Tag Archives: history

My del.icio.us bookmarks for January 21st through January 28th


When was the last time that you came across a printer with only a parallel port? Have you ever used one of those two serial ports on the back of your PC?

Personally I don’t think I’ve used a parallel port for over five years and I don’t recall ever having used a serial port despite using computers for over twenty years. So why do many PC manufacturers still include them on new PCs? Would they not be better using the same space for more USB ports, a Firewire socket or even to save a few pounds by simply not including it?

I finally realised why they are there when I read “Heavier Than Air.” It, of course, has nothing to do with their utility — almost no-one has used either port for years — and everything to do with feature matrices.

Imagine the scene. The purchasing department1 of a big company is defining what the corporate standard for PCs for the next year is going to be. How do they go about it? Do they sit down and exhaustively analyse the requirements for new PCs across the whole company? Do they talk to users, book meetings with the IT guys and negotiate with the facilities team?

Or do they just copy last years spec sheet and hope for the best?

It doesn’t take too many years of this to get back to the point where dedicated printer ports and serial lines were kind of useful for many users. But now they’re just left there on the check-list not because anyone needs them but because no-one has thought to remove them.

You’ll see this in action at the various manufacturer web sites. The business oriented machines, those intended to be purchased in their thousands by blue chips, have those superfluous ports but the consumer machines are more likely to have only USB.

In the grand scheme of things maybe it doesn’t matter why you get a few extra ports on every PC you buy but I do think that it’s interesting to discover why they keep giving us stuff that we don’t want.

  1. I am reminded of a story I heard while working at a large telecoms company. My department ordered an upgraded CPU for one of the Macs used for DTP. The card they asked for would have nearly doubled the performance. The purchasing department, in an attempt to save money, instead ordered a cache card. Unfortunately this cost nearly as much as the replacement CPU but only increased performance by about 10%. It proved to be a waste of money rather than a wise investment. []

Jordan: Kerak

Kerak castle, Jordan

Leaving Jerash around lunchtime, I head south towards Kerak, known variously as Karak and Al Karak, stopping briefly for a float in the Dead Sea and a distant view of Israel.

It’s already dark when I arrive making it difficult to see much of anything. I am assured that the building in front of me is the castle but it just looks like another hotel at this time of evening. I take dinner in a restaurant right next to the (alleged) castle. They are filming for something and there are eerie bright lights shining through the windows — slightly disconcerting when you know it’s dark out.

When I step out I experience what I first assume to be atmospheric mist created by a talented special effects team for the purposes of the video, but as my hair gets damp I slowly realise that it is, in fact, raining. And not just a light drizzle but enough to get quite wet on the short walk back to the hotel. Not exactly what I was expecting in Jordan, even though it is November.

View from Kerak castle, Jordan

The next morning I rise fairly early so I can see the castle without hoards of other tourists. For something that was started in the twelfth century, albeit enhanced subsequently and restored even more recently, it’s in pretty good shape. The walls are extensive and you can get a solid idea of the various rooms and even something about the physique of the inhabitants — judging by how often I had to duck down to pass through a door they weren’t very tall!

View from Kerak castle, Jordan

However the thing I remember most about Kerak is not the castle but the views from it. They valleys were surprisingly green (I guess that explains the rain) and looked pretty with the white houses scattered up and down the side. The rest of Kerak and presumably the bulk of its twenty thousand inhabitants could be found up-hill a short distance away.

View from Kerak castle, Jordan

I don’t spent a huge amount of time in Kerak because the next stop is Petra, one of the main reasons I came to this area. Let’s hope it lives up to the hype.

Jordan: Jerash

Roman ruins, Jerash, Jordan

I remember when I was at school doing history I loved the Romans. They were so advanced and yet had these brutal elements, a combination that I found fascinating. Even now I continue to be amazed by Roman ruins. Nothing we build now seems to last more than a few decades yet this massive, two thousand year old empire still has buildings standing.

So I’m happy that the first major site of my trip through Jordan and Egypt is Jerash. If I’m honest, it’s not a site I’d heard of before I booked this tour. I’m pleased to say that it would have been a mistake to miss it, though.

Roman ruins, Jerash, Jordan

I enter the site through a triumphal arch, which is located right next to the road and the rest of modern Jerash. It makes quite a contrast. The site is large, so eventually the sound of the traffic subsides.

Roman ruins, Jerash, Jordan

Some parts, mainly those near the gates, have been reconstructed. They are, no doubt, authentic but looking fairly new it’s not really the look I was expecting. For similar reasons I didn’t feel inclined to hang around and see the jousting. I was more drawn to the paths lined with columns, piazza’s and mosaics. Not as pristine as the reconstruction but amazing in their own way.

Certainly the most surreal part of the whole time at Jerash is when I reach an amphitheatre, where three men entertain us with drums and… bagpipes. Yes, you read that right.

Bagpipers and drummers, Jerash, Jordan

They play for about ten minutes, marching around the floor, saluting members of the audience and, generally, confusing the hell out of most of us. Bagpipes? Jordan?

Overall it’s an impressive site with much to see. But it’s only a fleeting stop as I next head south towards Kerak.

Jordan and Egypt

"No Camels & Horses" sign, Dahab, Egypt

I always have immense difficulty choosing my next travel destination. The bottom line is that I’d happily visit almost anywhere I’ve not been before. And even then, many of the places I have been to I’d happily go back to. With around two hundred countries in the world this presents a problem. Then you need to combine this with the fact that I love reading about travel — books, brochures, back issues of Wanderlust — and you can easily believe that it can take me months to decide where to travel to next.

I know. I lead such a hard life.

Anyway, after a relatively short holiday last year, this year was going to be India. Except. Long story short: I did not have enough leave from work to be able to do everything I wanted.

Eventually, through a process of compromise and whittling down that I couldn’t explain even if I tried, I ended up deciding on the middle east in general and Jordan and Egypt in particular. I’ve had a mixed experience with the Middle East in the past. I loved Turkey but wasn’t keen on UAE. Fortunately both Jordan and Egypt promised more of the history and culture of the former and less of the shiny, characterless modernity of the Dubai I had seen.

As I have done for the last couple of trips, I felt it made most sense to break the holiday down into bite sized chunks. I am going to cover the sights in Jordan in the following posts:

And Egypt in these:

Corsica: Ajaccio to Corte

Train from Ajaccio to Corte, Corsica

The plan today is to get to Corte. There are two trains a day, which effectively means that I have to choose between sightseeing in Ajaccio or Corte — with daylight hours fading fairly early there would be no time to do both. Since I’m back in Ajaccio on Friday evening I decide to take the early train.

A 6.30 alarm call on a Saturday comes as a shock to the system.

The train leaves on schedule and, in its two-hour journey time, takes me through some spectacular scenery. A local who introduced himself as I got on the train, clearly used to the views and the journey, seemed bemused by my constant picture taking. “Did you see an animal?” “No, just the view, the mountains.” “Oh.”

Arriving at Corte station, Corsica

Corte is very hilly as I find when I try to carry my bags to the hotel. The hills give it a dramatic setting. As the day passes I see the clouds descend, obscuring the top of the hills, and rain threatens to fall.

Before this I wander around town. The yellow buildings against the bright blue sky looks like Tuscany or the south of France, the flaking paint, which at home you’d consider bad maintenance, here looks quaint. The main street, Cours Paoli, has the usual selection of shops, including a baker, tobacconist and sellers of tourist merchandise. One unusual piece was the tee shirt with Che Guevara and the word Corsica emblazoned beneath. I wasn’t aware that he’d made it here?

Corte town centre, Corsica

Mingled amongst the souvenirs and pastries were many caf?s, one after the other. They all look pretty much the same! That is to say, pretty good. I stop at one in Place Paoli for a panini and cappuccino.

(A quick aside: Paoli is the father of Corsican independence, having established Corte as its capital city.)

Corte town centre, Corsica

I visit the Citadel, home to the Museum of Corsica. The museum is large and modern, complete with audio tour, replicas of any object they don’t have to hand and videos. The content is less impressive than the execution. Sure, it’s supposed to be more about anthropology than history but still, telling us how people used to live less than a hundred years ago hardly needs much of an imagination.

View of Corte from the Citadel, Corsica

The views from the citadel are worth the entrance fee however. It’s possible to see over the whole town and much of the valley.

View of Corte from the Citadel, Corsica

The stunning views will be paid in sweat rather than Euros for most of the rest of the week as the walking starts tomorrow.