All posts by Bill Sticker

Expatriate observer of life in the UK and British Columbia, Canada. Politically slightly right of centre with a pro libertarian bias. In August 2007 published a book called 'Walking the Streets' about three sporadically unpleasant years spent working as a UK Traffic Warden. Now a lot more relaxed about life in general and keeping his accent for tax purposes.

Orange skies

This morning the sky over Victoria is a pale pastel orange. Is this the result of ‘Global warming’? No. It is the result of that recent Coronal Mass Ejection from the sun? Is it the harbinger of a really big thunderstorm? No and no. Apparently it’s good old seasonal wildfires in all those jolly wonderful trees, where the smoke has risen and mixed with the clouds and is refracting the sunlight in that part of the spectrum. When it has been visible, the sun has been a hot pink spot.

Sheer HellWhere is all this smoke coming from? Well, according to wildfires today, a good deal is coming from upcountry Alberta and Saskatchewan. Possibly from fires to the East of Vancouver and West of Seattle. Which feels a bit strange because the last few days have been nearly clear blue skies with nary a surcease of shade. There’s also a mountainside on fire up island but someone else is getting our second hand smoke….. Pass me a beer, will ya?

So much for smoking bans.

A small note about Search Engine Optimisation

Achtung MinenTo all those Search Engine Optimization companies out there; please stop trying to spam my comment threads. It doesn’t work and I’m not interested. Not one jot, not an iota, or any other unit of measurement too small to be worth mention. All your advertisements and solicitations end up in my clever little spam trap, which is the waste disposal for this blog. Rather like a Septic Tank, it needs the turds clearing out from time to time.

Why? Oh heavens to Betsy this is a blog, FFS! A sort of mental gym where I flex my satirical muscles from time to time. It’s not something I generate any income from, nor expect to. One which receives on average fewer than twenty unique hits per day. A level which I’m quite content for it to dip below. Mainly as it means less work for me. I’ve got quite enough real life work ta very muchly and I’m very happy for this state of affairs to continue.

Read my comments policy page if you’re that bored.

TTFN

Comment of the day

“The more you help some people, the more they need to be helped.” These words drifted across the breakfast table, making me blink. Now there’s an intriguing thought was my unconscious response. Mrs S had been working online, talking about one of her clients. One of the needy ones. One of several she has to deal with in her day to day. Members of ‘the clueless’ who, no matter how many times they are shown, assisted, mailed the instructions and generally babied along, keep on asking the same questions about the same old subjects. It’s almost like their ability to remember has atrophied to the point of nothingness.

I remember thinking; ‘I must pass that one on to the Axiom testers down at the Bill Sticker Institute for word juggling and infinitive splitting.’ So I did.

One of our helpful customer service IgorsUpdate: The Axiom testers have come back with Proven. There are a lot of people in the world who fit this precise and pithy description. The lads down at the lab (See left) looked very pleased with themselves when they delivered this particular verdict. Well, I think they did. They’re mostly Igors, so it’s very hard to tell.

The good news is that these hapless members of the zombie apocalypse will probably be the first to starve to death if everything does go pear shaped. Not that it will of course. These are precisely the people that politicians buy the votes of with their endless promises of jam tomorrow and scare stories about the man-made (of course) heat death of the Universe. George Bernard Shaw called them ‘The undeserving poor‘. The rest of us, who can’t be bought or fooled so cheaply, will no doubt be the cash cows wrung out to dry so the pollies can keep their jobs.

Heavy sigh.

Happy Canada Day

Canada Flag Happy Canada dayTo my Canadian reader. And to the rest of you, regardless of where you are on the planet. Unfortunately, we’ll be spending a good part of our afternoon hanging around hospitals, so we’ll miss most of the downtown fun.

The good news is that we’ll be done and dusted in time to see the Fireworks, and I know exactly where we’ll be. There’s this great vantage point no-one else knows about, right at the….. argh! (Sound of struggling followed by a suspicious silence)

Sorry about that reader, he was about to give the game away, and we do so hate being crowded out of our favourite downtown vantage points. We’re afraid Bill has been getting a little…. too feisty of late, now he has to go back to his padded cell. We apologise for any inconvenience, or lack thereof…..

Routine shizzle

Not much happening chez Maison Sticker apart from hanging around for Mrs S’s appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon. She needs to talk to one to get a proper referral for rehab. Because she broke her arm out of country, she needs to follow procedure to get into the BC system. Which means a BC Orthopod has to give her busted wing the once over before she can get any physio. No matter our health insurance is paid up to date, and we’ve got cover coming out of her ears, the niceties must be observed. It’s a pain, but it’s slack season as far as work is concerned, so it’s not like we’re having to juggle two dozen other items at the same time. Just a case of hurry up and wait. So long as we can make our conference next week, we can easily shift arrangements. There’s also a little road trip dahn sarf to see how the folks across the border are faring and take a pootle along the Oregon and Washington scenic coastlines.

As for the Greek business, our investments aren’t going to be hit as we’ve no real exposure in the affected markets. The whole schemozzle, at least from this side of the pond and the FT’s pages, looks like it’s devolved into some kind of bizarre economic winking contest. No-one is actually dumb enough to take the last support from under their respective houses of cards, but it does look like the financial penny is dropping regarding the Euro. The ‘one-size-fits-all’ top down financial philosophy is showing a pair of Achilles heels which anyone with any real financial acumen could see a mile off. Real life economies are subject to the financial whims of populaces, politicians, banks and corporations, which tend, at least in Europe, to be a bit more locally focussed. The financial systems of the USA evolved from a roughly common culture with the same basic language. Europe can’t be like the USA, no matter how much the federalists would like it to be, because Europe doesn’t have the basis of that roughly common culture. It’s too, well, Balkan if you catch my drift. Not literally, but kind of. While the Common Market wasn’t a bad idea as far as promoting free trade was concerned, trying to shoehorn all the splendid diversities of mainland Europe into a centrally governed Federal republic was always a step too far. Various empire builders have had a go by assimilation and even military invasion, but in the end the locals always end up having their say.

And the centralisers wanted to bring Turkey and the Ukraine into their hegemony? Oh dearie me. Soo not a good idea.

What else? Various mini sagas over property etcetera grumble on. As far as that’s concerned I’m just biding my time. New neighbours downstairs. Some sociable, others not so much. Landlady is looking after a yappy little Yorkshire Terrier with a habit of shitting on doorsteps. Which can make walking through the back yard a very eyes down affair. Its owners will return next week, so by the time we come back from our conference and road trip, the little bastard will be gone. You can’t even make friends with the territorial little sod, it just runs away and yaps at you, as it it were his territory alone. Then when you turn away, tries to sneak after your ankles.

In my more evil moments, most of them between waking up and going to bed, I’m minded to remember a small rural adventure from my younger days regarding stupid dogs that have no off switch; a mate was shagging his girlfriend. Both of them a little shy of their sixteenth birthday, but this was in the 70’s and everyone involved but me is no longer around. No injury, no foul – right Officer? In the way of hormonally charged youth everywhere, he begged me as his best friend to keep his intrusive twelve year old brother out of the way. In my youthful lack of judgement I agreed, providing we could go rough shooting the following day with his Dads then-legal pump action shotgun. The lovers arranged their horizontal jogging, I baby sat younger brother downstairs and out of the lovers tryst. His and her lust was satisfied and all was well. Up until we were exiting the house. As we did, next doors Jack Russell broached the fence and began having a go at my friends ankles as we made our way out of said girlfriends back garden gate (That is not a euphemism BTW). I still have to work hard not to collapse in fits of giggles as I recall the rapidly dopplering ‘Yap-yap-yap-yap-yeellpppp!’ as my friend perfectly drop kicked the noisy little tyke back over the garden fence to where it belonged.

The temptation to do likewise to Landladies friends’ Yorkie is sometimes quite hard to resist.

Greek out?

Just saw this little snippet begin to spread across the Forex world;

Due to the possible exit of Greece from the European Union, we would like to inform you that from 29th June, 2015, instruments may be temporarily set to Close Only mode.

While I’m not exactly sure what ‘Close only’ mode entails, this does not bode well. Such measures are only put in place when there’s a sign saying “Crisis – this way up – do not bend” above the Foreign Exchange markets.

My own currency brokers are closed over the weekend, but I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of fallout over the next 72 hours. Looks like it’s one of those financial ‘Hang tough’ moments. So that’s what I’ll do. Take a step back and let the markets oscillate a bit.

Greek ruins Parthenon and EuroFor most people, shifting money across borders is the province of those so-called ‘rich’ buggers. For me (I’m ‘modestly well off’ not ‘rich’) it’s a case of necessity. I have assets to buy, money to shift, taxes to pay, but if the landfill has hit the wind turbine, while the Greek tragedy plays itself out I shall put my Fedora on and go soak up some sunshine, stick me rod in my hand and go stand on some rocks to see if the fish are biting. We’ll see what doom and gloom, if any, that Monday brings.

Will the powers that be let Greece fail? We shall see who blinks first.

P.S. Watch this Twitter feed
Update: Also this breaking news feed on the Eurozone.
And just to throw more fuel on the fire, we hear the State Governor say that Puerto Rico can’t pay its debts.

While the rest of North America seems to be going to see Gay Pride parades, What’s that creaking noise?

Paris stinks!

Well yes and no. Possibly. Are we going for decisiveness today? Yes. No. Oh, I can’t make my mind up. Sorry. Ouch. Actually Paris does. Stink that is. Like an overflowing urinal. Despite gangs of green overalled workers hosing benches and various little corners down from the early hours to midday. On the corner of every street it catches you. Out of the apartment, down the road, and eeuuw! Take a trip through the Metro, turn a corner and biff! Right in the nostrils. Often multiple times in one station. And the stench is definitely human, not dog or any other animal. That ammoniac reek is quite male and very particular. London is positively aseptic by comparison.

Regardless of the smell, what did I think of Paris overall? Superb, merveilleux, astounding, and amazing innit, like; a tribute to the minds of great men, and packed with more historical content per cubic centimetre than a New York Reuben Sandwich is with Pastrami and Sauerkraut. More full of good and great little eateries than anywhere I’ve ever been, and we have traveled extensively throughout Europe, Africa, and North America. All of these bars and eateries vying to be at least as good as the best in the street.

Tiny little bars, cafe’s, brasseries, and bistro’s in a semi chaotic mess around every street corner and through every working marketplace. Great little Boulangeries, “Don’t forget the Nutella Crepes”, says Mrs S over my shoulder. Heavy sigh. Yes dear.

I know we can’t give you the sounds and smells, but here is a tiny sample of our resized holiday snaps, cut down to a meg and a half each to allow reasonably quick page loading. I can’t put them all up as we took something in the region of a thousand or so. And that’s just the ones we didn’t delete on the spot because a blurred someone got in the way of the shot, or the lens strap blew over the lens or the hundred other reasons a picture isn’t worth keeping.

A Parisian architectural incongruityI mean, take this one. Snapped from the top of one of those ‘hop on hop off’ tour buses. One of the old pre Haussman city gates. From the early 19th century when the city was simply a maze of alleys and noisome little streets, the remnants of which can be found off St Germain and the Marais, and a whole heap of other bits like Montmartre and Pigalle we didn’t spend much time around.

Notre Dame detail Oi Henri teas upWhen you’re not on one of those touristy tick box whistle stop ‘tours’ of Paris, you can take your time and discover some of the details and surprises that make it such a great place for an extended stay. This one I call “Oi! Henri! Come down, yer Teas ready.” It’s a life size bronze on the top of Notre Dame, Paris, and you can only really see it properly from a fifteen foot gap between buildings to the rear of the cathedral. Anywhere else and it’s practically invisible.

The Louvre at duskFor another example of the main tourist sites; this view of the Louvre at dusk. We never went in because, well, who wants to be caught in herds of untamed Japanese and Korean tour parties with their interminable cameras flashing all the time. Staring at priceless artworks from the back of the crowd with all that flickering isn’t much fun. You miss out on the detail from twenty feet away, and detail is what makes these things great works of art. Honestly, it’s enough to set off an Epileptic. Myself I rarely use flash unless I have to. You tend to capture more of the ambient mood of a shot in natural light. Besides, flash is no good over more than ten or twelve feet anyway and tends to flatten the image if you don’t get it right. It’s like those people who try to take pictures of an eclipse with the flash still on. No. It doesn’t work very well does it? My advice; try turning the flash off and see what your camera can really do.

Les Invalides the tomb of Marshal FochOn the topic of natural light; here’s the tomb of Marshal Foch in Les Invalides. That fabulous blue glow in the picture is natural. Using flash kills this lustrous Spielberg blue effect stone dead. Which gets annoying when someone sees what you’re up to and then uses their flash repeatedly over your shoulder, or in the case of tiny giggling Chinese and Japanese girls, sneaking in front of you, even when you’re right up to the barrier, and sticking the back of their head in front of your lens. I had to wait fifteen minutes for two garrulous tour parties to disappear before snapping that particular image.

Which makes me wonder about the nature of photographers. We were wandering out of St Germain across the Pont Neuf the following day after a visit to the Luxembourg Gardens. There’s a little triangular park on the western end of Ile Del la Cite which is a pleasant place to spend a lazy hour or two. Down below, a couple being driven upriver in one of those stylish Italian Riva speedboats were waving at someone or something. I couldn’t see anyone waving back. Down on the banks of the park were five or six guys with cameras who suddenly began running after the boat, tripping and gamboling over each other like circus monkeys on cocaine. They managed to stay upright for long enough to point their cameras at the waving couple before going into a little celebratory dance, high fiving each other, capering up and down like medieval lunatics. Mrs S and I watched this odd mini spectacle for a moment before shrugging to ourselves in a Gallic manner. No idea who the couple on the boat were, but the camera toting clowns seemed to be very excited about it. As far as taking pictures is concerned I try to emulate the careful people who take a few moments picking a good vantage place and let the zoom take the strain. The Sniper rather than the Snapper. Some might say you lose the spontaneity of a shot that way, but it depends what you’re looking for I suppose. Any old road up, that’s neither here nor there. I don’t make my living that way.

Notre dame we have ignitionBack on topic; here’s another one of the more interesting bits of Notre Dame at night. I particularly like this shot because there’s more than a little of the 3-2-1 we have liftoff to it. Those elegant flying buttresses, the high narrow windows. Who’d have thought the denizens of late medieval Paris were trying to build starships out of stone?

Sainte Chappelle a ceilingWhat else? Well, there was Sainte Chapelle, one time royal chapel at the back of the Palais De Justice. Incredible detail, towering painted ceilings, which one architectural critic thinks is not correct and a ‘crime’ against architecture in the case of Chartres Cathedral, but that’s one of those ‘judging late medieval art and architecture by 21st century standards’ things, and not something I want to get into in the comparative brevity of a blog post. Suffice it to say, the archaeology tells us the stonework was originally painted, so any critique of restoration work should take that into account.

Like I say, I took over a thousand decent pictures while I was enjoying la vie Parisienne, improved my French, patched up my relationship, discovered how to navigate the French emergency healthcare system and Parisian Metro. Had a lot of good, clean, old fashioned fun, ate and drank well, ending up back home in BC thoroughly culturally enriched. Despite the odd stroppy waiter, broken limb and greedy taxi driver, it was a great trip. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. But maybe, just maybe, I’d take a side trip to Amsterdam and Berlin first.

No further comment

Brian Wilson had it back in the 80’s.

Missing verse from the above in this live version;

I was praying to a God who just doesn’t seem to hear,
Oh, the blessings we need the most are what we all fear,
Love and mercy that’s what you need tonight,
Love and mercy to you and your friends tonight,
Love and mercy that’s what we all need tonight,
Love and mercy to you and your friends tonight,

Yet another Cusack movie worth watching.

Have a good weekend.

Cast off

Pirate breath fresh advert bArrh me hearties! We be a-putting back to sea to flog the oggin once again. Back to work ye swabs and fetch me a fresh roast cabin boy!

No, no, no, no, wrong! Not that type of casting off. Nor are we cannibalising the crew of the good ship Bill Sticker (or even doing other unspeakable things to them – even if the little scamps thoroughly deserve it). Yet. Although if the mutinous mutterings I’ve been hearing from the mob below decks continue, there may be floggings. If we’re lucky I’ll get a Groat for each of the devils rejects. Honestly, they’re so low they need a telescope to look up to the scum of the Earth.

No. The sun is above the yardarm, celebrations are afoot, and the Hummingbirds are visiting. I am enjoying a large Vodka and Tonic, and so is Mrs S, who has finally had the cast removed from her arm. Nice job by the French Orthopaedic surgeon BTW. Another month or two and you’ll hardly know there was a scar there. Very neat.

Mrs S has been in the shower, singing happily as she gets properly clean, and my heart is so light you’d think ’twere filled with Helium.

The outside world can do what it pleases.

Hands up the mittens Mister Bosun, full speed ahead and damn your tomatoes!

Reasons to like Uber

Taxis in the mating seasonThere’s a lot of fuss and palaver about the Uber SmartPhone Ap that lets people hail a private car with a willing driver in place of Taxi services. They have, like taxi companies, set rates, insurance, and even legal cover. What they don’t have are the local authority licences.

Over the past month or two I’ve sat in the back of enough taxis and listened to the Cab Driver’s grievances about the extra competition, lack of competence, risk factors and cost to get a feel for the nature of the dispute. I’ve also had enough grief from licensed Taxi drivers (Especially the Parisian ones) to make me think they are often no better than the Uber guys, and possibly much, much, worse.

So Parisian cab drivers are rioting and beating up anyone they suspect of being an Uber driver? Right. And this is going to aid their cause how? Will the Parisian authorities cave in and enforce their ban on Uber? My question is; how can that ban be enforced without huge investment in manpower and technology by the licensing authority? As for fines, Uber has been known to just pony up and pay their drivers fines and still they make money.

Local authorities don’t like Uber because there’s a nice little earner regulating and taxing the local cab companies and their drivers. Because Uber falls outside their licensing jurisdiction, all that easy money evaporates from their coffers. The cab drivers don’t like them because they cream off fares that the ‘normal’ cab companies think they should be doing. As for honesty; a mate of mine has been both a fully licensed Hansom Cab operator and Private Hire licensed driver in the UK, and we’ve had many interesting little chats about Taxis, and the tricks some drivers use to fleece the unwitting.

Anyway, here’s some of my personal reasons for favouring Uber over traditional taxi services;

First; Uber drivers can’t charge extortionate rates because you know up front what the price is going to be like. Not like at many places where some drivers wait inside the terminal at train stations and airports to fleece arriving tourists. One driver I came across at Gare Du Nord, Paris, was demanding 70 Euros for what turned out to be a twenty five Euro fare. Needless to say, I gave him the brush off. Uber drivers have a precalculated fare you get to see on your phone before they arrive at the pickup point, unlike some cab drivers, who set their meters running even before they even get to you.
Second; Uber cabs all take credit cards. In fact you can’t pay in cash. Which is useful if you have run out of notes late at night and don’t have to beg or search your pockets for loose change. I got stuck at the Hospital on the night Mrs S broke her arm, and had three licensed cabs on a taxi rank refuse my fare because taking a credit card for a thirty Euro fare “Wasn’t worth their while.” Fortunately the Paris Metro ticket machine accepted a battered two Euro coin I found in the gutter so I actually got back to my bed that night.
Third; You can pick what sort of service you get beforehand. A high end ‘Black cab’, affiliated Taxi service or even an SUV. Which you often can’t with ‘Normal’ cabs and private hire. You get what is sent and pay the meter rate.
Fourth; There’s no hanging around in the street trying to hail a cab. You know when your ride is coming, and when it’s due to arrive. Just be at the pickup point and it all seems to work fine.
Fifth; Getting a receipt is automatic because it goes straight onto your credit card and you can generate one to be printed out later. If you forget to ask for that receipt for expenses, it’s no big deal.

The downside? You need a data enabled SmartPhone where there’s a good signal. If you’re a dinosaur like me, who has a wi-fi enabled tablet but only an old ‘Dumb’ phone, you’ll need that phone with you to receive Ubers SMS messages. Which can be a bit of a fiddle. Then their prices can go up if the service is busy (Surge pricing), or it’s a holiday like Christmas or New Years Eve, but the standard Taxis will have gone to Tariff 2 (Evenings after 11pm in the UK) or 3 (Evening + Public Holiday) by that time anyway. As for trustworthiness, well, that varies from driver to driver. Some would say Ubers rating system (Which ‘traditional’ cab companies don’t have) keeps their drivers up to snuff anyway.

According to my friend it’s sometimes a tough life being a cab driver, what with the constant squeeze on rates, weather, erratic cashflow, regulations, late night drunks and some of the dodgier clientelle, but when the money is good, it’s not that bad. However, he said with an I’m-glad-I-don’t-do-it-any-more grin, maybe the old style taxi system is massively under competitive and needs kicking to the kerb.