Archive for August, 2006

Taxidermy

Thursday, August 31st, 2006

Anyone see “Traffic Cops” last night?

They were showing off this technology where a mini-camera in the police car watches approaching cars: it reads the number plate of each, compares it against the computer, and if that car is shown as having an issue, alerts the police who can then stop the suspect vehicle. The computer knows not only if a car is stolen, or otherwise connected to a crime – it knows if it’s taxed, insured and MOT’d as well.

Which is a handy link in to the fact that my tax disc expires at midnight tonight. A couple of weeks ago I had the reminder letter, and decided rather than queuing for a week in the Post Office, I’d renew online. I’ve had some right online adventures in the past, with payments going astray, or stuff that I’d paid for going missing in the post. But once again I decided to risk it.

Sadly for those who like hilarious blogs in the style of “Look at all the daft things that happen to me”, my new tax disc arrived without hitch, and I’ve just gone out and put it in the car. But I’d take a hassle-free life over an exciting blog any day :-)

Oh Bum

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

My over-enthusiastic spam control has deleted a load of comments :-(

Sorry chums…I remember Rob, Hutters, Jenny and Henners’s comments being among the victims. Really sorry mateys, I think I’m getting its enthusiasm under control now…please dont be put off repeating your comments.

Junk

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

Junk mail has been in the news lately.

For those of you who don’t follow the minutiae of the UK news situation – perhaps believing that things like the war in Afghanistan, or the Gaza Strip, are higher priority – let me summarise: A postman was caught advising his “customers” how to avoid a particular type of junk mail: As a result he’s been suspended on full pay while the Royal Mail (or whatever they’re called this week) decide what to do. His advice doesn’t cover the kind of junk mail which is targetted by advertisers at particular addresses, it was just relevant to a scheme called “Door to Door”, where an advertiser sends a mailshot to every house in an area regardless of the suitability of the mail to that household. The scheme is operated – surprise surprise – by Royal Mail.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with advertising mail: It arrives, it goes through the shredder, it goes in the recycling bin. It takes a minute or two out of my day, but it doesn’t take anywhere near as much time as getting rid of e-mail spam. It’s like cold-call telephone calls: They ring, they listen to my ansafone message, they hang up. It does mean that when my friends ring me, unless I recognise their number on Caller Display, they have to listen to the message, but I pick up as soon as I recognise their voice.

So what about the postie? Well, he may have been doing his best to help people out…but if I was caught giving advice which could dramatically reduce my employers’ turnover, I’d at least expect them to take a dim view of it. The Daily Mail – my favourite hate target among the British press – has been rising up in defence of the postman, but I wonder how they’d react if their own employees started a campaign of telling people “Don’t buy the Daily Mail, it’s right-wing reactionary garbage”?

Which would at least have the advantage of being truthful.

Crime Doesn’t Pay

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

I drive past the Police station on the way home every night.

Lately, they’ve taken to sporting a crime prevention notice on the end wall: It has the Crimestoppers number, and a huge banner headline saying “Don’t Buy Crime”. It then goes on to instruct us not to buy stolen goods: Buying stolen goods encourages crime. And finally it says that if you think stolen goods are being sold in your community, you should ring Crimestoppers.

I can’t help wondering if it was deliberate, to put it on the wall facing Ca$h Converters?

Something Stupid

Monday, August 28th, 2006

You’ll remember that I have not one, but two PDAs.

In case you weren’t around when I first explained this, I have two because I upgraded to a newer, better model, and I’d have got so little for trading in the old one that it wasn’t worth it – added to which, it’s useful to have a less-important one for geocaching, so I don’t cry too much if I drop it in a bog or something. So I have a “good” PDA – network name “Pickle” – for general use, internet, talking satnav etc, and a “less good” one – network name “Button” – with just caching stuff on it. They’re named after Jenny’s cats, by the way, continuing the theme which has the laptop called “Titch”, after Jenny’s previous cat; the desktop called “Garfield” after my last cat, and the print server “Moses” after next door’s cat1.

Anyway, Button’s battery went flat – not just a bit flat, but so totally flat that it reset itself and needed a complete re-install of all its software. No problem until I got to CacheMate, an amazingly useful bit of software which displays cache pages on the PDA screen and saves me wandering around the countryside with reams of paper in my hand – there’s other software which does the same thing, but CacheMate – in my opinion – does it best.

I re-installed CacheMate, and it asked me for the registration code before it would work. No problem, I must have here somewhere, the e-mail I received when I first registered it. Only I haven’t. It isn’t on the desktop, the laptop, or the e-mail-enabled PDA. Bah. Checking out the CacheMate web site I find that I can have the original e-mail re-sent: All I need to do is quote my name and the product code, and my user ID (all of which are easy), the e-mail address I used last time (not so easy, but it’ll be one of four), and the order number of the original purchase. Eh? If I knew the original order number I’d also know the code and wouldn’t need a new one!

To cut a long story short2, I ended up re-registering. It’s only a fiver but it’s a bit annoying to have to pay again for something that I’ve already bought :-(

1 Moses doesn’t actually do anything – it just sits around taking up space. Which is why I named it after next door’s cat.
2 Too late!

Chavtastic II

Sunday, August 27th, 2006

I went and did a cache this afternoon :-)

Southampton City Walls was placed by my mate Martin while I was away on holiday: It has a walk around the walls of medieval Southampton collecting clues, followed by some easy maths to find the final location. While I was looking, it also had the Sunday market at the Bargate, complete with people giving away free food!

Finding the clues was fairly easy – although I made things harder than they need have been by trying to get the info from the wrong plaque at one point: I spent more time hanging around the final cache location waiting for the chavs to stop snogging on the nearby bench – then as soon as they left some spanish tourists arrived. I got it in the end though – having had a Magnum (ice cream, not handgun) to pass the time. Then I went to the gym to work off the ice cream.

It’s a year or thirty since I walked the city walls…Southampton has loads of its history on display, with Tudor and medieval buildings, and in many cases the ground you walk on is the same floor that was laid in Edward III’s time. Even the 13th century steps have been left where they are, with just a handrail and a warning notice bunged in as a sop to Health and Safety. Unfortunately more of Southampton’s history has vanished under stupid shopping centres – I wonder how many of them will still be standing in eight hundred years?

Another Friday Evening…with Apologies to Bel ;-)

Saturday, August 26th, 2006

Friday, and a surprise nice evening, much better than the weather forecast: I’d planned to go to the gym after work – especially as I had a Raynet meeting to put a time constraint on the evening. But nice days like this mustn’t be wasted, so I headed off to a couple of semi-local caches. I’ve been saving these for just such an occasion as this, so I headed off – fielding a couple of “wi-fi support” questions on the way – for the countryside north of Winchester.

First was Meles Warren, a nice easy traditional cache in a little wood, at the centre of a 3-mile circular walk from the car park. Then back at the car park itself was what should have been a nice easy little micro – or it would have been, if the co-ordinates hadn’t been about 50 feet out :-( . Anyway, after much searching a quick phone-a-friend (thanks Tim!) showed me the error of my ways, and Cheesefoot Head was cache 517.

Then I went to a Raynet meeting which went on far longer than I expected – which is why I’m posting this on Saturday morning.

Incidentally, the title of this one is a sop to my Ickle Godson’s Mum…who thinks geocaching blogs are boring :-(

Ring Ring

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

I’m important, me :-)

That isn’t my opinion – well, it is my opinion, but it isn’t only my opinion – it’s the opinion of my employers as well. Up to now, only really important people have been issued with company mobile phones: anyone else has had to use their own, and try to claim call costs back through expenses. But now, that’s all changed! The latest issue (of camera phones, no less) has arrived, and there’s one with my name on :-)

So there we are: don’t worry about learning my number, if you’ve got the current number it’ll still work. Frankly I don’t see me using it very much – but it’s nice that they’ve remembered me.

Healthy

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

It might surprise those of you who saw me at the weekend, but I am trying to eat more healthily.

Now granted I didn’t show much sign of it then: Half a KFC bargain bucket on Friday, non-stop nibbling on Saturday and five (I think) visits to the all-you-can-eat chinese buffet on Sunday. But a couple of years ago – before my lovely doctor said “If you don’t lose some weight you’re gonna die, Lardboy” – that was my diet all the time. At least now it’s the exception rather than the rule.

The trouble is, it’s just so easy to slip back into old habits. I knew I was going to be stuck on the train for at least three hours on Friday night, and I didn’t want to rely on being able to get a snack from the on-board buffet – I’ve made that mistake before, and I’ll probably blog about it sometime – so to make sure I had some means of stopping my blood sugar crashing, I bought a toffee crisp from the machine at the station. Then – conscious of the fact I shouldn’t really be eating chocolate bars – I also bought a packet of crisps. Needless to say, by the time I arrived in Derby both had been eaten, and that was before we started on the Kentucky! Now I’m back where I was at the beginning – “If one chocolate bar didn’t hurt, then nor will one more. And after those two, just one more won’t make much difference…” The only way out of the trap is sheer willpower and determination, and I’ve never been very good at that.

Still, lunchtime today wasn’t too bad – it even had vegetables with it – and I’ve got a fairly healthy chicken sandwich and an apple for this evening. I’ll get there. I’ve got to.

Spam

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

This site has been receiving its fair share of spam comments.

It hasn’t been receiving as much as Jenny’s blog – she’s been getting so much junk commentary I’ve had to temporarily increase her available storage. But since coming back from the weekend I’ve deleted something like 20,000 spam comments from my blog (and no, that isn’t an exaggeration), and there’s still loads to go. Clearly I’ve been fighting a losing battle – new comment spam is appearing faster than I’m deleting it.

Spam filters are available, but they’re nearly all for the next version of WordPress up from the one I’m using, and while I’m not avese to upgrading, I’ve heard that people who’ve done so have lost previous bloggae, or previous comments, and I am averse to that. But then it occurred to me that I didn’t ought to be incapable of writing my own simple spam filter.

So this afternoon I’ve implemented three anti-spam measures: The most obvious to the casual user is that when you try to leave a comment, you’ll see a word in a little blue box: You have to type that in to the appropriate place, or your comment will fall over. You also have to leave your e-mail address, but don’t worry – the only person who’ll ever see it is me, it won’t be published. And hidden away in the depths of the system is a little filter that means that once you’ve left a comment, you can’t leave another for five minutes.

Hopefully none of this stuff will cause any of my readers any problems: hopefully it’ll cause the spam commenters loads of problems, although I suspect only the low-tech ones will be defeated. In a perfect world none of this would be necessary: Spam commenting is theft, they’re using server space that I’ve paid for to host their stupid ads, but the Police have much more important things to do – especially as the commenters are probably sitting in a shed on a mountain top in Tierra del Fuego anyway.

If it works properly, I’ll implement it on Jenny’s blog as well.

Jessica

Monday, August 21st, 2006

Ten house points to anyone (except Rockin’ Rob) who can tell me why today’s offering is titled “Jessica”

In a comment on a recent blog, his Richness of Eltent said “I subscribe to the Jeremy Clarkson view of caravans”. For the benefit of our forrin readers, Clarkson is a motoring journalist of great popularity among the sort of motorist who think that getting off your face on cheap lager and doing 70 MPH in buit-up areas constitutes skilful driving, and his view of caravans is that their lack of speed is a contravention of his God-given right to exceed the speed limit at all times. Although to be fair, he does live in Oxfordshire, a county where in many areas it’s possible to break the speed limit without actually being in a car, so I suppose it’s reasonable.

Anyway, the point of all this was partly to admit that yes, some caravanners make a point of blocking the road and causing problems for other road users – but as with my personal bêtes noires, HGV drivers and BMW owners, the majority are fine, it’s just the selfish few that cause trouble and make the rest of us look bad. People tow caravans bigger than my house with cars that aren’t powerful enough to get them moving, or heavy enough to control them safely: they travel at times of day guaranteed to cause maximum disruption and on the busiest roads, without considering that with a bit of thought they could make things less stressful for themselves and everyone else. And then – despite the fact that “basic towing skills” courses are available from all kinds of sources – they set off totally unprepared, drive with a stunning lack of consideration, and have – or cause others to have – spectacular accidents that block major roads for hours.

The situation is improving – people who pass their driving tests nowadays aren’t allowed to tow big trailers without further training. But in the meantime, don’t judge us all by the actions of a few :-)

No Smoke Without Fire

Sunday, August 20th, 2006

This lunchtime in the chinese restaurant, there was a notice on our table which said: “Please could you smoke at reception for the convenience of other customers around you???.

OK, so I knew what they meant – it just seemed an odd way of saying it. I’ve been in plenty of places where smoking wasn’t allowed; I’ve been in loads of places where it was tolerated, but I’ve never been anywhere that smoking was compulsory, or even requested, before. Chris was pleased – well, he was until the rest of us started bumming fags so we could go and smoke in reception.

The whole weekend’s been pretty fabby: On Friday night we had Jenny MSNing with Sarah – although I still failed to get Messenger installed on her computer, she’d only use my laptop.

On Saturday we worked incredibly hard to turn the house and garden into a party venue, including pretty coloured lights (once Jan had taken them back to Tesco for an exchange) around the railing on the decking. There were also huge amounts of food involved. People arrived, we did Jenny’s 37th birthday party, and some people left – at which point the rest of us started in on the marathon Trivial Pursuit game, which my team (“The Leftovers???) nearly won. Well, we came second. Out of three.

On Sunday, Chris and I went to check on our fabby cache, Erewash Canal, which the last couple of seekers had reported inaccessible because of brambles. Dunno what these Nottingham cachers are made of, but Chris and I got through to it OK :-) . Then we started on the huge party tidy up, before heading over to Belper and the River Garden restaurant for lunch.

And then we went our separate ways, which for me meant the train home. And the fact that you’re reading this suggests that I’ve got there.

Laptopness

Saturday, August 19th, 2006

I sort-of need a new laptop.

“Sort-of”, in this context, can be translated as “not at all, really”, but read on: Part of the problem is that when I bought it, I thought “I don’t really need a laptop at all, so it’s only really worth buying a cheapy”: I wanted it for one specific purpose, to run a particular piece of software about a dozen times a year, so I just bought the cheapest I could get with a warranty.

Then I discovered wireless internet, and the whole concept of spending my evenings downstairs being sociable, rather than locked away in the computer room upstairs. I discovered file sharing – which to work properly really needs all the PCs working on a network to run the same version of Windoze. It shouldn’t, but it does. So rather than down-rate what I had on the desktop, I upgraded the lappy to Windoze XP.

I’ve noticed more and more – as I use the laptop more – that its performance is more akin to an old lady in a Fiat 127, than Jenson Button in his super whizzmobile, and have called it – on more than one occasion – a slow piece of electronic donkey dung. The other evening I was using it to show Rockin’ Rob some stuff, and he had a fiddle to find out what’s inside the case: Apparently XP shouldn’t run at all, and it certainly shouldn’t be able to multitask – so the performance I’m getting is rather better than I deserve.

Hence why I think I need a new laptop. I wonder how long it’ll take me to organise that?

Rail

Friday, August 18th, 2006

I’m not sure if I like train travel or not.

I travelled to Nottingham for Jenny’s birthday party by train today: By booking in advance I got a return ticket for less than the Gruntmobile’s diesel would have cost to drive it, so there’s a financial advantage. You also get well exposed to all human life – for part of the journey I was sitting next to a bloke who thought he was being really subtle about reading what I was doing on the laptop. I hope he enjoyed the minutes of yesterday’s Health and Safety meeting.

On the downside, he’d have been better employed having a bath. And when the ticket collector asked to see his railcard, he revealed a membership card for the Central England Train Enthusiasts :-( .

Worse than that was when the train was stuck in Birmingham New Street for half an hour…because of a signal failure in Crewe, which confused me a bit. Trouble is, I’d already texted Jenny to say the train was on time, and what with Birmingham New Street being the a**ehole of the universe, there’s no mobile signal down there and by the time we were underway again she was already on her way to the station to pick me up.

The deciding factor of course, is that we’re going out for lunch on Sunday…if I had to drive home I couldn’t pour TsingTao down my neck until I fall over :-D

Musical Notes

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

Years ago, I was watching a documentary about some musician who was working with Jools Holland: they were shown rehearsing and the “some musician” – sorry, I can’t remember who he was – played a riff he’d just composed. He told Jools “I discovered this this morning”.

It’s an interesting idea – that every possible bit of music already exists, and they’re all just out there somewhere waiting for a composer to discover them. Mathematically it makes sense – the possible range of notes is limited by the range of human hearing and the fact that notes are separated by a defined interval, so the number of possible ten note (for example) combinations is finite. Enormous, but finite. Of course most of those theoretical possibilities would sound horrible, reducing the real range even further.

I’m not so sure about the artistic part. Is a set combination of notes always exactly the same tune, regardless of the setting? The opening of Jim Steinman’s “Stark Raving Love” is identical to Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” (also written by Steinman), but does that make them the same? There’s a note sequence in The Toys’ “A Lovers Concerto” which is identical to a sequence in “Swan Lake” but surely – because they’re written to arouse different emotions – they must be artisically different?

Yes, my mind wandered a bit in the Health + Safety meeting this morning ;-)

Table Top

Wednesday, August 16th, 2006

When I found my 500th cache, I left something a bit sepcial in it – a lovely England geocoin. A geocoin is a kind of travel bug, which cachers pick up and move from cache to cache around the world, and there are loads of different designs of coins out there – anyone can have a coin designed and minted, and as long as they’re registered with the geocaching powers that be, they can be logged and tracked on the caching website.

As the owner of my England coin, I get a notification e-mail whenever something happens to it: this morning I was told that it’s been placed in a cache on Table Mountain outside Cape Town :-)

This is good for two reasons: Obviously it’s nice that my coin has made its way to somewhere interesting – Cape Town is even better ‘cos when my Dad was in the Merchant Navy he was on the South Africa run for years, and Cape Town was one of his favourite places. He had friends there, and not just among the seafaring community; he loved visiting Table Mountain and the other local sights, and most of the photos he took in those days – and we’ve got drawers full of them – are of Cape Town.

It’s great that my coin’s somewhere my Dad was so happy :-D

Boiling

Tuesday, August 15th, 2006

Things have been a bit upsidedown at Gottlegog Towers.

You’ll rememberthat out central heating boiler was marked as not to be used until we’d had the chimney sorted: Since the boiler itself was getting a bit cranky onits feet -andmay have packed up anytime – we decided to spend the extra and get a whole new boiler which doesn’t require a chimney. Of course, such things are never easy and it seems to have been forever that we’ve been without heating, but at last it’s sorted.

Well, apart from the need to redecorate throughout, it’s sorted :-(

Memories Are Made of This

Monday, August 14th, 2006

There are loads of New Wine memories I didn’t get round to blogging about while I was away.

Chief among these is the Tuesday night risqué joke session in the medical centre staff room. Next time you see me, ask me to pass on T.J.’s “willy” joke – it’s partly visual and wouldn’t work written down. Then there was the slight stitching-up over Joe: part of my job was to assess and approve people to drive the much-mentioned Rover vehicle. I was asked to give Joe – a “new boy” in his first year on team – a thorough assessment, and within minutes I thought “this guy’s really good” – you can just tell sometimes. I asked him if he’d ever taken the Advanced Driving Test, and he admitted he had – “But that was before I joined the ambulance service and trained as an ambulance driver. And THAT was before I transferred to the police and trained as a fast pursuit driver with Traffic division”. Red face, anyone?

But the main memory was the evening I walked up to the top end of the site, where the gang from my church were camping: they forced me – forced me, I tell you – to consume vast amounts of beer and pina colada. I’m not sure how I managed to stagger back down the hill that night, but by gum I felt rough the next morning!

Mini

Sunday, August 13th, 2006

We’ve got a new minibus!

Not at Gottlegog Towers I don’t mean, obviously…that would be silly. No, we’ve got a new minibus at church. It acksherly belongs to New Forest District Council, but it’s administered by Totton Dial-a-Ride and it lives at our church – and on Sundays it’s ours :-) . The old one was pretty rubbish and rattled quite impressively – this one is brand new and apart from being a bit difficult to get into reverse, it’s lovely! It has comfy seats, it starts first try, and it’s only got 700 miles on the clock!

You’ll have guessed I was minibus man this morning. This afternoon was spent polishing off that work I brought home for the weekend, and doing odd jobs on the caravan. And now it’s time for an early night.

Boots

Saturday, August 12th, 2006

Not the sometimes workplace of our chum Sparkle, but the slang term for “tyres”.

I had two new tyres put on the Gruntmobile this morning. Since the arm and leg they cost me are the ones I’d normally use for changing gear, it’s lucky Grunty’s an automatic. Before that, I paid a fiver for a haircut – got to look my best for Jenny’s birthday bash next weekend :-)

Long-term readers will know that my Mum and I like to go for lunch at our favourite pub, the Mucky Duck. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll also know that we’ve not been for ages – Mum’s intermittent wibbliness has meant she’s lost her appetite, can’t taste food all that well, and doesn’t like to be away from home for too long at a time. Well today – because she’s felt a bit better lately – we decided to go again. She loved it! Three courses, and we both packed away far more than we should have done. Still, it was a nice lunch, and it was better than the afternoon I spent ploughing through some of that work I told you about.

Ah well…got some of it done.

Friday on My Mind

Friday, August 11th, 2006

The day after my day off at New Wine, I had the following conversation with Neil, a team member and fairly new geocacher:
Him: “Did you go caching yesterday?”
Me: “I did! How did you guess?”
Him: “Well, it was your day off…”

Today I did July’s entry for Cacher of the Month – with only three caches found it was my worst month since I started entering. Still, I have a ream of excuses – July is always bad for caching, with New Wine and the preparation therefore: Last month I also had exams and other stuff going on. Still, August will be better – I’ve done four caches already and we’re only halfway through the month! Today’s offering was 2 Tricky, the nearest cache to where I work and a lovely walk through the woods – complete with three puzzles. I saw a deer on the way round as well – just a lovely way to start the weekend’s relaxation.

Apart from the fact I’ve had to bring a shedload of work home with me. Bah.