the project idea. One important thing is that in most EU-funded projects there need to be partners from three different countries represented. This is often difficult for "newcomers" who do not yet have any links or ongoing collaborations. Therefore one can use this partner facilities to find other partners with whom one would want to collaborate in a project.
3. I received a few replies and began "building the consortium". Through other institutions within the UK I advertised my idea, and they in turn won a few other partners across Europe with whom they had collaborated. So the consortium grew, and in the end we had a total of 12 partners, from six different countries.
4. Important in the consortium building is of course that the partners are complementary, in terms of expertise, topics, but also in terms of size and sector. It is good to have academic university partners, SMEs, research institutions, and also a large company it it.
5. Writing the proposal then follows the templates that are available for a specific call. Our idea was suitable for a so-called STREP project, a specific targeted research project. These usually have a total budget between 2-5 Million Euro, often go over 3 years, and have anything between 6 - 15 partners. There is guidances on this on the EU web site for the specific call available.
6. Since I had the original idea, it was up to me to bring it into a form that would engage all partners equally and would ensure that each of them would contribute with their expertise. Not an easy task... at one point I made a phone call to each of them, to discuss for 15-60 minutes the idea and their possible contribution to it.
7. One very important task in such a project is the coordination/management. This is a special activity: to keep contact to the European Commission, to submit the paperwork, to administer the finances. It is important to have someone in the consortium who specialises on that and has done that before. Fortunately we won a partner with that expertise, and that partner took then the role of the proposal coordination. One needs to set up the EPSS for electronic proposal submission and needs to collect the financial data for each partner. This also requires an estimate of the average monthly salary cost, because the whole resourcing will be done in terms of person-months in the proposal.
8. Then everybody prepared their part of the proposal: state-of-the-art, and a few specific bits on their own contribution. The proposal form requires more things to consider, e.g. exploitation, risk management, project management etc.
9. We submitted the first proposal draft Sunday, 2 days before the deadline, just to be on the safe side and have something in. The next few days, however, I kept in contact with the coordinator, via Skype and email, often until late after midnight, to shape the proposal, use proper formulations, and balance the cost of the project properly according to the tasks that we were planning to do.
10. The very final version of our proposal was submitted just 1 minute 36 seconds before the deadline.

And now we just have to wait... the proposal will be evaluated according to the normal procedure, and I hope that our proposal will convince the evaluators to give it high marks in those three categories: Science/technology contribution, management, and impact.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Published a Book

The volunteer activity in the "Rivers' Movement" project has led to the publishing of this book. It contains photographs of people, events and places, documenting the Rivers' Movement Project and its outcomes from 2008 - 2010. The book is available online at Blurb - see below.

Nothing for Ungood

One of my German PhD students who is working abroad sent me something very interesting: There is an American guy, John Madison, who lived and worked for a while in Germany. And he wrote down his observations in his blog Nothing For Ungood. This term "Nothing For Ungood" is a German expression "Nichts fuer ungut", mostly used in Southern Germany when you want to indicate that you did not really mean an insult with what you just said...

Really brilliant reading! As a German who lived for a while abroad, I can fully appreciate John's observations of some of the quirks that he encountered in Germany. He even published this as a book.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Six Degrees of Separation

Most people know about this "six degrees of separation" thesis which states that everyone on earth is connected to anyone else by a maximum of six degrees of separation. Microsoft Research has put up a very nice web site with which one can test this: the People EntityCube. One can put in any two names, and from scanning / searching the web, the system is able to show connections between people.

I did this for myself - turns out I am only 3 degrees apart from Osama Bin Laden.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

System Restore on Windows XP

In order to fix the problem with the Google Chrome Browser, I found in several of the Google Discussion Forums about this problem the recommendation to do a "System Restore". This is of course a quite brutal way of fixing a problem; better would be if there was a clear guidance on what settings specifically would need to be changed in order to remove that obnoxious behavior of Google Chrome not to find web sites at the first try.

But I now did a System Restore, beyond the date of when I noticed this behavior occurring more frequently. And - it seems to have cured the problem: Chrome now finds all the site immediately, waits properly until all various sites / images / iframes within a site have been loaded properly, and does not spit out that error message about not finding a site anymore.

The System Restore is supposed to let files and documents untouched, that is any new files since the restore point would still be there. However, when I looked at one of my folders, there were all those new files missing. I did then a search for one particular file which I knew had been in this folder, and in the search the file showed up - in exactly that folder! When I then looked again at this particular folder, it now had all the files in it that appeared to be missing at the first glance. So what must have happened: after the system restore the folder view appeared to have some kind of "image" or "status shot" in memory, a kind of cached version of the folder view as it was at the time of the system restore point to which I had reverted. However, only after again viewing it, the content view was actually updated. So everyone who is making a system restore needs to be aware of this: the views of the folders need to be refreshed, to see the latest true content and not the "imagined" content at the time of the system restore point.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Twitter Widget Update

More trouble on the IT front: since recently (I do not know since when, maybe since a few weeks) the Twitter Widget did not work anymore. I had used the widget in my blog(s) and website(s) to automatically show my latest tweets. Recently that block had been simply black. I had attributed this to internet connection problems, but today I realised that this was a systemic failure: Twitter has now a new way of embedding their widget.

So I changed now in a few places this widget and replaced it with the new one.

Trouble with Google Chrome Browser

This time of the year seems to be the time where everything appears to go wrong somehow. In recent weeks I have experienced significant trouble with the Google Chrome Browser: when I try to access a page, often the message comes:

This web page is not available.

The web page at null might be temporarily down or it may have moved permanently to a new web address.

This indicates actually two bugs: the null should show instead the base URL, and overall the page should load because it is available. This message shows up very shortly after I try to access the page, so it seems that some timeout has been set incorrectly. Hitting reload a few times eventually loads the page, but this is very unsettling, especially when making a payment on the web: it happened several times that during the pay process I had to reload the pages - hope I will not get multiple payments. This problem happened since about 2 weeks; I first had attributed it to a slow and faulty connection, but when I dug a bit deeper and searched for this issue on the web, I came across a lot of posts who complained about the same thing in the Chrome browser. The null-issue is described at the Chromium project as a bug that they are aware of - it obviously only appears in the UK-English area. The other bug is harder to fix. I managed to set a new DNSQueryTimeout in the registry - now the problem only appears when accessing a page with https. The Chrome version I use is

When trying Firefox or Internet Explorer, these problems do not occur at all. So I attribute it to something inherent to Chrome.

Monday, March 08, 2010

BT (British Telecom) Is Seriously Losing it...

Warning: This post is a rant. It describes my recent experience in trying to get the new BT Infinity service, based on fiberoptic cable. As it turns out, there are a few issues with this ...

A few weeks ago I got a friendly phone call from British Telecom (BT), leaving a voice mail on my answering machine, saying that they now have fiber-optic cable in my neighborhood, and that they offer me an upgrade, as one of the first customers. Well, great idea! So I called them, and yes, this new BT Infinity was indeed available, and they referred me to the web site where I could find out more. I entered the phone number, and yes, the estimate of my speed would be about 20 Mb. So I followed the online instructions, everything quite easy and straight forward, and after a few minutes I got a confirmation email that the equipment would be sent soon and that an engineer appointment has been set up. Great - really good!
So in 1.March I stayed at home in the morning between 8:00-13:00, when the engineer would come and connect everything. I should have gotten suspicious when there was no package being delivered with the promised equipment, but then I thought the engineer might bring it. I checked online, and yes, the order was being tracked ok, and the appointment appeared to set up properly.

When nobody showed up that Monday morning, I called BT. And the nice lady with her strong Scottish accent tells me that there was a problem - the order never had "gotten through". What about the confirmation email? And the online tracking? Nope, somewhere in "the system" the order was not processed, and no actual work order had been issues. Well, since this is such a new service, I could understand some glitches. So we rescheduled for the next week.

This time everything appeared to be scheduled properly: Got a confirmation SMS, also received a very nice custom-printed announcement, on glossy paper, individualised for my address, looking very posh! And the new BT Homehub arrived in the mail too. Great, was looking forward to get upgraded. So on 8.March I again stayed home in the morning, waiting for the engineer who was supposed to come between 8:00 - 13:00 (pretty long time window, but I can understand that sometimes the planning and scheduling cannot be done in smaller windows, due to possible delays and unexpected problems). When at 13:15 still nobody had shown up, I called BT; they tried to ping the engineer, but while I was on hold he actually called on the other phone line - he would be there in 20 minutes. Ok, I am a patient person.

He comes, sets up the equipment. There needs to be a new splitter installed, to separate phone from data lines. The data line goes into a white box which is probably the DSL modem. Then there is still the new BT Homehub, which now simply acts as a hub interface for the ethernet network, the WiFi, and the BT Broadband Talk. Works all fine, but the engineer's measurement only indicate a data rate of about 4-5 Mb. It turns out that the fiber-optic connection is only going up to the last connection box, from where the data signal then is transmitted over the conventional phone cabling.

This speed is of course lower than advertised, but is about 8x more than the line supported before. So I am happy to leave it at this lower speed. The engineer drives away to check something at the exchange or the last connection box, maybe the speed could go up. He thinks that this low speed is due to the distance of my endpoint to the connection box, and he says that probably nothing can be done.

Ok, so far, so good - at least this is a much faster connection than before. And if the story ended here, I would have never posted it, despite the few little kinks in the process.

But wait, this is not the end of the story: after an hour, the engineer comes back, dismantles the whole setup, and puts back on the old previous connection which is at about 500 kB. What? "For legal reason, BT cannot give customers an access to fiberoptic cable at a speed lower than 15 MB". Despite the fact that the line would support 4MB and was working ok without errors on the "fiberoptic connection", I was not allowed to get this speed.

So all the grieving and tolerating of those BT delivery failures - for nothing. Hence the headline of this post - I hope many people read it!


What BT needs to fix in their rotten internal procedures and policies:
  1. They need to make sure that the BT Infinity service is only offered to people who actually will receive the promised speed. This requires both to revise their telephone marketing and their online phone test tool for checking available speeds.
  2. BT further needs to revise their online booking system for the BT Infinity offer, to ensure that customers' orders actually are being processed.
  3. BT finally needs to revise their current "legal position" which robs the customers of the possibility to increase their broadband speeds by at least a modest amount. The policy of "all or nothing" is not customer-friendly at all.

Having said this, I will concede that all the people I have spoken to at BT appeared friendly and competent - so I have not given them a hard time at all but remained friendly and patient in my interaction with them. I chose not to complain to them by a phone call to their customer service - this would only hit the wrong person, the poor chap whose ears probably fall off from all those customer complaints. Instead I want to bring this disaster to the public, and I hope that it helps to change something at BT - this company simply does not appear to be able to fulfil its vision of providing adequate IT services to Britain.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Dragon of Wantley

In Stocksbridge, at the Venue: just before the performance of yhe opera "the dragon of wantley"__________________________Sent from my mobile phone

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Trouble with "Outlook"

In the category of "complaints about software" I can add a post about Microsoft Outlook. In principle it is quite a reliable system; many companies and institutions use it for their email system, together with the MS Exchange server. I also have this service linked to my Windows Mobile phone, so I get always push-email, and since several years I have my complete contacts address book (with more than 2000 entries) on there, with sync between mobile and server. Works quite well, and since ActiveSync 4.5 I also seem not to get any duplicate entries anymore.

But recently there have been some issues, and I am wondering what the reason for those problems is and how they can be solved:
- on my Windows mobile the mail arrives now only once per day, although I have set it to deliver as it arrives on the server. Either the server admins have changed the behavior, or I am doing something wrong.
- the Outlook calendar sometimes just pops up pointless meeting reminders: out of nowhere there suddenly comes an alert that I need to attend a meeting - which took place 4 weeks ago! Somehow this alerter seems to go through my appointments, and once in a while finds one for which I have not acknowledged the reminder. This appears to be completely random. I get reminders of events that took place yesterday, last week, a few weeks ago. No idea why this happens, and how to fix it...

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

40 Part Chorus Work - on 40 Loudspeakers

Yesterday at the Open Coffee event in Leeds a colleague informed me about this very nice sound installation which had been run at the Grand Theatre in Leeds from 4. February. So I went yesterday evening after work. 40 speakers are placed in the Howard Assembly Room in the Grand Theatre, and each of those speakers plays the recording of one solo singer. The work is the 40 part "Spem in Alium" by Thomas Tallis, the installation is by Janet Cardiff. A wonderful experience - 11 minutes long, played the whole afternoon from 2pm to 8pm. Today, 3.March, is the last day that this is being performed there - I can recommend to anyone to go there and have a listen. Btw, the admission for this is free.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Problems with Google Chrome

Since Google Chrome came out, I have been using it as my main browser. I like its clean interface which to me is a bit more appealing than FireFox, and its fast loading which beats Microsoft's IE 8. Quite strange that in a recent survey it came out that in the UK the Google Chrome browser only has a share of 5%. But there may be reasons for this, as I too have some issues with this browser which have yet prevented me from making it my default browser: I still have MS IE 8 and Firefox on my computers, just in case something does not appear right. And one thing seems to be the handling of JavaScript.

One example: When I checked on Spiegel Online the Medal Statistics of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, the table appeared to be faulty in Google Chrome: instead of country names there was only "undefined", and the flags were empty rectangles. When looking at the same page in MS IE8, everything was shown correctly. What could be the reason for this? I have no idea... Gears is installed properly, the browser version is, up-to-date. Unfortunately the user interface sleekness of Google Chrome has the disadvantage that there are no settings for me to control: I did not find anywhere to "enable Javascript" or something similar...

Another strange thing: I wrote some HTML code for a few web pages with images, and I used the "alt" attribute there, to give an alternative textual description of the image. In all browsers this "alt" attribute is shown when hovering with the mouse over the image, like a tooltip. Not so in Google Chrome: nothing appears. This may be actually closer to the intended web standard use, which recommends to employ the "title" attribute for tooltip-like information... I may have to change my web pages to properly take care of this.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Recent Activities

Very busy schedule recently: a Periodic Course Review of our MSc course, marking moderation of students' assignments and exam, the module Subject Exam Committee meeting, a meeting at the Yorkshire Concept Springboard, an evening at the Rivers Movement Exhibition in Barnsley, a workshop about commercialisation and business in Leeds, and a book launch event (also in Barnsley). In addition my main activity is in preparing a major bid for funding of a R&D project, to be submitted in the next few weeks. Is quite a challenge to organise this, to coordinate all the proposal preparation activities with the project partners. But the project - if funded - would be quite interesting: in case we win I will provide updates on it.

The weather in Leeds: some recent snowfall, but the temperature is above freezing, so no snow remains on the ground. Some snowfall could be here on Sunday, but only the top of the hills will get some white dusting.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

At Venturefest 2010

On Tuesday afternoon I drove to the York Racecourse, to set up our stand for the "Virtual Runner" project at the Venturefest 2010. We had received funding from the Yorkshire Proof-of-Commercial-Concept Fund from 2009-2010 and had now been invited to show our progress at this event, together with other funded projects. The A0 poster which the organisers had prepared for us looked quite good. Met with Rod there, not much to setup. Later I drove to Staples to get 150 handout colour prints which we would give away to visitors of our stand.

On Wednesday early in the morning I picked up Abe and drove to York again. Unfortunately the "Networking Breakfast" was only for the delegates, not for the participants, so we went to the cafeteria and had some breakfast there. Abe had worked throughout the night to do some last fine tuning of the software, and I too had not much sleep: I did a few tweeks of the project website. Added a database so that we could collect email addresses for a potential mailing list.

There was slight frost outside that morning, around zero degree Celcius, but the roads had been clear. However, many people took longer than usual, as there was some traffic on a few of the country roads around York.

We ran the software the whole day - not a single crash. We showed it to many people, got valuable positive feedback. There were many who really wanted to use this system and its envisioned future implementation.

Later in the evening Rod and I were invited to the Awards Dinner, where a few prices were given to projects and entrepreneuring companies. Nice conversations, and interesting people. A very busy but positive day!

During the day there were some snow flurries falling down, but only about 2 cm. The roads were clear again, but traffic drove slower than usual, being cautious just in case.

Abe, Rod, and Tony at the Virtual Runner stand

York Venturefest Awards Dinner

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Rod and Abe at the Virtual Runner stand, Venturefest York

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Prof Rod King testing the Virtual Runner

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Virtual Runner stand at the Venturefest in York

At the York racecourse.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Opening of Exposition in Barnsley

On Friday the "River Dearne Project", one project of the "Rivers Movement", opened an exhibition in Barnsley at the Emergence Pod 1. The expo shows paintings by artists and photos by photographers. In addition, a whole month of activities is been organised at this venue:

One of the expo pieces is an installation of Huddersfield University artist Lee Gascoyne: "Stillness". See his blog for details. I collaborated in this installation by writing software for visual tracking: a USB camera is pointed at the entrance to the installation room; when people move through the entrance, the software notices the change in the captured images and controls the replay of a video recording which Lee made of his creation of an art outside artwork. These changes in those camera capture stream influences the video replay (WinAmp) and makes the video "jumpy", going back and forward seemingly random. Only when the audience comes to a rest, that is when nobody enters or leaves the room, the video is played properly. The software which I developed is the same that is powering our Headingley Caedmon Webcam.

In addition, I also exhibit there four of my photographs - see below.

Narmada River in Gujarat, India

Lake near Hadrian's Wall

Malham Cove, Source of the River Aire

Sound of Barra, South Uist, Outer Hebrides

On Tuesday, 23.February, Brian Lewis and other painters will paint for 24 hours paintings, related to their age (he will paint 73 pictures in 24 hours). I have agreed to participate in this as well: I will compose a music piece which is 46 bars long. Still need some inspiration for this (ad)venture... I might actually also be there in the evening, bring my newly built MAESTRO-2 PC (have a look at the story of building that PC) and improvise a bit with all those fabulous Garritan Personal Orchestra instruments.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Visit of Peter in Leeds

On Tuesday Peter Baumgartner from Danube University Krems (DUK) paid us a visit here at Leeds Met. On Wednesday evening I took him out for dinner to (one of the) oldest Pubs in the UK: the Bingley Arms in Bardsey (supposedly from 953 AD). On the way it began to snow once again while we were driving slowly up north, through Harewood. The parking area was very slippery: I could not drive up to the pub but parked the car down below. Under the thin snow layer (2cm) there was ice forming... very dangerous for walking! Fortunately there was nothing like this on the roads - the temperature was just around 0 C, and the gritters had sprayed salt. We had a nice dinner in the pub, which has a good selection of food and ales.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Advertisement in Linz

McDonalds Advertisement 'Reinhold, Ess Ma!'
PhD student Johannes Christian found this advertisement in the Linz Train Station (in Austria) a few days ago. I wonder which Reinhold is meant there... (yes, I could eat a nice Roesti-Burger!).

Rough translation of the Austrian text: Reinhold, come on and eat!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Car Adventure

When owning a car that costs less than £ 1000, one thing is for sure: there will always be some interesting stories to tell. Such a low-cost car is not like those brand-new cars with their never-failing-no-break-down life, but instead provides a lot of material for heroic stories of overcoming challenges. And with such a car, I get to make good use of my AA breakdown cover...

On Saturday I had driven with the Renault Megane Scenic, which I had bought 3 months ago, across the Pennines, on a snowy motorway M62. The front wheel drive worked great, and I travelled in the right-most lane, overtaking the two queues which began to slow down on the left. The rear-screen wiper worked fine, wiping away the wet snow.

Next day, driving again through cold winter weather, the car runs great. But when I try the rear screen wiper, only the cleaning fluid comes out, but the wiper remains motionless. Well, this is now the first thing of all the things that will eventually break at this car, the problems of the Ford Granada which I had from 2005-2007 also started with the rear wiper...

Today I had to run a brief errand, which I wanted to do during the daylight in the late afternoon. When I returned back to Uni for a planned evening session of software work, I got into the evening traffic in Headingley. The cars moved slowly forward. Suddenly I noticed that the windows began to fog, for no apparent reason. I put the ventilator on max, but the fogging continued. I had to wipe the front screen clear. Why was that happening? Did I bring too much snow with my shoes into the car? When I looked out to the front, it seemed to me as if some vapour was coming from the engine department. But it could also be the exhaust of the preceeding car. The temperature appeared to be fine, so I continued, but I decided I would stop at the next petrol station and have a look.

When I stopped the car at the BP petrol station on Otley Road, I noticed clearly that there was some vapour coming from the motor. I opened the bonnet (US-american: hood), and yes, there was some steaming and some water dripping. Damned. Where was the leak? Then I saw the thermostat loosely lying on the engine. I immedialely recognised this part, as 10 years earlier I have had a lot of trouble with that 1971 Plymouth Fury Custom Suburban Station Wagon, which had constantly trouble with the cooling system, and I had done a few thermostat changes on that car myself.

I looked for the place where that loose thermostat could have come from, and I found it: on the side of the engine where the cooling hoses lead into the engine, there was the thermostate case. I could lift the upper part - it had no connection to the lower part. The whole piece had just broken. No wonder, it is only made of plastic! The thermostat case of the Plymouth had been made of full metal.

So what to do now? I got petrol, and also bought two liters of antifreeze coolant. Poured one liter into the reservoir, but while I filled it, the steam came again out. Not good. I decided to drive the short distance up to the University campus and wait there for the AA to pick me up.

The coolant in the engine had probably all gone. But the temperature still had been reasonably in the middle, and even now when I slowly drove out of the station, it was fine. Only when I drove up on Churchwood Ave, the needle began slowly to move up. I made it into the campus, with the temperature needle now being at 45 deg angle instead of the usual horizontal direction. Parked the car at the road between Caedmon and Metceno where AA could easily pick it up. 17:00 now, I had hoped I could get some food for the wait, but the campus food shop closes now at 17:00. I go to my office, call first KwikFit, asking if they repair thermostates. No, they do not, but the guy there recommends Nationwide. I call there, yes, I can drop off the car. Then I call the AA breakdown service. They tell me that I will have to wait about 2 hours. Is fine with me, since I am in my office and can do some work as planned anyway.

I receive a txt message from AA that in 10 minutes their service vehicle will be there. I slowly pack things and walk down.

The AA van arrives. I tell the guy the situation, and he concludes that he cannot fix it here but that I need a towing to a repair shop. Since there is a thick flattened snow coverage on the road, he is concerned that he will not be able to pull my car from where it stands now. Instead he drives forward until he reaches the downward sloping road along the Acre. Since my car in principle can still run, he asks me to drive behind his van so that he can setup the towing.

This van has a built-in device for towing; with several motors the towing axle comes out of the rear of the van, and the driver assembles it and sets it up. It takes about 30 minutes to set up the towing. Since my Megane has an automatic transmission, it cannot be towed by a simple towbar, but its frontal axis needs to be lifted for the towing.

Everything is ready, the Megane is affixed properly to the towing axle, the additional rear lights are affixed, we are ready for driving. Slowly downwards the slippery road along the Acre. Some sliding around the left-hand curve into the exit road, towards St. Chads Drive. The driver does not want to go down directly through St. Chads Drive, because he considers this too steep and too slippery. So instead he wants to turn right to Batcliffe Drive, then down to St. Anne's Rd. When exiting the Uni campus, the roads are not as much cleaned: a thick snow cover has been flattened by cars driving on it, creating a slippery road surface. Exactly at the exit of the campus, a taxi van wants to enter at the same time. It partly blocks the access road, so we cannot immediately make a right turn but have to drive around it. During the turning-right maneuvre, the AA van appears to slip, and slides slowly onto the opposite side of the road while still turning to the right. We make the curve, but are now very much on the left side of the road, with the left wheels digging into the deeper snow at the side. And then we stop - stuck. This was a short ride.

An AA van with a car behind it now stuck at the snowy road curve. The driver makes several attempts, but mostly the left front wheel just spins freely. He tries to rock the vehicle. letting it roll back, then trying again to speed up towards the front. But it always gets stuck at some icy patch. Finally the van appears to get some grip, and slowly inches forward. We made it. Allright. Now forward uphill on Batcliffe Drive. I tell the driver about my recent experiences with driving on snow, but he appears to be very concentrated on moving forward. As the slope becomes steeper, we are loosing momentum, and finally we stop - again the left front wheel is spinning, while the whole van with its appendix stands still and only slides a bit about. We are now actually blocking the road, having slid onto the right side of the road. Other cars squeeze into the relatively narrow gap on the left between us and the cars parked there. An SUV graciously overtakes us on the right - by driving completely off the road onto the sidewalk and the side lawn. Currently there is no visible difference between the road and the side - all covered by snow. How will we get out of this stuck location?

The AA driver decides that we have to unload my car, drive up the hill separately, and then tow again downhill St. Anne's Road. Ok, if there is no other choice... he tries a few more times to drive out with the whole assembly, but it does not work. So he reverses the whole procedure for affixing my car.

He drives the van uphill, but the van still does not get a good grip on the surface. He asks me to push the van. What a situation: I am pushing the AA van which I had called for help! But it works: I push on the right back side of the car, always weary of the towing axle which dangerously follows from behind me; the left front wheel still keeps spinning, but it helps to move the van uphill. When on top, the driver decides to move even further forward, until the downward slope begins. This is reasonable, because even on the horizontal road stretch it would be difficult to start towing my car. I walk back to my car, start again the engine. The cold air should be able to cool it sufficiently, even without any liquid coolant! The Megane drives without any problems up the hill, then towards the van.

Same procedure again as before: affixing the car to the towing equipment.

Done. We continue down St. Anne's Road. The van slides a bit, but holds the track reasonably well. We even stop properly at the red traffic light. From now on the driving is smooth, as the roads are relatively free of snow.

Arriving at the Nationwide Repair Centre. There is already another car parked in the back. While the driver releases my car from the towing equipment, another AA van comes along, towing another car - also a drop-off at the repair station. And their driver tells that earlier he had brought the car which is already parked there! Tomorrow this Nationwide Repair Centre will make a very good business.

When I drove the Megane into its parking position, I operated the screen wipers. And surprise, surprise - the rear wiper was working again! That is the nice thing about such an inexpensive car: full of surprises (good ones and bad ones).

I just hope that the thermostat repair is not very expensive.