Archive for December, 2004

Hogmanay

Friday, December 31st, 2004

I posted the cheque for my credit card bill.

I also discovered, during my mid-morning cup-of-coffee-and-a-quick-websurf break, that two new geocaches have been planted locally. One is in the New Forest, and may well be saved for a nice day for a walk, but the other is a multicache around a park on the opposite side of Southampton from where I live. “That didn’t ought to take long”, I thought as I escaped from the workplace at the earliest opportunity and headed for the recommended parking place.

The cache details warn against taking short cuts, but I knew better – that may be why my back hurts now. Or it may have been the scrabbling up and down the steep bank looking for the final cache, which I failed to find. But I’ll return.

So, it’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m at home with a glass of wine: I was invited to two parties, but one was in Swansea and I didn’t fancy driving all the way down there after finishing work. The other is in Fawley, much nearer home and I would have gone – ecept I’m now too lobstered to drive.

I would wish you all a Happy New Year, but apparently it’s poor etiquette to do that before midnight. So maybe I’ll do that tomorrow.

Ooh, and thanks to all those who’ve made nice comments about my Mum. She continues to gain strength and normality.

Numbers Game

Thursday, December 30th, 2004

I was tidying my office this morning.

Not, you’ll be pleased to hear, because I yearn for a tidy workplace, but because I know I haven’t paid my latest credit card bill, and I’ve lost it. I normally take “personal admin” stuff like that to work to deal with in my lunch break, but turning the office upside down revealed no unpaid credit card bills.

It did, however, reveal a piece of paper with what seemed like some random names and numbers written on it. I wanted to throw it away, but thought I didn’t ought to in case they turned out to be important, so I set about some research: I had a pretty good idea when I’d scribbled the numbers down, because there were other notes on the same sheet that I could accurately date; also, the names were all those of chatroom chums, which suggested a potentially profitable avenue for further research. Scrolling through the history pages of SimonG’s fabbo chatroom revealed that on the day in question a crowd of us had been assisting Morty with a quiz, the tie breaker question for which required us to guess the number of goals to be scored in the English Premiership, Championship and Divisons one and two, on February 5th. Not only did a few of us guess, but I commented “I’ll shove these guesses up in a blog, so we can refer back to them later and see how wrong we were”.

So, those guesses:
Paul G0TLG: 86
Me: 93
Omally: 47
SimonG: 4

Added later:
Adrian007: 99
Kouros: 104
Hutters: 21
Ned: 43

If anyone else wants to guess, do so in the comments and I’ll transfer them up here for everyone to see.

And the credit card bill? One more search through the pile of junk in the back of the car, and if that doesn’t work I’ll just send them a cheque with a covering letter.

Confined to Barracks

Wednesday, December 29th, 2004

After all that fresh air and exercise yesterday, today I’m confined to barracks – or the workplace, as it’s more accurately known. All the fun people in the world have gone to the SimonG meet in Banbury – well, all those in the online community anyway – and I’ve been at work.

I don’t normally mind this bit between Christmas and New Year: It’s more or less accepted in the food industry that every day except Christmas Day is a working day, and in fact last year was the first time in sixteen years that I’ve had the days between Christmas and New Year off. But this morning I REALLY didn’t want to get up, and I’m quite glad it’s been a fairly quiet day.

Of course there are some compensations to working these in-betweenie days: For one thing the drive to work only took half as long as usual this morning, with empty roads, no stupid schoolkids riding bikes, and an almost empty motorway. The canteen have banned anything with turkey in it, and of course, I don’t get any less holiday allowance than anyone else – the difference is that I took these three days earlier in the year when the geocaching weather was much better!

But the main advantage, of course, is the chance to play the martyr and say things like, “It’s expected,” sniff sniff “That we’ll work when everyone else is off enjoying themselves”.

Sympathy accepted gratefully in the usual way.

Oh, and on a serious note, my Mum saw her GP this morning (see Sunday’s blog if you’re not sure what that’s all about): He’s set her up for some tests, but basically confirms that there’s nothing major wrong. Huzzah!

Fresh Air and Exercise

Tuesday, December 28th, 2004

Today had been decreed the day when a load of us geocachers were to get together to enjoy fresh air, exercise, and pub food.

On the way there I did The Duck Dash Cache, then after it was all over Doctor Beeching’s Legacy, which as the name suggests is a nice walk along a walking trail made on an old railway track bed. In the middle, the King of Sweden had planted a sepcial cache just for us to solve – which took flippin ages, mostly because just when we thought we were getting close to the end, we discovered there were three more stages to go!

The pub was nice too, with a Sock Puppet contest, a geocaching quiz, a wordsearch and Secret Santa. If you’re ever in Ringwood wanting a warm welcome, and decent food and drink, we recommend The London Tavern. Oh, and on the way home I was invited to visit the home on Candice and Adrian (the cachers known as Rincewind and Luggage) and their nine cats!

Sorry this one’s a bit brief but I’ve got loads to do tonight and it’s back to work tomorrow…

The Third Day of Christmas

Monday, December 27th, 2004

Today I have been mostly buggering about.

Just before Christmas, one of my geocaches was reported as having been vandalised, so this morning I went over to Eling to check it out: Sure enough, major devastation, not to mention a man riding up and down on a motorbike (without number plates, so almost certainly without tax or insurance either), and the kind of litter strewn around that you wouldn’t want your children – or anyone else, for that matter – to find. So, Waterside Wander no longer exists, although I did find a hiding place for Waterside Wander II which will appear as soon as I can get myself organised. Meanwhile, clicking on the link over on the right hand side will bring up “The story of Waterside Wander”.

And the rest of the day was spent continuing the over-eating of the last few days…

Boxing

Sunday, December 26th, 2004

Well, today didn’t work out as I’d expected.

I arrived at church in freezing temperatures this morning and had only been there a couple of minutes when my mobile rang (I’d have turned it off long before the service started, never fear): It was my Mum, who’d suddenly felt unwell and needed my attention. Drawing a veil over the events of the morning, we’ll just say that I now know rather more about the local out-of-hours doctor service than I really wanted to – the good news is that the doctor was really nice (apparently, I didn’t actually see him), and he reassured Mum that although what happened had been rather frightening for her, there was nothing major actually wrong.

So, all’s well that ends well, although there were a few things that I’d planned to do this afternoon that didn’t get done. Still, I’m off for two more days yet…

Happy Clappy Christmas

Saturday, December 25th, 2004

The first bit of today’s blog is a bit churchy, so you may want to zip through that bit…

I went to the midnight service last night: Our church is a bit Charismatic (what is popularly known as “Happy Clappy”), although our new vicar is trying to pull us back a bit more to the mainstream, which makes things a bit bizarre sometimes. I was the only server there last night, and the vicar decided to use the High Altar for communion – I can’t remember when I last served at High Altar (we normally use a smaller one in the middle of the congregation) but it’s at least two years, and I couldn’t remember where anything went or what order it all happened. Luckily this was the vicar’s first Christmas with us and he thought all my mistakes were local custom that he ought to be learning. Oh, and the sound desk blew up just before the service, which the worship band found a bit inconvenient.

The service finished at half past midnight, so by the time I’d cleared away, and left the communion gear ready for this morning it was well past one before I got home, and quite a bit later before I was in bed. That’s my excuse for not getting up till nealry ten this morning: I took my Mum for Chrimbo dinner at our favourite carvery – this is a Christmas tradition dating back to when my Dad stopped being a hotel chef, and announced that he was never cooking on Christmas Day ever again. I suppose cooking a hundred Christmas dinners while your own family wait for you at home would diminish your enthusiasm for the activity.

Then Mum and I spent the rest of the afternoon digesting, trying to stay awake, and opening our presents. Oh, and whinging about the rubbish on the telly.

Once again, Merry Chrimblymass to all our readers!

Dangerous Loony

Friday, December 24th, 2004

My friend dun a Good Thing.

I can’t say any more than that – the story made the local and national press, and my friend doesn’t want to be identified as the person referred to in the story, so I can’t say anything that might help anyone put two and two together. But she, and all those close to her, know who she is and what she did. I’m proud that my friend did the Right Thing!

Update: My friend came out in her blog, so I can say publicly: Well done Sarah for grassing up the bogus charge nurse! It seems like you helped take a dangerous loony off the streets.

Today I managed to finish work at 2PM, by the simple expedient of downing tools, locking up, and running. My chums the Tates have a geocache called “Porta-Cache”. It’s quite a novel idea, Bob has a tracker in his car, and the car itself is the cache container: When you see him parked somewhere, you can go and find the car, then send him a text message saying you want to log the cache. He comes out, opens the car, and you sign the logbook and do your swaps – great! Anyway, my screen revealed that the car was outside their house all morning, although this wasn’t actually true – apparently Sarah had done something odd to the computer system so it wasn’t being updated. It didn’t matter because Bob got to their house about five minutes after I did, and as the rubbish picture shows, I logged the Porta-Cache.

And now I’m gossiping in the chatroom with Morty, in a minute I’ll be tussling with the RiddleMule once again, and later it’ll be time to head for church. Merry Christmas Everybody!

Bear Faced Blog

Thursday, December 23rd, 2004

Yet another new blogger! Andy The Bear has joined our ranks – he’s over there on the right, listed as “Andius Bearus”. Oh, and Mr Hedgehog, whom I mentioned yesterday, is listed as Prickly Peter – because his real name is Peter and he’s a hedgehog, you see…

Today I went to work expecting to go to Byfleet. I thought perhaps I could give Henners a ring and arrange to meet in the World’s Sweariest Pub at lunchtime. Then I discovered that I was going to Horsham instead, to do an accident investigation on one of our drivers who’d hurt his back. Bugger – if only I’d had my GPS with me, and a list of Sussex area caches…

Other than that, the chat room is empty (or broken), and everyone in the blogring except me appears to be on holiday. Sob. :-(

Slip Out a Quick One

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2004

You’re only getting a quick one tonight I’m afraid (oo-er missus).

SimonG was burning the midnight oil last night, and since he was resolving problems with my fantastic map plotting thing, I kind of felt obliged to burn it with him. And while I’m really grateful for his efforts, it meant I got to bed much later than is my wont, and then slept really crappily anyway. Today was a bit of a rubbish day – I’ve been popping the painkillers like they were Smarties – and just as I was resolving to do a quick blog and then turn the computer off, that evil PuzzleDonkey – aided and abetted by Minxy Mort – popped up and robbed me of my evening.

Bad thing today – apart from feeling rubbish – was hearing about SimonG’s burglary. If anyone is offered a GPS cheap, please beat the c**p out of the little scrote offering it and get Simon his GPS back. Oh, and his MP3 player.

Good things today – discovering there’s another geocaching blogger come online (welcome Mr Hedgehog); Four Chrimbo cards, including excellent personalised ones from Simon, MMM and my mate Gill; and spending an evening thrashing the RiddleMule with Becky’s help.

And best thing of all today – I am going to have an early night. G’night all.

Maps

Tuesday, December 21st, 2004

Well, SimonG has been hard at work on my behalf again, and the link to the Chelsea Tractortracker I wrote about yesterday is now even better! If you click on the link, you’ll see that it not only leads to a better map, but there’s also my speed and direction of travel on there.

So I guess now is a good time to remind you of the caveats that go with using the system, especially as I can’t think of anything else to blog about:

  • The beacon thingy in my car transmits a position every minute – so even under the best conditions, the position you’re seeing could be a minute old.
  • If I don’t want to be tracked I can turn it off – so the position could be completely wrong!
  • In extreme circumstances I could transmit a totally false position, although I can’t think why I would want to do that.
  • The technology which provides my position to the internet is maintained by radio hams as a hobby, so it’s not reasonable to expect it to be 100% reliable. If things break down, they’re fixed as soon as possible, not immediately.

Having said all that, the technology can be expected to be reasonably accurate most of the time. I hope stalking me gives some of you some fun!

Shiny New Feature

Monday, December 20th, 2004

Well, not a shiny new feature really, just an old one made easier to use.

Over there on the right you’ll see a link to the “Chelsea TractorTracker”, which uses GPS, a ham radio system called APRS, and the internet to provide you with a map of my current location. The maps it led to previously weren’t much use, really, and although there were better maps available, it was a bit of a fiddle for the user (i.e. you) to get to them.

Now, thanks to the wonderful SimonG, the fiddling about is automated and all you have to do is click on the link, and you go straight to the useful map. It should prove to be zoomable as well. (EDIT: If it isn’t working when you try it – although it is at the moment – I know! I need to persuade Mongers to fix his rubbish script) I’ll put a similar link in for the WalkerStalker, as soon as that’s behaving itself again. Meanwhile, my other website (the forerunner of this one) is looking well out-of-date and I must make it an early priority to do some updating.

And speaking of websites, I’ve been meaning for a while to launch a site called something like “RubbishParking.com”, which would just be photos of badly-parked cars. Unfortunately, due to disorganisedness, I’ve only got around to taking two pictures so far – anyone who’d like to send me a few digital snaps, to the usual email address, is welcome to do so – please include a few comments about when and where you took it.

Tesco Clubcard Vouchers: Bonus Points for Loyalty or The Devil’s Work?

Sunday, December 19th, 2004

Needless to say, today’s title was suggested by birthday boy The King of Sweden.

I actually did go to Tesco this morning: I needed some diesel, and my Mum had asked me to get her some shopping, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone. I have to admit I ended up buying some stuff I didn’t need, because I had some “bonus points” vouchers. So, as well as Hot Chocklit and ketchup, I also got biscuits and herbal tea. Oh well, it’ll all keep.

To my surprise, I discovered some of my Hospital Radio colleagues outside Tesco, waving collecting tins: I knew we were having a collecting day this weekend, but I thought it was yesterday. I put a quid in the Chairman’s tin anyway, so that was OK.

So anyway, given the choice between going to church (for the little kids’ nativity play) and going to Tesco, the fact that I had Clubcard vouchers to use made the decision. So, Tesco ClubCard stopped me going to church.

I think that about wraps it up. Although I’m going to the carol service this evening.

Sticks, Stones and Barbed Wire

Saturday, December 18th, 2004

I don’t often read the American geocaching message boards – I’ve got enough to do to keep up with the British ones – but last night I had a scan to see what’s new.

There’s an American cacher who’s started using as his caching slogan “Geocaching – Family Values for a Stronger America“. Fairly innocuous you might think, although the idea of a stronger America might make the rest of the world shudder and hide under the table, but it’s causing all sorts of bad feeling over there. Apparently, in the state of Oregon, “Family Values for a Stronger America” is the slogan of the anti-gay movement, and is seen by some Americans as hateful, and incitement to all sorts of horrible things.

It made me reflect how statements and actions can be taken the wrong way and cause offence: Here in the UK, showing the St George’s flag is seen by many as evidence of racism, and certainly anyone who’s opposed to Britain joining the single European currency is considered racist or a “Little Englander” by some. The swastika, of course, was a Christian symbol for centuries before Hitler hijacked it, although I suspect that if I wore one on my neck chain it would give completely the wrong idea.

This morning I returned to the cache I failed to find last night, Hawksley’s Hike and had another go at it. I thrashed around for a while, finding the “Free with Walkers Crisps” pedometer I dropped there last night, and the pen I must have dropped not long after. Then Geoff arrived (from the caching team “Geoff and Bonnie”) and we thrashed around together for a while. Eventually I spotted the cache, about 40 metres from where the GPS said it ought to be, and Geoff spotted it a minute or two later.

Still not wrapped any Christmas prezzies, though.

Smashing

Friday, December 17th, 2004

Here’s a smashing pic of me wot I took in my office the other day. As you can see I’m wearing a lovely Santa hat, complete with Santa’s hair, which I found in the bottom of my desk drawer, along with a load of Christmas decs which I have no intention of putting up. I didn’t wear the hat for long either – the hair was a bit scratchy on my bald patch, and the hat was a bit sticky and unpleasant, which I later discovered to be the effect of some year-old gone-off banananana mank.

It’s very scarey in the lower reaches of my desk drawers.

Today I left work bang on the stroke of pretty early and headed for a new geocache close by: I’d calculated that I had time to drive to the recommended parking and walk the mile to the cache, and still have fifteen minutes or so of daylight left to find the cache. The problem of walking back in the pitch dark would be solved when the time came. In the end it was totally dark by the time I got to the copse the cache is hidden in, so I thrashed around in the dark for a while before giving up, and finding a longer, but street-light-illuminated, route back to the car.

Still, I got covered in mud and had a 3 mile walk, so it wasn’t all bad :-)

Where Was I?

Thursday, December 16th, 2004

I was going to blog about my Dad today, but realised that there were a couple of key facts that I forgot to check with my Mum. Maybe another day.

There was a debate on Radio 2 at lunchtime today about “Which is better – GPS or using maps?”. Personally I don’t see the point of debating it, just carry on using whichever you personally prefer, but it was interesting that the pro-map lobby focussed on what was wrong with GPS, and the pro-GPS lobby focussed on what’s great about it – neither side really said anything for or against map usage. I thought the best comment came from survival expert Ray Mears, who said that GPS is a great tool, but it isn’t a substitute for common sense or for being able to use a map and compass.

As most readers will know, I’m a devotee of TomTom Navigator, which I use in my car to give me spoken directions to wherever I’m going: I’ve had occasional problems with it, but most of those have been “operator error” rather than an actual problem with the device, and overall it’s definitely been a plus in the year I’ve been using it. People who argued against it on the radio said that it stops driver and passenger talking to each other: I don’t see why, but it also saves drivers who don’t have a passenger from trying to read maps and drive at the same time.

The danger with GPS is that people feel encouraged to set out in the wild places without map and compass, or without the ability to use them, confident in the knowledge that their GPS will get them back safely. Then the GPS goes wrong, or the batteries go flat, and they’re in trouble. It’s been known for people to be following their GPS so avidly that they walk right off a cliff – that seems too daft to be true, but tragically a geocacher in America died just that way only last weekend.

So there’s my five pence worth, if you’re interested: Refunds available on receipt of a first class stamp!

Life!

Wednesday, December 15th, 2004

I can’t believe how busy life is.

OK, I know it’s the same for everyone in the run-up to Christmas, but it all seems to be happening at once, and I’m spending so much time planning how to fit everything in that I don’t actually have any time left to fit anything in. The friends I normally see over New Year are asking me to say when in January I can go and visit, and the calendar for January is pretty full already: That’s without factoring in a weekend away that I’d been tentatively arranging with another friend. Unless I let someone down, I’m not actually going to have a weekend at home in January…

Last night, while sitting in the steam room, I wrote (in my head) a little story, involving a farmer, a parachutist and an anvil: It was quite a cleverly crafted little story in its way, and I was going to share it with you all. But one person, had they read my blog (and you never know who’s reading) might have spotted the hidden meaning and been upset, and that’s not the purpose of blogging.

So far, I’ve got through the day without any painkillers. Unfortunately that’s not because I didn’t need them, but because I used the last of my work supply yesterday, and forgot to take any more with me this morning. Ow.

General Admin

Tuesday, December 14th, 2004

Today I broke the internet.

Actually, you’ve probably guessed that that’s a bit of an exaggeration: What happened was that I was alerted by a text message (thanks Rob) that my blog site had stopped working. I fired off a quick e-mail to 34sp.com – the nice people who have given my blog a home, in exchange for three crisp fivers a year – and within ten minutes had my reply. Editing out the death threats leaves us with:
This site has been suspended for breach of terms and conditions that you agreed to on signup:
Not to implement any such tool that allows anonymous users to use your site as a web proxy.
Your site has a cgi-proxy running on it which so far since 4 am(approx) today has registered 67,000 hits

67,000 is an awful lot, but there wasn’t much I could do: I had indeed installed a “secret” (or so I thought) proxy server for my own use: In my defence I thought that as it was secret (i.e. only I knew where it was) it didn’t contravene the terms about anonymous users and I was OK. I’d reckoned without the ingenuity of those who would use the internet for nefarious ends, and obviously someone had found out about it big time!

Anyway, the secret script is now gone and 34sp were very efficient in getting me back on line – and in spite of my comment above about death threats, they were actually very courteous and pleasant to deal with. The King of Sweden says they’ll probably send someone round to stuff electric eels down my trousers, but you know me – always ready for a new experience.

Oh, and have a look at the “Who’s who” page – I’ve added a couple of pics. If it looks totally freaky, let me know in the comments, with the best description you can give, and let me know which web browser you’re using (e.g. Internet Explorer, Firefox etc)

Pub Lunch

Monday, December 13th, 2004

We discovered through a conversation in the chatroom yesterday that the Milk Monster Family were in Southampton this weekend.

They’d had lunch in a pub, which MMM couldn’t remember the name of, but after some “Twenty Questions??? style guessing we decided it must have been the Cowherds. At the time I said that I’d only ever eaten there once, but when I sobered up and my memory returned I realised that this was far from true – the Gottlegog family regularly had Sunday lunch there when I was a little ‘un, and I’ve been a few times since. But one particular occasion sticks in my mind…

We’d had an exhausting weekend running a Hospital Radio outside broadcast from the Balloon Festival on the Common, a large open space in which the pub is situated, and to celebrate, the key members of the event team (i.e. those of us who’d been daft enough to stay on site all weekend) decided to go for a meal. The Cowherds was chosen as the venue, although I can’t remember why – we’d all been home and showered, slept and put clean clothes on, so there was no reason why it was any more convenient than any other pub. Being a Monday night it was fairly quiet, and when the six of us trooped in there was just one elderly couple occupying a table in the middle of the room: We were put on the next table.

Needless to say, it was Jenny who let the side down, announcing with delight “Yay, food fight??? as soon as the bread rolls appeared. With shock on their faces, the elderlies immediately asked to be moved to another table. As far as I can remember we didn’t do anything to earn their opprobrium, although I wasn’t driving that night so most of the later stages are a bit of a haze.

I haven’t eaten there since.

Lexicographical Jigsaw

Sunday, December 12th, 2004

Being stuck for a blog subject, I asked the chatroom crowd for some random words:

20:55 MMM: santa
20:55 Omally: weasels gonads
20:55 MMM: cosmic
20:55 SimonG: Qualia
20:55 MMM: smarties
20:55 MMM: show-off *to simon*
20:55 SimonG: melanin
20:56 Omally: gin
20:56 paul g0tlg: *looks up “Qualia”*
20:56 MMM: cheesecake
20:56 paul g0tlg: I think those will do for now

We have this notice board at Hospital Radio – for some reason a note has appeared on it recently, advertising a vacancy for a Santa for children’s parties. Why they think any of us would be interested in being Santa is beyond me – although it does remind me of the time we needed a Santa to tour the kids’ wards, and picked on possibly the slimmest Hospital Radio member ever! Everyone loaned pillows to pad out the Santa suit.

What’s next? Weasel’s gonads, when blasted by cosmic radiation, tend to have the qualia of non-functioningness. Oh, and my favourite cheesecake recipe includes gin, and has Smarties sprinkled all over the top.

And finally: Melanin. This is the substance in skin that makes it go dark when you go out in the sun. I was going to relate the story about the moth that changes colour depending on whether it’s living in a polluted area (where tree bark is dark) or a clean one where bark is light, but I couldn’t be arsed. Read an A-level genetics text book for the details.

I’m glad that’s over. I promise I’ll never ask the chatroom crowd for a blog subject again.

Another Caching Blog

Saturday, December 11th, 2004

The first task of today was to visit the barber and get my flowing locks tidied. That didn’t take long.

Then it was time to start my day’s caching adventure! First on the list for today was Banjo and Barrow, a walk around a bronze age settlement in some woods, with information boards along the way explaining what the remains all mean. Lovely and atmospheric, especially as the mist hadn’t burned off yet, although slightly spoiled by the teenage yobs rampaging through the woods making stupid noises because they’d never heard an echo before.

Next was north to the village shown in the picture to visit St. Mary’s, a nice simple cache in the churchyard of a no-longer-used church. Rather alarmingly the churchyard is used to graze sheep, who followed me around while I was finding the cache, and then to the gate as I was leaving.

After a cup of coffee and a packet of Malteasers (won in last night’s quiz), I went on to Friars Rock Revisited, a multi-cache through some nice woods high on the Hampshire downs. it was while I was doing this one that the King of Sweden sent me a text message to tell me he’d done my “A Walk in the Park” cache! Back at the car park, and another cup of coffee and a Danish pastry before moving on to the last one of the day.

I had a crack at Full Steam Ahead a couple of weeks ago, while I was on the way down to Kent, but wrote down the wrong information at one of the locations, and got no further. This time I had no problems and finished it off. It’s a lovely walk around a Georgian town, followed by a ramble out into the countryside for the final location. In all I walked just over five miles today, and I really wish I hadn’t lost my “Free with Walkers Crisps” pedometer a couple of days ago – it would have been interesting to see how many paces that panned out to.

Then I went home via the pub (for a meal) and the gym (to sit in the steam room). Goodnight all.