The Morgan Hotel: A London Haven Savvy Travelers Should Know

Are you traveling to London? Are you appalled by how much stronger the British pound is than the American dollar? (Maybe that's how Bush managed to keep Blair on his side.) Are you generally gob-smacked by the queen's ransom demanded by London hotels? Read on for my review of a place in London you may come to love, and not just because the price is right.

Yes, for the sticker-shocked London visitor I might have something to soothe the nerves, a centrally-located London hotel that does not cost a fortune. Note "might." This is not the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park (nothing under $400 a night) or even the Marriott County Hall (a relative bargain starting at $300 a night). I've stayed at both and, while I can assure you that both offer superb service, I can't say they offer three to four times the value of the Morgan Hotel, currently one of the top ranked establishments at the very useful Trip Advisor. And while the Marriott and Mandarin have their own charm and gravitas and history, so does the Morgan.

If you travel a lot you have probably figured out that a large element of hotel accommodation satisfaction rating is expectation management. Nowhere is this more true than in London, which offers a bewildering array of hotels, many of which charge exorbitant prices, and too many of which change hands more often than the English weather changes season.

So what you can expect from the Morgan, a small, independent, family-run hotel in the heart of London? Number one: A very clean room that is small but well-appointed and well-serviced by a polite and cheerful staff. The ambiance is closer to that of a bed and breakfast than a big hotel. If this sounds appealing then the Morgan is a bargain, particularly for individuals for whom hanging out in the hotel is not a big part of the trip, like me when traveling to London on business.

I probably wouldn't choose it for a honeymoon or a two week holiday with two kids in tow but it could be just the ticket if you're coming to London for a night or two at the theatre (and ideally located for such). I chose it for a calm retreat and good night's sleep at the end of a series of days spent visiting various client offices around London. I was not disappointed.

What else can you expect? You can expect a relatively quiet night's sleep. The hotel is in a terrace of what were once houses but now are mainly offices, backing onto small gardens that in turn back onto the British Museum. Rooms at the back of the hotel are well-insulated from the sounds of Bloomsbury Street, which itself is not terribly noisy (nothing like the same amount of rowdy late night pedestrian traffic you get in Convent Garden just a few blocks away--and very handy if you're up for some night life).

As with any hotel, noise in the rooms is relative to the number and demeanor of other guests (with the possible exception of the afore-mentioned Mandarin, probably the best insulated hotel I've experienced in Europe). I have certainly stayed in places that charge twice as much and have inferior sound insulation. Given the close proximity of the rooms at the Morgan, loutish guests or noisy early risers could be a problem, but I got the distinct impression that travelers who choose the Morgan are more than likely to be sensitive to its intimate ambiance and conduct themselves accordingly. (Conversely, I sense that some guests at more expensive hotels seem to think the queen's ransom they paid for a night's accommodation entitles them to be as loud as they like.)

Traveling alone, the size of the room, and bed, was fine (and a couple who are very much in love should do fine as well). The TV was very small, but I wasn't there to be entertained. I only turned it on once, probably because I get most of my news from the 'net these days. Tasteful use of shelving and recessed lighting made the best of the room space. A small table and chairs provided a comfy place to sit and relax, read, or surf the Internet via the free wireless connection. I have stayed in two different rooms (202 and 206) and the bathrooms in both were small and shower-only, no tub--but very clean and recently upgraded with modern fittings.

Soap and shampoo supplies were a bit basic but the towels were above average for a UK hotel (closer to good-old American cotton than traditional English sandpaper). Hair driers were installed in both rooms but no ironing board (I'm sure you could arrange the use of one if you wanted). There is individual room temperature control, including AC, a must for summer in London in the age of global warming. Of the two rooms, 206 was quieter.

As far as my needs went, location was great. The only other hotel nearby, actually right across the street, is the Radisson Kenilworth. A lovely hotel but 166% more expensive last time I checked. The nearest tube is a short walk and you can stroll right into Convent Garden or onto Oxford Street in minutes. There is a Starbucks about two blocks in one direction, and a Costas is just around the corner.

Finally, something very nice you can expect at the Morgan, and can depend on getting--if you get up before 9AM--is a fine English breakfast (cereal, juice, coffee/tea, toast, eggs, bacon, sausage, mushroom, tomato) dished up in a very smart dining room, cooked to order, and served with a smile. It was certainly a good way for me to start the day.

So there you have it, and if you don't like it, don't go there. But if you go there knowing and liking what you read here, you will probably be satisfied. That seems to be the trick of it, especially if you read Trip Advisor. Note that some people went to the Morgan with expectations that were not met. That was hardly the hotel's fault. Folk who follow Web 2.0 trends might have spotted this aspect of "customer review" sites. You don't 'know' the person doing the reviewing. You have to deduce their character from their articulation. Some reviews are really gripes and some are clearly unfair. On the other hand, if you read these reviews you can adjust your expectations and decide if a place if right for you.

And one final note for e-commerce analysts: This hotel ranks near the top of its class on a very popular travel site and it doesn't take online reservations. you have to use email, fax, or phone.

Wallhogs Rock: Where were you in the seventies?

What are Wallhogs and why do they rock? Read on gentle reader...

Recently I got an email from an enterprising young man I happen to know from a previous enterprise of my own, ePrivacy Group. His name is Kendall Schoenrock and he is one of those young people who were born to do business. I think he became a licensed real estate agent when he was 18 or something crazy like that. I know he still owns and maintains various residential and commercial properties. He worked a Budweiser delivery route in college, got his MBA from Villanova at an early age and, despite several other opportunities, chose to join, and invest in, ePrivacy Group. And this was at a time when it was the very definition of "a long shot."

When I watched him work ePrivacy Group's booth at ISPCON 2003 [I think it was that year] you could tell he was a natural pitch man, cheerfully engaging prospects in conversation, happily enthusing about a technology--SpamSquelcher--in which he believed [with good reason as it turns out, given that Symantec paid $28 million for it about a year later].

After selling SpamSquelchers for Symantec for a while [under the name TurnTide and later the Symantec 8100] Kendall struck out on his own and mucked around for a while seeking a fresh challenge. That's when he found Wallhogs.

Wallhogs are basically big plastic pictures you can put on a wall then later peel off and put on a different wall, as in dorm room wall, apartment wall, office wall. Check them out at

A variety of images are already available from which to choose, but one of the coolest features of the site is the ability to upload your own image and have it not only blown up, but cropped. So your photo of young Timmy making that great catch in softball can be cropped to just Timmy, then printed five feet tall if you like (presumably with some clever interpolation algorithm).

Of course, the basic technology of "apply to wall then remove and apply to some other wall" is also very cool. I could have used this back in the day when I was at university. I had about half a dozen posters that got moved from flat to flat in Leeds, serious expressions of my personally at the time, which got tattered at the corners from frequent application and removal of tape. Whether you want a blissful four foot wide sunset above your bed, or a funky art photo above your sink, Wallhogs has you covered. Even if you have to switch dorm rooms in a hurry.

Cardiologists Using MP3s for Training

In the same vein [nice pun, eh] as my posting about the $30 heart monitor comes this Newsweek story about medical students using iPods to learn the sounds of unhealthy hearts. "Rocking out to 'aortic regurgitation.'"

Which reminds me, if anyone knows what is up with the heart in this clip my friend would love to get a second opinion.

Treo 650 Dying? No shift! Treo 680 review coming soon

Alas, my beloved Treo 650 is sick. Apparently, a recent fall injured the Shift key which jams in the shifted position. This has had a ripple effect on the keyboard and functionality. I am off to England to do some consulting and will have to manage with the 650 until I return, by which time my 680 should have arrived. As they say, shift happens, sometimes too much.

Terabyte Storage Slips Under $400: Western Digital on sale at CompUSA

I blogged about the domesticated terabyte a while back, and now you can buy one for under $400 at CompUSA. As I understand it, there are two drives in the box and you can use them as a single volume or have a 500 megabyte volume drive with RAID backup/redundancy on the other. Maybe the Easter Bunny will bring me one.

No seriously, this is a test...

...of the image wrapping ability of this theme, using a shot of the rear of my Jeep as an example.

For some reason, many of the WordPress themes show an example of an image in a post that does not wrap text. This could lead a newbie [like me] to think that particular theme was incapable of doing this wrapping, which is a pity because wrapping text around images is one of the things that makes blogging with pictures in Blogger so much fun.

But I have now solved my own problem: wrapping the text is just a click away. You select the image and click the alignment button and Voila! This seems to work in themes that show no wrapping in the WordPress Theme Browser.

Now I need to re-browse those 500 themes again, with a different perspective.

BTW, the picture on the left was selected mainly because it is tall and thin. It shows my Florida license plate: 1NFOSEC. Actually, my wife registered this plate in 2001, at which time someone had already taken INFOSEC, so she cleverly got 1NFOSEC then handed it on to me. (I am noticing that typing out this license plate is a good font test--can you see the difference between the 1 and the I?)

The logo at the bottom is on a plate that covers the towing hitch receiver. It says Browning. I am not what you would call a 'gun nut' but I do happen to own a couple of Browning firearms, and I think the logo is very clever.


Every blog has to begin somewhere...

Welcome to Cobb's Blog, the blog, at, the site.

This blog uses WordPress and at some point it will incorporate most of my other blogs, in one common blog space, with content distinguished by categories.

The look and feel (theme) will also be changing, as soon as I have chosen something suitable and figured out how to install it.

I hope you find it worth dropping by from time to time.

When Law and Politics Don't Mix: Weasel words from Gonzales

Did anyone else see Attorney General Gonzales saying to CNN, in an attempt to brush aside questions about abuse of FBI security letters, that the letters had been around "long before I became AG" ? Then shortly thereafter I see in the Denver Post that use of national security letters has grown exponentially since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "In 2005 alone, the audit found, the FBI issued more than 19,000 such letters, amounting to 47,000 separate requests for information." Here's more about what these letters are:
The letters enable an FBI field office to compel the release of private information without the authority of a grand jury or judge.

The USA Patriot Act, enacted after the 2001 attacks, eliminated the requirement that the FBI show "specific and articulable" reasons to believe that the records it demands belong to a foreign intelligence agent or terrorist.

That law, and Bush administration guidelines for its use, transformed national security letters by permitting clandestine scrutiny of U.S. residents and visitors who are not alleged to be terrorists or spies.

Now the bureau needs only to certify that the records are "sought for" or "relevant to" an investigation "to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities."
Amid some pretty credible claims that these letters are being abused under Gonzales he has the nerve to say they were around long before his watch. A classic case of weasel words.

Clock Update

Finally getting over that whole DST thing with the US/EU offset. Here's a nice applet that lets you set a bunch of clocks for reference based on a bunch of world city listings. And My Google has a nice clock for tracking a couple of time zones at once.

Oh, and here is how you set the clock on my JVC KD-G720 car stereo. Took me ages to find this.

Free to the World: Cobb's $30 heart sound monitor

Okay, here's a nice way to combine some simple tech items to get high value results at a low cost.

The Challenge: Doctors need a way to listen to the heart beat of patients who are experiencing episodes of irregular heart beat. Past technology has focused on recording heart beat for extended periods of time hoping to catch the episode, useful for some things, but not this intermittent, periodic problem. Plus they are costly and inconvenient to use.

The Solution: Provide patients with a small and convenient device that records heart beat on demand in a format that is easy to transmit to the doctor.

Background: A few years ago my heart started beating funny, not all the time, just sometimes. No, let me re-phrase that: A few years ago, this friend I have, his heart started to beat funny (you never know when the insurance companies will start spidering blogs for evidence of health conditions that could justify even higher premiums).

This friend went to a cardiologist whose nurse wired him [my friend] into a harness that listened to his heart and was supposed to fit under his shirt (like the kind of 'wire' you might see in a crime caper comedy). After 24 uncomfortable hours my friend reported back and a reading was taken from the listening device. But not much showed up and my friend was finding it hard to time his visits to the doctor with the odd heart beat.

So I invented a cheap portable patient-operated heart sound reporting system. I bought a $30 Wombsong foetal monitor at Walmart, the kind you use to listen to your baby before it is born. Then I connected an audio recorder via the monitor's headphone output socket.

When my friend felt his heart beating 'funny' he could lay this thing on his chest and record the sound. This setup could record the sound digitally, with an iPod, a Treo, or any number of digital recorders, so this friend could then, theoretically, email the file to his cardiologist (if his cardiologist would only read his email).

In Practice: It worked like this. We recorded an episode on a pocket tape recorder then transferred that to the computer, reduced the background noise with Gold Wave (a terrific shareware audio editor) and saved it as an mp3. At his next visit with his cardiologist my friend pulled out his Treo and played the recording to a very impressed doctor. Much medical enlightenment was gained.

Of course, he could also have blogged the recording like this (click arrow to play, or click the song title to play in your default player):

Heartbeat recorded on $30 device

Now, after that fleeting moment in which I dreamed of a multi-million dollar IPO of Cobb's Cool Cardio Kit [NASDAQ: CCCK] the right thing to do reared its beautiful head: share this with the world for free. Now anyone with $30 and a little bit of tech-savvy (or a friend thus endowed) can take the sound of their heart to the doctor. Hopefully some lives can be saved, as well as a lot of money better spent on other things.

But woe betide anyone who seeks to cash in on this invention, with the possible exception of the people who already make the foetal monitors and can easily re-purpose them for this (add the instructions for recording to an iPod or rework design to include an mp3 recorder and/or USB connection and/or removable flash storage).

Tech Notes:

Recording--direct to digital makes a lot of sense but a lot of digital recorders don't record to mp3 (I have used Sony and Panasonic devices that record in their own formats) and this means you often have to do some sort of conversion so that the file is in a format accessible to the doctor or the playback device. Dumping the recording to a PC/Mac app like GoldWave makes conversion easy and allows clean-up. GoldWave has this great filter that lets you select a 'silent' section and filter based on that, in other words, a moment of space between explicit sounds will show the background noise and that can be filtered out in one step. , or play the sound back from the recording device, which is easy enough to do with an iPod or Treo).

Foetal monitor--is used for the recording because it is already designed to make internal body sounds audible. There is no great rick to this, just a properly tuned pickup at the narrow end of a cone-shaped, sound-focusing opening on the bottom surface of the unit that lays on the patient's body (over the heart when used in this invention). I used a WombSong, so named because it also allows you to play music to your unborn child (a scary notion given the musical tastes of some parents). These are now available for quite a bit less than $30 and since you can get a cheapr recorder for about $10, you can still make the whole thing for around $30.

Note that this is NOT your fancy "medical quality" foetal monitoring unit. It does not need to be. Check the recording above and you will hear that this is exactly what the cardiologist needed to hear, and would probably not have heard if "my friend" had not recorded it.

Did You Survive DST? The difference in US/EU time difference is the one to watch

Hopefully everyone's technology handled DST okay last night. I got a last minute reminder to update my Treo 650 which was handled very smoothly.

I already blogged the US/EU disconnect elsewhere, but it is worth repeating here, especially for people working trans-Atlantic, which I happen to be at the moment.

I am working on a security project for a fairly large UK company, together with someone from California, as part of a team based in London. The "DST offset" makes figuring flight times and setting up conference calls tricky.

This particular project will be over before the Autumn, but check out the time lag that happens in October of this year. New York goes six hours behind London, and of course that puts LA a full nine hours behind...which is darned inconvenient. When you have a London office meeting at 4PM and that is 7AM for LA, some folks are going to be sleepy from a hard day's work and others will be dozy from a hard day's night.

So, has anyone calculated the supposed energy savings of this whole fiasco, versus the technology upgrade costs?

Still Confused About US v. EU DST? Maybe this will help you

I made a small chart to help me with this problem of the time change changes between the US and the EU. I am working on a project for a British company right now and traveling between the US and the UK so I wanted a quick way to check when the time in London will be 4 versus 5 hours difference.

I printed it out small enough to fit in my wallet. Don't know if this makes me sound memory-deficient, but I am finding it really hard to keep track of this one.

I am certainly not looking forward to the week in the Fall where London will be 6 hours different. Or next Spring when the shift will last for three weeks.

At least I got all my hardware upgrades to handle the switch.

Hot Week for Art Events: Starring friends of mine!

Wow! It's not often that two seriously hot art events featuring personal friends go down in the same week. But that's what's happening this week, and so here they are:

The Photon Ballet, Tuesday, March 13th, Hollywood, California. Featuring numerous pioneering digital artists including our good friends Michael Masucci and Kate Johnson of EZTV Media. In fact, EZTV is co-producing the event with Microsoft and Maxxon. This promises to be an awesome event to mark the 25th Anniversary of the LA branch of SIGGRAPH. Time and ticket info is here.

TELOORIKA: Thursday, March 15, the Embassy of Argentina in Washington, DC cordially invites you to the first art show to be hold simultaneously at the Embassy and in the virtual metaverse Second Life, created by our good friend Socorro Villa. For our Spanish readers, check out this very interesting discussion of the show's origins. Soco is a wonderful and uplifting artist (not surprising since she is also a wonderful and uplifting person).


A Classic Hatteras For Sale: Sad but true

That day has finally come, the one where the boat owners realize they just don't have the time (or energy) to enjoy their boat, in this case a gorgeous 36 foot Hatteras convertible, built by AMF in 1983 and as solid a motor yacht as you could ever want to sail on, sleep on, fish from, cruise in.

Sadly my wife's health just isn't what it used to be and, since she is the captain of the boat and I am just the lowly deck hand, the boat has got to go. You will find some nice pics at a web site I just created: and a mirror at The sites are identical and have links to the broker handling the sale, A1A Yacht Brokers of St. Augustine. the boat is moored at the fun and funky Oyster Creek Marina. Asking price is $79,900.