Sunday, 7 September 2008

Cleanout

Old Computers

Old Monitors

I finally got around yesterday to throwing out some old junk which has been cluttering up the loft and spare room. A number of old computers and a load of old monitors collected over the past few decades. One of the monitors, an ancient VGA monitor, was manufactured back in 1984!

Took them off to the recycling centre (used to be called the tip) only to be confronted by a worker who suspected me of preforming an unauthorised office clean-out! "Where did that lot come from?" "out my loft!" was my honest reply.

I know I could have sold them at a car-boot or even offered them on freecycle, but it quite frankly not worth the effort given that they are so out of date and absolutely worthless.

I stripped out the RAM, Network cards and any half decent video cards - found a decent PCI one which might be useful for a potential project.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Rain, Rain go away!

>Rain

Yes, I know it a national past time to complain about the weather but really this rain is really starting to get me down. After a brief rest bite this morning and some sunshine it is raining again.

The weather station which I final set up a few months back is reporting 22mm in the last 24 hours.

Friday, 5 September 2008

First week went well

The first week in my new job has gone well, it has been enjoyable and varied and importantly without the politics, everyone respects everyone else and just get on with the job in hand.

I had some slight trepidation, caused by lack of self confidence and the fact I haven't touched a keyboard to do any serious programming in over 7 months, but I shouldn't have worried I quickly found my way around and got up to speed pretty well.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

New Job

Embedded System
After the best part of 7 months being unemployed I have now secured a new job. It is in embedded system development and seems to offer the interest and mental challenge that was so lacking in my previous job.

Developing hardware and software for embedded systems for a company in the gaming/gambling industry was where I first started back in 1988 after leaving university but with time I gradually moved into the writing the actual games.

Despite this I was able to keep my foot in the door of hardware development and writing the code to make the hardware work, it was always this side I preferred more and it was my nice little niche skill set. Unfortunately that aspect of the work dried up at my previous employer, leaving me an unfulfilled and unappreciated code monkey.

I start working next month and really cannot wait!

Monday, 4 August 2008

Expensive Car Parts (Part 2)

Scrap cars

Back in March I posted about the ridiculous quote of £270 to replace a seized wiper motor on my car. I had no luck hunting down a second hand so decide to have a go at repairing it. Well it just took a bit of courage to pull of the trim panel and remove the assembly. A few screws later and it was in pieces, sure enough it had seized - some penetrating oil, a hammer and grease it was working again (be it slower than before).

Well it packed up again last month I have just had a look at having another go at repairing it, only to find out it has fallen apart, seems I didn't do the screws up tight enough. It is beyond repair now as I've lost some vital internal parts (like the motor brushes!) so back to the scrapheap challenge of finding a cheap replacement!

Digital switchover scheme is 'stressful, confusing and unfair' and is giving BSkyB and unfair advantage

Sky Remote

The Guardian newspaper is reporting that manufacturer and consumer groups are criticising a government scheme designed to help elderly and vulnerable viewers switch to digital television claiming it is sowing confusion and helping BSkyB market its pay-TV services.

It is reported that as a pay-TV company with a set-top box design operation, Sky had an unfair advantage when it was handed the contract to be the digital switch over help scheme's "standard offer" for the ITV Border region, the first part of the UK to go digital.

The scheme is being funded with £603m of BBC licence fee money and entitles over-75s and disabled people to have a set-top box installed for a one-off fee of £40 - or for free if they are on benefits.

The industry groups are particularly concerned that for the first two months after installing its set-top boxes, Sky provides free access to the personal recorder service Sky+ and to some pay channels. Customers are then left to decide whether to continue receiving these services by taking out a subscription or to settle for a free package without the added benefits.

Also reported on DigitalSpy

I think it just shows how ill thought out the whole digital switch-over is, why let someone with a commercial interest be involved when Freeview and Freesat are viable alternatives, and if terrestrial DVB (Freeview) isn't an option due to reception problems then surely that undermines the push to withdraw the analogue service! Allowing a mercenary commercial operation with it's bewildering and confusing array of options and prices to basically swindle old and vulnerable people out of their money is a disgrace, especially if being paid to do it out of the tax payers money!


Saturday, 2 August 2008

Saturday - Taking it easy (I wish!)

House husband of the year

This weekend the wife is staying at her sister's helping out with some family matters, so I am at home on my own looking after the dogs. I am sure most people would have expected me to sit about on the computer, watching tv, drinking etc.

Well true I did stay up till 2am this morning doing some stuff on the computer, while sort of watching The Devils Rejects on ITV4, but this morning I was up at 7am to let the dogs out, feed them and went in to town to get some fresh produce off the market.

When I came home I noticed the house had a slight odour of dog so have decided to wash their bedding, poor old Fred is slightly incontinent because of kidney problems.

Then defrosted the freezer because the third draw was stopping the door closing, hidden away in the ice was a wayward party sausage roll!

I did watch the F1 GrandPrix qualifying and now just about to clean the carpets!

Friday, 1 August 2008

George Carlin - The state of the planet

The late George Carlin has some interesting points to make on environmentalism, hits some right on the head.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Do people really have over 200 friends?

Photobucket

We at last count I had 22 friends on Facebook, some are real friends I have known for years, some are acquaintances I've made from my dog agility hobby.

I was looking at some profiles of "People you may know" and noticed one person had 223 friends! While I can expect some "celebrities" to have a few thousand, can someone really have over 200 friends? How often can they communicate? Is it just a case of people trying to get a big number for their own esteem?

A quick google of blogs found people boasting of 1000s of friends!

My first observation was made all the more funny as I would have seriously expected the person in question to be able to count his friends on the fingers of one hand!
evil grin

Brain fade at my interview

My first proper office

Today I had my first job interview for the best part of 20 years, previously have slid between positions due to insider knowledge and social connections.

Well to be honest I think I made a complete hash of it, I suffered a bit of nerves and had brain fade when asked some fairly simple questions about C++. Shame really as the set up was very similar to the place where I first started working, a couple of guys in an office (some old pictures attached). I am sure if I get/got my feet under the table I will/would have got back up to speed. The project looked interesting too.

My first proper office

I think the main problem I suffer is that I have used C++, but it was a self taught progression from C, no proper training or education just a copy of Teach Yourself C++ in 24 hours or something as useless while trying to complete the next project. So I have an "understanding" of the principals but when it comes to trying to use the proper terminology I struggle.

I really need to sharpen (C#en?) my skills and get out the books and do a bit of coding at home.

Must re-read this!

Monday, 28 July 2008

Number Withheld

As part of my job hunting quest I have uploaded my updated CV to a number of job sites, Monster, TotalJobs, CWJobs etc.

Now I am being inundated by job-agencies offering me positions (most of them out of the area and unsuitable) but what I am find annoying and surprising is many of them withhold their telephone numbers, so you get PRIVATE or ANONYMOUS appearing in the caller display.

I have always thought it is impolite to withhold your number and never saw the justification, if you want someone to answer the phone and wish to talk to someone then let them know who you are!

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Bletchley Park - It's neglect is a national disgrace




The BBC are reporting about the neglect of Bletchley Park and the response of the UK's computer scientists.

More than 100 academics have signed a letter saying the code-cracking centre and crucible of the UK computer industry deserves better treatment.

The letter says Bletchley, in Buckinghamshire, should be put on a secure financial basis like other "great museums".

"We cannot allow this crucial and unique piece of both British and World heritage to be neglected in this way," the letter to The Times said.
Bletchley Park — code-named Station X to keep its location from the Germans — and its outstations were responsible for intercepting German radio signals intended for broadcast to the army, navy and air force, and decoding them into meaningful messages. The job was thought to be next to impossible: German encryption was so secure that the chances of decoding it with random guesses were 150 quintillion to one.

Nine thousand staff worked around the clock at the Buckinghamshire site to break the German codes, eventually gleaning enough information to head off critical enemy manoeuvres.

Historians have postulated that, without Bletchley Park, the Allies may never have won the war.

No history of computers is complete without the mention of Station X and in particular the work of Alan Turing. Station X was also responsible for Colossus, one of the earliest digital electronic computers.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Bonekickers - an excellent review!



Watched the third episode of the BBC's Bonekickers program, and to be honest I am amazed at how bad it is, but reading this review of last nights episode on the Guardian website I had to laugh at the last line!
Bonekickers (BBC1) is, it has been noticed, only a syllable short of bonkers. Hugh Bonneville, a decent actor tragically seduced by the temptation of a Harrison Ford hat, plays Professor "Dolly" Parton. Based, he says, on the archaeological adviser for the series, who "literally froths at the mouth". Frankly, I'd hesitate to share a table in an all-night cafe with any one of them.

This episode, The Eternal Fire, was about the forbidden love of Boudicca and a susceptible Roman called Marcus Quintanus. Their affair was conducted, apparently, in the catacombs under the Roman baths at Bath, where the feretting archaeologists discover Boudicca herself. Crystallised, of course. There is some elementary Latin ("Regina mea!") and contemporary Italian ("So! You call me because the fire in your loins is lit once more!") and, as the catacomb fills with gas, a lot of coughing as if we were in for another adaptation of the Bront√ęs. To be fair, the whole thing obviously cost about as much as Harrison Ford's hat.

Personally, I think it would be much improved by the addition of a lovable, if cowardly, great dane.


Monday, 21 July 2008

Back in the jobs market

Well back in January I decided to take a career break for a number of reasons, now feeling refreshed and increasingly hammered by the state of the economy and my growing credit card bill (primarily caused by repairs and increased insurance for our cars, for which I was somewhat to blame) I am now beginning the process of getting back into work.

I have been down the jobcentre (now a plus version) and have started 'signing on' - this morning I had to go prove that I had been looking (and applying) for work over the past fortnight. Not sure why but I felt like a criminal or some sort of second class citizen, maybe it was the attitude of my interviewer (it was 9:3oam on a Monday morning)

I have dusted down and refreshed the CV, and over the past couple of weeks I have registered for a number of job search websites, have had numerous contacts from agencies and applied for a number of jobs, as yet I have had little feedback (apparently this wasn't quite good enough for the jobcentre commandant, but I was let off for being a newbie). Maybe they'll have me cleaning graffiti soon!

Whist doing some more job related research I found this article on netshare.com The article mentions the use of an online presence (blogs, social networking etc) to make us oldies (40+) look more employable! (perhaps I need to do something on myspace.com? perhaps not!)

But I did like the little picture that accompanied the story.
Photobucket

Sunday, 13 July 2008

PicLens

PicLens 3D Wall

Well what happened to the last month or so of blogging my loyal blog readers may be asking.. well it has been an emotional roller-coaster ride which I will post about soon, but in the mean time I must post this excellent add-on for firefox (vista/xp only)

Piclens is a brilliant way to transform your browser into a visually stunning experience for finding and viewing online photos and videos. The "3D Wall" lets you effortlessly search and zoom your way around thousands of images, videos, news feeds, sports feeds, and more. Makes flickr a whole new experience.

If you want to see some of my photos, pop along here.

Friday, 16 May 2008

The death throws of PC World, Currys and Dixons currys.digital?

PC World Expert
PC World, Currys and Dixons (sorry Currys.digital) are in serious trouble, bad news for the staff but good news for consumers as this cynical group, which until now had an almost monopolistic grip on the UK high street, is being forced to take a long hard look at themselves with the threat of a new rival, supermarket expansion and the continuing onslaught from Internet companies.

It is refreshing to hear that the new boss of DSG knows the problems with his companies stores, perhaps he actually visited one recently?
The new chief executive of Britain's biggest electricals retailer yesterday gave a withering assessment of the chain's problems: it stocks the wrong range of products in badly laid-out stores, and has inadequately trained staff who too often give poor advice.

John Browett, the new boss of DSGi, which includes Currys and PC World, also pledged to turn the company around.
Entering a Dixons, PC World and Currys store is probably one of the most dispiriting experiences any one looking to buy gadgets, consumer electronic or household electrical goods can have. The stores are appallingly shabby, usually smell and are badly laid out with a limited and overpriced range of goods and accessories. Cynical pricing schemes where you can pay significantly more for buying it in the flesh as opposed to buying over the net, or more gallingly reserving it to collect in store! Is it any wonder that consumers are leaving in droves?

Kipper Williams Cartoon

The customer service is appalling, a regular feature on the BBC's Watchdog I believe.The acne ridden, minimum wage paid staff often give useless and misleading advice, assuming you can actually find one, with no knowledge of what they are trying to sell, unless it is those overpriced and worthless extended guarantees or misleading finance packages!

That is not to say that you can't pick up the odd bargain in a store, but that is often by pure luck and I often have the desire to have a cleansing shower after visiting one!

Good luck to Mr Browett, but things don't look good

The turnaround is a much bigger job than the DSGi boss can have expected. Twelve months ago the former management consultant was a high flyer at Tesco. He had set up Tesco.com and was tipped as a potential chief executive. But he jumped ship to lead the DSGi business, which has been spiralling downhill ever since.

The share price has slid so far and so fast that the company is now worth only £1.1bn, barely a third of its stockmarket value when he accepted the job, and it has been dumped out of the FTSE-100 index.

Yesterday City traders were unimpressed with the proposed revamp. Shares rattled down another 9%, wiping £100m off the value of the company.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

The Darling Bungs Of May

Mr Bean

What an incompetent, arrogant Government we have. In 1999 the then Chancellor, now Prime Minister, brought in a 10% lower tax band in a bid to win votes and then in his last budget in 2007 announced that from April this year that band would be scraped in order to fund a headline grabbing tax cut in the middle income 20% band. But they didn't do their sums right and hit their hardcore low-paid voters in their pay packets and as a consequence suffered a humiliating defeat in recent local elections.

So what do they do now as they slump in the polls to their worst position in decades? Unbelievably they introduce an unfunded £2.7 billion tax cut by altering the tax allowance thresholds. Do they really think the electorate are so stupid as to not see this as not very cheap election bribe? Haven't they spent years rubbishing opposition tax plans as being unfunded attempts at winning votes? Hypocrisy has never been so clearly demonstrated.

Then in another blatantly example of the disrespect of the rules of the house they neglected to give the opposition copies of the statement in advance, but it seems the press gallery had been. This made their job of giving a decent response to the announcement difficult.

"The Darling Bungs of May" indeed as The Sun put it.

All this on a day that inflation is reported to be surging. And Caroline Flint exposed the Government's fears on the state of the housing market. How? by walking into Number 10 carrying a confidential briefing document in a clear plastic wallet in front of camera men!

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Stephen Fry and the future of Public Sector Broadcasting

Stephen Fry

Last week Stephen Fry has made a passionate, clever and insightful lecture on the future of Public Sector Broadcasting and the specifically the future of, and dangers faced by the BBC.
broadcasting is a special case, that the rules of the market place don’t apply. As in the armed forces, coastal defence, policing and other fields, capitalism red in tooth and claw cannot be unleashed here. If we stopped husbanding the Yorkshire Moors or the Lake District the result would be weeds, scrub or desertification, not more efficient productive landscapes from Germany or South Korea providing consumer choice and real competition. If innovative, cutting-edge, new and risky programming is not subsidised, the weeds will blow in too.
One of his many anecdotes also hits the point on the head
Private competition meanwhile continued to hammer home its counter-message. ‘Actually the market does work, it only doesn’t work when it’s unfairly dominated by subsidised monoliths like the BBC. Take away their distorting effect on the market and all will be well. Choice and diversity will reign.’ I remember Hugh and I wrote a sketch in which I played a waiter who recognised a diner in my restaurant as a Tory broadcasting minister. I clapped him on the shoulder and told him how much I admired his policies of choice, consumer choice, freedom of choice. I then was horrified to notice that he had only a silver knife and fork for cutlery at his table. ‘No, no, they’re fine,’ said the puzzled politician. But my character the waiter raced off and soon returned with an enormous bin liner which I emptied over his table. It contained thousands and thousands of those white plastic coffee-stirrers. ‘There you are,’ I screamed dementedly at him, virtually rubbing his face in the heap of white plastic, ‘now you’ve got choice. Look at all that choice. They may all be shit, but look at the choice!’ The sketch ends with me trying to strangle him. Heavy handed satire perhaps, but that was how it looked to me we were in danger of going: thirty or forty channels but all filled with drek.
The transcript of the speech is available online along with an audio and video presentation.

Fry also wrote in the Financial Times the day after the presentation.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Bad day for a talentless duo

Talentless morons

Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly are having a bad day and deservedly so, Ofcom have fined ITV a record amount for their blatant theft of viewers money in the premium telephone scam.

Two TV shows featuring the buffoons; Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway and Gameshow Marathon were highlighted and the report from auditors Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu has highlighted serious editorial issues. Unbelievably the duo have claimed they were not aware of the phone-in scandals, despite being credited as executive producers on both programs!

Further to add to their embarrassment is the revelation that The Catherine Tate Show was robbed of a prize at the 2005 British Comedy Awards. Tate collected more votes for the People's Choice Award, but Ant and Dec were announced as the winners for their Saturday Night Takeaway programme.

Another talentless crap dancer who can't singt

It is thought that other talentless nobody Robbie Williams, who was presenting the award had been given assurances that Ant and Dec would win. (Alan McGee sums old Robbie up brilliantly)

What amazes me about all this is that nobody has been investigated for committing a criminal act, this is surely a clear case of theft, fraud and obtaining money under false pretences. The fine might seem steep but as broadcasting analyst Steve Hewlett commented to the BBC "For a company that's delivering to its shareholders £150m - £200m a year of free cash flow, i.e profit, money, this is on the pathetic end of not very much,"

Hillary Clinton: The Psycho Ex-Girlfriend of the Democratic Party

Psycho Hillary Clinton

Wil Wheaton, the actor infamous for the hideous sweaters he was forced to wear as the annoyingly smug Wesley Crusher on the Starship Enterprise (and incidentally his brilliant performance in Stand By Me) has for many years written an excellent blog full of his experiences of life, humour and observations.

One of his recent posts made me smile, here in the UK we are preoccupied with the self destruction of the government under the leadership of Gordon the Moron, but the US is also having it's own problems deciding who will be their next leader. Whilst am I not convinced by Barack Obama's particular brand of evangelism it is clear baring divine intervention that he has won the right to stand against John McCain. Hillary Clinton should admit defeat and stand aside. As Wil writes
The thing about all of this is that, with a Clinton victory in the primary about as likely as jumping off the roof of your house and landing on the moon, it's become clear that this whole thing isn't about Democrats or beating McCain (who is inexplicably running for Bush's third term) or saving our country from the catastrophic failure of the Bush years. No, it's all about her. It's about her ego. It's about refusing to admit that she did her best, but voters (except those encouraged by Rush Limbaugh to cross party lines and f**k with our primary) have pretty clearly said "No thanks. You're a good senator, but we want something different now."

It's been crystal clear for weeks, yet she refuses to put party and country over personal ambition and drop out of the race, forcing Barack Obama to not only run against McCain and the Media, but also against her. It's particularly galling, because she can only win if her campaign can force Democratic superdelegates (one of the worst creations in the history of politics) to tell millions of Democratic voters -- many of them first time voters who, like me, finally feel truly inspired by someone -- to go f**k themselves.
He also mentions and links to this wonderful parody on madatoms.com which compares Hillary to a psycho ex-girlfriend

It's 2:31 AM. The Democratic Party is sleeping peacefully when it hears its phone buzz on the night stand. It rolls over and sees "Hillary" on the caller ID. It pauses briefly, considering pushing "END" and not dealing with this shit tonight. The thought is appealing but the Democratic Party knows that if it doesn't take this call, another one is only minutes away.

DEMS: ...Hello?

Hillary: Hey baby.

DEMS: C'mon Hillary. Enough with this.

Hillary: Don't you get it? You NEED me.

DEMS: No, I don't. It was fun while it lasted but I'm with Barack now. I made my choice, it's done.

Hillary: You can't really mean that. How can you say that after all the good times we had?

DEMS: To be honest, I started hanging out with you because Bill's pretty awesome.

Hillary: But I'm just like Bill!

DEMS: No, you're not. Bill is charismatic, inspiring, and gets me really good weed.

Hillary: F**k you. You're elitist!

DEMS: I'm going back to sleep.

Hillary: No, no, wait. I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. Listen... there's still got to be a chance. Remember when people told George W it was all over. When the numbers were against him?

DEMS: Yeah but...

Hillary: Remember?! And remember how everyone said America didn't really want to be with George W? But they stuck it out anyway?

DEMS: Yeah and they're really f**ked up now, Hillary.

Hillary: But WE'LL make it work. Forget Barack, baby. Just take me back and we can forget this ever happened.

DEMS: Look, I think you're a really good Senator... let's just keep it that way, OK?

Hillary: ...I'll see you at the convention.

DEMS: No! Hillary I told you...

CLICK

DEMS: Dammit. Crazy bitch.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Toys of yesteryear - Videomaster Star Chess

My brother has been posting on the YakYak forum in a thread about fondly remembered old computer hardware. He seems to have a much better memory of our childhood than I do as I had completely forgotten about this wonderful toy we had one Christmas.

Videomaster Star Chess

My Dad loved gadgets and was a big chess fan and encouraged me and my brothers to play the game too, I was only ever slight better than competent at the game but was in the school chess club with a bunch of other nerds!

One Christmas we opened a present to be surprised by this futuristic electronic game. First released in 1979 (probably the year we got it) this was an amazing colour TV game called Videomaster Star Chess. It played a game of "Space age" chess for two players, it didn't have a play against the computer option as that would have been far too complicated (expensive) back in those days.

The game was an interesting variation on Chess, obviously influenced by Star Trek (one piece looked like the Starship Enterprise) with options to move, warp, fire and pieces had shields with damage reports. From what I can remember the sound effects were pretty amazing. For a toy it was the design of the console which I remember the most. The faux brushed aluminium controllers, a Bang Olufsen inspired console, with lift up perspex lid. Even the instructions were amazing, held within a metallic clam case.

I am not sure what happened to it, I suspect it stopped working and being the budding engineer I was at the time it probably got dissected to find out how it all worked. (From memory I seem to remember that getting the controllers back into their 'docking ports' was fiddly as the cable had to be tightly wound and I think the strain caused the cable to wear and finally break where it joined the controller pad)

More technical information on the console can be found at the old-computers.com website

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Charlie Brooker's existential angst

Charlie Brooker

I love the writings and work of Charlie Brooker. He writes for the The Guardian newspaper and he covers many diverse subjects in his comment is free column as well as writing reviews and opinions of television. His observations are often incisive and thought provoking as well as being very amusing.

In his latest article he talks about the sudden realisation of self and being alive, or as he puts it "Those late-night moments of lurching fear, of existential nausea, of basic 'I'm alive!' horror"

Well worth a read.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

A victory for common sense

Money Grabber

We have had a bizarre situation involving one of our saving plans which matures this month.

When we took out the mortage on our home fifteen years ago we were in the process of getting married, so the financial arrangements were sorted out in our individual names and then when we exchanged and completed we were married with the same surname.

Like most home buyers at the time we were told that an endowment mortgage was the way to go, convinced that at the end of the mortgage we would be able to have money to pay off the house and enough left over so we could wipe our bottoms on £5 notes for the rest of our days. Well perhaps that is an exaggeration, but like many people that dream became a nightmare fairly quickly.

The underlying premise with endowment policies being used to repay a mortgage, is that the rate of growth of the investment will exceed the rate of interest charged on the loan. When we took out our mortgage, endowment mortgage selling was at its peak, the anticipated growth rate for endowments policies was high (7-12% per annum). However the change in the economy toward lower inflation made those assumptions look very optimistic (almost fraudulent).

When we reached the fifth year anniversary review of the policy it was clear we would be heading to a substantial short fall (as were many others), and so were advised to take out a second savings plan which would gives us a lump sum payment in 10 years which we could use to top up the endowment if growth hadn't picked up, if it had we would have money to spare. So we did, the policy being with the same company as our endowment (we were young and naive okay!!)

Well 10 years down the line that savings plan is due to payout (and yes you've guess it, it's growth has been somewhat stunted) During that time we have moved the mortgage to a flexible repayment one with another lender but kept the endowment going as life assurance.

Well this is the problem, the endowment is in our married names, the maturing savings policy was taken out 5 years after we were married so is obviously in our married name but before they will release the funds they need to see our marriage certificate? If we refused to send it to them they would refuse to payout! WTF?

We have refused to send it, we am not in the habit in sending important and personal documents in the post with the inherent risks of damage and/or loss. We would if we could see a valid reason, but in this case we cannot! They have clearly acknowledged that the policy was taken out in our married names, but because of 'linkage' to the original endowment which was originally taken out in our maiden names their security systems demands they see the marriage certificate. However as was pointed out the endowment is now in our married names and for that to have happened they must have already seen the appropriate documentation. (A classic Kafkaesque nightmare)

Numerous phone calls and threats of the involving the Financial Ombudsman seem to have done the trick and they have now reluctantly relented and will be releasing the funds at the end of the month. Some of it at the moment is earmarked for a nice new computer!

Monday, 28 April 2008

When one blog isn't enough!

I registered a Livejournal account a long time ago, but never used it and then blogger came along and was much more user friendly. But I reactivated it and have found a way of merging my other blogs in to it! More later, once I've discovered how the Facebook application BlogIT works!

Basil gets his first rosette!

Boris's Rosette
Before Dog Agility took over our weekends (and pretty much most of our spare time) we used to be active in the Crossbreed and Mongrel Club The CMC was set up by dedicated non-pedigree dog owners who wanted a club that appreciated the uniqueness of their own type of dog and that recognised they are something to be proud of and neither inferior nor superior to pedigrees but equally loving, fun to own and useful in their own right. I created and maintained the original website and also produced the clubs newsletter for many years.

This Sunday we were uncharacteristically free and there was a CMC show on in Tattershall Lincolnshire. So we decided to reacquaint ourselves with old friends and take the dogs out for a bit of fun. Basil the new boy still has many hang-ups and behavioural idiosyncrasies so we thought a bit of socialisation might help him. Last weekend he went to a BAA agility show as a spectator and seemed to enjoy himself.

Central to the CMC is the SCAMPS competition. SCAMPS (Supreme Crossbreed and Mongrel Petdog Show) is held annually where the winners of all 'SCAMPS' Heats held around the country that year compete for the title of 'Crossbreed and Mongrel Club Supreme Champion'. The heats consists of four classes, best dog, best bitch under and over 18 inches in height, the four winners are then judged together to decide on the heat winner.

So anyway, we entered Charlie (handled by the wife, pictured below), Boris (handled by a friend Sue) and Basil (handled by yours truly) in the Best dog under 18 inches class. Charlie won! and to my surprise Basil got 6th (there were about 15 dogs in the heat) Basil was very calm, allowed the judge to examine him without complaint and even made a passable effort to walk around the ring properly (unlike Boris who was a bit of handful for Sue)

Charlie and Ros

Charlie looking pleased with himself
Charlie didn't get anywhere in the final part of the heat, he is pictured above with the wife (the eagle eyed of you can spot Boris, Basil, Fred and Toby looking on in the back of the Nissan X-Trail in the top left)

The dogs were entered in various classes thoughout the day. Boris got fifth place in "most appealing eyes", Charlie was second in "best condition coat", poor old Fred got nothing and Toby spent all day asleep in the back of the car! Charlie and Boris also got places in the fastest recall, Boris impressing everyone by not having someone hold him but sitting and waiting while I walked the 25 yards or so down the course and then recalled him!

Basil

Basil at Play

Basil (pictured above) really enjoyed and behaved himself and slept like a log when we got home. He was completely at ease and as you can see he is alert but ignores other dogs including a Rhodesian Ridgeback walking close by in the following videos.



Sunday, 27 April 2008

New Home Page

Insanity Works

Just created a new homepage! Not very exciting but at least it's functional now!

Monday, 21 April 2008

Stephen King's - The Mist

The Mist

While trawling the news groups I noticed this adaptation of Stephen King's The Mist was available for download. I haven't read the story but from past adaptations of King's work I wasn’t expecting much. I thought it might be decent enough to pass a few hours.

However I was pleasantly surprised and shocked by this film. The story is fairly simple, a small town in Maine (like most of King's work) is hit one night by a violent electrical storm, the following day the townsfolk are all shopping for supplies in the local store when suddenly emergency sirens start going off and a fast moving military convey race through the town. Suddenly a man with a blooded face runs down the street shouting warnings "There's something in the mist! It took John Lee!" quickly followed by an otherworldly mist which comes rolling in and surrounds the building which is then shaken by an earthquake.

There are indeed hellish monsters hiding in the mist, a giant octopus-like tentacle attacks a grocery clerk, a flock of prehistoric-looking insects invade the store and spidery creatures menace a group as they venture out to get medicine for an ailing man.

What follows is a Lord of the Flies type story as the besieged townsfolk hole up in the store. Fear start to drive some of them half-mad. It doesn't take long for most of the shoppers, egged on by the eccentric and spiritually messed-up Mrs. Carmody, to begin eyeing their fellow survivors as possible human sacrifices believing that the monsters have they come to exact God's bloodthirsty revenge as a sign of the End of Days.

However following the revelations of some trapped servicemen it is soon apparent that the cause is likely to be the local military base which may have been conducting experiments which could have opened a doorway to another dimension.

Like the great disaster films of the 1970s The Mist's narrative tension (and horror) comes as much from the characters' interactions as from the monsters the mist occasionally spits out. It has a terrific cast and decent enough special effects that do not upstage the human characters.

The Mist mixes the imaginary fears of the HP Lovecraft inspired monsters and supernatural hints with our real fears: unchecked military or scientific activity, the breakdown of society, the end of the world.

Lack of posting

My apologies for not posting anything here for the last few weeks, there are a number of factors. Firstly I have been busy preparing for our dog club's agility show which takes place next month, this years show has over 1200 dogs entered so times are a bit stressful. Secondly I have been a bit down, not really sure why I feel this way because as at the moment I am not working but I have felt it difficult to get motivated. Thirdly I have discovered Facebook, in the past I have derided 'social networking sites' but took the plunge.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Friday, 4 April 2008

Basil back from the vets.

Basil is back from the vets and is a little subdued, the x-rays showed no problems with the joints, no sign of arthritis or cartilage damage so that really only leaves a soft-tissue injury. So Basil is going to have to rest for a month in order to allow it to heal.

As the vet said if a dog is active, running, twisting and turning, playing chase and stopping suddenly and the like, there is always the possibility that these "soft tissue" injuries are going to occur. It can be as simple as a little bruising that has occurred during play. Or, it could be a small tearing in the muscles. It is difficult to make a diagnosis.

So Basil is going to be cage rested for a month, which may actually help in another matter as it may help enforce his place in the pack as we had a bust up last night before going to bed, this is only the second incident but poor old Charlie came off worse again and is going to get known as Scarface if he keeps on starting it!

The vet is doing rather well out of me at the moment

Basil

One of the drawbacks of having five dogs is the cost of veterinary treatment. As well as Fred's recent treatment for his eyelid tumour we have been having our new dog Basil treated for lameness. He became lame (or was possible already lame) on his front leg almost immediately on coming home. Initially we suspected a simple strain due to over exuberance on meeting Charlie and Boris. He did throw himself around at high speed (and still does) and had difficulty negotiating the vinyl flooring in the kitchen resulting in him colliding with a radiator! He also has a habit of getting under my feet.

Basil has had two courses of anti-inflammatory drugs, the second one being steroid based and it did seem to help, however he is limping again. The vet has decided to have him in to x-ray the leg and to have a good feel and examination while Basil is under. I suspect it will be a case of cage resting him and more drugs, I had been loath to cage rest him while he was settling in to his new home.

So Basil was dropped off at 9am this morning and I will be collecting him at afternoon surgery. I think the other boys enjoyed their relaxing walk when I got back without the manic black and tan terrier!

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

How many?

Computers


Computers

Having a bit of a spring clean at the moment and have been up the loft and have surprised myself at the number of computers I have acquired over the years. Ranging from a humble 486 clone to a Pentium4, with various operating systems Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Fedora 3, Fedora 8 and Debian 3. Also shocking was the number of external hard drives I've got! There is a Dragon32, Tatung Einstein another PC, an old Panasonic CF25 toughbook and even older Texas Instruments Extensa 510 laptop (with 8MB of RAM!) in the loft along with loads of peripherals including numerous scanners, modems and monitors.

I feel like a technological Mr Trebus

Fred is well and fully recovered

Fred depressed in the corner

Well Fred's operation went well on Monday, he was taken in at 9am and I collected him at 3pm, he was bit groggy and unsteady but his eye looked a lot better than I was expecting. Fortunately due the growth being on a stalk it meant minimal cutting of the eyelid. He did want to rub it so has had to endure the indignity of the Elizabethan Collar (he is pictured sitting staring in to the corner of the computer room, resting his head between a bag and one of the computers)

This morning he went back to the vet to check the eye. The vet was pleased, it is looking very clean and you really would have difficultly spotting any surgery other than some slight shaving of his fur below the eye.

Fred seems much happier, has been out for several walks with much more enthusiasm that he has recently shown, so hopefully that is the end of that health scare.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Fred's Eyelid Tumour (includes gross picture)

Photobucket

Fred is our 14 year old Corgi x Jack Russell and is probably one of the most adorable, lovable dogs you could meet. In his youth he was a healthy boy with a remarkable stoic attitude to any form of injury or illness. However as an elderly dog he has increasingly suffered a number of health problems, he was recently diagnosed with an enlarged heart and associated murmur. He has also had recurring problems with his water works.

A few weeks ago we noticed what appeared to be a stye on one of his eyelids, while they can be painful it didn't seem to be affecting him, so we decided to monitor it. Last Friday his eye seemed to be very watery and he had begun rubbing it and I noticed his tears were bloody, on closer inspection his eyelid now had a noticeable bump under it.

Fred Eye

This is how he looked, but by pulling back the eyelid slightly revealed the horror hiding underneath (beware this is slightly gross) We were shocked to discover a really large growth.

Eyelid Tumour

He immediately went to the vets and were told not unsurprisingly that it is a cancerous growth and Fred is booked in tomorrow to have it removed. Whether it is just psychological or not we are convinced the tumour is growing larger by the hour.

Going under anaesthetic at Fred's age considering his chest and heart problems is not something to take likely but we have no choice. Fred has just had his final meal in preparation for tomorrow mornings operation and so we treated him to some nice roast chicken we had for our Sunday lunch. Tonight he will be spending it in the arms of either me or the wife.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Microserfs - Douglas Coupland

Photobucket

A few months ago I read and enjoyed Coupland's jPod novel. In a number of reviews jPod was described as the logical successor to his previous novel Microserfs.

The plot synopsis (from wikipedia)
The novel begins with a glimpse into the lives of employees of Microsoft: the people that create the technology that sits on the majority of office desks in the world. Microsoft is portrayed as having a feudalistic structure, with Bill Gates as its lord and the employees as Microserfs. The characters, most of them in their early or mid-twenties, share the same workplace and home in the Seattle area. They decry their employment situation and the effects it has on their social lives: their daily schedules are dictated by software product cycles.

When one of them decides to leave Microsoft and found a software company to create a Lego-like software toy called "Oop!" (a reference to object-oriented programming), the others jump at the opportunity to join him in California. They leave behind stability and job security for the relative unknowns of a start-up company. The characters are driven not only by the chance that their software product will be financially successful, but also by the chance to be "One-Point-Oh": "To be the first to do the first version of something". The novel examines the effects on their personal lives of their struggle to obtain venture capital and bring their software to market. Also, as one character alluded, the change of cultures from Microsoft to Silicon Valley triggers the group to grow and blossom as individuals.
Like jPod the book is in the form of a journal kept by Daniel one of the characters, it also has odd pages of random gibberish and a few easter eggs of encoded messages. It describes the period in the IT industry that occurred just before the dot-com bubble burst.

It was an enjoyable read and I can highly recommend it, it is funny, poignant and clever.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Bank Holiday Afternoon In A Car Park




Sorry but I had to smile when I read this post on Iain Dale's blog, this is why I stayed at home yesterday and emptied out some junk from the loft and then messed about with some old computers.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

Snow

Woke up this morning in time to watch the Malaysian Grand Prix on TV and wasn't surprised to see it snowing heavily. The Grand Prix has just finished and the snow has stopped falling and is rapidly thawing. So thought I would take a few snaps in the back garden..

Basil is not sure what to make of it..

Basil in the snow

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Weather ruins my Easter weekend!

As well as being a technophile my other main hobby is competing at dog agility. I share my life with my wife and my five terrier crosses, Toby (17 years old), Fred (14 years old), Charlie (10 years old), Boris (4 years old) and Basil (2 years old). They have all competed at agility a sport they love. You can see some of my efforts on my youtube.com page.

Agility has become a major part of my life, initially it was a diversion from my mundane job but I have steadily become more involved. I joined and then become the chairman of Nottingham Agility Dog Training Club. I have also become an accredited judge after taking the Kennel Club Regulations and Judging Procedure examination.

This weekend should have seen me at the Dashin' Dogs Easter Show, four days in the heart of Cheshire on a lovely hilltop venue with views over Chester and in the distance the Queensferry and Mersey Estuaries. I was due to be judging today but unfortunately events overtook the show and it has been cancelled.

We arrived late on Thursday afternoon and it was cold and windy, the ground was a little damp but was holding up to the traffic reasonably well. I erected the windbreaks around the caravan and decided to leaving put the awning up till Friday morning because of wind. The weather forecast for the weekend was for cold, very cold weather with the risk of rain, sleet and snow.

We retired to spend the evening watching a bit of TV and went to bed. However the wind was getting much much worse, with bouts of torrential rain and occasionally hail the caravan was rocking wildly. This was a full blown storm! I was struggling to open the caravan door because of the strength of the wind and the windbreaks were leaning precariously but seemed to bearing up.

Then at around 2am we were waken (we weren't really sleeping) by beeping horns and people shouting, quickly dressing I popped outside to discover that the panic was because the organisers marquee had collapsed and another had disappeared across the field into the darkness. Around 30 people were rushing to secure the now exposed equipment and load it into vans, cars and caravans and dismantle the flapping marquees. The PA equipment van had also toppled over. As well as the marquees other peoples caravan awnings and tents were collapsing under the tempest's onslaught. I finally went back to bed about 4am and we awoke to blazing sunshine but still howling wind!

Understandably the organisers Nigel and Emma had no choice but to cancel the show, the forecast was for continuing strong winds and it would have been negligent to risk the safety of the public and dogs in those conditions, let alone the logistical nightmare of the lost marquees. The rain and sleet had also turned the field into a potential mud bath and a number of people without four-wheel drive needed towing off.

So forlornly we packed up (difficult in the wind) and travelled home (taking it slow in the strong wind). The caravan is now sat on the drive and needs a bit of a clean inside and out. It will be off back to storage later today and then we have to decide what to do over the next couple of days! Given the bad weather it probably won't be a lot!

The caravan in sunnier times
Caravan

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Driver Improvement Training

Certificate

Back in December last year I was involved in a road traffic incident. I was the guilty party making an error of judgement that could quite easily have resulted in me and possible others being injured or even killed. Thankfully no one was and the incident just resulted in some damage to my car and another vehicle.

My car
My damaged car

At the time I put my hands up immediately and admitted being an idiot. The police attended and after their investigation told me, not unsurprisingly, that there was sufficient evidence for me to be prosecuted for Driving without due care and attention ("careless driving") contrary to Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

The officer attending told me that in the past such incidents when referred to the Crown Prosecution Service automatically resulted in a fine and penalty points on the driving licence following successful prosecution. However for several years rather than clogging up the court systems with this punitive course of action a driver improvement course has been offered as an alternative, the aim being to educate drivers in the art of advanced or defensive driving so that they changed their attitude and improved their skills and road craft so they are then less likely to cause similar incidents in the future. By agreeing to attend and successfully completing the course a driver could avoid being prosecuted. The courses aren't free they cost the best part of £200 but it is substantially cheaper than the alternative.

So that was that! I went home got the car repaired under my insurance and waited. At the end of January I received a letter inviting me to attend a session of the "Driver Improvement Scheme" held by Nottingham City Council in conjunction with a number of other public bodies.

For the last two days I have attended one of the courses, along with 13 other people of all ages and backgrounds, in the centre of Nottingham. The course consisted of one full day and one half day. The first part consisted of theory of what makes a good driver and attitude and it's effects on driving. There were exercises in the art of hazard recognition and crash investigation in which real-life fatal incidents were played out using models and you could see how seemingly innocuous actions could have catastrophic effects to the outcome and with a little thought by certain parties death could have been avoided.

After lunch on the first day we were allocated to advanced driving instructors and taken out for assessment and then instruction to correct our faults and educate us in the art of defensive driving. I scored very highly in this and my main failings were a tendency to creep over the speed limit as I went along with the flow and not maintaining a safe distance in town traffic, I also didn't negotiate speed humps smoothly.

Today was the second day of the course and involved a test on the highway code, instruction on defensive motorway driving and a final assessment. The idea being that on this final part you showed significant improvement compared to the previous day. Before we started the second session of driving we were given the results of our initial assessment and I was pleased as punch by the comments on mine!
"Good attitude, Andrew is keen to learn. His car control is excellent but respect of speed and limits can be improved. He is well on the way to being an advanced driver"

I am pleased to say I passed and can say I have learned an awful lot, it was very friendly, relaxed and informative and well worth attending not just because it meant escaping prosecution. Following this I am serious considering taking one of the advanced driving tests offered by RoSPA or the Institute of Advanced Motoring.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

A National Disgrace!

Two prats

Taking a break from housework this afternoon I watched the Budget. That bizarre looking buffoon Alistair Darling acted like a ventriloquists dummy with Gorden Brown sitting by his side as he gave one of the most boring and shortest reports on the economy I have ever heard. Short on any ideas and crucially detail (leaving the pundits and analysts to wade through the redbook for the figures) it was however full of spin, buzzwords and re announcements. Despite this it did little to hide the fact the economy is heading for trouble and the government have done little to prepare for it. It also failed to mention the economy's potential exposure to the Northern Rock fiasco.

Of course all this will be hidden from the ignorant general public as the media will concentrate on the headline announcements on fuel/car tax (which won't come in till 2010) the cynical stealth tax on alcohol which will do absolutely nothing to curb binge drinkers and the one-off (curious that the media are neglecting to mention this fact) rise in the OAP fuel allowance and bizarrely the prospect of adopting the Daily Mail's "Banish The Bag" campaign to reduce plastic bags in landfill.

Opposition leader David Cameron gave a polished if well rehearsed response to the statement but rather than listening to his valid arguments both Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling showed their contempt and disrespect by talking between themselves or to their chums, grinning and gurning throughout both his and indeed Liberal Democrat Clegg's reply. The BBC budget report microsite contains links to the parlimentary video so you can see for yourself.

If that wasn't enough Labour frontbencher and Minister for Children Ed Balls acted like a child and heckled through out but was brilliantly put down by Cameron. See Guido Fawke's site for the video and his crimson red face! He also faced further embarrassment after being accused of shouting 'so what?' as Cameron said the public were paying more tax than ever before.

All I can say to the Labour front-bench "You are a disgrace! Get some manners and show respect to your fellow MPs and the public"