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28 July 2009

Ramada Jarvis Hotel, Blackrod nr.Bolton, Lancashire

£7 for a glass of wine? Do me a favour!

We've just returned from a 3-day break at the Ramada Jarvis Hotel at Blackrod (near Bolton) - a pleasant setting in the county of Lancashire at the foot of the west Pennines, within easy reach of the Rivington Country Park adjacent to a large water supply reservoir.

We couldn't fault the hotel accommodation and it was kept spotlessly clean, but the hotel lets itself down in the matter of food and drink. Everything we had from the menu and the wine list were second or third choices because whatever we really wanted was not available, even when the menu said it was available 24 hours a day, e.g., Kashmiri Lamb Curry. When I chose that it wasn't even available for 24 seconds.

On our first night, dinner in the "Arts Brasserie" was severely disrupted by a wedding reception, in that although we had been told we could order a meal from 6 pm onwards, this was not actually possibly until 8.30 pm.

On the second night we sat down in the brasserie, (in which there were only about a dozen other diners), but no one seemed to be getting any meaningful service. Waiters and waitresses were walking around at high speed between various parts of the hotel and the bar in the brasserie achieving God knows what, and we were totally ignored for 20 minutes, until I made a point of asking for some service. We placed our order (still no "24-hour" Kashmiri Lamb!) and had to wait another 20 minutes before being told that my choice of Starter was not available. By the time we had any food on the table we had been sitting there for 55 minutes.

I have never seen so much high-speed walking around achieving so little.

Breakfast was served in a different dining room, and the fried eggs, scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, black pudding, tomatoes, mushrooms and baked beans made an excellent breakfast, but only if you were lucky enough to be in the room when all these items were simultaneously available on the self-service breakfast bar - which wasn't very often! Most of the time, people were standing around waiting for food to appear from the kitchen, or asking the dining room staff for this or that missing item. In three days we never saw the Chef or any member of the kitchen staff check out the current state of the breakfast bar, or stock it up with anything. It was all down to dining room staff having to go into the kitchen to get more supplies as and when they could.

Stress levels were increased by the existence of a persistent high-pitched whistling sound coming from some unidentified piece of machinery, so we were all suffering from a kind of communal tinnitus.

We shall not be returning to any Ramada Jarvis hotel any time soon.

19 July 2009

Narrow Broadband

It's not that long ago that the idea that one could watch TV programmes on your personal computer would have seemed slightly ridiculous.

It's not that long ago that being able to connect with both information and people all around the world in a meaningful way was just a gleam in Sir Tim Berners-Lee's eye.

And when he made that possible with his HTML code that launched the World Wide Web on the Internet (hitherto a military and academic piece of international telephonic computer hardware) we became used to the idea that when connecting to this worldwide phenomenon we did so to the accompaniment a vaguely science-fiction display of beeps, tones, whirring and buzzing that was the beloved Dial-up System, and we marvelled that we were transferring data back and forth at the phenomenal rate of 56 Kilobits per second.

The other day I found myself almost transported back to those days when my Broadband connection became mysteriously downgraded to a rate of less than 0.5 Megabits per second; and although this is a huge increase on the erstwhile dial-up system it was in fact achingly slow and rendered any attempt at watching streamed media totally impossible. The BBC i-Player flashed up a message that said in effect, "Your'e wasting your time, your system is totally inadequate for this task, and you should contact your ISP".

It did come up with a possible solution: download the programme to your own disk and run it from there. Fine - but when I started to download a 60-minute programme, after three hours it was still downloading and telling me there were another 50 minutes to go.

I gave up and e-mailed the BT Help Desk, and to be fair to them within an hour I received a phone call from an engineer. (By the way, judging by the accent of every BT advisor I've ever spoken to, their call centre is either based on the Asian sub-continent or their IT section is staffed entirely by Indians, Pakistanis, or Bangladeshis. They are all polite to an almost unreasonable degree, but sometimes hard to understand.)

They carried out line speed tests that told them what I had already established, i.e., my download speed was less than half a Megabit per second, whereas my "BT Broadband Option 3 Package" was supposed to deliver up to 8 Mbps (although the average expectation would be around 5 Mbps).

They seemed to be at a loss as to why this was happening and promised a full investigation, and I would be updated on progress with phone calls. The phone calls never came.

I checked the configuration of My "BT Home Hub" router/internet phone and discovered that it was registering the time it had been connected as 11 days. This was odd, because as far as I was concerned it had been connected for over a year! Not only that, it was apparently configured for only 0.5 Mbps downstream speed. So it appeared that some time in the past week or so it had been remotely disconnected and then re-connected with a different configuration.

I got back to the BT Help Desk yesterday and told them in no uncertain terms this was not why I was paying them £25 per month. Later I played back a message on my answer-phone from one my new "Indian" friends who said the engineers were in the process of resolving my problem, and would I please monitor my Broadband speed over the next few days. Oh, and "I hope you have a wonderful day ahead of you".

This morning I carried out a speed test and - joy of joys - found my speed up to 5 Mbps., and I successfully re-ran a TV program on BBC i-Player, streamed without distortion or interruption from continual buffering.

It got me thinking about how, in spite of how things used to be only a very short while ago, about which we had no complaint, once we move on to yet another level of technical and scientific advancement, we find it almost impossible to tolerate reverting to how things were only "yesterday".

14 July 2009

Outdated Expression - "The camera never lies"

A friend of mine sent me a photo of himself standing next to a wartime museum exhibit. I lost control of my computer mouse hand and it finished up like this ..

Well, he said he liked it and I should put it on the internet. So here it is, and be it on his own head. I think his nome de plume is A. Nonny Mouse (possibly named after his little friend with the wooden spoon).