Camp site address: Guests in Bolton
Mobile phone is +44 (0)7941115660
Camp site address: Guests in Bolton
Mobile phone is +44 (0)7941115660
The netbook has Windows 7 Starter on it.
The first problem for the new owner was that he didn’t have enough Italian to understand how to ask it to change its Mother tongue. So a neighbouring Dane had suggested that the English gent would be worth asking!
Now I haven’t progressed beyond Vista yet and my mind is still pining for XP. My Italian is only slightly better than my German. I can just about manage to eat with my rudimentary Italian and would starve in Germany without the aid of others less linguistically challenged. So looking at the new netbook left me not much better informed than the frustrated owner.
Having spent a while looking at the Microsoft website and others, I learned that the Starter version is a cut down version of the real operating system. I had thought that that meant some of the new features of Windows 7 wouldn’t be available in the “Starter” version that tends to be pre-installed on new netbooks.
I hadn’t appreciated that it meant that they had removed a lot of the functionality that was present in older iterations of the product. It is a bit like buying a new model of car where the tyres are no longer supplied as standard – or did Mercedes already cover that ground? In this case, you only get one language and that will be the one for the country where it is being sold. No, of course no-one ever buys a netbook whilst in some other country than their own. It would be sort of rude, wouldn’t it?
The Microsoft website is quite enthusiastic about the fact that their downloadable language files are available for free and in 95 languages as long as you don’t want Chinese. Seems there is a political issue with offering Chinese. Not at all sure what since you can get it from lots of other sites and it almost certainly has been assembled at Microsoft. When, however you go to the download page for your copy of politically safe German, there it is. The file with a warning sign saying that Mr Gates’ team have ensured that it won’t work unless you have bought the Ultimate or Enterprise version of Windows 7.
Cost of Netbook: €200.
Cost of upgrade operating system so that it stops talking in a foreign language and lets you use it: €180.
I think my German friend was right to be a little disappointed with his purchase.
I know that I have a character flaw that causes me to get unreasonably upset when I think people have been ripped off. More so than when I get ripped off! Neither of us really fancied the discussion with the supermarket management in a language neither of us could really speak.
At this point, I was so incensed that I would have been willing to indulge in piracy against Microsoft without a second thought. Actually, I had the XP installation disks from a laptop that had long since died on me so I felt entirely righteous about offering to put XP on the machine in place of Windows 7 and he clearly thought that would be an even better solution. We discussed the effect on his warranty and agreed that this wos the way to go. I took the machine away to do the deed.
An hour or so later, I had a better idea. If I were to partition the 250Gb hard disk and make it a dual boot machine, maybe the warranty would still be valid. Simples.
I soon had a clean formatted 108Mb E: drive ready to take XP. I had dusted off my external USB CD/DVD drive and satisfied myself that I had set the netbook so it would boot from the CD in preference to the hard disk.
OK. I am a dinasaur. My main machine these days is a quad processor with 8Gb of Ram but I still run ancient DOS software like FoxPro and Power Basic in DosBox so it shouldn’t be any surprise that I still have a bootable CD with DOS 6.2 on it. That is my trusty testbed. It booted the machine up just fine and quickly. It is wonderful to see the speed of the antedeluvial software running on a wizz-bang modern PC but that is another story.
I fetched my XP CD and tried the boot. Oh dear, it couldn’t see a hard disk at all. A little head scratching and I realised that SATA drives weren’t around when they devised XP so it wasn’t really surprising. But, hey, there is a facility in XP installer for supplying drivers for storage devices it doesn’t know about. There is the solution.
Wrong again! XP installer is absolutely convinced that your machine has a floppy disk drive A: on it and wants that to be where the drivers are. I tried spoofing it into thinking that a pen disk was the floppy. No. Couldn’t evev assign the CD as A: because it wants the A-drive before it lets you have access to DOS.
At this point I was ready to give up and go and buy a floppy disk! Having recently put DosBox on my machine, to have a floppy disk drive would really have made it look like an original IBM 8086… Fortunately, it was getting on to 10pm so I couldn’t go to the local Media World and had to try another route.
Back to Google and another search brought salvation with a bit more information about Vista and Windows 7. It seems that they have just restricted the system to a single language in the registry. Change the registry entry and it will allow you to add another language. The problem then is that whenever Windows does an update, it puts the registry back where it was and you lose your second language. The answer to this one might be just to stop it doing the updates but that would seem an unfortunate way to go. Then I came across a free bit of software called Vistalizator (www.vistalizator.com).
Although this little gem was written for Vista, they have a Windows 7 version. It makes the change to the registry and installs the second language for you right up to the point where you select the new language as the primary one.
You do have to download the MUI Language file from Microsoft – a snip at102Mb. However, Vistalizator also stops the update from changing the registry back again. But even if it didn’t, it is a very easy matter to re-run the program to set it back again.
Of course, I then had a netbook in German which I didn’t understand any more than I had the Italian but its owner was very happy with it.
At last I have the answer to the language problem which is useful for the next time when it might be Japanese to Swahili knowing my luck! All I need to find now is how to get Windows & to allow me to set a workgroup name for the LAN. Why, oh why, does Microsoft think we will learn to love them if they persist with these silly games?
We have been nomads now for 18 months. During this time I have spent all too many hours reading motorhome related forums. When it comes to the topic of full-timing, somebody will always post the comment, “When you fulltime, you have to remember that it is a lifestyle, not a holiday”.
I have never understood this remark – until this week!
We have been very happy with our nomadic existence but there have always been two nagging thoughts.
The first is “We really shouldn’t be having a life without responsibilities and commitments. It’s wrong. We will have to pay for all this self-indulgent fun sooner or later. It is The Law, be it Sod’s, Murphy’s or whatever…
The second is “We should be doing something. Just sitting around in the sun is no way for people to live. What would the Rev. Calvin have to say? Where is our Protestant Work Ethic?”
Last week all that changed. We have seen the light and we are born again.
It started with an old conversation about writing a book. For those who didn’t know, Liz and I used to write for a living. Really boring factual stuff, usually commissioned by publishers. Nevertheless we enjoyed doing it and managed to make a living out of it. Then Liz found some information from the British Library Theatre Archive Project and started to think about the possibility of a book based on this material. A few more days and it became clear that the topic really fascinated her and we decided that “the book” should be started. Really started. We even researched software to make the gathering of information more orderly.
At much the same time, whilst reading the daily questions and answers on the forums, I started to think about how the same questions came up over and over again. I thought about the way in which only the bare bones of answers were forthcoming because that is the nature of forums. Actually, one of the forums, http://www.MotorhomeFacts.Co.UK, had instigated a little project where members were asked to contribute articles for a collection of FAQs. The project resulted in a useful collection of informative articles and then stopped there. Noone had thought about who owned the copyright and therefore doubts were raised about publishing the articles other than amongst the members. The project has stalled since last March as a result. All that useful information and few people able to see it!
I will write an Owners’ Reference Handbook, I thought, and started to put down an outline.
A few days later and we realised that our attitudes had changed. We both had a purpose. We were no longer feeling guilty about being pure hedonists. We felt Calvin might smile upon us again.
We had moved from extended holiday mode to a lifestyle choice. Where better to be writing our books but sitting in the sun overlooking the blue Mediteranean in January. Oh, it feels so much less self-indulgent even though we know it isn’t really!
Anyone want to proof read Chapter 1 – 3500 words on Gas?
Yes, we know that the UK comes to a halt when it snows. We know that is because it is rare and we are never ready for it.
But before you complain too much let me tell you the story of my journey to the supermarket yesterday…
The idea was simple. We had invited some friends round for a drink & pizzas at 7pm so it seemed a good idea to pop out in the Smart car to get a supply of wine.
The next village has a small Conad but not much in the way of quaffables. Liz wanted to get the van respectably clean inside, so I decided I would do the shopping alone. I knew there were supermarkets at Ragusa, 19 miles and 40 minutes in the car. But we had been there a couple of days ago. Why not go somewhere new?
I consulted the map and decided that I should go to Gela. The guide book said it wasn’t worth visiting so I wouldn’t be wasting a trip out without Liz because she wouldn’t want to go there anyway. It is 28 miles and 55 minutes according to Autoroute, so off I set at about 12:45.
The weather forecast said we should expect 14mm of rain over 11 hours! But, hey, it doesn’t rain in the car or supermarket; it wouldn’t worry me.
The trip there went pretty much as expected. A few puddles across the road and a couple of them quite deep but nothing to cause alarm. Reached Gela at about 2pm, filled up with petrol and bought cigs etc at the Tabachi. Now for the supermarket…
I drove through the town but didn’t see one. I drove round the outskirts and didn’t see one. I drove round the inner town and didn’t see one. But I did see a large police station. So I parked outside and approached the door. It clearly wasn’t intended to be the public entrance, so I asked a policewoman passing by where the main entrance was. Somehow, she decided instantly that I was not a local and was English. Must have been a detective! Anyway, she told me that there was no public area and then immediately told me to follow her. She led me into the centre of the building which was designed rather like the spokes of a wheel. In the middle was a large atrium with a number of policemen having a conversation.
“Which one of you lot speaks English?”, says my guide. One of them steps forward and says to me “I speak a little but I would do better in French.” Now, I have a policy of always trying to speak the local language even if offered English, knowing I can give up and resort to English or French is a bonus. I asked where the local supermarket was. I explained that I was looking for an IperCoop, Auchan or a Simply sort of supermarket. Immediately his friend said “You will have to go to Catania for that but it is a 100 miles!” No, said I, I want somewhere more local. ” Well you could try Licata, there is a big shop there!”, offers another one of the policemen. Now Licata is another 20 miles further along the coast on small roads. It would mean another 45 minutes driving.
“No. is there not a shop in Gela?”, I say. My first volunteer agrees that there is a EuroSpin in Gela and he watches while I put its location into my GPS.
At this point, I remember that I also want to buy a USB Hub so I ask where I might get one. He doesn’t understand what that is because I don’t know the Italian or French for USB or Hub. But we manage to establish that it is a part for a computer. Now yet another of the assembly of policemen goes off to one of the offices and fetches another lady who is clearly one of the station IT staff. She does know what a USB Hub is and also knows that there is a distributor in the town who may be open. Sadly, none of them know the name of the relevant street so the GPS is not going to help.
“Don’t worry about that” says my new friend. Yet more policemen are fetched and they explain to me that the new policeman will drive there so I can follow!
I thank all the now considerable gathering and off I trot after my new guide and his colleague. A large police van is fetched and waits for me to get my car behind it. Off we go on what turns out to be a 10 minute journey snaking round the back streets of Gela. Once there at the closed shop, I say my thanks and farewells to my guides, who seem to have thoroughly enjoyed escorting this strange car with the steering wheel on the wrong side.
At this point, I can log the spot on the GPS and set off to the EuroSpin. This turns out to be a sort of poor man’s Lidl. It has a reasonably large wines section but there is nothing on the shelves priced much above 5 Euros. But that is OK. I am not looking for expensive quality and I select 6 bottles of assorted mysteries to try.
At this point I had been in the shop for the best part of 45 minutes. When I came to leave, it was pouring down – like a cloud burst and customers are refusing to go out to their cars. I explain to one fellow that I am going out into the downpour. I have my umbrella and I am English so I am well used to such weather. This causes much amusement to the cowering customers and off I go.
Now to drive back to the computer shop.
As soon as I get onto the main road; a dual carriageway, I realise that the puddles have become street-wide rivers! The closer I drive, very slowly,into town, the deeper the river becomes. It isn’t helped by the fact that the water has pulled a sheet of plastic, that covers the underside of the front of the Smart, down at the front. I now have a large water scoop! Every so often I have to pull over onto the river bank, get out with the umbrella and re-clip it under the front bumper. Not fun.
On reaching the inner ring road, I see complete chaos. The problem is that Sicillian roads are built without two features common to all UK roads. No drains and no camber. None at all!
As I plough cautiously down the main drag, the first thing I see is a very large section where the water is about 30cm deep. I can tell this because, sitting right in the middle of it and all alone, is a lovely new drowned BMW. What else? The driver can’t do anything about it because the water is higher than his sills. Without drains that might have eventually allowed him to dry out, I am not sure what the future holds for him.
I decide that, under the circumstances, I could use the service road around this urban sea, even if it does mean going the wrong way down the one-way system. It is Italy, where No Entry signs are only advisory after all! This gets me some progress. Then the service road comes to an end but there is another one on the other side of the main road, so I cautiosly motor-swim across to it. At this point I realise that I am leading a little convoy or mostly 4x4s in my little Smart car!
Eventually, I make my way onto the main road out of town where the tarmac is only 10cm below water level and getting better as we go up hill. There is a new phenomenon to deal with now.
There are many potholes that have been patched with tarmac. The water pressure has caused most of them to erupt like small volcanoes. I quickly learn that if you see a puddle surrounded with black pebbles arond it, don’t go through the puddle – it is a bit like driving off the edge into a small swimming pool!
This lesson learned, and observing a few drowned Pandas in them, I am making better progress but there are still sections which are really too deep for such a small car. However, I decided that when I got an Italian 4×4 right up behind me, it would be wise to pull over and let it pass. This way I can chose my own speed and course. This decision led me to the solution. I had let a small lorry past me who then plowed immediately into a deep bit. As I was now fairly close behind it, I discovered that his double wheels pushed most of the water to the sides and I could follow in its tracks without getting submerged – as long as I continued to tailgate it.
The route home was not qiite what I intended. The GPS had clearly been on the vino again and there were several blocked roads; either with drowned vehicles and some with official barriers.
By the time I got home at 7pm, the 55 minute 28 mile journey had taken me three solid hours and 44 miles.
Now just consider that this was all caused by about half an inch of rain over an 11 hour period!
It is a standing joke that when you hire a car in Catania and return it without any extra scratches, the hire company will give you a certificate that qualifies you to drive anywhere in the world!
On first impressions, the city is chaotic and terrifying for the Northern European driver. But somehow the traffic does keep moving, albeit slowly and in jumps and starts. Pedestrians seem to be able to get where they want to go and scooters – well they are a law all their own. The best advice is to never look in your rear view mirror because doing so is worse than cholesterol for your heart.
Then, after a day or so, you become slowly aware that the city works. There are more vehicles per square meter than is possible, but it works!
Eventually, you start to wonder how. What is it that makes this traffic anarchy, not only work, but actually feel less stressful than Paris, London or Munich?
Contra-Flow Bus Lanes
The first thing that struck me is that all the bus lanes, and there are many, go against the flow of traffic.
This has two effects. Cars do not enter the bus lanes like they normally do elsewhere. In with-the-flow bus lanes, the thought is that “I can just nip in for a moment to get through and any bus will have to wait a moment if one appears. I can even park in the bus lane if there are no yellow lines to say I can’t. After all, the bus can pull out to get past me.
With the against-the -flow, you know that you would meet head on and you would be holding up the whole system while you tried to get back on your own side of the road. Of course, parking becomes a total blockage and is not risked. It would become immediately apparent when the next bus arrived and be very embarrassing to the perpetrator.
Double Parking – A Good Idea, really
Catania benefits from many wide streets. Almost all of them have marked parking bays next to the curb. However, double, even triple or quadraple, parking is the norm. There is a convention that makes this work.
Basically, if you want to park for more than 10 minutes or so, you need to find a parking bay on the kerbside. This can be done by double parking until one becomes vacant.
If you are only going to be a few minutes, you double park near your destination without worrying about the cars you may be blocking in.
If you need to get out and are blocked, sound your horn. If you are double parked and you hear a horn, check to see if it is you who needs to move your car and do so as quickly as possible.
If you are parking in an inner bay but only intend to be a few minutes, either put your hazard warning lights on or leave your car protruding into the double parking lane. This warns otheres that you will be moving soon and they should avoid blocking you if possible.
For the system to work requires patience but given that parking only takes a few moments under this system you can afford a couple of minutes delay – it is a lot quicker than having to drive around for 15 minutes trying to find a non-blocked parking spot, probably 5 minutes walk away from your target destination.
There are very few traffic lights even at major intersections. Negotiating these crossroads requires an awareness of other drivers and extreme caution. The result is continuously slow moving traffic and very few accidents! Nobody assumes right of way.
Of course you do need to concentrate and not allow yourself to mentally drift off…
These are plentiful, very wide and only rarely covered by traffic lights. They are also largely ignored by pedestrians.
The rule is simple – drivers always stop to allow pedestrians to cross the road irrespective of where they may be.
Where there are pedestrian lights, drivers will stop to allow pedestrians to cross but as soon as the crossing is clear, they do not have to wait for the red light to change but can proceed anyway.
This approach saves a lot of wasted time and makes the delay of getting pedestrians across no longer an irritating delay beyond the neccessary.
Speeds above 10 or 15 miles per hour in a town is very rare. Strangely, this does not seem to be a problem.
There are two reasons for this.
1. The traffic is usually moving to some extent. You always feel to be making progress.
2. You know that when you get where you are going, you won’t be wasting a lot of time finding somewhere to park
3. You get used to planning your journey on the slower but reliable pace.
It is interesting to note that even when the streets are empty, drivers still tend not to drive much faster.
If Catania were an English town with the traffic density it has, there would be constant gridlock. Accidents would be frequent and road rage predominant.
1. If the car is stationary and the horn isn’t sounding – its parked.
2. There are no hard shoulders on Urban Motorways – they have been replaced with special overtaking lane and scooter tracks.
3. Roundabout priorities. The rules relating to give way to those on the roundabout have been replaced as follows:
a) Give way to the fastest, then
b) Give way to the biggest, then
c) Give way to the driver with the most determined expression, then
d) You – if you are quick, otherwise start again from a) above
4. It is an offence to park more than three deep beside the road
5. Pedestrians. Do not stop for them on pedetrian crossings unless they have a red light over them. It confuses the pedestrians and highlights you as a foreigner.
6. In urban traffic, do NOT use your rear view mirrors. Such actions can cause heart attacks.
7. When stationary in a line of traffic, pull in your side mirrors to prevent injury to overtaking scooter drivers.
8. Bus lanes may only be used by:
d) anyone else in a hurry.
9. Parking in single carriageway lanes is only permitted if hazard lights are used.
10. When following another vehicle on motorways, leave enough room between you and the vehicle in front for 1 cyclist. Any more is considered a waste of space.
11. All speed limits are optional. Driving at or below these advisory limits is impolite to other road users.
12. Road rage is unheard of in Italy. All manoeuvres are considered worth a try. Road excitement is normal especially when a manoeuvre proves unworkable (on this occassion)