0.375 ounces of Gold

0.375 ounces of Gold
I’ve just found out that a “tola” is 0.375 ounces of gold in India, thank you Meghna Nayak.

Edit: Apparently a tola is also 10 grams of hashish, it gets better 😛

Free Culture UK
Attended my first phone conference with Free Culture UK this evening (minutes). I’m thinking of starting a Free Culture Society at the University of Birmingham.

Ideas Wiki
I’ve started a public wiki at ideas.hippygeek.co.uk

“I hope for this to be a kind of breeding ground for some of the ideas I’ve had for web sites or projects. I have a private wiki full of ideas and I thought it was about time I put some of them up for peer review and comment, with a view to building communities around the projects to push them further.”

Of particular interest is the proposed Digital Convergence group which I hope to be a research group feeding into development projects elsewhere.

See also, the Student Cookbook, feel free to contribute!

Twisted Lemon
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this here before but things are going well. Twisted Lemon is a startup company my friends and I are kicking off. We’re soon to become a limited liability company and it’s all very exciting.

Web Site Changes
Nobody apart from me cares about this, but I want to change hippygeek.co.uk in its most drastic change since 2001 by moving to a Drupal based site and migrating my blog in-house.

I will post some more of my travel blog entries soon, I really will.

In other news
Laura and I took Penny to Rutland Water for a picnic which was very cool 😀

Other than that, I’ve been doing lots of coding, some cooking and washing and working on more projects than I can keep track of, it’s great!

Competition results and uni accommodation

In a break from my Trip of a Lifetime postings…

IEE Competition

The results are through from the competition I entered my paper into and I didn’t win, or get a runners up prize (which was the one I was aiming for). But, they did give feedback on all of the papers entered and I’m very proud of the positive feedback I got, especially after reading the feedback for all the other entries as well.

It reads as follows…

Benjamin Tola Francis

Digital Convergence in a Connected World

The Judges felt that, although this entry was not of degree standard, it
contained a well developed argument with a clear purpose and a natural
flow, was interesting to read, with a good structure. On the whole the
Judges were impressed with this entry and the thorough research that had
gone into the essays production. The Judges noted that the topic was of
general and wide interest and, although the essay is not particularly
technical, it offers quite a grand vision and suggested that, with some
editing, the paper may be suitable for publication.

University Accommodation

I’ve been put in Maple Bank, Block 4 Flat 28. It was one of my choices and was completely refurbished this summer. However, it is 2km away from campus which is quite a long way to run in my dressing gown to get to a lecture! Seriously though, it’s all starting to feel very real. Now I just have to find over three grand to pay for it.

Back to our normal programme

Yes, I am actually back from my Trip of a Lifetime (after three weeks, 7 countries and 26 trains) but you haven’t heard the last of it yet!! Oh no. I still have lots of entries to copy to my blog, some of them are almost interesting. Now stop complaining about me flooding blog planet sites with travel entries and embrace the democratic publishing medium that is the Internet and damned well read it!

TOAL: Entry Ten


We left the camp site and ran about a mile, only to miss our train to Pisa. Waited an hour and a half for the next to arrive. While running Wez dropped his bag with his camera in.

The previous evening Wez noticed that a polythene bag containing €10, 5 pounds and 20 slovene whatevers had gone missing but didn’t do anything about it, assuming he must have accidentaly left it somewhere or it had been stolen (not that much money). But sitting on the train he realised that his interrail ticket had been in the bag as well.


After a long and drawn out process he reported it lost or stolent to the Italian police to get an incident number. The policeman we dealt with was lovely but his superior kept really yelling at him in Italian in front of us. I think he thought we were wasting police time and was telling the other policeman to tell us to get lost, but the person actually dealing with us spoke English and understood our situation.

The older guy was intimidating, unprofessional and rude, a discrace to the Italian Police. It didn’t help that he had a gun.

Wez sorted out that the insurance company would re-imburse the tickets he needed for the rest of the journey and we spent a lot of time in the train station in Pisa before walking a kilometre to see the leaning tower and walked back again. Caught a late train to Florence.

TOAL: Entry Nine


We did it! Rome in a day, well a lot of it. Got up this morning and used the excellent bathroom facilities on the camp site which I must explain more later, then set off for Rome. We started with the vaticn city and slipped into a free tour with an Irishman called Michael, They wouldn’t let me into the Cathedral at first because my shorts were too short but the tour guide was used to this and had some unfashionable polyester trouser-like things for me to put over the top.

The Cathedral was huge! Wehn you’re standing inside and looking up you don’t really realise the scale of it because it was cleverly designed to look smaller than it actually is. There are borders of letters all the way up and as the words get higher the height of the letters gets bigger (up to 12ft!) so the perspective is deceptive. It’s over 100m altogether which is huge!

I was very unimpressed to see nuns selling souvenirs and outraged at the wealth of the Catholic Church. Then there was the dead pope displays. The recently deceased John Paul was still on display but also a pope who died around 40 years ago! Being a pope though he “doesn’t decompose”. Hmm.

We then paid a fee to go to the top of Michaelangelo’s dome and first look into the church and then look out over Rome. Even if you take the lift there are still 300 odd steps to climb and we took it too quickly and exhausted ourselves. The view was spectacular though.

We then went off to see the other famous monuments in Rome such as the Colleseum and the Pantheon, among many other ruins. At the colleseum we had our photo taken with a man dressed as a gladiator,
“gratis” he had said. He then proceeded to ask for €5, I pretended not to hear and walked away.

There was one very odd ruin which was full of cats – there were loads of them! Actually our favourite building was a tomb, we’re not sure of the name but it was the tomb of an important King and it is a huge building with statues and guards.

After a very expensive day we were looking for a meal in Rome with a negative budget. All the supermarkets were closed and we stood outside the Pantheon surrounded by posh restaurants and a McDonalds. Now there has been a MCDonalds in every city we’ve been to so farand we’ve managed to avoid them. On this occasion all we’d eaten was a banana all day and we had no option. I VERY grudgingly and after muchg debate ordered a Big Mac. We ate a McDonalds sat outside one of the most famous ancient monuments in Rome.

We then made our way back to the camp site. At a bus stop two women asked us to take a man called Michael with us because he was confused by the metro being closed. He followed us until about 1am in the morning and when we got to the camp site he suddenly said “I’m on a different camp site” !!! The poor man had to make his own way to the other side of the city in the early hours of the morning.

We got back to the tents, dumped our bags and went in search of a beer. Turned out the bar wasn’t really a bar at all but more like a minimarket, but we found beer anyway and sat talking to a couple of Irish lads.

They told use that one of the failed suicide bombers had been arrested in Rome earlier tat night. That was scary because:

1) I’d only been saying earlier that the metro in Rome was probably one of the least safe places to be at the moment.
2) I’d been sat next to a man on the metro with a rucksack on his lap, reading Arabic to himself from a book.
3) The reason for using all the buses was that half the metro had been closed with no explanation.

Oh and in an extremely nice woman had given us tickets for free travel on all Rome public transport with a day left on them!

TOAL: Entry Eight


Today we’ve been walking from 10am to 5pm! That’s me, Wez, Laura1, Laura2, Alberto and José. We got up at around 8:50 to fetch our free breakfast which consisted of a chocolate croissant and a coffee from the coffee machine (I managed to pour myself an Italian coffee which is only half a cup!). We then set off for the ruins in Pompei, entered with a student discount and started to look around. I had no idea that Pompei was so big and most of it hasn’t been excavated yet!

We walked and walked and saw everything from people frozen in poses as they were killed by the pyroclastic flow to amazingly preserved “election posters” painted on outside walls. It was stunning how much intricate paintwork has been preserved but at the same time, as we excavate it we are surely shortening its life. The restoration of ruins like these has its upsides and downsides, as we learnt from the bodged origiinal restoration in the Acropolis which is taking years to rectify.

The ruins were truly stunning and by the time we got to the exit after seeing the houses, market place, baths, auditoriums and amphitheatre it was really getting late and Wez and I had to catch a train to Napoli (Naples) and then Roma (Rome).

We stopped off at the supermarket for some cheap food, swapped email addresses with our new Spanish friends and set of for the train station on foot. Two trains and two buses later (oh we spoke to a Canadian girl doing Eurail on the bus) we reached the camp site and pitched our tents. I cooked pasta and bolegnese sauce with my gas burner and mess tins which came out great and we had a peach for dessert. It’s hot here even at 2am, I’ll try to get to sleep. Tomorrow we do Rome in a day!

TOAL: Entry Seven


The ferry from Patras to Bari was very posh and even a large proportion of the deck was under cover (well, it was a little bit like a greenhouse). We slept on some chairs/lifejacket containers nd got a brilliant nights sleep. We got ready and left the ferry when it docked, escaping through the HGV section and accidentally missing out a police check. We got a bus to the train station which I’m sure we were supposed to pay for but the opportunity didn’t seem to arise.

We then realised that one of the three trains we were going to catch today didn’t actually stop at Pompei because it only stops at weekends. So Wez consulted the ever knowledgeable train staff and planned an alternative route.

On the train we met two women, both called laura (26,27) who had seen us on the ferry and were going to the same place. THey asked to borrow our timetable and maps because they had managed to lose theirs! It then turned out that they both do Computer Science (although I wasn’t clear if they were still studying) or working in the department) and they had followedalmost exactly the same route as us in almost exactly the same time frame, they’d just taken a different ferry at one point.

It also turned out that they were going to the same place as us, Pompei. We agreed to travel together for a while and eventually got to Napoli, near to Pompei and the birth place of pizza! We met two spanish lads whom the women had met before and they joined the group. We left our luggage at the station for an incredibly expensive €3.80 (but there were armed guards protecting it).

We had decided to have a look around Napoli and travel to the hostel in Pompei in the evening. Napoli is well known as a high crime area, especially at night, but we stuck together as a group. Napoli is a dirty, rundown and bustling city. In fact, if you had shown me scenes from Napoli and Ljubljana and asked me which was in the “Eastern Block” I would definitely have chosen Napoli. The driving is the worst I’ve seen so far and the parking is hilarious! There was a man selling cameras and camcorders on a stall on the street which were very obviously stolen. We saw children running down the street with a display board full of jewellery and stray dogs everywhere. Nobody, not even Police stop at zebra crossings.

We caught the 21:50 train from Napoli to Pompei and got a room in the hostel for the six of us. We;ve just sat outside and eaten a meal consisting of food bought from supermarkets. Wez and I only had bread rolls and cheese slices but the women had vegetables and the lads had proper cheese! I was suprised to learn that shoplifting is very common in Spain.

Everyone else has gone for a quick walk into the city but I’m in the hostel and going to have a shower. Tomorrow is Pompei, then it’s off to Rome.