Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Oh Christmas Tree ... Oh Tannenbaum ...

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Spotted in a Düsseldorf shop window. I just had to get my little compact camera out. Window dressing to the letter! Mmmm, I wonder, what kind of shop might this be?

Very clever, and it brought a smile to many passers-by.



Friday, December 04, 2009

Ryanair - Daylight Robbery!

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Now I know how Ryanair, one of the leading low-cost airlines in Europe, makes such huge profits even in these tough times.

I can understand that you have to pay for extra weight, luggage that is, not your own.

In principle I accept that you can pay extra for a priority ticket, to board among the first passengers, although it doesn’t always work very well.

I understand the underlying principle to limit check-in luggage to 15 kg and allow 10 kg as carry-on luggage.

I can also see the practical reason for only allowing one carry-on item, so that handbags, camera bags and airport shopping all go into the one piece of luggage

The Ryanair strategy is obviously to minimise staff through putting the onus and responsibility on the passenger, ideally having just a single item to carry on board.

When you buy a ticket online you start off with a very low, basic price, just like when you buy for instance a Volvo; any add-ons or extras will cost you, soon making it less cheap.

With Ryanair you pay for getting on board among the first, checking in luggage, paying with a normal credit card … and there have even been rumours of plans to introduce a fee for using on-board toilets, which brought down ridicule on the arrogant boss of the company.

Before you have checked in online, you can change your ticket at a cost. Fair enough, not too bad. And when you do check in they give you very detailed instructions about travel ID, best use your passport. I have no problem with that.

Then it is time to print out your boarding pass, using your own printer, again saving the airline money. Very clever, smart move.

They tell you to make sure that the information on the ID matches the details you enter for the boarding pass. Out comes your travel document with a dotted line and a picture of some scissors to indicate where and how far to cut what will become the slip the Ryanair staff will tear off at the boarding gate. I even trimmed mine so the slip would be of perfect size and shape.

When I got to the airport in the morning to travel to Stockholm to visit my grandchildren I felt absolutely confident I had done all they asked of me, weighed my luggage, printed and trimmed my boarding pass and so on.

- You can’t travel on this boarding pass, said the check-in guy.

- Sorry?

- The information on the boarding pass doesn’t match your passport.

I had checked the passport number and dates etc. many times, as one does.

- On the boarding pass you have two initials for your first names.

- Yeah? It’s still me, nothing wrong, just shortened to the initials.

- It has to be exact.

I produced two more ID:s and put them on the counter; my UK driving licence and my British military ID, which I am obliged to carry as a civilian attached to the British Forces in Germany.

This military photo ID has my name, with initials just like my boarding pass, AND shows my passport number! He didn’t even bother to look at them.

- It has to match in every detail, he informed me.

- Is it possible to change it then?

- Yes, over there, he said pointing over my shoulder.

I realised they would charge me for that since everything extra costs you. Obviously carrying extra weight costs fuel, baggage handlers need to be paid, so I thought there would be a small fee for somebody to spend a few minutes accessing the computer booking system to change this small detail.

Keep in mind that my ticket cost € 175. Are you ready for this? To change my initials to my two full first names (8 added letters) cost € 150, one-hundred-and-fifty euros. ONE – FIVE – ZERO euros! What could ever justify a fee like that? It is not a fee, it is a fine. As if I had committed a crime, done it deliberately, in cold blood, just to annoy them.

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First time in my life I have been robbed. It would have been cheaper not to see my grandchildren. What would you have done? Where can I complain?

On the out-journey Ryanair lost the little padlock on my case. Maybe I should invoice them € 150 for this precious little padlock of extremely strong emotional value to me. Yeah, that would have been as ridiculous as their “fee” for next to nothing.

I do not think you find it hard to understand that I promised the Ryanair staff never ever to fly with them again, and to recommend people to fly any other airline but them!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

No, Not Usain Bolt, Useless Bolts!

What I am on about? Just look at them!


And then look at these!


The bolts are too long!

I have just had the winter tyres fitted by the garage. They store the set of tyres not in use, and also switch them at a reasonable price. Since last year we have got a new car, but of the very same make and model. And then the hub caps won't fit. How is that possible?

I was so drowsy early in the morning (Germans start early) that I didn't protest or question the situation, but my wife told me off at lunchtime for having been too compliant and soft. Thinking about it in retrospect I agree. Where is the logic? Another trick to squeeze money out of you?

The thing is that I think the naked winter tyre looks so ugly, I insist on having hub caps although most people don't seem to be bothered.

So I had to ring them back this afternoon and spoke to the sales guy, who promised to speak with the service people. I want new hub caps "kostenlos" as the Germans say.

To make it worse, when I checked the car afterwards I could not find the special key for the lock nuts. The young mechanic, who got a little embarrassed and nervous about the nuts-and-bolts situation, had forgotten to put it back in the car. Although I hope never having to use it for a flat tyre, it needs to be in place just in case.

So now they have to send a driver tomorrow to deliver the special key to me.

BTW - I laughed, just like last year, at the little sticker they put on the dashboard saying not to exceed 210 kph ( 130 miles per hour!). Remember, we are talking German motorways here, with sometimes no speed limit. Vrooom!

Speed restriction

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Most Apologetic Post ...

... for having absconded yet again from the blogosphere. I blame my grandchildren personally. Do I really have to visit them to keep up with their development and to be part of their lives? Yes, I do!

I spent a rather long and also busy weekend with my son's family in Stockholm. It was wonderful.

On the second day I picked up my grandchildren from nursery on my own, first the older one, and then we went to pick up the toddler brother from his group. It was a proud moment for a granddad who doesn't see them that often.

Then it was time for some physical work for me, pushing the pram with the attached roller board for the older child to stand on after a tiring day "at work". But we got back in good order, now all three of us tired!

The weekend was somewhat more relaxed and I had the privilege to attend the 4 1/2-year-old's "swim nursery", where they get used to the water through little games, rhymes and a lot of splashing.

Then I and my granddaughter had a day to ourselves. We had planned to have a fun and exciting day out in central Stockholm. We travelled by underground, ferry and bus, just for the fun of it.

With the help of mum and dad I had prepared some interesting visits; to Junibacken, a museum dedicated to Astrid Lindgren characters like Pippi Longstocking and many others, to Aquaria with sharks and all sorts, and lastly a big toy shop.

But it was Monday! The Astrid place was closed, the aquarium was closed and so were all nearby restaurants. Granddad went into overdrive, but kept cool and checked if it was possible to eat at the Vasa Museum and the Nordiska Museum, but in both places one would have to pay an entrance fee to access the food facilities! The situation was getting slightly desperate.

It was cold and windy, which did not do much for the little girl's growing hunger or bladder.

After an emergency hot dog she informed me that she desperately needed the toilet. Granddad, after having spotted a restaurant down a side street some distance away, told her she had to squeeze and hold tight, in the most calming and reassuring voice.

Hurry, hurry across a couple of streets, park the buggy, rush through the entrance, past a man who was allocating tables to lunch guests, straight into the gents', find a cubicle, and YES, she had managed, to granddad's great relief.

After having thanked the understanding man by the door, we got on a bus, where we did not have to pay thanks to the buggy. Then we enjoyed the day-old Christmas window display at NK, the famous department store, marvelled at all the lovely toys in a big toy shop, and finished it off with some Italian ice-cream before counting all the underground stations on the way home.

Wow, what a day out!

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BTW I have now finished setting up my photo web site , and I have already planned some adjustments to make navigation even easier, especially for when the number of images will grow in the future.

So I have taken down the flashing neon sign saying "Under Construction". From now on it will only be maintenance and expansion.

(In my next post I will tell you why I dislike (I hate the word hate) Ryanair so much that I struggle to find words to describe it.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Dribs and Drabs Launch

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My photo web site is coming along, if not nicely, at least little by little.

I struggled for days with uploading changes that I made before I eventually figured out how to do it. I was quite ecstatic after having launched the site initially, but any subsequent additions or changes caused me problems.

Uploading elements of various kinds was slightly more complicated than I first thought. I imagined it was just a matter of uploading the html page in question, and everything that belonged to it or was affected by it would follow suit. Oh no, it wasn't.

Some pages loaded very slowly on the site, others not at all, so I looked into the size issue. Were there too many pictures in the flash galleries? Comparing file sizes did not make much sense. Was the type of gallery of any importance? My conclusion was to turn off the auto play function so the viewer wouldn't have to wait for all pictures to load before the slide show got going. But that did not solve all the problems.

In the end I found scripts and xml pages that needed to be dealt with on an individual basis, as well as the images themselves. That's when the problem of the software renaming all the images as they were prepared for uploading, came into play. In the ftp client that I use for uploading you can only get the file name, not thumbnails, so it was very difficult to find the relevant files, with names like "x87tjkh.jpg" for instance, keeping in mind that there are many hundreds of files in the one folder!

Then the simple solution hit me on the head like a giant silver hammer. Sometimes you get so involved that you don't think of the simplest solution. I should have known better.

The obvious way of finding all files that had been changed was of course, here it comes..., to click at the top of the list to sort the files according to time & date. The most recently changed or created files sit on top and can be selected very easily for transfer. Dooohh!! I am almost ashamed to admit it.

But now I can get on with completing the folders and photo galleries with the pictures I have lined up, upload them skillfully without a hitch and then get on with the comments page, which I think still does not work properly. I have, by the way, put a permanent link to the photo site on the right of this blog.

And again, apologies to my regular readers for not visiting your sights as frequently. I promise to improve shortly.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Big Launch

AB snap cyanotype

Trial and error, there was a lot of that, and frustration, but also stubbornness, because I don’t give up easily when I try to solve a problem. I tried to be systematic and logical in my approach, since that is how I do things, but this time, at times, I felt I had taken on a Sisyphean task. I was learning as I went along, but trial and error eventually made me triumph.

I hope that opening paragraph didn’t sound too pompous or self-conceited, because I could simply have said that I had managed to launch my photo web site yesterday. It might develop into something more over time, but for now it will be where I display my photographs in a structured way. The design is straightforward, clean and simple, which wasn’t necessarily easy to achieve. Not using a template meant I had to manage every little detail myself, all from scratch. IT works in mysterious ways, which we all know, but in the end I got it right.

Now I can sit back and catch up on some blog reading, something I sadly have neglected lately. It is very easy to become a “fickle friend” in the blogosphere.

If you do visit my photo web site, bjellerup.com, you’ll see that there are galleries which haven’t yet been linked to any page, but they will be. All the galleries are on auto play, but it is of course possible to override that. Hopefully they will not take too long to load (25 max in each flash gallery).

I tried the Comments page myself without great success. It is supposed to send the comment as an email to contact @ bjellerup.com . Please feel free to comment here or directly to ‘contact…’ if it doesn’t work, because I am understandably very interested in your views, and I promise to reply. So if you don’t get any response from me, it didn’t work.

Apart from continuing work on the “empty” galleries, I will look into any problems on the Comments page. Then of course, I hope to take many more good photos and add them to the site, sometimes replacing old ones of lesser quality.

Happy viewing!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A Week in France

On Sunday we returned from France after a 7 1/2 hr drive in torrential rain, very strong winds and reduced visibility. No wonder I was tired yesterday. We had superb weather all week long though.

When we arrived at our house we were greeted by this sight, our bedroom floor covered with lots of more or less dead flies. Don't know why.

Most of the week we used these tools.

Some stuff ended up as kindling ...

... and some was just left on the ground for now (on the left). What remains of the Mock Orange Blossom on the right!)

We also went for walks, for instance along this river where the authorities had regulated water levels in order to be able to inspect bridges and locks et cetera. Not many boats could more at this jetty.

Then, on the last day, our wood-delivering farmer turned up in a monster of a tractor, which he very skillfully managed to manaeuvre between hedges and concrete posts , and promptly left us with a mountain of logs to take care of. With a neighbour's help we managed to stack it all just before sunset.

So now I am back to using all my spare time to work on my photo web site so I can launch it (sounds a bit pretentious!) some time before my hair grows even whiter.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Building a Photo Web Site

AB snap cyanotype

I have been a very absent blogger of late. Sorry about that. The reason for this is that I am building a web site, and I am currently organising and processing lots of photos. The main structure is more or less in place, but the many photo galleries are hard work.

Why do I do this? Well, I just did not know what to do with all my pictures. I post some of them here and some on my photo blog, Camera Digitalis, so I thought I would display them in a much more organised way. I am building a straight-forward, no-frills, no bells-and-whistles site, although I use flash galleries to make it a little lively at least. Everything is done from scratch, no templates, because the only suitable photo site template that came with the software, was inadequate in my opinion.

The great difficulty is of course which photos to choose, how to categorise them and then to create the appropriate folders. After that comes the watermarking, since I want to protect my copyright. I am not so foolish as to think that all of my images are so attractive that people would want to copy them (steal them) all, but out of principle and for practical purposes I watermark every single one.

My particular interest in photography took off when I bought my digital SLR in the spring this year. Together with my previous compact camera photos, I have now many thousand images, although I have learned to be self-critical and I delete loads of them after transferring them to my PC for close inspection.

In the last couple of weeks I have trawled through gigabyte after gigabyte to find photos that I believe would be suitable. I am sure I will have second thoughts about many of them and take them off, and also replace some as I add new pictures.

One big issue is that I am not quite certain how much space they will use up of my total allowance, and also how long they will take to upload, so maybe I should launch the site well before I have completed all my planned galleries. Maybe I have to buy more space, we will see.

I am not far off now, perhaps a couple of weeks, so I hope to be able to announce the news before too long. It might come as a surprise to some readers, but I have decided to lift the veil of anonymity and use my real name on the new photo web site. I have nothing to hide, rather the opposite.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Love padlocks - Liebesschlösser

Some time ago we came walking across the Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne, a railway bridge leading straight into the main station. I had my eyes on the river and had the opportunity to get closer to this iron man who seems to be scared of small birds.

It was not until I looked the other way to try and get some shots through the fence that I noticed something odd, which I actually had seen on the other side before.
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Many people walked past without noticing or paying any attention, but children often spot funny and surprising things, as did this young girl.

There were padlocks everywhere, and they were often interlocked. A few had nothing on them, but most of them had either something written with a permanent marker pen or as the ones on the right here, had names engraved professionally.
They could be colourful and of different designs. When I moved nearer to take a close-up I discovered something even more unusual, and perhaps clever.

There was advertising! The company that I guess has engraved a great number of all the thousands of love padlocks on this bridge, and possibly in other public places, had their own little padlock with the company name and URL. Will anybody spot it? Well, I did!

I googled and found that this is not an unusual phenomenon. You can find these love padlocks all over the world, as I discovered when I read this Wikipedia page. The fences on this bridge in Cologne will probably with time be full of padlocks. The western side seems to be where it started, and this love-locking has now moved over to the other side where we were. According to Wiki, the railway company threatened to remove all locks, but had to give in to public opinion and leave them as a symbol of people's commitment to each other.

I can just picture the scene when a love couple comes out on the bridge, how they jointly attach the lock to the fence, throw the key into the river and then seal it with a looong kiss. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Prima Ballerina

AA Pic of the Week 125 w

I could have ruined the opportunity to take this very unusual autumn picture had I not spotted something in the air in front of me. I nearly walked into it, but managed to stop in time.

I saw a ballerina in mid-air. She moved this way and that way in the gentle breeze. She danced gracefully in front of the audience, but nobody but me noticed her. There were many people but they did not look up. Everybody had set their focus on something else while I was on the lookout for photo opportunities and tried to see what others did not see.

When I started shooting away most passers-by must have thought I took photos of thin air. People who stopped to take a closer look saw some piece of vegetation suspended by extremely thin cobweb. I saw a ballerina. What do you see?

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Flax Market

Yesterday was probably the last summer day. Apart from some chilly mornings, we have had nearly 20 degrees C in the afternoons. Today started with fog and a distinct autumnal feel, so I think the organisers of the annual flax market in one of our little neighbouring towns were quite pleased with the timing.

We have been several times to this event over the years and we are actually familiar by now with the layout of it all and also recognise individuals and their stalls. As you might expect there are all sorts of things to look at, buy and try out, anything artisan, old-fashion or folksy and rural. Since we are so close to both the Dutch and Belgian borders there were quite a few from those countries as well, as you can see in some of the pictures in my Smilebox.

I hope you enjoy my little guided tour around the market as much as we enjoyed our gentle stroll ending with a rewarding glass of beer and sekt (sparkling wine) respectively.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Flax Market
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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fougères Castle

Not far from our place in France is Fougères, just inside the Brittany border. I think we have taken nearly all of our visitors through the years to the impressive castle there. In medieval times it was the eastern stronghold of the Duchy of Brittany, trying to keep the French out, which eventually failed. But to this day Bretons have a very strong regional identity. The links with people on the British Isles with a Celtic ancestry are strong and obvious. For instance, whenever there is some cultural celebration you can bet your last cent there will be bagpipes.

Nearly all of the outer wall of the castle is still intact and several towers are also in very good condition. You can hire equipment to go on an audio-guided tour and enjoy a history lesson on-the-go. Or you can do as I did, let your camera lead the way and forget about your company for a while, just wave at them every now and then when your paths cross.

If you want more facts I suggest you google it. In the meantime you might enjoy some of my snaps from last month.


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Monday, September 21, 2009

Weltkindertag - World Children's Day

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We went to Cologne for the weekend and found to our surprise that the World Children's Day is celebrated on 20th September in Germany, not on 20th November as in the rest of the world. So when we went for a Sunday stroll along the river Rhine we were part of a lively crowd trying to negotiate our way between various activities and stalls where charities, associations and companies did their best to promote their merchandise or services. Anything to do with children was present. Although the fire brigade posing for a calendar shoot in front of the mighty cathedral was a coincidence, I guess.

I had my camera at the ready not to miss any interesting in this huge crowd. But I found it increasingly difficult to take photographs for obvious reasons. There is something called privacy and integrity, which are fundamental rights. Yes, we have all taken pictures of people who were unaware of it, or we were unaware of it ourselves and discovered that we had captured the image of a stranger who just happened to be there. That is quite understandable in most people's eyes, I believe.

I certainly find other people fascinating when I am out and about, for instance at a tourist attraction, and I enjoy observing  them as they are being absorbed by the the beauty of something, or they are reading a sign with interesting facts and their faces sometimes reveal their reactions and feelings. In such situations, I have to confess, I find it very difficult to resist taking a photograph secretly. But I am very reluctant to use it on my blog, because I am not absolutely certain where to draw the line.

When it comes to children the issue gets even more important and emotionally charged. I understand that most countries have laws that are extra restrictive to protect children, and we have all seen blurred faces or "headless" children on TV for instance. So you can imagine how hard I found it to take some interesting pictures at the Weltkindertag yesterday! I ended up with lots of abstract pictures and other unobtrusive pictures.

I have however managed to collect some harmless pictures to illustrate the event in Cologne yesterday. You will have to imagine the rest! (Do you find this issue tricky, how intrusive you can be with your camera?)

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