Archive for December, 2005

Another Target

Saturday, December 31st, 2005

I told you, in the end of year review, about my caching target for 2006: An average of six D/T rating points per week through the year.

I’ve also decided to set myself a gym target: The machines in the gym have the facility to show how many calories you’ve burned in the exercise you’ve done – and the treadmills also show distance walked /run, and if you’ve set an incline, height gained. I’m climbing Mount Snowdon by the shortest route (from the Pen y Pass cafe, 3 miles and 2330 feet climbed) a couple of times a week, and occasionally I’m adding the longer route (from Llanberis car park, 4.3 miles and 3144 feet climbed) to my repertoire. It’s a bit tricky, the staff glare a bit if you spend longer than half an hour on any one machine, but I reckon if there’s no-one else waiting to use it, that’s fair enough, and once I’m past the half-hour mark I always keep my eyes open and see there’s at least one other treadmill free.

All this is in preparation for a week’s caching in the Lakes with Rob and Miche towards the end of the year, and before that – hopefully – a long weekend on the real Mount Snowdon. That’ll probably be a solo effort – I don’t think The Lovely Miche would enjoy it much and I can’t see Rockin’ Rob wanting to go without her. I might be wrong, though…

Anyway, Target One for the year (the caching one) I’ve already told you about: Target Two is a hundred thousand gym calories in the year. Taking out two weeks for summer holiday (and to keep the maths easy) makes an average of two thousand a week, which ought to be easy: I normally do over a thousand, three times a week, at the moment. Potential barriers are:

  • The gym being full of New-Year’s-Resolutioners for the next few weeks, making it difficult to get on the gear
  • Time-off-sick reducing the number of available gym visits
  • Courses, Hospital Radio conferences, caching weeks away etc reducing the number of available gym visits
  • Better weather for caching reducing the number of available gym visits!

We’ll see how it goes, won’t we…I’ll put a couple of progress graphs on the website as soon as there’s enough progress to make it worthwhile.

Meanwhile – today has consisted mainly of playing with kittens and going to a fabby party: Happy New Year one and all!

End of Year Review

Friday, December 30th, 2005

Long-term readers will remember that back at the beginning of the year, I set myself a target of averaging three geocaches found per week through the year

As you can see, I achieved that – in fact the “achieved” line was above the “target” line all through the year. I’ve enjoyed doing all those caches, but I’m planning a different kind of target for next year. I’ve had times when I’ve gone for quantity rather than quality, in a need to keep the numbers up: There are loads of caches which include top-quality puzzles, but I’ve been spurning them because they take a whole day to do a single cache, and done several easy ones in the day instead.

Every geocache is rated by difficulty of finding, and difficulty of terrain, each scored on a scale of one to five. So for 2006, the target is to average six D/T rating points each week: So I could do three 1/1 s in a week, or a single 3/3, or a 5/5 would give me nearly enough points for two weeks. It ought to be easier than last year’s target – there aren’t that many 1/1 caches, so most three-cache weeks would score more than six points.

We’ll see how it goes shall we? Watch this blogginess for progress reports. In the meantime, today brought one more to the total: Snow on High Ground, a nice easy cache with a clue that makes it findable even without a GPS – lucky really, as I left mine at home :-( .

Frozen North

Friday, December 30th, 2005

Yippee! I’ve travelled to the frozen North and I’m staying at the domicile of Jenny and Chris, and their two barmy kittens: Everything Jenny has told you is true – the kittens are indeed bonkers.

Sepcial bonuses today were:

  1. Someone I knew years and years ago – and who was a journalist the last time we spoke – was the driver of the train!
  2. Stu and Sarah joined us for the evening – Jenny was sure she’d told me, but she hadn’t
  3. Snow!

And now I’m very tired. G’night all

Grand Day Out

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

Another day spent caching and meeting up with old chums – by gum it was cold! In fact, according to the temperature gauge on the car, the temperature didn’t get above freezing all day.

Considerable thrashing around in West Meon – home of the lovely church above – was followed by a cache I’ve been meaning to do for a while, Another Mouth. Then it was on to the pub for much Yuletide festivity.


Sending a Message to Omally


Musical Interlude

And now Im busy packing for a luvvly long weekend in Nottingham.

Spondo

Tuesday, December 27th, 2005

I forgot to mention…

You may remember that back at the beginning of the month I related the tale of my disastrous encounter with the UK railway network. I said then that I was going to write to Customer Services, and I did – I was very polite, and really only complained about the lack of information. Anyway, I had a very nice letter from someone in the Customer Services office in Brum, and they sent me a pair of twelve pound vouchers for train travel!

They’ll come in very handy – one of them is going to pay part of the cost of getting to the MongMeet at the end of January, making that a) a cheap day out, and b) a day when I can enjoy a few jars with my chums. The other – well, I haven’t totally decided, but it’ll finance a caching trip somewhere.

And I’m going to Jenny’s by Virgin Trains on Thursday. There may be a bit more dosh in this…

Fresh Air

Monday, December 26th, 2005

Guess what I did this afternoon?

After the slothfulness of yesterday, and with some new local geocaches, there was really only one way to spend the afternoon, finding a couple of caches placed by my chum Nobby Nobbs. First on the list was a short multicache around some woods, Christmas Escape: Dibden Enclosure. I went the wrong way at first, and by the time I realised, the arrow on the GPS was pointing across a bog. Luckily I found a path and a bridge going in the right direction, and after that it was fairly easy.

The other one for the afternoon was Christmas Escape: Kings Copse, a muddy plod through an inclosure: A nice find in the end, though, and I took from the cache a voucher for a free video rental at Blockbuster – I’ll be taking that to Nottingham for the Bank Holiday weekend, I’m sure it’ll come in handy!

I stopped for a trigpoint on the way home, then it was time for a shower and yet more food!

Full

Sunday, December 25th, 2005

Well, that was a lovely diabetic-friendly, low-cholesterol Christmas dinner.

Yeah, right.

In keeping with a tradition of many years, my luvvly Mum and I went for Christmas lunch at the local Beefeater. Starter was Brie, deep fried in breadcrumbs: the main course was a huge piece of turkey and a ton or two of vegetables, including mashed swede made with butter. Christmas pudding was served with a rich brandy butter sauce, and then they brought the mince pies and cheese + biscuits round.

The battery in my blood sugar meter has gone flat – I’m sure there’s a connection. If I should die before today’s out, it’ll probably be either diabetic excess, cholesterol poisoning, or pure gluttonous pleasure.

What a way to go. Here’s hoping your Chrimbo is as fabby as mine.

Merry Chrimbo!

Saturday, December 24th, 2005

Have you noticed, I haven’t blogged about geocaching much lately?

Last weekend I tried for a cache, but couldn’t even find the recommended parking place :-( – following some guidance from the cache owner I went and looked again yesterday and found it, and I’m pretty sure that when I tried first time, a key sign was missing. Anyway, having found the car park, today I went and actually got to Emer Bog, a nice walk through some Autumnal woods – although as the name suggests, I got my boots a bit muddy on the way. The boardwalk in the picture isn’t only there for sitting on, y’know. Oh, and on the way, I logged a trigpoint as well – my first since October!

More importantly, of course, it’s Christmas Eve: Whatever your beliefs, I wish you all, all the very best that the season has to offer: A peaceful and joyous time, spent with those you’d choose to spend it with, and a happy, healthy and prosperous 2006.

Mince pie, anyone?

Office Two

Friday, December 23rd, 2005

Having told you a little about my office-sharing chums Graham and Mike yesterday, I thought today I’d give you a “Graham” story.

Today, the five of us who live in the Portacabin (plus a few interlopers we allowed in to make up the money) had our own breakaway Christmas buffet lunch. Diane – about whom I’ll blog in detail at some future time – organised the whole thing with the same ruthless efficiency she brings to the tea kitty. Her one mistake was trusting Graham with part of the catering arrangements.

On Tuesday, Graham had to go and sort out his car insurance, and the broker he uses is right next to Tescos.
“Ooh, that’s handy” said Diane, “You could go into Tescos and get some coronation chicken to fill the vols aux vents”. Knowing Graham’s general uselessness where anything practical is concerned, she drew him a map of the store, showing exactly where coronation chicken was to be found.

By the time Graham returned he was in high dudgeon, complaining that Diane’s map was useless, and Tesco didn’t have any coronation chicken anyway. He’d had to get breaded chicken nuggets instead…hang on, breaded chicken nuggets? That doesn’t sound like a suitable filling for vols aux vents. Sure enough, he’d bought two trays of chicken nuggets.
“It wasn’t my fault,” he complained, “Diane’s map was useless. Where the coronation chicken should have been, all I could find was little pots of sandwich filling.”

Amazingly, he’s quite good at what he’s paid to do.

Office Politics

Thursday, December 22nd, 2005

I occasionally mention in passing the people I work with1, so perhaps it’s time I told you about them in a bit more detail.

I share an office2 with two other managers, four computers, three filing cabinets and a printer that works sometimes. The other two human occupants are both Saints’ supporters, but they’re quite nice really, and it gives me someone to laugh at on Monday mornings in the footie season.

Graham is in charge of food safety – pest control, environmental management, stuff like that. He’s also the least computer literate person I know, and loves to keep us amused with his rants at the technology and his stories about how he got lost out on his boat at the weekend. He’s the one who brought the fart machine in to the office, and his idea of sophisticated humour is to set it off when one of us is on the phone. He can’t understand why it keeps going off when he’s on the phone – I’m wondering how long it will take him to realise he’s not the only one with a remote control for it. Oh, and he’s got a cat called Pumpkin.

Mike is in charge of the Engineering department, the people who service and maintain the equipment in the factory, and mend it when Graham’s boys have broken it. His desk is nearly as untidy as mine and he’s our resident superuser – that means he knows what to do when the computers stop working: Usually the thing to do is call Captain Mainwaring in IT (who is a whole other blog on his own). Mike’s specialist subject is booking holidays, and he has the daftest mobile phone ringtone you’ve ever heard.

And then there’s me, the talented young health and safety professional whose task it is to be the butt of Graham’s jokes: Luckily I’m way more sophisticated than he is, so I can take it, and Mike and I gang up on him anyway, at least when he’s in a mood with his computer3. I’m also the one responsible for the pile of paperwork teetering dangerously in one corner, the untidy desks, and the filing cabinet that’s going to fall through the floor some day soon. Being the youngest member of the team, I get to sit by the window which doesn’t shut – quite refreshing in the Summer, but a bit of a nuisance at this time of year, some days I don’t take my coat and scarf off all day.

1 And I’m stuck for a blog subject
2 Half a Portacabin
3 At least twice a day then

Short

Wednesday, December 21st, 2005

It’s the shortest day today!

That doesn’t, by itself, do much for me: I’m not a solsticite or anything, but it does mean that tomorrow will be light a bit longer than today was, and in a couple of weeks the evenings will be getting dark noticably later. That means that we’re halfway through the period when caching after work on a Friday isn’t possible! Not that I’m caching-mad, of course – although conceivably I may be – but it’s nice, at the end of another frustrating week, to get out for an hour’s fresh air and getting mud on my boots.

There are some – even some who should know better – who think of caching and being outdoors as being a summer game. But all-year-round caching means you get to see nature in all its glory: Not just the mud, there’s trees in every stage of leafiness; animals and birds I saw as babies back in the spring now big enough to survive the winter unaided. Make no mistake – I love caching, but mainly because it drags me outdoors into the fresh air, and takes me to places I wouldn’t have otherwise bothered to visit.

Of course, rackin’ them numbers up is good too ;-)

Of Gadgets, and Impending Anger

Tuesday, December 20th, 2005

I bought another gadget!

Anyone who’s been following the story so far will know that I’ve been fitting out Castle Gottlegog with wireless networking, to enable lappytoppyage and desktoppage to integrate seamlessly. I’ve been wanting to crown the system with a print server – which will mean I can print on the printer upstairs, while I’m lappytoppying downstairs and watching telly. Print servers are a bit pricey, so I’ve been monitoring the “clearance bargains” pages on eBuyer.co.uk to see what turned up.

This morning, one of these turned up – clicky the piccy to see the details. It was considerably cheaper than the normal price, so I’ve ordered one – it should arrive on Friday.

Both Rockin’ Rob and MMM have reassured me that setting up wireless networking is dead easy, but I’ve heard that before: Stand by for some tales of woe and not a little aggression.

Quiz

Monday, December 19th, 2005

Regular readers will know that I like quizzes, and won’t be surprised to learn that I sat up till far too late last night playing “Test the Nation” – the “National Quiz About 2005″, to quote the BBC strapline for the show.

I have to say, it wasn’t my best “Test the Nation” score ever, but I didn’t really expect it to be: being about 2005, there were a lot of questions about films I haven’t seen – and probably never will – and so-called celebrities I’ve never heard of, and whom the world will probably have forgotten before their names penetrate my consciousness. But I didn’t do too badly on the news questions, and I made a few lucky guesses, and according to the programme’s lookup table, my 67% put me in the top 20% of the population, and only two right answers behind the highest-scoring team in the studio.

I still fume a bit at the way they present the statistics though: those in the studio, or playing online, have their scores entered into a database and used to calculate such detail as which of the nations of the UK are cleverest, where the smartest towns are, and so on. I’ve ranted before about how the differences are statistically insignificant, but the whole sampling premise is a bit dodgy too. They present the numbers as if they represented a fair cross-section of the population, rather than a fairly small, and specifically-targeted area. For a start, anyone who likes televised snooker would have been watching BBC2 last night, and I’m sure they’d have lowered the national average if they’d played.

Using the internet rules out entries from all those who don’t have it, and most of those using pay-as-you-go dial-up: even from those left, they’re only getting figures from people who are competitive enough to want their scores counted, and generally they’re going to be the keen quizzers who will tend to do well.

Still, it was a bit of fun, and more importantly I wrangled a blog out of it.

Odds + Ends

Sunday, December 18th, 2005

D’you like the new header graphic? I thought something a bit Christmassy was called for.

That’s one of a load of odd jobs I’ve tried to get cleared up today: I’ve also tidied up Jenny’s header which I promised to do weeks ago; painted an “Altoids” tin which is going to be the new container for the cache “A Walk in the Park”, and made the new log book for it. I’ve Superglued the magnets to the back of the painted tin, and I’ve cleaned up the mess caused by an exploding Superglue tube (don’t try this at home, kids).

Part of the reason that I had time for all this is that I scived church this morning: it was only the Nativity play, and I know how that ends so I don’t suppose I’ll go to Hell – well, not for that, anyway. And I AM going to the carol concert this evening…

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Fit a New Battery in my Second-Best PDA

Saturday, December 17th, 2005


First, I took the PDA out of its case, and collected all the things I’d need for the job…


Then I used the sepcial screwdriver (torx head) to take the back off the PDA, and unstuck the old battery – which remains connected by a yellow lead.


Then with buttocks clenched, I prised the very delicate-looking connector off the old battery…


And clipped the delicate-looking lead onto the new battery. That was MUCH easier than I thought.


Then I used the sepcial screwdriver to put the back back onto the PDA, and put it back in its case.


And finally, I committed an environmentally-unfriendly act.

Technermological Update

Friday, December 16th, 2005

Yay! PDA improvement!

Those of you who were concerned following my PDA-wifi connectage problems the other night, will no doubt be delighted to know that I quickly got it sorted – in fact my comment on Jenny’s blog last night was posted from the new PDA while snuggled under my leccy blanket! I’ve also maaged to get some of my other favourite bits of software loaded, and the only one that’s outstanding is a comparitively unimportant one that I just forgot yesterday. Once I’ve got all that sorted, I’ll be uninstalling all the non-geocaching software from “Old PDA”, and then I’ve got to take the brave step of ripping it open to install the new battery *shudder nervously*. Then once that’s completed, I’ll have a “Good PDA” (network name “Pickle”) for most functions, and a “Geocaching PDA” (network name “Button”), which won’t matter so much if it falls in a ditch.

OK, I’ll shut up about my new PDA now. Meanwhile, I still haven’t got file sharing working on the new network. I hate Windoze.

Upgrade

Thursday, December 15th, 2005

I had a Christmas card from my neighbours yesterday.

It’s one of the “Eric the Penguin” ones, and shows Eric and his penguin pal in a car, on top of a snow-covered hill, with other snow-covered hills all around. Penguin pal asks, “how’s that new Satellite Navigation System going?” “Great,” replies Eric, “we’re just going down Barnsley High Street!”

While transferring all my software onto the new PDA, I took the opportunity to upgrade to the latest version of TomTom, the talking satnav software. The maps are certainly better – although I spotted one error this morning1 – but there were a lot of user-selectable options in the old version which seem to have been left out of this one in the name of simplicity. There’s a menu of commands which you can bring up, and you used to be able to change the order they appeared, so all the commonly used ones were on the first page, and the ones you only use once in a blue moon are hidden away somewhere. Now, unless there’s a menu of user commands that I haven’t found yet, you’re stuck with what they give you.

I think I know why they’ve done it – as satnav has been taken up by more and more people, reducing the amount of user choice reduces the chance for less skilled users to foul things up2, and the lack of a few choices is never going to outweigh the advantages of up-to-date mapping, navigation-by-postcode and a choice of formats for Lat/Long input3. Of course I may yet discover an options menu that’s been hidden so far, but if not, I guess I’ll get used to it. I just don’t think that “having to get used to it” should be a feature of what’s supposed to be an upgrade.

Fing Wot I Learned Today4: If you have hot chocklit, then forget to rinse your mug, and have coffee…the resulting concoction is rather yummy!

1 It thinks South View Road is called Compton Road. I’ve no idea why – in the last forty years that road’s only ever been known as South View Road.
2 It’s the same as why Microsoft Windoze is intensely annoying to most people with a mental age higher than six5
3 If you wanted to enter a position into old TomTom in Lat/Long format, it had to be in degree – minutes – seconds format: New TomTom allows DMS, or degrees and decimal degrees, or degrees, minutes and decimal minutes. Since this latter format is the one invariably quoted in geocaching, the choice is more useful than you think.
4 Maris Piper
5 Sorry John!

Why Can’t Life be Simple Just for Once?

Wednesday, December 14th, 2005

So, to install all my fabby software on the new PDA…

SatNav software and Memory Map installed with no trouble at all – although the TomTom won’t detect the Bluetooth GPS, which is a bit of a mongoose. But then this morning1 it DID detect it and started working, so that’s all right. The WiFi card is proving a bit more of a challenge…

I can’t find the install disk that came with the card, so I started with the manufacturer’s website: This works for about three seconds, then defaults to Japanese, which I can’t read, so the chance of finding and downloading any useful software is pretty remote. After a bit of Googling I found a company in the north-east of England offering what they promise is a compatible driver, so I downloaded and installed that. Running the driver causes a box to pop up saying “cannot find the card – is it inserted?”, and inserting the card causes a box to pop up saying “cannot find the driver for this card”. The website where I found the driver offers a PDF manual, so I downloaded that.

Guess what? My fabby laptop doesn’t have Acrobat Reader, so I can’t read the PDF file. With about 15 minutes of battery left in the laptop, I download Acrobat and try to install it – the mega-huge install gets halfway and stops. At this point the chatroom crowd come to my rescue, with SimonG offering to read the manual and tell me what to do if I email it to him, so more battery is consumed opening Chunderbird and sending across the manual. It doesn’t have a section on what to do if the card and the driver can’t find each other.

This is the point at which the laptop battery has only three minutes life left, so I give up, switch off, and go to bed -there will be other chances to sort that out. Meanwhile, my new PDA came with a fabby bit of software pre-loaded – it turns the PDA into every remote control you’ll ever need, for TVs, CD players, DVDs, you name it really. I’m hoping to programme it with the commands for the Powerpoint device in our Conference Room, which’ll liven up those boring meetings no end. In the meantime, sitting in front of the TV in the canteen at lunchtime was loads of fun…

1 While sitting in a traffic jam caused by three accidents within a two-mile stretch of motorway, which kept me stationary for twenty minutes. But that’s another rant…

Noticeable Improvement

Tuesday, December 13th, 2005

It was inevitable that in the wake of the Buncefield Oil Depot fire, the press wouldn’t let the facts stand in the way of a good story.

Front page news on this morning’s Mirror1 cried “One of the companies in the Hertfordshire oil depot inferno was ordered to correct safety breaches four years ago”. It goes on to explain, “British Pipeline Agency was issued with a compliance order by the Health and Safety Executive in November 2001. It told them to improve “inadequate” bunding – a wall to capture spillages – around an aviation fuel storage tank at Buncefield depot”.

So, what we have here seems to be:

  • A company has been issued with an Improvement Notice (I’m assuming that’s what they mean by “Compliance Order”). The fact that the inspector allowed them 15 months to put it right suggests he wasn’t too concerned.

  • The inspector also didn’t consider the matter serious enough to warrant a Prohibition Notice – an Improvement Notice is serious, but not that serious.
  • A bund is an environmental protection – although the causes of the fire aren’t yet known, it’s pretty unlikely that poor bunding would have contributed to it. Of course the bunding wasn’t poor anyway – it was confirmed complete by the Health and Safety Executive in February 2003

Further down the news story, this all seems to have been kicked off by a Conservative MP, Caroline Spelman, asking whether “there was any connection between the order “for inadequate containment around aviation fuel tanks and eye witnesses reporting fumes at the depot before the explosion”.

Probably not – a bund contains liquid, not fumes. Perhaps Ms Spelman should do a bit of research before she kicks off scare stories – the funny thing is, if the Mirror had bothered to do a bit of basic research, they’d have had a great opportunity for a bit of the Tory-bashing they love, instead of which, they perpetuated the myth.

The truth is that a site coming under COMAH2 regulations only getting one improvement notice in four years is actually a sign of a pretty tightly-run site. These sites are inspected and tested so vigorously that there’s very little scope for anything to go un-noticed so they’ve really done pretty well.

Of course, something caused the explosion and fire, and it’s likely to have been some sort of unsafe action by someone – there are very few accidents which “just happen”, especially in the kind of controlled environment of a top-tier COMAH site. But stupid scare stories don’t help with finding out what really happened, and only serve to divert attention from whatever the real cause turns out to have been.

1 I don’t have time to read a paper, so I don’t buy one – I just skim through whatever’s in the office.
2 Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999.

Amendment

Monday, December 12th, 2005

As you can see, Lord Carter of Stu spent some time fiddling with yesterday’s image – thanks Stu! I’ve also had a sneak preview of some of the pics he took of Jenny’s kittens at the weekend; I even printed a couple out, sadly now our colour laser printer at work appears to have run out of toner so I can’t do any more :-( .

I used to do loads of photography, which is where I developed the eye to spot the potential for a good photo: Unfortunately I never developed the patience to learn what Photoshop could do to improve a picture that’s already been taken. I also never lost the stupidity that makes me do daft things: I used my camera last week during an accident investigation at work, and forgot to turn of the “Date Imprint” function afterwards – all the “Autumn Colours” pics I took yesterday afternoon have got “December 11th” printed on them, I was lucky to remember to turn it off before I took this one.

In other news – it looks like my new shiny will arrive tonight, hurrah hurrah. It’s being delivered to Hospital Radio, where I’ll be busy looking after the studio end of an Outside Broadcast featuring the Royal Marines Band Christmas Concert. Oh, and eating chinese takeaway – we’re having one of our Monday Team Party Nights :-) .

Sunday Best

Sunday, December 11th, 2005

Not up to Stu’s standards, but I rather like this…I was going to Photoshop it to put some natural colour back into the tree, but I prefer it like this, as taken, with the tree in almost-silhouette. It would have been better without the copse in the middle distance, but I left my chainsaw at home.

I took it at the end of an afternoon’s geocaching which had started in the mud of the Christchurch Bay coastline, finding Cache if You Dare. I’ve been past here before for caching purposes, which was lucky – the talking satnav in the car died just before I got to the car park, lucky I knew where I was going. Then it was back across the forest to Wilverley Enclosure – home of many memories from my Scout Leading days – for Ellie’s Wellies: I also managed to drop off the two travel bugs I collected two weeks ago.

In more important matters, of course today is the day that an oil terminal in Hertfordshire caught fire: Of course I feel for the people injured, and those whose homes were damaged in the explosion – but I can’t help thinking of the depot’s Health and Safety person, who I suspect has had a rough day, and won’t be getting much sleep tonight.