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Don't get me wrong. I love camping. It's just I don't really like trying to share a ramshackle mix of portakabins with two toilets and a shower with a fully booked field packed with strangers. So why have I returned to this camp site on more than a couple of occasions? Because even with the most modern facilities, cleanest toilets, showers and yes some camp sites even have a Starbucks now you quite simply can't buy a view like this. The view in question, sun shimmering over the sea, is overlooking Robin Hoods Bay towards the headland at Ravenscar. While amongst some other strong contenders its may not be THE best coastal view in the country it's certainly one of the best you can wake up to in a tent. But I digress. This review isn't about the campsite - because actually that's done - but Robin Hoods Bay in general.
So let's clear a couple of thing up straight away. Firstly where is it? Robin Hoods Bay is located on the coast on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park between two big, brasher and perhaps better known resorts in Scarborough and Whitby. Secondly and famously of course Robin Hood himself may have afforded the same view that I described above. Or rather he didn't. There doesn't seem to be any evidence that the name is linked in any way to Robin of Sherwood fame. However the name is said to perhaps be linked to a forest spirit and this somehow fits into the intrigue of this area with places such as "Boggle Hole" where smugglers used to land there contraband and Whitby with its Dracula connections.
So what is there to do in "Baytown", as some of the local's refer to it, aside from admiring the view? Well if you want arcades and kiss me quick hats this isn't the place for you. Nor is this really the best place on this coastline for buckets and spades as the beach is perhaps more suited to scouring rock pools with fishing nets than building sandcastles. This place seems to be more about ambling through the village and taking in the - and I really hate to use the word - quaint atmosphere. The village itself can be roughly seen as two parts. The top half of the village is new with a couple of car parks. As you descend down the steep lane into the village however you soon find yourself entering a fishing village that on a foggy day with the sounds of the sea and the boats you could still half expect to see some excise men hunting smugglers. But if you really have to do something you can paint your own pottery, take fossil walks or perhaps if you want a bit of history visit the Old Coastguard Station or Museum. The village even has a cinema. And guess what? It's quaint.
This is also walking country. As the end of the Coast to Coast walk you will understand why people in walking boots are hugging each at the bottom of the hill before dipping their toes into the cold North Sea. Others celebrate the end of the walk in other ways. A few empty champagne bottles can normally be spotted around here. As well as the Coast to Coast walk Robin Hoods Bay is one of the final stops on the Cleveland Way before it reaches Scarborough and ultimately Filey.
If it's shopping your after your going to be spoilt for buckets and spades. Apart from that you can buy anything from a freshly caught Lobster to Whitby Jet jewelry. The village also has a butchers, bakery and store should you need food provisions while staying over. No chains here but Whitby is just down the road if you can't live without a Co-op.
You are also spoilt for choice if staying over. Aside from the camping I previously mentioned (Hooks House Farm as featured in "Cool Camping") which is a 10 minute walk to the new part of the village and another 10 to the bottom you will find a profusion of B&B's and particularly holiday lets. In fact walking through the lower village and seeing the number of lets available you would question how many "locals" are actually left.
You shouldn't starve either with plenty of options available from take away to find dining. Down at the bottom of the village is a fish and chip shop and cafe which to be fair could probably get away with selling rubbish to people who aren't going to come back again but has always been pretty good in my opinion. The pubs all sell grub and if you want al fresco dining with a Sea view you have a few different options such as the Victoria Hotel's beer garden, Candy's Café and Swell a converted church which is also home to the cinema mentioned early.
One of the joys of Robin Hoods Bay, for me especially, if you are staying over or not on driving duty is checking out the different hostelries in the village. Starting at the top of the "new" village are the Grosvenor Hotel and the Victoria Hotel. I haven't been in the Grosvenor but it looked nice enough although I suspect it gets missed by a lot of people being slightly higher up the road and looking more like a hotel bar. The Victoria has a couple of fairly innocuous drinking rooms but does have a beer garden overlooking the bay which would probably do just fine even without decent beer. However they always so have some good local real ales on tap. Things get more than traditional by the time you hit the tiny Laurel Inn halfway down the hill towards the sea. Next up (or down) is The Dolphin. A bit of a mystery this one as you would get a totally different impression depending on which route you have taken. On my first visit it seemed like a dilapidated place with a heater and a fusty smell and a lonely barman as company. However the main entrance to the more lively side of the pub is in fact on the other side of the building on the street running parallel. Unless you get lost going to the toilets you probably aren't going to make this connection. Finally at the bottom of the lane as close to the sea as you can get is the Bay Hotel.
Finally Robin Hoods Bay makes a good base for other attractions in the area. A bus service runs to both Scarborough and Whitby if you don't have a car. The Moors are also on your doorstop if you want to explore Heartbeat country.
Robin Hoods Bay should suit most people. It's dramatic in its own way all year round. Like an actor playing different parts its can be totally different from splashy summer to mysterious winter. However what is hilly and pretty is good news for some but for others you will understand why the bay taxi company looks like it's doing so well picking people up from the bottom of the hill. The hill is not too bad for most aside from hands on hips at the top but not the most suitable place for those old or infirm. But if you like very old fashioned seaside scenery without the flashing lights and a bit of mystery thrown in for good measure this might be the place for you. Even if Robin Hood himself never got to check it out.
One thing that is often said of Travelodges, as it is with any sort of chain, is that you "know what you are going to get" and they are all the same. After a recent stint of visits to a number of Travelodges I can say nothing could be further from the truth. I wouldn't say they range from Bates Motel to the Ritz but the quality and cleanliness certainly does vary. I have stayed in Travelodges in the past but this recent stint was due to taking advantage of the online sale they often have and using this to split up a long journey to and from the other side of the country.
The booking process..
I have only ever booked Travelodges online although you can also do it over the phone. As I said above I took advantage of one of the regular sales they have where you can book rooms from £9. If you want to take advantage of this you can go on the web site and sign up to find out via e-mail when the sales are going to start. In my case I was sat laptop in hand with a cup of strong coffee at 6AM in the morning waiting for the "£9 Summer Sale" offers to come online. Eventually I got a number of nights booked but not without the site crashing a couple of times due to over-demand.
In the case of Devizes I managed to book a room for £19. "Normal" rates tend to be around £55 but vary depending on day and popularity. You should remember that while normal rates allow you to cancel with a full refund the special rates tend to be no refundable. Credit card booking currently incurs a £2 fee so use a debit card if possible.
You can access your booking via the web site and you also receive an e-mail confirmation.
My girlfriend it has to be said is far from a fan of Travelodges after staying in a particularly old roadside one with a receptionist with no teeth so her first impressions are often a good indication of what to expect. Therefore it was relief that she thought this hotel looked clean and modern from the outside. Plenty of parking was available in the large car park. Checking in was no problem with the friendly and helpful reception.
Location / In the area..
The lodge is located on London Road / A361 leading out of Devizes. The instructions on the Travelodge web site mention coming in via an A420 which didn't seem to make much sense to me.
Devizes itself seems a nice enough town. We didn't have chance to explore as such but it big enough to have plenty of shops, pubs etc. The town centre itself would be maybe a 5 minute car journey or 30 minute walk from the Travelodge. Within a 15 minute walk is a Morrisons supermarket and a park and pond with a pub called the Bell. Needless to say other facilities maybe closer via different routes but I didn't come across them directly.
Devizes is canal country and the impressive Caen Hill Locks are in the area. Although not easily walkable they are a 10 minute drive from the Travelodge. We used this lodge as a base to visit Longleat Safari Park which was around a 45 minute drive away. I should add there are closer lodges but price in the sale and our onward journey in that direction made this our choice
As with the hotel generally the room looked new, fairly stylish in a very basic way and more importantly clean. After an incident with a dirty bath at a previous Travelodge our antiseptic wipes came up clean in what could be called a "stubby" rather than small bath. The low point was the bed. Although a large enough double this one felt liked it had collapsed in the middle and any attempts to sleep on its edges soon had you rolling back into the middle. Whether the beds are cheap or what I don't know but it seems more than a coincidence that is more the case than not when I stay with this chain. And finally pillows - two on the bed, one extra stored in the room and we always have to get a fourth from reception.
Other niceties that you would expect included a big enough flat screen TV opposite the bed which seemed to be using freeview and therefore limited to whatever channels it could receive. Wifi was also available at an extra cost.
Having booked a cot in advance we found two for some reason laid on the floor in the room. Its my understanding since that they should put them up for you but I finally figured out how to get one of them up. Its worth remembering that while cots are free they are limited and you should ring up maybe the day before or earlier to make sure they put one against your booking.
Although it doesn't seem to be mentioned on the web site under facilities this lodge had an adjoining branch of Subway. As Subways go though it's a little special as it doubles up in essence as the hotel bar. Therefore not only does it have a big screen TV but you can also order alcohol on showing your hotel card. However I am not sure the prices where normal subway prices and I could not see typical subway deals such as "Sub of the Day". That said it was handy to have it on site.
I am not sure I could actually make a case for making your whole holiday a Traveldoge one but at rates like this you can certainly get to visit places and break up journeys at excellent prices. As Travelodges go this was without doubt one of the better ones and would certainly recommend it.
With the new Rugby League "Super League" season just a few hours away I thought now would be an apt time to "review" the sport. Lets get one thing out of the way straight away - Rugby League is a game only played along the Northern English M62 corridor from Hull to Liverpool? Well err no! From the tropical towns of Papua New Guinea to the chilly fields of Russia and from the schools of London to the summer fields of areas better known for there passion for Rugby Union, Rugby League is a game that has managed to cast away some of its traditional boundaries, some self imposed others through no fault of its own.
Cast yourself back now to the George Hotel, Huddersfield. Its the summer of 1895 and 22 clubs, one of them on the phone, have met to form the "Northern Rugby Football Union" in response to the Rugby Football Unions decision to stop payments to players. Known as "broken time payments" this was in theory to pay players for the time off work to play in front of paying supporters. Included in that 22 where the likes of Hull FC, Leeds and Wigan, still household names today. This was the nucleus of what to day is the Rugby Football League (RFL).
The new body still used the same rules and each team still had 15 players as Rugby Union does to this day. However over the next few years the rules changes for varying reasons. Firstly and importantly the new sport had to be entertaining to play but more importantly had to be entertaining to watch, after all people where going to pay for the privilege. This saw the end of lineouts, the "play the ball" replacing scrumaging, 2 points for a kick and a change in the number of players to 13. The latter not only created more space on the pitch which the spectacle more entertaining but also made financial sense as less players had to be paid.
To this day Rugby League is still played with 13 players. The players are roughly separated into backs and forwards. The backs consists of a full back (1), 2 wingers (2 and 5), 2 centres (3 and 4) and 2 half backs (6 and 7). The forwards which make up the triangular scrum "pack" consist of two front row forwards (8 and 10), a hooker (9), two back row forwards (11 and 12) and a loose forward (13).
The point of the game, needless to say, is score points. A try is worth 4 points and a conversion from the try or penalty is worth 2 points. A penalty is given for infringements such as being offside. The final method of scoring is a drop goal worth 1 point. One of the key differences between League and Union however is that when tackled in League the ball is not contested. You "take the tackle" and then play the ball behind you for the passage of play to continue. Each team has 6 tackles. If you are tackled on the "6th" with the ball a handover occurs. Therefore most teams will kick the ball down field on the 5th tackle if they have made no real ground rather hand the ball over potentially near there own try line or in their own half.
Clearly no review of Rugby League is going to be complete without some comparison to Rugby Union. First and foremast I am a fan of Rugby League and not particularly one of Rugby Union. Therefore the following is my point of view but needless to say is going to be "biased" in its interpretation. What I would say is people on this site can rate the same tin of beans from 1 to 5. Each to there own. The two are different games and whilst sharing the same ball and fundamentals they are as different as snooker and pool.
Most League fans talk of Union as "Kick and Clap" a reference to the fact the ball seems to spend more time in the stands than it does on the pitch. Union fans refer to League as "tig" for the uncontested play the ball. A study a couple of years ago showed that the ball was in play in Rugby League around twice as much as Rugby Union and also more than football. Union fans will tell you that Rugby League is one dimensional - you take 5 tackles and kick. Whilst the actual one dimension may be far from true it cant be denied that most teams will kick "on the last" rather than risk running the ball unless near to the opponents try line.
Rugby Leagues lack of complexity as far as the rules go can be seen as an advantage or disadvantage depending on how you see it. The lack of line outs and contested scrums for instance makes the game a faster spectacle. Union fans may argue its these sort of technicalities are what they enjoy about their sport. To explain the uncontested scrum both packs of forwards pack down but in truth don't ever try and push to contest, or win, the ball put into the scrum. The advantage of this is you don't need specialised players for the scrum (read possibly a little overweight and not that mobile) and as far as the point of it goes it just leaves the backs in play which in turn creates more space for that passage of play. After some sad cases of serious injury in Rugby Union scrums and health and safety rules going mad who knows both codes might one day have the uncontested version.
So is Rugby League "harder" than Rugby Union. On a hit by hit basis I would say no doubt, it can be brutal. However ask most Rugby League players if they would fancy contested scrums or mauling for the ball with peoples studs flying in they would probably say no thank you! From a fitness point of view I would say League is well ahead as the ball in play study showed.
Is Rugby league a more skillful game? Again I would still say yes. That is in my opinion more skillful in the very basic core of rugby as game, running with the ball and passing it. When both Wigan and Bradford got invited to play in the Middlesex Sevens Rugby Union tournament they won it without even having the scrummaging skills to get much use of the ball. When they ran the ball they scored tries. Some people would argue this was when Rugby Union was an amateur sport but those in the know always called Union "Shamateurism" because the players where getting payed somehow maybe with a "jobs for the boys" solution for instance or perhaps via brown envelopes.
Interestingly if you take your kids to a Rugby Union club before the age they are allowed to tackle they will probably play a game where you touch the players six times before handing the ball over. Sound familiar?
Finally I should add before moving on there really is no reason you cant enjoy both codes of Rugby!
One thing Rugby League has always been good at though is shooting itself in the foot. At times it felt it was a professional game run by amateurs while Rugby Union was an amateur game run by professionals. This has changed somewhat and in my opinion the catalyst for this was not recruiting internally as it had but bringing in Richard Lewis from the Lawn Tennis Association as head of the sport. This was someone who could look at the game from the outside. When the "European" Super League started on Sky they saw it necessary to bring in a team from outside of the UK. This meant a team in Paris, France. Nobody clicked that the heart of Rugby League had always been in the South of France and had no grass roots in Paris. Needless to say the venture failed shortly after. More recently the great white hope of a team in South Wales has had to move up north to Wrexham from Bridgend. The 2000 World Cup held in the UK was also a financial disaster. Sporting sham teams for the likes of Scotland and Ireland filled with players who had great grandparents who might once have come Dundee and Dublin it never grabbed the publics attention.
As well as managing to shoot itself in the foot however Rugby League has never been short of those wanting to do it from outside its own control. A common argument for Rugby Union being a "better" game is that it must be because its played by more people and in more places around the world cumulating in a more than credible world cup. Two arguments you cant argue with. However their are some reasons for this. Before the second world war Rugby League was a flourishing sport in France, was seen as fast and exiting and was attracting big crowds. However what happened to the sport Rugby League was actually nothing short of scandalous. Powers that be in the Nazi supporting Vichy government took the assets of the League clubs and handed them to the Rugby Union. If you have a general interest in sport history a hard going but worthwhile read nonetheless to one of the worst sport related stories in history is available called "The Forbidden Game". Rugby League was also banned in the British armed forces up until a few years ago so never had the chance to spread worldwide via that form. On a final note the press don't exactly help either. Most of the southern based media would rather give a Rugby Union game in the southern hemisphere a full page write up than a game a few hundred miles to the North. A certain paper will often dedicate more to its school Rugby Union tournament than to a top of the table clash attracting thousands of fans. And if your are a fan of the BBC's a Question of Spot you will generally notice a Rugby Union player most weeks but rarely one from the other code.
What Rugby League can been good at however is being innovative. From the day is changed from 15 to 13 players it has brought in ideas and rules such as substitution interchanges and video referees. The first "rugby" world cup was a Rugby League world cup. The Super League era saw Rugby League change from a winter to a summer sport. In the last few years ideas to spread the game have included playing a whole weekend of fixtures in one ground in Cardiff and Edinburgh. Most of ideas end up getting coped by one of different sports of football or Rugby Union.
The future is bright for Rugby League. The international game has become more credible with a yearly 4 nations played between England, France, Australia and New Zealand. The previous world cup in Australia was a big success, a massive one compared to the disaster of 2000. The game is expanding not just worldwide but even more importantly in the UK outside of the so called M62 corridor. The new Super League season kicks off with teams from the likes of Hull, Leeds and Huddersfield on that route but also teams from London, Wales and the south of France. If you haven't watched Rugby League before give it a try this season. You will find it hard not to be impressed by this tough, uncompromising, entertaining and more importantly honest spectacle.
A couple of useful links for further reading
French rugby's shameful secret
(had to add a space in the above because of 80 character limit you will need to piece the two together)
Maybe it was because of the big defrost and a day or two of skies where a little bit of sun peeped through the clouds this January that I picked up a pack of Hoegaarden. Or maybe it was because a pack of 4 bottles was in ASDA for £4. But lets dwell on the little bit of sun because in truth this isn't a drink I normally consider in the dark of winter but something I more associate with enjoying outside on a hot summers day. Or at least a British summers day.
In my previous reviews on beer I think I have been quite honest in my lack of senses when it comes to smelling, drinking and even describing the beer. I have to be honest and say that if you put a thousand glasses of beer in front of me and I had to wear a blindfold but could smell the beer I would get none - bar one. That would be Hoegaarden which I can only describe as having a distinctly "fruity" smell which seems unique to this beer. Whatever I pick up in its smell I don't really pick up in any other wheat beers.
To start I should begin with an explanation of what Hoegaarden is. Firstly, and quite importantly, Hoegaarden is a small village in Flanders, Belgium. Its in an area known for growing barley and importantly wheat. In years gone by the village was also known for importing blue Curacao orange from (surprise) Curacao Island in the Dutch Caribbean. It was also because of historically been in an area of special tax breaks that breweries had typically flourished. Living on a farm in the village was a character called Pierre Celis. A dairyman and milkman Celis worked occasionally in the last brewery in the village that just so happen to make a wheat beer he was fond of before it finally closed down. Years later deciding to reestablish the villages tradition he experimented with various brews and flavours and came up with what is the Hoegaarden beer we know today. This is a wheat beer with the extra twist of the flavourings of coriander and the dry peel of Curacao oranges. Due to popularity of his beer he had to move his operations to what was a soft drinks factory in the village in the 80's. However by a twist of fate a factory fire in an uninsured building meant Celis had to borrow money from what is now the beer conglomerate InBev and eventually they took full ownership of the brand. However despite looking to relocate the production elsewhere the beer is still made in Hoegaarden and the bottle still bears the villages coat of arms on its label.
In amongst the spicy ingredients it may be easy to miss the key ingredient of wheat. You can often find confusion when the different terms Wheat Beer and "White" beer are used. However both are often the same thing with the latter name often being used because of the colour of the beer and head. In Germany its often called "Weissbier" again White Beer.
So onto the pouring and tasting. Firstly the bottle recommends you pour half, swirl then pour the rest. Who was I to argue. You need a good sized glass first of all. Like most wheat beers you get a large foamy head. As is often the case being a wheat beer it is quite cloudy and can be best descried as having the look of lemon barley water with the added fizz or perhaps better still homemade lemonade. And it does have a bit of fizz. Not overly so but refreshing. This isn't a cold winters day flat ale but rather something that does almost cry out to be drunk in Summer.
As well as in smell the taste can be described again as fruity with a touch of spice. I have to say I do like the taste of Hoegaarden but at the same time its not what I would describe as a session beer. Its certainly not sickly but its not a beer I could drink all afternoon or night. Anything more than a couple and I tend to have had enough but very much enjoyed the ones I have had. This must be the extra flavourings found in Belgian wheat beers in particular as mentioned earlier. I find I can drink German wheat beers for example as a session drink although I don't find them as initially tasty.
As I said I bought mine in bottles coming in at 4.9% but you will also see it on draught served in its classic six sided heavy duty glass. Unlike certain myths that suggest the glass is shaped because it would need to be wrenched from a persons hand with a spanner by the end of a night it was actually designed by Celis himself. Interestingly wheat beers had not traditionally been served in a clear glass as people didn't like the cloudiness.
Just as ouzo and pastis can taste better on a hot summers day in Greece and the south of France respectably I think their is something right about doing the same with this beer. It just doesn't taste the same on a dark night with the fire on.
If you haven't tried a fruity wheat beer before or aren't even normally a fan of lagers and ales in general then Hoegaarden is a good option for tasting a readily available mass produced version at a decent price. Just wait until our "Summer".
I recently wrote a review on Google Docs and talked about the pros and cons of using that system. What I found was it provided a pretty good package of word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications that had the advantage of being able to be used online with no extra software installed. It also did well in collaboration so multiple people could work on documents. Its only really drawback was the features that each application offered compared to other installed office suites such as Microsoft Office. I mentioned at the end of that review that Microsoft themselves had started looking at online collaboration themselves and this review is on there current answer to this - Office Live Workspace. This review is not for Microsoft Office but without it Office Live Workspace isn't going to be much use. While Microsoft have realised that they need to improve the collaboration features of Office they aren't going to put a free version online for what is at the end of the day there cash cow. Until the day a version of Office appears online that you pay to use - and I am sure in some form that day will come - this is perhaps the best way to add value to your investment in Microsoft Office if you have it installed.
What is quite confusing is that Microsoft also have something called Office Live "Small Business" which is for creating web sites online. This is nothing to do with Workspace. I don't think Microsoft help themselves at the moment with so many different products and names seemingly doing similar things.
Workspace is basically a web site so can be used on most modern operating systems with a fairly up to date browser. It can be run on Internet Explorer 6, 7, 8 and Firefox on Windows XP upwards and also Firefox and Safari 3 and 4 on Mac OS X 10.2.x and later.
If you are going to get any real benefit from Workspace you also need Microsoft Office installed. If you don't you will be able to view documents online but won't actually be able to edit them.
This is straight forward enough. Just visit -
You then need to fill in your email address and choose a password. You will then be asked your first and second name and country. Your name is actually relevant as when you change a document within Workspace it shows up in activity on that document.
First of all I let me explain again that with Workspace most of the work - that is typing documents, creating presentations etc. is done using Microsoft Office which would be installed on your computer. This is unlike Google Docs where you type actually on the web site. Workspace is the place you create, organize and store your documents.
When you are in Workspace you are dealing with two things really, either individual documents or workspaces. It could be you just want some individual documents that are not related or the second option is a WorkSpace which is a logical grouping of documents that maybe related to a project, a sports club etc which you may also want to share with other people .
So the first step would normally be to create a workspace. A short video tutorial is offered to show you how which is helpful if not particularly in depth. You can create a blank workspace or one based on one of 11 templates. The templates include "Project Workspace", "Sports Team WorkPlace", "Travel Workspace" etc.
Once you have selected a template your workspace is filled with some predefined documents. The "Project Workspace" for instance has "Participants" which is a list of people you can fill in that are involved in the project and can be interfaced with Microsoft Outlook, Project notes which uses an online notepad for brainstorming, Project overview (a PowerPoint presentation), Project post mortem (PowerPoint presentation), Project proposal (Word Document), Project Schedule and finally a "To do list".
In this example three of the items create Microsoft Office documents when you select them and therefore need Office installed - the Project Overview and Post mortem (PowerPoint) and the Project Proposal (Word). The other items such as the "To Do List" can be edited online.
As a real world example of what may happen though let me use this. If you click on the Project Proposal you see online a view of this document. Because this is one of the templates some of the document is already filled in for you. However I repeat you cannot edit this within workspace. You now need to click Edit if you want to try and change it and Word will be launched from your computer.
If this is the first time you have done this you need to add the office Live Add-in. This allows you to save to Workspace directly from the Office applications. The document now opens in Word on your computer. At this point you edit the document as you would normally and when you click save it saves it back to Workspace online.
Within each Office application you will also notice a difference if you chose "Save As" within a document. As well as being able to choose from the likes of Desktop, My Documents, My Computer etc. you have a new option of "Microsoft Office Live" which lists your various workspaces so you can browse to where you want to save a document online.
As well as being able to edit via the normal Office applications you also have some extra usage which you can actually do online. If you create a "Note" you can actually type online. This is a handy place for making quick jotting. However because it has simple formatting its actually a way of using an online Word processor a bit like you can in Google Docs. This doesn't help you edit a word document but at least you could cut and paste it later into a Word document if you wanted to.
You can also have lists which again you can type in online. These can be exported to Excel later if you want.
The workspace comes with 5 GB of storage so you should be able to store plenty of documents online. Individual documents can be as large as 25 MB in size. As well as saving documents you can also upload any sort of file that you feel is relevant to a project or want to share with people such as images etc.
Sharing and Collaboration...
All of this so far however is just a way of creating nice templates and saving your documents on the internet which while clever in its own is not anything that new.
The best part of Workspace is being able to share and work on documents with other people. Its not like you haven't been able to do this before but is it was normally a case of sending an e-mail to multiple people, saving it, sending it back, ending up with different versions that then had to be merged together.
To collaborate with other people you just choose "Share Workspace" or document. The process is quite simple. You are asked for the e-mail address of people who you want as "Editors" (people who can actually change the shared documents) and "Viewers" who can only see the document online. You can also add a note to explain what you are sending in the mail message. Another important option is "Let everyone view without signing in" which lets people view the documents even if they aren't Workspace users.
At the other end the person receives an e-mail with the note you sent and a link to click on. If the user already has a Workspace account the shared document or workspace will just show up to them when they log into the system.
Within Workspace it shows who has edited what documents and at what times. You can also set Workspace to e-mail you when a document has been changed by someone.
At the end of the day Workspace is free. If you have paid for Microsoft Office you can certainly add value to that investment by using it with Workspace. What it doesn't offer in comparison to Google Docs is online editing of the document - you need Office installed and if people want to work with you by actually editing the documents so do they. However combining this with Office has the advantage of using the rich feature set that the suite provides compared to Google Docs which doesn't have half as many options.
I have found Workspace to be a little buggy and thats the only reason I wouldnt give it full marks. The web site does say the service is still in "beta" - i.e. not the fully up and working version yet. I sometimes find that when I try and save a document to Workspace I get an error message saying it can save. However if I try a couple of times it saves in the end. I have also had times when I end up with a "read only" document and have to save it to my PC first and then save it over the top of the original on the Workspace site. One final problem I get is when saving and I get a message telling me its "Initializing the places bar" for quite some time. This relates to the add in I mentioned previously that lets you "Save as" directly to Workspace.
Overall though its a site well worth checking out that will add real value to the way you work particularly with other people.
For those old enough to remember dinosaurs and Windows 3.x you may well recall a utility called "macro recorder". Basically what this allowed you to do was automate repeated tasks you did in Windows by "recording" them and then playing it back again. So if for instance you always went into a certain directory to delete a certain file or always opened 3 applications at once you recorded a macro to do this. For whatever reason this inbuilt utility disappeared from future versions of Windows and a raft of utilities took its place. Hopefully this review isn't too technical to start with but does get a bit "techie" later on. If nothing else hopefully it will show what it's possible to do with this utility.
Perhaps to explain why I stumbled back on the world of Windows macros a quick look at a task I ended up with may be helpful. I had a task to upgrade some settings on over a hundred NetGear Routers that control the internet connections for a number of people. Yes over a hundred. This was going to involve ringing 100 people, having to tell them how to log into the router, tell them the admin username and password (which I didn't want to do anyway) and then tell them to check a certain box in a couple of settings. Or I was going to have to remote control each of these individually and do it myself. Either way each one would have been a 5 or 10 minute job to complete. What each task had in common however was the same username and password and the same settings to tick. This is just an example - I am sure you can think of loads of things you do in Windows that is repeated constantly. Let me give you one more example which can be done in other ways but could be done with macros. You need to install some software on 1000 machines. The installation is pretty standard - you start the EXE file, you click next on Welcome, you accept the default install location and click Finish. Again this is the same procedure on each machine. Or you play a shoot them up game in which the location of the baddies doesn't change. You are fed up of having to doing the same things to complete level 1- more 5 steps forward, shoot someone, couple of steps to the right, shoot 3 times - just to get to level 2 where you want to be. Again it's a repetitive task that doesn't change. As a final technical solution example you're an network administrator and you have 50 PC's to add to a network - normally they come with just windows one them so you then need to configure the network settings, add specific software, connect and install software for certain printers etc. There are other ways of doing this also but again this can be automated using AutoIT.
Quite a few macro languages can be found on the Internet - what I was particularly after was one that could "compile" my macros when completed so I could distribute them. In other words even though I have the macro creation software installed on my computer I want to be able to create an EXE file to send out to other people so they only require that one file - not the whole package. And a major point is AutoIT is also free.
If you are not a programmer then I am not sure how easy you would find to use AutoIT. The basic usage should be OK however. The help file that comes with the utility gives four easy examples of using the language to automate some tasks. The first tutorial creates a box that flashes up to just say "Hello World". The second example opens Windows Notepad, types some text and then saves the file. This is done with 6 lines of easy to learn code. The third example shows you how to automate an installation of Winzip which is again pretty easy to follow. The fourth example of using expressions will probably start to confuse people with no programming experience.
To give a basic example of the "code" -
Send ("this is some text I am now typing in Notepad")
This would basically open notepad and type the text into it.
As well as being able to code a macro a tool called AU3RECORD.EXE is included. Basically when you launch this you click a button ("Click To Record") and then do any launching of applications, key strokes, mouse movements etc. that you want automating. When finished you just click the button again and this is converted into code itself. You can then run this macro or edit the code to tweak it. This is actually a useful way of learning the language.
Editing the language is done with an editor called "SciTe" which helps you with the syntax of commands.
Learning and getting help..
AutoIT comes with a large online help that includes a tutorial as mentioned previously and a full language reference. As well as this the web site has forums that have a well established community of people willing to help.
I have to say I am not a serious programmer but have dabbled with coding in the past. The language AutoIT uses is a bit like the computer language BASIC. You have everything you would expect such as variables, loop statements, conditional statements ( if, then, else etc.). It's important again to understand however you don't need in-depth programming knowledge to use AutoIT but it will certainly help you get more out of it.
AutoIT also has hundreds of built in functions to easily return information to you without having to have programming knowledge.
For instance you need to know how much disk space you have - DriveSpaceFree("C") - would return the amount of space available on disk drive C.
You need to play a tune - SoundPlay (c:\tune.mp3) - would play the file tune.mp3
As I said in the introduction one important point about AutoIT is that you can "compile" the macro you have created. This means you can run it and send it to other people who don't have the software installed. This is done simply be just choosing "compile" from within the editor.
AutoIT can be used for things as easy or complicated as you like. If you can do something in Windows manually however long it takes it can be automated. The application is said to support from Windows from 95 to Vista so I suspect it will also work fine on version 7.
It's an advantage and a disadvantage that behind the macros is a programming language. If you are used to programming you will certainly find it easier to understand and tweak than someone with no knowledge of the subject.
AutoIT doesn't replace things such as the inbuilt scripting in Windows but certainly compliments it.
I can't find any real disadvantages to AutoIT apart from its complexity but people will need that. One problem I have come across however is certain anti-virus packages picking up the compiled EXE files as viruses. This is because tools like AutoIT can be used to create malicious code just as they can do useful things.
The important thing to remember is as I said at the beginning of the review. If you can do something in Windows - type some text, move a mouse somewhere, you can automate it.
Most people have used Microsoft Office or if not one of its competitors such as StarOffice. Most of these office "suites" tend to include at the very least a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation system in the case of Microsoft Office, Word, Excel and PowerPoint respectively. By default most people seem to end up with these office packages on there home or work computer even if in truth they use about 10% of the features that they offer. I know people who have bought Office and use as many features in Microsoft Word that can actually be found in WordPad or Notepad that ship with Windows by default. If you use an office suite its also pretty hard to share and collaborate on documents even with added infrastructure in place such as Microsoft SharePoint sites used by some businesses. Normally you end up e-mailing people copies of the document which then comes back to you with changes and hey presto - you now have 2 copies of the file. You also need to worry about the backup of your data because the documents you create tend to be stored on your hard disk or on a file server somewhere.
Google Docs is a free online alternative - actually offline too as I will explain shortly - that includes the ability to create all three of the standard files you would expect in an office suite - documents, spreadsheets and presentations as well as "forms" which are used to create spreadsheets too. Basically the system runs within your web browser be that Internet Explorer, Firefox or whatever and for this reason doesn't care what operating system you are running on either be it Windows, Ubuntu or something like your mobile phone. Because its a Google service my initial thought was that the system would be unavailable if I didn't have an internet connection. This isn't the case. Yes you need to be online to sign up for the service and synchronise your data but if you install something called Google Gears an offline copy of all our your documents are available when not connected to the internet. I will cover working offline a little later.
Another big advantage is that your documents are stored online so if you need them you can get them anytime from anywhere as long as you have an internet connection. This is unlike the standard situation you will find yourself in with documents on your actual hard disk. As I said earlier I should also repeat the important fact that Google docs is free.
Creating an account..
This is very quick and easy. Just visit the http://docs.google.com web site and sign up. If you already have a google mail account you are ready to go. If not just enter a valid e-mail address and create a password. I will mention it later but if you want to use Docs offline (i.e. with no internet connection) you are better signing in with a googlemail account.
Using the various applications..
The Docs interface
When you open Docs you first see a list of your documents sorted by default on date modified. This can be changed to view by name etc. You can also create folders at this point which show along the left hand side of the screen. Using these you can organise your documents which can be put into these folders using drag and drop. Each document shows information such as when it was last modified and if its shared with other people. You can rename and delete documents from here and also search through all of your documents for certain keywords. It is here by that you start new documents by clicking on the "Create new" button.
You firstly create a new document from a blank sheet or from a template. In case you aren't used to the various office suites a template is a predefined format to base the new document on. containing information you would add to every document based on it. Docs come with an impressive array of these either created by Google or by other people who have submitted them. These include the likes of resume/CV's, cover letters, basic invoices, business plans, fax cover sheets etc. Templates are also available for the spreadsheets and presentations.
Either way you end up with the typing screen which will look pretty much like any "windows" based word processor you may have used. Most of the tool bar options people are used to are there, File, Edit etc.
All of the standard stuff is there for "basic" word processing - changing the font, size, bolding, italic etc and adding tables if needed. You can also create headers, footers, paragraph styles, do spell checking, add images etc.
How does it compare with say Microsoft Word 2007. Well its not in the same league as far as features go's - what you have to ask is how many of these do you actually use though?
The one thing I did find a bit fiddly was formatting tables. I guess I am used to how easy this is in Microsoft Word and found just moving the size of columns to be a bit of a hassle. One thing I found very useful however was "revisions" which allows you to go back to an older version of your document. I found this useful on a couple of occasions after accidentally deleting a chunk of text and saving my document.
Like the word processing this is again a very usable application. I use this to do my home accounts but in all honesty I dont use spreadsheets for much more than that with simple additions. Would I be able to just use this if I was a top financial type person - I doubt it. However it does have some nifty little features such as online look up of company share ticker information for example.
Of all the Office applications I find Excel gets the most use from power users and they want the big features. A lot of those features are just not available in Google Docs.
I have been a big user of Microsoft Powerpoint since its inception but generally I would have to say that I don't really use any more features now (even though there are loads!) than I did when I first used it. I have slides with a background with information on them and that's about it. When you create a new slide you get the option of 5 different slide layouts. For this the presentation part seems to work fine. You can also add standard stuff such as speaker notes. You can also do things such as insert video for instance which allows you to search YouTube and also insert an image and point to a web location for the image.
As I said earlier with the word processing you can base your presentation on a number of predefined templates.
Collaborating is one of the really good things about using Google Docs. Let me give an example of how 3 people (I will be original and just call them X, Y and Z!) who are working on a presentation based newsletter for the local football team might currently do this. Lets presume all have Microsoft Office and each has a e-mail account at the likes of Yahoo! and Hotmail etc. Lets say X creates a presentation in PowerPoint and then e-mails this to Y and Z to see what they think and to change it and add things as necessary. Both of these have to save the file from e-mail and work on it and send it back. X receives both back via e-mail, saves them and has to look through both to merge them together. X now has three different version of the presentation to contend with. With Google docs you don't send an attachment you send a link and give people the chance to work online with it directly. To do this you just open the document, click the "share" button and provide the e-mail addresses of the people who need to work on it. If these are accounts that have Google Docs they can just open them up and work on them. When complete X can publish the presentation directly onto the internet for the team members to view it. You also get supplied with code so you can embed this into a current web site or post it on a blog.
As previously mentioned I had thought that I would have to be connected to the internet to work with Docs. This is not the case and you have an "offline" button within Docs. When you click this for the first time you are prompted to install Google Gears. This makes any documents you have created available offline (basically it copies them down to your hard disk). From a security point of view this isn't something you would particularly want to do on a shared computer however.
Generally speaking I found the offline access to work fine with a couple of exceptions. Firstly (and I couldn't personally find this in the online help) you have to be using a google account name to log in - i.e. when you create an account you can use any login name or a NAME@googlemail.com account. Only the latter seem to work offline. Secondly making my documents offline via a company proxy/firewall did not work correctly - a direct connection to the internet fixed this. You also have to install Gears for each web browser you use - for instance on my machine I had to install it for both Internet Explorer and Firefox. When you exit and enter Docs your documents are synchronised so the latest versions or are on both the compute and the internet. Overall the whole offline system seems to work pretty well
Integration with other office suites..
The biggest problem you will have with Docs is the integration with current office suites and working with other people who are still using them. If you want to import documents into Docs then you should be fine with most formats although certain features are not supported such as footnotes, tables of contents and pivot tables for example. You can import word processed documents in most of the formats produced by Microsoft Office and StarOffice for instance. There are some size limitations that may catch you out however - Word documents for instance can only be 500 KB in size which is pretty small. Spreadsheets are a little better at 1MB and presentations from PowerPoint can be imported up to 10MB in size. I personally have a lot of files over this size which I was unable to import however this is often down to bad formatting of the documents in the first place - see my review on NX PowerLite for more information on this. In my tests most Word, Excel and PowerPoint files uploaded fine.
One problem you wont get round easily though is getting e-mailed a large Word document for instance from another source. If you receive a small Word document to your googlemail account you can open it in Docs or view it as HTML. However if its large as mentioned above you can only view it in HTML format so cant edit it.
Clearly Microsoft Office is the competition for Google Docs that you would normally install on your PC. Google aren't taking on Microsoft as far as operating systems go anytime soon so have wisely taken the approach that you don't actually need a certain operating system to install an office suite on or rather it doesn't matter which one you use as long as you have a web browser. Google Docs has online competition as well though in the likes of ThinkFree and Zoho which are also very usable. For me Google has the advantage other these already with its brand name and the tie in with the very popular Google Mail.
Is this the death of Microsoft Office then? Certainly not yet. Firstly if you need the extra features that the various parts of that suite offer you aren't going to get them just yet in Google Docs.
None of the Google applications have anywhere near the same number of options that Microsoft Office have - but do you need them all ? I don't doubt though that Google are adding new features all the time to try and catch up. Secondly because such a large number of people already use Microsoft Office and have trained on it in shook, college and previous work no business is going to want to change to another system anytime soon. Finally large documents maybe received via e-mail cannot be opened or imported into Docs. Microsoft though must be looking at these online packages and no they have to offer more down that route soon and have started addressing this with "OfficeLive" which has online collaboration and I will try and review at some point also.
Many people, and certainly organisations, will also be concerned that there data is stored on a file server somewhere on the internet that is not under there control. Its unlikely but what if Google you loose your data because of a crash, virus or hacking?
Where I think Google Docs is ahead of Microsoft Office without having to get extra infrastructure in place is collaboration though. Its quite scary that in my own "Microsoft" work environment we are constantly having problems with limits on disk space, e-mail size, sharing files between sites that have low bandwidth connections and that our users would actually be better using Google Docs in some respects. Clearly in a corporate environment you dont want to be loosing control of your systems like this with people just signing up to these sort of services.
You also have to consider the ease of upgrades. When you decide to upgrade from Office whatever to the latest version you may have to do this on anything from one to thousands of computers. New versions of Google Docs will just be there so there are no upgrade hassles to worry about. With Office you also have to worry about the data - if you are not storing it on local machines you need a back-end server to store it. And if on local machines how are you backing the data up?
As far as speed goes using Google Docs its a double edged sword. Its an online service and I have found it fine as far as this goes. If you have want to compare it with Office it very much depends if you have this installed on a very slow or fast machine On a final note I should mention I had previously read some time ago about problems connecting to Google Docss and various errors people were getting. In the time I have been using it I haven't failed to get on to do my work.
If you work for a decent sized company then I suspect you wont be moving away from the likes of Microsoft Office anytime soon. If you are home user, small office or club/etc. then I would say Google Docs is worth a look especially for the collaboration tools and if you dont wont to have to worry about file servers etc. to store you data. As your business grows then maybe its worth looking at Google Apps which is the premium service for Docs. Clearly some sort of online collaboration options are the future and dont be surprised to see an online version of Microsoft Office in some shape or form sometime soon. I rate Google Docs as highly as I do Microsoft Office but for the different reasons and they cant be compared like for like. Google Docs is just very good at the target audience it is currently aimed at.
Having recently made the decision to write a few reviews on beer I had one problem. Certainly not sourcing or sampling the beers, the latter something that I seem to excel at. What I wanted was how to understand, taste and finally review them.
I decided to scout for a book to help me and finally decided on the "The Beer Book" from Dorling Kindersley which looked modern and glossy and had decent reviews and with 352 pages sells at a recommended price of £16.99 (although much cheaper on the likes of Amazon). The book is a collaboration of a number of contributors from all over the world. So did I make the correct decision in my purchase? Well yes and no and I will explain that later.
The introduction to the book was encouraging and what I was looking for. It described how people can talk about wine and the different colours, aromas and tastes yet to many a beer variety is just something they like or dislike. As it says many people will ask for a specific wine colour, sweetness and grape variety while typically just asking for "a beer".
I should say as soon as you open the book you notice it is very good at what DK do best, particularly with their travel books, in that it's good to look at. However it at this point the book you realize the book is firstly an encyclopedia of different beers and a reference and guide second. The book is split into the different beer countries from the obvious (USA, Germany, British Isles, Belgium, Czech Republic) to the not so obvious such as countries more associated with wine such as France and Italy.
Each country follows the same layout firstly showing a map of where the different breweries are located. A fairly conclusive alphabetic list of the breweries with a listing of a beer or two produced by each of them follows. This includes descriptive tasting notes that will have you wanting to chase some of them down. Above each of these is a picture of the bottles for the different beers. This is again graphically very nice.
In fairness though there is more to each section that just a list of beers. Each country also has a section of other information based on "The Story Of", "All About", "Beer Styles" and "Beer trails". In the USA for example "The Story Of" are 2 page spreads on both Anheuser-Busch who produce Budweiser and the perhaps lesser known Brooklyn Brewery started by a news correspondent who learned to brew beer while in working in a certain far eastern countries where alcohol was forbidden.
After the USA is the great brewing country of Germany. As well as the list of breweries and beers is the best selection of "Beer Styles" sections in the book. This includes information on German Beer in general, explaining everything from Smoky Beer made in Franconia to Gose a wheat beer flavored with salt and coriander. Lager ("the beer that conquered the world"), the unique beer of Cologne known as Kolsch and Dusseldorf's "old beer" Altbier are also covered. With a trip planned for Munich this year I found this section to be very interesting and will certainly be trying to find a couple (of pages) worth while there!
Reading the tabloids about the likes of Newcastle Brown Ale moving away from its home and a couple of big companies seemingly owning all the brands these days you would perhaps be depressed by the plight of the British brewing industry. Far from it though reading through the section on the British Isles shows just how many small and independent breweries we actually have, stretching from Orkney in the far north of Scotland to St Austell in Cornwall. Examples of beers I would never have heard of include a brew produced by Williams in Scotland were heather is used instead of hops.
As I said beer trails are found in each of the sections - by the time you get to Belgium you get a tour of Brussels. Not all of the trails are in cities (although Bamberg in Germany and Prague are) but also the likes of the Cotswold's in England and Oregon in the USA.
The last country visited is the Czech Republic. Here we find plenty of Pilsner's and Lager's from the well known likes of Pilsner Urquell and Kozel but also dark beers and stout.
The rest of world possibly springs the most surprises. Italy is seen at the forefront of new ideas for beer as spiced, rose and violet infused ideas show while in Australia the good news is Fosters only accounts for around 1% of the domestic market, tourist's maybe!
At the end of the book is a two page glossary which is interesting and a good read in its own right. It's almost a shame that some of the information in here is hidden away at the back of the book.
Finally you have a few pages of to fill in your own tasting notes
On the negative side the book does lean more towards a list of beers than information but its good at doing that. If you have ever compared a DK travel book to say a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide you will understand the visual versus hard information comparisons. Obviously an list of beers is going to be out of date at some point so it's hard to predict the actual shelf life of this book. I would have liked a bit more information on how to taste beers and how the different malt and hops actually affect the taste of the beer.
That's not to say I don't like book. I rate it highly at what it does which is almost a coffee table reference that is visually good and will whet your appetite to try and hunt down and try some of the beers. If this is what you are after then it's a good buy, if you want to learn a lot about beers itself I would perhaps look elsewhere.
Its quite difficult to write a review of KLM as the services and planes differ so much from the flight options they offer - from a regional airport shuttle to Amsterdam, to a couple of hours flight to a city in Europe to a transatlantic crossing all of which I have done numerous times in the last couple of years. I will try and share my opinions on all of these.
Let m start of though with a little bit of background and history on the company. Firstly the acronym KLM means Royal Aviation Company in Dutch but in English the company is generally referred to as KLM "Royal Dutch Airlines". Founded in 1919 its the oldest airline in the world operating by its original name. KLM merged with Air France in 2004 but they do seem to be operating under there own distinct brand names. The main hub for the airline is Amsterdam Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands (Holland). KLM is part of the "SkyTeam" airline alliance. They currently have a fleet of more than 200 aircraft.
It may surprise some people why so many British people end up flying on a Dutch airline. Let me explain why I (and many others) end up using KLM so much. This is basically because I don't live particularly near to a "major" airport such as those in London and Manchester but I am surrounded by what I would call "regional " airports such as Leeds/Bradford and Humberside. KLM uses these as well as numerous other airports stretching from Aberdeen to Jersey as access points from which to link to Amsterdam. Amsterdam Schiphol in turn opens up a world of travel opportunities - KLM service just under 100 destinations and you can also add the destinations serviced by the other SkyTeam carriers. Basically when you check in at your regional airport your bags go straight through to the final destination and you receive your boarding passes for each onward flight there and then. KLM operate these services under the name "Cityhopper" and they tend to be smaller aircraft made by Focker be they jet engined or in some cases "turboprops" with a propeller. Due to a purchase of AirUK a number of years ago a lot of the on board crew do still tend to be British. I have never had any real problems on these flights albeit they tend to last less than an hour over the North Sea and apart from when the weather has been particularly bad I normally arrive on time. You are normally given an in-flight sandwich and drink as part of the cost although I noticed that on my last hopper flight out of the UK I was given a £5 KLM voucher to spend in the airports only cafe due to no on board sandwich. Suspiciously the cafes breakfast butty had risen to nearly this price. Not KLM's fault but just shows how a reasonable idea can be "abused" by a monopoly.
That is the advantage of KLM and why I use them. It is also the disadvantage and let me get these out the way straight away. That is the chances of having you bags arrive with you (or possibly ever) and the chances of missing connecting flights. I am not sure if I can quantify the chances of something going wrong but on a pessimistic scale I would say roughly 1 in 20 times I fly a bag or a connection goes amiss. Firstly your luggage. Clearly if you are getting on a plane at a regional airport in the UK and changing planes in Amsterdam there is already room for failure for a bag to go missing. Add to this the amount of time you have between connections and you can see this is sometimes going to happen. A couple of years ago I understand Amsterdam had real problems with the baggage transfers but I think a lot of those problems where sorted out. Normally when I check in a bag with a small connection time the handler puts a priority sticker on so they are clearly trying to do something about these connection time issues. I should say this problem isn't unique to KLM but you are less likely to come across it flying direct when possible and KLM do push the whole UK to Amsterdam hub thing. If it does happen however KLM do in fairness try and do the best they can for you by providing an overnight bag of essentials (unless you are in Moscow but that's a whole different story). On 3 occasions of having luggage not arrive (one coming home, twice going away) the bags have ended up with me the next day and you can track your bag location update online to see where it is or isn't. I have on occasions also received vouchers for money off flights because of the inconvenience.
The second problem is missing your connecting flight. Generally speaking this tends to happen because of bad weather and a delay from the first location. Normally you are put up in a local hotel (mine was a pretty good one), given a voucher for a meal and a drink, a simple white T-Shirt and some toiletries. Looking at the number of people in white t-shirts at the evening meal I had in the hotel a lot of connections must get missed! Needless to say this again isn't unique to KLM but you are warned that by adding an extra hop to a flight you are increasing your chances of something going wrong.
It has a section in its own right to review on but a review of KLM from my perspective is incomplete without mentioning the main hub airport. Firstly let me say that Schiphol is a clean, efficient and easy to get around airport with plenty of facilities. This is far better than some mazes of airports with multiple linked terminals (I hate Heathrow) and is all under one roof. What it is not however is the great shopping experience it maybe once was and I personally now find myself looking at the same shops selling clogs and mugs with tulips on them each time I have a stopover. It does have an ample number food and drink options as well as a good lounge for KLM frequent flyer members.
The next hop..
As I said a lot my travel is done onward from the hub in the Netherlands. I have been on a number of flights to Canada, Russia and Ukraine in the last couple of years.
Within Europe this has been on Boeing 737's. No complaints on any of these, you don't get any entertainment as such (not sure how normal this is on a 3 hour plus flight these days) aside from the in-flight "Holland Herald" magazine which isn't a bad read. Food is generally a couple of sandwiches recently followed by a very nice Dutch butter cake. I had previously being treated to a strange cabbage dish on flights to Russia and have had better meals on the much maligned Aeroflot. My only gripe is when getting a coffee you get whitener and not real milk! Depending on the exact plane you sometimes get the personal screens at least showing your current location, speed etc.
To North America I have always been on a Boeing 747's. The "entertainment" is normally much better on these with multiple channels and now one even offering language courses. You can even go onto the KLM web site to see what films are going to be on during your flight. On these flights you normally get choice of two meals for your main meal and also a breakfast and a small treat somewhere in the flight.
With all of the flights most of the crew are Dutch so the level of English is excellent and all announcements are made in English. I still love the Dutch slant on English. A regular captain continues to say just before landing "Cabin Crew.. Take your sheets".
Online check in..
Its worth knowing you can check-in online via the KLM web site to save you time at the airport. You also get the option to choose your seats where available.
The frequent flyer scheme..
Again you could do a review on this itself but I will give some brief details on its benefits. The program was originally "Flying Dutchman" but is now the joint program with Air France "Flying Blue". I have to say that like many airlines schemes what was a big perk seems a lot less valuable these days. The amount of miles you earn depends on what level of flyer you currently are and also any promotions. For instance a flight to Amsterdam can earn anything from 200 to 2000 flyer miles.
Spending your miles can be done via the KLM website or ringing a call centre. The problem these days is you can use your miles against a flight but it doesn't cover the tax which can be ridiculous. This is particularly the case if hopping via Amsterdam as you pay tax at each destination. As an example a "free" flight using my miles to Amsterdam would have cost around 110 euros in tax while I could have just bought the flight for £150 anyway. The further you go the better value it becomes. New York would have cost me 280 euros in tax (still a lot) but over £400 for the flight. One thing KLM have added in the last few weeks is to also be able to pay your tax on some flights with miles also. As well as booking flights you can also use your miles with other companies. For instance I booked a Kyriad hotel in Paris using 25,000 miles for each night I stayed.
The bottom line is KLM is running a 4 star service but you will no doubt have days when a bag is late or a flight is missed and you would judge it as a lot less. That said for me the convenience of flying from a local airport makes up for some of the problems I encounter. KLM flights tend to be comparable in cost if a little mo. For me I don't mind paying the extra if it saves me on travel and parking costs at one of the bigger airports. Plus I tend to get away from the regional airports much quicker as everything from passport control to luggage collection is much quicker. If you live near London or Manchester I suspect you would be better looking at direct flights if they are offered.
I recently wrote a review on "Second Copy" exploring how I use this tool to get all of my data in one place and then use it to do backups. If you haven't read the article let me give you the jist of how important backups are in one word - VERY.
If you have things such as family pictures, school work or anything else that you don't want to loose you MUST do backups of some description. Believe me computers do fail, they do get dropped accidentally, they do have drinks dropped on them, hard disks do crash and they do get stolen. In my previous article I mentioned how I backup to a large USB device. This is all well and good and generally I try and remember to keep this somewhere safe away from the computer. As the recent awful pictures of flooding on the news showed though is it really safe enough to just backup your data to a locally connected device? Unless you are really disciplined at unplugging the backup device and keeping it in a different location then the answer has to be no.
At one time it was a technical dream to be able to somehow store backup data somewhere else. Now though with the power of remote file server "farms" with almost unlimited amounts of disk space and more importantly the speed at which people connect to the Internet it is now very possible. In the days of dial-up internet to backup a few GB's of data would have taken an age. Now the backups can be completed in a few hours. This is how Mozy works, one of a number of sites on the internet offering to look after your backup data for you. Let me make one thing clear however - a site like Mozy will backup your "data". It wont replace any other methods of backup you may have in place to recover the operating system itself. In other words if your system failed you need to get Windows back up and running by whatever method and then restore your actual data.
When you arrive at mozy.hom you have the choice of MozyHome and MozyPro. This review refers to the home version. This again splits into two different versions - MozyHome "Free" (which allows you to store up to 2GB of backups) and "Unlimited" ($4.95 a month but cheaper if you sign up to a longer period). The software and system used is exactly the same for both.
The first thing you must do is sign up. This is easy enough and pretty much just involves giving your e-mail address and a password. When complete you receive a link in your e-mail to activate your account and download the Mozy software that needs to be installed on your computer. The software is currently available for both Windows and Mac machines. The web site doesn't actually refer to Windows 7 (Just 2000, XP and Vista) but from my experience it does work fine on this flavour of Windows. I haven't tested the software on a Mac but the web site says it will run on Mac OS 10.4 and 10.5.
Once you have downloaded the client (less than 10MB in size) the installation is easy enough with a simple wizard only really asking where you want to install the software. At the end you can run the MozyHome configuration Wizard which is the key thing.
With this you first enter your account username and password (that you created on the web site). You now have to choose an encryption method which in fairness might just frighten a few people who don't quite understand what it means -
MozyHome's 448-bit Blowfish key (recommended)
Own personnel 256-bit AES key
Basically most people should have no reason not to choose the recommended MozyHome option. The only reason I can think of using the second option is some people may have data that is very private and they don't trust Mozy or that the system could be hacked or whatever. Basically if you choose the second option you will enter a key phrase. As the system will advise you - twice - if you loose this key you would not be able to restore you data if it was lost and needed to be restored.
The next option is to decide what you want to backup. Mozy gives you the option to select some "Backup Sets". What these are pre-selected groupings of documents and files. This is useful for people (i.e. most) who end up putting documents all over the place not just in "My Documents" but in folders on the desktop etc. For instance choosing "Photos and Images" will make sure all files with extensions such as .BMP .JPG etc. are backed up. "Music" will make sure all .MP3 files are backed up. Other options include simply "My Documents" which is just everything in that folder. Other options include things people may forget such as Internet Explorer and Firefox Favourites. You can also manually select individual files and folders but this is better done using the "Expert Mode" later on. Selecting any of the options is just a case of ticking or un-ticking the relevant backup set. At this point you are shown what percentage of your free 2GB quota you have used up. If over the limit you need to remove some items or click the link to visit Mozy to pay for the unlimited version.
A bandwidth test is then performed to make sure how fast your internet connection is to perform remote backups. If you have broadband this should pass, I have not tried it on a slow dial-up connection.
You can then choose how you want to perform the backups, balancing how much processing you want your computer to do based on a slider between "Faster Computer" and "Quicker backups". Mozy recommend setting this to 3/4 speed. Based on this information you will get an estimate of how long your initial backup will take.
You are now ready to start your first backup or can choose to go into "Expert Mode" or allow the first backup to run when the computer isn't being used (i.e. "idle"). A this point its worth noting the first backup may take hours or days depending on the amount of data you have. However after the first backup presumably only changes are backed up so these can take seconds or minutes. Before giving information on the backup process itself let me run you through "Expert Mode".
Plenty in here to fine tune the previous options if you feel the need -
"File System" - In here you can select individual files and folders and be a lot more granular than just selecting from the pre-created backup sets.
"Options" - You can set various scheduling options such as only backup if the computer CPU is running at a certain % and schedule to run at a very specific time. It also allows you to "throttle" how much of your internet connection is to be used for backups. You can also set a time to throttle so that backups get full use during the night but not much when you are online during day time hours for instance.
"History" - Shows what has been backed up and when.
"Restore" - I will cover this later.
When the backup is actually running moving the mouse over the icon shows brief information on what is actually going on. Double clicking on it shows more detailed information including the current status of encoding and transferring the files in the backup. While dong the backups I haven't notice any real hit while using my system but as mentioned previously you can adjust the system to give you better performance while reducing the speed of the backups.
Optional pop up boxes will say when the backup is complete, if you are over quota or how many days you have gone by without a successful backup.
The bit you hope you never have to use - Restore
So what happens if you do actually loose your data somehow? After all as good as a backup system is it's no good if the restore is hard to use or worse still doesn't work. With Mozy you can restore either using the Mozy software installed on your computer, using Windows explorer Mozy add-ins or via the Mozy website.
Using the installed client you just choose restore. You then have two options. You can either just restore one of the predefined sets - such as "Music" or "Spreadsheets and Databases" or you can pan down to individual files or folders you want to restore. This can be as simple as restoring to there original folder. You also have the option to change the destination folder to something other than its original location and overwrite or rename the restored file so you can have different versions of a restored document on your computer.
The second option is also done on the computer with the Mozy client installed via the normal Windows explorer. A new "drive" along with your usual C etc. called "MozyHome Remote Backup" is available and you can pan to the file or folder and just choose restore. You can also use time to pick different versions of a particular file. The final option also using explorer is "Right-Click Restore" so can right click on an existing file or folder to go to a previous version.
The other option is via the a "Web restore" via the mozy.com website With this method you choose the files and folders you need to restore and the system well then send you an e-mail when the restored "package" is ready. This is a link to a ZIP file you download that contains all of the files you want to restore. As well as being useful for backups this is also handy if you need a file that is normally stored on your computer but you need it somewhere else.
Overall the different restore options cover most eventualities and are very powerful. Its worth remembering though that however long it took to backup its going to take that time to restore it back if needed (i.e. hours/days).
So is 2GB of free backup space going to be enough? Well that's down to you and how well you housekeep your files and documents and try and keep the size of your files down (see my review on NX PowerLite if you have large Microsoft office documents).
If not you have two options - pay for more space with the "Unlimited" plan or refer people to use Mozy. With unlimited you can pay monthly, yearly (1 month free) or 2 yearly (3 months free). Paying monthly is $4.95 a month (or roughly £3.50). Is it worth it? Well only you know what you can afford to loose.
The second option (and I presume best if you don't want to pay) is to use referrals. With this method if you get somebody else to sign up and run a backup with Mozy you get an extra 256MB (sometimes 512MB during promotions) added to your quota. The online referrals section allows you to send people a link to do this and also shows who has signed up to increase your quota.
In conclusion then and taking Mozy away for one second please make sure you do some sort of backup. If you are looking for a solution that requires no extra hardware and stores your backups at a remote location I can recommended Mozy. I haven't tried any other providers as yet but so far Mozy has delivered on both backups and restores. Obviously try and use the free service if possible and refer people if needed. If not its up to you to decide whether its a price worth paying compared to loosing your data.
Well here is a turn up for the books. If you have been good enough to read some of my previous reviews you will a} realise I am currently on the search for a beer to make it to the table on Christmas day and b} presume I am constantly drunk. Although the latter is not quite true I found myself again scouring the drinks section of Morrisons giving up hope on finding any more Christmas beer when a bargain bucket caught my eye. In fact it might as well have had Christmas lights flashing around it and a massive Santa shouting "Yo-Ho-Ho" in that it had a label on it saying.. £1! And not only something for £1 but something wintery for £1 - Rekorderlig Winter Cider. And not just winter cider but Swedish winter cider.
Historically I must admit to being a bit of a fan of Swedish cider particularly Kopparberg. Before the recent ("over ice") craze on cider I could only get a fix when in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmo or ... the food and drink section of IKEA. Many a time I would make the excuse of heading to IKEA for an unwanted chair, table or kitchen device only to return with a bag full of cider. That said it was something I could only drink on a hot day and only have a couple. I found with Kopparberg although really nice it tended to get a bit "sickly" after a more than a couple. However produced by the Swedish Abro beer company I later discovered Rekorderlig and found them to be much easier to drink. As well as traditional cider they also make a number of different infusions including a classic summer strawberry and lime flavour. Due to the slick marketing in recent years I now very much think of cider as a summer drink so this was going to be interesting.
On pouring you get the usual fresh smell of apples but then the smell of the cinnamon with a slight smell of vanilla comes through. I must admit to wondering how well cinnamon and vanilla would go together but it works really well - too much cinnamon would have been a bit much and it's as though the small amount of vanilla takes a nice edge of it. The balance is pretty much spot on - its still cider you taste without being overpowered by the other two flavours. I wouldn't have a problem drinking this in summer either but this is a limited edition at the moment so I doubt I will get the chance.
This however is only half the story. The bottle label encourages you try this warm ala mulled wine. Warm cider! No doubt those marketing types, who want us to believe that cider is about drinking it over ice sitting outside on red hot day (while in reality its raining and you are trying to swat wasps away from your glass), will be running round the supermarkets now buying up as many cases as they can rather than destroy this image.
It was therefore in trepidation that I shook the bottle and poured the contents into a pan thinking I was waving goodbye to a drink I could have enjoyed cold without any hassle over ice. Following the instructions to make sure not to boil the contents but rather slowly simmer it to warmth I finally got that faint wiff of Christmas markets. Much more than cold the smell of the cinnamon in particular really came through. On pouring into a glass I could now really smell the cinnamon and vanilla and on tasting it was much more visible than cold but not in a bad way at all. I was actually really surprised how much I liked it. Later I tried another bottle cold and their was quite a difference in how little of the flavours I could taste compared to the warm version.
To finish my story I have to say that I dashed back to Morrisons today to grab a few more but overnight they have gone back up to £1.50. Oh well I think the normal price is still £1.99 for 500ml and is also available at Simsbury's I believe and a few pub chains.
Finally I am not sure I will be having this on Christmas day but this is a great drink to try warm while putting the decorations on the Christmas tree and at 4% you shouldn't find yourself tripping over the tinsel.
Before anything else I should explain that this review is for LogMein RESCUE. LogMeIn produce a number of different products ranging from free basic remote control packages to remote backup solutions. LogMeIn rescue is a pretty expensive feature packed product for providing remote control solutions for internal and external end user support via an internet connection. If you are looking for a free remote tool then this is not for you although I should add LogMeIn do offer a very much cut down free version of this tool called simply LogMeIn Free. All products can be found via logmein.com.
Remote control allows you to view and interact with the desktop that the end user sees to help them out with a problem. If you work as the end user of a computer system you have no doubt been amazed at some point (at least the first time) when a technician took control of your machine and your mouse suddenly started moving around the screen. Magic it wasn't. Plenty of remote control software already exists - Windows itself offers such features as Remote administration/desktop, 3rd party utilities such as Dameware are available and high end tools for use within an organization such as Microsoft SMS. What LogMeIn offers differently is multiple platform control as it works on Windows and Mac machines as well as smart phones and is generally "clientless" in that nothing needs to be installed. The user needs to download and run a file from the internet but does not actually need any software enabled or installed beforehand. Because of the way it uses a secure channel through the internet it can also work through corporate firewalls - as long as you have an internet connection its almost like having a direct link. To say that LogMeIn rescue is just a remote control tool though is missing out a lot of its functionality.
I was wondering how best to review this and think the best way is to give an imaginary scenarios and how they would be solved using LogMeIn rescue.
Let's say an external client rings up and has a problem with a file server that you support because it runs your software system for example. The server is going slow and some strange error messages are on the screen. It doesn't need to be server - it could be a PC, a Mac or even a Blackberry phone for example.
All the server and you need at this point is an Internet connection either directly or through a company proxy and firewall.
At your end you launch the Technicians Console via the LogMeIn website. This is done by opening a web browser and going to www.logmeinrescue.com and logging in with your account. At this point you launch the technician's console which is the front end to most of the work you will do. You then create a new session for the user with a problem. To allow the user to connect you get the option for a PIN code, an e-mail or a link. PIN code is perhaps the easiest. You enter the persons name and a unqie PIN number is created. The user then opens a web browser and enters this PIN ay www.logmein123.com. Alternatively you can send an e-mail link that sends them directly to your session. If you don't have an e-mail client such as Outlook installed it can even be sent via LogMeIn. The final option is a link via the clipboard to be sent via mail or more likely and IM client such as Messenger. Whichever way the client goes in they end with a file that is downloaded and run which is less than 1MB in size. Like I say they just run it - nothing needs to be installed.
Once the user has connected (a matter of a few seconds) all of the console options become available to you. In my example the first thing I would want to do is actually see the server screen. As far as the customer desktop goes you have two options - to launch remote control session (interact with the computer) or launch desktop session (just see what is going on). If you just want to see the screen and the end user doesn't want you just taking over the latter option would be used. However if you want to start doing some work on the machine such as actually moving the mouse and typing on the keyboard you would choose the first. Either way the user will get a message and have to accept that you want to connect - you can't just take control without the other person knowing.
One more important choice at this point is "Restart Applet as System Service". Basically when you connect to a machine you may be connected to a user who does not have "administrative" access to the PC. You may need to log out and log in as a true administrator (that is a person who can make changes to the operating system and software). Because you need to log out of the computer to do this the software needs to install as a "service" and you need to enter the administrator username and password to do this.
Once connected a number of options are available to you aside from just working on the users screen.
Firstly both users have a chat window. Therefore if you aren't speaking over the phone you can chat to discuss the problem the person is having. I find this useful when "talking" to people abroad who don't have English as their first language. It gives them more time to explain their problem and understand what I am suggesting.
You can also work full screen or in a window. You can choose the colour of the screen you are viewing from "Very low (black and white for dial-up connections)" to "High". The lower the quality the quicker the remote control session especially over a slow link. Finally can also set a percentage on the amount of screen you can see and magnify to certain areas if you wish
Other tools while viewing include the following. You can automatically start the Windows "Task Manager". This is just a windows tool for troubleshooting but its useful to be able to launch it directly from LogMeIn.
If you want to point out a couple of things to the user you have the whiteboard and a laser pointer. The whiteboard is for circling or marking around things while the laser pointer is just a dot to point at things. Hours of enjoyment can be spent by the more childish drawing silly freehand drawings on the screen (guilty!).
The next option is screen recording. Lets say this was a new problem you hadn't encountered before and you wanted to record the steps you had taken for perhaps training purposes or to remind yourself in the future how you fixed it. These record to an AVI format file on the technicians computer - A 1 minute recording will be around 2MB in size. You also have an option for screen capture which is just print screens stored in different graphic formats.
It's worth knowing at this point you can also share your own desktop. So if you wanted to show the person at the other end how something should look from your own display you can do this.
As well as this you can invite another technician. So perhaps you want another technician involved to train them on how you are going to fix the problem or want advice from them. The other technician would need another LogMeIn licence to do this however as a second connecting person.
So you have remote controlled the server and realise that a piece of software is outdated and you need to copy it to the remote machine. This is where the "File Manager" becomes useful. Again when you launch this the remote user has to accept your connection so no security is compromised. When you do this you see a 2 pain view of the file system on the local machine (you) and the remote (them). You can then drag files from one computer to the other. The transfer shows up on the chat windows to show what percentage of the transfer has completed. You can also synchronize and replicate folders so they match on both machines.
Another useful tool is "System Info". This is broken down into a number of different tools but all showing information pertaining to the remote system. The "Dashboard" for instance will return the operating system running on the remote machine, the BIOS version, CPU information, memory information, space used on disks as well as the useful top 5 processes running and last 5 errors in the computers event log.
You can also request a full list of the process and services running on the machine, what applications are installed, what drivers are installed, all of the events and particularly useful for solving spyware type problems, what applications are set to run at startup.
So let's suppose now that you have seen the problem (using the remote control tool), have copied the files across (using the file managed) and installed them but now need to do a bit more work on it. Unfortunately the user at the other end needs to go home. If this is the case you wouldn't be able to get on again if you decide to reboot in maybe half an hour as the user would need to login again and accept the connection. The "Reboot" option available to the technician has a number of normal reboots available to them including a useful option to "Request Windows Credentials" before choosing one of these. Clicking this button prompts the user to put there password in and then LogMeIn can automatically enter this when you have rebooted the remote computer.
Another useful reboot option on Windows machines is "Safe Reboot and Reconnect" which starts the machine in safe mode but with networking enabled. This is again useful for fixing spyware and virus problems.
The next option which is a subject in its own right is "Scripts". Let's say the machine has a virus. The technician knows how to solve this problem but it takes him 15 minutes to complete. Another 10 machines then get the same problem. The scripts allow you to create an automated job to carry out certain repeat tasks. Like I say this is a subject in its own right but can have massive time (and monetary) saving benefits.
Two final options are also available "Calling Card" and "History & Notes". With a calling card you can setup the system so that your important client can initiate a session with you rather than the other way round. The "History & Notes" allows a technician to see what work has been done on this machine in the past and if any notes from previous problems have been left.
All in all this is an excellent tool for support professionals. Aside from any of the other tools the remote control is fast and useful in its own right. However it comes at a price. It costs 1188 US$ for a year, 129 US$ for a month and 768 US$ if you want the option to be able to remote control smart phones. For a large IT support centre it still represents excellent value and could through its tools (such as scripts) actually make savings in reality. For smaller companies and home users check out the tools available to you within Windows or try LogMeIn free. Either way if you want to give it a try all of the LogMeIn tools are available on a trial basic via the website.
Life before a backup...
It still amazes me the number of times I have found people at work who save data on the hard disk of their laptop and seem surprised that if the hard disk crashes or the laptop is stolen there data could be lost. On top of that I can't even keep count of the number of friends and family members who have turned up at my front door with a computer that no longer works that apparently contained thousands of pictures of their kids, weddings and that unforgettable holiday etc. And I must admit I too have been guilty in the past of not keeping a copy of all my data and nearly lost the contents of a web site once after a virus attack. Basically you really do have to do some sort of backup of your data and documents one way or another if you have anything important and with plenty of software, physical and online backup solutions there really is no excuse not to. If you're not doing any backups at the moment read on - if you are well read on anyway. I personally now use a utility called Second Copy at both home and work and I will describe why using both my scenarios. Of course other options are available to protect your data - some of the online backup solutions (such as Mozy for instance) are excellent and can now replace utilities like this to certain extent. However these online solutions do come at a cost and can actually be added to your backup solution to make it even better. I will explain more on this later. Anyway let me first explain how I was previously saving my data at work and home.
At work I use a laptop and have traditionally saved all of my documents on my laptop. I could have just saved them on the company network but for me the whole point of having a laptop is for taking your documents with you and not having to reach them over a slow connection when needed or copying what you need to the laptop before going somewhere and having to copy them back up when you return. We had a system in place that used the built in Windows backup to copy the data from the laptop to the network manually. A bit of a pain to remember each week and also it did a full backup each time - i.e. all of your files and this could take ages.
At home we have a couple of laptops and a desktop PC. Until recently data was all over the place on each one and none had any sort of backup. At the end of the day any data lost wouldn't have cost me anything but it was the usual collection of documents and particularly photos that I wouldn't really want to lose.
What I wanted was an automated utility to make a copy of my data to a safe location using the most user friendly interface and with the options I needed. In theory you already have a tool built into newer Microsoft operating systems that will allow you to synchronize data to a network, in the case of Windows XP "Offline folders and files" but in my testing I found it to have a bit of a mind of its own. I tried a few of the obvious candidates for this - Vice Versa, SyncBack, Microsoft's free utility SyncToy etc. and each had its own merits but I eventually settled on Second Copy for its ease of use and features. I will quickly explain how Second Copy now works for me and then go into a few more of the technical options for those who may be interested.
At work Second Copy now synchronizes the data from my laptop to the network once an hour and also when I shut down on a night. When it synchronizes it only needs to do this for files that have changed. So this takes seconds rather than the minutes or hours the way we previously backed up. In other words if I only worked and updated 5 documents these are the only ones it needs to update on the network. Another advantage of this is if I forget to bring my laptop to work (it has happened!) I can work on another PC and get to all of my documents on the network. When I eventually remember to bring my laptop the synchronization goes the other way so I get the updated documents back on my laptop.
At home I now have a bit of a software and hardware solution going on. I now have both laptops and desktop synchronize to a large USB drive that is plugged into the PC. All of the data now ends up on there. If you don't want to purchase any extra hardware and have more than one more machine you could of course just synch between the machines so each has a copy of the others data. With the advent of online backups I now also sync some of the more important data from this USB drive to a couple of providers online. You may well ask why not just synchronize all of your data to the Internet? Well from my point of view I have a lot of data all over the place. So it's handy to use Second Copy to get all of the data in once place to start with so I don't have to backup to online systems from each machine. However the main reason is because I have a lot of data it would cost quite a bit to upload. At the moment I just tend to use an online provider which allows a 2GB of backups for free and copy my most important data up - at the end of the day even with a backup to a USB drive my house could get flooded still and all would be lost. What I would add however is with prices coming down for online backups this will no doubt be the way to go in the future. Having said that not everyone has an Internet connection of course!
As I have said I use Second Copy for data backups. It's not just for backup though. For instance maybe you rip music CD's on one laptop but want to make these available to other people when you have done this - again you could synchronize to other laptops in your house. So that's how Second Copy works for me and could work for you. A bit more of technical stuff now.
Under the hood
After you have installed the software you need to setup a "Profile" which is what each Second Copy synchronization or copy is called. For instance you might want one directory to synchronize once a day while another only once a week with certain files. You would therefore create a profile for each.
You can at this point choose between an "Express" and "Custom" setup. Choosing a custom setup you a start a "What", "Which", "Where", "When", "How" process - with express you don't have to worry about the "Which" and "How" part.
What - Firstly you are asked for the "Source folder" which is where the data is currently stored - in my case this was generally "My Documents" on my laptop and you can choose by default to include sub folders also.
Which -You then choose to synchronize either all files or include/exclude selected files and folders. The default is all. However in my case I wanted to exclude certain files types (in my case music files which take loads of space but I could rip again as I own the CD's anyway).
Where - The name of the destination folder. This is where you want a copy of your data to end up. So in the case of my work a network drive. At home a USB drive on another computer.
When - You now need to select a frequency of how often to copy your data. You can choose by any number of minutes, hours, once a day, every few days or actually "When files change". You can choose certain days not to run and also choose to run at Startup and Shutdown.
How - A number of options are available here some of which copy data one way and one two way. By this I mean most of the options are based on one way such as "Copy" which would copy your data to another location. However for me the most powerful option is "Synchronize" the source and destination both match. This has the benefit that you can choose if you delete data from your laptop it is also removed from your backup. Just in case you delete something accidently there is also an option to keep a number of versions of deleted files in another folder.
Under "How" you also have a number of advanced options such as "Copy" which allows you to set things such as "Try to copy files that are in use by other applications". In other words still try and copy a file even if it's currently open. You can also "Run Programs" - you may want to run a certain application before or after the profile runs. One useful option is - "Hardware Profiles" - You can choose that the Second Copy profile only runs under certain hardware profiles. You may not know it but your Windows has different hardware profiles - for instance a different hardware profile exists for if you have a docking station or just run a laptop on its own. So you can choose to run the profile only in a docking station with a network connection for instance.
I should add Second Copy also has an option to copy to an FTP location. FTP seems to be dying a bit of a death at the moment with the increase in online backup solutions but it is just that really - for years its has been a way of uploading files to a storage site on the Internet. So if you have the ability to upload to either your own or another FTP server on the Internet this is a good option.
How do I get it and how much does it cost?
You can download a 30 day evaluation of the software from the Centered Systems web site. It's around 2MB in size. If you choose to buy the software you don't need to uninstall it and just enter a registration key.
The software costs roughly £20 (it's sold in $) for a single user. I guess it depends on the value of your data or if you want to do your backups manually if this is good value for money. If you don't want to pay I would recommend looking at something like Microsoft SyncToy which although having less features can do a job for you. The bottom line is you should be looking at doing a backup of some description.
Moscow is a city that seems to do its best to deter me. My travels have always been on business and I doubt if I had been paying for the trip myself I would have bothered to fight the bureaucracy of applying for a visa and paid the astronomical hotel bills. And when I finally arrive I normally end up with a taxi drive stuck in the horrendous traffic for a couple of hours with a driver who at best either just smells or wants to constantly smoke but usually a combination of the two. That would be an arrival on a good day. Worse still I could have queued up for over an hour on a warm night at passport control at the outdated Shermentayo airport as the hard faced border guards painstakingly comb through each passport before reluctantly letting you through to collect your bags. Or in my case queue fro another hour because my bags hadn't arrived to realise that it was in fact my fault that they hadn't arrived and the 10 strong booth of ladies doing nails and even sleeping had much better things to do than help me.
So why on earth I wonder do I actually find myself missing Moscow when I arrive home? Maybe its remembering entering the resurrection gate and seeing Red Square for the first time. Or perhaps turning a corner and finding the snow topped onion dome of a hidden cathedral. Or more likely that the cold front of the Russian people quickly melts after a couple of Vodkas to find a warm a friendly people who just happen to be living in a city that is always too busy trying to catch up with itself without waiting for the infrastructure to follow suit.
If only arrival was the first thing you had to worry about..
First of all you need a visa to enter the country. I have to be honest and say because my visits have been on business I haven't had to worry too much about getting this sorted for myself although like everything Russian it seemed very bureaucratic. Also make sure you allow plenty of time to complete the process. The process seems to get longer when one of the regular diplomatic spats occur between the UK and Russia. That said it's not a one way street on that front, apparently it's just as difficult for a Russian to get a visa to the UK.
And one final note - photocopy your passport and visa for travelling around Moscow. At some point you may need to hand over your passport to your hotel to register yourself in Russia but even then travel with copies of documents on you at all times. Things may have changed, and it hasn't happened to me yet, but police/militia do "randomly" stop people to check there paperwork.
Arrival and departure..
Unless arriving from another Russian city on train you are most likely to arrive and depart from one of the two main airports serving the city - Sheremetyevo or Domodedovo. To make your trip to Moscow that bit more pleasant and to avoid early frustrations try and fly to the more modern latter option. Everything seems to be more efficient here including the aforementioned passport control. Having said that moves are afoot to try and improve Shermentato and new shops are currently being built in the departure area and a rail link has now been completed to the city centre. It's worth knowing that depending on your airline you simply might not have a choice - for instance KLM fly to Sheremetyevo while BMI fly to Domodedovo. Aside from that location may be a key - Sheremetyevo is north of the city while Domodedovois is to the south.
Prices for hotels in Moscow are horrendous. There are not enough hotel rooms to go round at the moment so until that time most hotels seem to be able to charge a premium. On my last visit I paid over £150 per night for a stay at the Hotel Milan which could be described as a good quality tourist and business hotel geared up for western visitors but was a half hour from the centre of Moscow on the Metro. The nearer the centre the higher the prices. Slightly better value was the Hotel Izmaylovo-Alfa again on the outskirts somewhat. This could be described as more "Russian" perhaps with interesting and admittedly new "70's" decor. The key point when finding a hotel even if on the outskirts is to make sure you are close to a metro stop. Paying for hotels in Moscow may also seem strange. I have yet to pay at the front desk on checkout and have paid an invoice to somebody I have never seen and in the case of the Izmaylovo been asked to visit a strange room on one of the floors to pay. Generally don't expect to be able to charge items in the hotel restaurant for example to your room.
As far as I am concerned you can forget taxis unless you want to sit in traffic. By far the best option is a combination of the metro and walking. The metro is cheap, clean, efficient and perhaps most importantly in my opinion safe despite the large number of generally placid after work drunks. A trip from the furthermost points to the centre of Moscow will take around half an hour. Aside from travelling on it the metro is almost an attraction in its own right. Most stations are ornately decorated to a socialist theme with the help of anything from mosaics to chandeliers. During the day you are unlikely to wait more than 2 minutes for a train to arrive and around 10 minutes late into the night. Tickets cost 22 rubles (currently around 90p) for a trip (a trip being the complete journey even if you have to change lines etc). 5 tickets can be purchased for 105 rubles working out at less than 50p a trip. I should say at this point the metro is easy enough to use as far as line numbers and colours go. However you may have a problem knowing which stop to get off due to the written Russian Cyrillic alphabet. Now I am not suggesting the Russians should put English versions of the station names on the walls after all we don't put Cyrillic versions on the London underground. The problem occurs because most guide books will have the English version written down. Try and find a map that has both or better still learn a few of the key letters you need to switch around. Knowing even a few will help. Examples of a couple of stations are Teatralnaya and Arbatskaya which look totally different in Russian. If in doubt just try and count the number of stations you have been through.
Whilst in the centre of Moscow you are more than likely to just want to walk. On a side note apart from official taxis you should never get stuck outside a club at silly o'clock in a morning. Stick your hand out and a gypsy cab will pick you up within minutes - someone just out for a drive prepared to take you back to your hotel for a jointly arranged number if rubles.
I am now at an age that meant in my younger days we saw Russia as the enemy and Red Square a place we saw on the news with a military parade of missiles rolling through in front of the Politburo. Entering the square was therefore a bit of a surreal moment for me. The square itself could not be surrounded by more contrasts. On one side you have the walls of the Kremlin, at the southern end what is surely the most famous symbol of Moscow and Russia itself St Basils Cathedral and on the other side the consumerism the GUM department store now selling designer everything in a location that once showed people queuing for a loaf of bread. If one place showed the changes in Moscow in the last 20 years then GUM is maybe it. Incidentally the name Red Square has nothing to with communist red as I think most including myself would presume. It is fact derives from a Russian word that can mean both red and beautiful.
Needless to say each of the above are attractions in there own right. A Kremlin in Russian is a fortified citadel or castle and although the word seems synopsis with Moscow and the government many Russian cities do in fact have a "Kremlin". With that in mind it may seem less surprising hat the fortress contains four palaces and four cathedrals all worth a visit in their own right as well as being the official residence of the President of Russia. As with the Russian nested matryoshka dolls the Kremlin seems to break down into mini attractions of cathedrals that in turn once inside reveal there own mini must sees.
On the Red Square side of the Kremlin is Lenin's Mausoleum. This contains the embalmed body of Vladimir Lenin. The mausoleum is open most days (exceptions are Monday and Friday at the moment) and there is no charge. Expect long queues however.
The Cathedral of Intercession of Theotokos on the Moat, better known as the Cathedral of Basil the Blessed or even better St Basils is like I say the one image of Moscow for me. Built between 1555 and 1561 it has however obtained its many vivid colours throughout the years. This Russian Orthodox cathedral was built to celebrate victories abroad and sports stunning onion domes. If you have to take one picture to say "I was in Moscow" this is the one.
Needless to say Moscow offers many more historical and artsy attractions but for me some of the best are free and for myself I find the Soviet architecture worth exploring. A couple of good examples of these are the Seven Sisters and the VDNKh Park.
The seven sisters are skyscrapers built in a Stalinist style which now home a very different mix of occupants - for instance Moscow state university, the Hotel Ukraina (the tallest hotel in Europe) and the Red Gates Administrative Building. The buildings are hard to describe but think of a gothic cross between the Royal Liver building in Liverpool and the Tower of Terror "ride" at Disneyworld if you can. What seems strange to me is to see a building so high that also looks so old. All are grotesquely beautiful a contradiction that seems to also sum up Moscow for me.
VDNKh is made up of a number of pavilion that were meant to represent different regions such as Georgia and Armenia. The entrance is a Russian style monumental gateway which opens up to the central pavilion and also includes elaborate fountains. Statues include those featuring the gigantic figures of a man and woman holding together the famous "hammer and sickle. Nearby is The Cosmonautics Memorial Museum located inside a monument to the explorers of the cosmos with a silver rocket shooting into the sky as its architectural centre piece. Aside from the obvious exhibits you can also see the stuffed remains of the some of the dogs.
Again plenty of choices. The "main street" of Moscow is Tverskaya Ulitsa heading north west from Red Sqaure and once the road to the city of Tver and onto St Petersburg. This has all the big name chains as well as pleasant surprises such Yeliseevs Emporium an opulent food shop. Not just for shopping but worth a walk in there own rights are the old and new Arbat Streets and if its raining the massive underground shopping area in the Manage Square a stones throw from Red Square is worth checking out.
Eating and drinking..
If you are expecting cold peasant food you might be surprised but not disappointed at the choice of cuisine in Moscow. Sushi seems to be de facto eating out choice of the hip young locals and you will always find it hard to find a seat in McDonalds.
A number of good value chains also abound. One example is Yolki Polki serving traditional food at good prices.
Service can range from friendly and excellent to surly at best. Things are changing but its still quite surprising to find a lack of English spoken even in the big chain city centre restaurants.
Moscow still feels a more foreign city to me than even say Singapore or Hong Kong. Maybe it's a lack of spoken English, the fact that it was once "the enemy" maybe the different faces from the West but also the very North, East and South. Things are changing and after all this is a city trying to pack a centuries worth of change into a couple of decades. The underground signs will be up in English one day no doubt and maybe everything will just get less complicated to visit. More reason to visit now I think. As for me I am all Moscowed out after the traffic and bureaucracy but still sit at home sometimes, have a glass or two of Vodka and wonder what it will be like. Next time.
OK this is a first for me. A review of beer. In theory this should be easy. I drink more beer than I go on holidays, use new computer utilities and visit Internet sites all of which I have reviewed. That was the theory the reality turned out to be different. The problem is I have no sense of description - I laugh at Jilly Goolden giving her take on the smells and tastes she finds in wines and pretty much came up with the conclusion she must be making them up. I did do a bit of research and even acquired the Dorling Kindersley guide known simply as "Beer" to help me out. But what its going to come down to is not the colour, the fact I can smell chocolates or old socks in it (neither as it turned out) but what the beer taste likes. For me it could look like day old washing up water and still go down well.
So why did I decide to review this beer. Well first off I set a small challenge. I wanted to review and pick the beer that was going to make it onto the table at Christmas. That's right think of this as the X factor of Christmas beers with just one entrant at the moment. Why just one entrant at the moment? Well this is the first one I have come across so far that passes some simple criteria - it has to be designed for Christmas - be it by packaging or name. Secondly it has to have at least a little bit of bite - it has to be able to overpower the sprouts in taste and in strength has to numb me enough to be able play endless bouts of Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit while wearing a ridiculous new jumper. Finally it just has to feel as though its right for a cold winters day - with global warming I may yet be drinking a widget induced Fosters one Christmas Day but hopefully not just yet.
Let me now introduce my first entrant, and as we stand default winner, Rosey Nosey from Batemans. I say default as I have yet to see any other beers that meet the criteria mentioned above - if you have any ideas however poorly linked to Christmas ("Wizard of Oz ale"?) please leave them in my comments. This brew is only available in November and December and is part of a seasonal range from Batemans that brings up three more beers in Spring, Summer and Autumn. Batemans incidentally is an operation run from a site based on an old windmill overlooking the River Steeping in Wainfleet, Lincolnshire. If you have seen their beer on draft it is more than likely to have been the award winning XB or XXXB. You can also if you wish visit the brewery. As I understand it however Batermans no longer have the facilities to do the bottling and this is actually done by Marstons.
I managed to pick up a couple of 500ml bottles of Rosey Nosey at ALDI during there weekly special buys at £1.39 a go. As far as meeting my Christmas criteria goes it ticks all the boxes. The bottle label features a Christmassy scene - a nice looking snowman and reindeers flying past the moon. The dominating picture however is of a dodgy looking Santa Clause who looks like he has spent too much time on a sun bed. You wouldn't let your kids sit on his knee. Coming in at 4.9% the beer should also have the kick I required.
The beer (according to the label at least) is based on English Goldings hops. However the web site description of the beer goes a bit further adding Challenger and American Liberty hops to the mix. The malt is made from Marris Otter Barley.
So to the tasting. Firstly I know that ales are supposed to be stored at a certain temperature. I am going to be honest and admit to serving the beer at "was in the back of my car all day in November" temperature. It seemed about right anyway.
Firstly the pouring. The beer was a nice clean copper colour. The beer was lively without being overly fizzy. A nice head formed in the glass although this did disappear within a minute. That said the beer itself stayed lively enough. Unfortunately despite the claim on the website that it "compliments any Turkey" I have to admit not having one to hand at this time of year and with my girlfriend out it was a birdless tasting experience. Quite how it would compliment a Turkey is questionable anyway - "You look well" perhaps? Whether this would have affected the outcome of my tasting I cannot say.
The company web site states that Rosey Nosey has "A complex, rich tasting beer with plenty of roast malt character and generous hop flavour" and I have to come clean and say it must be complex because I didn't really pick any of that up. What I would say is it was a pleasant enough tasting ale that despite the lack of a decent head certainly didnt have a flat taste to it at anytime. Clearly my palette and sniff is not there yet despite my best efforts to learn. For me it didn't have enough bite for a winters ale either.
I have to say a lot of my drinking is done at home by bottle these days and certainly will be on Christmas Day. In my opinion ales do suffer from bottling and maybe this has been the case with Rosey Nosey. It is also available on draught and I would certainly give it a try and encourage you to do so should it be spotted to compare it to the bottled version. I don't dislike this beer in the least, it's pretty nice but I hope it doesn't win the battle to take its place on the Christmas table. I think the Turkey deserves better.