Today La Faula got its first webcam and as I write this at 21.23 the blackness of this night is for all to see on our Home Page. Its unbelievable how fast technological change is occurring and how it impacts on our business. Only in June 2008 did Hutchinson 3 upgrade the nearest mast to La Faula to carry fast data traffic. After a significant dip in speed as everyone within the mast's radius needing broadband climbed on-board (in our area there is no fixed-line broadband/ADSL and no other cell-phone fast data service) recent months have seen a steady improvement in upload and download speed such that having a high-definition webcam became possible. Streaming remains problematic but refreshing the image every minute is good enough for now.
Before Facebook was even invented we decided to create a message system within our website as we were finding e-mail far too unreliable (and it still can be). At the time, it was common to write a message on a website form but then the reply arrived by e-mail. I wanted, however, the reply to remain in an individual's 'message area' within our site because this was secure and we could remedy and problems that arose. In the first two years using this system we took a real hit in bookings because I reasoned that it would be disastrous to try to run two parallel systems - e-mail and Faula messaging - and we effectively switched-off e-mail trying to convince people to register with our site and communicate through it. This was not a problem for the adventurous, for those who enjoyed the way the internet was developing and were keen to try it and for those nice people who were amenable to assist us. For a lot, however, it was just out and out impertinence to insist that communications went via our site - sometimes we were told so and often the contact just disappeared.
The Faula message system involved creating a database and integrating database software into the site. Obviously a small site like ours uses open source software and at the beginning it was really unstable. Mostly the problems were not obvious to the users but the instability of the software running the database at the beginning gave us real headaches.
But, in the end it has proven to be a really good thing. E-mail remains problematic. Luca and I have our computers in rooms next to each other. I cannot send him an e-mail because my mail goes out 'enveloped' by Hutchinson 3 and this is not recognised as a valid send for some anti-spam systems including the one our webhost uses. Over time, the open-source database management software has got really good and for years we haven't had problems. Having database experience enables us to manage large numbers of photos and to add new functionality to the site with little difficulty.
After all that I just wrote ... I was just checking the text on the Home Page - once every minute the text suddenly moved up - then moved down again!! This occurs every time the webcam photo reloads ... something to look at tomorrow!
Historically (i.e. before last week), there were a whole stack of projects concerning the Faula website that were waiting to be activated and realised. For all the years since we have had the site it has seemed that there were always more ideas than could be realised in the time available and consequently some ideas got pushed to the back and languished there, even for years.
But now, it has to be said, I'm running out of ideas. Next week we will add a webcam image of the Faula hill and that's really it. I can't really think of anything else to do (any suggestions?)
Today, one of the last projects that has been hanging around for a couple of years was realised. This was to create an anonymous rating and feedback system to let us know what people are really thinking about La Faula. Maybe it took so long to implement because we were afraid of what we might hear and other projects seemed so much more interesting. But this was the last project devised so today we activated the e-mail with the link and the web-page where people can leave their comments.
This afternoon we generated a mass e-mailing of people who stayed at La Faula during the year inviting their feedback and valuations. We did this manually but next year it will be completely automated.
Of course, we know that all feedback is helpful and that negative feedback is the most helpful of the lot for the long term development of a business. But, nonetheless, as we wait for the responses to come in we feel a little bit like we are waiting for the results of an exam!
Today I pressed the last wine for this year. So that’s it for the wine-making for 2009. We started the whole process in the first week of September with some white varieties. It was still summer and the agriturismo was full of guests. Since then a month has passed. Summer has turned into autumn, guests have come and gone, we have had a couple of weddings here but now the agriturismo is closed, the wine is made and the second half of our yearly life at La Faula begins.
First, the house is now ours. It’s nice to share but it’s also nice to come in in the evening and have dinner together, just the two of us, in the kitchen. We have, of course, a wonderful and bountiful choice of rooms to take but we choose always room 9 for reasons that we don’t really know. The dogs are bored witless without any guests and so every move we make is tracked and shadowed by five border collies. I am most afraid of running them over at this time because when one returns home they escort the van rather like the US secret service with the presidential limousine only that they are not more than half a meter high and difficult to see.
It is also a good time for catching up with friends and going out for a beer in the evenings. It’s amazing to be able to go out in the evening! I don’t cook, ever, until the agriturismo reopens. We have had a bit of rain in the last weeks and the vegetable garden has leapt back into life. As we tend not to fry the zucchini flowers just for the two of us we are over-dosing on zucchini flower pasta. Peppers we have in abundance and the very last tomatoes are now ripening. In the field in front of the house field mushrooms sprung up over the last weeks and I have been out there many mornings before the golfers arrive harvesting that days lunch.
It has also been a great time for jam-making. When Ruth was here she made jars of fig and plum jam from fruit found on and around the farm. A friend of ours in the village has such a generous fig tree that I am still making fig jam this time mixed with our apples which are now ripe.
It has been a wonderful autumn, warm and sunny, the vegetation still green and lush.
The grape harvest is over, the wine largely made - we’ll be pressing the last of the red wines on Monday - and I’ve got time to turn my attention to all those things that escapes me in the summer. Of course, I start with the interesting things first like sorting out what kind of webcam we can mount to get nice pictures of the hill of La Faula, getting (and getting going) an internet radio (not as easy as it might be thought when you have a 3G rather than an ADSL connection) but most of all I’m gorging myself on English language films. In Friuli there are no original language films and I gave up watching films dubbed into Italian years ago when I realised just how sloppy and manipulatively untrue the dubbing was. Effectively all characters in foreign films become Italians thereby reinforcing the Italian belief that we are all the same and the whole world is a village.
In the summer I started doing films under the pergola. I kind of made it up as I went along not really knowing much about Home Theatre except that we couldn’t afford the kind of branded packages you can buy. Also, the system had to be reliable, mobile and very quick to set-up and put away. The internet let me identify a really good projector and blu-ray player. Unfortunately, the projector developed a mother-board fault almost instantly and so sometimes the films shown would have stripes. If you didn’t know about the stripes then generally you couldn’t see them. But I did and it was extremely irritating. As soon as the Agriturismo closed I sent the projector off for repair and its working just fine.
I wanted to avoid getting an AV receiver (it’s only just occurred to me that AV might stand for audio visual?) because I thought that this would impose a layer of complexity. I went instead with wireless jbl speakers with a built-in (rather limited amp). This system worked very well until I got to some remastered films transferred to blu-ray with very low soundtracks. At this point I realised that sound is too important a part of the experience to compromise on so I got an Onkyo AV receiver. I connected it to the old stereo speakers and well .....
Almost every night I’m up in the house watching a film. Right now I’m proceeding through the Band of Brothers. Before that Milk. It is so wonderful to go to the cinema again ... and to live in a place with a nice climate, good food .... and a hugely entertaining Prime Minister?