Archive for April, 2008

Shoot the Messenger

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

MSN Messenger is a bit rubbish, isn’t it?

I was chatting to a chum in that medium last night, and unbeknown to both of us, only half of our messages were getting through: under any circumstances that’s pretty confusing, but last night it caused misunderstandings which made my interlocutor quite upset before we got it sorted out.

It’s especially annoying because it’s unnecessary. For years I’ve been using a bit of ham radio software called UI-View, which includes in its functions a sort of “MSN Messenger over the radio” system. It has an error-checking system so the computer at each end knows if any messages haven’t got through.

Let’s say I was having a conversation with Rockin’ Rob: I send him a 5-line message, and line 3 fails to get through. MSN Messenger would display that like this:

Important stuff for next cachepedition:
– Gadgets
– Food
– Beer

Neither of us knows that Rob is one item short of a full list…to coin a phrase.

UI-View would display:

Important stuff for next cachepedition:
– Gadgets
– Food
– Beer

Not only does Rob know there’s a line missing, but my computer knows that line 3 hasn’t been received, and keeps sending it until Rob’s screen correctly shows:

Important stuff for next cachepedition:
– Gadgets
– Sally-J’s favourite chocolate
– Food
– Beer

You can see how important that missing line might be.

If basic, but useful, error trapping like that can work on a narrow bandwidth radio channel shared between dozens of users, why can’t it be made to work on the internet?

Nice Work

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Back in the dim and distant, I was a Quality Manager, working for a company that didn’t really care about quality. It was, to say the least, a bit soul destroying.

One lunchtime I was in the canteen watching the TV news: there’d been a train crash somewhere, hundreds of people injured, and the particular report I was watching was talking about doctors, nurses and paramedics reporting for duty even though it was their day off. It can start you thinking, something like that – “How much use am I? What contribution do I make to the world? Would it ever help anyone if I volunteered to work on my day off?”

Now, of course, I have a job which at least in principle, gives me a chance to affect people’s lives, and if I don’t make them better, I can stop them becoming worse. And I work for an organisation that only exists to make the world a better place, in its own small way.

And today, I’ve been there for a whole year!

Tiring? Yep.
Too slow to act, sometimes? Yep.
Bureaucratic sometimes? Yep.

Job satisfaction? HELL, YES!


Sunday, April 27th, 2008

Hefty thunderstorms in the Hampshire area today – and at least one friend of mine has lost their broadband connection to a lightning strike :-( . No such problem at Gottle HQ thank goodness – the only effect the storm had on me was that I was out in it and had to scurry for cover in Grunty!

I was busy being an important Raynet person on the Marwell 10k race – sitting in the tail car and watching the back end of the slowest runners! Still, the weather had kept the really slow ones at home so it was soon all over, leaving me free to head for a few caches.

I was hoping for four and that’s what I achieved – although not the four I’d intended. The one I’d planned as number one, I drove straight past – the recommended parking turned out to be an illegal and totally inconsiderate parking spot, so I moved to what had been intended as number two:
I Would Walk 500 Miles, owned by our good chum Esscafe. Plenty of mud on the track, I wish Rob and Sarah had been there – but a nice cache to do.

Then it was on to Hambledon, for a circular walk taking in three caches:
Pop Goes the Cache, which was nice and easy.
Bees Knees Beware of the Trees, which wasn’t easy, and
A Sign of the Times.

Then back to the gym, and home for a chinese takeaway. Another nice day :-)

Clear and Present

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

I was a bit late last night.

The reason being, I’d been giving a talk at the amateur radio club. Although I’m a club member, it was the first time I’d been to a club night for over a year, and I was the guest speaker! Anyway, it went down fairly well, no-one fell asleep or walked out, and I’ve been booked to come back in a couple of months to speak on a different subject – so I’ve got another talk to write. Still, some of us thrive under pressure, eh?

Today was a bit more mundane: I collected the remains of my cache “Test Way 1″ from the kind lady who’d salvaged it, then went and bought some new tyres for Grunty. After lunch I dragged myself into town to renew my bus season ticket – a very efficient process, I wish they were that good at running busses – and went to the gym. Considering it was my first workout for ages, I’m pretty pleased :-)

Oh, and Peter O – “Groan” at your comment on my last post!


Thursday, April 24th, 2008

I called into Tesco Express on the way home from Hospital Radio this evening.

I like a bottle of something fruity on the train in the mornings, and it’s ten pees a bottle cheaper in Tezzies – plus there’s the opportunity to laugh at the chavs who can’t work out how to use the self service checkouts. Although this evening they might have got their own back, had there been any watching.

I collected two bottles of Fanta Still (new range and therefore on sepcial offer), and a peanut KitKat, and headed for the checkout. Swiped my purchases and my Tesco Clubcard, then put my wallet down to use both hands to pay. At which point, a book of stamps slid out of my wallet, slid across the swipy thing…and got swiped.

Luckily the security guard saw it happen, so he believed me when I said I hadn’t just picked them up – although the fact that there’s only two stamps left would’ve helped. Otherwise it might’ve been a “swipe me!” moment.

Happy St. George’s Day

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Today, of course, has been St George’s day.

Hopefully all of my UK-based readers will know that he’s England’s patron saint: Perhaps less well-known is that he’s also the patron of Portugal, Georgia, Serbia, Bulgaria Bosnia-Herzegovena, Macedonia and Catalonia.

As if that lot wasn’t enough, he also looks after soldiers, archers (but not The Archers as far as I know), cavalry, saddlery makers, farmers and field workers, and sufferers of plague, leprosy and syphilis. No wonder England’s in a bad way – our patron saint is probably knackered, poor old soul. And of course he wasn’t English in the first place, and I don’t think there’s even any evidence that he visited here. He was a Roman soldier of Turkish descent.

Which at least makes an interesting change to the old question “Apart from roads, sanitation, aqueducts, education and a patron saint, what did the Romans ever do for us?”.


Monday, April 21st, 2008

I’ve been having some technology issues.

My old PDA – the one I use for caching – links by Bluetooth to the GPS, to give me moving map displays and stuff. It’s really useful, it gives tracks on the map and all sorts of things. Trouble is, at random intervals it stops working, which causes the whole thing to crash and you lose the recorded track log and all that sort of thing.

And my new PDA – the one I use for work – keeps running its battery flat, even when it’s switched off. I’ve tried closing down every bit of software it’s running before I turn it off, but it still does it. Come back after a few hours and the battery’s flat :-(

But thanks to my caching chums, I know some answers. The Bluetooth problem is to do with the version of Bluetooth software that some old PDAs use. It’s not upgradeable, and basically it’s a case of living with it. Thanks Micros***. Oh well, at least I know.

The battery problem on the new PDA is also a Micro***t problem, but at least it’s fixable. There’s a hidden default setting which makes the PDA turn itself on every ten minutes and try to connect to…something! To fix it, you need to open the seekrit way into a hidden menu, but it’s fixable – in fact it appears to be fixed. Thanks for that, Mel :-)


Sunday, April 20th, 2008

A day out with some caching chums, with a pub lunch that – as you can see from the picture – featured banananana split :-)

The first three caches we visited – Sending Out an SOS, Collies Climb and LQ: West Sussex – I’d already done, but I tagged along because it’s a nice walk, if a bit steep. The next one was a clever multi that I hadn’t done, so my first log of the day was:
380 Nanometres.

Then we had our pub lunch, in the Barley Mow at Walderton. The service left something to be desired – think of an expression involving organising and breweries – but the food was absolutely first class, not just the banananana split, but the carvery as well :-)

After lunch, I joined Lizzzeeeee and her family for
Hair of the Dog,
and then – after a brief return to the pub headed for home. I DID manage two more on the way home though –
Monumental Quest (West Sussex)
Creepy Crawley Cache.

Another grand day out!

A Bit Annoying

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

The second geocache I ever placed was called “Test Way 1″: It was hidden in a hollow tree base alongside the Test Way. Quite well hidden, I thought, but it kept on getting logs like “I’d never heard of geocaching, but I spotted this as I was passing and read the log book to see what it was all about!”, so obviously not as well hidden as I thought. There was even one log entry signed “The Man Who Cuts the Grass”, and there’s no grass anywhere near there to be cut, so I’m a bit baffled by that one.

Anyway, today I had an e-mail from the caching powers-that-be saying that they’d had an e-mail from a non-cacher who’d found the cache and its contents strewn across the path: They’d recovered it, and taken the container back home: The note included a description of where I could collect the remains from, so I’ll do that tomorrow and write a nice thank-you letter to the finders. It’s a bit annoying when that happens to a cache, but basically you have to accept that when you put a cache out there, that’s going to happen to it sooner or later :-(

All part of life’s rich tapestry – and to be honest it had survived rather longer than I expected – but annoying all the same.


Thursday, April 17th, 2008

The Cornwall cachepedition gallery is online! Just click on the link under “Pages”, over there on the right.

Oh, and Sarah…Rob made me do it. Honest.

How Many Days to Go?

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

Sorry about yesterday’s break in service – I was a bit busy with the “Cornwall Cachepedition gallery” (which will appear as soon as I’ve incorporated Rockin’ Rob’s pictures), and with watching part two of “Waking the Dead”. Is it me, or was that more convoluted than my dream about computers?

Anyway – back to work this week :-( . It doesn’t help that this’ll be the first week since early March that I’ve worked 5 days! Still, only two more days to the weekend – when I’m meeting up with some caching chums – and then it’s nearly the next bank holiday :-)

Wired for Weird

Monday, April 14th, 2008

It’s possible that I had the World’s Weirdest Dream last night: if you don’t want to be weirded, can I suggest you go and look at The Daily Kitten instead?

Anyway, in this dream, I was part of the judging panel for the world’s best microcomputer. So far, so daft, but it was the scoring system that took the biscuit. We each had to pick two computers from the three on offer. Each computer had a number, either 7, 8 or 14. We each added together the numbers for the two we’d selected, and then we were ready for the voting. A supervisor stood at the end of the room shouting out “Base 8! Base 3! Binary! Base 12!” at us, and we had to write down our selections in those bases. When the votes were counted, any number that didn’t convert back to one of the possibilities was disregarded, and the remaining votes counted.

The idea – I’m sure you’ll have worked out for yourselves – was that the quicker and more accurate we were at mental base conversion – and therefore the geekier we were – the greater the weight applied to our votes. Makes sense really.

Tell you what, I’m NEVER eating white Stilton with apricot and ginger at bedtime again!

Various Items

Sunday, April 13th, 2008

In a comment on yesterday’s blog, Jane asked “Why doesn’t your blog go to the top of SimonG’s blog roll when you post?”. For those that don’t know – Simon’s site has a list of blogs which updates every time one of us posts, with the newest blogs at the top, so you can easily tell which blogs have updated since you last read.

Except, as Jane has spotted, mine doesn’t. And I don’t know why, and nor does Simon – we’ve tried everything we can think of, and it still isn’t working, but I suspect it’s something to do with the mucking around by 34sp that I mentioned a few weeks ago.

The other thing for today is – remember I mentioned yesterday that my new sunhat made me look a bit daft? Well, courtesy of this pic by Rockin’ Rob, you can decide: Twit or No Twit? Comments in the usual way, but remember one thing – if I look a twit, at least I look like a twit without a sunburned bald patch!

Cachepedition: Only Five Months to the Next One!

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

Well, we’re home.

I’m still working on the mega cachepedition web page so it’ll take a while before you see too much – apart from anything else I’m not likely to get Rob’s pictures until Thursday – but I thought you’d like this one in the meantime. This is a selection of the technology you need for a successful cachepedition: GPSses, PDAs, cameras, telephones (and spare telephones on other networks to give the best chance of getting help in an emergency), a TomTom, reserve power supplies, and of course chargers for all that technology.

Not shown are two laptops (and chargers), a mobile phone-based internet modem, and another camera that was being used to take the picture.

So the summary is, we had a fabby time, found loads of caches, had Rob’s birthday meal out, won a pub quiz, done a lot of walking, got rained, snowed, hailed and sleeted on, got sunburned (and bought a new sunhat that makes me look like a twit), and we can’t wait for the next one!

Cachepedition: What Day is It?

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

I think it’s Thursday, but it’s a bit early for me. Yesterday was our longest and best day yet – 14 miles walking, 11 finds (plus a fail to find that we now know went missing last weekend) and a nine-hour walking day! Oh and of course we found some Interesting Things in caches, as alluded to by Matt’s comment on the previous blog.

I walked the whole of the coast path about 20 years ago with my chum Mark the Buddhist – I must’ve been fitter then! There’s significant up and down-ness on the bit we did yesterday, and boy do I feel it this morning.

I’ll do proper accounts of things – plus photos – once I’m home, so that’s all you’re getting for now. The bacon sarnies are almost ready.


Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

This is the view from my bedroom window on Monday morning. Yes, that IS snow.

We only did nine caches that day :-)


Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

The title of today’s offering refers partly to the performance of our prize-winning touring quiz team last night: It seems that everywhere Sir Robin’s Minstrels go, we just can’t help winning.

It also refers to the valuable lesson we learned overnight, namely “don’t go to bed and leave the central heating on 25″.

We’re having a fabby time, thank’ee very much: On the first two days (Sunday and Monday) we found 15 caches, Rob had a fabby birthday and we all had an excellent chinese meal, followed by winning the Falmouth pub quiz. And today we’re supposed to be going to Lands End (and going caching, of course).

Oh, and you’ll have noticed we’ve got limited internet at the cottage. It IS limited – about 56k – so don’t expect miracles, but there may be some more updates!


Sunday, April 6th, 2008

Most of you will know that I’m off caching in Cornwall with Rob and Sarah. Those of you who’ve been paying attention will also know that on our last walking outing, the weather wasn’t very kind.

Luckily, my caching first aid kit, which lives permanently in my rucksack, includes one of those tin foil blankets, that make you look like an oven-ready chicken, but are actually really good at staving off exposure. Even luckier, we didn’t need it, as when I checked I couldn’t find it.

Having seen the weather forecast, I wasn’t keen to do Cornwall without one. So I Googled for the nearest branch of ”Blacks” to the office, and toddled off there Friday lunchtime. They didn’t have any. They’d have happily sold me The World’s Biggest First Aid KitTM, with every piece of equipment you could imagine, including everything you’d need to sew your own leg back on, but no oven-ready chicken outfits.

I should’ve known really: coming out of Blacks, I spotted on the other side of the road a small independent outdoor shop, “Mungo’s Moor + Mountain Store”. Two minutes later I was happily clutching my new tin foil – the last one they had on the shelf – and headed back.

I got an excellent deal on echinacea in Holland and Barrett as well :-)

Good Idea?

Friday, April 4th, 2008

According to a story on the BBC news website, convicted sex offenders will have their e-mail addresses blocked from social networking sites like Facebook. Apparently this is the latest exciting and innovative measure designed to protect children from online paedophiles.

Well, that’ll work- after all, it’s just so difficult to get a new e-mail address.

I’m not sure what’s most worrying: the false sense of security that this will engender in gullible parents, or the fact that Jim Gamble – Chief Executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre – thinks that it’s a measure that “has real potential to accelerate online child protection”. As I’ve said on many occasions, something has to be done to protect children online, and I don’t know what the answer is. But I don’t think this is it.

Missing Virgin

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

I’ve had an old mobile phone hanging around the place for ages.

As some of you will be sick of hearing by now, we’re off to Cornwall for a week’s caching this Saturday. Now Cornwall is very pretty, but it’s the land where mobile phone signals go to die, so we thought it’d be a cunning wheeze to unlock my spare mobile and stick in a Pay As You Go SIM, on a network none of us currently have, to give us an extra chance of being able to talk to the world. A wheeze so cunning you could stick a tail on it and call it Blackadder…or something like that, anyway.

So anyway, I had the phone unlocked at a dodgy-looking shop in a northern town. Several years ago, Virgin Mobile sent me a free PAYG sim card, and none of us are on Virgin, so the plan was to drop that sim into the phone, activate it for a month, and away we go. Which would be fine, if I could find the card :-(

So at lunchtime today, I toddled along to Mungo’s Mobile Phone Shop and got what seemed like a good deal on a sim card. I’ll let you know.


Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

As I said yesterday, last night was spent in yet another hotel.

I tried to be fair, I really did: I knew that for what the Civil pays to bunk down its lower-grade employees, I couldn’t expect the Queens Hotel, Leeds, standards. But I didn’t expect “The Shambles” (not the real name, before some hotel that’s really called The Shambles sues me). With my room on the second floor, and with a case and two bags, a lift would’ve been nice. So would a bed that didn’t go “CRACK” when I sat on it, or a toilet seat that hadn’t already gone “CRACK” when a previous guest sat on it. Are you getting the impression?

“At least I can have a meal without going outside the hotel – the restaurant looks OK”, I thought to myself – moments before discovering that the restaurant was closed to diners because it was being used for a speed dating night. And no I didn’t – I went for a bar snack. Since the bar was decorated in standard pub stylee, I at least had hopes for the beer – which turned out to be a choice of two lagers, served from one of those complex and highly-polished fittings that looks like the Archchancellor of Unseen University’s shower.

I don’t think I’ll stay there again.