Some you win

November 4th, 2016

Time I blogged a bit more…

A week of differing days: starting with a very long day, and a failed Internet connection and firewall migration (which had to be reverted), followed by another late finish, followed by a hospital appointment with a long wait (and having arrived early in order to park, that made it a very long one) and a vile, stop-start rush hour drive back through Brum, along with the accompaniment of an ominous rattle from the car, sounding like I was dragging a wind chime.

Today was improved: the rattle went, and after a check by my friendly local VW specialist, we agreed it was probably nothing more than a stone trapped in a brake disc shield, which then dropped out at some point. A grim drive from there to work, but then things start to improve later in the day: I did have a spare PCI ethernet card in my desk to connect a failing wireless network, the IPCop firewall PC did have a spare slot and the drivers for the card, I did know the password, and it all just worked, which meant a 4pm finish, and a surprisingly good journey home.

With a bit more time on my hands, it’s easier to persuade myself go for a quick spin on the bike to Chasewater. Rush hour was still in progress on the roads, but the towpath was literally almost deserted (I met one person, one cat and one fox in over 6 miles) and peaceful, but tough going after a week and a half not riding. The compensation for dragging my corpulent carcass out on a dark and relatively cold night is that I’ve reclaimed my towpaths from the armies of dog walkers, anglers, fair-weather cyclists, and pokemon hunters that are all over the place on the lighter, warmer evenings (though to be fair there was one pokemon hunter at Chasewater itself).

I’m now hoping my plan to leave early today (Friday) comes to fruition. A plan for the cinema, some beer and some food is forming….

Out for a Duck?

October 5th, 2016

I note that The Drunken Duck in Walsall Wood High St is closed and looking for a new tenant, as a business opportunity, and this is probably the time that I can say it was the pub behind my pub lifecycle post, though the concept applies elsewhere.

The Duck was my local pub of choice for some years: it’s nearby, it’s very near to (and the same side of the busy A461 as) the curry house, the shops, and the nearest ATM, it has mostly served good beer, and, if you’ve chosen your time, it can be quiet enough to talk. Basically, while going up and down around the cycle, it’s overall been a pleasant, welcoming pub.

I’ve seen it go through at least 3 landlords/landladies in the time I’ve been using it regularly, and even more in the time I’ve been here, and depressingly, it’s matched the cycle well. The just-departed landlord seemed like a nice guy and seemed interested at first: I remember taking recovery walks past the pub while he was working on it to smarten it up and add a proper kitchen (more of that in a moment), but for the last few months, he seemed to lose interest. The local troublemakers moved in, the real ale moved out, then even some of the keg disappeared. All the signs were there, and it was only a matter of time: I gave up, and went elsewhere. It had a short race to the bottom with discounted lager with another nearby pub, and has evidently lost.

One of the factors may have been that the landlord had ideas of food- Indian food. This is a common thing, and works well in places, given the whole desi pub thing but here in Walsall Wood, there’s the aforementioned excellent Simla restaurant, and another takeaway within 100 yards, and another decent restaurant about 3/4 mile away, so it was going to have to be incredible. It actually turned out to be OK, but not the success it might have been, but it would have been a tough gig, so it probably wasn’t as profitable as was hoped.

I’m now hoping we can get back to the top of the cycle: it’s a pub I like a lot, and with some decent beer I’ll be back- Walsall Wood luckily has held on to more of its pubs than other areas of Walsall and I’d hate to lose it, and there’s plenty of people around here willing to exchange money for beer.

Taphouse 9: The Windsor Castle Inn

September 24th, 2016

Pubblog Link
Whatpub Link
Brewery Site

Taphouse 9. Sadler’s Ales. The Brewery (with it’s own bar) is very nearby, but this clearly states itself to be the tap house.

The Windsor Castle

The Windsor Castle

Still not a bad place, but suffered a bit from “modern food pub” makeover like one of the big chains, rather than one of 4 Sadlers outlets. Staff very pleasant though.

Ambience 7.25
Beer choice/quality 9
Architecture 6.75
Cobs/Pies/Snacks 2.75
Toilets 8.25

Which means an overall score of 6.8, which seems a little unfairly low to me, but rules is rules.

Taphouse 8: Green Duck Brewery Badelynge Bar

September 24th, 2016

Pubblog Link
Whatpub Link
Brewery Site

Taphouse 8, this time more the bar on the brewery site rather than a brewery on a bar or pub site.

Inside the Badelynge Bar with a view of the brewery

Inside the Badelynge Bar with a view of the brewery

A large converted historic factory with the brewery in plain view at one end. It’s a big open space with a “lounge” in one corner (some sofas), the bar in another, and benches and tables elswhere. It’s make a great place for a party, and indeed, they do hold events (such as Oktoberfest).

Ambience 9.5
Beer choice/quality 10
Architecture 8.5
Cobs/Pies/Snacks 10
Toilets 8.75

Which means an overall score of 9.35, pretty high-scoring.

Taphouse 7: The Duke William

September 24th, 2016

Pubblog Link
Whatpub Link
Brewery Site

Taphouse 7, again with a brewery actually onsite- Craddocks.

The Duke William

The Duke William

A thoroughly wonderful pub with great food, staff, and beer. Quite a trek for us but worth it in every way. Just wish it wasn’t the best part of 2 hours away by bus.

Ambience 10
Beer choice/quality 10
Architecture 10
Cobs/Pies/Snacks 9.75
Toilets 8.75

Which means an overall score of 9.7, easily putting it in the lead so far.

OpenWRT

September 14th, 2016

The things you do on a rainy Saturday when you really shouldn’t just go to the pub…

I’ve had a TP-Link WR-2543 router for some time now, since I discovered the Cisco I had before was effectively throttling my connection. For the cost (some time ago), it’s a pretty good device- but it’s getting on, the firmware’s no longer updated (a continual problem with embedded systems), and well…hell. I’ll stop making excuses. I was bored and had another TP-Link router lying about for a bit of experimentation, and haven’t done much at-home tech mucking about for a good while.

OpenWRT, DD-WRT, and others are firmware replacements for domestic routers, born from the famous WRT54G having firmware developed from GPL code (and therefore being required to be made public). They offer more up-to-date software, more facilities, and, as is often the case with anything open-source, a price to pay for the power and tweakability.

As it was, my test router, a WR740N, was a breeze. Log in to the OEM interface, apply the file, job done: a nice web interface and a shell interface over SSH, and everything working. This made me brave, so on went the image to the 2543.

I didn’t brick it :-). In fact, all looked good. The wiki page for this device suggested no major problems, and it was all OK, until I came to connect to the Internet: I just couldn’t get the WAN interface to come up, and in fact, it had a MAC address of 00:00:00:00:00:00. In other words, no interface.

There follows an object lesson in open-source software. RTFM. However, TFM was a bit light for the 2543, so I had to think a little laterally- the experience with the 740 had suggested that the WAN port would appear as a seperate interface, but all I had was 2 sub-interfaces. Poking around the Wiki told me something I hadn’t realised: many of these devices are implemented in 3 blocks, the wifi, the CPU/Memory/Flash, and a single ethernet switch. The WAN interface is just a subinterface, with VLAN tagging to seperate the traffic, so setting up the switch like this:

Screenshot from 2016-09-06 20-48-04

(not sure why “enable VLAN functionality” being off has it working, but WTF)

and manually assigning the MAC (copied from the other router, to make switchover on Virgin Media easy) to the subinterface, and up it springs.

I’ve not yet got beyond configuring it to emulate what I was using the OEM firmware- just adding Dynamic DNS support- but quite apart from the fact it is supported, where the OEM firmware is ancient, the flexibility of hundreds of installable packages looks interesting, and according to the wiki, it will route traffic faster than OEM firmware. It certainly flatlines out the Virgin Media 100Mbit (ish) connection on a wired connection.

High Latency

August 25th, 2016

I felt I needed to blog this just because it was so very odd, and there seems minimal documentation of it already on the web: an organisation I help to support has a good few Cisco 3550 switches- WS-C3550-24-EMI. They’re egtting on now, and are due for replacement (having done well, at about 13 years old).

Anyway, we’ve now had three of them fail- not while in use, but after a power failure.

Or so it seemed…

The unusual part of this is that they failed- completely dead, no lights, no fan, no anything, but left alone with power connected for some time (where “some time” could vary between 20 minutes and 3 hours), they would eventually start up and work as normal.

There’s little mention of this online- I could only find this old post, which suggests capacitor failure as a likely cause- a diagnosis I’d agree with. Taking one switch apart didn’t reveal any obvious failures, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any, of course. As it is, the switches are on a maintanance contract and due for replacement- and the one I tool apart was a spare, so I doubt we’ll ever bother with them. PSUs sell for around a hundred euros or US dollars, and a whole switch can be had for less than that, so unless you have spare time, a bag of capacitors, and soldering skills, it probably isn’t worth it.

[edit]

A different search found this article and this Cisco tech note.

The Pub Lifecycle

August 16th, 2016

Some thing I’ve remarked upon with friends but not really covered here before now is the seemingly cyclical nature of some pubs; Andy has mentioned it in a number of posts, and we’ve probably caught pubs at different stages of the cycle during 100pubs.

What’s prompted this post is one of my local pubs, seemingly on the rise about 2 years ago, has seemingly quickly declined and is heading for the bottom of the curve. I won’t name it.

The cycle seems to go like this:

New landlord/owner –> investment/refurb –> interest in the business –> good beer –> increased custom –> better pub.

There may be food involved, though it’s optional (I’ll return to this).

Then the landlord or the pubco lose interest.

pub gets tatty –> fewer customers –> beer quality down –> takings down –> possible closure/landlord leaves.

Some pubs survive at this low point: if you’ve got an established trade of less fussy customers who drink a basic lager such as Carling or Fosters or a keg bitter like John Smiths that doesn’t go off quickly, there’s money to be made. I’d also like to point out that only serving such beer isn’t neccesarily a sign of a poor pub- I can think of sveral fairly decent pubs with no cask ale near here- but here’s a list othings I’d consider warning signs:

1. Cask ale declines in quality or disappears.
2. “Premium” lager disappears.
3. Wine disappears.
4. Food, if it was served, disappears.
5. Basic maintenance/cleanliness disappears. The toilets are usually the worst thing…
6. Choice of the more basic beer/cider reduces.

Once you get to 6, that’s usually trouble. The locals start to abondon the place, so the money dries up, and this is exactly where we seem to be in this case, and the other local pubs (Walsall Wood being blessed with several) are gaining custom, and raising their game accordingly: one one occaision I’ve left the pub in question due to the poor beer choice, only to see 6-8 customers that left before me in another one nearby.

I know that it’s harder to run a pub these days, and the closures have complex and varied causes, but there’s still oney to be made running a pub, and around 12-18 months ago, this pub was very busy indeed: Walsall Wood isn’t a huge place, but there’s plenty of drinkers about willing to be seperated from their money if you do it even half right, and decent beer, decent wine, and bogs that are at least tolerably sanitary would be a good starting point on the way to a perfect pub. Food can spoil pubs done wrongly, but well done it can boost takings and footfall withoout spoiling atmosphere.

What I don’t understand is that I’ve seen all of the local pubs go through this cycle at least once in the last 20 years (and one of them manage it 3 times, at least). There’sobviously potential to succeed, as they do when a new landlord arrives, but why the rapid cycling when some pubs remain stable for decades?

A Noise Annoys

July 28th, 2016

Last night, I was a little later home than other days, and my dear other half suggested a visit to the pub for tea (for those of you of a posh or southern disposition, that’s the evening meal). I was, actually, very slightly reluctant, as I usually don’t drink alcohol in the week, but only for a short while: the idea of a sit with a pint while someone else cooks my food seems like a great idea, so off we went.

When we arrived, there was another group (of 3) in there. The pub was pretty quiet; that early-doors feeling of wind-down. In love pubs at this time, or on Sunday evenings: quiet, relaxing, peaceful. The pub is one that does good business with food, but it is still very much a pub, not a restaurant.

I was a little disturbed, but not too much, at the request to turn the TV on. After all, part of being in a PUBlic house is that it is shared space; and a bit of news or maybe, if you really, really must, some sport doesn’t seem inappropriate, even if not my choice.

This dismay worsened when the TV was put on to The Box, and some dreadful bollocks that I believe calls itself R&B these days was on, and not quietly. Some tracks sounded faintly like someone rapping over a car alarm. Dismay turned to disbelief when the party that asked for it then ignored it, and started playing videos on their smartphones- with sound (which alone should be a punishable crime). The result turned the formerly peaceful pub into a cacophony of noise: something you’d maybe expect on a Friday or Saturday night in a town centre pub frequented by the under 25s, but less in a community pub in Walsall Wood early on a Tuesday evening, and more importantly, a cacophony of noise that the instigators were largely ignoring.

Oddly, while I was halfway through writing this, Pub Curmudgeon came up with this post discussing a “real pub” guide, featuring

those dismal dumps where the only sound is the ticking of the clock and the plaintive miaowing of the pub cat.

[Quote from Cooking Lager]

while a pub trade website detailed a bar that has installed a Faraday cage to effectively disable mobile phones, and of course, we’ve discussed this before.

I can’t agree with the mobile phone blocker, or indeed a mobile phone ban: it is not unusual to find me surfing the web on a phone in a pub- but If I *really must* use sound, I’ll have headphones on, and I go outside if I need to take or make a call: it’s just good manners. I’m not entirely against music in pubs either- one of my favourites regularly has a band on, and at other times tends to have the radio on, but notably the band plays in one of two rooms, and the radio is loud enough to talk over (and Radio 6, so while not my first choice, at least it sounds like music), though at times it’s cursed with bastards standing or sitting at the bar.

Here’s my point: as asked in Andy’s post linked above and discussed here, how much of the noise in pubs is wanted? I’d personally love to see no TVs in pubs, and the quote above sounds perfect. Perhaps we need a return to multi-room pubs, as I can think of one or two like that round here that can accomodate the music or sport and still allow miserable twats like me a quiet pint.

Taphouse 6: The Park Inn

July 23rd, 2016

PubBlog Link
Whatpub Link
Brewery Site

Taphouse 6, again with a brewery actually onsite- Holdens.

The Park Inn, with added Pete.

The Park Inn, with added Pete.

I was less enthusiastic than my last visit (but then, I was suffering with a worsening hangover), and we all agreed that while there was nothing wrong, it missed something. Pleasant enough, though.

Ambience 7.3
Beer choice/quality 8.6
Architecture 6
Cobs/Pies/Snacks 7
Toilets 6

Which means an overall score of 6.98.


This blog is protected by Spam Karma 2: 40703 Spams eaten and counting...