horse riding in the West Bank

Shortly before Christmas I went with three friends to a farm on the west bank to do a bit of horse riding.  This was a fun journey going in a old VW Beetle out of Jerusalem through the border, getting smiles from Palestinian kids who haven’t seen a little car like this in a long time.

Its a long time since I have rode a horse, in fact I am not even sure if I have since about 1998 when I worked in a kids camp in Florida…   Anyway it seems quite obvious in yanking the reins and yelling woah to stop, but when this particular horse just likes to gallop up this hill and the only thing keeping me still onboard was my feet in the stirrups – it gets quite scary, and hard to grapple the reins and steady myself…

Without realising it, I managed to lose my watch after pulling back on the reigns so hard, it snapped the metal strap, I didn’t notice I lost anything until our instructor pointed out why I had a few scratches on my arm…   My friends who came with me were much more savvy at riding than me though.  Come to think of it, I didn’t see anyone with a riding hat 🙂

This camp is close to an Arab village but the young men working at the farm says there is never any trouble here, as police and army regularly patrol this area, but there are good relationships with the neighbours it seems.  The farm primary business, is making cheese and yoghurt from goat’s cheese, didn’t get to see the goats in their shed, but did get to see the finished products for sale.   They have to buy pineapple and other fruit from somewhere else to make this.

Time to relax after scary and crazy horses, and try some goats cheese with some of the people on the farm, think some young adults out of work get a chance to do some training in helping here.  This was a fun day out on my last (first week of January 2010) day out here.

Journey to the Red Sea – part six; into winter desert in Wadi Rum


I had to wake up early for this group tour I booked with the manager of the hotel in Wadi Moussa (the town Petra is in)   This meant getting up very early, the calls from the neighbouring mosque took care of that, but not so loud or abruptly this time.

I came down at just after 6am and remembered I could get some breakfast for leaving, apparently breakfast in Jordan is quite simple affair, pita bread with jam or some foil triangles of cheese.  Had a couple of these and was half way through some coffee then heard a beep from outside, my bus tour was here dead on time at 6.30.

This is where a very stressful morning came.   I realised to my horror I had spent most of the money in Jordan on the long taxi ride, admission to the park and food.  Here the tour guides would obviously expecting payment before we leave town and there were no ATM machines once we left Wadi Moussa.   We stopped in a road with two banks opposite.   Here they let me out and I drew out some money, the ATMs have the instructions in Arabic and a selection of main European languages as well.   This machine asked some strange questions asking me if my bank account was a savings, checking or some other account, I pressed one of these before correctly two day ago, but I didn’t really know which of these is appropriate to my account, anyway it spat out my card, and second attempt was the same.   The different bank over the road had a machine that gave me the same result and refused a withdraw.   I had to tell the young Arab man on the bus I would have to cancel my trip as there was no way of paying and I couldn’t use plastic to pay for the tour (about 35 Dinars I think, quite good value for a whole day’s exploring, staying overnight and getting food)  so there he told me I could pay with my shekels and after giving me a figure I didn’t have time to think but knew it was a pretty lousy exchange rate, I decided to stay put in the bus and go with the trip.

A bit further on we were told we would get to a checkpoint where would need to pay for access into the park.   Before getting there I had a phone call, not on my phone as I didn’t have roaming enabled to use my phone on JO networks, but the driver’s Nokia phone which reeked of cigarettes which a voice of someone I have never met told me (but strangely not the other travellers) that I had to tell the border guards I had come from suchandsuch hotel, I replied and told him I was from a different hotel, but the voice repeated that I had to tell them this exactly, as it implied I had to be a bit dishonest to the security guards at the Wadi Rum border, this made me feel really uncomfortable.

I really was not enjoying this trip so far, not planning in advance in having enough cash in Dinars, tour guides who were asking me to tell lies, more oddities were yet to come.   At the border, which was a fairly relaxed affair, seeing as I was going to a national park not between two political authorities, the guards asked me where myself and the other people on the trip where we were from, I just said I was from that hotel, seeing as I could not remember the name of either my real hotel and the one they tour people wanted me to say.  They told me I needed to pay 2 dinars, this was not mentioned about extra fees with the tour, but it was not much money so I didn’t care too much.

The trip was tour around Wadi Rum a famous desert national park towards the south of the country, not to far away from the border with Israel.  This meant my journey back to the border would be much easier and cheaper, as not requiring only and costly taxi ride.

We got off the minibus (which was a Toyota, I didn’t know they do vehicles of this type)  at a small village with a couple of dozen houses that looked a bit scruffy looking, and got to office where Zedan the tall Arab man who is the boss of the tour company.   We just got a chance to have some Arab tea and have a chat.   The other people on the trip were two Japanese men, two Swedish men, a couple who were Mexican and Spanish, a Korean girl, a Brazilian chap and a few others.  Another good chance to share stories of what we were doing in the middle east.

Seeing as there is lots of stories on the news about Jap motor giant Toyota’s reliability being tainted due to various different issues with sticking accelerator pedals or software bugs causing brakes not to work if hitting a speed ramp, it seems Jordan is where aging Toyotas go to retire.

This is the quality automobile that was used for our trip.   There appears to be no keys, I don’t think the owner locks it, probably doesn’t matter as the boss of the group leaves outside his office which is in a small village in the south with only about 20-30 houses in between two mountains.  The young chap who is our tour driver has to touch two pieces of cable under the steering column.   The car has some of the plastic rim of the steering wheel come away and fixed with insulation tape, various other bits like all three mirrors and one of the brake lights are missing, one of the wiper arms is completely absent, the other has a sharp metal prong which has already scored a curved scratch over the windscreen, I also noticed part way through the desert that the fuel gauge showed empty, I asked him that I hoped that it doesn’t work, and he assured me it didn’t! 🙂  The bodywork looks quite decent until I open the back door and can see rust holes along the rear wheel arch with a 2mm gap where I can see the tyres.  There is also strangely no licence plates on this or the other vehicle another older Toyota of possible late 1970s origin, we did go past a police car and they didn’t bat an eyelid.  I would say judging by the black square on the doors it looks like this Toyota Landcruiser could of once owned by the UN, a recent test drive of Top Gear of the latest 2009 model mentions the UN are Toyota’s biggest client for this model car, but the man said it used to belong to the Jordanian government.

Not long after we stopped at a small shop in the middle of nowhere on a desert highway to get stuff for lunch, which after carefully counting about 3 dinars (I worked out I needed the other remaining 20 for my taxi home) got me some salty biscuits and some extra water.

Pics from us in the other truck which was swapped over a bit later.

Next, roughing it in a Bedouin camp in a desert in December….


software review: Truecrypt – free and effective file encryption

Are you a laptop user and work away from home or office?
Do you carry around confidential files on a USB stick, external hard drive or on CDs/DVDs?
Have you thought about what would happen if a computer or media was lost or stolen?
Are you a company director or IT manager and thought about what would happen if your staff with the above scenarios?

You should have encryption software!!

I have been using a free piece of software called Truecrypt for my own use in storing lists of passwords and other sensitive files, not only is it free it offers are very high level encryption and can be used interchangeably between Windows, Macs and Linux computers.

I firstly used this app as when I was working for Southampton NHS trust, a user was given a CD with patient data from an organisation who were authorised to deal with a patient’s records, possibly for the purposes of a patient whose medical history was needed to be accessed another clinical authority while they were travelling in another country for treatment.  Although the trust didn’t officially use or support this app, my manager was ok for me to supply this employee that needed the files.  So I quickly installed Truecrypt on her laptop and using the password she was given by email got the files for her, this of course meaning if the CD was intercepted by a third party it would be useless.

Using Truecrypt means you build a virtual drive of a size of your choice, several kilobytes, megabytes or gigabytes, and a drive letter (for instance X: ), chose a password, copy your files to the drive, then the virtual drive can be closed when not needed, the virtual drive exists as a file on any type of media, so you dont necessarily need to give it the .tc extension so a possible unauthorised person probably wouldn’t know it even exist.   If you do give it the right filename extension, then you can just double click on the files, let say, and Truecrypt will start up and prompt you to enter a password for it.  If you wish to close your encrypted drive you can just right click on the blue Truecrypt icon on the task bar and dismount this drive (the drive X: will disappear from your My Computer folder)   you can then eject the CD or USB stick if needed, and if you click on Start then ‘Recent documents’, any file names you were working on will vanish from there, no one will know on your PC you have been accessing them.

I personally think deploying this app for a private individual or a business should be quite simple as long as the follow factors are put in place:-
– If a CD or USB stick has encrypted if used on someone else’s (a client let say, that a salesman visits)  they will need to have the Truecrypt client installed, or you can run it straight from the USB stick rather than install it on the host computer.
– If the password is forgotten, the files will be absolutely impossible to access!   A clear policy on passwords should be done, maybe just one for all staff of a department might be a good idea.   Truecrypt actually recommends at least 20 (!) characters in a password for maximum security.
– A clear policy on how big the encrypted drives needs to be.   For instance if everyone creates a 1gb or more drive but actually only uses a small portion of this, and they store it on their network drive, then that could become a big waste of disk space on the server.
– Don’t touch the other features in the app unless you know precisely what they do in case it could render your files impossible to read.
– Like any new change in IT, users should be trained and IT support teams should have some documentation for them to follow so it becomes familiar in everyday use.  Things should be well rehearsed in case, lets say, you are about to a presentation in front of some people and huge embarrassment could happen if you cant get at the file.

Truecrypt also has other features, ie: can encrypt the whole of a laptop’s hard disk sector by sector.  This is a good idea as it is pathetically easy to crack an Windows administrator password on a laptop with the right boot CD (had to do with when my previous employer gave me a laptop of a salesman who just got fired and the administrator password of his laptop was changed to something unknown.)   I have not used this feature of this app yet but I have used rival products from Symantec and PGP – which were not free and cost my former employees a lot for licences)

This program is a really good example how open source apps can come up trumps in doing a task well for zero costs rather than forking our money for individual paid for licences for an equivalent app from another software maker, and unlike Microsoft’s BitLocker which comes with Vista and 7, Truecrypt has the edge in working transparently between any version of Windows, Macintosh and Linux environments.  I don’t pretend any app is perfect but this seems like a excellent solution with 256 bit encryption meaning getting round a password would need a specialist criminal very, very determined for weeks to have any chance of getting at those documents.

Jonathan would be pleased to provide you with further consulting on this application by email or phone in return for donations for his second trip to volunteering in Jerusalem, he would gladly accept any ideas on funding for my flights, insurance and costs, he is experienced in supporting many different applications both typical traditional Microsoft business applications and equivalent free alternatives.

Jonathan likes the benefits of free and open source software, as well as the obvious plus of not having any cost for the application, its good to be free of complex, confusing and restrictive licence agreements and having the source code available in the open has a degree of accountability as flaws and bugs can often be spotted and fixed quickly with a wider team of developers, tools used in business tend to be designed to be more closer to the way people work and to open standards, meaning better integration between other software.  He has a sharp eye for possible security threats in previous places he has contracted at, wether it maybe a non-encrypted wireless network that could let an unauthorised person in a company network, strange search toolbars in a browser which is a sign of a possible spyware application present, or an absent or disabled antivirus client, amongst flaws which are very real dangers for any business.

The Golden Gate and strange graffiti?

In mid-December, I took a walk through an Arab cemetery right next to the Golden Gate outside the main walls of the old city of Jerusalem.  Its one of the oldest of the gates as some special significance as its meant to be where Jesus will go through when he returns to this city.

Ezekiel 44 :  1-3 mentions this site.  Thinking about it logically, it has been bricked up and a cemetery has been built in front making it unclean from a Jewish law point of view, but this would not stop the Messiah from returning back here.   The ground goes up some stepped layers with some trees in front meaning it would not be possible to get a car or horse to go in a straight line from the road from here.

I need to go back here and find out what exactly lies on the inside of this gate.

100_3098 100_3099
You can see the iron railings at the bottom that go around this gate.

While I was here there was some graffiti scribbled in some European language on the wall.   I took some pictures of it with the intention of doing some research on what it might be, I do not know if its modern or old.  Google’s recently improved translator website thought would be good for this, as you can put in some writing of unknown tongue and it takes a guess of what the language is.

The top middle part of the text I wrote here.


Google tells me this is Finnish, perhaps its just some people’s names but it could not provide me with a translation.   If you have sharp eyes and can make out the text better, feel free to comment and have another attempt at what this could be.

My photographs of the wall  got the suspicion of some Israeli policeman walking across the path, mainly as I was the only the person in the whole ground and they asked to search by rucksack and look at my passport, they then spoke in Hebrew on a radio to headquarters, probably to check the number on my visa was legitimate, they then let me go.   This might seem like a nuisance to have to go through to, but its something you get used to and quite necessary in this part of the world.

Church in a pub

On Sunday morning went to my usual church then went out for lunch, usual quite relaxing day.  The talk in the morning was part of a series on distractions which is something that causes more problems with things for me than I can think of.

In the evening I went to the Isambard Kingdom Brunel pub (a Wetherspoons pub named after the famous industrial engineer who lived in my city of Portsmouth, UK) and met up with Mark Rodel reverend of another church in Portsmouth who has a blog and in addition to running his own church likes to meet up with anyone in this pub most Sunday evenings for a chance to relax and have a beer and chat to another small crowd.   Something different from regular church or cell group, (which is a mid-week church meeting someone’s house in a informal closer knit group for regular church people) but this is different as provides a chance for people with casual questions about Christianity and church in a familiar public environment.

For me I think many Christians don’t always visualise the fact church can seem very scary place for many people that have never been before to church, have fallen away, or are just plain shy, and this is a good place to get to know people and get questions answered on many things on church life.  Jesus spent a lot of time in public places speaking, so its only natural that fellow believers could sometimes get together in a place most people are familiar with and invite people to come and chat about whatever they wish.  Mark uses a few unusual visual cues to illustrate things from the bible and this week he got us to make some paper boats to float on a washing up bowl of water he borrowed from the bar.

Anyway there was just about 7 of us from different churches around the city, it was nice getting to know different people from quite a few backgrounds.   Will try come along semi regularly while I am still here in the UK.

Top Gear comes to Arab neigbourhood of Jerusalem? / Killer Cacti

Time for some more holyland LOLs

Top Gear in the Middle East

As spotted in East Jerusalem.   This week on Arab Top Gear, Jared Clarkson test drives a clapped out Fiat Uno with half the exhaust missing, Richard Mohammod puts a huge sound system in a 1980s Mercedes, Jameel Al May selects a good tunic and headscarf to wear in your ride

Killer Cacti!

Like a wet paint sign this just encourages people to be more risky, people might get hurt but this plant, or they might not see barbed wire in front of it.

Journey to the Red Sea – part five; Petra Spectacular!!

Hope that two serialised stories of this and Bethlehem running together doesn’t get too confusing!!


This is part of the trip I was most looking forward to, the scene from Indiana Jones and the last Crusade, even before I left Jerusalem, I bought a CD off ebay of the official soundtrack and put it on my ipod and have got a little bit obsessed in repeatedly playing the tracks whilst on my voyage around the Red Sea.

I spent the whole day looking around Petra, the temples built into the side of rocks, the mountains, the various different ruins of all kinds, there is absolutely loads to see here, you need a couple of days to see it all.

Odd looking Swiss cheese style rocks and caves are everywhere, and one cave has been turned into a quite inviting looking lounge with comfy looking cushions and furnishings.

The cops. The mounted Jordanian police look every bit as cool as the Canadian Mounties

Young Arab men like to races these chariots at quite high speeds around Petra

Towards the end I saw some other British people I got chatting with on top of a hill which which took a while to get up you can see almost over towards the Dead Sea, in fact my phone (which doesn’t have roaming enabled and wont get a JO network, shows Cellcom IL with 5 bars).  There was one girl who had been working in Dubai and got a long weekend off because of the fact it was a Islamic holiday, the other two chaps were two friends that had been travelling around the middle east and were on the last few days and travelled over from Cairo, so it was nice to chat about my discoveries about the holy land and the others who had been in a modern rich Arab city and in the famous ancient capital of Egypt.

At the top of this hill was a tent with a Bedouin chap living there who was playing an Arab style guitar like instrument, and provided us some tea, he told us that his tent was his permanent home, although was selling some souvenirs didn’t seem that concerned about trying to sell us anything, he like a lot Jordanians I had met was genuinely very hospitable to visitors.   All four of us where chatting for sometime, but I noticed it about 4:20pm which meant it would start getting dark just before 5, so we ought to start leaving as getting down the hill was long, windy and undoubtedly extremely dangerous in darkness.   The park shuts at dark according to the main gate, however perhaps in a moment of wanting to live just a bit dangerously, we just carried on chatting and drinking tea, by 4.45 it was most definitely dark, this didn’t bother us as one of the British chaps had a ‘headlight’, a torch on a stretchy band he was wearing on his head so he went down the steep steps first.

We were negotiating our way out of the Roman style pillar stones in the middle of the park and it was now in complete darkness, the girl (argh – wrote you folks emails on a bit of a paper which I have now lost..) said she had to meet the man who was taking her home in a car park near a restaurant.  One of the chaps took her back there, as she was going to go alone which would not of been wise, later I met up with the boys by the pathway that weaved around the main temple.

Close to the entrance there were two men and pick up truck around a horse which was lying on its side, it was obvious the animal was quite distressed, considering I have seen people whip their donkeys to get them up hills with tourists, this animals are worked extremely hard, having said that I am guessing good horses and donkeys are expensive and I guess this was a vet in the truck come to provide assistance to the animal there, the boys from Egypt were hoping to get a quick cheeky snap of us by the main temple in darkness, but one of the staff saw us and told us we should of exited the park over 45 minutes ago.  We said our goodbyes, as I suggested we go for a pizza in the main high street but they wanted to go home and get an early night.

Next, yet another rude awakening, a hasty scramble to get to Wadi Rum..


The ambulance chaser telemarketers exposed.

The people that texted me wanting me to claim about my accident, I decided to responded to the text with a reply “moreinfo” or whatever it was and they called me.   First of all I had a missed call from 02031891350 (looks like a London number but the 3 confuses me a little?).  When you call them back you get a message saying “this is MSAC, leave your number and we will call you back”   I didn’t.   They called me again later, I told them I am not interested and demanded to know where they got my details from.

I did some research. MSAC aka Money Saving Advice Centre has a sales team who want to claim for your accident and do other things such as miss-sold insurance on investment claims.  Can’t find a web site for them, but just seems they have an army of aggressive sales people who can be retrained for whatever dastardly purpose is needed.

Sounds like they are trying to pretend to brand themselves similar to Martin Lewis’s well respected web site (which is a great genuine goldmine of unbiased financial advice)

Seeing as they have used dubious, possibly illegal techniques to find me (someone has told me who works in government, there is plausible legal loopholes for them to get confidential information from hospitals)   I’ll do them the favour back by listing them on the big ‘ol bad interwebs.   So there.   Mua ha ha. 😛

But seriously, if you get a missed call from these people and you’ve found my blog by googling that number, now you know 🙂

Have you had your personal data leaked to a dodgy sales canvassers?  You could be liable to compensation!  phone 0800 BENTLAWYERS4U you have nothing to lose!!!

Electric cars in Israel

Yesterday I watched a DVD I bought ages ago about the failure of General Motors EV1, an electric car available to be leased to the public in California.   Against the wishes of the satisfied owners of the vehicles who rented them and really liked the cars, not just at the attractively low cost of ownership but the comfort, handling and style as well as zero emissions and better ethics of the EV1 and protested against having their cars taken away, as the leasing program ended, and the vehicles were taken away and destroyed.   The film concludes a combination of the state of California, General Motors itself or the oil companies were to blame, as electrics cars require too much investment for their design and for infrastructure set up to fuel them, as well as lack of some kind of business model for the government to receive tax from owners to maintain the roads.

But could electric cars be a reality in some of other part of the world?

A short while ago, some of the Israeli and mainstream world news were looking on a project Renault and Nissan were working on called Project Better Place who are based in California like the GM EV1 and similar electric vehicles made by Ford, Toyota and Honda which also quietly pulled the plug on them leaving just Toyota with their unexpectedly fashionable Prius hybrid model.  Better Place wants to sell purely clean running electric cars to test their vehicles elsewhere, in Denmark, Israel and Hawaii more specifically.  This is expected to happen in 2011.

Where as the start of the 201xs is still not out of a recession, there must be people happy to pay for a more expensive car with low cost of ownership as well as getting a feel good feeling from the obvious environmental benefits.   The worrying large scale of recalls this week Toyota have announced with many models of their cars unexpectedly accelerating probably means that all car makers R&D labs might have to subject more stricter testing to new model vehicles.

I am having to sell my trusty old Peugeot 306 diesel as I am not using it being in between doing charity work in Israel, but this little car was enormously popular, the second best selling car in the UK during the 90s, and as about half of them were diesels, Peugeot were something of a pioneer of diesel cars making them affordable with around 55 miles per gallon economy, decent performance and handling, people bought them who probably wouldnt of consider a diesel before.  Therefore its inevitable someone will make a mass market electric car, as the attraction of leaving behind a legacy of over-taxed and dirty petrol to history is a dream I think most of us would like to realise.

If you think about it, Israel doesn’t have oil so has to get it from neighbouring Arab countries who are not always easy to live with, does not have an actual motor manufacturing plant or any conflict of interest from the government.   As Israel is a small country, the typically short range of a battery isn’t too much of an issue here.  Given the amount of talented engineers in Israel I would say that this kind of project has the best possible chance of success I think.   I think this is quite exciting and really hope this comes to fruition.

But wait, the Palestinians are also wanting an electric car, this man in Gaza converted his old Peugeot 205 to electric 🙂  Youtube link.

laptop repair – Replacing a broken screen bezel on Fujitsu-Siemens Esprimo V5535

This week in my workshop, well my parents living room actually, is this Fujitsu Siemens laptop which looks rather battered, two of the keys are missing, Vista is dog slow with 1gb of RAM (the video card uses 256Mb of this)

Software wise, this computer had an antivirus client called System mechanic but I couldn’t test it for spyware as it would blue screen, seems like System Mechanic would cause AVG or Malwarebytes to crash horribly.   I decided to get rid of System mechanic, and AVG once installed showed the computer has two conventional viruses, Malwarebytes picked up over 26 threats though.  Once this was cleaned up I put on Service Packs 1 & 2 for Vista, to lock the machine down against future security issues.

An extra 1gb of memory was ordered and fitted, easily slots inside the trap door underneath the machine, a new keyboard is coming from a company in China, this will take a few weeks to get here though.

For now I noticed the screen bezel, the plastic frame surrounding the LCD panel has broken as it appears to have been dropped at some point.

Here I am going to show you how to remove and replace the screen bezel.

This is quite simple, remove the rubber pads which cover the screws as shown, these are just gently prised out with a small flat bladed screwdriver.  Next remove the philips screws, there are four in the top and two at the bottom, sometimes there are screws in the side that might need to be removed (like a Dell Latitude I once did)   Note the right hand side part of the bezel was cracked so badly, it came off in my hand.

DONT use a screw driver to prise off the broken panel.  You run the risk of scratching or damaging the LCD or the inverter (the long circuit board at the bottom which provides voltage to the LCD backlight)  use sharp fingernails or some wooden or plastic implement, for me this was easy as the bezel was already broken, but if its not coming out, I would use one of those wooden stirring sticks you get from coffee shops and cut and file the edge into a sharp point to prise it off, I would start by easing the top off, on this particular laptop the bottom piece needs to be bent slightly to get the two corners out of the screen hinges.

This can discarded now and we are ready to fit the replacement bezel.

This is very simple, bend the bottom gently to get it to fit inside the two hinges, the rest just snaps into place, double check all the edges feel flush, you may need to slide the screen latch to get the hooks aligned with the gaps in the new screen bezel.  You can now re-fit the screws and the rubber pads.   Removing the LCD panel is quite easy, its is very fragile, so it would need to be gently removed by holding the edges of it only and the flat cable on the back of the LCD and the wires for the screen backlight can be disconnected.

Here is the laptop done with the broken bezel next to it.   The cost of the new bezel?   £5 including shipping!   The company I bought it from on ebay appeared to have too much stock of this part I think!

Jonathan is not working at the moment, but welcomes any offers to do laptop or PC repair work in return for a donation towards his second trip to Jerusalem to carry on doing IT support and administration for Bridges for Peace.   This is purely a voluntary position and not waged so would appreciate any kind of rewards for IT consulting or donations of course.  He is hoping to fly again possibly early March.