Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Notes from a Small Cruise

I quite fancy going on a round Britain Cruise, in Sept 2013?  It seems a comfy way to visit the British  isles and wildlife of Scottish Islands. However in July 2011, I cruised on P&O Oceana.
I have had two years to reminisce on the best and worst of my last Med cruise and below are distilled pleasures and pitfalls of the trip.

You can click on images to enlarge.

If in a hurry go to the WORST features below.

Facebook pictures 

Top 10 BEST  features - not in order

    • Inspecting the Bridge and asking the 18 year old in charge "what can go wrong?" (Nothing as we always have someone on watch... famous last words ). And  Yes, I have got the horizon at the correct angle in photo!

  • So, getting INTO the lifeboat

  • Getting OUT of the lifeboat..somewhere in France.

  • Taking two 16 years old children who really enjoyed every moment, probably the youngest on the boat 
  • Climbing to the top of the Gibraltar Rock and seeing the monkeys in cool mountain air 
  • G&T from the fridge in my room
  • Large room with power shower and  balcony (but see below)
  • Our room maid was charming and she showed us a picture of the last cruise ship she was on which sank (really, I checked on Google when I got home, as I thought she was just after a large tip!). (I did tip generously due to her kindness, cheerfulness and one extra chocolate one night) 
  • Being able to read loads of legal thrillers (John Grisham)  on the balcony (fiction I think)
  • Experiencing 24 hours of pitch, roll and yaw (repeat 1000 times) while on my double bed for one in the Bay of Biscay  (not sure if this is good or bad)
  • Inspecting the Anchor Room  
  • Opportunity to take unusual photos, e.g. the Black Box Accident Recorder positioned at front of boat.
  • Quite a good library.... with printed books from the last century
  • Churches and Cathedrals in Florence, no tripod used 
  • Generally very good P and O staff (I must say this but true)
  • No BBC radio but had podcasts on my ipod
  • Watching a young man with no helmet, flying 200 feet in the air cleaning windows (but see below re *men* cleaning windows ) 
  • Ship refueling, very tidy engineering, please come and tidy the cables in my office  and work for me...
  • The French Doctor :-) (but check dead patients as below)  He had a wooden  bookshelf full of reference books. I had an ear infection and he advised me to have ear syringed back in Cambridge. I did, and it was the most delightful and rewarding  physical experience (apart from a back massage) I have ever had in the last two years. No ear problems since then!
  • Music synthesisers on the ship, very neat!  - see image 

  • Best bit - Getting home to my garden and watering it, drought in July 2011 in UK  and grey cat  Poppi asleep in the bird bath  (Poppi has since left home)

BUT ...

The Top 10 WORST  features - not in order

  • Getting dressed for dinner, looked like all ladies were dressed up in white  for a wedding and blinged out with jewels and wobbly shoes . Actually picture below was taken on the lifeboat.

  • No internet connection, apart from paying £12/hour  for 14.kBits/sec, I am NOT  desperate (but see below re Norway and Unbrellas  )
  • Getting a very high mobile  phone surcharge off the coast of Spain,  in the Mediterranean, via Norway. O2 lady asked if Norway was near to Spain? mobile phone signal only goes 10 miles (signal got *latched on* to a Norwegian ship 
  • Eating breakfast (soggy bacon...yes it is possible)  on my own in the restaurant  with a spare chair, but being asked by a handsome young gentleman  "is anyone sitting here?". I  said No... ;-) ... so he  nicked my chair.
  • TV in room was a 12" Cathode Ray Tube set to perma orange, could not mend TV
  • Rome, (again)  3 hour walk in intense heat in July, had to sit down on shop step as as dehydrated but was kicked off, as thought to  be a tramp , used an App on iPhone to capture my walk. The circularly track is where I got lost in the Colosseum. 
  • No live animals on a cruise, plenty of food however, but no decent coffee (have mentioned already?)
  • IMPORTANT: Having the urge to go over the railing of my balcony (this is not weird or  morbid, apparently many people (I did speak to some passengers) have this urge and so block the balcony door with a chair)  
  • Being told we were due for Force 6 Gale. As I had no internet, I texted Ex-hub, R,  to asked what this means. He kindly  replied "You need an Umbrella" . That is official on the Beaufort Scale, but not not useful on a cruise ship.(No Umbrellas) 
  • Money grabbing opportunities at every turn, perhaps jewelry?  (see The Cost of Oxygen)  No I do not want a fake Rolex, got a perfectly decent fake one in Hong Kong  circa 1990  
  • no proper milk or fresh food for 2 WEEKS! Just condensed milk, rubbish for coffee. Why no fresh prawns in the Med? All UK food!
  • Man who reserved his sun lounger for 90 mins!  while he ate lunch in the restaurant . We were short of seats at 13:00  and I needed to sit down. I mentioned that The Captain said we cannot reserve sun loungers, but he was rather rude about the captain. I took his picture and also of 5 rather startled senior ladies listening to  this exchange. (please ask for picture).
  • Seeing couples eating a meal for 45 mins with no conversation or eye contact  between them (not sure if good or bad). Not very romantic. 
  • 3 people died on our cruise. One paralysed as slipped down the banister.  One man at our table paid £400 to be resuscitated (survived) Re The Cost of Oxygen. 

  • 2 men appeared unexpectedly  in front of my cabin window on a rope  "cleaning windows" while I was un-attired,  with a glass of wine (me not them)
  • visited Leaning Tower of Pisa, we were not allowed to climb it! Horrible long walk, very hot and no toilets.(Nipped into a disabled loo in a pub) .  
  • Paid P and O   for an executive coach from Cambridge to Southampton with a toilet on board for the 4-5 hours, but they forgot to install the toilet. Luckily not a problem.
  • The internet link failed for 2 days, apparently due to a "faulty bit", but I was told to keep quiet about this in case the other  passengers were alarmed.
  • It was noticed that I was single, so I was put with a table of senior single ladies, some of who had severe  learning difficulties and hearing issues. I am sorry if this sounds unkind, (I am 20dB down in the left [ear]   but  conversation was a challenge. However, you can see me here chatting on iPhone 4 from my Cabin , could call my Mum :-). Fantastic!
  • I think I was the only single person, but a good opportunity for photography and my main pleasure was in daughter and her BF enjoying cruise. I was reprimanded for taking too many photographs of the antenna and the "flight recorder" 

Estimated spent 4 x 6 = 24 hours total in 10 days sat on a hot COACH! This is time that preferably should have been spent sitting on the boat, with a sea breeze, with a refreshing drink and reading or socialising. (Children under 18 need supervising so I could not/would not  send them to Rome on their own).

Please remind me of these notes in case I ever want to go on a cruise again. 
All the above is true.

P& O Oceana, Mediterranean July 2013

Winner - Techweek Europe Office Gadget June 2013

Talking Head Wins Our Office Gadget Challenge

This is a  winning design by Lyndsay Williams  for  a European design competition for an original  new office gadget. See here for details of competition from Techweek Europe.

The design is a  3D printed head  placed in an office kitchen and records samples of gossip and replays this at appropriate moments, but disguising the speaker. It is similar to a parrot but with animations for the face. See here for design details  Office Pet - Talking Head .

When judging the competition, we were asking ourselves one question – which of these wondrous devices would we want to see in our own office? And the answer was clear.
We sit in a world which has been silenced. Everyone spends most of their time interacting through Skype and Twitter, with only an occasional grunt or sigh. The truth is, tech has killed our office conversation, and we’d like to see tech bring it back to life.

The original design was based on a 3D head design and has now slimmed down to a  3D printed wall poster created in Bas relief as below.  The face can talk and the animated eyes can follow the staff around in the kitchen using  sensors that track the person. 

The plan is to have an  interactive  poster designed with an animated eyes like this Lord Kitchener poster:
Your face can be scanned with a 3D scanner and used for the poster.

The new design has sensors and microcontrollers embedded into the poster. The entire 3D poster should be less than 3mm thick inc lithium battery. The tactile face has touch sensors for further interaction. 

Girton Labs is looking for sponsors for this research/arts project so the first prototype can be built.
The hardware costs are covered by TechweekEurope  there is some software design required  based on Atmel or ARM processor.

Contact Lyndsay Williams sensecam@gmail.com or +44 (0) 7970 101578.
Cambridge UK.