Archive for March, 2008

Leed On

Monday, March 31st, 2008

…heh heh heh.

Well, that’s another HBA conference done, and a cracking weekend it was too. Jenny has already blogged one of the funniest things that happened, but there was also the fabby quiz on Friday night (by me, Jenny and Chris!), a great seminar, an amazing award ceremony accompanied by a meal which more than made up for any previous culinary shortcomings, and best of all plenty of time with chums.

And it’s only six months until we do it all over again in Solihull! In the meantime I’m in another northern town, where I’m working in the local office tomorrow. Home tomorrow evening – and I’m assured that my new laptop charger, and Rockin’ Rob’s birthday present, are waiting for me!

The Bells Are Ringing

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

I spent last night in a rather nice hotel in a little old Northern town.

The office I was working in today was literally a stroll across the car park, so I went to bed celebrating the fact that this morning, I could have a long leisurely lie-in – this is really good news when for most of your working life you have to start the day with a two and a half hour commute.

Which is why I was especially annoyed when the fire alarm went off at quarter to sodding six this morning :-( .

So now I’m in a different little old northern town – Leeds to be precise – for the wonderful Spring hospital radio conference. The evening has been spent chatting with chums, and dare I say spinning the odd scheme or two – of which more in due course I have no doubt! Internet access is, as usual, about a million pounds a minute, so I doubt of Gottle’s blog will get updated much for the next few days!

G’night maties.

Disagreement

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

There’s some protest going on at the moment about the Beijing olympics.

While I see the the point, I’m a bit surprised – China’s dreadful human rights record, and their illegal occupation of Tibet, were well known at the time Beijing were given the 2008 olympics, and they’re not doing much now that they haven’t done all along. They’re still in Tibet and there’s no sign of them leaving, and they’re treating the Tibetan people badly – but no worse than they treat their own people all the time. So my question is not “why protest?”, but “why protest right now?”.

I suppose the passing of the olympic flame offers a chance of publicity for the protests – but there have been plenty of other publicity opportunities that have been missed. And ultimately I can’t see China taking much notice – maybe a major boycott of the games, a bit better supported than the Moscow one in 1980, would make them sit up and pay attention for a while, but even that wouldn’t change anything substantial.

And of course it’s a bit surprising that we don’t see the same amount of protest about another country’s illegal occupation of its neighbours, coupled with equally bad human rights abuses.

Don’t know when you’ll next hear from me – as you know I’m internet-less at home, and I’m not going to have access to the work web cafe for the next few days. I’ll update you when I can – meanwhile, those of you waiting to thrash me at Scrabulous, please be patient!

Laptoplessness

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Being internet-less (I’m posting this from the web café at work) has revealed something a bit odd.

Most evenings – when it’s a school night – I head for bed sometime between ten and eleven: on Sunday evening, although I hadn’t got up very early, I was falling asleep in front of the telly before nine. Again on Monday I didn’t get up until quite late, but yet again was falling asleep early in the evening.

So my theory is, playing on the internet helps you stay awake.

I’ve ordered a new power supply online. I can’t wait.

Quickly Now

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Just a quick summary of today – but first something much more important:

Those of you who don’t routinely read Jenny’s blog (and why not?) won’t know that she’s getting herself prepared to take part in the Race for Life, raising money for Cancer Research UK. If you hop over to her blog (see the “Sybil Baggins” linky to the right), there’s a dead easy clicky to take you to her online fundraising page. You can donate by credit card, and it’s all totally secure as the web page is run by the cancer charity. So go and do it now! Oh, and don’t forget to tick the box that allows Cancer Research to Gift Aid it, so they can claim back the income tax you’ve already paid on your donation, at no cost to yourself…

Other than that, today I have…

  • Finished my packing for Leeds
  • Done a maintenance check on my cache “Bloggers Bog”
  • Eaten a pub lunch
  • Been to the gym
  • Made peppermint flavoured chocolate fudge

Happy what’s-left-of-Easter, one and all :-)

Bonkers and Genius

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

We must’ve been flippin’ mad.

Rob, Sarah and I had planned to go geocaching yesterday; all week the weather forecast had been warning that we weren’t going to have a very nice time, but we didn’t let that put us off. We’d intended a ten mile circular walk which would’ve netted us fifteen caches or so, but after four miles we’d witnessed horizontal rain. snow, sleet and hail, so we decided to head for the pub instead! As you can see from the pic, at one point the weather was so bad we had to hide in a ditch!

Anyway, those caches were:

Rife Walks 14: Homeward Bound
Rife Walks 13: Mill View
Tree Fellers
Bridge Over the River Rife – AWOL
Rife Walks 11: Thirsty
Rife Walks 10: Tie a Yellow Ribbon

And in technology related news…the charger on the laptop has decided to stay dead and there’s no shops open today, so I’m typing this on the desktop again. That left me in a bit of trouble – I need the laptop to finish my talk for next weekend, and I need the laptop to present the talk :-( . Our good chum Rockin’ Rob offered to solve the problem by lending me his spare laptop, which would’ve cost him much preparation time, but he’s good like that – but then my Luvvly Mum, who gets less credit for extreme cleverness than she deserves, asked “What’s wrong with your spare laptop – the one on the workbench?”.

A quick Powerpoint install later and we’re hot to trot – so if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and write a talk.

Grrr

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

Flippin’ Technology.

Remember I mentioned a while ago that my laptop charger was playing up? It decided to straighten up and fly right for a bit, but today it’s gone again. I’m going to have to bite the bullet and buy a new one, but goodness knows when. Since tomorrow was set aside for finishing my talk for next week’s conference – and I can’t do that without the laptop working – I suppose early tomorrow is the answer to that.

I’ll tell you tomorrow about today’s caching – as long as I’ve got some working technology to tell you with, this is coming courtesy of the clunky old deskytoppy. Which may be clunky, but it does at least work.

Razor

Friday, March 21st, 2008

I forgot to tell you about my finger.

The bag I used as a weekend bag for our Dartmoor trip last weekend was my old gym bag. I still use it sometimes as a gym bag, when I need to take loads of stuff and my gym rucksack isn’t big enough…but anyway, for all practical purposes it’s my old gym bag and that’s all you need to know at this stage of the story.

So we got back from our fabby weekend away, and I started to unpack: Dirty washing in the machine – gadgets put away – phone Rob to ask if I left my GPS in his car (I did) – unworn clothes that were taken “just in case” put away. Right, I think the bag’s empty – just check it by ramming my hand down into the side pocket.

That was when I found the old disposable razor, left over from when it was a gym bag.

Jamming your fingertip down on to a twin-blade razor only makes a small cut, but it goes deep and bleeds impressively. So it was probably something of a mistake to shake my hand quite so vigorously while shouting “Ow! Mongoose it, that hurts!”. To coin a phrase, there was blood everywhere.

I’ll try not to do that again.

Poste Restante

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

Much hot air is being vented today about the failure of an opposition motion to prevent the closure of all except the largest post offices.

The biggest cause of concern in Southampton is the hypocracy of MPs John Denham and Alan Whitehead, both of whom promised constituents that they were fighting to save post offices, yet toed the party line and voted against the motion. Since it was only defeated by ten votes, it woiuld only have taken those two and three others to make the decision go the other way.

John Denham, of course, was the man who resigned his cabinet post over the Iraq war, so he might have been expected to show some courage, but in Whitehead’s case I wasn’t expecting miracles. Regular readers will remember that he was the MP who refused to support the Early Day Motion on better regulation of Health and Safety – which would have led to improved workplace safety with less unnecessary beaurocracy and stupid pointless control measures. Who remembers the days when Labour MPs represented the welfare of ordinary working people?

Mind you, if post offices are losing business and losing money, it’s their own fault: I saw an advertisement recently for Post Office Broadband, which promised “Broadband as easy as buying a stamp”. Well the last time I tried to buy a stamp, I went to the machine at my local post office and it was out of order – as it has been for the last six months. I considered going inside and buying at the counter, but the queue was out the door. In the end I went to Mungo’s Newsagent and bought a book of stamps there.

So the message seems to be, if you want broadband as easy as buying a stamp, go somewhere other than the post office.

E by Gum

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

According to Southampton’s quality local newspaper (little bit of irony there), a survey by Southampton University into the effects of various E-numbered food additives has been rejected by the European Union as inconclusive.

Amidst all the arm-waving by the organic food brigade, it’s worth remembering that the original intention of the E-numbering system was that food additives would be tested for safety, and only those found to be safe (when used as intended by the supplier) would be given E-numbers. Of course newer research and improvements in testing technology have shown that some ingredients aren’t as safe as was originally thought, but it’s still important to remember that the function of the scheme remains the approval of proven-safe ingredients, rather than the opposite.

In fact, food ingredients essential to life – or at least harmless – have E-numbers. Some examples are -

  • E101 – vitamin B2 when used as a food colouring
  • E260 – vinegar when used as a mould inhibitor
  • E300 – vitamin C when used as an acidity regulator
  • E500 – sodium bicarb when used as a raising agent

The organic food movement is all very well for those that want it – but we have to remember that the planet doesn’t have enough production capacity to feed the whole population organically, so it’s a luxury we genuinely can’t all afford. And of course, unless we’re all going to go back to buying fresh food every couple of days – and eating nothing we can’t buy fresh – food is going to have to contain some preservative, even if it’s only common salt (E470a).

Unrestrained technology is not the way forward, but nor is a return to the dark ages. What’s needed is better technology applied with a light hand, and better information about what that technology means.

Dartmoor 2008

Monday, March 17th, 2008

So – we did a caching expedition on Dartmoor! I’ll put together a proper gallery page once we’ve shared our pictures, but in the meantime there’re a few of my efforts at the bottom of this entry – including a very cute cat, to keep the non-cachers reading!

We stayed at the very fabby Hunters Lodge B+B in Dartmeet, on the south of the moor: Saturday was cold, wet and foggy, but that didn’t stop us doing…
Little Staple Tor
Middle Staple Tor
Sett Maker’s Bank
Stationary S-tor-e
Tors of Dartmoor – Roos Tor
Zara’s Pot of Gold
Rock around the Cox 2
Rock around the Cox 1
Wooden Launder

And then after lunch…

Pirates of Princetown – yarrr!
Road to Nowhere, where we rescued a travel bug that had been dumped alongside the cache because it wouldn’t fit inside.
Devon Bridges 4 – Oakery Bridge
Devon Bridges 3 – Lower Cherrybrook Bridge
Combestone Tor, a cache hidden in a crawl hole in the rocks – we all had a go, but it was Rob who retrieved it, at great expense to his dodgy knee.
Yet Another Bench Mark – Saddle Bridge
Devon Bridges 2 – Hexworthy Bridge

And that was only Saturday! We’d made a big push on day one because we were all hoping to hit milestone numbers over the weekend and wanted the “big one” to be something a bit good :-)

So Sunday started with
Hart Tor, Rob and Sarah’s 500th and my 900th! We gave up on searching for Alphabet Challenge X – a microcache hidden in a boulder field with a rubbish clue – and moved on to
Aqueduct, which was much nicer.
Indian Head and
Devil’s Bridge completed the morning.

After lunch we just had time for some cache-and-dashes before we headed for home:
Devon Bridges 5 – Upper Cherrybrook Bridge
Yet Another Bench Mark – Lock’s Gate and
Poundsgate, a cache owned by our chum Lord Hutton, although we didn’t realise that at the time – I suppose it being outside a pub should’ve given it away!

There’s much more I could tell you about, including our new pastime of Spot the Minibus – it seemed like every school and college which uses Dartmoor for its D of E expeditions was out this weekend. Oh, and Sarah’s new nickname, although on that subject I’ll just say – Sarah, I knew it was Rob all along ;-)

And on to those pictures:

Fudge break on Saturday morning. This isn’t a trick shot, it really was that foggy.

Rob got even wetter doing “Combestone Tor” than he’d been before.

We promised no more pics of Rob throwing Sarah in some mud – so here’s Rob throwing Sarah in the river instead. We’d just done Saturday’s last cache, “Hexworthy Bridge”.

The view from my room in the B+B on Sunday morning. If you imagine this taken from ten feet further left, that’s the view from Rob and Sarah’s room.

A rather rubbish group shot. We’d just done our milestone cache.

This rather pretty water feature is near our only fail-to-find of the weekend. We liked the view anyway.

Close to “Aqueduct”. These controlled streams – called “leats” – were built to supply power to 18th century industry such as flagstone-making and lead mining on the moor. It’s quite fun to see them bridging each other though!

As promised, a cute cat. We met this regal lady in the Tavistock Arms, close to our final cache, “Poundsgate”. We were warned she was a bit bad-tempered, and we saw her scratch a child who didn’t know when to stop petting her! She likes teasing dogs as well.

Munch

Friday, March 14th, 2008

We were discussing at lunchtime, the four basic food groups required to sustain life.

Contrary to what some nutritionists will tell you, the four essentials are:

  • Chocolate
  • Caffeine
  • Meat products containing brown crunchy bits
  • …something else

We couldn’t decide what the “something else” should be – opinions were divided between beer, Pringles, and number 49 down the ethnic takeaway. All suggestions gratefully received by the normal route :-) .

In the meantime, I’m off on me travels again…heading for Dartmoor tonight with Rockin’ Rob and Sally-J for a weekend caching. During which the four basic food groups are probably going to be shortbread, fudge, peppermint creams and Baileys :-)

Welsh Wales

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

Well…if all has gone according to plan, at the time this post appears I’ll be relaxing in a hotel in Welsh Wales – I’ve been working in the Wales office today, and I’m back there tomorrow, so I’m stopping nearby.

However – this all depends on:

  • First Great Western Trains getting me to the right place
  • M’colleague Kay finding the hotel reservation and e-mailing it to me
  • Me getting through Thursday’s work before the early hours of Friday morning
  • The taxi driver knowing where the hotel is

I’m also hoping to complete a webcam cache near the hotel tonight, weather (and Rockin’ Rob’s internet connection) permitting…

No internet connection in the hotel, as far as I know, and in any case I’m not taking the laptop – so those of you waiting to hammer me at Scrabulous will have to be patient!

Flamed

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

Some of you may have seen a story in yesterday’s papers about fire extinguishers being removed from a residential block in Bournemouth.

The extinguishers have been removed with the backing of Dorset Fire and Rescue – people who know a bit about fighting fire, one way and another – on the grounds that they might encourage people to stay in the building and fight the fire, rather than getting out of the building and leaving fire fighting to those who are paid and trained – and properly equipped – to do it. Meanwhile, a resident – a retired printer – reckons the decision is “safety gone mad – they probably think we’re going to point the extinguisher the wrong way and shoot ourselves in the face or something”.

There’s a growing body of opinion in the Health and Safety profession that the only value of fire extinguishers in the workplace is to break the glass on the fire alarm call point, to save cutting your fingers. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, there are some workplaces such as chemical works or oil refineries where fighting fire is the safest option – but these places usually have properly trained and equipped firefighting teams. In the majority of workplaces, the safest action is always to get out.

Certainly in the workplaces where I’m responsible for fire safety, I always tell people that I don’t want to see anyone fighting fire – I’d rather we were standing safely at the fire evacuation point watching the building burn, than standing inside an intact building watching paramedics treat a badly-burned have-a-go hero. Or worse. Of course I’m slightly biased by the fact that as Fire Manager I have to be the last one out – so if some hero stays behind to tackle the fire, I have to stay with them :-( .

The retired printer quoted above went on to say that although he and his fellow residents hadn’t been trained to use the extinguishers, “you’d soon work it out if you were trapped in a burning building”. Of course you would – when you’re panicking, and maybe just been woken in the middle of the night, and the world is falling apart around you, is an ideal time to learn a new skill.

So lets see – who should I trust most, to give me fire safety advice? Dorset Fire and Rescue, or a retired printer? Votes in the comments section please!

Quizzical

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

Well, my team came fifth (out of thirteen) in the quiz last night, which for a first effort we thought wasn’t bad. And more importantly, we beat the other team from our workplace by ten points :-) . The nibbles at half time were excellent as well, hot sozzies and chips, and good quality sarnies – mind you, at £15 per team to enter, and beer at £3.50 a pint, they could afford to lay on something a bit sepcial!

It was a well-organised bash, and some of the teams have obviously been competing there for ages. We’re going to go again – and in the meantime I’m not ashamed (well only a bit) to admit that I’ve nicked one of the rounds for a quiz I’m helping with in a couple of weeks time.

So that’s the numbers round…only the “Where in the World” to go…

Techno Techno Techno

Monday, March 10th, 2008

I had a bit of technology trouble over the weekend.

Just as the laptop battery was going flat – which it does with monotonous regularity – the charger died :-( . I had a dead laptop, and no way to charge the battery – nor any way to surf the internet and find suppliers of laptop chargers. I managed to continue my MSN conversations using the PDA, but it wasn’t very satisfactory.

I had noticed that the charger was a bit warm – I’d left it plugged in while not charging the laptop, which I know is naughty – so after a couple of hours, once it had cooled down completely, I tried again. It worked! So it looks like my charger has an overheat cutout. Anyone know if that seems likely? It’s an HP something-or-other.

In other news, in spite of the doom and gloom merchants on the telly, my journey to work this morning was almost trouble free. The train was 30 minutes late getting into Waterloo, because of weather-related speed restrictions, but as I’d taken the precaution of catching the earlier train it all worked out OK. Just hope I get home without trouble – I’ll be late, because there’s a crowd of us going to a pub quiz after work, so if the trains are mongoosed as well, I might be sleeping on the office floor.

Ah well, at least it’d make me early in the morning.

Mail

Saturday, March 8th, 2008

Today – after taking my Luvvly Mum out for our delayed Mothering Sunday lunch (she wasn’t well last week) – I have been making fudge and peppermint creams. So we’ll be well stocked on sweeties for our caching weekend away next weekend :-) .

I never mentioned that I met my chum June for lunch, in the week. June is the widow of my long-time buddy Mark the Buddhist, whom long-term readers will remember died a couple of years ago – less than a year after I’d been Mark and June’s best man :-( . Anyway, she’s been doing some clearing at Mark’s flat (they’d kept it on when he moved to her house), and presented me with a bulging file of papers that she thought I might like to have.

It contains every letter I ever wrote to Mark! Not only that, there’s two of his diaries from walking holidays we did together. It’ll take me a while to get through the diaries – his writing was never much better than mine – but the letters are certainly bringing back a few memories!

I wonder how many people will have 25-year-old letters from present times, in the future?

Sunny Afternoon

Friday, March 7th, 2008

My boss had a little moan at me the other day.

Apparently, when I do long days like I did on Monday, I’m supposed to book the extra time and get it back, not just swallow it in my own time. How different life is, in the public sector, eh? So just to keep her happy, this afternoon I finished at three o’clock :-) . For reasons that would be a bit complicated to a non-cacher, I didn’t want to do a cache this afternoon, so I’d decided to hop on the earliest available train home and go to the gym.

And I would’ve done, if I hadn’t had a crashing headache when I got home :-( . So I went and slept for an hour, then made some shortbread for next weekend. Which seems to have got Rob a bit excited, if his reaction on MSN is anything to go by.

You Think You’re Smart…

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

Overheard on the train this morning, part of a conversation between two Financial Times readers:

Reader One: “So what is bauxite?”

Reader Two: “Aluminium ore”

Reader One: “Aluminium or what?”

Those of us sitting nearby had a good chuckle at that – until we realised, with that heart-sinking-into-bowels feeling, that she wasn’t joking. I wish I was making this up, but I’m not.

Don’t laugh – your pension might be in their hands :-(

Brrm Brrm Bus

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

Regular readers will know that I’ve got a season ticket for Southampton busses: My luvvly Mum, in a display of her not-so-luvvly tendencies, insists on referring to it as my bus pass, but anyways…

The problem is, it’s a season ticket for First Bus. I may have mentioned their service once or twice before. Anyway, it isn’t a problem in the morning, when First are the only busses running – but in the evening I often have to choose between waiting for a First bus – which might not come, on account of the oft-mentioned rubbishness of the “service” – or getting on a Blue Line bus which I have to pay for. OK, it’s only £1-20, but the season ticket wasn’t cheap and needs to be used to make it worth having.

Until now. I discovered, quite by chance, a service called “PlusBus”, where you can add a bus season ticket to your train ticket. It covers all the Southampton busses, not just Worst Bus, and costs a hundred squids a year less. Result.

And finally – as reward for reading this far – a reminder that for the next few weeks, Radio 4’s Wednesday evening 11:30 comedy slot is a serialisation of Terry Pratchett’s “Night Watch”. ”Listen Again” is once again my friend!

The Captain Said “There Will be a Short Delay”

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

I think I may have mentioned, the last time I travelled on a Midland Mainline train, that they were pretty good.

I lied. They’re crap.

My train to Nottingham this evening (assuming this gets posted Sunday night, which is starting to look unlikely at the time of writing) was stationary outside Kettering for an hour and a quarter. Now I know that problems happen and they might not be the train company’s fault – but to keep a trainload of people waiting that long with no information is…beyond description.

When the train finally made it into Kettering station, we were waiting another thirty minutes – again with an apology but no information.

And then when we left Kettering we were subject to what is, apparently, a usual weekend delay: somewhere near Market Harborough there’s a farmer who’s allowed to graze his sheep on the track at weekends, so the trains have to go by a slightly roundabout route. I’m not sure what this route is, but I’m pretty sure I saw the White Cliffs of Dover at one point.

Needless to say, I missed all except a few minutes of the music quiz at the Three Nuns. I’ll let you know the outcome of my letter to Midland Mainline.