UPS. Nightmare

I get a lot of parcels, and I'm on first name terms with most of the delivery drivers. As our house is not on a street (but through a rather impressive set of gates), it sometimes causes problems. Usually when a new driver is on, or the existing driver suffers a serious brain injury.

But it works most of the time. Even Yodel - the worst delivery company in the world - can find the place. 

So I was somewhat surprised to receive an email from UPS, telling me that my address was incomplete, and needed an apartment number. Really? The address hasn't changed in over 200 years, and certainly not in the last 15 years I've been here.

So I clicked on the very-spammy looking email, went to the genuine UPS site and saw that yes, indeed, they wanted me to update my address. And I had to click on a 'Change my address' button. That wasn't on the web site. Damn.

So I called up their call centre, navigated a hellish call tree, and reached  a stage where they wanted me to SPEAK the 300 digit tracking number. Sod that. Scotsmen and voice recognition systems don't mix. So I hung up, called again, and spent even longer getting through to a human operator.

The rather pleasant and professional young man had an immediate problem with my accent, but using interpretive dance and mime, managed to get my record on screen. Whereupon he stuck me on hold for five minutes.

When he came back, he repeated exactly what the web site had said, suggesting that I could have used the web site.

Well, actually, no I could not have, as I didn't get the option. Why didn't I use the automated voice led systems? No chance.

So finally, I confirmed my address - exactly the one they already had - and my number - exactly the one they already had, and I mercilessly lectured the young man on how shit the service had been so far. I even told him I hoped that this call was recorded, so perhaps UPS could learn from these fundamental support issues.

Once I had vented my spleen, I asked him which country he was based in. South East Asia. Fine .

So some muppet in Dundee - 30 miles south - couldn't figure out the address for my property ((that hasn't changed in 200 years), I tried to fix it on their crap web site in the US, and finally the call was routed half way around the world. 

Excellent.

I do wish these large corporations would just tell their bean counters to ram a pencil up their nose instead of listening to the constant dirge of 'cost cutting' and 'consolidate call centres' instead of actually - oh, I don't know - focus on actual customer bloody service?

Exceptional customer service as bad this this deserves praise. And so I think I'll send them a small plaque, containing a picture of a dog turd, with the inscription 'UPS is SHIT'. 

Irony Update: What wondrous thing was UPS going to deliver? Uninterruptible Power Supplies...

The Bacon and Guinness diet.

I've lost around 22lb/11kg since I got back from Orlando at the end of January. How did I do it?

I'm on a bizarre cocktail of drugs (since Lotusphere 2010) and I firmly believed that those were preventing weight loss. Last year I walked 80 miles along the Great Glen way for the Dander-4-dosh, and actually put weight on. 

I've been playing with fasting diets - where you under eat for a day or two, and then eat 'normally'. Thats a good way of resetting your blood sugar levels back to normal, but I'm not good at not eating.

One diet I did in the past - the no-carb diets such as Atkins - use excess protein as an appetite suppressant. Basically if you avoid carbs, eat meat, eggs, cheese (or other proteins) then you don't feel hungry. And if you don't feel hungry, you don't eat. Thats how these diets work. However, they are hugely unhealthy, especially over a long period of time.

Given my chaotic lifestyle - living away from home in hotels, travelling a lot, I thought 'Why not combine the two'. And so I tried that.

Basically I'd eat the cooked breakfast on the plane, and just have a protein based lunch - such as bacon, sausages and a fried egg. I wouldn't feel like eating for the rest of the day.

I'd only do this diet whilst I was travelling. Fried bacon is easy to get anywhere, and my current office in rural Oxfordshire has a good hotel (The Bear, Wantage) and a good eatery (Frydays) which can both do be the 'Bacon surprise'. (Its a surprise to the pig).

And if I fancied a pint or three in the evenings, I'd stick to Guinness on the grounds that its difficult to actually drink too much of that in one sitting. And its slightly less fattening than some of the rather wonderful real ales in Oxfordshire.

I eat bacon all the time, and drink Guinness when I feel like it.

God knows what its doing to my Cholesterol, and my blood pressure is somewhat frantic, but the weight is falling off.

LSX Toolkit v3.1 and v8 LSXWizard Issue..

A long long time ago in a galaxy far away, a wonderful software company called IRIS released the LSX toolkit, allowing uber-nerds like me to extend the LotusScript language with C++ code. Stuff that was impossible to do in standerd script, such as AD pickers.

I've just had to fix a bug in one - 7 YEARS after I last touched it, and hit a particular snag. 

When I tried to open the LSX Wizard, it'd come up with 'rror loading USE or USELSX module: *lsxwizard" in a dialog. About a million times. I'd re-import the REG file, and guess what - it still caused issues. LSX 3.1, LSX 8, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows server 2012, Windows Server 2008, windows server 2003 64-bit .. All failed.

Why? Because MS had introduced this 'Wow6432Node' construct into the registry, so you needed to change the registry file to add this in after HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software.

I've spent tens of hours on this. And I'm putting this up here so I can find it again in another SEVEN years when I next debug this thing.

Sigh. 

Connect 2014...

Connect 2014 is now over - we've laid it to rest, and are toasting to its demise over various beverages. So. What happened and what is of interest - from a Notes/Domino point of view:

  • Biggest tangible thing is project 'Hawthorne' - the ability of an Outlook 2013 mail client to connect natively to  Domino server and get mail, calendar and contacts. The Outlook client will need a small outlook plug-in to deal with encrypted mail and something else, but hey - its still pretty damn sweet. 
    The drawback with this approach (as one beta customer told me in strict confidence) is that its only an Outlook client. Some of the more vehement Outlook supporters, when trying this out, basically said 'Oh. Yeah. Okay' and went back to their notes clients. So be careful how you pitch this internally.
    When will it be released? "When its ready" was the answer. No firm dates yet, but the team apparently remember all too well the disaster that was DAMO and don't want to repeat that particular nightmare. 
    I for one will happily wait for a while for this one, as when it lands, it has to work first time, every time. I'm sure if you begged enough, some kind and yet unnamed IBM person might get you on the beta program.
    I asked for this in 1999, and was taken outside and shot for it. It has came out of nowhere, so I suspect some HUGE customer leant on them very heavily for this.
    Good luck getting more information on this - not a lot of actual slide ware on this. Yet.
  • Some tool which helps Microsoft Exchange users migrate to IBM Cloud mail. They've actually built an Exchange to Notes migration tool from the ground up. It'll be interesting to see how that works out.
  • IBM Mail. See this article. Finally, a radical rethink as to what mail might be. Something that was kept out of the Opening General Session slides was that this will all be ran from the Domino server. Lots of work to do in this area, so again, don't hold your breath.
  • IBM Sametime is now rebranded as IBM Connections Chat or IBM Connections Conference. This announcement caused most confusion, as the slides were ambiguous and caused a lot of 'hair on fire' panic among the bigger customers. Which was amusing.
  • Lots and lots of talk of the new IBM cloud offerings based on their new cloud stuff. The big news in the cloud offerings was the announcement that you could finally run your applications on cloud hosted machines. Thank god.
  • xPages - you'll have to go elsewhere for any news on that stuff. But lots of bar chatter about a web based designer, whatever that is. Asking direct questions caused major panic among folks, so clearly its a fun topic

The way the OGS was handled basically ignored all Domino customers out there. They were aiming for Journalists (which they hit), CEO's (hit) and the new Kenexa HR folks (another hit). The web content management stuff was trotted out and polished (another hit), and the Sametime rebranding mentioned. 

The OGS itself was more like American Superbowl. Snippets of action between HUGE customer stories, which actually seemed more like Ad breaks. Rather distracting.

The show floor - the airless underground carpeted bunker - was awash with stands selling all and sundry, and was overran at periods with delegates. It was difficult to gauge the mood, as the stand that we originally were to get - at the bottom of the escalators (prime real estate) was then moved a few weeks ago to the back of the hall, beside the shop and a mysterious cupboard full of hoovers. Red-Hat, who's booth last year had over 500 delegates, clocked less than 90 hits of the entire week. I suspect some bottoms will need to be kicked before this is repeated for next year.

Yes. Next year. Connections 2015 has been announced, and starts on January 25th.

I did a 5 minute piece on Wireless Broadband at a Spark session, and I participated on the panel for a Blankety-Blank style game. Both of which were great fun and required very little preparation. 

Warren and Kitty Elsmore were a fantastic hit as professional LEGO artists, doing mini-figs of absolutely everyone.

Lastly, parties. If you dig deep enough you might see me in the pool at the Dolphin hotel, wearing black trousers and my FirM shirt. You should ignore these heavily photoshopped pictures - especially the bit with someone trying to wax my back with duct-tape. Or the bit where Greenpeace kept shoving me back in the water.

We're about to start the Thursday night traditional post-match analysis, downstairs at the Dolphin Bar. And a new event - the LASHES - where we burn an old Domino admin manual, preserve it in a glass, and then compete with Australians for it by drinking lots of .. well.. anything. But you already knew that. 

Travel plans versus travel days.

How today was planned: 

  • Get up around 7:30 for a nice shower, pack, and breakfast with dad
  • 8:30  - David drives me to the bus station
  • 9:00 - I get on the bus to Bangkok Airport
  • 12:00 - I get off the bus, after a wee snooze, drop the bag into left luggage
  • 12:30 - take the SkyTrain to central Bangkok, two changes and right at the hotel door
  • 1:00 - Check in, have another shower and have a nice lunch with Mat Newman

How it actually happened: 

  • 12:30 - leave bar
  • 2:30 - finish whisky and go to bed
  • 7:30 - sleep through alarm that I'd forgotten to set
  • 8:35 - David comes to flat and shouts 'GET UP'
  • 8:37 - throw everything into suitcase, forgo shower, get into car
  • 8:49 - get out of car, get onto bus with seven minutes to spare
  • 9:00 - on bus, snooze.
  • 1:00 - arrive at Bangkok Airport.  
  • 1:30 - FINALLY find the left luggage, deposit bag, try and find train.
  • 2:00 - Get off at designated stop. Try and find other train line. Its not there
  • 2:15 - get into a Tuk-Tuk - a three wheeled taxi - and get stuck in Bangkok traffic
  • 2:45 - arrive into hotel, they're fully booked, take 25 minutes to check in
  • 3:30 - finally go to Mat's room and start catching up. 

So basically the outcome - a fresh as a daisy version of me gets to meet Mat. Only a few hours late.  

Difficulty: No roaming data, so no internet available whilst in transit. So no maps, etc. But hey, I made it. 

An interesting discovery about BT Fibre Cabinets.

Since around 2010, BT have been rolling out Fibre Cabinets in neighbourhoods to improve broadband service. But. 

I recently discovered that these fibre cabinets are NOT replacing the existing wired (non-powered) cabinets.  

I thought fibre cabinets were a mini-exchange in a box. That they took in a fibre link from the exchange, and did all services - voice as well as ADSL. But no. The reason given to me was that since the fibre cabinets don't have enough space for serious battery backup, then voice circuits cannot be terminated there. When there's a large scale power-cut, the exchange can run for weeks on battery and generators - and the cabinets can not. 

So what happens is that a fibre cabinet is plonked on the street beside an existing cabinet, and the ADSL is added to the voice circuit in the fibre cabinet. The voice circuit still wends its weary way back on copper to the main exchange. 

What this means is that we WONT see fibre cabinets acting as a true satellite of an upgraded exchange - which means we still will get awful voice over the 5.5km of drowned copper here in Marykirk. But we might still get a fibre cabinet (presumably wired back to Montrose).  But since our exchange is so old - literally 'held together with electricians tape' - thats very unlikely.

Absolutely crazy. During this last BT Openzone fault, the poor engineer STILL had to head back to the exchange to swap over circuits, as well as playing around with the fibre cabinet in the street. 

This smells of 1990's solution to a 21st century issue. It sucks.

Beware the Indian Call Center 'Microsoft' Scam.

So I'm sitting here, whiling the time away writing firewall rules, when some chump calls me. Fairly heavy Indian/American accent, no satellite lag, and lots of call center noise in the background. And of course a 'masked' international number. Probably on his lunch break from annoying people about PPI.

I've got nothing better to do, so I figure keeping him on the phone for as long as possible would be an amusing game. The guy had real difficulty with his script - I suspect he kept losing his place, so I suspect i was his first. 

'This is General Internet Security - we run the central server - and every time you connect to the internet, we get a notification. This could be because you have a virus. We need to check you're running some Microsoft Services'. 

I kept saying 'Oh - thats really bad'. Interrupting his script put him off, so I did that  a few times. 

'We need to make sure you're running some Microsoft Services'. 

I'm looking around my office. Macbook Pro. Mac Mini. iPad. And a lone windows 8 desktop, locked down better than a beer at a temperance festival. 

I asked him who he was calling from. He changed from 'General..' to 'Universal Internet Services'. I picked him up on that. I suspect at this point he had decided he wasn't talking to some slack jawed, Tea-Party Luddite moron.. And then I asked him for a contact number I could get him back on. 

So he hung up. Hilarious. I'd not even got to 'Finder, Applications.. Which service?'. 

The lesson is that most companies will not call you up blind. Hell, even *if* you pay the likes of IBM or Microsoft do actually do this, its most unlikely they will. 

When you get a fool like this on the line - just have fun with them. The longer you keep them on the phone, the less lucrative this is for them. Or make it deeply unpleasant. 'What colour underwear are you wearing' really freaks most guys out. 

Worst Practices, WISP style.

Some things I've learnt whilst being a WISP: 

  • Always check the cables on the ground. Standing on top of a 40-foot roof crimping an ethernet cable in a gale isn't sane.
  • Always bring the right fixing kit. Or at least be able to drive to somewhere where one may be purchased. 
  • Always bring enough cables, crimps, tools.  
  • If you cant see your target from the ground, adding 10m of height will probably not help. 
  • If you have equipment inside a consumer premises, always have the ability to remotely access it. Because it'll fail on the weekend the consumer is on holiday. 
  • Stray cables get bitten by dogs. 
  • That serial port on the front of the router? The one you laughed at when you first got it, stating that 'you'll never use it'. Well, when you lock down your security to such an extent that you cant gain access again, that null-modem serial cable that you threw out last year will be a godsend. 
  • Never jump into a cow-byre, no matter how dry the surface is. Nothing like sinking up to your ankles in five year old dessicated cowshit to ruin your designer trainers. 
  • Wifi doesn't reliably go through trees, no matter how much you want them to. 
  • Factory resetting a Ubiquiti Nanostation M5 can be done using the secondary port, as well as the primary port. Handy if the primary port has a hardware failure on it. 
  • When using Power over Ethernet equipment, make sure its ALL running at the same voltage. For instance, all our kit runs on 24v PoE. Well, aside from one item, who's power injector brick looks EXACTLY like the others.. 'Whats that burning smell' never leads to a good conclusion
  • Learn how to factory reset, firmware upgrade, configure and refresh configuration back in the lab. Standing in a freezing container, in the dark, being eaten alive by insects isn't the way forward.
  • Nor for that matter is standing in the rain with a box over your head and your laptop. Especially when you have an umbrella in your bag. 

 

Life Choices.

As you probably know, I'm in the middle of setting up a WISP - a Wireless Internet Service Provider - service called Marykirk.Com

So. Last Saturday, we were rolling out more base stations in order to solve a particularly thorny (or should I say 'leafy') problem getting signal to Marykirk (skirting around some tree's) and we were 'hardening' our existing base stations. 

This mostly involved our fearless high wire artists standing in the pouring rain on top of a very tall structure aligning some of our core long-range wifi repeaters. Towards the end, we landed up in a house, sipping coffee and using the Ubiquiti Aircontrol tool to monitor link strengths. We quickly established that our secondary infrastructure would be a better route for one of our links, and I decided to switch a link over from being a transmitter, to a receiver, to take advantage of that. 

Now. I'm sitting at the end of a tree branch, so to speak. Well, literally at the end of a wifi connection supported by four separate links - eight separate devices. And here was I changing the configuration on the first link - the one from Montrose to our Network Operations Container. (I'd normally say 'Center', but it is *really* an old shipping container). 

I checked, double checked, and checked again. All seemed well. I pressed the 'commit' button and... It didn't come back. 

Bugger. So at the end of a cold, damp, tiring day, I jumped in the car yet again and headed to Montrose to set the end of the link. 

This particular backhaul ends in a persons flat, and of course they were not in. Not to worry, they have a wifi network and if I stand in a particular place - near some bins at the back of their block, I can get onto the wifi, fix the configuration settings, and be home. 

But. It. Was. Raining. 

So I tried doing it from a sheltered nearby location. Nope. Not playing. So I bit the bullet and whipped out the MacBook pro, parked it on top of some wheelie bins. I then found an old cardboard box beside the bins, which I carefully positioned on my head and on the top of the MacBook screen. Lo and Behold, three minutes later, all is well. 

Sitting in the car later, I was reviewing the incident in my head and thought to myself:
 
"I really need to review my life choices if the highlight of my saturday night is standing beside the bins behind Greggs in the rain, with a box on my head". 

A Raspberry Pi Network Monitor

Thanks to the WISP work I'm doing over at Marykirk.com, I needed a cheap, low power, headless network monitor. And I thought 'you can't get cheaper than a Raspberry pi!'. 

So. What I did was: 

  1. Set up a static IP address and DNS entries
  2. Set up a VNC server, so I could view the machine remotely. I kinda went overboard and had it run appletalk so I could view it easily from the Mac.
  3. Set up LogMeIn Hamachi VPN networking, so I could easily get to the machine behind firewalls. Be sure to read the first comment on this one, as it resolves the architecture issue I had
  4. Set up a SmokePing server 

So. Probably about three hours start to finish, and I've transformed a £40 device into something very very useful. 

Radio Silence?

So what have I been doing for the last four weeks?  

I've been in contact with senior British Telecom folks about broadband here in Marykirk. Their reaction - a deadlock letter and absolutely no commitment to upgrade our long-overdue-for-an-upgrade exchange. Which has driven me to set up a Wireless Internet Service Provider.  

You can find it here.  

Thanks to the kindness and patience of some local folks, we now have a WISP network, based on Ubiquiti Nanostation M5 devices, stretching from the twinking lights of Montrose (where they have decent internet) right to Marykirk (where we dont).

I now know how to write a 'Worst Practices' session for WISP's. I think its been a steep learning curve for both myself and Euan, but we reached the stage yesterday where I worked from home, using the new faster links. 

So how hard is it to do. 

  1. Find a source and target site with clear line of site. And/Or intermediate sites. Thanks to the local geography here, we have TWO intermediate sites. Each site should have access to power, and be secure. 
  2. Go to MSDIST and buy two or more Ubiquiti Nanostation M5 devices. They're great units, and I've received great support from them. 
  3. Stick in some sort of Customer Premises Equipment (CPE). Something like an Apple Airport Express is costly, but is very reliable. 
  4. Stick them on a TV pole, plug them in and spend 10-15 minutes configuring them
  5. Sit back and enjoy a 300mb/s bidirectional link

I set up a point-to-point link 5 or 6 years ago, and had to fiddle around with discrete units, antenna cables, etc. Far far more difficult. 

Would I recommend it? Yes. It's been a blast, and soon we'll roll it out to other folks in the Mearns, once we're happy with the reliability of the links. 

Ikea!

So what do you do after staying up for 36 hours? You rent a van from Deepest Lewisham, and drive to Ikea at Lakeside. 

A work colleague just purchased a new flat, and the poor sod was sleeping on their floor. So I offered to drive the van, lug the boxes, and help build some stuff. I had promised last week, so a little thing like not getting any sleep the night before shouldn't stop it. And it didn't.

The TomTom worked flawlessly on the new version of iOS that we're not allowed to talk about (A new beta downloaded itself yesterday and has largely sorted out issues with Battery Life and the Find a Friend stuff). Thank god, because Ikea at Lakeside is a nightmare to get to. 

A mere 90 minutes - trivial to the time that SWMBO can spend in there, and we headed back to a lovely bit in Greenwich. It was fun shoving a double mattress up two flights of stairs.. And so by 11pm, the bed was complete, and I drove back to the student digs in Whitechapel in the van. 

Ever tried finding parking at 11:30pm in Whitechapel? Its a nightmare. But finally, around midnight I was in my room at the Digs. And to sleep. 

Buy Cheap, Pay Dear

An old scottish saying meaning that if you pay cheaply for something, it ends up costing more. 

For instance, I booked myself into some student accommodation this week. This week in London, all hotels are full . Completely full. So that was the only place I could get.

So when I learnt that I had to supply my own bedding and towel, I thought 'hmm'. Okay.  

I flew into London, took a tube to Whitechapel and got there around midnight. Whitechapel at midnight is not what you'd call a green and pleasant land.  

I rocked up, gave my name and confirmation number - and was told 'No, we don't have you. Sorry'. And was shown the door.  

Across the road at the Ibis, they were kind enough to let me sit in the cafe and hit the internet and phones for anything. And I mean anything. But no. Everything south of Birmingham and north of France was full. 

I tried calling Yotel at Gatwick - no answer. And thought if I got myself down there, I could sort something out. So off to Victoria station I went. Of course, no taxis. By the time I came around St Pauls, I was quite enjoying my nighttime walk and decided to walk it all the way - around 4 miles. Excellent fun. 

I got there just as they were closing the gates to the station. And the night-time crowd around there looked 'exciting'. So I jumped in a cab to Depford Bridge, my normal, but full  weekly hotel. Even if I could sit in the cafe for a few hours, that would help. But no-one was around, and Depford Bridge isn't a sane place to hang around. So I wandered up to Greenwich, risked the foot tunnel (Exciting at 3:30am!) and made it to the office around 4. 

My noctrnal perambulation. Around 6.9 miles. A-B, then C-E on foot.

My noctrnal perambulation. Around 6.9 miles. A-B, then C-E on foot.

So I'm here at work, some five hours early, and composing a suitable missive for http://www.londonuniversityrooms.co.uk

On the plus side, I saw the sun rising over docklands, and spotted two urban foxes - one in Greenwich (at WH Smiths - he's probably buying the new Pratchett novel) and one at Mudchute. 

The moral of the tale? Buy Cheap, Pay Dear. 

Next week. Its four stars, pool, sauna and a bar with Aged Rum. 

Domino Database reporting..

One thing that we tried to do in our Domino Reporting presentation was to show you the joys of 'show dir -xm'. 

A lovely chap called Tomas Gumz of Lotus once mentioned to me that they kinda built the web version of the Domino administration client around this command. As it's (or was) how they fill in the files tab. Which is extraordinarily useful.

So go to your domino console and say 'Show Dir -XML' and see what's returned. Here's the information for ONE database:

<filedata notesversion="8" odsversion="51" logged="yes" backup="no" id="C1257B58:004DA951" iid="75C70C14:500D0739" link="1" dboptions="134225921,4849696,168859
54,0">
  <replica id="C1257B58:004DA951" flags="8" count="1">
   <cutoff interval="90">20130224T220320,57+01</cutoff>
  </replica>
  <path>D:\Lotus\Domino\data\mail\tmailsize04.nsf</path>
  <name>tmailsize04.nsf</name>
  <title>TestUser04 MailSizeTest</title>
  <template></template>
  <inheritedtemplate>wbx852Globalv1.3-mailsize</inheritedtemplate>
  <category></category>
  <size current="123496192" max="0" usage="122818560"/>
  <quota limit="102400" warning="51200"/>
  <created>20130425T160816,17+02</created>
  <lastcompact></lastcompact>
  <unread marks="no"/>
  <daos enabled="no"/>
 </filedata>

One of the fun things was working out the undocumented database dbOptions flags variable. However, dig deep enough into WebAdmin.ntf and you'll find some gold. 

Now. This is extraordinarily useful stuff. However we've found that if you call this from COM (Visual basic, Excel, powershell, etc), it truncates the string returned from the 'notesSession.sendConsoleCommand' call (to around 27,000 characters), and thus renders it useless. (This is what I dribbled on about during 'Meet the Developers' at Connections 2013 this year)

Which is a shame, as we'd intended to give you an entire 'whats wrong with your domino environment' reporting system - all running from humble little Excel. 

(I've now reported this as a SPR (SPR SODY98TECJ) to IBM which might result in a fix at some point. In the meantime, stick to Lotuscript..) 

I've been busy

I've just re-written my 'Presentations' page and realised that since 2006, I've presented (or written articles) over 73 times.  

For those wondering why I slowed down after 2010 - I stood on stage at the end of Worst Practices with shingles erupting down my body. I was in complete agony and barely made it home the next day. My doctor found my blood pressure to be 180/120. Not healthy. So since then, I've taken it a little easier.

At some stage, I'll actually start linking the presentation decks to the session names. In the meantime you can find most of them in slideshare.   

The Domino Dander for Dosh 2013

The whole story, as recounted by the master storyteller Mr McDonaugh, is all over at the Dander for Dosh blog site.  

What can I add? Well. It was hard. Bear in mind that I'm a morbidly obese middle aged chap with high blood pressure and gout. And my idea of exercise is walking between the office and the fridge to eat donuts.

This year, various friends helped me out by walking me all over Scotland. Glen Doll was fantastic. Aboyne, Glen Taner, all done. Fantastic. Einsten loved it all, and continues to love it. 

Glen Doll, looking into Corrie Fell. Lovely.

Lots of good walking kit from Decathalon (from their HUGE warehouse at Canada Warf). But the best thing was the Berghaus walking boots from Cotswold. I went to the one in Aberdeen at Union Square, but I understand from my walking buddies that all the Cotswold stores are excellent, all the staff really good. This chap had me try on at least four pairs of boots - only after boot number three did I actually appreciate the differences and pick the right one. So. Go to Cotswolds, throw yourself at the mercy of the assistants, and they'll sort you out. 

One thing about a Dander with Eileen organising it, is that everything will be fine and well organised. I knew two things. The start location, and that it would be hell. 

I was given other stuff, which I studiously ignored. I really didn't want to know how hellish it would be. The dander up Glen Doll (200m ascent) was bad enough. If anyone had told me that Day three was twice that - I would have given up and never went. 

So on the Monday, Coatsie and I drove to Glasgow, and met the rest of the happy dandereres. Various adventures later, we all arrived in Fort William in time to get soaked in a hailstorm on the way to supper, and then - early to bed.  

Next day, the nine of us wandered through Fort William, and started...

McD Sees a Sign!

We then fell into a few groups. The faster walkers - Tony, Dawn Coatsie, would disappear, Eileen and Julian would head off, leaving the silver surfers - Maureen and Steve Leland, Steve McDonaugh, and myself, in the rear. 

Day one was hard. No hills, but an excellent set up to the first real day of walking.  

...