Saltram House – There Are Faces In The Trees! Spooooky!

Just a quickie, we have been walking around Saltram House, the Ride and the surrounding area for more than a year and were gutted to suddenly notice these faces halfway up the trees!  Seriously, we notice everything about the place, how did we miss this?  Of course, once we had noticed one, the other two were discovered really quickly.  I am kind of hoping they’ve just been put up, but chances are that they been there for years.

If you’re going to look for these, they are along the side of the path outside of the main Saltram site, one on the Sainsburys side, two on the other side.

Pics below, if you have any information about who put these up and what they represent, we would love to know…

Sherlock Holmes – Durnford Street – Plaques In The Pavement

A little quirk (there are plenty of them) in Plymouth is in Durnford Street, between the barracks and Royal William Yard.  Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle lived and worked in Durnford Street for a while, but despite not being there long, he used the location and the surrounding area in his books over the following years.  As a result he has been commemorated with both a wall plaque and, more interestingly, several pavement plaques with quotes from the texts.

A little bit more information is here, these are just my photos.  To find these, start from outside the barracks and head towards Royal William Yard, they are on the left-hand-side pavement, regularly spaced as you walk.

If you are a fan, its very much worth a look.  If you just want to find yet another oddity around Plymouth, here it is!

Tau Zero – Poul Anderson – Book Review

As a much younger person I collected the Asimov non-fiction books and reviews of his books and short stories, he was quoted in one of them as rating this book, Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero, as being excellent, not least because its science was up-to-date and the best known at that point.  That’s always stuck with me but I’d never found the book until it turned up in the SF Masterworks list of publications in 2006.

The idea is simple, if you have a ship that accelerates for half your journey, what happens if you then can’t stop it and decelerate at the halfway point?  The answer, as posited in this book, is that you will get nearer and nearer to the speed of light until you finally reach Tau Zero, Tau being the rate that time is dilated for external observers.   Without spoiling too much, the crew of 50, half male, half female, have to deal with a future of either dying instantaneously if they hit a star (or lots of dust) or continuing an eternal journey.

I really like this book, its dark, psychological and tense.  The main character “Charles Reymont” is the constable, reponsible for keeping order both during the journey and while they are setting up the new colony.  When this falls apart and the project is abandoned while they try to find a solution to the problems they have, he becomes the only stable, positive influence on the rest of the crew.

Naturally, with this being a Poul Anderson book, the majority of the characters are fairly one-dimensional, they turn up, have their scene and then wander off again.  Reymont himself suffers his own stress while helping others out and a couple of the female crew help him along.  This is a relatively adult book for 1960s sci-fi, there are bedroom scenes, infidelity, arguments and (soft) violence, its not Barbarella or Alien, but its not a Lucky Starr kids book either.

The reason for this book though is the science, Anderson drops out of the story a number of times to explain the nut and bolts of the Bussard Drive (I guess todays version would be the Ion Drive, low power but continuous drive), time dilation and how the ship is dealing with stresses it was never designed for.  If you liked the Appendices in Lord Of The RIngs as much as the book, or get excited by the technical details of your new phone, this will be a book you will appreciate.  It’s hard science fiction at its’ best, nice and techy and doesnt end up with a superhero saving the day.







South West Coast Path – Wembury Beach – Heybrook Bay – Bovisand – JennyCliff – Mount Batten

Karen and I have been busy recently, especially taking in the South West Coast Path, trying to do Saltram House on a Saturday, the coast on Sunday and Warleigh Point Bird Sanctuary in the week.  While this is only (in total) around 15 miles a week, its enough for us!

As for the South West Coastal Path, its beautiful, genuinely a stunning set of views and a proper workout in places.  We tend to park at Bovisand Beach, in the Holiday Park, then decide which way to go.  The yomp from there to Wembury is about three miles and has some big hills and sets of steps which makes it a good workout.

Similarly, going the other way, from Bovisand to Mount Batten, is about three miles, so give yourself two hours to cover the 6 miles either one, however, the latter is more of a challenge.  On the upside, the pubs at Mount Batten and Heybrook Bay are both nice stop offs, plus the coffee shops at Wembury and Jennycliff are both good stops too.

You do get some great views over the Sound and Wembury Bay.  Some of our many photos are below.

Open Air Cinema – Priscilla Queen Of The Desert – Plymouth Lido

Once again, the Open Air Cinema season is upon us, with a cracking set of films chosen again:

Tinside Lido
Saturday 3 August: The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Friday 23 August: Alien
Saturday 24 August: Bohemian Rhapsody
Sunday 25 August: The Birds

Royal William Yard
Thursday 12 September: Captain Marvel
Friday 13 September: The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Saturday 14 September: Bohemian Rhapsody

And we were lucky enough to get tickets for Priscilla, Alien, Bohemian Rhapsody and The Birds at the Lido, plus of course Rocky Horror later on at RWY.

I hadn’t seen Priscilla for years so I had forgotten a lot of the plot which was a nice surprise at times.  A great film, good fun, very camp as you would expect, wonderful performances all round.  As always, a good crowd showed up of all ages, taking a chance with the weather (we have stayed dry somehow for the last couple of years) and a couple of glasses of wine were drunk.

The venue at the Lido is special, just a beautiful view thats worth getting there early to enjoy.  We (Karen and I) got there for 815 and had a saunter around the site, found seats near the back and settled in.  They time this to coincide with sunset so we may have missed the few minutes of the introductions staring at it.

Anyway, great film good crowd, we are looking forward to Alien in a couple of weeks time!  More to come…

BigCommerce Ecommerce – Some Observations

I have been working on a BigCommerce Website for a client for a while and having a certain level of success.  I can recommend the platform, with some reservations.  What is good is really good, just be aware of some limitations which became apparent as we went through the process.

We chose BigCommerce, or at least started considering it, for the worst reason.  We looked at our competition and three out of four of them use BigCommerce; we did look at other platforms but there was not a good reason to buck the trend.

Setup was easy enough, automated and really quick, within three days, we were uploading products to a fully functioning site.  We, like most people, didn’t want to spend more than necessary on the build, so we stayed with the standard templates, BigCommerce give you access to the templates for pages so we were able to tailor them within tight limits.  There are probably some changes we’d like to make that we havent as the costs seem excessive, but more of that later.

Product updates see to happen regularly, however (tell me if I’m wrong) they seem to be fixes as opposed to new functionality.  We also had a couple of updates that over-wrote our changed templates which was massively disappointing.  There is a chance that it was us, however, we dont think so.  There are few options on these updates, none of which are related to picking what gets updated.  Still, better to have updates, especially security updates.

We got very good at using the bulk (csv) uploads for products, then we found that this can get messy with repeated images, categories being incorrectly mapped, odd things that, once checked, are not related to errors in the upload.  As we have 8000 products, having to check after an upload for duplications, images, categories is a pain, but its still better than individually uploading by hand.

The uploads were intially quite vexing, taking a long time to work out the columns in the csv.  Once errors started cropping up, we started not creating our own, instead downloading the stock “bulk edit” version from the site, then uploading atered versions.  This can still lead to errors on the upload, but the site seems to like it better than the alternative.

Support is good, phone, chat or form, the latter can take a while to come back.  There are forums as well with some good answers, but there are a lot of “ill fix that for you, contact me for a quote” type answers too.  We havent found anything that we havent been able to fix manually so far using info from one of the above.  We have had one issue, related to VAT, which was unsolvable (and according to the forums, has been for a couple of years) and support were quick to come back and say so.  They gave us a workaround which kind of works, but not really.  We cant show separate VAT on product pages, without (weirdly) being unable to upload full VAT prices to ebay from the site.  Instead, we have to upload full VAT pricing, then the buyer cant see the VAT element until the checkout, which is a shame as many of our customers are businesses and expect it.  Having said that, its fine really.

Orders are dealt with really well, we use paypal and the plug-in is seamless.  The native BigCommerce ebay link is discontinued but they offer a free app by InkFrog to replace it.  This works well, although it can get confused quite easily, its possible to keep it under control, but care must be taken to keep the InkFrog library clean.  Its fiddly, but a time saver in the long run.  There are some limitations, such as that it will happily reflect changes in titles, description, pricing automatically (which is great) but wont change pictures.  It is often easier to delete everything, reuploading with the new images, which works.

As I say, its a good system, just fiddly.

I can recommend BigCommerce as a platform, especially with Inkfrog for the ebay integration.  its pricey, so dont use it for a few products, you really do need to put some traffic through it.

Any questions, please shout!

Stand On Zanzibar – John Brunner – Book Review

I have to say, I don’t love this book.  I try to put things in context with the sci-fi books, when and where it was written, norms at the time, etc. etc. etc.  but I just don’t get this one.

If you’d like a more positive review, the excellent Extra Credits Youtube channel has a good one.  You can see it here – The Extra Credits Youtube review

For myself, the characters are hard work, unlikeable, idiotic and the author seems to want it that way.  I don’t get why I am meant to want to follow these people on their journey through the book.  The structure is interesting and a lot has been made of this, breaking down the book into chapters with four different styles.

Context – Short notes from newpapers etc  illustrating the social mores of the time.

Continuity – the main story happens in these chapters

Tracking With Close-ups – scene setting not related to the main story but mainly involving characters we have met,

The Happening World – Disjointed examples of the world being built.

I am not sure where this book goes wrong for me, I normally like to have to work while reading, but I struggle to get through this.  The “Hipcrime Vocab” references don’t seem as clever as the author thinks they are, and that the reader is meant to treat with awe.  When I didn’t buy into that, I think the character who wrote it (Chad C. Mulligan) holds less interest.  He is a commentator, not someone who is going to make things change.  Every time he (as opposed to his quotes) turns up in a scene, I am just left thinking how much I dislike and distrust him.  Maybe, when it was written, it was remarkable, but I am evidently soured on “clever” snarky comments made by people with a a pulpit.

The plot is interesting as well, worldwide overpopulation, corporate scheming, benevolent intentions all build a world that is fairly recognisable today, not a bad trick for a book written in 1968 and set in 2010.  However, we are meant to side with the “baddies”, commiserate with the evil influencers and dislike the public being affected by the dystopic world.

The two main characters, Donald Hogan and Norman House, sharing an apartment due to general overcrowding despite being successful in their roles and taking pains not to annoy each other as much as possible, are as disjointed as everything else.  They both stumble into situations they dont understand and cause death and mayhem as a result.  This seems to be OK.

Ive tried to get on with this book and it could be my fault that I dislike it intensely, I just do.  I give it a try every couple of years, I know there is something in there, Im just not getting it.  Nothing seems to develop fully and that may be the point of the book, I am really not sure.  Having just read it for probably the fifth time, I still dont care about the outcome (no spoilers), the characters, the future or whether there is a solution to the central problem.

Please, let me know if I really have missed the point.  It is bugging me.