Thursday, 26 July 2012

Olympic fever

Although some Olympic games have already started, the opening ceremony is only hours away. The world has their eyes on London and the excitement is apparent. There are more people on the streets and Olympic vehicles and personnel are around the central. Various events are taking place around the city and a huge party with big screeAns and concerts is planned for tomorrow in Hyde Park. Today’s also the last day of the torch relay through central London.

I don’t want to be part of the pessimistic group of people loving to moan and complain that things will grow terribly wrong during the games. They’re might be some problems, that’s expected on an event of that scale, but I hope that everything will be fine. There was already a minor but funny hiccup at the games yesterday (at least very funny to me). During one of the football matches yesterday when North Korean women football team was playing, on the scoreboard the flag of the South Korea was displayed!!! They hate each other so much that it must have been a shock to them…

I haven’t booked any tickets. I can’t take any days off during the Games and JJ’s work schedule means that he will be working during some of the upcoming weekends anyway. His shifts for the next weeks are very recently finalised and we might try to get some tickets on the Paralympic events. Although it’s not entirely true, I have the feeling that the Paralympic events are not that commercialised, or at least they have an extra meaning. A friend of mine was joking yesterday that in order to support ‘Team GB’ we need to eat McDonalds, devour Cadbury’s chocolates and wash it all down with litres of Heineken beer! Since they are the major Games sponsors, it must be what the athletes do…

When I was much younger, we drove as a family to Olympia, the place where the ancient Greek Olympic Games took place. I remember the experience vividly because it was a fine sunny day and we even ran a bit around the old stadium like the ancient athletes used to do. I had found it hilarious when my father took us rolling down the nearby fields. My pants and t-shirt turned green from the grass. I think I was around 10 years old but I understood the significance of the place. That’s the same place where the ceremony takes place when the Olympic flame is lit nowadays.

We used to have a children’s book on Ancient Greece. It was big and blue with Hercules on the cover. I loved going through the pages and checking the images.  It contained some mythological stories and facts about Ancient Greece. There was a huge chapter on the Olympic Games. It explained how different city-states were competing in honour of Zeus (hence the way the flame is lit using mirrors and sunlight) and that general truce on all conflicts was imposed during the time of the Games. Only men could take part or even watch the games and the winners were treated like heroes.

Ancient Greeks paid lots of attention on ‘isterophimia’ (υστεροφημια) which can only be translated as ‘how one person is remembered by the next generations’. Winning an Olympic medal (or an olive branch that was awarded back then) was a ticket to eternity. Even today, after so many centuries, many famous athletes are still remembered, like Diagoras from Rhodes. The island’s international airport and local football club are named after him and he used to compete 2400 years ago! So, if it happens that you’re visiting South Greece, go to Olympia.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Dream holidays

OK, I admit it. I might have been a bit harsh with my previous post. It’s not like I don’t like Italians or that I expect everybody to know English. However, I expect some kind of organisation when it comes to the police / fines / government etc. We really tried so hard to figure it out and pay the fine but found closed doors! I don’t mind the person on the street or a waiter etc not to know English. I expect this kind of things and I enjoy these interactions.

touching the waves

There was an amazing beach we went to on many occasions. Each time we had to pay for an umbrella and chairs and we also occasionally ordered beers, sandwiches etc in a small kiosk on the beach. The woman behind the counter only spoke Italian to me and I was replying to her with what few words I know and gestures, body language etc. It was so hilarious! People were gathering to watch us. We talked about Italy, Greece, politics and various other things. The language barrier wasn’t even a problem. I could easily express with hand gestures what I thought of Berlusconi for example…

Saturday rush hour

So, as I mentioned we had a really nice time. We normally got up early to have massive breakfast at the hotel. Then we would drive somewhere like the amazing Nuraghe site. There are more than a couple thousand buildings found on the island dated from 2500BC. They belonged to nomad warlords and their true purpose was unknown. They could be places of worship or barracks. For the time they were created, they must have been extraordinary constructions. These are some pictures I took at the site. The surrounding small buildings are houses built later on, almost a thousand years after the main circular building.

 Nuraghe "Su Nuraxi"

Each day’s schedule included spending at least 3 hours on a beach. JJ loves to snorkel or as I tease him ‘play’ with his mask watching the fish. I loved going in and out of the water, have a beer on the beach and read my books. I managed to almost finish an 850 pages fantasy book. I also went scuba diving. We visited a submerged old temple with a stone statue of Jesus and the surrounding sea life. It was very nice. This time I forgot to take an underwater camera though. Boo…


Most evenings, if we weren’t exhausted and had dinner at the hotel, we would drive to the capital to walk around the old town, Castello, and have dinner at the old Marina area. Local delicacies included small pasta like lentils, fresh seafood and antipasti. In most cases we hadn’t had much for lunch after the breakfast buffet so we’d indulge during dinner. Two course meals, pasta and then fish or meat, before walking along the marina holding a gelato.  

blue sea

Monday, 23 July 2012

Italian adventures

When we selected Sardinia for our holiday’s destination, we didn’t really know what to expect. I hoped that the island would have fine sandy beaches, good food and friendly people. I didn’t have any friends that had visited the island in the past to ask for tips. Generally we weren’t disappointed at all and overall we had a great time. However, a couple of unlucky events made us sceptical about visiting the island any time soon. This first post is about the troubles we had during the trip. Please feel free to ignore it for the next much more pleasant post.

The hotel

After waking up for the first time on the island, we took the car and with JJ on the driver’s seat we headed for what we read is an amazing beach on the south side of the island. After getting lost a couple times trying to cross through the capital we managed to find the beach. There was an entrance fee of €5 which we paid and drove next to the beach where we parked the car. After spending many hours enjoying the amazing beach, the sun and the water, we decided to drive to a nearby roman dig site.


When we arrived to get the car we saw 2 local policemen. They had given us a parking fine! They didn’t know many English words but we tried to talk to them. Apparently, the area there was a designated disabled area, even if the only sign that we missed was only in Italian!!! We had asked the guy at the entrance about where to park, but he didn’t know any English either! Complaining to the local policemen wouldn’t make a difference since they couldn’t speak the language, so we asked them where to go and pay the fine (€80)! We decided that leaving the fine to the car rental company might bring extra ridiculous charges and thought to solve the problem ourselves.

Walking around the old town

That same afternoon we drove to pay the fine. We went to the local police office the policemen at the beach had told us. The department was transferred as we found out from an Italian written note and the new offices outside that village were also closed. The police (carabinieri) told us in Italian to go and pay at a post office. The post office was also of course closed. Next morning we drove to another post office closer to the hotel. I had to wait in the queue there for around 45 minutes to be told (mostly in Italian) that the policemen from the day before should have given me a second document with a reference number (which they didn’t) so I couldn’t pay the fine there. A guy there who  wanted to post some postcards asked me if we got our fine on a local beach.

 Driving around

We had already spent one afternoon and most of a morning trying to pay for that fine without considering the stress this event put us through. We didn’t want to drive back all the way to the first village (2.5 hours drive) to sort it out so we thought that the car rental company could sort it out. So, the last day, when we returned the car to the airport we asked the guys there about it. They said that they couldn’t do anything about the fine and that we should go and ask the police inside the airport! We knew by then that nothing would out of it, but as a last resort we went to the police there. As expected they didn’t know any English and they couldn’t help us! They told us to go and ask the car rental company!!!! At that point JJ slightly lost it and started explaining the whole adventure to a policewoman who didn’t understand a word, hand gesturing a lot and raising his voice! It was a bit funny watching her expression but I had to take him out of there in fear of getting arrested!

The temperature was 41C 

Overall, we lost many hours of our holidays trying to be responsible and pay for a fine that we might not even deserve in the first place! The amount of people that don’t speak any foreign language in Sardinia was disappointing and the way we were treated at certain desks was awful. We went to 5 or 6 different places and no one could tell us what to do. So, we just left! I’m now a fugitive of the Italian authorities although I highly doubt that they will figure it out. There was some built up frustration though. And the facts that the airport didn’t have any running water (the stink!), the airport staff couldn’t speak anything apart from Italian and our return flight was delayed for 2.5 hours didn’t really make us feel better. 

That’s my rant concerning my trip. It's Monday and I'm allowed one! A much nicer second post will follow this one as I’ve said. Not everything that happened was bad. We enjoyed ourselves and had a very nice time at the end. 
I’ll tell you all about it. 
I just wanted to take the frustration out of my chest.

Friday, 20 July 2012

I'm back

It's been some days since we came back from holidays! We had a really nice time and also some adventures. Hopefully, I will tell you all about it. However, I fear that my body wasn't ready for the temperature drop of the return journey! In Italy temperature reached 42 degrees during the day! We were sleeping with the air conditioning on.

However, when we landed back to London we returned to the lovely summer British weather! It was raining and the temperature wasn't more than 15 degrees! So, I instantly got slightly sick. I'm not going to share the details with you, but I'm at home today, with a heavy head, watching morning television with a bucket of tissue next to me, anti coughing syrup and all the rest. It's not that bad. I'll try to drink lots of fluid, stay indoors and warm. I'll be fine soon.

Till then, that's a photo of a healthy me some days ago:

having an espresso in Sardinia by the beach

Friday, 6 July 2012

Goodbye Nokia

Or how a company can let you down…
After my very first mobile phone which was a yellow Ericsson many years ago with one line of a black and white screen and tiny buttons, I switched to Nokia and I stick to it. I went through many different models, including some legendary ones which still function even today. I always believed that Nokia makes really good, sturdy and resilient phones. They might not jump onto new technologies quickly but they were innovative, like introducing WAP to mobile phones, with good hardware.

One of my first Nokia phones! Simply immortal

After focusing on phones with good cameras like the N81 and N86 that including an amazing 8MP camera before many of its competitors, I decided last year that it was time to try a smartphone. Even before it was released, I fell in love with Nokia N8 by watching the promo video on the Nokia website. The phone had good enough specs and featured an amazing 12MP camera. I wouldn’t go for an iphone (I’m reluctant to follow the masses) and most Android smartphones weren’t that impressive (low battery, bad camera etc) at the time.

When it was released reviews were a bit harsh on it. Everybody said that the phone itself was good, but its operating system crap! However, Nokia released a note that the Symbian operation system will receive updates and will get better and the company will support developers in creating enough applications to support their new Symbian smartphones. So, while I suspected that the OS would be a bit bad, I bought the phone I think very early February 2011. It went all downhill after that.

Innovative 'Matrix' phone

Elop, the relatively newly appointed Nokia CEO (and previous Microsoft employee) released a memo about how ‘Symbian is a burning platform’ and that Nokia should abandon it! That happened around 2 weeks after I bought the phone (which wasn’t very cheap)! That memo was the beginning of the end for Nokia at least for me and I can explain why. It affected developers who refused to work on Symbian applications. Which serious company would spend money to create apps for a dying platform, even abandoned by the company who created and supported it for years? However, without any applications, how can a company expect to sell smartphones?

That memo had tremendous effects on the company itself. Elop singlehandedly rendered all Symbian phones obsolete without having to offer an alternative. He said that Windows Phones would be the future of the company, however the first Nokia Lumia with WP as an operating system was months away from production. The company lost its credibility and its sales dropped so significantly that it now faces tremendous financial issues.

Very good phone 

As a customer I felt like I was stuck with an outdated phone making me angry on a company that I used to like. Nokia focused more on creating the Lumia series and the preannounced Symbian updates arrived with months of delays. Now, after months of waiting I’m running Symbian Belle. It is so much better than the early Symbian version but it’s too late, too little. There are hardly any good applications released on this platform for months. That is the reason that I refuse to go for the Nokia 808. That phone was awarded as phone of the year in the Barcelona conference at the beginning of the year for featuring a staggering 41MP camera! However, it runs Symbian and not generally supported even by Nokia itself.

Generally, Nokia and Elop are all about the Lumias now but I refuse to follow them. I see the same mistakes happening. They announced that not any of the existing Lumias can be upgraded to version 8.0! That means that if I buy a Lumia now, I’ll get stuck with yet another obsolete platform. Why would I do that again to myself? Not to mention the mobile phone carriers who are boycotting Windows Phones since Microsoft bought Skype! Skype is loathed by them. I feel bad for all the people who lost their jobs working for Nokia but things look very gloom for the company now. Its market share dropped so much in such a short period of time. Maybe Microsoft will buy it… I don’t know. If you want to read more about it, this blog by Tomi Ahonen is simply amazing. He used to be in Nokia and simply hates Elop's guts! You can read how a CEO put his company in turmoil. 

But as a let-down customer I say goodbye to Nokia and hello to Samsung! 

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The elephant in the room

I work in IT, or ICT as they call it now, since it includes communications as well. It's all very excited (or geeky) I know. My manager has 49 people to report to him. That's quite a group, especially when we occasionally go to the pub. We manage to populate most of the venue we go to and we create quite some noise there. Most of them are really nice people; however I am the only 'gay in the village'! All the rest have girlfriends, fiances or wives that they sometimes bring along or mention quite often. And since we are in IT, the vast majority are male. I think that there are only 3 women in the team. One of which was an old co-worker of mine from my previous job. 

So, in such a heterosexual and geeky group, I was reluctant to talk about 'J', before I tested the waters. However, the very first day I joined, I heard from a team leader of the group a nasty comment about lesbians. It was one of these ridiculously unfunny 'Beavis & Butt head' quality jokes that you hear from a developer with no social skills whatsoever. Some similar stupid jokes were heard during the following months as well. So, I decided against talking about my personal life, especially at the beginning. I wanted to pass my probation period, get to know these people better and then start opening up.

A couple of weeks ago we were again in the pub. After a couple, or more, of drinks they started talking about the only female developer we have to another developer of my age. She wasn't present at that outing and they knew that he was single and they were trying to set him up with her. Apart from me, everybody else taking part in that discussion were either married or engaged. He was being a bit reluctant about her (can't blame him), but it then occurred to me that I was excluded from the available candidates for her. They didn't ask me about my relationship status and they didn't offer to set me up with her. So, I either do look gayer than I thought or the ex-co-worker spilled the beans about me and some people already know.

So, last week, when we were at the pub again, a colleague and his fianc←, also working on the same company but in a different department, asked me about my holidays. They asked me who I am going with, a girlfriend or friends. My reply was: my boyfriend. Then came that small pause, you know, the few seconds more than normal that it took them to reply something like 'that's nice'! I briefly told them about JJ and mentioned the fact that it's not out in the open yet because of that team leader, I mentioned earlier. Oh, I am going to tell him eventually, just not yet! I was glad I've talked to them even if I now know that a secret known by 3 at least co-workers, is not a secret anymore.

However, even after all this time, there is a small triumphant feeling when successfully coming out to people even if they are simple work colleagues.