Archive for the 'YamYamBlogs' Category

Festival -1: Walsall Beer Festival

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

Sad to hear that this weekend’s Walsall Beer Festival is off:

or at least, not really the same:

So while we’ll see a kind of pre-determined pub crawl, the “tons of beer in one place” option is gone, and, I have to say, while the BCA is a fine pub in many ways, it’s not one of my favourites. The Wheatsheaf is a great pub, as is The Victoria, and The Drunken Duck is one of my locals, so they’ll be opportunity to try something new, hopefully.

[edit] The White Lion and The Fountain are also finding a home for some of the beer.

There’s been a lot of speculation about the cause of the cancellation, and depressingly allegations and recriminations aimed at Walsall Council and indeed at the volunteers from Walsall CAMRA who give up their time for nothing to do this. At this time I don’t know for sure where the problem originated, but it seems the venue didn’t have the correct licence:

From Walsall CAMRA’s facebook page.

Whatver the problem, I’d like to thank Walsall CAMRA for their hard work, and the pubs mentioned for taking on the beer, because wasting it would be a disaster…

Thirteen

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

This blog has just passed it’s thirteenth birthday, and we’re at the start of a new year, a year that’s to be honest, brought little to be happy about in many ways: the loss of many celebrities (and for once, the word celebrity is actually valid here), and, perhaps more importantly for some of us, the unexpected loss in November of Steph Clarke, who should be an inspiration to anyone wanting to do stuff in their community. I was lucky enough to meet her a few times, and her energy and commitment to help people was just unreal. A sad loss to the local community, both online and off. I usually use this post to say how strong the online community is (which is still true), so it’s sad to lose such a big part of it. There’s an ongoing drive to do something good, however small, in her memory- #stuffforsteph, which I’d urge anyone to take part in.

2016 has, generally, been pretty poor- personally, nothing major at all- but we’ve had the idiocy of Brexit, with the corresponding rise of hate crime, a quite spectacularly inept prime minister, and the election of a dangerous halfquarter-wit in the US. In the computing world, we saw the IP Bill pass into law, so someone besides me knows you’re reading this, and the Digital Economy Bill is on its way. The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.

Looking forward to 2017, I’d like to wish everyone a happy new year: let’s hope for a better one: as Brownhills Bob said online recently, we can at least hope that Trump might fall out of an aeroplane and hit Farage on the way down.

Taphouse Tour: Summary

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

The Taphouse Tour is over, and here’s a summary:

Name Score
The Duke William 9.75
The Old Bulls Head 9.37
Green Duck Brewery Badelynge Bar 8.75
Beacon Hotel 8.66
The Fountain 8.44
Hail to the Ale 8
The Sow and Pigs 7.525
The Park Inn 6.98
The Windsor Castle 6.8
The Gunmakers Arms 6.542

A less hectic pace than 100 pubs, but still presented it’s challenges. We made this mistake of visiting the logistically easy ones first, leaving us with complex trips to the darkest Black Country.

Taphouse 10: The Old Bulls Head

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

Pubblog Link
Whatpub Link
Brewery Site

Taphouse 10, again with a brewery actually onsite- Black Country Ales.

[Photo to follow as mine is terrible]

BCA have made quite an impact around here, with their beer and pubs being held in high regard.

A lovely pub with great food, staff, and beer. Less of a trek than some, with a 2/3 bus journey, not too bad for darkest Black Country. Welcoming, warm, relaxing and a great spot for the end of our tap house tour on a cold day.

Ambience 10
Beer choice/quality 8.5
Architecture 8.67
Cobs/Pies/Snacks 10
Toilets 9.67

Which means an overall score of 9.37, making it the runner-up, behind The Duke William, sadly the hardest to get to….

Make Tech Difficult

Monday, December 12th, 2016

One of the things non-techies hate about tech is the complexity of setting some things up, and the rise of IoT, and the ubiquity of smartphones and home broadband has meant that our homes have more and more tech, and that tech is expected to talk to the cloud, and perhaps talk back.

Manually configuring this gear can be a bit tricky, so there’s a bunch of things making it easier. Your ISP may well provide a router, with default passwords. IP cameras will “phone home” to the manufacturer’s site to register themselves, so you don’t have to manually set up dynamic DNS. That router from your ISP will probably use UPnP so it can open ports for the camera and any other devices. Things like Nest or Hive bypass that by depending on a server in the cloud on someone else’s computer to make the connection.

All nice so far. Even better, these things are putting my favourite OS, Linux out there. As Linux is free, and powerful, and efficient on the low-power chips in these devices, it gets used a lot.

You’d think I’d be pleased.

But there’s a problem. Lots of these devices have poorly implemented security. Others depend on a hosted service, so if someone decides to stop supporting it, or indeed changes the API you have an expensive paperweight.

The Mirai attacks first turned IP cameras into a huge botnet, and now malware has got its hands on routers: the very device you expect to secure your home network, and let’s not forget that if your IP camera (inside your firewall/router) is compromised, it could be used as a tool to attack your PC, and the router will happily help out by opening ports for it: many cameras have poor web interfaces and hardcoded “root” passwords (I have one myself with a password of “123456”)

I realise I’m sounding a little like a luddite here; or perhaps the techie complaining about tech doing stuff itself and therefore meaning people need fewer techies, but here’s the rub: the more of this stuff that gets out there, the bigger the attack surface, the bigger the gain, and the bigger the effect on everyone. So, a little advice:

1. Think if you really need that IoT device.
2. Change default passwords.
3. Consider tossing your ISP-supplied router. It’s probably shit anyway. Turn off UPnP, even if that means you have to get help opening and forwarding ports. There’s a fucking good reason a firewall closes ports, so why bypass that?
4. Consider not buying the very cheapest IP cam like mine 🙂
5. If you invest in cloud-connected devices, entertain the fact that you just lost control of them.
6. If there’s updated firmware, use it.
7. Linux does not mean secure. The kernel itself probably is, but a lot of embedded devices are poorly secured.

Out for a Duck?

Wednesday, 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

Saturday, 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

Saturday, 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

Saturday, 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.

The Pub Lifecycle

Tuesday, 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?


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