Le Shuttle is the car transporting arm of the Eurotunnel group, responsible for the 31 mile long tunnel under the sea channel between England and France. The passenger service opened at the end of 1994 and I have been using it on and off for much of the last 16 years.
For the first half of it's life it was a pleasant change from ferries, which had become scruffy and slow, but for the last few years it is as tired now as the ferry services it disrupted.
In 2014 ET claims to have 51.5% of passanger traffic and 93% customer satisfaction. In 2014 I used the service 4 times and was delayed worst than ever before and I have never been asked about customer satisfaction.
As the rolling stock gets older and ET increases traffic year on year, there are more and more delays or 're timed' as ET calls them. You can tell how the company thinks if it can't even admit something as simple as a delay and has to re brand it.
This summers problems haven't helped but even if you ignore them, the service has not improved. Nothing has changed since the service has been introduced, other than the constant sms and emails telling you to arrive on time for your departure, even though they are the ones causing the delays.
The last trip we were delayed on the way out, even though we arrived on time for our departure, causing us to be on the road an extra 2 hours to avoid Operation Stack. On the way back we arrived early, and were offered a departure 30 mins before our scheduled one. We took it and then they delayed us until after are original booked time. We sat in the heat in the car after being told to proceed to boarding. The shuttle itself was hot as hell, at least 36 degrees, and on arrival the divider doors wouldn't opened so we say for another 10 mins.
This is not uncommon, in fact we've had similar service on all our shuttles over the past 3 years. Last year we sat in the car for 4 hours after being told to proceeed to boarding. You can never get any refund for delays or problems.
Until ET addresses the user experience and not the shareholders returns we will be looking at the ferries again.
My dad used to love driving. He taught me to drive and although I spent a lot of time on 2 wheels the attraction of 4 has become stronger over time.
Towards the end he wasn’t such a fan, things have changed drastically on the roads in the last 50 years and none of it for the better. The majority of driving these days is on congested urban roads or on motorways, and that has little appeal or challenge.
The rise of the driverless car (needs a better name) doesn’t inspire me. They are obviously designed to avoid accidents and so you could easily bully your way through queues of them as they would move out of your way, but by that point insurance companies will no doubt be penalising anyone driving themselves.
These cars are for people who don’t want to drive themselves, but also don’t want to take a taxi or bus ? People obviously like their independence but aren’t you losing a the main part with this technology - the driving? I understand not everyone loves driving and they just want to get somewhere and this removes the driving part, but then you are paying a hell of a lot for a taxi.
Driverless cars will all be using to same system to avoid accidents, traffic, whilst obeying the rules, so you will end up in a queue of similar vehicles but at least you can legally take a selfie or check Facebook.
I’m no fan of commuting by car, thankfully I don’t have to, but I do drive long distances across Europe. There are still great drives to be had. There are still great cars to drive, although for how much longer I don’t know.
My ultimate drive would be across the alps in a Porsche 911. It’s a journey I’ve done a few times but always in an underpowered car with a full load. The 911 is an iconic design, so good you can recognise it in the original.
You have to get in the car and drive it, there is no other way to understand it - Errolson Hugh
Acronym founder Errolson Hugh made a video with Porsche some time ago that sums up the 911 experience better than I can here.
There is still time to enjoy such a car, to love driving again, I just need to think of a Kickstarter campaign that would get me in one.
Serial is a podcast from the creators of This American Life, and is hosted by Sarah Koenig. Unlike the majority of podcasts I've listened to, Serial tells one true story over the course of an entire 12 episode series.
Serial is the story of the murder of Hae Min Lee, an American student and the arrest and conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed. Initially I was reluctant to download the podcast not being a fan of true crime and the general poor production qualities of podcasts, but after previewing a few minutes of one of the episodes, this was obviously very different.
I had listened to an episode of This American Life some time ago but generally most of the podcasts I occasionally listen to are weekly design or tech related and generally not that great. Serial is magnitudes better than most podcasts. High production values, its own soundtrack, and no ad interruptions. Sarah Koenig is a great narrator for her own investigations and I think this is it's main selling point. In an age of celebrity glamour and ad soaked content, designed for people with short attention spans, Serial avoids all the pitfalls.
The episodes range between 30 and 60 mins breaking down the varies stages of the case and Koenig skillfully looks at all sides without playing one over the other. In this day and age, this type of journalism seems very rare. It's an enthralling story, well paced and well made and never too long. Leaves you wanting more like all good series. It's never distasteful or overblown like most crime reporting seems to be.
This podcast brings the quality of audio books to the podcast medium and with further series planned, let's hope more of the same follows.
An unusual photography book from Curves magazines' Stefan Bogner, it features a visual record of many road passes of the European Alps. These ribbons of tarmac traverse some of the most beautiful scenery in the Alps and have themselves become part of that landscape. Taken from a drivers perspective in many cases, these are fascinating looks at the alps when not covered in snow.
Featuring many classics alpine passes such as as the Gotthard Pass connecting north and south Switzerland, the Stelvio in Italy and Col du Galibier in France. A beautiful hardcover coffee table book with 224 pages containing 152 color photos, 3 black and white and a few paragraphs of text, in German.
I have been looking forward to this movie from Alex Garland for a while. It's billed as a 'chilling vision of the not-too-distant future of artificial intelligence' and the basic storyline is of a genius billionaire bringing a programmer to his mountain retreat to test a robot for AI.
On the surface it's a well paced, stylish visual piece, but ultimately let down by a poor script and less than believable characters. It's one of those movies which isn't that far into the future that you can suspend your disbelief and most of the story was obvious to me before it happened. Man builds girlfriends, man treats girlfriends badly, girlfriends team up on man. Throw is some vague science/tech, mention Alan Turing a lot, and some obvious hints at Google and privacy.
It starts without dialogue when Bluebook programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is selected to visit the CEO's residence in the mountains. Bluebook is seemingly now the world's number one search engine going by CEO Nathan's (Oscar Issac) estate. Nathan is a genius who wrote Bluebook at 13 and has now managed, on his own, to assemble a perfect robot, with AI in a mountain retreat, with only a helicopter, which takes 2 hours just fly over his estate, occasionally visiting him.
He does have enough fibre-optic cabling in the walls "to reach the moon and lasso it", though. Not sure how this helps though. Seems to impress Caleb which tells you enough about his skill set. Nathan and Caleb have an uneasy relationship and this is where the main tension of the film hangs and where it mostly fails. Caleb weak, Nathan strong.
It's not until we meet AVA (Alicia Vikander) and Caleb's interactions with her (it?) that the movie gets interesting. Nathan and Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), the 'maid', are also interesting and when they break into dance it looks like the movie is finally getting some drama. Obvious plot direction ruins the rest of the movie though.
There was a lack of tension caused by knowing what was going to happen and even the attempt at a plot twist at the end was poorly executed. I found both Caleb and particularly Nathan's characters unbelievable or possibly obvious. AVA and Kyoko, albeit the robots came over as much more interesting characters.
Obvious parallels to Blade Runner with the Turing test (Voight Kampff) and AVA/Rachel, even to point that AVA looks a lot like Rachel at the end, leaving across the mountains to city as opposed to the other way around. At one point Kyoko looks exactly like one of the aliens in 'They Live'.
There were some nice ideas, Nathan's use of the Bluebooks data to build the AI and use of Caleb's porn searches to model AVA's face but these were lost amongst the bigger ideas from other places (2001, Blade Runner, Logans Run, I Robot etc). A shame really as the movie avoided a lot of Hollywood's gloss and over use of action and CGI but felt very flat by the end.
Stock photography has had it's day. You can spot it a mile away, templates, corporate sites and material thrived on it. Working in an agency I often found myself downloading pokey little jpgs and filling holes in the content with them. Often coming back later to spend large amounts of money on full size copies. Strangely it's not even that easy to get your work into these stock libraries. Anything with 'out of focus' areas, bokeh, will often get your photo rejected. Many creative shots are not great stock shots sellers.
So when Unsplash arrived a couple of years ago, a fresh look at stock photos was born. Unsplash avoids the stock photo library problems by accepting pretty much anything but only featuring their curated shots. And of course it's all free. The licence is Creative Commons Zero which means you can do whatever you want with them. Great for users, lousy for photographers. It is pretty much a hipster fest of photography, so that does limit its appeal to the corporates but they have started to get onboard, its free after all.
So why would anyone put a photo on Unsplash? What's to gain? I asked myself the same question when I uploaded a photo back in February of 2014. My reason was simple, I had used a couple of photos in projects (my current header is from Charles Forerunner) and as there is nothing you can really do to pay back, I put a photo of my own up. I thought if it takes off something might come of it. Currently it's ranked 703rd and has had 21,375 downloads (from Unsplash). You can imagine how many the top ranked images are getting.
So what's the problem?
As I see it there are a few. Unsplash has been a big success for Crew, the company who put it together. Even getting the likes of Zeldman to pick a few NY shots recently. Great for them but what have they given back to the community that made them successful?
I have no problem with the licence to give your work away free, I have problems with the distribution part. In practice it sounds fine but the reality is Russian spam and malware sites are as free to distribute them as Unsplash. Backlinks from these sites you don't want.
The amount of sites that have ripped, scrapped and plain hacked the Unsplash photos to make them their own is depressing, if not surprising.
Now that it's so popular wouldn't it be nice to have a option to donate to the photographer or some other method of recompense? We did get a thank you email.
So what have I gotten from this exercise? You could count the backlinks on your body parts, so web traffic isn't worth it. Nobody has contacted me to say thanks or ask a questions or anything. And nothing at all has come from it. The sites using the photo are mostly spammers, seo building companies, WordPress templates and the odd blog. I've seen a couple with credits. The only people to have gained from Unsplash are Crew.
Ultimately there are no killer images on Unsplash. Mine is far from mainstream and never going to be that popular. It's b roll photography, I imagine most people did the same, put something up see what happens. Apple isn't coming calling anytime soon people.
I thought about taking it down and closing the account, but once it's out there it's gone for good. Imagine if I had a pound for every download though - how many Leicas is that?
My Alpha SL jacket has just had it's 2nd anniversary. The day it arrived I went out for a walk and was treated to a heavy spring shower. This is why I bought it I thought when I arrived back soaked and took this photo.
The Alpha SL is a lightweight, waterproof GORE-TEX® PacLite® jacket, with a helmet compatible Speed Hood® designed as an easily packable emergency storm jacket in an alpine environment. There are many other jackets in this category with a similar specification for less money. I've owned a fair few waterproof jackets and eventually they all leak. Some can be saved with water proof treatment.
Arc'teryx have a handy video on cleaning and waterproofing your (GORE-TEX) jacket. This is one of the reasons I purchased the jacket, that and Arc'teryx reputation for outdoor equipment. There are many, many brands selling clothing for the 'outdoors' but when you look at their core business, not many are as 'hardcore' as Arc'teryx.
Two years in and used outside of winter, the jacket has no problems with heavy rain and still looks as good as the day I bought it. It's spent a lot of time hiking and biking in the Chamonix valley and beyond. A fair amount of time packed in a backpack. I haven't used the hood with a helmet as it's designed for climbing helmets so no idea what it's like with a bike helmet. The hood has a decent peak and a rear adjuster to fit to your head size. I find this key to any activity in the rain, a badly fitting hood with no peak makes for a very unpleasant outing.
I have the carbon colour with blue ascents. Generally speaking Arc'teryx make one colour products which can make for some rather unimaginative clothing designs. Buying one of the very bright colours may not be a great choice considering how long it will last. Orange is popular this year across outdoor products, but next year maybe not so much. This gray colour makes a change from black and looks smart enough when used in the city. It's not a feature jacket. It has two chest pockets, later versions only have one, pit zips, hood and waist adjusters. That's it. If you are looking for features look elsewhere.
Even though it's packable it has decent thickness required for a truly waterproof jacket. Many packable jackets I've have had been lighter and thinner but unless you are running the UTMB I don't see them as comparable. This is packable for a proper alpine jacket. It doesn't feel packable when you wear it, which I prefer. As mentioned previously I don't like owning multiple products in the same category. I had a very packable Oakley jacket for biking that you could squeeze into a large pocket but 10 mins into a storm at Val d'Isere and it was useless. I had a thicker packable North Face jacket that was fine for a couple of hours of rain but you got cold in it. The Alpha SL has lasted all day rain and is you don't feel the cold as much.
Downsides? Well I think you have to be really picky to find any. For my body size another couple of cm of length at the front would be good. The back is fine, although perhaps a little short for biking but this isn't what it was primarily designed for. I find the short front means you really channel the water to your lower half. Fine if you have waterproof trousers but not so good with jeans. The arms are a good length for me which is unusual as I have long arms. So I suggest sizing is important.
It's a simple product with a simple mission. It isn't trying to be anything else which is why I bought it and will continue to enjoy it's protection, if not the weather I wear it in.
If you only do one thing on a visit to Chamonix France, the Aiguille du Midi trip is the best choice. It's weather dependant of course, there is little point going up if the valley is shrouded in cloud. You can sometimes get an inversion where the Aiguille is above the cloud but more often than not it will also be in the cloud.
So on a clear or partly cloudy day the cable car to the summit, the Téléphérique de l'Aiguille du Midi, previously the world's highest cable car and current holder of the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world, will take you from Chamonix town at 1035m to 3842m with excellent views of Mt Blanc 4810m, the Chamonix valley and into France, Italy and Switzerland.
The first cable car is from Chamonix to Plan de l'Aiguille, 2317m and then another to the top. The building also contains an elevator to the summit, viewing platforms, a restaurant, a shop and a glass skywalk called 'Step into the Void', which is a bit of a gimmick and quite often closed.
The viewing platforms are where it's at. That and the Aiguille du Midi Arête where you can exit to the Vallée Blanche at your own risk. Moving from platform to platform gives you unrestricted views of the Mt Blanc range and across the Vallée Blanche. You can admire the skiers and climbers at work in the various couloirs and pitches. An appreciation for climbing and skiing isn't required to enjoy the skill on display.
You may also enjoy some shortness of breath of your own as you climb the various stairs and the extremes of temperature and conditions this high mountain environment offers. Warm clothes and sunglasses are recommended. During the summer season (June-August) and holidays expect lengthy queues. Early mornings are obviously popular and if you have a weather window booking ahead is a good idea. Sometimes you can luck into going straight up but usually a wait of an hour or more can be expected. Expect a trip to last up 2 hours.