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Show me the way to go home

I can’t really be bothered to rant about this any more.  But just look at this trail of misinformation leading to a four hour wait in and around Watford Junction station on a very cold Sunday afternoon – although it could have been a lot worse…

All because of a bit of wind.

On the train from Stoke on Friday evening, there is an announcement.

… Due to engineering works there will be no trains from London to the Midlands before 2pm Sunday.

Our return ticket was for 12:50 Sunday.  Once I’m off the train I call Virgin Trains Aftersales.  Their Indian call centre knows nothing about the state of UK railways.

… There are no problems with that train, sir.

Saturday lunchtime I call the Virgin Traveller club.  Nobody told them either.

My system says that train is still running.

Saturday evening I check the National Rail Enquiries web site.

There is no information.

Perhaps we imagined it.  Sunday morning, I try National Rail Enquiries again.

… Take a Silverlink train to Northampton, then a Virgin train to Stoke.

Not too bad, just have to leave a bit earlier.  We’re there at 11.30 and the man at the station gate tells us the way to go.

… There are no trains to Northampton.  Take the train to Milton Keynes, then a coach to Northampton, then the train to Stoke.

Worst route ever?  We decide it’s better to wait a couple of hours for a direct train sometime after 2pm.  A lady in a Virgin Trains jacket on the platform is sympathetic to our plight.

… Don’t go to Milton Keynes.  We haven’t ordered the coaches yet.  Wait until 3pm, there’ll be a direct train and it won’t be busy.

Honest at least, glad we decided to wait!  She also recommend a very good cafe just up the road.  Credit where credit’s due.

The joyous news finally arrives.

The Mancehster train has left Euston.  It’s already full and standing room only.

Thankfully the trend of everything we were told being wrong continued, and we did actually get a seat.

Oh, we were in London to see any random show that they had half price tickets for.  Ended up being Blue Man Group.  They are still the coolest thing on earth.  Fact.

Marooned!

My return trip from London usually involves a late train.  That way I never have to worry about leaving the office on time, getting stuck on a delayed tube and missing the train.  It does, however, mean that I’m hanging around for up to two hours at Euston.  This is where a cheap First Class upgrade comes in handy.  By "cheap" I mean that you get the very lowest tier of First Class ticket.  These are only available after they stop serving hot food to your seat, and instead you get a sandwich and a banana.  However usually they put the most expensive tickets at the front of the train so they get first dibs on all the snack food, and by the time yours truely gets served the sandwich choice is probably only egg.

It’s still better than at weekends, where you have to fetch everything yourself.  And as the shop is right in the middle of standard class, you have to climb over three carriages of poor people (you can’t hear the irony, but it’s there I promise, because I only use the train at the weekend on a free ticket) to pick up a "snack box" that contains a couple of crackers and some dried fruit.

Still, it means I get somewhere warm to sit for a couple of hours with an unlimited supply of complimentary coffee and crisps.  Today, they even have some rather nice chocolate truffles.  I was actually disciplined enough to just have one.  Impressive.

When I’m bumming about in the lounge above Euston Station, I’m usually online.  No change there.  There’s a wifi hotspot – touted as a feature of first class, when you still have to pay £4/hr to use it – but I now have my super funky phone with wireless modem and unlimited data calls, which is just as good when there’s 3G coverage.

Today, the phone said I had a full four bars of 3G signal but I couldn’t connect to squat.  It dialed, it thought, it gave up.  Same thing happened trying to get online from the phone itself, and it’s still the same problem now that I’m on the train.  I waited a good ten minutes on hold to T-Mobile, but nobody is there this time of night… at half past six?  Unlikely.  So I decided to bite the bullet – and bite into some complimentary fruit cake – and pay for the wifi.  I still had over an hour to kill and thought I may as well do something useful, even if "something useful" is trying to find out whether the 6-max $2/$4 game at Noble Poker is as soft as it appears to be, or if I just ran very hot so far.  The early signs are good (and here I go tempting fate again).  Sure, I’ve been getting lucky with some hands, but it’s so lovely and passive, they’re just always letting me catch up – and then paying me off!  Of course I don’t mind winning $30 pots with two pair made on the turn from 47o in the big blind, it’s just a little embarassing… I’m sure people in the lounge were watching me!

However, as I’ve bought into Gutshot folklore, I was particularly pleased with this hand.  Would have been worth an extra $50 at their online cardroom too!

The hotspot let me log in, but I had zero credit and when I tried to reload it said "this feature is not available".  There’s an award winning business plan buried away in there somewhere I’m sure…

So I was feeling a little marooned.  NO INTERNET!  But then I remembered the time I playing PokerStars here and my credit ran out but I was still able to play.  I hadn’t figured out whether it was because I still had an open connection and it didn’t know how to disconnect me after the credit ran out, or if it just wasn’t configured to block poker traffic.  Turns out, it’s their configuration.  Which means…

Free poker!

Well, for some sites anyway.  Noble Poker worked just fine.  I could see the lobby and sit at tables.  The only problem was accessing the cashier, which uses web pages within the client.  But as I already had a balance, I could play away happily.  And, yes, it still feels pretty soft.  I think Stars will work, although I couldn’t test it properly.  It tried to get a software update, presumably from a web site, and failed.  Party Poker and Mansion would not connect at all, but ParadiseParadise Masters: $1.5 million in prizes worked fine, and their cashier does not use the web so it looks like you get full functionality.  For free!

That’s about all I had time to check, but I’ll be doing more research!  They definitely block web and email access until you sign in with a credit card, and apparently MSN messenger too.  However I could connect to ICQ and Yahoo! Messenger without any problems, and without paying!

I only have limited experience with wireless hotspots.  The odd hotel and airport, and once at Starbucks when it was the hot new thing, which was memorable because it just didn’t work.  I wonder just how many actually allow free access like this! 

Vegas by the sea

The similarities between Las Vegas and Blackpool are much stronger than I first thought. Let’s look at the evidence…

Continue reading Vegas by the sea

London Baby

First non-poker entry in my blog for, well, almost ever. Because today I actually left the house and, for brief moments, enjoyed the glorious sunshine.

Somehow Claire managed to wake me up and get me to the station in plenty of time for my 7:24 – in the morning – train. I strolled out of Euston station before 9am thanks to a tilting train that only once threatened to spill my coffee, and didn’t. In the brief walk to Euston Square (I actually remembered this time that it was quicker walking a few hundred yards down the road to catch the Circle line than trying to change at Kings Cross) I basked in the glorious sunshine and fresh air. Apparently it’s been summer for a while now. Well, I’d suspected it as I’ve had to open my window a few times lately.

I was working at Gutshot today putting the last few features into their new online poker software. Ended up staying in the office until after 10pm, which at least answered the question of whether I was going to the card club tonight. It seems not. In any case, I’d been advised that Tuesday was “numpty night”. They have a similar amount of respect for their five quid rebuy tournaments to what I do for, well, almost any rebuy tournament.

I am staying here a couple of nights to also try to start sorting out what’s happening with my disasterous server relocation. I was told last week that “oh, we’re not quite ready for you yet” but this only came on the day we were actually meant to move in and after nearly two weeks of daily prodding. Fortunately, I really hadn’t put that much faith in everything going to plan, and I was sadly proven right. With Vegas at just T-5, it’s not going to happen until September so we’ve got to do some housekeeping meantime.

My usual cheapo hotel in Picadilly Circus was all booked up and I couldn’t even get in a Travelodge anywhere sensible, so I’ve ended up at the Belsize Park Hotel, thanks to some major Googling. On the plus side, there’s a fridge in the room. On the other hand, that’s about it.

It took about half an hour to check in, with just one group in front of us who looked like they’d already lost the will to live. Mother argued that she wanted to pay by American Express or cheque, it turned out that just because those options were listed on the registration form didn’t necessarily mean they accepted them. Meantime teenage son loudly asked his mum whether whether she’d found the place on stigofthedump dot com. I chuckled, but also wondered whether he could possibly be old enough to remember Stig of the Dump, as I was at primary school when it was on TV, or if there’d been a remake.

I finally got my key and was sent off on a bizarre adventure to find the room. Every door in the place is a fire door, and you just can’t tell whether you’re walking through into another part of the hotel or about to step out comedy style onto a sheer drop fire escape, requiring you to grab onto a ladder and flail about a bit.

My room, 305, is on the third floor, which is logically located somewhere above the second floor. Although it’s not directly above it seems, and the floor is also split into two, with the second staircase is hidden behind yet another fire door on level 2. There should be a prize for getting to level 3, because it’s tough.

Add to that the fact that one stairwell was pitch black – and of course the fire door swings shut quickly removing any light from the corridor below – and I was in big trouble. I found rooms 301-304 plus another room also labelled 301 (which was open, but had no bed) then after some more searching I found 306-312 up the second set of stairs. I had to go back and ask whether it actually existed because I sure as hell couldn’t find it and I thought that I’d probably already jumped through two Silent Hill dimensions, and that the stairs were probably only dark in one of them.

He pootled off for a while and came back to tell me sorry there’s no light but he’d gone and opened the room door and turned the light on and if I went back up the dark staircase I’d see it, tucked away in a very dark corner. He’d also propped open one of the fire doors – with a fire extinguisher of course – which was helpful but I couldn’t help being a little afraid when I’m stuck at the top of this building on the eve of one of the hottest days on record and the fire doors are wedged open. I’d never find my way out anyway.