Archive for the ‘All Me Stuff’ Category

MDCC / 365

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

So much going on…but as you’ll see if you check my geocaching stats, I found my 1700th geocache today! And, like many centenary caches before, I found it in the excellent company of Purple Fred and Mini Fred. In fact every centenary cache except 200 has been found with one group of good geocaching chums or other – either Team Tate, who got me into caching in the first place, Rockin Rob – with or without other members of Paws4Thought – and Purple Fred, with or without Mini Fred. Oops – and of course one, number 500, with King Omally of Sweden, geocacher extraordinare.

Much of my caching activity lately has been driven by the 365 days of caching project: through the good offices of the geocaching website, every cacher can access a spreadsheet showing how many caches they’ve found on each date of the year, since they’ve been caching – since cachers by definition love a challenge, the target immediately becomes to fill in the gaps so there are no zeros. I’ve been filling in the gaps since June of this year, and although I’ve missed a few, I’m doing pretty well.

The 365 days project hasn’t only got me out caching when I mightn’t otherwise have bothered – it’s affected my other caching activities too. For example, any cache near enough to work to be achievable in a lunchtime has to be left for emergencies – i.e. a Fail to Find in the morning before work! I’ve also started working on some Puzzle and Multi caches, to give me a few more “Ready to Finds”.

All being well, the 365 days project should finish next September. We’ll see.

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intent

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Due to unforseen circumstances (a burst pipe in the office upstairs), our Frozen North office has had to temporarily close.

Of course the work still needs to be done, so the home working project has had a sudden acceleration. Our IT contractors are producing laptops in only three times the time it would take to order them from ebuyer.com, leaving the rest of us to deal with the other aspects of home-enabled working – in my case, of course, the Health and Safety implications featuring high.

Someone who should know better asked me today if we should be supplying each of our home workers with a fire extinguisher, in case their house catches fire while they’re working in it. I kept a straight face and produced a sensible justification why we shouldn’t, that went a bit further then my first reaction, which was “errr…NO!”. But it made me think…what if I’d been on holiday? It’s conceivable that in my absence, someone would’ve thought “Fire extinguishers aren’t expensive, let’s issue everyone with one rather than risk getting it wrong”. And then, having done it for this crowd, we have to do it for every future home worker.

Then because we’re a medium-sized public sector body, other public organisations start coming under pressure from their staff to do the same. And on the same justification – they’re not expensive so it isn’t worth fighting – the other organisations do the same. And so the policy spreads, with every organisation or company that says yes making it harder for those that come after to say no.

So my question is – at what point does a daft suggestion become industry accepted practice, without ever going through the intermediate stage of being a good idea?

Pub Review

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

Purple Fred (Whom I Love Very Much) and I went for a pub lunch today.

We first tried the Swan, at Sherbourne St John, just outside Basingstoke. You may want to make a note of that name. The Swan, at Sherbourne St John.

We sat down and checked out the menu, and I was despatched to the bar to get the drinks and find out what the vegetarian roast of the day was. There wasn’t a long queue, and there were three people serving, but it took ages to get served anyway. The veggie roast was mushrooms and pasta, which seemed a bit odd, but at least it was nut free. I reported back, and PF(WILVM) went to order.

She was gone some time – long enough for me to play ten games of Angry Birds – and whn she came back it turned out we weren’t eating there after all. They’d stopped doing food for a while so the kitchen staff could have a rest – not only that, but the person in front of her in the queue had asked to see the manager as he wished to make a complaint. The manager – standing right alongside – told the barmaid “You deal with it. I don’t want to listen to complaints, even if I am the manager”.

So – no service, they chuck in random food stops because the kitchen staff can’t do their jobs, the manager is rude to her staff in front of customers, and isn’t interested in complaints. In case you missed it, that’s the Swan, at Sherbourne St John.

There’s a much nicer pub about a mile away – the Queens College Arms at Pamber End.

Ten Things (courtesy Sally-J)

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Comment on this post and I’ll give you a letter which you can use for your own “Ten Things I Like”, to post in your blog or on your Facebook page. I got this one from the excellent Sally-J, who allocated me the letter P.

Ten Things Beginning With “P” That I Like

  1. Purple Fred (Whom I Love Very Much) – ’nuff said!
  2. Pratchett – the books of Terry, that is. Particularly Discworld, but all the others too.
  3. Pubs – especially ones that serve Real Ale, properly kept and served by someone who knows how to do it. If the pub does decent food too, that’s a bonus.
  4. Plays – going to the theatre with PF, or to see something she’s in, or involved with. I hardly went to the theatre at all before we were together, so it’s a real eye-opener!
  5. Planning – my Favourite Purple Person (see above) teases me about how much time I spend planning things. But for me, planning a holiday, day out or whatever, is part of the process of looking forward to it!
  6. Puzzles – crosswords, Sudoku and its variants, Scrabble-grams, quizzes, anything really! I pick up an Evening Standard most days, and rarely look at anything other than the puzzle page.
  7. Pork sandwiches – you know the sort of thing, one of those huge bread rolls with a slice of roast pork, sage and onion stuffing, crunchy crackling and a dollop of apple sauce. Apart from the calories and the cholesterol, what’s not to like? And while I’m at it, other pork products too…pork pies (old fashioned ones with jelly), pork sausages and of course, bacon sarnies.

    And on the subject of food…

  8. Puddings – mmm, love that sugary goodness! Ice cream for me, please.
  9. Pussy Cats – they’re cute and friendly (normally), they keep your feet warm in bed and they never let you develop delusions of adequacy. Purr.
  10. Passport – well, not the passport as such, but since PF(WILVM) introduced me to the idea of proper foreign holidays I’ve rather grown to like the concept. Pass the Factor 50

Who?

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

If a Star Trek fan is a “Trekkie”, what’s a Doctor Who fan?

The reason I ask is that last weekend, Purple Fred (whom I love very much), MiniFred and I went to the Doctor Who Experience, at Olympia. We went by train, which was a pretty good deal – as a holder of a South West Trains annual season ticket I not only travel free, but I get a certain number of free off-peak tickets for people travelling with me. So the whole day’s travel cost us a fiver for parking at the station, and two and a half returns from Clapham Junction to Olympia, which not being operated by South West Trains isn’t covered by the free offer.

PF(WILVM) had a more expen$ive day as she bought the admission tickets. We tried to redress the balance by me buying lunch in the Olympia cafe, drinks on the trains, and our evening meal, but I still came in with the slightly cheaper day!

So, the experience itself…it was pretty darned good, they seem to have realised that in every group there’s going to be one person who’s not as dedicated a Who-ist as the others, and designed it to be interesting for them as well. There was techie stuff, costumes, designs and props and scenery from the early series of the canon, and of course a display of daleks through the ages. Most fascinating to me was the fact that the Doctor Who programme team includes a choreographer whose role is to study the various monsters – who made them, from what, for what purpose etc – and create a walk for each monster that fits. There’s even a video presentation where you can learn to walk like a cyberman or a scarecrow. Presumably walking like a dalek would be too difficult, unless you come with wheels.

Sepcial mention, however, must go to the bloke in the queue for the walk-through just in front of us. A man in his thirties and there on his own, so obviously a Who-ist, so his Doctor Who T-shirt and satchel were within the realms of “normal”. It was when he started fiddling with his sonic screwdriver (and no, that’s not a euphemism) that we realised we were in the presence of an obsessive.

Another Olympic Whinge

Monday, September 19th, 2011

No, not a whinge of Olympic proportions…just a whinge about the organisation of the London 2012 Games.

Today’s Evening Standard carries two stories about the Olympics: In the first, 93 of the firms who were forced to move premises to make way for the new stadium have yet to receive their promised compensation, four years after their original sites were compulsarily purchased – although that may not be the best term given that purchases – even compulsory ones – normally involve the transfer of an agreed amount of cash. In this case, £78 million is still owed to claimants.

The second story shows that, having stiffed over the businesses of the Stratford area, Games organisers are turning their attention to those of Central London, and in particular those in the Bloomsbury area. For five weeks next Summer, Russell Square and the surrounding streets will be closed to traffic, becoming the world’s biggest coach station. Seventy coaches an hour will run, transporting journalists from hotels in the area to the Games locations. And of course to ensure the scribblers aren’t delayed, Southampton Road, from Holborn to Euston, will form part of the “Official vehicles only” games lanes.

So, businesses all around Bloomsbury will lose vast amounts of trade because no-one other than journalists will be allowed through – and the journos will only be passing through, not stopping for the shops. A main commuter route from Euston, St Pancras and Kings Cross stations into the centre of the City will be closed to all traffic, forcing everything – I’m guessing – to use Grays Inn Road or Tottenham Court Road, both of which are bad enough in the rush hour as it is. And because plenty of bus routes will be unusable, even more people will resort to the already-overcrowded underground.

I have a thought about those Olympics-Traffic-Only lanes…I’ll share it in a future edition.

Unfair Games

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

An advertisement in the Evening Standard asks London businesses, “Are you ready for the games?”, before going on to explain that the London Olympics are less than a year away and that traffic routes throughout the capital will be severely affected by athletes, officials and spectators travelling to the games. Businesses should be building contingency plans against staff being unable to travel to work, deliveries failing to arrive on time or at all, and customers staying away to avoid the crowds.

There’s an argument that the Games will be good for tourism, of course, although the experiences of Beijing and Sydney both suggest that for all the tourists who come to London for the Olympics, an equal number of ‘normal’ tourists will stay away to avoid the crowds and the inflated hotel prices. But London’s businesses and residents – everyone who pays tax of any kind to the London Assembly – have already made a huge financial contribution to the Games, even though many will get no interest or business advantage from them. Drivers and public transport users have suffered two years of disruption while networks are “upgraded” in a probably-vain attempt to ensure that tubes and busses run properly for a couple of months next Summer, before the whole creaking shambles falls over again.

What I’m leading up to is the question, why aren’t the powers that be in London protecting businesses and residents – and commuters – from the consequences of the Games, rather than bending over backwards to accommodate the sports and advising businesses to tell their staff to stay at home (which is the advice that the organisation I work for has received)? These taxpayers are London’s employers, not the travelling circus of the IOC.

Ding Dong the Bells are Going to Chime

Monday, September 5th, 2011

Needless to say the key event since I last blogged has been the wedding of Rockin’ Rob and Sally-J. A cracking day was had by all, the weather was kind, and every member of the party managed to look supremely dapper.

The wedding party

Purple Fred (whom I love very much) and I had an even better weekend, as not only did we enjoy the wedding, but Jenny and Chris, down for the festivity, stayed with us, so we had good chums in the house all weekend. AND I had an excuse to whip up a mega fried brekkie on Sunday morning.

And to top it all off, we made some fabby new chums 1, including Rob’s brother and sister-in-law. So a lovely time was had by all!

My favourite jokes from the speeches:
Sarah’s Dad: “Sarah’s Mum and I started married life with nothing…and I’ve still got most of mine”
Anthony (best man) “Rob is leaving today with a wife who’s clever, witty, beautiful and organised. Sarah is leaving with a lovely new dress and a bouquet of flowers!”

1 Thanks to a misbehaving spellcheck, that nearly said “flabby new chums”

Broken

Monday, August 29th, 2011

So many promises for future bloggage in my last submission – what first? Let’s lead with the tale of the car breakdown…

It rained on the last day of New Wine. Quite a lot, which meant that packing up was done in several stages, as I did a bit, then ran for cover, then did a bit more, and so on. The process was further slowed by me having to look for my keys all the time, which I’d invariably put down somewhere not under cover, then had to rescue from a puddle next time it stopped raining.

Eventually the packing was complete and I headed for home – or at least the storage site where the caravan lives. I was running so late by now that I decided not to stop at the Little Chef where I’d planned to have lunch, and later foreswore the bacon-butty-wagon-in-a-layby which had been my reserve position. I just put my head down and headed for home.

One consequence of which was that by the time I reached Mungo’s Caravan Storage Site, I had an even more urgent need than food. I stopped car and caravan outside the wooden hut provided for such situations, did what I needed to do, and returned to the car.

Which didn’t start.

Analysis of the flashing light on the dashboard suggested that the immobiliser wasn’t recognising the transponder in the key. I wonder if all that leaving the keys out in the rain had fried the RFID tag in the key? I rang Purple Fred (whom I love very much).

“Any chance you could come here with my spare car keys?”

PF arrived and the spare key started the car, so my diagnosis seems to have been correct. As this left me with only one key that would start the car, I headed at my earliest opportunity to Mungo’s Jeep Emporium.

“Hello”, quoth I, “I’d like a new spare key for my Jeep please”

The guys eyes lit up, and I soon found out why: One key…cut to suit the car…with the door-unlocking blipper set to the right code…and the RFID tag set for the immobiliser…ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY ZARKING QUID!

It’s still cheaper than getting stranded somewhere without a working key, though. And in future, on long trips the spare key goes with me. And the keys get kept somewhere dry.

At Last!

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Gosh, what a long time since I last blogged. I have an action plan to improve the frequency of my blogging, which I’ll tell you about if it comes off. If it doesn’t come off I won’t – but then it’ll be so long before I next write anything you’ll probably have forgotten anyway.

So, what have I been up to? I’m not really asking you, you understand, that’s merely a rhetorical device. Well, I’ve been to New Wine, and to Tenerife with Purple Fred (whom I love very much) and MiniFred, both of which were jolly excursions, although I have to say that anyone looking for a fine culinary experience should avoid the hotel we stayed at in Tenerife. The rest of that holiday was excellent, though, and I’ll tell you about it sometime.

There’s a teaser to keep you coming back.

I’ve also been preparing for my role as usher at the wedding of my good chums Rockin’ Rob and Sally-J. I have to ask the guests if they’re on the bride’s side or the groom’s – I’d have thought the wedding day is a bit early for friends to start taking sides, but apparently it’s traditional. There will no doubt be photos of that happy occasion all over Facebook before long.

There’s a story about car breakdowns as well, but that deserves an entry to itself.

Good Idea

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

I think it’s generally known that I’m not a dog lover – but this displays an attitude to customer service (and making money) that I do like…

110605a.jpg

Seen at the Worlds End pub near Wimborne in Dorset, last weekend…

Reasons I Hate Ikea

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Purple Fred (Whom I Love Very Much [Even When She Takes Me to Ikea]) took me to Ikea today. Now I’m possibly the most placid person I know, but I never leave Ikea without wanting to stab someone…

Their Iniquitous Parking System
When Ikea were granted planning permission for the Southampton store, allegedly one of the conditions was the current odd design of the car park, which means that even when the car park is full, most of the queue is on the access ramp, not on the road. So far so good and score one for Southampton City Council (a phrase I’ve never used before and probably won’t again), but the entrance barriers are placed so that when you’re in the queue, you’ve already taken your timed ticket so you’re paying to park. I object strongly enough to paying for the right to park at someone’s shop so I can go and shop there (especially when they’re selling products that you need a car to take home), but paying to sit in the queue to get in is even worse.

Their Restaurant
Last time we ate at Ikea PF(WILVM[EWSTMTI]) had a disappointing experience with the vegetarian option. It wasn’t so bad this time – at least she ate it all and twelve hours later isn’t feeling ill, so that’s at least a minor victory – but today it was my turn. I was tempted away from the salad (and yes, I was really going to have a salad) by the “roast chicken breast with pasta”, accompanied on the menu board by a picture of a golden sizzling roast chicken breast. When I got to the servery, I asked if I could have mashed potato instead of pasta. Apparently not, what you see is what you get and the staff aren’t paid enough to think about confusing options. He was, however, canny enough to pick through a tray of roasted chicken breasts which looked lovely and just like the picture on the menu, and find me one that looked like something Jamie Oliver would’ve sworn about on Jamie’s School Dinners. I don’t like being denied a simple choice, but if them’s the rules, them’s the rules. But I don’t expect to be given second rate food as a punishment for being naughty enough to ask.

Their Weird Bending of the Space-Time Continuinuinuum
Although Southampton’s Ikea is big enough to have its own gravity, that’s not what I mean – but why does a shopping trip to buy one thing have to take so long? Actually it’s weirder than that, even. We left the restaurant, went and looked at one thing, and walked down two flights of stairs. In non-IKEA space, an hour had passed. Answers to that one on a signed photo of Stephen Hawking please.

Their Customer Service Team
…who, after we requested help to load our new bookcases into the car {PF(WILVM[EWSTMTI]) has a bad back, mine isn’t much better, and two of the boxes were labelled as a two-person lift}, told us someone was on their way, and then carried on chatting and laughing with their mates in the car park. NOTE TO IKEA – if you’re going to tell customers that help is on the way, when it patently isn’t, might be an idea if the lounging skivers weren’t actually doing their lounging and skiving in view of the waiting customers.

and finally…

Their Flat-Pack Furniture
I’m stll trying to work out how it is that one of the three boxes comprising an Ikea bookcase is so heavy you can’t lift it on your own (and that’s no exaggeration, you really can’t), yet the finished item can be moved easily around the room by one person – at least until it’s been bolted to the wall. Must be that gravitational effect I referred to earlier.

Oh, and if I ever meet the person who designed Ikea hinges, I’m going to screw a quarter-inch Whitworth into his head and slam his fingers in one of his own doors.

On the other hand, the cartoons in the assembly guide are quite amusing, and it’s very satisfying when it’s done…

Crooze

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Well, as some of you will already know, I’ve been on a fabby cruise, with the lovely Purple Fred (Whom I Love Very Much), and the excellent MiniFred. We went around the Western Mediterranean, as this display from channel one on the cabin TV shows:

Map

We went with P&O on the good ship “Azura” and really had an excellent time. We visited

  • Cadiz, – with a visit to a sherry producer and the Royal Spanish Riding School
  • Barcelona – where PF(WILVM) sang the appropriate Freddie Mercury song quite a lot
  • Cannes – where we walked down the red carpet, found a geocache, saw the place where the film festival happens, and were charged film star prices for Croque Monsieur
  • Pisa – where the tower was leaning spectacularly
  • Florence – which was really pretty and old, and we visited an art gallery, found a geocache and ate genuine Florentine pizza
  • Rome – where some scumbag nicked my wallet, and we saw the coliseum and the forum, and threw coins in the Trevy Fountain
  • Alicante – where we went on a coach trip to Guadaleste, a pretty mountain village which was our favourite destination of the holiday, and we met a friendly pair of cats and found a geocache
  • Gibraltar – where we met the famous Barbary apes and one of them tried to do to PF(WILVM)’s glasses what a Roman scumbag had done with my wallet
  • We also enjoyed the facilities of the ship, including the theatre, the casino, the bingo, the pools, the open air cinema, and of course the five-course silver service meals every night.

    And an important added feature – for people who like minimal fuss – is that it all started and finished in Southampton, a mere fifteen minutes from home :-)

    There’s a good chance of photos at some point…

Krap Fit – Even Krapper

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

In this blog entry I described my encounter with a chain of tyre fitters I referred to – in order to anonymise the guilty – as Krap Fit. Almost seven years later, I’ve clearly not been learning from experience.

One of my over-winter caravan jobs was to take the caravan wheels to a tyre fitter and have new tyres fitted – the old ones were five years old, and that’s how often it’s recommended tyres are changed for safety. So I whipped one of the wheels off, got out the spare wheel (which I bought and haven’t got round to getting a tyre fitted to yet) and headed off to my local independent tyre specialist.

They were shut, on account of it being Sunday. On my way home, with wheels still in the back of the car, I passed the local Krap Fit, who were open. “OK” I thought, “I had one bad experience with them, but that was years ago…surely they must have sorted themselves out by now?” So in I went. They didn’t have the tyres in stock – which I was sort of expecting – but they could get them in and everything would be ready for me to collect the following Saturday (because I work in London I can’t be in Southampton during their weekday opening times).

“Great”, I said, “and while you’re doing it, could you fit Tyron safety bands?”. Tyron safety bands are a pretty standard thing to have on caravan wheels and almost every caravanner either has them, or wishes they could afford them. And Krap Fit are an authorised distributor. “Never heard of them, what are they?” asked the tyre fitting sepcialist. When I described them, he said he’d heard of something a bit like it, but didn’t know where to get them from and didn’t think their tyre fitting machine could fit them.

WHY DIDN’T I RUN AWAY SCREAMING THEN???

So on Thursday, Darren rang and told me the job was done and I could collect my wheels and tyres Saturday morning. Saturday was a bit fully booked but I wanted the job done, so I made time and called in.
“Oh, are you just picking them up? We thought you were bringing the caravan in to have them fitted”.
“Oh that’s a good idea, I’ll just go and get…ah hang on…IT’S GOT NO ZARKING WHEELS ON IT!!!”

At this point – remember they told me the job was complete on Thursday – they started to fit the tyres to the wheels. I went and got a cup of tea from the machine and a six month old Top Gear magazine, and sat in the customer waiting area. When I came round to check progress fifteen minutes later, they were stuffing plastic bin bags inside my tyres (yes really). Apparently because caravan tyres are a bit sepcial, they were having trouble getting them to inflate – they didn’t explain the function of the plastic bags, but I’m sure it’s all legit and above board. Anyway, they finally admitted defeat and said they’d have to get their mate, who fits lorry tyres, round with his sepcial tool, but that wouldn’t be until Saturday evening. I agreed to return Sunday morning.

Sunday morning: “I was here till seven o’clock last night inflating your tyres!”. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with that information, so I just commented “OK, as long as it’s done” – only to be told they hadn’t finished balancing the wheels, at which point I may have gone a bit nuclear.
“Hey, I was here till seven o’clock doing your wheels last night – that’s service above and beyond, that is…”
“Sorry, the fact that you were here till seven o’clock finishing a job you were supposed to have completed three days ago doesn’t impress me in the slightest”
. Was I being unreasonable (the person I was having this conversation with was the same one who’d phoned me on Thursday, and who’d failed to know what Tyron bands were)?

So, I paid and ran away – having already decided that I was going to take the wheels to an independent tyre fitter who I trust (and who I should’ve given the job to in the first place) to make sure they weren’t still stuffed with plastic bags, and to get the Tyron bands fitted. As a bonus, I came away with the old tyre – it still has pretty good tread and I thought it might be useful to have a spare around, as they’d had trouble getting hold of them (or at least that’s what they told me).

So it was particularly annoying to check the invoice, to find they’d charged me for “ecological disposal of two tyres” – partly because there was only ever one tyre, and partly because their “ecological disposal” was to give the tyre back to the customer.

So in summary…

  1. The tyre fitting specialist has never heard of a standard tyre safety device for which his company is an authorised distributor
  2. They lied about the work being completed on Thursday
  3. They were unable to fit tyres, and resorted to what I’m pretty sure was a cowboy technique to make it look like they had
  4. They tried to make the measures they’d had to take, to cover up their own inadequacy, look like they were doing me a favour
  5. They charged me for tyre disposal without disposing of any tyres, and then allowed me to take the “waste” tyre away (which I’m pretty sure is an offence under the Environmental Protection Act, as I’m not a licensed waste carrier)
  6. …and I’m pretty sure, given the time it took, that they didn’t balance the wheels properly either

So to repeat what I said seven years ago…I am NEVER going to Kwik…er sorry, Krap Fit EVER again.

Dull

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Not this blog entry – at least not intentionally – but the conference I went to yesterday.

It was aimed at representatives of various government departments and was aimed at helping us meet our obligations under the Carbon Reduction Commitment – you’ll remember I’ve picked up Environmental Management as a little bolt-on to my portfolio of tasks, so it looked like a good idea. I was wrong about that.

Although the attendees were all representatives of the public sector one way or the other, no-one seemed to have told the speakers, all of whose talks were based on selling us expensive bits of kit next time we commission a new building. Since none of us actually have enough money to fulfil our organisations’ core operational requirements I don’t think new buildings are really on the cards (although I notice the Environment Agency have just moved into a new building) but I suppose these sales folk have to dream.

A lot of time was spent telling us how important carbon reduction and energy efficiency is, and why we should all be playing our parts. We were all thinking “We’re public sector – we have to do it because David Cameron says we have to do it. Move on.”. One talk – and I promise this is true – was aimed at “Making your operation Carbon Neutral”, which seemed interesting. The talk consisted of:

  1. Why it’s increasingly important in the current climate to become more energy efficient without spending wads of cash (we know, get on with it)
  2. The instruction “Be more energy efficient and reduce waste”
  3. Fifteen minutes of “If you employ our building management company we can make all this happen for you”

Even the freebies were pretty carp, I managed to score two pens and a notepad; Even the lunch wasn’t really worth going for.

On the good side, the conference was in a bit of London I don’t normally visit, so I managed to score three new geocaches in the lunchbreak!

Book Review

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Well, as mentioned in my last post, I loaded my Kindle with Killing Elizabeth, by the blog ring’s favourite home-grown author.

I’d read bits of it before, when he published chapters as they were written on his website, but I struggled with reading large amounts of text from the screen like that – I had no such problems on the Kindle, which I think proves the Kindle’s worth apart from anything else! Anyway, the book is a cracking good read, with comedy that makes you laugh out loud, strong action sequences and a plot that grows steadily more absurd yet keeps each step a believable consequence of what went before.

In short, well worth reading even if the author’s not a friend of yours! I’m hoping we’ll see more from the keyboard of Simon Goodway – but that’s not likely to happen unless lots of Kindle readers download this one. So what are you waiting for?

Recommendation

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

T’other day, in my review of the Kindle e-book reader, I commented

It also seems to be a fairly cheap and easy process for self-publishers to publish their own work for the Kindle, and while that’s likely to lead to vast amounts of dross floating around, there’s also going to be some good stuff that wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day.

No sooner had I written it than I discovered that one such self-published book is Killing Elizabeth, by a brilliant – if yet little known – author whose name most of my readers will recognise. So of course I splashed out eighty-six pees and bought it.

Bread – it’s About the Dough

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Celebrity chef Michel Roux Jr was on the telly box tonight, and his subject for the day was bread.

Now as some of you know, that used to be my professional field, so I know enough to take issue with the sainted Michel’s points. He was concerned – as often happens when celebrity chefs get exercised about what the rest of us eat – with the fact that the bread that most of us eat isn’t as nice as the bread you can buy in a French boulangerie, or for that matter a British corner shop baker. Commercially-produced bread he said, is wet, plasticky and doesn’t taste the same. He had a thinly-disguised pop at the breadmaking industry and put the Federation of Bakers on the spot.

Of course, everything he says is true, but it’s not fair to blame the supermarkets or the bakers: Supermarkets stock what they think their customers will buy, and to stay in business they have to get that prediction right far more often than they get it wrong. So what the shops buy from the bakers is what the customers want to buy, and what the bakers make is what the shops tell them they want. The quality of the ingredients in a supermarket loaf is dictated by how much the supermarket is prepared to pay for it, which is why the cheapest flour is combined with far too much water (because water is the cheapest ingredient of all).

It isn’t that the customers don’t have a choice – even if you only shop in a supermarket, there’s likely to be a selection of craft bread from the in-store bakery alongside the industrial bread – yet people buy what they’ve always bought, or what’s cheapest. Maybe if people were educated about the difference in taste they’d buy craft bread more, but most people will still buy what’s cheapest and that’s what drives the market.

The programme finished with some people attending a breadmaking course and learning to bake their own bread at home: One student said the experience had changed her life. The bit they edited out was where she added, “I used to have all this free time…”

Kindling

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

After a great deal of um-ing and ah-ing, I’ve taken the plunge and bought a Kindle.

I’d been thinking of getting an e-book reader for some time, and the choice came down to the Kindle or the Sony equivalent: they’re probably as good as each other, but the Kindle had more positive reviews so I went for that.

After the first couple of weeks use, I’m pretty impressed. It not only displays books (in Amazon’s proprietary e-book format), but also PDFs, Word documents, various image file formats and several others. I’ve loaded it with all the work- related documents that I need to have will me when I do my ”grand tours” of our regional offices, so if nothing else it’ll save me considerable backache. I’ve also loaded a lot of stuff that I don’t normally carry around with me because it’s too heavy, but which I know will come in useful.

So what’s the reading experience? Pretty good. The display has been optimised to be as much like ink-on-paper as possible, and they’ve achieved it pretty well. It’s much lighter than a normal paperback and of course you can carry a load of books around you in one go – the reckon the storage is enough for 3500 paperback-sized books so you’ll struggle to ever fill it. Books can be categorised into “collections” (think folders on your computer) and you can have as many collections as you like. What you can’t have is subfolders, but that’s about the only criticism I’ve got.

The books are…well, books, although there’s a huge selection of free books available- basically everything that’s been piublished and is now old enough to be out of copyright is available as a free download, so it’s going to be a few years before I’ve got nothing to read, even if I never buy anything. It also seems to be a fairly cheap and easy process for self-publishers to publish their own work for the Kindle, and while that’s likely to lead to vast amounts of dross floating around, there’s also going to be some good stuff that wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day.

So – worthwhile purchase? Yes. I suspect I’ll still buy books sometimes – I wouldn’t want to read a Kindle by the poolside on holiday, and anything with a lot of picture content is going to be better on paper, at least until Kindles have colour screens (the black and white picture resolution is at least as good as a medium quality paperback). But for everyday reading – tea breaks, in bed and on the train or bus – it’s excellent.

Conversation

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Two blokes were standing near me on the bus this evening – what follows is the unabridged entirety of their conversation…

Bloke 1: “Steve”
Bloke 2: “Steve?”
Bloke 1: “Steve”

(pause)

Bloke 2: “Chris?”
Bloke 1: “Chris”

I’d love to know what that was all about, but I don’t suppose I ever will.

Radio vs Theatre

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Blimey – nearly a month since I last blogged! I’ve been having outrageous amounts of fun (and working very hard), which has left little time for blogging, but I thought I’d better give you a quick update to avoid a SimonG-esque four week gap between blogs.

My lovely Purple Fred – whom I really do love very much – asked me to put together a compilation of music for the interval of the play she’s directing. So I produced something, and the outcome perfectly illustrates the difference between radio people and theatre people.

The interval is going to be 20 minutes long. The music compilation I produced is nineteen minutes fifty-nine seconds.

PF was concerned about the music fitting the mood of the play. I was worried about the missing second.