dalliard.net

He didn't get where he is today by stealing somebody else's catchphrase.

Not Dead Yet

Yes, I am still alive. Yes, it has been a busy few months and yes, I shan't leave it so long next time. Here's a quick summary of what I've been up to…. Read More...
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0 Words

I resolve not to have any resolutions. Read More...
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Thank You

Number thirteen has been completed without mishap.

edge
Cardiff was my first half-marathon back in 2013, so it was good to come back for a third time. Whilst my time was no record-breaker, the size of the event probably was. It gets bigger and bigger each year. This time, over seventeen thousand runners crossed the start-line - and I was right at the back. It took me nearly twenty minutes to cross the start-line. I must remember to join the queues for the loos a lot earlier!

Nonetheless, the atmosphere is what makes Cardiff such a great event. I don’t think I saw a section of the course that didn’t have supporters. Even one of the local residential homes wheeled out its residents and got them cheering us on. The support is what makes the event and I’d really recommend it as your “first” should you ever want to try running a race of this distance.

The best part, though, is that as a result of your sponsorship £187 has been raised to support the Campaign Against Living Miserably. By my calculations that’s enough money for them to take over twenty-five calls. Thank you so much.

My next half-marathon will be in Exeter at the beginning of next year.
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Obligatory Begging Post

A couple of posts ago I stated my intention to enter my thirteenth half-marathon and (for once) be sponsored, with the proceeds going towards CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably.

So I've entered one. My thirteenth half will be Cardiff Half-Marathon, the place where I ran number one three years ago. It seemed such a fitting place to do it. Aside from the nostalgia value, the event is wonderful. The crowds are plentiful and supportive, the scenery is great, it's well-organised and the course is virtually flat. I'm looking forward to it.

Running has been my saviour. It took some time to figure it out, but getting an hour or so of running in every few days really has done wonders for my mental health and it only seems right to use that for the benefit of others.

And so we come to the crunch, the bit where I ask you if you'd be so good to sponsor me. I have two sponsorship pages, although I've subsequently found that if you use the Virgin link, more money goes to charity.

My JustGiving link is here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/donatetocalm
My Virgin Money Giving link is here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/calmdonation

Many thanks for taking the time to read this post - and if you can pledge a bit of sponsorship I'd be extremely grateful.
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CALM

This weekend I’m running another half-marathon, the Imerys Trail near St Austell, Cornwall. I was recently pondering the events I’ve entered since I started running and it dawned on me that this is my twelfth.

Bloody hell. A dozen of the buggers.

That puts a smile on my face, because when I was back at school I was shite at sport, which commonly translates to "lacks confidence" in school reports. I was the wobbling and puffing kid at the back of the cross-country group. "Sport" was just not my thing.

If only my P.E. teacher could see me now. What I lack in speed, I make up for in sheer bloody-minded determination.

I’ve been running for nearly three and a half years now and it's gone far past my original intention, which was purely to get fitter for my second-dan grading back in 2013. However, when I completed my first half-marathon that was the turning-point. Not wanting to lose the vastly improved fitness that I’d gained (or go through the pain of getting back up to half-marathon fitness again), I continued to enter more events.

There was another side-effect of running - I felt happier in my own skin.

And so this is the point where I lay my cards on the table. I’ve occasionally had poor mental-health over the years. I’ve had bouts of depression that have come and gone like an unwelcome, incontinent lodger who sleeps in your bed, drinks your beer and emits his gas in your face. At times, the irksome oaf has lurked around for years before finding other digs.

My unwelcome guest has visited me several times, my first being when I was around thirteen or fourteen, a time when I was probably too young to realise what it was. A combination of bullying at school and my parents separating started it all off, returning again when I was in my mid-twenties and a third time when my mother died. For me, depression is a disease which doesn't have a cure, but seems to come and go in episodes.

But I've been "free" for a while now - and that's jolly good.

The amount of evidence supporting improved mental health through running continues to grow. Studies aside, I find that it takes approximately 45 minutes for the benefits to kick in afterwards. It’s been said that there’s a “runner’s high”. Whilst I still think that's bollucks, whatever endorphin release happens during the activity seems to keep me going for a few days - and that’s got to be better than medication, with all the nasty side-effects that go with it. A run every three-ish days seems to do the trick. If I've missed one or been inactive for four or five days I start getting irritable - it's time to get another session in.

So if running does something for my wellbeing, then it seems reasonable to use that boost for the benefit of other’s mental-health too. Unfortunately, the subject is still an uncomfortable one for many in this country and I’d like to do something (however small) to address that. Over the years I've had varied responses to the condition, ranging from "Cheer the fuck up" to things a lot more supportive. It's only through support, openness and a willingness to change the stigma attached to mental health in this country that we'll ever address it. Us men are not good at talking, but if the stigma can be removed then we'll find it easier to talk about it.

Over those twelve half-marathons, I've seen a lot of people wearing running shirts advertising the charity they're running for. One charity has resonated with me more than any other, going by the name of "C.A.L.M" or the Campaign Against Living Miserably. They give advice, counselling and crisis support and the organisation aims to reduce the male suicide rate, particularly in the 20 - 45 age range - the biggest killer of younger men in the UK. There have been times in the past where I could've been a statistic.

I've decided that my thirteenth half-marathon will raise money for this charity. Getting through depression is a struggle. Because they're not obvious, mental-health issues are such a hard thing for some to comprehend. Your brain isn't in a plaster cast. To the average person on the street who sees you, you look fine. And yet, on some days, just getting out of bed is a struggle in itself. If I can raise something through completing an event and indirectly prevent a suicide, then I guess that adds something positive to my life too. It gives me some purpose when I'm clocking up the miles. Indirectly, whilst improving my own mental state, I'll be helping somebody else's.

I'm not sure what my next event will be yet, but Bristol Half-Marathon is in September and would allow adequate time for me to badger the likes of you reading this for money in sponsorship. Once the event details are finalised, I'll post a link here as well as a pinned post on Twitter and naturally would be very grateful for any contribution you can make. I'll post again in the next few weeks, once my legs have stopped hating me after tomorrow's event.

Thanks for reading.
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A fitting end

edge
Here are my beaten up old running shoes, which over the last two years have carried me for about 1,500 miles. I've worn them far longer than I ever should've. They have rips, the soles have large flat-spots which are about to wear through and the cushioning isn't what it was - but wearing them was a bit like wearing a favourite pair of jeans. Old habits die hard. However, now is the time to give them a dignified retirement and get them replaced. This poor old pair of Nike Lunareclipse 3s are being replaced with a pair of ASICS GT-1000 v3s. I only hope that they manage to give such good service.

As you might've gathered at this point, I'm still running - and as September approaches, I'm looking forward to having a new set of challenges to work towards. To kick things off, I've got my name down again for Bristol Half-Marathon. When I run this event, it'll have been six months since I ran my last, so I'm looking forward to blowing out the cobwebs and taking part in a large event again. The race is close to flat and it'll give me a good chance to beat the time of 2hrs 5 mins that I managed last year. As the months go by, my times have gradually got a little bit quicker. I'm still hoping to break that magic two-hour barrier very soon.

Not long after that, in a departure from my usual races, I'm running in something very different event - and to be honest, I'm not entirely sure why I've entered it. Nonetheless, here's a sample of what I'll be up to.


It's called the "Tuff-Enuff, Above & Beyond" run and I'm going to get extremely muddy and wet indeed. If ever there was a suitable place for a pair of trainers to shuffle off this mortal coil, this would be the one - that's of course, should I make it around. Road race this is not.

Finally, should I survive that, I'm down for Exeter's Great West Run in October. I've not entered this event before, so it'll be good to take part in a local event that's been running for so many years.

Which leaves me with one question - up to this point, I'll have run nine half-marathons. Perhaps I should do something big for my tenth? Any suggestions?
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Smashed

October’s coming to an end and the clocks are changing tomorrow. As the daylight goes and the nights draw in, my final running event of the year, the Plymouth 10K brings things to a close. It’s been a good year. In September, I completed Bristol Half-Marathon is 2:05:25, over eight minutes quicker than I completed Plymouth’s Half-Marathon six months earlier. The following weekend, I completed the Ashburton Mud Run with @ms_dalliard and then set yet another best at Cardiff the week after, completing their half-marathon in 2:04:25.

edge

Annoyingly, I could’ve knocked another minute off that time, but three miles into the race I was desperate for a wee. A time of 2hrs and 3 minutes would’ve been awesome - not just as a personal best, but also because I would’ve been able to hold @bikesian65 to his promise of buying me a pasty and a pint for smashing my time by more than a minute!

To round things off nicely, I also ran the Siblyback 10K last weekend and managed to well and truly break the one hour barrier with a time of 57 minutes. OK, that’s still about 18 minutes off the leader, but it’s confirmation that a two-hour half marathon isn’t far away. I can now sustain nine-minute miles.

In conclusion, this brings me to my objective for the coming year - to complete a half-marathon in under two hours. I’ll now continue training through the winter and chances are that the majority of my running will now be in darkness. With a torch strapped to my head, I’ll keep going and I’m lucky to have a great training venue on my doorstep, free from traffic and other distractions. My first event is likely to be the First Chance 10K in Exeter in January and I’m hoping to keep to maintain a consistent level of performance over the winter. That’ll allow me to have a good chance of completing Plymouth’s half in under 2:00:00.

Finally, I’d like to thank my friends for their encouragement, especially @AMHurley28 who got up at shitty o’clock and joined me on the road-trip to both half-marathons. It was good to have the support. Thanks everyone!
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Autumnal Challenge

It’s been over eighteen months since I started running, an activity that I’m pleased to say has now become a well-engrained habit. I routinely run three times a week and that’s allowed me to keep whittling away at my times. As it stands at the moment, these are my personal bests:


So far I’ve managed to improve a full five minutes on my time from my first half-marathon at Cardiff.

However, it’s now time to look to the future and like most people, I find that I perform better if I’ve got a goal to work to. For that reason, I’ve set myself an autumnal challenge - to run three races in three weeks.


The Mud Run is a shorter event and should (hopefully) allow me to rest my legs a bit between the two half-marathons. I’m hoping to break my personal best at either Bristol or Cardiff - and it goes without saying that I’d like to run Cardiff faster than I did last year!

The decision to take up running was something I’ll never regret because it’s had a positive effect on so many aspects of my life. My energy levels are better, it’s helped with my general fitness, being instrumental in my last jujitsu grading - and it goes without saying that fitter people are happier too!

I don’t know if I’ve just tuned in to it, but I notice that more people are running now. We shouldn’t be surprised - it’s a cheap activity, apart from a new pair of running shoes every so often. Coincidentally, I’m on the verge of wearing out my current pair of trainers having run approximately 850 miles in them. That’s something of a novel thing for me, to wear out a pair of running shoes by, you know, actually running in them. I doubt the me of ten years ago would’ve believed I would ever do that!

Look out for another update in October.
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Jelly Belly

Experiment time, part one - eating food whilst running. Read More...
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Invergordon

Having just done my last run for the year, I synced with the computer and got this:



For a moment, I’m feeling chuffed.

The true figure is about 1,100KM as I’ve not included races in the total - plus there’s been the odd time where Zombies, Run! has had a funny five-minutes. Nonetheless, it’s like me running from my house in Cornwall to a small town in Scotland. Admittedly I haven’t done it all in one go, but it’s still a buggeringly long way. I’ve spent 5 of my 365 days this year running.

At the beginning of the year I would never have called myself a runner. Now I’m at the stage where I can run a half-marathon. My speed is gradually improving, my average times are getting better and I feel immeasurably better for it. I’m currently training with a friend and we’ll be entering the Plymouth Half-Marathon together in April next year, giving me an opportunity to beat my previous time. In conjunction with the passing my 2nd-Dan grading back in May, I feel like it’s been a year of achievement. Not all years are like that, but this year was a good one. To start running was the best New Year’s Resolution that I didn’t make.

I don’t know how your year has been, but I hope you have a great 2014.
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Here comes another one...

...just like the other one. Mr Stumpylegs is back for another sporting challenge! Read More...
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I've started so...

…I’ll finish (13.1 miles). Read More...
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This

On Sunday I managed a first, running the entire half-marathon distance without stopping:

edge

The time wasn’t blistering (about two and a half hours), but I’m pleased with myself. I’ve now got just under four weeks to get that time down to my target of 2:15:00. As a non-runner (I still say that, despite this), I feel like it’s been an achievement to start at nothing back at the beginning of the year and get as far as this.

As always, you can continue to watch my progress here - or failing that, you can read my summary of the race when I finish it on Sunday 6th October.
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Unwind

Just a quick post today to give you an update on my grading, which took place on Saturday.

Saturday was a good day. In the morning I attended our club’s yearly seminar, which I always thoroughly enjoy - not just because we had more time on the mat, but because our awesome Maestro Silvano Rovigatti was there to demonstrate. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I’ve not taken away some useful tips from his tuition, which was particularly useful because he graded us in the afternoon.

Having had two pre-grading sessions during the week already, the grading itself was relatively short. Nonetheless, I think we did ourselves justice. For me, the regular running has helped my fitness no end. My recovery time is now pretty quick and I didn’t get too puffed at all.

As for the grading, well we weren’t graceful nor was our self-defence pretty, but I feel pleased with what I managed. We all took quite a beating and picked ourselves off the floor each time. Here’s an example vidcap for you - I’m the one who’s mid-air.

edge

So I’ve come away as a second dan, which as you can imagine I’m pretty chuffed about. However, I don’t want this to be the end. If the last few months have taught me anything, they’ve made me realise that I’m pretty fit now and I could do with another challenge to keep me going. It’s likely to be at least three years before I can grade again - so in the meantime I need something to keep my fitness up and not get complacent. For that reason, I’ve submitted my entry for the Cardiff Half-Marathon in October. It’s about five months away and gives me ample time to train and work on my ability to run past 10K. If I can manage that, who knows what will come next?

Don’t be surprised if you see some sort of runner’s log popping up in the near future as it’ll be interesting (for me, at least) to chart my progress. In the meantime, I’m going to sign off and get some alcohol in me. I feel like I’ve deserved one.
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What If?

Ever had one of those, “What If?”, moments? Read More...
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Velcro

As November comes to an end, I shall be running for the razor blades. No, I've not turned emo, but as a participant in Movember, I've realised that facial hair of any sort really isn't me. My mo' looks like velcro, works like velcro and even sounds like velcro. I have no doubt that Mrs Dalliard shall be pleased to see it go.

However, as it’s the only time in my life that I’m ever actually going to have any facial hair, I thought I’d make the most of the situation and take a picture or two. You may have seen this in my photo gallery:

IMG_5118

This is my dad and me in the good ‘ol seventies, a time when a moustache was a mandatory requirement for a man. I’m about four in this picture.

Here’s the “modern day” version with me and my son:

IMG_5119

I participated as part of a team of fifteen people and we’ve raised nearly £600. If you sponsored me, thank you. I think that’s enough facial hair, though. I can’t see me taking part in Decembeard, worthy cause that it may be.

And if you have a moustache or beard during the other eleven months of the year, credit to you. You’re more of a man than I am.

Contributions are still welcome. You can donate a nugget or two
here.
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Thomas

I share a major birthday with an inanimate object... Read More...
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Cornwall

I’ve lived in this part of the world for about thirty years now, so I thought it was about time to put a gallery together using some of my favourite shots.

You can see the gallery here.

I really ought to do this stuff in HTML5. Flash is a pain in the butt nowadays, not to mention the fact that it doesn’t display on iOS devices. One day I’ll get around to it…. *

*You’ve probably heard this before.
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Algorithms

It’s Valentine’s Day. There isn’t a grand unifying theory on what defines love. Chances are there won’t be, either... Read More...
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Ear Worms

Star-Trek, mental health and The Who - just another average blog post. Read More...
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Told You So

The passage of time, children, evolution and cold-fusion. Read More...
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Ball & Chain

Never say never, or something like that.... Read More...
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One a day

Have you ever tried to encapsulate a year of your life in pictures? It’s not as easy as it sounds. Read More...
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Fudge

I was talking to a friend not long ago, who made me realise that I’ve been using the internet in various guises for nearly 21 years. It’s strange now, to think that there are people born who have been in existence for less time on this planet than the internet - which started to make me think about my college days, as that’s where it all began for me. My friends and I were a pioneering bunch. We had no setup CDs, no tech-support lines and no forums to visit. We fudged - and when I think back to it, we fudged well. So here’s a story about lots of fudging. If you’re not interested in acronyms, technology and my geeky history, changes are that this isn’t for you. Read More...
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Mistakes...

...I’ve made a few. I wish I’d done it my way. Read More...
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The reluctant ninja

Shock news: a bit of silk doesn’t stop you from getting a kicking. Read More...
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Baby Buckaroo

Yet again I seem to be grovelling for the lack of updates, but this is in part due to Dalliard Junior keeping me occupied. That’s not to say I haven’t been having fun though, because I have. He’s now at the grand age of eight months old and has allowed me devise my new game, called Baby Buckaroo.

Equipment Required

For this you will need:

  • One baby, asleep and in daytime clothing.
  • A darkened room.
  • Some pyjamas.

Method

Your object is to alternate with your partner in removing an item of clothing or putting on the pair of pyjamas. You must not wake Junior up. It’s Game Over if both eyes open.

Variations

  • If you get tired of playing in the conventional format you can always add in some optional extras such as a time limit per turn, or reverse play.
  • The Genius Edition involves a nappy change.

...and now, I’ll sink back into my black hole again.
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The decade that didn't matter.

I’m 38 soon. For some reason, I never though I’d actually hear myself say that - although I’m not entirely sure why. Whether I thought I was going to be one day found face down in a puddle of my own vomit with a kilo of meow-meow by my side, or die jumping the Niagra Falls in a Trabant, I don’t know. I just never thought I’d be talking about myself as someone who’s approaching their forties. Of course, as the majority of the world already knows me as a grumpy old man from back in my twenties, nobody’s actually noticed the difference. I have been consistent, if nothing else.

Indeed, it probably goes to show my age (and to a lesser degree, my geek prowess) when I say that I’ve had an internet presence for at least fifteen years - and to think that in the early nineties, I used to talk about the internet to people would look at me as though I was a babbling idiot. They still do, it’s just that technology has got a bit more user-friendly. I think this is a great shame. Life would be simpler for us geeks if we made the CLI the mandatory interface on all devices.

And so, whilst the site has had different incarnations on different servers, good ‘ol MrDalliard has existed on the web for the lion’s share of time that Britain has had internet connectivity. Spooky. Even before the internet was known in the UK, I administered a BBS that sent e-mail via FidoNet back in 1990 - spookier still. That does make me feel quite old.

So I’m not a youngster any more. I’ve noticed in the last year or so that certain joints in my body are starting to grumble and creak, that I now have a few nice scars across my waist from surgery and that I’ve now got the alcohol tolerance of a three year-old. It won’t be long until I’m a forty-something, a phenomenon that most children would describe as “really old”. Ho hum.

Of course, this doesn’t stop me indulging in a bit of nostalgia every so often - I think the birth of my son has probably spurred that process on a bit. I like to think that it’s something in the genes, destined to ensure that you can suitably embarrass your offspring. As parents, it’s our calling. I’ve started to build up a good collection of eighties music, the music of my teenage years. There’s some good stuff out there - and there’s plenty of dross too. For the last couple weeks I’ve been trying to compile the ultimate eighties mix - I doubt it’ll ever achieve perfection.

I guess that the eighties is my decade of choice. I became eighteen, had a few life-changes, did my GCSEs, went on to further education and met my current partner. There’s a lot of good stuff to remember. That’s not to say that I don’t have memories of other times, it’s just unfortunate that I really don’t rate the nineties. It all just passed me by. The nineties, if you’ll pardon the pun, was a bit of a Blur1.

With the exception of my graduation, not a lot happened during that ten years. Give or take a year or two, a decade could pretty much be removed from my life history and the difference to me would have been negligible. In the grand scheme of things it all just didn’t matter - call it peripheral, if you like. During that ten-year period, I married the wrong person (twice), earned a fantastic amount of money but have nothing to show for it (apart from some broadened horizons) and performed a variety of largely unsatisfying jobs. My travels were enjoyable, but ultimately they served as pure escapism from what I’d say was an unhappy period in my life. In an effort to alleviate the situation, I thought that empty relationships and materialism through “shopping therapy” would cure it. How wrong I was. It’s a mistake that I shan’t fall in to again.

On a more positive note, I can reflect on the last decade (I’m not calling them “the noughties” *shudders*) and recognise it as a decade of achievement. I studied new things and did well, I trained and succeeded, I bought my house, I provided for my future, I found true love and I started a family. That’s a great deal to be chuffed about.

You’re probably thinking that there’s a moral to this story and that I’m about to convert you to a particular school of thought. Actually, more to the contrary. Do the stuff that makes you happy - just don’t be under any illusion that surrounding yourself with stuff brings you happiness, because once we turn into worm-food, our legacy won’t be gold fillings and games consoles. Aren’t I the optimist, eh?

All in all, I feel pretty good about the future. I’ve got a plan, something that’s always good to have - and so far, the plan is coming along nicely. For once, I feel optimistic about what’s to come. Sometimes we have to make choices. For me, the nineties represent the fact that I made a few wrong ones, but in the end it doesn’t matter because all has come good in the end. I’ve got my happy ending - and we all like one of those, don’t we? Happy

1 - You see what I did there? That’s a musical pun, that is. Gosh, aren’t I jolly smart. I could have used “oasis” too.....
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A Musical Void

Unless I’m very much mistaken, everyone loves music - it’s an intensely personal thing. Our music tastes are influenced in so many different ways, but the preferences we have in our adult life tend to be formed from what our parents liked, the music that was around in our teenage years and our idols. We all have our idols, oh yes - false or otherwise.

My parents were dedicated Pink Floyd, Led Zepplin and Fleetwood Mac fans, which deeply influenced my music taste. I still play Wish You Were Here and Dark Side of the Moon with fond affection, but ultimately as a teenager I craved something new, original and unheard of by the masses. I actively made a point of shying away from the mainstream.

As a teenager, you make a point of researching new things - it’s all an essential part of forming your identity. John Peel became one of my idols. The discovery of his evening weekend show meant that I could tap into a new resource of unheard music. Whilst my peers were generally getting their fill of bland Stock Aitken & Waterman pap, I was taping Ride, The Wedding Present, Prophecy of Doom and Diblo Dibala off the radio. Even now, a quick five-minute youtube shot of Mr Dibala1 strutting his stuff still manages to put a smile on my face irrespective of mood. Freaky.

Throughout his career, John Peel was an extremely influential DJ. Many bands that he initially championed ended up becoming legends in their own right - Pulp, The Orb, Nirvana, T-Rex, The Smiths to name but a few. As I got older and Radio 1’s schedule changed, I became comforted in the knowledge that at some point in the week, I could tune in to his irreverent broadcasting style and get a few new musical names to research. He played records at the wrong speed, got track names wrong and left big silences in his programmes - but it didn’t matter, because ultimately his passion for all forms of music was infectious.

It would be fair to say that when John Peel died back in 2004, I felt a void in my life and didn’t listen to the radio much for a while. Unfortunately, Radio 1 went on to fill the gap in their schedule with a few people who didn’t really quite fit the bill. Sure, Zane Lowe had some interesting stuff, but it wasn’t the same. I felt the need to start researching alternatives.

I discovered a “closest match” - in the form of BBC Radio 6. Whilst nothing will ever quite sound like Mr Peel, the one thing that immediately comes over is the DJs passion for music, as well as the diversity of their playlists. It’s about as close as one is likely to get.

Unfortunately, there are several reports in the papers that BBC Radio 6 is going to be axed - I’m not entirely sure why. Admittedly, the station only has about three quarters of a million listeners, but as it’s cheap for the BBC to run, I don’t understand how this is such a big deal. It looks positively frugal when you compare it to the costs of keeping the likes of Moyles and Mills running.

I’m really hoping this isn’t the case. I can’t have been alone in my teenage quest to hunt down new, non-mainstream offerings. BBC Radio 6 is the probably the best option for a whole wave of new people to investigate and listen to a diverse range of new music, that unfortunately Radio 1 now fails to offer, mainly because it’s playlists have become so narrow and are largely filled with expensive DJs, who to be honest, don’t inform, educate or entertain as much as they should. In their quest for ratings, they’ve sacrificed a diverse schedule.

I’m hoping that you’re in agreement with me. I’ve made it known to the BBC that I’m dissatisfied with their potential proposal to close the station down and I hope you will join me - before we lose a musical gem that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. As Phil Jupitus said, “The end of 6 Music at this moment in the BBC's history is not only an act of cultural vandalism, it's also an affront to the memory of John Peel and a slap in the face to thousands of licence-payers.”. He’s right.


1 - Yes, all Diblo Dibala’s stuff sounds similar - manically jolly guitar accompanied with an entourage of formation dancing girls. Love it or loathe it, you’ve got to admit he was one hell of a musician.
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MiFi

A look at Three’s MiFi wireless broadband access point... Read More...
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Who's the daddy?

I am. Happy

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Catching up...

It would be fair to say that dalliard.net has had quite a significant time of outage - about six months, if you've been counting. The reasons why this happened are quite numerous, but if you've been reading my ramblings for the last few years it won't be that much of a surprise to you - so consider this some form of half-arsed explanation. At the same time, I can give you a potted summary of what's happened to date, because there's been a fair bit. Really, there has.

FIrst of all, in a move that may surprise you, I now have no internet connection at home. This is because it's reasonable to assume that internet access is prevalent enough in the rest of the world, so I dont actually need to pay for it any more. Hell, you can ever wardrive down the street these days. As an aside, the other thing that bugged me was that I had to pay for a phone-line that I never used just so I could have an internet connection. By killing both off, I've saved myself a good bit of money. Anyway, my cheap and cheerful USB dongle will give me access if I ever get stuck....

As I no longer had an internet service provider, I needed to find other means to host the site. My site is now hosted with a reliable company that only cost me a couple of quid per month and I've used them for years on other projects, so I knew they were a good choice. With the exception of a few minor setup niggles, the transition to the new sever has been relatively painless and everything appears to work. I was starting to lose confidence in my previous ISP anyway, so the decision to jump ship was long overdue.

Apart from all this, you'll obviously have seen from my last posting that I'm going to be a father - and that's all still going to plan. Ms Dalliard is doing nicely and feels like she's about to explode, but I'm looking forward to it all. Things are pretty much set-up and ready for the infamous call of the stork at my door. Expectations are that I'll be getting an early Christmas present - and I couldn't ask for anything more. Grumpy old man I may be, but I love Ms Dalliard and her bump.

Of course, that's not all. I've changed job three times, had a spot of surgery (the stitching of an epigastric hernia) and at the same time have managed to keep my ju-jitsu training going. I shall attempt my black-belt grading in approximately three weeks time.

It's fair to say that it's been a fairly action-packed six months.

Nonetheless, with the transition to a new server now complete and things a bit more settled, I'm hoping that my posts might get a bit more frequent again.

But the big question is - will you still be coming back to read them?

I hope so.
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Jump-leads for two.

About three weeks ago in a random cafe just outside Liege, I made a resolution - I wasn’t going to drink lousy coffee ever again. My European experience highlighted one key fact - that in Britain, we positively suck at making good coffee. We rely on machines that splut awful brown liquids into a cup, manufactured by a guy whose second-cousin might have once seen a coffee bean. Then, when we want a “good coffee experience”, we give nasty chain-establishments money to serve a sub-standard product made from the naffest (and cheapest blend) of beans available. It’s not a good state of affairs at all, especially when the chains generally fleece us for the privilege of drinking it. Most prices are about 50% higher than our European counterparts - even if you allow for our currently sucky pound-euro exchange-rate.

If you’ve read my travelblog, you’ll already know that I thought Liege blows. Nonetheless, in that cafe, I was still enjoying good coffee. Good coffee is pretty much synonymous with most countries in Western-Europe (apart from you, Germany, get to the back of the class). It doesn’t take a brain the size of a planet to work out that if a country has good cafe-culture, it probably does good coffee. In fact, I’d almost go as far as to say that the worst French coffee I’ve had is still infinitely better than virtually any British attempt. We British are lazy and cut corners. I recently had the misfortune to buy a coffee from somewhere that used premixed-liquids inserted in a machine - and it’s just wrong. Where’s the skill and craft in that?

When my cappuccino-maker recently exploded*, I decided steps had to be taken and started looking through t’internet to find a suitable starter machine. It turns out that you can spend as much as you like on a proper coffee-machine, with prices easily going into the thousands. At the moment I’m merely dipping my toe into the brown-stuff and don’t want to exchange a kidney** for a £3k Gaggia machine just yet. So, with some money in one hand and a pile of internets in the other, I made my wish-list of features:

  • Takes normal coffee - not any of that pod-crap that forces me to buy my coffee-pods from a company who can decide to hike up the price whenever they want.
  • Uses a pump-system to do the brewing.
  • A reasonably decent milk-steamer.
  • A solid, non-cheap looking unit, but not too huge. My brown-stained kitchen is quite small, after all.

Then, one day whilst out shopping in a supermarket which shall remain nameless, I happened to stumble on this - a DeLonghi EC710.



As a starting point, this got reasonable reviews and was generally recommended as a good n00b’s coffee-maker. At £75, it was also half-price. If the machine is a mistake, it’s only a £75 mistake, not a £150 one. I decided to go for it.

Now we come to the quality bit. Sure, you get some free Illy coffee-pads in there, but I’ve had better results with using my own stuff. It’s got a cup-warmer on the top and doesn’t do too bad a brew, as long as you ensure the system is thoroughly warmed through first. The system is also fairly idiot-proof, with a nice little “OK” indicator light when it’s ready to go, something that usually takes less than about thirty seconds. The pump isn’t the quietest, but I’d expected no less - I’m at the amoeba end of the coffee evolutionary scale. Nonetheless, having used it for a few weeks now I’m pretty happy with it. The espresso is reasonable, with a bit of crema on the top. Nonetheless, it’s a vast improvement over most of the coffee I’ve had recently and as I’m now regularly brewing real jump-leads for two, I hope never to touch a drop of instant again.


* It did, don’t laugh. In a Vesuvius style eruption, black coffee erupted over my kitchen ceiling. The ceiling needs repainting to remove the brown stains I couldn’t scrub off.
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Acceptance

Well, that’s it. Today, I prepared my handover for my successor, handed over my keys and left my job. As of now, I am redundant, unemployed or one of the jobless masses - whatever you choose to call me. I’ll be looking back at this point in three months and considering it as either the pivotal act that changed my working life, or the one that commenced my demise - only the next couple of months will tell.

Unlike some of my peers who have recently left, I guess you could say I did a relatively low-key departure. Showy is not me. I didn’t do a final tour of the working-floor like a foreign dignitary, I didn’t have a leaving “do”, where members of the clique-erati were made to feel inadequate and outcast by their absence and I didn’t immediately expect everyone to repeatedly examine my facebook page - to hang on my every breath and see whether I’d farted that day.

I just said,“goodbye” and left.

And I feel I left with dignity.

That’s not to say that I didn’t wave farewell to people in my own way. In fact, it was more gratifying that people hunted me down and said their goodbyes, people who appeared to be genuinely sad to see me go. I’ll be sad to leave some of those people behind too. As always. amongst the rough, there’s diamonds.

But most gratifying of all was the sheer quantity of little gifts and cards I received - to the point of embarrassment. I was so preoccupied with staying professional and doing a good job right up to the end that I was too busy to write a single card. For this reason, I feel genuine guilt. I saw the great efforts that many had gone to, along with the generosity that they demonstrated. When I read the cards, I saw that people had written little letters in there, telling me how I was “caring, yet professional”, “a pleasure to work with”, and how I’d kept them on the strait and narrow. More complimentary things have been said in my final week than in the seven years previous. The genuine feelings of fond affection from those I managed went towards endorsing something, namely the feeling that I must have got it right somewhere. People management isn’t easy. Everyone’s got a story about a manager who was an arsehole.

I knew that this day would come just over three months ago - meaning that I’ve had a lot of time to mentally prepare. I’m just a little bit sad, but still me - if that makes any sense. I’m at the acceptance stage. In a couple of weeks, I’ll go on my driving trip - and when I return, I’ll hopefully be a step closer to employment. At the moment, I believe that I’ve done the right thing. The company that I worked for is so precariously on the edge of oblivion that my package is the best a normal person could hope for.

And if it’s not and I’m regretting my words in three months, then stuff will occur, things will move on and shit will inevitably happen.

But in the meantime, it’s time to move on. It’s time to enjoy Christmas.
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The Other Side

Did you know that there’s ninety-one days left until Christmas?

You probably didn’t. In fact, the thought of Christmas probably brings you out in a cold-sweat, with the notion of false pleasantries uttered to unsavoury relatives and a credit-card bill akin to the national debt of Brazil - but I’m really looking forward to this years festive season and will be counting down the days like an impatient child. It brings forth a new year and a complete change of direction - something that I’ve wanted for a while. I need a fresh start, a kick up the arse.

On Christmas Eve, I’ll get that kick - when I join the other two-ish-million in the UK. I finish my job, clear my desk (although, I’d like a desk first) and join the rats leaving the sinking ship - to face a world of Jeremy Kyle, house makeovers and c-list celebrities giving DIY tips. Although, as I don’t have a television I’ll just enjoy the peace and quiet - a considerably nicer option.

But if I tell you that I’ve not been sacked, you might scratch your head a bit. If I tell you that I volunteered to lose my job, you would probably question my sanity. Hell, you wouldn’t be the first and despite my pre-festive exuberance, the eggnog hasn’t got to me yet. The situation is that I’ve been presented with an opportunity that’s too good to pass up and to miss out this time would probably mean that I’d never get another chance again. It’s now or never, as the saying goes.

After four paragraphs of waffling, I finally get to the point - I’ve taken voluntary redundancy and will leave my job after seven years of service, with a package that minimises the risk as much as can be reasonably expected. In these times of austerity and belt-tightening, the offer is miles better than many could hope for. I get to try something new with a secure buffer behind me, significantly minimising the risk.

You could be asking why I’ve even decided to do this. Surely, having a reasonably paid job is all the more important when economic conditions get tougher?

You’re probably right. I could continue in my current position, doing pretty much the same task for the next thirty years. I could carry on filling-in, signing and filing lots of little bits of paper until the day I die and be a truly hardcore paper-bitch. W00T.

Or I could just throw myself into the shredder now.

Truth be told, my interest (and subsequently, my performance) in my job peaked at the beginning of 2006, after which it has been on a downhill slope ever since. I don’t usually stay in the same job for more than three years and as a consequence I’d made a conscious decision back then to take the same package if offered (and it was), but like a fool I decided too late and missed the deadline. I’ve been kicking myself ever since, so this time I made sure it didn’t happen again by being first in the queue to cash in my chips...

...which leaves me with the dilemma of what to do next, which is not such a large dilemma as you would think. I aim to enjoy my Christmas, do a bit of travel during January and find a job - there’s lots of them still out there. Initially, I don’t really care too much what the job is and only have two criteria to validate it against:

- No call-centres.
- No contact with bodily-fluids.

I feel these are good metrics to work by. They preclude working as part of the drone collective for Yet Another Very Large Company Ltd and at the same time mean I don’t end up mopping up old-ladies wee, cleaning toilets or hosting sex chat-lines (a combination of both rules). Apart from that, I’ll give most things a go.

In the meantime, expect my posting frequency to get a little bit more regular than they have been of late (i.e. more than virtually non-existent). I’m sure you’ll find my adventures at the jobcentre to be interesting reading.
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Smarty Pants

Whilst away in the U.S., I did a lot of driving - over two thousand miles of it. When the opportunity allows, I enjoy driving for pleasure. Whilst we all have to perform the perfunctory daily commute, there's nothing more enjoyable than just going wherever the hell you like. There's much to be said for having complete freedom and the experiences from that fortnight reminded me that I'll definitely have to do it again. When I go on holiday, freedom, independence and solitude are what I seek, unsociable bugger that I am.

As you might have seen from my previous posts, I drove a convertible vehicle. Initially, I did this because it was recommended to me as the only way to see America. However, whilst driving through the Blue Ridge mountains, I had something of an epiphany, a moment of clarity. This was because it wasn't the first time I'd driven a soft-top vehicle and was finally experiencing driving euphoria again.

Shag...

My first car - a rusty black Citroen Dyane.

In the twelve months that I owned this vehicle, I drove 24,000 miles - and it taught me how to really drive. I drove without brakes, I drove without a handbrake. Hell, even the steering failed. In the event of a mechanical failure, me or my father would usually get the thing going again by randomly smacking it with a wrench. It's uncomplicated - there isn't an intelligent driving system in sight. I've often thought they should be brought back into production for newly-qualified drivers to cut their driving-teeth with. Once you've done 0 - 60 in 33 seconds a few times, you'll truly appreciate the power under the bonnet of your new-fangled ride when you finally have it. With a retractable roof it was cheap, fun driving.

After my Saxo had been broken into last-year, I'd already made a conscious decision to change my car soon. Whilst the damaged bodywork was repaired, it was only a matter of time before evidence of the break-in showed again and corrosion started around the door. Combined with the bodywork repairs needed after the accident just two weeks into my poor VTR's tenure and I really was starting to think that the car was a bit doomed. Oh and did I mention the leak, problems with the wheel-arches and head-gasket issues?

When I got back from my holiday, I decided it was time to trade in my poor old VTR. Potential issues and large repair-bills loomed on the horizon. I do a round trip of about 200 miles per week just commuting and whilst public transport continues to be a joke in my area, I really can't afford to have an unreliable vehicle.

This led me to start narrowing down my shortlist for my next ride. My criteria were:

  • Economical.
  • Fun to drive.
  • Cheap to insure/tax.
  • Enough boot-space to put the shopping in...

...and finally, something I could put the roof down on. I wanted to get back to fun driving again.

This led me off into a distinct vehicle category - two seater roadsters, although many vehicles were eliminated from consideration:

- The Toyota MR2 has no boot-space whatsoever.
- Neither the Mazda MX-5, 206cc or Beetle have particularly good fuel economy.

This narrowed my list down to the Daihatsu Copen or the Smart Roadster, with me eventually deciding on the Roadster. What swung me were the rave reviews from other owners and almost cult-like fanaticism with which their owners love them.

Here's mine.



Response so far have been mixed...

"It's a bit gay, isn't it?"
"Really cool."
"Snazzy."
"A bit plasticy."
"The front looks like a Lotus Elise"
"Different."

...a bit like asking people opinions on Marmite. One thing's for sure, though - kids seem to love it. I've lost count of the amount of children who have pointed from a distance, or who have shouted, "cool car!".

Without a doubt, the Roadster is distinctive - there's not many on the roads (production was ceased in 2006). Just like the Toyota MR2, they're now an endangered species.

When you mention the specs of the vehicle to people who inevitably ask, they raise their eyebrows and question your sanity. 698cc Hardly sounds like the stuff of sports-cars - I'm about 96cc away from my Citroen Dyane days again. However, with a turbo fitted, 0 - 60 in just under eleven seconds seems a lot more reasonable. In reality it doesn't really matter, because when you're driving it just feels fast - I guess that the close proximity to the road probably has something to do with it. With the roof back and the paddle-shift gear-change,it's all the more fun - I'm continually driving with a big grin on my face.



More importantly though, I'm getting at least 50 to the gallon. Naturally, you'll get less if you drive it like a go-cart, but as petrol prices increase, demand for small cars such as this will too. After having the vehicle for three weeks, I've now sussed out how to use the boost-gauge to better manage my fuel economy - I'm up to 53mpg so far - and that's hardly driving at a crawl. I'm aiming for sixty - and with a six-speed gearbox such as this, I think it's possible.

Whilst I've rambled on about advantages, there's a few disadvantages. With a small vehicle such as this, that's low to the ground, many people don't see you - or pretend they don't. It's interesting how road users will bully smaller vehicles to get where they want, cut you off or pull-out straight in front of you. To get around this, I drive quite aggressively and with my headlights permanently on - this further removes the excuses for not seeing me. You also get attitude from other drivers because you're driving a soft-top, something that other drivers traditionally hate - especially in good weather. "Everyone hates you so much, that it's like you eat babies and still have a half-chewed leg stuck in your teeth.", said a recent passenger. Indeed.

I learnt this that after an idiot reversed into me, having only had the car for two hours - a good start.

Whilst many have cited leaks as a problem (common amongst all Roadsters, not just the Smart), mine has (thankfully) stayed completely dry in the wet. That's probably not going to stop me considering some sort of weather cover for the winter months as extra insurance, though. A slow gearbox has been mentioned too, but I'm figuring that my engine management system has been upgraded, because I don't seem to have any trouble.

As a semi-automatic, my left leg has now been made redundant, but I'm sure it'll live.

In summary, like many others may have said, if you want cheap, fun driving - with a tiny hint of practicality (the boot in the front adequately carries my groceries), then I can only recommend it - unless you've got a family of four and a dog, of course

If you want to see what it's like, click here....
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Stripe

I've never worked so hard for a piece of duck-tape - video to follow.



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Open letter...

Dear Mr Activision,

I recently bought Guitar Hero for the Wii. After playing the game for several days, I feel that you've missed a few warning messages that should have been on the box:

Warning! Extended play will give you RSI in your ring ringer.
Warning! Will make you see coloured lines and bubbles when your eyes are closed.
Warning! Extended play will make you think Aerosmith actually wrote a good track. *shudder*

And worst of all, I could end up like these people. Jeez, you'll start making me think I'm playing a real guitar, when actually all I'm doing is playing with a big lump of black plastic with seven buttons on it. It's scary. You'd best warn people about this stuff, before all who play turn into sad, sad bastards.

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My New Motto

A couple of days ago, my partner mentioned a phrase to me. It's stuck in my head ever since. It's stuck there becuase it's so very true.

"No good turn goes unpunished."

Hell, yeah.

It's been shit recently - going that little bit extra for someone has generally been a pointless exercise that's been taken for granted and inevitably has come back to bite me on the backside. As a consequence, I am currently resenting any form of generosity.

I now have the phrase printed in a couple strategic places, so that I'm reminded not to be so daft and start learning the art of saying "no".

I'll stop there, before I go into a fully-fledged rant.

Some links that illustrate my point: One, two, three, four.
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Google Cop-Out

You might remember a while back that I decided to buy an Asus EeePc. Whilst I eventually went into Toys-R-Us to buy it, I initially tried to buy it from an online retailer, who used Google Checkout as their method of payment.

Buyer beware.

The retailer in question (I'll keep it nameless for the moment), was totally unresponsive to my order - hence the reason for me cancelling my purchase. I've never actually known such an unresponsive e-tailer. I contacted them to cancel the order and they never replied - meaning that I'd either have to contact Google (who processed the payment) or my bank to lodge a dispute.

Try a search on Google Checkout and customers getting refunds - you may notice the rather unhelpful search results.

My bank initially advised me to contact Google in relation to this - but funnily enough, they don't have a phone number. In fact, most of their help is dedicated to the merchant, so this makes reclaiming the funds virtually impossible.

My only recourse was to log a dispute with my bank - and with any luck, I should get the funds back shortly.

The moral of this story? I guess that should be self explanatory - even Paypal has a number you call in the event of issues. The lack of a physical building to go to in order to get some results doesn't help, but I shall be a lot more wary when buying online in future because Google's payment system appears to be very one-sided. When things work, great, but when they don't, you're a bit stuffed.

Other web experiences: Here and here. (There's a lot more)
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Efergy Energy Meter

It's a smart electricity consumption monitoring device - and it doesn't need any wiring. How does it work? Or indeed, does it work at all? Read More...
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Clutter

Humans are awful hoarders. Blame consumerism, blame sentimentality, blame whatever you like - but I shudder each time I hear somebody say an item,"might come in useful", because invariably it doesn't. Before you know it, you've got a whole pile of shite in your house, just longing for an excuse to justify its existence. Those of you who have read my prior postings might have seen this before.

To ensure things stay clutter-free, I go on a house-wide purge at regular intervals - approximately every four months. Maybe I do it in time with the changing of the seasons. Maybe I do it because I've previously lived in a multitude of rented houses - who knows? I e-bay off stuff I no longer use, shred and recycle old bits of paper, I put unworn clothes in the charity bins and generally slim things down. Perhaps it's also because I live in a small house that has a minimal amount of storage space that requires me to be more ruthless than most - I most certainly get quite miffed when I trip over something that doesn't have a cupboard to live in.

On this occasion, I took it a step further - I purged people.

Purging people isn't as painful as it sounds. It's just another way of removing the clutter and mostly involves the deletion of data.

I fired up my e-mail software and deleted people from the address book - ex-work colleagues who vowed to stay in touch but inevitably didn't, friends who weren't any more and business associates long gone. I applied my usual logic - if the contact hasn't been used for over twelve months, there was obviously a reason why - delete them.

I repeated the process with my mobile. Fifteen e-mail addresses and twenty-ish 'phone numbers later and things are certainly a lot more minimal. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and liberating experience...

...with the exception of one 'phone number that I've kept - she knows who she is. The optimist in me hopes that she'll contact me one day (or I'll be able to contact her). Until then, I'll wait until it's useful again. Considering my ruthlessness, one phone number won't do any harm, will it?
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Asus Eee PC

Looking for a very small (and cheap) computer? Read on - this seems to fit the bill... Read More...
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Resolute

As the New Year started I was on a boat somewhere in the middle of the English Channel, celebrating the arrival of 2008 twice - once for the benefit of the French (11:00pm GMT) and once for the benefit of the British. Taking a little cruise to St Malo was a nice distraction, allowing me to have a go at a bit of French geocaching and buy the odd bottle of wine or two.

As we returned to Blighty, our discussions turned to New Years resolutions. My partner isn't really that fussed about such things, whereas I've had many different resolutions over the last few years - with varying degrees of success. This year, I've decided to keep it simple - I'm going to take a photo every day. For the benefit of my addling memory (and the amusement of others), I'll have an online photo-scrapbook for 2008 - hopefully with 366 images. At the same time, it'll give me the opportunity to take more photos. Hopefully there'll be some good ones in there.

You'll see a button appear at the top of the page in a few days time, once I've got some images to show. Obviously the gallery will increase in size over the course of the year, thus resulting in a longer download for you. Be warned. I just hope this project doesn't chomp up all my bandwidth, but it should be an interesting exercise, along with being a good way to look back once we get into 2009.

Jeez, that sounded like I was wishing my life away...

Other articles on the subject for those who are interested: Link 1, Link 2, Link 3

del.icio.us links of the day:
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New Tyres

Today, I realised something rather amazing. I've worn out a pair of running shoes - and I've done this by running a lot.

This may not seem like such an amazing thing for you. I'm sure you're wondering what the big deal is already. However, for me this is an Unusual Thing. Most people who know me, know that I was never the most active of people. Indeed, I've taken my father by surprise by declaring that I've been running. It doesn't do any harm to surprise your parents every so often.

When I run, I usually end up doing somewhere around the region of 5k. I've had these shoes for somewhere about 16 months. On average, I've done a couple of runs per week. A rough guestimate tells me that my shoes have probably done about 500k. It's hardly the circumference of the earth, but it's something. They've developed something of a flat-spot and now smell, probably as bad as the woman is intimating in those old odour-eaters adverts.

So, it's time to source some replacements. I think that in the January New-Year Boxing-Day sales, I'll be hunting down a new pair.

It's time to go back to the minefield of finding a pair that haven't been made by eight year-old Vietnamese girls. Wish me luck.
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Wind-Down

As we approach the big day, everyone is starting to wind-down. Having just had my last training session for the year and with "secret Santa" and mufty-day at work, everyone is starting to unwind - and it's long overdue.

Now if you don't mind, I'd like to bring in Hungry Hippos and Ker-plunk, please - just to truly get me in the festive spirit..
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Hole

I miss John Peel. I really do.

I miss his love of independent music, his fumbles, his playing of tracks at the wrong speed despite having been a DJ for years. I miss his candour and honesty. But most of all, I miss his Festive Fifty.

For the uninitiated, the Festive Fifty is a listeners radio chart that John Peel used to play around Christmas time. It wasn't based upon record sales, but listeners personal choices on the best indie tracks of the year. For me, it became a formative part of my music education. I would tape it off the radio and still be listening to in in April of the following year. I still have one tape even now.

Nobody has filled in the gap he left. It's a big, big shame. He's probably the only "celebrity" that I truly mourned the passing of.

However, I was pleased to see that Radio One still keep a Festive Fifty Shrine, in honour of Mr P. I was clicking around on the site a few days ago, reliving some nostalgia, which led to me finding a torrent containing old radio recordings. It was something of a surprise to find it, but it appears someone encoded it all from a few ratty C120s. Bless 'em. You may wish to have a look on your favourite torrent site for a compilation.

A brief google will show you that there's actually a lot of encoded John Peel material out there. It's gratifying to see. I doubt the BBC will actually object to these, on the basis that the quality is generally mono and bobbins. It's more nostalgia than a genuine desire to infringe copyright - and I doubt most of these will ever become available for purchase.

For those that would like to hear a few of my favourite selection, click some of the links below - you can hear some better fidelity versions on YouTube. My favourite year was 1990 - those that got into that chart formed a good chunk of the music taste I have today. In meantime, I shall be listening to these over Christmas and reliving a bit of nostalgia. Sometimes it's good to look back.

Sample music clips: One, two, three and four.
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Decemberus Shittus

I'd rank this last couple of weeks as the worst I've had for a few years. I'm sure that if I knew enough latin, I'd rank this as a somethingus horribilis - but I don't.

So I won't. I'll just call it shit.

It all started at the beginning of the month. I was not well. On the face of it, you'd just call it a bad cold. However, I've never had something that knocked me for six in such a way. Over a week and a half since I first got it, I'm still coughing away nicely. It's been a pain in the arse, so as to speak. Work has also not been a barrel of fun and not wanting the bad consequences of taking time off sick, I've kept going in.

At the end of last week, I was at my worst - so on my weekend, I spent a good while under my duvet on the sofa, drinking enough tea to float a battleship, with a veritable assortment of painkillers and a dessert of Super Mario Galaxy. I felt foul, and as someone who has only had three days off work in the last five years, I think I must have been justified to feel that way.

I went back to work on the Friday, still feeling appalling, not helped by the fact that someone had broken into my car whilst I'd been indoors. The bastards had attacked the door with a hammer and screwdriver in an attempt to prise the lock from the door. They'd failed, but it hadn't stopped them from making a nasty hole in my door.

They'd stolen virtually nothing from the vehicle. I reckoned that after a break-in which would require three hundred pounds on bodywork repairs, they'd stolen stuff worth about thirty quid - a mobile phone charger, a car-mains adapter for my GPS unit and a box of random vehicle spares from the boot, containing great stuff like windscreen fluid, anti-freeze and WD40. W00T. They also stole a few CDs, but most of them were ones I'd burnt on my computer. It didn't justify the break-in.

They also stole my tax-disc. The police, useless as they've been, said that another eight vehicles along the street had been broken into.

Once I'd twigged that they'd stolen my tax-disc (believe it or not, I don't stare at it every day), I naturally had to do something about it. Investigating further, I took a trip to Truro to get a duplicate at the negligible cost of seven quid. Ironically, the police, shit at catching genuine criminals had a field day with me - I got two tickets. One for "parking a vehicle on a public highway and not displaying a valid tax-disc" (duh) and another as a random parking-offence, which should not have been issued. I am appealing against it. According to the time on the ticket, they issued it four minutes after I got the tax-disc from the office (I checked it against my card-receipt). I just didn't manage to run back in time.

What grates is the inability of the police to do anything but stamp upon those who are generally law-abiding and milk them for their money. Before leaving the house, I called the police up and asked them about the whole tax-disc matter. The response I got from the person taking the call was "It depends on the mood of the police officer who stops you as to whether things are progressed further". Should it really be down to that? Hardly reassuring, is it?

The aftermath of all this is fairly simple - I'm skint. I guess considering my post of a few weeks back, there's not much to say. It's wiped out my money good and proper. In the New Year I'll get the car's bodywork fixed up (requiring a big patch-up, re-spray and new lock) and today I've got the alarm-system upgraded. I can only apologise if it goes off in the future. However, I'd rather it went off every now and then and foiled an intruder, as opposed to having to go through all this again. It's not been fun. It also goes to show how car dependant I am and I'd love to be able to do without. It's just a shame that's not practical.
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Lard

Well that's it - 2007 has nearly finished. We now enter the season of Christmas meals, shopping like nutters and premature decoration-hanging.

I'm glad to say that this year I've only got two Christmas meals to go to, I'm on a tight budget for gift-giving and my Christmas-lights will be solar-powered. I shall be doing my best to have a lean Christmas. You can call me a tight-arse if you like, but I guess it's partially a kick-back against what seems to be the ever increasing pace of consumerism.

I'm not a religious person. I shan't be going to Mass or singing carols. For me, the arrival of Christmas means something else - the chance to unwind, appreciate some time-off and enjoy some time with those I love, without having to rush away for some reason. Whilst I'm spouting cliches, lets call it quality-time. Hell, I might even have a drink for once. It'll be nice to have a few days off from driving.

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Brick

Today was a rather good day. A pay-rise that I've been waiting for for over six months finally materialised - and the backdated amount was something tangible which could help towards Christmas.

Well, most of it will anyway. Some has been earmarked for a little project I've been intending to kick off - and it involves Lego.

You probably think I've regressed into a Baldrick-like figure, blowing his money on a modern-day giant turnip. Hell, you wouldn't be the first. Actually, I don't intend to play with it - I intend to make a film with it by having a go at stop-motion animation.

The process is a fairly simple one. You set up your scene (in Lego, obviously), and take a digital photo for each frame of animation. You can then use a tool like iMovie or iStopMotion to stitch it all together, resulting in a movie that you can then show.

If you've never heard of people making movies with Lego, it might be worth having a look at brickfilms.com, which seems to have a huge following of Lego animators. Competitions are run on themes and critique is made upon special effects, script, quality of animation, etc...

So if you'd like to see two pretty impressive short-movies, you could do worse than have a look here and here. In the meantime, I've off to play with my bricks...
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Wiik

I'd like to give you a reason for my week-long absence.

Hold on a moment, I'm thinking of something...

Perhaps I caught the rage virus and wiped out humanity.
Perhaps I've been working 80 hours a week.
Perhaps I've been raided by The Feds and my drug empire is coming to a sticky end.
Or perhaps I've been playing Metroid Prime too much.
Or Mario Galaxy,
Or Endless Ocean,
Or Zelda...
Or ...
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2008

After my general cock-up on the Tavy 7 front, I promised that I'd continue running. Knowing how my motivation works though, I really need something to aim for.

I'm running for New Year's Day.

Whilst there's nothing particularly special about the day in question, it seemed like a good day to go for. The beginning of something new and better, perhaps? It's also just over a month away, so it gives me ample opportunity to improve. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there are no 5k runs kicking around at this time of year, but the trusty old treadmill is still at hand and I can at least beat one person - myself.

When I trained for the previous run, I'd usually run about 5k (~3.1miles). Initially, I'd just go for improving my speed, which at it's best got down to 32m31s. My aim is to beat that time. The closer I can get to 31 minutes, the better. That works out as a 10 minute mile - hardly Roger Bannister, I know, but we all have to start somewhere.

I don't have a problem running 5k at all, whereas when I first started it was something of a struggle. We shall see how things improve.

Here's to a Happy New Year.
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Bleed

Once upon a time, there was a computer programmer.

He worked in a niche industry, doing stuff that nobody largely cared about. Working in such a business meant that he know lots of things that other people didn't - and boy did he make a big deal about it. This meant that he got on people's nerves quite a lot. This was because he knew that if people were nasty to him, he could put a stop to their financial systems overnight, causing chaos aplenty. He wasn't a very nice person.

For a little person, he had quite a lot of power. He knew this and irritated all who met him. Everyone did lots of deep breathing, counting to ten and muttering under their breath. People called encounters with him character building experiences.

He asked for lots of money, lots of times. When his employer eventually snapped and declined his repeated blackmail requests, he left the company and took up a contract elsewhere, working freelance.

Despite the threat of impending financial ruin, most people breathed a sigh of relief, mostly because they didn't want to work with a git.

Times changed, seasons passed and employees moved on. The git became a distant memory.

One such employee who had suffered the wrath of the git was now working for a new company that had nothing to do with computer programming at all. He was now a manager at a very large institution that employed lots of temporary agency staff. On the whole, things were good and the git had been consigned to the archives of his mind.

One evening, the manager was working away, signing off time-sheets for a long queue of temporary staff. In contrast to the permanent staff, the agency chaps usually worked exceptional amounts of hours, because on the whole they were skint and had to make the most of the work they got.

That evening, the git just so happened to be one of the temps, waiting in line for his payment to be approved. Times had obviously been hard upon the chap, who had now resorted to working 70 hour weeks.

As the git and the manager met again, for the first time in ten years, there was an exchange of knowing looks and a realisation that the balance of power had changed.

"Aw'right?", they both said.

Neither answered.

It was the sort of crap question that everyone knows you don't need to answer - because everyone knows the answer anyway. It's plain to see. If you were a firm believer in karma, this would endorse your beliefs - well, unless you think he'd come back as a slug. It was a humbling moment for the git.

Once the queue had been dealt with, smalltalk was made and the git was subsequently never seen again.

There is a reason for this story. It's because I've had to work with another rather unsavoury character - and they've just left. Common sense dictates a few things. If you live in the South-West, you'll realise that there aren't many decent employers around who pay a reasonable wage. I reckon that it's possible to do the rounds of the lot easily during your employment lifespan.

And should I ever bump into Git Version 2.0 again - and chances are I will, I shall make damn sure that he bleeds humility.

Parable bit: Don't piss off your co-workers too much, you never know where you might end up.

Here endeth the sermon.
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Disappointed Saleswoman

"Excuse me Sir, could I ask you a question?"
"You just have."
"Ok. Could I ask you one more?"
"Sorry, you only get one."
"Oh."
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Idiot

It's official - I am an idiot.

No doubt there are people around the world who already know this, but the very fact that I didn't do something in good time before today confirms this.

I should have sent my entry form/fee off for the Tavy 7. There are a limited amount of entrants each year. My error meant that I wouldn't be one of them.

Of course when I turned up today for the event I realised this. That sounds pretty dumb - and it is. I'd focused so much on training for the event that I'd forgotten to enter it. Duh.

Today I could only enter the fun-run. As you can imagine, I would have preferred to run something longer than a mile and a half, but beggars can't be choosers. At least I have my first running chufty badge.

I am not a number, I'm a very silly boy.

What detracts from the achievement is when people a quarter of your age run the distance faster than you. Must try harder.

After doing the fun-run, I hung around and watched the runners of the 7-miler finish. I was surprised and tickled to see someone who used to be one of my old cub-scouts finish in a damn quick time. I still remember, however, that at the age of eight he shat his pants. A wry smile comes to my face whenever I remember that moment.

Am I a twisted individual? Possibly.

Whilst I've been busy kicking myself for my stupidity, it hasn't dented my enthusiasm for running in something. I'm off to find a 5k run that I can aim for before that special spread that people gain in December attaches itself to me.
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Flashback

There are a couple of local cinemas in my area. However, most people usually go to just one - the Vue Cinema in Plymouth, myself included.

This is a habit I intend to change.

Vue have been taking advantage of their dominant position by applying continual price increases over the last couple of years. The final straw for me was booking a couple of tickets online, being charged a 60p booking fee for each ticket and the final price for two people coming to £15.

Cinema used to be a cheap and enjoyable way to pass an evening.

Having a look around at alternatives, I rediscovered an old cinema I hadn't been to for a long time - I guess it must be approximately 15 years. It's the "Reel" cinema, which was previously an Odeon cinema and prior to that might have been called the ABC, if I remember rightly.

Whilst the cinema had changed names, nothing inside is any different. It was exactly as it was when I last visited. It had the same faded carpet, the slightly over-ornate ceiling and wall fixtures, the curtains across the screen, decor from the 1960's and the same nasty pictures on the walls. Even the seats appeared to be the same, albeit with a lot more rips in them. I hate to think how many bums had sat on them. I have fond memories of going in there as a teenager with my friends - I remember lying about my age to see The Witches of Eastwick (I was 15 at the time). With hindsight, I'm not sure it was worth lying over.

As for the experience last week, it didn't change what we were watching - a film. And I doubt I would have enjoyed the film any more as a consequence of paying Vue's excessive prices - even on an Orange Wednesday (which still works out more expensive than The Reel).

Tickets were just £2.50 each, bringing an evening out back down to a more enjoyable fiver.

I think I'll probably go again. In the run-up to Christmas, there's a few good titles on the horizon and if I can avoid giving my money to Vue, I will. It's also worth noting that I'd rather go to Reel out of choice, whilst I still have a choice, because if God forbid they become the only one in the area, they'll charge what they want and pay even less attention to showing minor titles than they do already.
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Fizzle

It's that time of the year again, where children come around and ask for money for a guy they're going to burn. We do some strange stuff in this country, we really do.

This evening, like most people, I went to a local organised display. It was the usual affair - a big bonfire, 15 minutes of "ooohs" and "aaaaahs", and candy-floss and hot-dogs if you felt brave enough to try the mechanically-salvaged meat "fast-food" stand. It's the same routine every year. To me it truly signifies the start of the autumn/winter months - and I love it. It goes hand in hand with the leaves falling from the trees, brisk cold mornings and the autumn sun. It's my favourite time of year.

One of my few fireworks pictures that doesn't suck...

But should we be doing this any more?

As I came home tonight, the air quality was evidently crap due to the smog from bonfires. The poor visibility and sulphurous air lingers around for a few days afterwards, but nobody seems to care. It seems a strange notion that we talk of being "green". We recycle, reduce our energy consumption and care about our carbon footprint - then over the course of about three days, we burn piles of rubbish and set off enough fireworks to totally obscure our view of the night sky - and it would appear that nobody says a word. That's good old British tradition for you.

Don't get me wrong. I love my bonfire night, me. I'll be the biggest hypocrite of them all. It's just (dare I say the phrase twice in one week) that it's something of a guilty pleasure these days for me.

There's the odd bit of agreement out there on the internets, but of course no-one wants to be called a party-pooper, do they? I draw the line at bonfire animations as a substitute, though - that's just crap.
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Face-ache...

... or not as the case may be. I am now minus a wisdom tooth.



Praise be for 21st Century dentistry.
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Conversation Killer

"You smell nice, what is it?"
"It's just my deodorant."
"What's it called?"
"Moose."
"Oh."
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W.C. Britain

We British have a toilet fixation. It's obsessive. Here's my evidence for the prosecution.

  • Many people say that they wouldn't travel to certain countries because the toilet arrangements arre too primitive for their liking. When I've told friends of the Japanese squat-type loo, they've had a fit.
  • Ever notice how motorway service stations pride themselves on the standard of their loos? It's probably that stupid little panel at the entrance that says,"How was your visit today?".
  • Public toilets win awards. (I've seen a few in Plymouth that have this dubious accolade)
  • It gets press columnage.
Yep, we are most definitely obsessed.

Want confirmation? Well, here's a link to the British Toilet Association - and they're having a conference next month. Marvellous. I'm sure we could all think of hundreds of better venues than a motorcycle museum, though.
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Raw-Knuckles

Over the weekend, I went out with some friends for a curry. Whilst the company was good, the curry wasn't. For most that know me, that's quite a damning summary because I'll eat just about anything that vaguely looks curryesque. The restaurant staff were surly, the food mediocre and the prices hiked up by an appropriate amount to offset the "50% discount" being touted by the sign outside. The general quality of the clientele (ourselves excepted, of course) was also poor, only seeming able to communicate by drunken giggling and "waaaaahaaaaayy". After years of dragging their knuckles, most had skin missing from the backs of their hands. It was a poor show, a poor show indeed.

It was also a shame, because an award-winning Indian restaurant was next door. Ho hum. Another day, perhaps.
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Give Blood

A day or so after getting back from my holiday, I had a routine visit to the dentist. Unfortunately, as I've been identified as having a gum disorder I have fairly regular hygienist appointments - usually resulting in a quick scrape and polish to keep everything in check.

But today is not so regular as I find out my hygienist has left and been replaced by Hannibal Lector's wife.

"Hello. Sit in the chair and we'll whip you into shape.".

That's hardly the welcome you want.

And as she worked away, she told me that the advice my previous hygienist had been telling me was wrong, whilst repeatedly stabbing me with metal implements. As she put significant body weight behind each scrape, my mouth hurt.

Jesus, did it hurt.

I'm not the squeamish sort - I can take pain as good as anyone. Having had four fillings done in quick succession without issue is testament to this, but sharp metal things aren't supposed to be jabbed in soft-fleshy things. This results in blood.

"Get yourself home and have a salt-water gargle", she said.

Someone needs to work on their chair-side manner, I think.

Two days later and I'm on painkillers (ibuprofen, yet again). I can't swallow, eat properly or open my jaw. The right hand side of my mouth has swollen up and everything still hurts just as much as the moment she moved my gums around like a blob of pink play-doh.

Update (1/10/07): Went back to see my dentist today, who says that my wisdom tooth has become infected and will need to be removed. It's ironic (and crap) that a hygienist gives you an infection.
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Your Brain Is 140

I don't know if you've ever seen the film Idiocracy. It's not the best film you'll ever see, but is amusing in places. It suggests that the world's populace are generally getting stupider. I think it's probably got a point.

From coffee cups and taps having blatantly obvious warnings of containing hot liquids to lifts that have signs saying we mustn't stick our limbs between the closing doors, it's happening. Companies are generally sacred of lawyers, who sue on behalf of idiots saying they "didn't know (x) was dangerous".

Our jobs are becoming no different.

Most companies would like to de-skill us so that we use our brains less. It makes sense - you're so much more replaceable then. It's where the phrase McJob came from. My job is no different - not quite a McJob, admittedly, but it's on its way. I manage a group of people who do a very boring and menial job indeed. Even managing them is fairly unstimulating stuff. That's not a reflection on those people in my group - they're a nice bunch. It's merely indicates the production-line nature of the work - Dullsville, Arizona.

The screams of dying brain-cells can become quite deafening at times. I encourage my staff to seek external ways to stem the loss. It's just one way of slowing down the rot. It's also half the reason why I try to write a daily blog entry - I have to think, just for a few minutes at least.

I am convinced that the job slowly kills the brain - and would like to prove it with evidence. I thought about measuring this loss in a scientific experiment, perhaps by gauging I.Q. at the start of an employee's term with the company, followed by monitoring it every year thereafter. Perhaps using a simple tool such as Nintendo's Brain Age would be a good indicator of mental agility? A brain age test would only take a few minutes, which is about right, because unfortunately I don't have the luxury of being able to do several hour-long examination papers.

Of course, this is dependent on me still being there in a year's time to measure it, but it could be quite interesting.
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Wot no lipo?

During the last few weeks I've had quite a few people say that I've lost weight - enough to make me scrutinise my appearance. I can't figure out why they're saying it, though.

I know I've been doing a lot of walking and running alongside my regular training and have also been largely veggie for the last few months, but the scales don't lie. My weight hasn't really changed - so there. Everyone else is wrong and their eyes are defective. I'm not dressing any differently, I'm not sucking in my stomach when people pass by and I'm not getting liposuction done on the sly.

The only difference is that I've got some colour in my cheeks, having spent quite a bit of time in the sun recently - and having a tan doesn't make you appear thinner, surely?
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Chufty Badge

I feel I deserve one today, as I ran 5.25 miles in 1hr. I admit this is not a blistering pace, but it does mean I should be able to do 7 miles in under 1hr 20 - my target time. The event is about two months away, so I should have ample opportunity to improve.

It also proves that I can run for at least an hour - today was something of a personal best.

So here's my big chufty badge. *clicky* - At £6 for 5, I think it's worth it just to feel smug. I'm going to order some.
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8:10am

For reasons I cannot possibly comprehend, I keep on waking up at 8:10am.

I can go to bed at four in the morning - I'll wake up at 8:10am.
I can have an early night at ten, and still wake up at 8:10am.

Without fail, I look over at my clock - and that's what it'll say....

...except when I go to work at the weekend. Ironically, when I'm supposed to get up at 8:10am, I'll probably oversleep.

I can't figure this out at all. It's exceptionally annoying.
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Clean Break / 2008

Each day, when I drive to/from work, I have the combined total of nearly an hour's worth of thinking time. I use it a lot. Many of my blog entries are spawned from my thinking time. Today was no exception.

On the way home today, I pondered my current employment situation. I'll admit that I'm no career animal, but at the moment I'm in a relatively dead-end managerial position with little chance of further progression, working for a company that is about to head south. It's not really the best of situations. The squeeze has already started, with my shift likely to be canned in the near future. A plan is required.

The plan is to quit my job. Hardly rocket-science, I know, but I've done it before and no doubt I'll probably do it again in the future. I'm still alive and I've done just fine so far. I need a change. I feel stale and at risk of becoming one of those hardened, cynical and jaded people that everyone hates. We have them at every workplace. They're despondent, unhelpful ogres, who spend their time verbally abusing their employer - but they'll probably be the last people out of the door.

I'm not stupid, though. When people in my company become "surplus", they get payoffs to go. In short, I'll take redundancy if it's offered - and I have a very high degree of confidence in the fact that it will be offered in the coming months. It should provide me with about six months (or maybe more if I'm really careful) of financial buffer to cover finding something else.

Of course, the truth is that you can find a job tomorrow - if you really want to. You just need to turn up at an employment agency and get some temping work. It won't pay as well as Elton John's florist, but at least the money will be coming in - and it'll help that financial buffer last longer.

My suspicions are that this will kick off at the beginning of 2008 - a convenient point. I think I've just got my New Year's Resolution already.
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Stumpy?

I'm surprised I've managed to do any updates on here at all, to be honest - I've not spent any time indoors.

On Saturday, I did my regular 3.5 mile run - as part of my Tavy 7 training.
On Monday we walked 5 miles around the Sheepstor area.
On Tuesday I walked 6 miles, doing some random geocaching.
On Wednesday I walked 4 miles with my partner, around Ingra and Leedon Tor.
Today, I walked 5.25 miles, doing a walk from Pork Hill to Kings Tor/Roos Tor and back.

I figure that's nearly 24 miles. A few more and I've done a marathon this week.

See? There's a reason I'm short - I've worn down my legs.
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del.icio.us links - 26/8/07

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Geocaching

Treasure? Where? Read More...
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Box-tastic

As luck would have it, my Dartmoor Letterbox catalogue turned up this morning. This allowed me to do letterboxing and geocaching at the same time. The weather was great and made up for the crappy rain that we've had over the past few weeks. I caught the sun, turning my nose bright red. Honestly, my body won't know what to do with all this sunlight.

The extra clues, combined with the great weather allowed me to find 6 letterboxes and 4 caches. It's been a very productive day indeed. As you can track geocaching results online, here's mine. They'll appear at the bottom of the page when I can figure out how to do it.

Profile for mrdalliard
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Winner

For the first time in a very long time, I've won a prize - accommodation for two in a reasonable hotel (breakfast included). I've got a year to use it.

It's just a shame that the hotel in question is about 200 yards from my partner's place, although I guess it could be useful. Perhaps I have somewhere to take my mistress if I have an affair?

Oh well - at least I didn't win a lifetime supply of Marmite.
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Memories

Whilst the weather was good, I continued my quest on the moor to get 100 letterbox stamps. By the end of the day, I'd managed to get my total up to 20, which isn't bad going when you consider that I only started a few weeks back.

As I plodded my way across Staple Tor, I encountered another group of people that were also letter-boxing - and they just happened to be hiding a new set of their own. Speaking to them, they said that the new site was in honour of a friend who used to walk with them, and that they were marking her favourite places on the moors with letterboxes. They're unofficial boxes, unlikely to be listed anywhere. Only word-of-mouth (or luck) is likely to help you find them.

You can find out more about the person behind the memorial here. The box I discovered on Lower Staple Tor is called Rita's Rendezvous.

People put boxes on the moors for a whole pile of reasons. Kids put them out to make new friends, parents make special stamps to commemorate the naming of their children and in this case, past friends are remembered. I guess that's what makes the whole thing so interesting. This is real local history. Perhaps if my local studies teacher had got us letter-boxing and finding out about the places we visited, as opposed to drawing lots of crap pictures of Kit Hill, I would have taken a lot more in.
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Hell

What's yours? Read More...
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2 Down, 98 To Go

Dartmoor letterboxing - is it just a form of obsessive train-spotting? I'm undecided, although I enjoyed it regardless. In the meantime, I'll let you make your own mind up... Read More...
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Change

This evening, I went to a barbeque over a friend's house. It was all friendly and enjoyable stuff, but as is the usual with weekend social functions, I ended up having to leave early.

"Sorry guys - schoolday tomorrow", I'll say - just as things are starting to settle in nicely and everyone is enjoying themselves. Such is life when you work weekends.

However, after working my current shift-pattern for the last four and a half years, change is likely to be coming in the next few months. It will probably mean that I no longer have to work Sundays, allowing all sorts of Saturday night antics. The downside is that I'll probably have to work late evenings during every night of the week.

The consequence of this would be that I couldn't train - at all. Evening-classes would be a non-starter and one of the chances I get to see some of my mates down the pub would also be removed.

I'm often told that I sometimes work some strange and unsociable hours. Unfortunately, they may well get a whole lot more unsociable. I'll just have to wait and see.
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Sanyo XACTI CA65

Mr D upgrades his video camera - was it worth it? Read More...
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Back On Form (ish)

As you might have seen from a previous post, I've been having some problems in getting back to my previous running form. Today I decided to just go for it and see what would happen.

Goal: 6.4kms (4 Miles) - No stopping.

I'm glad to say that I managed it. My time sucked, but I didn't really care. The consoling part was that by multiplying the time up to the full 7 miles, I shouldn't come last (hopefully). Things appear to be back on track and I shall aim to go for 6.75km on my next run.

Footnote: I also did something that made the run far, far easier. I'm not going to tell you what it is, but rest assured it wasn't illegal or immoral. If you'd like to hazard a guess at what it is, add a comment. If anyone gets it right, naturally, I'll confess to everyone.
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Avian Indifference

As you might have seen by now, I've been trying to save a few quid over the course of the year. My reasons are many. The obvious one simply questions the point of spending money if you don't have to. Another reason was that I wanted to save enough money to buy my parrot a new cage. He's had his previous one since he was purchased seven years ago, so it seemed only reasonable to upgrade his accommodation.

So last week, I did just that and he now has a little parroty mansion (below).



The cage is a vast improvement over it's predecessor. It's a more regular shape. It's a bit more spacious. It's easier to clean. It's easier for him to clamber around on and also has little play-area on the top. It's parrot-heaven, parrot-tastic and other such superlatives - if you have a normal parrot, that is.

I was hoping that this improved environment would bring him out of his shell a little bit. Those who know my parrot would class him as the "grumpy old-man" of parrots. Whilst totally tame, he doesn't play, thank-you, nor does he have a complex dietary make-up or vocabulary. He makes fart-noises (god knows where he got that from), barks, eats seeds and green fruit. The change didn't bring him out of his shell at all.

So I bought him some new toys. After all, something new to interact with might help. Or it might not. He has ignored the lot. None of this new fangled rubbish is going to change the habits of a lifetime.

So there you go. I have a grumpy old man in parrot form. One new cage, lavish food and toys later and we still have the same bird that would probably have been happy with a cardboard box and enjoys throwing my mobile-phone on the floor when he can get near it.
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Blub

It's not quite Gloucestershire, but here's the closest we have to a flood. I guess that's the benefit of living in a hilly area.

The water is about a foot deep.



Pedants alert: Yes. I'm stationary. I didn't drive and take the photo.. etc.. etc..
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Can you tell what it is yet?

For the last week or so, I've been playing around with photo mosaics. No doubt you've seen them - the pictures that are a huge image of some sort, composed from thousands of little ones. They're quite interesting to build and look at - miles better than all those crappy magic eye pictures that everyone used to go on about. I just used to end up with aching eyes and could never see the dragon/kitchen sink/ninja or whatever that was supposed to be there.

There's loads of bits of software out there that can do the task of assembling a photo mosaic for you - if you're a Mac user, you might be interested in having a look at MacOsAix, which does a good job at using Google Images, Flickr or your own iPhoto collection.

Of course, you can be just plain lazy - and use this tool instead. It works really well.

In short, you upload an image to it, then the application trundles over flickr for you - and in about 5 minutes, you've got yourself a mosaic.

Here's a test image I tried out. You should recognise who it is...

Oz!

What I had generated was this (click on the image below to see the bigger version):



Good, eh? Go on, run along and play.
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Slog

After getting back from Italy, I've been trying to get back into my running routine - and it's proving harder than ever. At the moment, I'm struggling to complete the 5km run that I was managing to finish with reasonable ease not long before departing to Italy.

It seems as hard as running in lead trainers up a hill covered in treacle.

Of course, there will be those that say the copious guzzling of limoncello, red wine, ice-cream and pizza were what hindered me. I can't deny that the aforementioned items were consumed (your honour), but I would suggest that the lack of intensive cardiovascular activity is probably how the rot set in. My weight didn't change, so something else must have contributed.

In short, because I didn't run in Italy, my fitness has gone downhill. I did hear someone say that one week of inactivity can undermine the progress made during six weeks of activity. Whoever someone is, he's got a point...

I'm a little concerned by this. It means I've got to get back to my previous fitness level quickly before making further advancements - and the race is in four months. It's not time to panic yet.
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Glug

Yesterday was my birthday - W00T for me. I am now 35, an age which dictates that I should be listening to Radio 2, complaining about "yoofs" (and I would have good reason, because one of them vandalised my car) along with the effect that such activity is having on house prices in my local area.

Or maybe not.

I did get given a fair bit of wine, which was nice - but I've got a favourite tipple of the moment.... Happy
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Boom

As promised, here's my first video snippet taken from my trip to Italy. The video is of a ju-jitsu technical demonstration and these guys are good, even if at times the noises are a little bit over-egged. Enjoy.



Footnote:
This is also my 400th entry. W00T for me.
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Chilled

I got back from Italy in the small hours of this morning. The holiday was great stuff and was just what the doctor ordered. I did exactly what I said I'd do before I left - train, drink and lounge. I'd also go as far as to say it's the most relaxing and fun holiday I've had in about fifteen years.

It was memorable for so many reasons. Apart from the fun and alcohol, I also had the honour of being the uke for the club's first black-belt grading. The grading went well, with the tori impressing the panel and getting his belt. Congratulations - you know who you are, history-maker. Happy

Consequently, there was much celebrating to be done - we were plied with drinks at a beach party that was laid on by the ju-jitsu foundation. It was a wonderful way to end the week.

I think I've consumed more alcohol during the past week than I have in the past year.

With all that went on, the one memory that will stay is of the beach. Listening to the waves crash against the moonlit shore (below) in the small hours of the morning was something special. Combine this with friends and a great atmosphere and it would be sufficient to say I had a very enjoyable time.



This is the first of many pictures - I'll be posting a little gallery of the best bits around Wednesday/Thursday.
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Emergency Stop

Well, you won't be seeing any updates on here for just over a week. This is because I'm taking some time off and going to Italy for a while to train, lounge on a beach, drink beer, curl up with a good book and listen to music, thus providing a much needed break from the world.

I'll be posting again on Sunday 8th July.
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Solar Expansion

Believe it or not, I've now had my solar-system in place and working for four months. The whole thing has been a painless affair, generally allowing me to power a couple of items from the system - usually my front-room lighting and audio-system, along with some smaller devices such as my mobile-phone charger.

During this time the system has performed well and has never been totally depleted. As I sit and type here now, my living-room is being illuminated by solar-power. That's not to say the system is perfect. I think it needs upgrading to get around some of the issues I could encounter during the winter months (such as reduced daylight hours). So, here's some changes I'm thinking of implementing:

1) Panel location - I don't need more panels to be more effective. With some careful positioning, I might be able to extend the amount of hours that I can collect sunlight for.

2) Storage - This is probably the most likely upgrade. To get this whole project going, I bought a cheap 85amp/hour battery. On most sunny days, though, it's charged by about 2pm - meaning that I could be harnessing more energy. I'm looking to double my storage capacity.

A recent conversation with a friend brought up a new idea for cheap energy storage - the batteries from motorised wheelchairs or mobility scooters. These batteries usually have a good capacity and are very used to being charge-cycled (i.e. constantly discharged/recharged). Looking around in the right place might reveal a cheap deal.

3) Inverter / Wiring - At the moment, I'm running things off one specially installed double-socket in my front-room, but the system has potential to be expanded all over the house. For example, what if all my lighting ran from it? Funnily enough, I already have a separate mains-box (currently unused) in my electricity cupboard - it wouldn't take much to make such a modification (i.e. re-routing from the lighting circuit from the old box to the new box)

I'm also considering changing my inverter to a slightly more expensive version that gives cleaner power, so that more electronically sensitive equipment can run from it without issue.

Changing over some of my energy needs to solar along with generally being more energy efficient has definitely paid benefits. I now use less than £5/week of electricity, which isn't bad considering the continual recent price-hikes. I was doing the same when I first moved out of home over 15 years ago.

I'll keep you posted on the modifications and how it all fares during the winter months.
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Squirm

In the last couple of years my life has changed quite a bit. Whereas I previously just had a parrot and a large CD collection, I've now got a bit more to think about - especially as I now have a mortgage. So, to save a lot of people a lot of hassle, I've finally started to make a will.

It's a strange affair, this death malarky.

To write a will involves looking at everything in (and including) your house in such a clinical way. When you die, all that you leave behind is just stuff. There's the stuff that people might want, the stuff you think you should give and the stuff that you should sort out for people. It all gets very complicated. It's a lot of stuff to think about.

I wish it weren't so complicated. I've even had to consider that there could be different ways in how I could die, which will effect those inheriting my "estate" in differing ways. For example, if I die at work, there's things to be done (I have a "death in service" policy), along with being covered for outside-work eventualities. This means there are differing permutations of what needs to done. I'm actually having to think of all the ways that I could cash in my chips.

Then there's the matter of your possessions.

A while back, I had a discussion with my Dad about his will. At the time, he started the conversation by telling me that he'd made one, but if there was anything I particularly liked in his house I should say, so that it could be written in. At the time, I squirmed, because it's not a nice thing to think about. I'd like my father to be around for a long time yet, although he was asking a sensible question. There's no doubt that I'll ask the same of some people too. And they'll probably squirm as well.

True, it is an awkward question to ask, but it saves an awful lot of hassle later - although the Egyptians probably had a smart idea when they buried their dead with all their possessions, as long as you forget the killing of slaves bit.
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Splink (2)

After my little rant about road-safety a while back, somebody proved my theory on the lack of pedestrian road-sense during my journey home from work this evening. They were hit by a car.

Before we get all judgemental on the driver, hold off for a moment whilst I tell you that the incident in question happened at about 11pm (pub chucking-out time) on Mutley Plain (one of the places in Plymouth with the highest concentrations of pubs).

Still not convinced? So what if he decided at the very last second to run across the road in front of the vehicle in question? There was literally nothing the driver could do.

You might have guessed that I wasn't the driver he collided with but I saw quite enough, thank-you. It happened just two cars in front and the casualty landed just a few metres in front of me. The guy literally belted across the road without looking, his legs flew through the air and a second later was on his back on the tarmac. I doubt it's the most fun Friday night he's had. I offered assistance to the driver/injured, but everything was in hand. The best thing I could do was get out of the way.

With the ambulance call made almost instantly, nearby pub-bouncers directed traffic. I felt more sorry for the young woman who was driving the vehicle - she looked totally distraught. Such an event will undoubtedly stick in her mind and will make her question herself, even though it wasn't her fault in the slightest. Not every accident is preventable by car-drivers. The fact of the matter was that this was another idiot who didn't think.

This is the second instance of a negligent pedestrian causing an accident that I've been close to in the last three months. For all the cracking down on car-drivers we do, we really need to continue educating pedestrians, even if they are less financially lucrative for local authorities.
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Cow & Chicken

Over the last six weeks, I've lost seven pounds (nearly four kilos), which naturally I'm quite pleased about.

Is it my continued running, or pursuance of a more meat-free diet? Perhaps aliens are sucking stomach fat out of me whilst I sleep? Who knows?

P.S. If it's the aliens, then here's a little message for you - take all you like. Supplies are still plentiful.
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Squeek (2)

Q) Just as I'm leaving home this evening, what do I see?

A) The same cheeky rodent that ran across my kitchen last night. (Camera phone picture below - not the best of quality)



However, he's now outside the house - which is a Good Thing. Hopefully, he'll stay there. I don't actually mind rats/mice that much, just as long as they don't eat my food or burn down my house when they bite electrical cables.

Should I have asked him to say "cheese"?
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Squeek

I think I've got a mouse in my kitchen. I think it was a mouse, anyway, because I saw this dark furry thing with a tail run across my kitchen floor a few minutes ago and it didn't look like a squirrel or dog. Then again, it wasn't eating a lump of cheese with holes in it, which was a shame, because that would have been a very positive identification.

One can never be sure. Mother nature really is very cunning.

Anyone got any good tips on how to catch errant rodents? I've been watching Tom and Jerry for some tips. Should I buy some cheese with holes in it, some iron filings and an ACME brand giant electromagnet?
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Slaps

Tomorrow, it's Father's Day. You probably already know this because most greeting card shops are constantly reminding you. It's strange though - the person you're buying the card for is a bloke, 50% of those people who buy cards are probably male too, so why is it so hard to buy a good bloke-ish greetings card?

To verify my point, you'll probably have noticed that most greetings cards seem to fall into the following categories:

i) "Happy Fathers Day, dearest Daddykins" - The card usually is covered with faux-cuddly bears, kittens or puppies. Any normal man would vomit on receiving this and only doesn't do so out of kindness to your feelings.

ii) "Happy Fathers Day, bald/stupid/lazy person" - These cards seems to insult you more than say thank-you, in the name of "humour".

iii) "Happy Fathers Day, golf/football/big car lover" - Unfortunately, there just aren't enough categories to pigeon-hole everyone sufficiently.

iv) The same cards you see at the rest of the year, re-badged with "Happy Fathers Day" at the top - These fundamentally lack any imagination whatsoever.

No. What we need is a company that can make blokes cards, from blokes, as this entire category seems to have been overlooked.

How about:

- "Happy Fathers Day, mate - want a pint?"
- Or "Many laddish back-slaps of the day"?

I think I might have discovered a new business idea...
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Tales Of The Unexpected

Today, my washing machine was finally repaired - and as luck would have it, Chuffing Billy didn't come to do the job - somebody else did. He was a pleasant chap who repaired everything quickly, did a good job and thankfully didn't have an alternative hygiene issue such as nasty body-odour or chronic dandruff, which was nice.

However, today was a day of strange coincidence....

(If you'd like some creepy music to accompany this story, click here....)

A couple of work colleagues were busy being code-monkeys, writing an application in Excel. What these guys can't do in Visual Whatsit isn't worth knowing. We got into discussion about how real programmers don't write documentation and about how debugging was notoriously boring, because you had to set up traces in the program to monitor every single instruction - it's a very laborious and dull task, reminding me of my days when I used to do software development work. The debugging was necessary because their program kept going around in circles, needing intervention to kill it off - not exactly the desired effect.

One of the two chipped in by saying that her partner is a PHP developer who experiences this same level of boredom and frustration in his job. When I asked which software houses he'd worked for, one of the names mentioned happened to be the same place that my best friend of old used to work at. If you've looked at my scrapbook page, you'll see him - he's the guy with the elastic bands on his face.

It turns out that my colleagues partner has been mates with the guy for nearly 15 years and they're still in contact. I also used to see this co-worker on an almost daily basis because she worked at the newsagent opposite the college I used to go to. More often than not, I'd buy lunch from there. This explains why she said my face rang a bell (not like Quasimodo) just after she joined the company some four years ago. Basically, we knew each other, but there was a ten year gap between sightings. I also found out that Mr Elastic-Band is now married, doing very well for himself and living in Bristol.

At the same time as I lost contact with him, he started to make some rather unsavoury friends. I remember meeting up with him once before going to an Orb concert (appropriately). The house we met at seemed not too dissimilar from some scenes in Trainspotting - just without the baby.

She went on to tell me that one of the guys that was in that house died three years ago from a heroin overdose. I wasn't that surprised, but I guess that's the twist bit.

Nonetheless, it's amusing how our paths had crossed for so many years and I was totally oblivious to it - going to show that sometimes you don't recognise people when they're in a different environment.

The bug in the spreadsheet wasn't found.
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Summer Of Discontent?

I work for a company that is heavily unionised. I'm no ultra-leftie, but being in a union has it's benefits, because they keep employers in check - sometimes, however, unions push their luck too far - and my current situation is a really good example of when a union has obviously lost touch with reality.

We have a ritual that kicks off at the beginning of each new financial year. It's a painfully slow affair, but in the end they usually sort things out and it goes like this:

i) Union asks employer for a big pay-rise.
ii) Employer declines and offers a tiny pay-rise.
iii) Both parties talk and compromise on a small pay-rise.

Unfortunately, this time the union has asked for a stupidly high pay-rise. The business, in return, has said that they can only have a pay-rise which in effect amounts to a pay-cut. Both parties have polarised and consequently, there's no common ground to reach a final deal.

This is where the shouting begins. Each day, I go into work and two propaganda machines spew out stuff, telling us which story we should believe. As usual, the truth probably lies somewhere between the two - just like kids having a playground scrap, there are cries of,"but he started it!". It's just a shame that it hasn't stayed as a playground scrap, because the union has decided to press ahead with the threat of industrial action. Whilst they haven't actually done it yet, they probably will go ahead and do it as their 28 days-from-ballot expiry period comes to an end. Why waste an opportunity to let them know who's really the boss?

This will result in my work environment becoming very unpleasant.

Having to cross a picket-line to get to work hardly fills me with joy, nor does the fact that I may be called on to police it. To me, all this union stuff seems totally reminiscent of the 1970's/1980's and the miners - and it didn't do them any good. We're supposed to have moved on and learnt from this, aren't we?

Evidently not.

I can see why the union is spoiling for a fight, though. It's a very big union. If the business gets it's way, it might not be such a big union - and they probably can't afford to lose such a huge amount of subs from paying members.

Perhaps the argument is about money after all, just not the sort of money it would have you believe. It's just a shame that people have to get caught up in this sort of stuff, because it's going to put pressure on our job security and make it a summer to remember.
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Give It Up

On July 1st, England starts a ban of smoking in enclosed public places. I'm thoroughly looking forward to it and welcome our smoke-free overlords with open arms. It's a long-awaited vote for common sense. It might even result in me being more sociable, as one of the reasons I don't go pubbing much is the smell. It's not a pleasant thing after a night out, aside from the passive-drinking, of course...

In the meantime, lots of people are giving up. This is a Good Thing(tm).

You're probably wondering what triggered off these thoughts. The answer to that question lies in the box that I was rummaging through a few weeks back. In there, amongst the photographs, I found this:



This probably looks like the writings of a five-year old. It's actually one of the last things my mother wrote before she died at the age of 50. Unknown to us at the time, she had a secondary cancer just below the chest-cavity of her lung, causing her capacity to disappear randomly and instantaneously, akin to suffocation. As a smoker, it didn't help her condition - in fact it probably caused it. At the time she wrote this she was in intensive care, breathing through a tracheostomy. Communication was via the art of mime, along with pen and paper - hence the scribbling.

It says, "This certainly helps u stop smoking".

I look on this as a somewhat late moment of realisation.

When I was a teenager with something to prove, I used to hide her cigarettes. Many a time I've wondered whether this was the right thing to do. Inevitably, it just pissed her off and despite my pleading, she wouldn't stop. On the flip side, she was quite disabled and I didn't totally begrudge her the activity. She was largely confined to the house and didn't have much in the way of other pleasures in life - you can empathise to some degree.

You could be asking what the point of my writing is - indeed, I'm wondering it myself. Maybe it's that there are a lot of adverts on the T.V. that seem to try harder and harder into shocking the smoking public into submission, whether that's by showing bottles of tar, fat, or pictures of people in their dying days - but most switch off at the sight of them. I guess that by telling you this story I'm giving you something personal. Believe me, fifty is not a good age to go - it's only about five on top of the average life expectancy during the middle-ages. There are also nicer ways to go, too - suffocation is hardly peaceful.

Believe it or not, she wasn't a comparatively huge smoker - 15 per day isn't a huge amount when you consider that there are many who will go through 60 - 100 per day, but I guess it's all about risk and statistics. You just don't know how the odds will add up.

I hope that July 1st will mark the demise of a pointless, archaic habit - and a marked increase in life expectancy for the average Brit.
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Rubberwhere/Rubbertear

When a company states that they've designed an object to withstand the wear and tear of life, they should be careful what they're saying. I once purchase one of these:

Corsair 1GB USB Memory Stick

But now, it looks like this:

Memory Stick
A memory stick, in the most literal sense of the phrase.

It got that way in 3 simple steps:

1) Rubber cap came loose and eventually got lost.
2) The rubber ring that attaches the device to a key-ring/lanyard wasn't thick enough and got ripped.
3) The sealant that kept that USB port and chip inside it's rubber housing came unstuck, resulting in the device working loose.

Perhaps I should be a product tester for anything that claims "durability". Funnily enough, it still works - as long I don't put it near anything dusty, wet, humid, hot, with an electrical charge or with a beak.
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June's Progress Report

You might remember me saying that I was going to enter the Tavy-7 this year. Well, here's a little progress update:

1) The training is going quite well. Last Saturday (2nd June), I managed to get my first 5k time under 33 minutes, at 32m55s. I've continued to do about 2 or 3 sessions a week and whilst I still feel knackered at the end, I think it's getting a little bit easier.

2) Considering that my first 5k time was 34m36s, I was quite pleased when today I managed to improve further and get a time of 32m31s. It's my best so far.

3) Having now shaved two minutes off my original starting time, I've upped my distance by another 250 metres. I'll aim to up it by 250 metres per week from now on, meaning I should be at 6k sometime next month. For the meantime, any distance over 5k is going to be taken at a slightly more pedestrian pace until I can get used to it, but nonetheless it's all encouraging. I'll keep upping the distance until eventually I get to the magic 11k, which is about the 7 miles I'll be running when the real thing happens in November.

4) In a couple of weeks time I'll be running 5.5k - half the distance required. This should be a vague indicator as to how long it'll take me to run the distance.

It's a strange thing to get used to, but quite rewarding. It's stranger still that I use the words rewarding and running in the same breath.
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Nasty Niffs

After just ten months, my washing-machine has broken down. I was initially concerned, as the electrical retailer who sold me the thing no longer exists, but after a shedload of phone-calls and waiting for a week (praise be for the service-wash), an engineer arrived.

After a bit of manhandling, combined with some poking, prodding, tutting and sucking in air over his teeth, the engineer declared that things were not right. The machine needed some new parts, which he would install after another ten days. Again, hurrah for local launderettes.

Whilst he had been working away there was a strange smell, almost like something had gone off. As the machine hadn't been used for a week and stale water accumulated in the machine's outlet-pipe, I put the odour down to that.

Well, at least until he had left, anyway. The kitchen absolutely stank.

It transpired that my friendly repair-man had probably the worst case of flatulence known to man. I couldn't enter the kitchen. Instead, I opened some windows for a significant amount of time before re-entering. It was nothing short of foul and lingered for the best part of an hour.

I just hope it's not the same engineer that comes back next week, otherwise I shall be getting out the clothes pegs and air-fresheners..
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Purge

Every so often, I go on a purge. I pick a room, get ruthless and throw a lot of stuff out in the name of minimalism. I don't like clutter and after having grandparents who were descendants of magpies, I make a point of doing this every couple of months. This reassures me that it's not in the genes and I generally fill a few bin-bags with rubbish and stuff that's never going to be touched again - it's good for the soul. If I ever use the phrase,"That'll be useful sometime", that's the indicator that it won't and should go in the bag.

Today's area to be attacked was the loft. In there is a large crate filled with photographs. It weighs a bloody ton and was once affectionately referred to as the "travel box", containing a whole pile of crap that myself and my ex-wife picked up from our trips - photos, coins, flyers, newspapers - you name it, it's probably in there. Or, should I say, was.

When we used to travel a lot, we were (understandably) very trigger happy with the camera, thus generating a lot of pictures. It's just a shame they're all fucking awful pictures. Honestly, we couldn't take a decent picture to save our lives. Most are wonky. The remainder have appalling lighting, bad aim (I lost count at the amount of shots of a pavement or stomach), or were just plain shit. If the spirit of Mr Polaroid became aware of such abominations, he'd probably be turning in his grave like a doner kebab.

Nonetheless, whilst I filled a bag with a whole pile of photo-nasties, there were also some absolute gems that were so good that they really shouldn't be living in a box. It just doesn't seem right to only bring them out once every couple of years. They need some digital immortality.

Over the next couple of days, I shall grab my partner's scanner and give some of these photos a bit of a face lift, ready for a nostalgia-flavoured online photo-library, which I expect to have published by the end of the week. If you love bad hairstyles, mullets, moustaches and a bit of family history, you'll love it.

P.S. Knocked another 22 seconds off my 5k time - Now 33:20. Happy
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Flesh vs Metal

Remember public-information adverts? The 70's were full of crap things, but the public-information film was one of the few good things to come out of the decade, even if just for the entertainment value. Remember the immortal words of that kid trying to get his frisbee, screaming,"JIMMY!" Well, here's another classic....



...and we really, really need them back. Soon. Common sense would appear to need constant reinforcement.

As a driver, I seem to be encountering a new attitude amongst pedestrians. When crossing the road (contrary to Mr Pertwee's good advice), instead you should do either of the following:

1) Totally ignore the vehicle whatsoever. I mean, it doesn't matter, does it? After all, if the driver runs you over (even though it was your own stupid fault), you can always sue them, can't you?

2) Scowl. Don't forget, a really big glowering scowl will make the driver shrivel in his seat - and then he's bound not to run you over. Coz you're 'ard.

It amazes me that a frail 80kg bag of skin and bones wants to argue with a 1 ton lump of metal travelling at speed, but maybe I'm just not with it. In the past two days, I've nearly hit a drunken 20 something who tried the scowl technique and today, ironically, I nearly hit a mother who had two kids with her. The kids saw me - and stupidly enough, she encouraged them to walk out in front of me - at the entrance to a building site and on the corner of a junction. In both cases I've been the observant one who avoided an incident, luckily travelling at less than 10mph in both cases.

I wonder what the figures are for pedestrian traffic accidents over the last few years? I wonder if they've increased, like drink-driving?
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Chunks

Mainly out of choice, I've now not eaten meat for over a week.

I'm not sure as to whether I should be pleased about this, or whether Hambo should be called to pelt me with dead pigs. It's all very confusing.

On an unrelated note, I've knocked down my 5k time to 33:42.
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Flossin' Your Grip Of Cheddar

Sometimes I download video podcasts. They're usually free, but as a consequence there's some sort of advertising beforehand. I keep seeing this one and it's almost viral, I kid you not.



After seeing it a few times, it's amazing how it can stick in your head. All I could think was, "What the hell does stacks of heads, chisland in the heazy mean?". I sought answers - enter my good friend, the trusty Slang Dictionary. Now fully enlightened, I can provide you with a translation:

"Homie was flossin' his grip of cheddar" - This gentleman appears to be affluent chap, expressing his wealth by showing a not too inconsiderable sum of hard currency.

"There were stacks of heads, chizzlin' in the heezie" - There were many people, enjoying a pleasant state of relaxation in the house.

"His whip is a janky hooptie" - This young gentleman's car is a vehicle of considerable age and mileage.

So there you go. Dalliard.net cleans another mystery up for the confused masses (i.e. me). I am now fully with it, down with the kids and da bomb, with a little bit of federal thrown in for good measure. Word.
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Dribble

The fiasco with my ISP continues, so whilst I couldn't train this evening (having not been well), I decided to start doing a search for alternative providers. My current front-runner is ADSL24, which seems to allow quite a large monthly bandwidth allowance (30GB daytime, plus 300GB at weekends and evenings), along with having the necessary web-space and CGI support that I need to ensure my sites continue running. On top of that, they seem to be generally well spoken of. And they're only £20/month.

The whole matter with Plusnet is somewhat annoying - after changing my e-mail address just a few months back (and staying spam-free), they have effectively undermined me to the point where I'm now getting a significant amount of spam per day. A post-mortem of the event is due soon and Plus are to publish a report on what went wrong. It will make interesting reading.

Nonetheless, I suspect I shall be getting a MAC code and transferring. It's a shame the whole thing can't be done without any disruption.

Update: The report has been published and the alleged perpetrators of this incident are apparently Russian. Having read some of the other details on the report, I'm glad I'm using a Mac as it appears that there were further exploits that affected Windows users. It's time to get those tin-foil hats on....
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Mr Plod

This evening I did my first training run. It was nothing horrendously serious and the mere point of it was to get used to the routine. I aim to do three training runs per week and gradually build up the distance as things get more comfortable. Whilst I'll be spending most of my time running on a treadmill in a gym, I'll do the occasional road-run too.

Anyway, as I've done a little bit of running before, I started with 5 kilometres. I took it at a fairly slow pace and had no problems at all, finishing in 34mins 36 seconds - hardly a blistering pace, but a starting point. It'll be easy to improve upon - shoot me if I don't.

Checking on last years Tavy 7 scoreboard, I did some basic mathematics and was consoled to see that if I ran my projected time at the same pace for 7 miles, I would not come last.

I feel better already.
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Run, Fatboy, Run (2)

Following on from my last post I've decided to do the Tavy 7 run in November, along with something a bit shorter in September (~5 miles).

I only have two aims:

1) To finish.
2) Not to come last.

Anything else is a bonus.
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Run, Fatboy, Run

I went out on Saturday night with some friends, to eat another one of those curries that I told you about. One of the group had recently done the London Marathon. Inevitably, during the evening, he got barraged with questions on the event.

I am a curious person. I can run, but I am not a runner. Those that know my physique know why this statement is very true indeed.

Nonetheless, there are lots of runs that take place that aren't marathons. You can bet, as sure as eggs is a poultry-based non-dichotomy that I could not run 26 miles.

But I could run a lot less.... (duh)

Most times I go running, I run about 2.5 - 3.0 miles and with a bit of training, I could build that up. Given some time and a bit of persistence, this could be something more. For example, should a quarter-marathon exist (6.5 miles), this would be the ideal thing to aim for.

I might even finish it. Who knows?

So, my friend has truly planted the seed. I'm going to go away and have a ponder. Having a goal would be a good thing - and at the same time there would be benefits for my regular ju-jitsu training. I'm off to do a bit of research. If something of about six or seven miles around September-time existed, that would be just the thing to aim for.

I'll keep you posted.
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Smell

Usually on the day before I go back to work I cook a curry. This ends up being my tea, and provides me with something enjoyable to eat for lunch at work - thus avoiding the usual mass of suspicious fried objects in our work canteen.

But I forgot something. I forgot that I was going out with my workmates on Wednesday for a curry, followed by having yet another one with my ju-jitsu chums on Saturday.

That means I will have eaten curry for four days in a row. Oops. Best keep your distance.
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Manners

Once upon a time, there was a corner of the universe called Great Britain. It might not have been particularly great at all times, but everyone knew it as the cornerstone of manners and polite society. Other countries revered us for our ability to wait for an eternity in queues, politely open doors for people and receive cuffs on the back of the head from lofty policemen.

However, something at sometime changed. People forgot how to use pleasantries and somewhere along the line, the nation got a whole lot ruder.

In the last couple days, I've had (unwarranted) verbal abuse from an old woman, witnessed people who eat like pigs and suffered the ignorance of people who don't bother to thank you when you open the door for them. Sometimes you feel like descending to their level.

When did it all change? And why?

P.S. Maybe it's not just this country after all.
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It's In The Genes

Analysing my eating habits over the last couple months, I've noticed something - the amount of meat I'm eating is gradually getting less and less.

This shouldn't really be a surprise, my father has been a vegetarian for many years. I guess it's in the genes. Curiously enough though, my reasons for reduced consumption are threefold - and they don't have anything to do with animal welfare:

i) I just don't crave meat much any more.
ii) I don't like the bloated and sluggish feeling I get when I eat it, especially with red meat.
iii) I just like vegetables.

I haven't eaten a burger for about 4 months - New Year's Eve to be precise. I haven't eaten a steak in significantly longer and as for bacon and sausages, well, I've barely touched them in months. Today, we went out to one of those places that does carveries. It was all jolly nice, but I thought that all the veg on offer was actually a lot more enjoyable than the meat.

Mmmmmm, roasted parsnips.

I'm not going to force the matter though. I'll continue to let my appetite for meat continue to fade. To declare myself a vegetarian tomorrow would be folly, as I'd probably be eating a bacon sarnie in days due to feeling deprived - as soon as you deny yourself something, you want it. Nonetheless, it does all go to show that as you get older, your taste in food changes.
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Mr D Gets A Kicking (1)

I've been meaning to upload these for a while - here's the first one (of two).

As well as my grading, I recently took part in a ju-jitsu demonstration at our local school. I made quite an impression - but that's another story.

Anyway, here you go - it's short, but sums things up quite well. I felt like I took more of a beating in this than in my grading....

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Unexplained

After all the punishment I've taken in training recently, I'm glad it's a new month. I've just been paid and can afford some physio again. This time, though, I had an unexpected bonus when my physiotherapist threw in a bit of something else for free.

No, potty-mind. I don't mean that. I got some acunpuncture.

This is a first for me, having never had it before. I'm glad the idea was put to me at short-notice, because under normal circumstances I hate needles, wuss as I am, and this would have just given me more time to think about it, which wouldn't have been good.

Of course, in reality, acupuncture needles are very fine - so you barely feel them being inserted. After having about seven or eight of these inserted into my back, there I lay - and strange things started to happen. My shoulder started to warm up. Ten minutes later, when the needles were removed, the pain was gone. Freaky.

I don't know how these things work. It seems inconceivable that sticking a needle into your body should make you feel better, but it does. For the moment, I'll just have to leave someone else to explain how it works, but in the meantime I think I'm a convert.
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Dude, where's my ninjas?

Yoof : Dude?
Me : Yes?
Yoof : Is all that ju-jitsu stuff you're doing real?
Me : Of course.
Yoof : I mean, could that black-belt guy take you down if he wanted to?
Me : Believe me, he could.
Yoof : Ah, it's just that it looks a bit Chuck Norris from where I'm sitting.

(..and being a bit Chuck Norris is a problem?)
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Brown

One damaged left shoulder.
Two weakened knees.
A variety of bruises.

But it was worth it.

Wasn't it?
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Superstar

Congratulations to my friend Jim, who completed the London Marathon in some unpleasant running conditions.

The title of this post says it all.

Update: It seems fitting to plug Jim's nominated charity - VICTA - So if you're feeling generous, please sponsor him...
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Neighbourhood?

I'm embarassed to say that I've lived in my village for nearly two years, but I've explored is very little of it.

OK. I'll be honest, I've not explored at all.

So when South West Water started some work in the village, I had to take a detour on my regular commute to work - and as a consequence, I stumbled onto this. I didn't even realise it existed.



Surely, you actually have to have a neighbourhood to watch?

At a guess, there's about thirty or so houses down this way, spread around two main streets - population zero, bar me (at the time) and a cat. Most have some degree of graffiti, smashed windows, missing fixtures, open doors and partially gutted garages. However, they could have some potential - a couple of thousand pounds would see them restored back to something more pleasant. They've also got reasonble gardens to the rear.

There's a shortage of good, cheap housing around at the moment and as a consequence, they should be sold off as soon as possible. I think they're M.O.D. property. There's a board at the entrance to the area with a website address, but details are scant.

As a consequence of this, I've made a decision to have a really good exploration session on Thursday - it's about time. Who knows what else I might find?
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Haddock

Come July 1st, pubs won't make you smell like a haddock (thank God). I only wish it could have come around sooner.

In the meantime, I'll stick to my vice of eating. I'm not addicted to eating, I just enjoy a good eat with a drink. It's part of my daily ritual and nobody has any evidence to prove that passive-eating damages health - so I'll continue to munch, if you don't mind. My Dad ate several times a day and his Dad before him - and it never did them any harm.

I'm sure we can accommodate you in that nice no-eating area over there, in the corner of this fine interweb.
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Budge (please).

Tonight, an irresistible force met an immovable object...

...except that the immovable object realised it was moveable after all and thus the paradox was shattered. Shame.
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Beer & Bruises

This morning, I woke up aching. I ached all over. My chest, shoulders, back, legs and arms hurt - nowhere was excluded from the party. I attributed this not to being thrown down the stairs in my sleep, but feeling the aftermath of what has now become the ritualistic three-hour training session the day before.

There was one small difference this time - I ran it - with some help, of course.

It wasn't too bewildering. I'm not scared of dealing with people. At work I manage approximately 45 staff, a position which involves dealing with some very awkward personalities. I've also done volunteer work, working with children. Believe it or not, I was once a Cub Scout Leader for nearly seven years - and hell, most people know my opinions on children - but at the time, it was right.

And whilst last night was a weird affair, effectively instructing people in how to perform ju-jitsu techniques, it could have gone a lot worse. As a newbie white-belt three years ago, I never thought I'd see myself get this far.

Of course, the main question you're probably asking is why I was doing such a thing in the first place. That's because I will probably be volunteering my time and services to help with the start-up of a new ju-jitsu group for teenagers - I never thought I'd be a volunteer again. It's all very strange.

Anyway, no matter what the problem is - be it a comet on a collision course with Earth or a variety of aches and pains, there's always a solution: Beer. Healing, mystical, all powerful beer.

So today, I got up early and with some friends made our way to the Newton Abbot Beer Festival, as you can see below. See? That's beer, that is. That's just a small snapshot of nearly 300 varieties of the stuff. It's literally beer-tastic...



...which all added up to a rather enjoyable day - even if the public transport was something of a fiasco. Whether that was because it's Friday the 13th or the British rail system being shit, I'll leave to you. However, for a beer-related recommendation I can whole-heartedly suggest Wessex's Lost Gerbil. It's smooth, very drinkable, smells of peaches (no, really - it does) and is 7.2%. Just a couple of pints does the trick, believe me.

The web-site for the venue is here: (*clicky*)
Want to see the list of the several hundred beers on offer? (*clicky*)
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Murder On The Shop Floor

Once upon a time, I was a very large person - very large indeed. Buying clothes was nothing short of trauma. After a while, the realisation set in that I would have to do something, when one day I bought a pair of trousers that were huge - the sort of trousers that one usually would buy from The Very Tall or Very Fat Man Shop, apart from the obvious health consequences.

These days, I wear a more normal size. Well, at least as far as my waist is concerned...

...because I have very short legs. I ain't no circus act, but trousers with "short" legs are usually still too long - and if you go to a shop like Zara, where one length fits all, you actually end up cutting about 6 - 7 inches of material off when they're adjusted to my size - and such a removal ends up making the garment look a bit weird, because it usually tapers in at the base of the leg.

One or two retailers used to manufacture an "extra short" sizing. I used to shop at such places for the sheer comfort factor - it was bliss to actually just buy something and wear it, with no alteration. C&A, For all of their nastiness, were one of the few to accommodate us stumpies - more the shame when they pulled out of the UK.

Yesterday, I went to buy a pair of jeans. It took me approximately 10 shops to find a pair that:

a) Fitted. I have a tendency to look like a 10 year old in his first school uniform.
b) Didn't have my arse hanging out of them, like some skater dude. There's a relaxed fit - and there's indecent.
c) Weren't boot-cut. I mean, boot-cut on a really short person - do they make these for comedy value?
d) Were under fifty quid.
e) Hadn't been pelted by pebbles imported from Jupiter.

I just want some plain jeans that fit - is that too much to ask?

Anyway, congratulations to NEXT for actually delivering the goods. Jeez, that's three hours of my life, gone.
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Cake / Wine / Chocolate

Well, I've come back from France - the land of chocolate, wine and cake. No doubt my waistline already hates me.

This makes me think - I didn't really see any obese people. My wiser-half thinks that they've locked them all away in special fat-camps. With a lack of alternatives, I'm inclined to agree with her. I don't understand it really. French meals are typically marathon-esque affairs consisting of many courses. Combine this with the daily trip to the boulanger and one asks the question,"why aren't they fat?". I doubt cake, wine and chocolate is their sole dietary makeup, but it does make you wonder what they're doing.

One thought that crosses my mind is that they're eating real food - and good quality food at that. I didn't see a fast food chain whatsoever on my travels. Mucky Dee's does have an awful lot to answer for.

That said, I'm open to other suggestions.
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The Bedford Mile

If you ever wanted reassurance that communities can still pull together for a cause and have fun, this would be it. Tavistock's residents joined forces, so that they could start to raise the £300,000 necessary to build a full-size running-track for the benefit of the town. The idea was to get a thousand participants sponsored £100 for an activity, thus providing one third of the project cost in one go. The activity in question was "The Bedford Mile" - and I was one of many who took part yesterday. It was one of the most fun sporting events I've been to in ages.

Of course, running the mile was a pretty easy affair, because of the way that Tavistock was laid out. Quite simply, you run from one end of the main road into the town to the other - hardly taxing for the marshals. Nonetheless, a mile it is and whilst there were a good few "serious" runners there who wanted to clock up a good time, there were also hundreds who came in fancy dress like the Chinese dragon, as snapped by myself and shown below...



... and not forgetting those who also came as fairies, did it on roller-blades, unicycles or three-legged!

As for me, well I wore my gi as part of the ju-jitsu contingent - and we really had good fun, using it as a good bit of publicity to let everyone know that we existed. I don't think I've ever had that much fun running. It was more like a carnival.

More info on the event is available on the Track4Tavistock site (*clicky*) - perhaps it might turn into a yearly event?
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Deprivation Central

As someone who once lived in a seaside village, I quite like going to coastal towns when the tourists aren't around. The atmosphere is totally different - you can get an ice-cream, some fresh air and have a walk around by the sea. There's usually a pleasant air of tranquility - broken when the hordes return in the summer.

However, for the first time today I went to Ilfracombe and whilst the weather was pleasant, it felt more... well, miserable.

As we walked around the town, you couldn't help but notice the amount of shops that were empty - not just "closed for the winter" empty, but totally abandoned. In fact there were a couple of streets with more closed/empty stores than open. There's a demolition site where one large hotel once was. The town seriously needs some money. Additionally, there were quite a few homeless people and loads of holiday homes sitting empty - could the two not be united somehow?

Seaside towns have always had it hard. By the end of the summer, the party is over and everything goes quiet. This is to be expected as the employment market is seasonal, but this was a pretty miserable state of affairs. Do dwellers of seaside towns suffer more from seasonal affective disorder?

With things so bad, it made me wonder if I should return in the summer so I can get a cheerier view of the town. I might just do that, although I doubt it'll improve my opinion of the giant lampshades that are the landmark building.

As an aside, I have given the road to Ilfracombe the dubious title of "roadkill highway", due to the sheer hundreds of dead pheasants that littered the dual carriageway. It's amazing there's any birds left. If you drive that way, you'll know exactly what I mean.
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Suicidal Cyclists

This evening whilst in town, I nearly hit a child on a bike:

1) He had no helmet.
2) He had no reflectors.
3) He had no lights.
4) He was wearing black.
5) He was cycling on the wrong side of the road - around a turning. (So he came out of nowhere)
6) He was wobbling all over the place.

In the dark he was as good as invisible. Perhaps he didn't want to live - who knows? I'm just glad I was doing about 15mph, making him relatively easy to avoid. It's people like this that need the new-fangled cycling-proficiency test. When I was a child, my parents wouldn't let me go anywhere on my bike until I passed, which on reflection was a very good thing to do.

As I swerved to avoid him and he swerved to avoid me, he continued to ride along the road on the wrong side - onto a major A-road. It's only a matter of time before something more serious happens.

What galls me more is that his mother was with him all the time and did nothing.
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Wot no life?

Occasionally, I play Warcraft. Yes, I admit it. I've come out of the closet and told the world - I'm one of the 8 million. That said, I'm not a huge player, usually only managing a few hours a week. In fact, I mainly played when I was off sick from work for a few days. There are other people play a lot more, though, such as the friend I bumped into online, who does just that - admitting that he played for four hours per day as an average.

Four hours per day? I can't imagine playing that much. That's about 25% of your waking hours, just playing a game - and if that's an average, that means there are days when he plays for longer. What about working, friends and other interests?

Perhaps I've just answered my own question. Eeesh.
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I'm a...

I don't care what Apple's advertising campaign says. As a Mac user, I'm ashamed of that smug, holier-than-thou and trendier-than-you attitude. It's just wrong - and it certainly doesn't convince me.



If you've been living under a rock, here are the ads: (*clicky*)
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Solar Setup Picture

As promised, here's the details...

Warning: Contains pictures of little bits of wire and screws. Read More...
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Solar Stuff (3)

This evening, I got my final solar power tweaks done - and everything is working marvellously. After using some panels that generated about 28 watts of power, I've finally gone for something a bit more beefy. The panels were fairly old technology, but I've now invested in a panel that was basically the same size as the previous two combined, but generates 250% more energy! (Which goes to show how things have moved on).

So, I'm now using a single Kyocera 65w panel, which is doing amazingly well, even when it's not very sunny. In fact, it's a good job I have the solar controller hooked up, otherwise I'd be cooking the battery.

This panel generates enough charge (up to 4 amps of current) such that I can continue to use the panel and it will even continue to charge the battery at the same time. It's quite impressive stuff.

Anyway, now things are set up, it'll be interesting to see how it fares over the long term - and whether my electricity bill comes down as a result. I'll post a few basic images tomorrow so that you can see the final set-up.
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No room at the brain.

Ju-jitsu training as of late hasn't really gone to plan. The original idea was that with sufficient time, effort and a lack of injuries, I could have attempted grading for my brown belt in a couple of months. However, the plan isn't working, as my knee injury is taking far longer than I would have liked to clear up. Even though I have somewhere near a full range of mobility, it still aches in a somewhat pathetic manner, reminding me that I've still got to take things more carefully than I would like. It also has weak points, which occasionally mean it randomly gives way underneath me. Christmas was supposed to have been a recuperation time so that I had my batteries fully charged for the New Year - I should be well on the way by now, but I'm not. I'm also picking up extra problems along the way, such as my shoulder/elbow feeling out of place and crunching through about 35 of 50 press-ups. It hurt like hell afterwards.

This injury has also had a knock-on effect of stopping me from getting my fitness where I would have liked. In the early stages, I couldn't walk, let alone run. When running, I reach a limit where it "grumbles" - about 25 minutes - and that's if I give it a few days of break. It's really not where I want to be, but I can't push it any further just in case things get worse.

The original schedule was to attempt grading mid-April, although I can't see that happening now - I'm miles away and have just five weeks left. I don't keep rabbits, so I can't pull one out of a hat.

The final thing that is stopping me is a mental thing. My brain is full. It's definitely a vessel with a finite capacity. Teach it something new and something else falls out of my ears. On some days, I can barely remember my name and phone number, let alone 100+ techniques. I might reach brown one day, but it's certainly not yet.

Everyone has their limits, I think I'm reaching mine.
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Plain English

I got this e-mail from Second Life - and I have no idea what it means. Anyone care to offer a translation?

The object 'Second Life' has sent you a message from Second Life:
Your object 'Warm Soak' has been returned to your inventory lost and
found folder by Meditation in Paradise from parcel 'Francoisito
Jacquimoto' at Matsushima 61.9654, 203.713 due to parcel owner return.

I should add, this isn't spam, believe it or not.
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Bruises

240 Rounds of ammunition - £24
1 Smoke grenade - £3.50
The ability to inflict pain and bruising on your work colleagues - priceless.

There are some things money can't buy, but in the meantime, have a game of paint-ball.
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Angle Of The Dangle

The solar generation has been going ok. I've been able to charge plenty of small-drain items from the system, along with running my lounge lighting during the evening - not bad considering the rain we've had recently, which at times has been been nothing short of torrential.

That's not to say that I don't think it could do better, because it could. One thing I've definitely noticed is the output voltage, which I think I could increase. Currently, the system is mounted totally flat against the side of the house - giving it a slight tilt would distinctly help matters. So on Thursday I think I'll be making a few modifications, changing the rack so that the bottom points out a little bit. Ideally, I'd like it angled at about 45 degrees, but that probably won't be possible as it might overhang my neighbours house - and I don't want to piss them off.

Nonetheless, it proves that a system can be quite easily and cheaply put together. I'll keep you updated. When I've got the system how I want it, I'll put a few diagrams and photos on here so that budding home DIY enthusiasts can use it as a reference point.
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The Generation Game

In May of last year, I mentioned the possibility of getting a small solar power project going. After several months of faffing around, I've finally got it started... Read More...
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I can read your mind!

I sometimes wonder if work is actually a bit like a school playground. With things such as these going around the office, it probably is. Read on for the latest craze - a toy that isn't just for kids. Read More...
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Embarrassment

Sometimes, I wonder what the housing market is coming to... Read More...
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Perfection

This evening, I had a long debate with a friend in the pub about women - mostly brought on by the fact that he'd been admiring the barmaid. We exchanged two different points of view when it came to attractiveness, which should not be confused with beauty. Attractiveness is the package, whereas beauty a single characteristic. Our two theories were thus:

1) His theory - The perfect woman is out there. If you were scoring each of her facets (we'll be polite), you would arrive at 10/10 for each. Admittedly, these sort of people are in short supply, but they exist. Likewise, there are some unfortunates at the other end of the scale. A bit of random distribution exists throughout the human race, meaning that the majority are average people, who would be somewhere around the 5 out of 10 mark, but in slightly lower percentages there were people who scored 8 (or 3, perhaps) across all the categories.

2) My theory - Mother nature in her infinite wisdom gave each person a (more or less) equal and finite amount of "talent points". They could be distributed around as Mrs Nature saw fit, but if one area (such as beauty) was exceptionally high, it probably meant a deficiency in another area - such as an irrational hate of all other human beings, a saggy arse or being thick as pig-shit, reinforcing my point that nobody is perfect - the antithesis to his argument.

As previously mentioned, beauty is only one part of being attractive. Intelligence and personality (amongst other things) come into it just as much as everything else and whilst the theories are mentioned in a female context in this article, I'm sure that us blokes conform just as well.

It's sufficient to say that we didn't agree, leading me to suggest that I shall research my theory and conclusively prove that my theory rules supreme. I'm going to do this by writing a little research paper, explaining my talent-point system and using famous people throughout history to prove my theory.

I've obviously got too much time on my hands.
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Family Pub

Spotted in Plymouth - a drinking establishment for the discerning customer.



Yes, that does look like two sea-mines and a speared dolphin. Classy.
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Brown

I went out with a few friends tonight, to a pub that I can't remember having visited for at least ten years. It didn't look any different at all, although if you were being patronising you'd say it hadn't lost any of it's "rustic charm". The building looked a little bit down on it's luck.

It once had a small brewery, which produced some good beer - but that had long disappeared. The chipboard-esque ceiling was still there, although it was now a lot browner and the wiring looked ropey. All was covered in a film of brown from years of smoke. When the barman said that one of the lights didn't work, I wondered whether he was just too skint for a new bulb, or whether he couldn't afford rewiring. I guessed it was probably both.

In the corner, farmers chatted at length on the subject of shit, followed by a debate on how to kill a rabbit. I learnt something new. I could count the amount of customers on two hands and have a few fingers left over. It was a very quiet Sunday night.

On the plus side, it had a bar-billiard table, operated by inserting coinage from the United Arab Emirates. It's a game I haven't played since my lazy days in the sixth form common room, so that made it all good. It was a fun, sociable evening.

And I still suck at the game - no change there, either.
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Indecisive

A person has thousands of thoughts each day - here's just six of mine. Read More...
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T.G.I.T.

Forget Fridays, I love Tuesdays. Read More...
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Zzzzz...

For reasons that I can't explain (yet), I've been having a lot more dreams when sleeping. For years, I've never remembered my dreams - until recently. In the last month or so I've had quite a few memorable ones, and some of them have been pretty strange affairs that have made me scratch my head a bit the day after. There could be many reasons for this, ranging from differing stress levels to eating cheese. I have no idea.

Of course, this may be a phase which could have already disappeared. Who knows?

If it hasn't, then it only seems right to take advantage of the situation. I'm going to try a few techniques to provoke lucid dreaming. Why? No reason - I'm just curious. If you read the Wiki document, you'll see a section on "Wake Back To Bed", which is the most probable way I'd trigger a lucid dream. It's quite commonplace that I'll wake up after about five or so hours of sleep and wait for a while before returning to bed. We shall see.

I've got a pad and pen by the bed, so I can immediately write down results. It'll be an interesting experiment. If I can manage anything particularly strange, I'll publish the details for all to read, although you might recommend me for "special care".
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Down With Evangelism

Windows Vista has now been released to the general public - and along with it old arguments return. Read More...
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McShut

It's not often that I rejoice in the demise of a business, but in this case I'll make an exception. In the last few months, two McDonalds "restaurants" have closed down in my local area - and I couldn't be happier.

In one case, it has been replaced by Nando's, a personal favourite - a place where chicken actually looks like chicken.

In the second case, the establishment has closed down and is now cordoned off - with nothing but a "To Let" sign on the outside. When it was discovered that McDonalds were going to open this restaurant in our area, there was significant opposition. I distinctly remember signing a lengthy petition against it's opening, although the council in their infinite wisdom let it go ahead anyway. Ever since, I've always noticed a distinct amount of McRubbish in the area, although it could be argued that this is more down to the attitude of their customers. Add the fact that the food has virtually nil nutritional value, smells vile and doesn't provide any significant benefit to the local economy, it's easy to see why it went. Whenever I drove past, it was largely empty. I'm glad to say I've not eaten a McAnything for about 6 or so years.

Which reassuringly goes to prove that consumer power must work. You don't close a place that makes lots of money.
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Fraud

Exercise? Once upon a time, you would have had to lever me off the sofa with a crowbar... Read More...
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Missed

Fed up with sitting around and waiting for things to get better, I went back to work today. It was a gratifying experience. As a manager you don't expect to be missed, but I was. People were genuinely concerned, given that I'm one of those people that just never seems to take time off. However, after just a few days I was climbing the walls and wanted some normality. Whilst the damage was to the cartilage in my knee, it seems to be repairing - I'm about 75% there. Oddly enough I can now run, but stairs are a bit awkward. Give it another day or two and I'm sure things will be fine.

I bought a copy of Warcraft about a week before going ill, which cost me the royal sum of a tenner. It's been the best tenner I've spent in ages. Whilst I wouldn't normally play online games, a bit of curiosity never did any harm - and as it happens, it was just what the doctor forgot to order, alleviating my boredom whilst I was stuck at home. What I did find disconcerting, however, was the amount of time the average player seems to spend on there. I mean, I'm at home because I can't work, but what about all these other people - don't they have jobs? How can they play for twelve hours a day? Do they eat? Do they sleep? Surely the World of Warcraft can't be totally filled with people on sickies?

Maybe they're all just bunking off school.

You also might have noticed that the site has changed again - another product of being sat on a sofa for far too long.
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Friendly advice.

- Sit down a lot.
- Take ibuprofen to reduce the swelling.
- Use ice packs.
- Walk with the aid of a stick.
- Don't drive...

...get very, very bored.
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Pogo

I don't know how it happened, but I woke up on Wednesday morning with an extremely painful knee. I can't bend my leg at all and I'm walking around like an old man - or a pogo stick.

As to how it happened, well, I can't attribute it to training. I just woke up and it was there. If I'd damaged myself on the night, I would have known it. Maybe it's fallout from my strange dreams. Usually, if I get injured, a blob of ibuprofen gel does the trick but this time it's not working. My joint has lost it's shape, with enough swelling around it to make me think I've got someone else's leg. Its plain damn annoying and I'll have to see a doctor about it.

More annoying is the fact that I've not had a day off sick from work in 3 years - meaning I'll be breaking my duck. I spend most of my day walking around a large building - not tomorrow, though.
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What goes on, comes off

It's taken a little while, but by the end of this month I should have got myself back to the level of fitness/weight that I was pre-Christmas, which is pleasing - I really didn't want to be on a treadmill until June anyway.

How I've gone about that is simple - I've run a couple of miles, four times a week (on top of my regular ju-jitsu sessions), along with getting into a good habit of cooking more lunches to take with me to work. This is a definite plus, as largely everything in our canteen comes out of a fryer. It's also saved me some money - a pleasant side-effect of my Frugality resolution for this year.

Of course, this isn't to say that I was fit enough or the perfect weight anyway, but it does prove these things can be reversed.
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Thank goodness for stupid people

Unless you've been living on Jupiter recently, you'll probably have heard that there's a bit of controversy on Channel 4. In fact, while most will see Jade Goody as a pariah, she might have just done us all a favour... Read More...
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Cake & Sympathy

The village I live in is relatively small. As a consequence, we don't have a huge butt-ugly shopping centre shrouded in blue-neon, a special bridge to commemorate the millenium or the largest crack-den in Devon - or do we? Read More...
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I did it myyyyyyyy way.

Whilst out today, I bumped into someone I went to university with. It's been ten years since I've seen this person, but to be honest he didn't look any different. We spent ten minutes "catching up". That's about a minute per year, I guess.

As the conversation continued, I explained that during that ten years, I'd changed employer six times, had been married (past tense) and had done a reasonable amount of travelling, including living in Ireland for six months. I also explained that I no longer worked in I.T. - something I'm now quite happy about.

He told me that he was still with the same employer and hadn't been up to much, nor had he really seen any of our fellow classmates. In fact, to him, nothing had happened at all. In ten bloody years. Had this guy gone around with his eyes closed? Did life just pass him by?

Which proves unanimously that you never look back in regret at the stuff you did, only the stuff you didn't.
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One man and his car

As I was driving home last night, I saw something you don't usually see at about midnight - five sheep in the middle of the road.

So, I did my "good citizen" bit and herded them back into the field by slowly driving them behind them, using my spotlights as a guide to the gate. It's probably not the right field and they're probably wolves in sheepskin jackets looking for a nearby poultry farm, but I did my good turn for the day - as the evidence below clearly shows.



2 Megapixel camera-phone, my arse.
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Lacklustre

It's been tough to pick the best things in 2006, but nonetheless, here's my list.... Read More...
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Bloater (4)

Another day in December, another meal - this time in Brown's Hotel, Tavistock. The meal could best be described as nouvelle cuisine, but was very well presented and of a good quality. Enjoyable.

As an aside, I weighed myself a couple weeks ago, before this bloatfest started. I shall be keeping an eye to see if my waist/weight increases over the next couple weeks. Due to the lack of training over the next fortnight, it's sorta inevitable, but I shall try my best at the gym to counter it all, otherwise the New Year shall be very hard work.
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17/11/06 - 1:12am

Today, I got a rather cool Christmas card, hand-made by my neighbour's own fair hand. It has a little black and white photograph inserted into it.

Remember the lightning that we had so much of last month? Well, my neighbour managed to get a shot of it - actually striking my roof!

I thought it was just a tad loud. Gasp)

This all goes to prove that the personal touch on Christmas cards makes all the difference, which has inspired me to give it a crack next year.
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W00T

Not being a fan of the whole Christmas shenanigans, I was somewhat chuffed to get everything in the shopping department done in one day. All food, drink and prezzies, sorted today in just a few hours. Whilst I did a proportion of it online, I'm rather pleased with myself. I'll now go back to forgetting about it, and looking forwards to having a fortnight off work in a few days time. Hope your preparations are just as painless....
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Bloater (3)

Next stop on my December Christmas meal bloat-fest: Wah Tin, a Chinese restaurant (surprisingly) in Plymouth.

To be honest, we went there out of habit. A bunch of my work colleagues have been there before because they did quite cheap and cheerful set lunch menus. Usually, you pay about £5.95 and get a starter, main course and dessert, although the dessert did look like Happy Shopper ice-cream.

Well, today we paid £11.95 per head and guess what - we got virtually the same menu, along with the same crappy ice-cream, but paid an extra fiver for the privilege of having the word "Christmas" appended onto virtually everything on the menu. Combined with the slightly surly staff, it didn't make for an enjoyable eat. I'm not entirely sure what my extra fiver got me, apart from a crappy cracker which ironically had a comb in the middle. Maybe they have a sense of humour after all.

Bad, bad, naughty restaurant.
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Phat Beatz

For those that read my previous article (*Hooj Choonz*) on my iAudio music player, here's a further bit of information for you.

I'm still extremely happy with it. The interesting thing though, is that the battery life (the spec says ~35 hours) is living up to expectation. I charged the unit two weeks ago - and despite it being listened to for between one and two hours a day, there's still battery life in it, possibly for a few more days. The only downside is the lack of an iPod-esque browser, but apart from that, it's a damn good unit that is living up to it's specification.

If you get the chance to go for one, do it.
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Evidence

Today, I received a Christmas card from a work colleague in my team. Along with the statutory Yuletide greetings there was the statement, "You are a good manager".

There. I have it in writing. Somebody has said it. I shall wave it under my bosses nose at regular intervals. All good fodder for my yearly review.
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Thick

My Thursday nights follow something of a ritualistic pattern. After training, I go and join some mates down the pub and take part in a pub-quiz. It's something of an institution. More so is the fact that our team never have the answers and invariably come last. Coming last results in us picking the specialist subjects for the following week. Unfortunately, this gives us no advantage whatsoever and we come last again, a cycle that has been perpetuated for probably more than three years. We excel at stupid - and we're running out of subjects.

- I do not know all the words to the songs in The Sound of Music.
- I have no idea which country has an area of 95,000 square miles, is a kingdom and has a population of 5 million.
- And I really don't have a clue who the inventor of the hovercraft is.

I like to think that by lacking the necessary skill in this area, I must surpass in another.

I'll let you know when I find out what that is.
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Bloater (2)

Just got back tonight from meal of the month number two, at a place called Arribas - a Mexican restaurant (just in case you hadn't guessed).

It was thoroughly good stuff. They've also got a nice bar upstairs which is a pleasant and comfy affair, decked out in sofas and low lighting, along with music that isn't too loud and makes you want to cut your ears off - it was more like a chill-out room. It's a good place to go before the meal and to unwind afterwards. The meal itself had very generous portions, was delicious and wasn't extortionate. I believe they also do quite a reasonable lunch menu.

You can count that as an endorsement. I know I've linked it before, but I'll link it again. (*clicky*)

And no, they don't play the music on the website in the restaurant, thank God.

I sometimes dread work-related meals. They seem like a good idea at the time, until you hear....

"I didn't order that, I ordered....."
"Can I pay by cheque?"
"I don't know why we don't just split the lot and pay the same"
"Anyone got a calculator?"


*shudder*

This is usually where I lose all patience.

Anyway, none of this happened tonight. Everyone got what they should have, paid the right amounts with no fuss and thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe I was lucky, or maybe organising meals is my forte. Who knows?

I think number three will be Chinese.
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Bloater

Well, it's the beginning of December - the start of the Christmas meal/party season.

At the moment I'm down for six Christmas meals of some sort this month - and I had my first blow-out last night at a pseudo Italian restaurant called Frankie & Benny's. It was passable, but you can imagine the decor. It was, as Moe Szyslak would say, "With a whole load of crazy crap on the walls" - and I'm sure there'll be more like it.

My next one is on Wednesday, where I'm eating Mexican stuff, although I have to say that it's already starting to feel like a bit of a challenge - can you trough this much food and yet keep the pounds at bay? I would guess that you probably can't.

I am at least trying my best to avoid the inevitable. I went for another run this morning in order to undo some of the effect of last night. I shall be mighty narked if my attempts to get fitter in recent months are undermined by the activities of just three weeks.
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Hooj Choonz

For a little while now, I've been looking for a suitable MP3 player. Whilst I've had one for a couple years (an iRiver-iFP 899), it's capacity was somewhat limited and I was getting somewhat annoyed with having to plonk new content on each day to listen to. It's a very well featured player (I've got to say that, I'm now selling it on Ebay), but it just doesn't come with any more than 1GB of storage.

Never believe the spec on the box of an MP3 player in relation to capacity and how much music they say the unit will store. Invariably, they mean "will store up to 20 years of music, if you like sound quality akin to said tunes being hummed by a wasp". 1GB = 34hrs, my arse.

So, here was my feature list for the music box of choice:

- Works on a Mac.
- Good sound quality.
- Will either take standard rechargeable batteries or....
- Has battery life of 20hrs+ (If it uses a proprietary battery).
- Can record.
- Has a radio.
- Storage of 4GB+
- 150ukp budget.

I don't care about putting photos, movies or my life history on it, thank-you. Just play music - and play it well.

I did an awful lot of searching. If you stick to your guns with your wish-list many players fall by the wayside, the infamous iPod being one of the first to go namely because the sound quality sucks, it has no recording facilities (unless you buy extras) or a radio. But then I stumbled on this:


It's made by Cowon and is the iAudio X5L. It's about iPod sized and totally fulfilled my feature list. If you believe most web-sites, however, it retails at about 210 - 240ukp, so I was rather chuffed when I got mine for 110. Gasp)

Anyway, it features:

- Colour screen, which does show movies/photos.
- 20GB Storage.
- Radio.
- 3D Sound
- Recording (either through mic, line-in or radio)
- 35 Hours of battery life (I'm still testing this one).
- Works on Win/Mac/Linux (Just mounts on desktop as a portable hard-drive)

I have to say that the sound quality is really good and that it's doing pretty well. It'll take me a while to see if the battery life claim lives up as I'm still on my first charge, but I discovered another feature that I wasn't aware it had - it can act as a USB host. This means that you can hook up a digital camera with a USB lead and download your pictures to it, thus saving memory on lots of expensive memory cards.

In all, I'm pretty impressed with the unit. My only gripe is that it's got a really strange adaptor that if you lose, you're screwed - you can't charge or transfer data to it. I've already ordered a replacement, just in case (they're only a tenner), because I can see it happening at some point. Otherwise though, I'd recommend it.
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Flash

Some people still deny it, but I don't care what anyone says - climate change is happening. Year on year, things are getting warmer. Probably the most notable evidence I've seen recently has to be the quantity of thunderstorms we've had. I've seen about eight in the last six weeks.

Anyway, I set up my camera and made an attempt to capturing the lightning - with a certain degree of success, as you'll see below:




...if want to see a quick flash of lightning, click here (*clicky*) - not bad in my barely awake state at 3:45am...
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Workshy Fops

Each year, Children in Need comes around - and I hate it. Yes, I know - I'm a miserable bastard. You can't seem to go anywhere without people indulging in faux-wackiness or losing all resemblance of dignity just to raise a couple of quid. I just want to give the collectors my donation and say,"here you go, now please shut up, take your stupid hat off, go away and leave me to work", although that's not my main beef with the day.

The problem is this - people take time away from work to extort the money from the rest of us. Sure, I contribute and I have no doubt in my mind that the fund-raising effort will generate money for a worthwhile reason. The problem is that it turns into a slacker's charter, a way for lots of people to avoid doing any form of work for a day in the name of charity - and I doubt I'm in a unique situation here. It's like they want to help just to avoid working, not because they actually believe in the cause. Where I work, we still have a business to run no matter what day of the week it is and far be it from me to give Mr Public some ammunition to shoot us with, should we fail to keep up with his requests.

The end result is that all the work that our lovely volunteers have avoided doing on Friday will have to be done on Saturday by us - and there will be a lot of it. Of course, the majority of people who organise the activities work Monday to Friday, meaning that they won't have to deal with the mess they've left behind. It just seems wrong, but I'm sure if we asked those who avoided work to make up their lost productivity in their own time we'd neither raise as much money or get as many volunteers, not to mention the booing-and-hissing resulting from the bad P.R.

I'm glad this year was a record success for the appeal, but please, stop ramming it down my throat. It's sore. If you don't mind, it's time for my medication now. I'm not the snot-monster any more, just the voiceless one. I think I'd best have a lie down.
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Snot

Apologies for the lack of update. I'm currently the snot monster and I find it can clog up the keyboard somewhat.

I'll be back shortly, before you can say, "contac".
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Problems with the water works.

As neighbours go, I'm pretty lucky. I have three, all of whom seem to be fairly reasonable people. None of them have any kids (friends know my opinion on children), neither do they have a fetish for late night D.I.Y. or large collections of pneumatic drills in their lofts. They like their peace and quiet, much like myself and they're rarely at home - an added bonus. So, apart from the odd yappie dog there's only one annoyance - I share a septic tank with one neighbour.

Generally, having a septic tank is a good thing. Drainage charges by South West Water are extortionate, so it's a lot cheaper to have one of those than pay the monthly fee for drainage. The only problem is... well, when there's a problem - and that problem is what we experts call, "slow drainage".

I have problems understanding why our septic tank is such an issue. None of us are home much, maybe our septic tank is actually a septic bucket, or a septic thimble?

Obviously it needs sorting out, so the neighbour phones up the local company, who then promptly come along with their sucky-sucky-tanker and proceed to remove everything from it. This usually costs about £100 - and the cost is split between us, which means I have to randomly keep forking out fifty quid every so often.

Do the random demands for fifty quid ever get made when I'm having a good month?

Do they bobbins.

It's always during a financially shit month, when there's a shedload of other issues and this month is no exception. I so need a financial crystal ball. Anybody got one they could lend me?
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Uncertainty

Well today's the day. It's grading day - No more practice sessions left. At 4pm, I pass or fail. Such uncertainty - it could go either way:

1) I pass and feel rather jubilant after putting in all that effort. I go out and drink a lot of beer, the first time for five months. Drunkenness follows.

2)
I fail and wish to drown my sorrows. I go out and drink a lot of beer, the first time for five months. Drunkenness follows.

Maybe things aren't so uncertain after all...
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Crazy

With slightly better weather today, we took a trip to Paignton - something of an underwhelming experience as it was exactly like going to a seaside town that was closed. Surprising, eh?

I did see this, though. That has to be the craziest of crazy-golf courses....



If anyone could care to show me where the holes are, I'll be on my way.
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Grief

A sobering day - one that's made me reflect, as today I did something that hopefully I'll never have to repeat.

I informed someone of a bereavement.

There is little else to say - the what, when and where are irrelevant. It's shit news to deliver. Such crapness can never be padded out with humour or a "silver lining". There's the moment of composing your thoughts, delivering the news and that moment of realisation, combined with the shock and grief that follows - and all the time, you're acutely aware that there's very little you can do to alleviate matters. Moments such as this stick with you for the rest of your life and you can't obscure your body language. Before you've said anything, you're giving out different signals which change the atmosphere.

This probably explains why (qualifications aside) I couldn't be a surgeon. It would be hard to be emotionally detached in a profession where such an outcome is always possible...

...which makes me wonder. As you get older, you become more aware of death. Is it because as life goes on, you know more people - or is it that you always know about the same amount of people, but when you're younger, you're simply shielded from the unpleasantness?
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Explanation Time

Time to explain the Chinese thing....

At work, I manage approximately 50 people, about a dozen of which are of Chinese origin. They're good people, but whilst they're working I really don't understand any of their banter.

They could be saying,"That bloke, he's a fat useless bastard".
They could be saying,"That bloke is so inspirational, he should be the next Prime Minister".
They could be saying,"Damn, I left the gas on".

Who knows?

I understand about 8 Chinese words. One of them is "chocolate". This doesn't go very far in establishing a harmonious working relationship - unless you work for a confectionary company, which I don't.

From a managerial standpoint, I certainly cannot "force" them to speak English, nor would I want to - I'd be banged to rights quicker than you can say the phrase, "Employment Tribunal". However, I need to ensure that their conversations are appropriate for the workplace - no matter what language they choose to use.

Make sense?
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Another language to learn.

For reasons that I'll go into another day, I need to start learning some Chinese (Mandarin) - and I probably need to start learning it soonish.

Should anyone on t'internet know of classes in Devon/Cornwall where one can learn, please get in contact. You'd be doing me a great favour. . .
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Boof! Ugh!

Today, I was talking to a colleague about my involvement in Ju-Jitsu, which provoked the question, "So, like, everyone really tries to punch you?".

At that moment, a wry smile was brought to my face as I thought of how funny it would be to run a session using "school playground rules". We could all do "play fights", and swing wildly at each other with our right arms (in slow motion, of course), each person taking about six mime-punches before being knocked out - and if we really wanted a realistic look, we'd put an open left hand near the target person and punch that instead, so that it made a good smacking sound. Oh, to be eight again.

Boof! Ugh! Aaieeeeeee!
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Bitter & Twisted

In not too long, I will have worked for my employer for five years. Five years. It's a long stretch of time - many get less for manslaughter. There's a well known phenomenon that happens in our company when people have worked there for five years.

Loathing and resentment set in.

A good few happy, confident and competent employees have turned into prickly, inept ogres around the five year mark. It's like somebody flicks a switch. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, merely darkness and a daylight-effect bulb with a sign below that says, "This tunnel-effect-light is here purely for demonstrative purposes - please do not remove".

Of course, those little rays of sunshine that we accept as part of the furniture are joyous people to work with. They sneer at everything, are derisory at innovation with their standard retort of,"well that'll never work", get a sense of humour bypass and of course have the enthusiasm and ability to motivate people akin to that of a haddock past it's sell-by date. It's no wonder that the people they work with also feel miserable.

Me, for the most part, I enjoy my job. I deal with people - a lot of them. It's all those different people with their different lives and different things going on in them that make no two days the same, almost like a little soap opera. However, should you see me transform into some snarling beast over the next few months, at least you know the reason why - I'm going through the change. It's perfectly normal.
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The Honesty Test (2)

Well, a little while back I told you I was going to have an "Honesty Day" (*clicky*). So, here's a bullet point summary of my findings from the day in question:

1) The experiment generally went well. It was a liberating experience which no doubt I shall do again. Admittedly it was hard work, namely because I had to think hard about every single thing I said, but nonetheless, it was worthwhile. No doubt, as you become more used to being totally honest, it gets easier.

2) The main thing you have to be wary about is that many don't know how to take honesty. It's almost like they can't take it at all. Is that because they have an over-inflated self-belief, they're delusional, or nobody else has been honest with them and they've formed incorrect perceptions? At this stage, however, I'm not going to go that far and ask, if you don't mind.

3) It is possible to be honest without being rude. No, really, it is.

4) The occasional individual will actually thank you for your honesty.

The most important point, however, is that you will confuse people by your potential change in behaviour - and maybe that's the enjoyable bit. Never underestimate the fun that can be had by making people think. This is a good thing.
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The Hippopotamus

Just recently, I've been watching The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, a comedy originally broadcast back in 1976. I was just four at the time and therefore too young to appreciate it first time round, but watching it now I've been enjoying it for a good few reasons:

  • All the characters are entirely predictable and have the same mannerisms/problems each day.
  • The random thoughts that go through your head when people say particular things or talk about specific people.
  • The indictment of modern-day life.
  • It's still funny. (Shouldn't forget that one).

Despite being 30 years old, there are parts that I can still look at and identify with, in a sort of "my god, that's me!", way. Maybe that's what makes classic comedy such as this so timeless. Oh, and the urge to run down to the beach, disappear and start a new life elsewhere, of course. But maybe I won't come back as a sewage worker in Dorset.
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Confessional

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.

I confess that yesterday, whilst driving home, I raced another vehicle.

No doubt, Daily Mail readers throughout the world are now claiming moral outrage and would like to bring back the death penalty for evil scum like me who pose a threat to the very fabric of society.

Whatever.
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The Honesty Test

Every day, we lie. It's a sad and perhaps ironic truth. From the "Yeah, I'm ok, you?", you say automatically when you're walking past a colleague at work, to your understanding nods at the person who has been boring you with the story of their bad day, when actually you don't give a shit, we all lie repeatedly.

Is it right? Are we lying to ourselves as much as everyone else? Would honesty be doing people a favour and saving them from delusion? Who knows. Some cultures have almost brutal honesty and are accepted, whilst others spend their lives living a lie for the sake of harmonious relationships. It's a tough one. There is no right answer, but I would like to see the other side. Is one easier than another?

So I've decided that for just one day, I'm going to stay totally honest. It'll be tough and will require me to have to think long and hard about what I say. You can be honest, but you don't have to be rude and brutal. People may appreciate a frank opinion, whilst some may be taken aback by what may be considered outspoken. That said, I do know a handful of people who do so and get away with it, so it is possible.

I've not decided on a day yet, although I am going to do this in the next week. I think it'll depend on my mood when I fall out of bed. When I have done my day, I'll let you know how it goes.
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Cappuccino Schmappucino

Today, I'm feeling knackered. The drive home after the course combined with another early start this morning to go and get my windscreen replaced has meant that I feel pooped.

I guess that it would have helped if my keys hadn't fallen out of my pocket at work yesterday. Picture the amusement if you will, when I get to my front door, scour my pockets, bag and just about everything else to find my keys - and I can't. This resulted in getting a cab back to work to pick them up and coming home again - adding a 35 mile round trip to the 300 miles I've done that day. Nonetheless, I thanked the security guard chappie for keeping hold of them for me. I would have been taking a chisel to the door otherwise.

Anyway, is the car saga finally at an end?

Of course it's not.

The glazier did his bit, although on removing all the sealing from around the area, he's shown the inadequacies of the work that the bodywork guys did when spraying the new tailgate. There's sections that haven't been painted. As the work is covered by a 3 year guarantee, I shall be giving them a call tomorrow. Metal that isn't treated properly becomes rusty metal - and I'm sure as hell not letting a three year old car rust.

On a happier note, I started running again today. It was a short run, but nonetheless, it was good to get back into the habit.

Footnote: Today I discovered the place that makes the foulest coffee in the South West. Its the cafe in the Homemaker store in Plympton (a Co-Op place). Avoid at all costs. I wouldn't have gone there out of choice, but it was the only place in about a mile radius that made something hot and brown whilst waiting for my windscreen repair. Made from a bucket of powder and hot water by a disinterested sixteen year old who had obviously never drank it. Ack. I feel dirty.
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Big fish, little fish, cardboard box.

My next update will be on Wednesday, as I'm away on a training course for the next two days. Actually, rephrase that - it's called a "Management Experience".

Having your eyes gored out by alsatians is an experience.
Being the survivor of a plane crash in the Himalayas that forces you to eat your fellow passengers is an experience.

You can feel the enthusiasm just oozing out of me.

No doubt, by the time I come back, I'll be managing perceptions, downsizing, kicking arse, cutting mustard and thinking outside of the box. Alternatively, I'll be foaming, dribbling and repeating the phrase, "I, for one, welcome our new managerial overlords", or "That would be an ecumenical matter".

This made me think. If everyone starts thinking outside of the box, would that mean that thinking inside of the box would then be the new thinking outside of the box?

I think it would. I think I'll stay in my box and wait for everyone else to come around. That's fashion for you.
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Useless becomes useful.

I never actually thought that cling film had a use. It always seemed to be one of the world's greatest useless inventions, appalling stuff that only seemed to cling to itself when you were trying to get it off the roll and didn't want it to cling just yet. Squeaky and a bit stale smelling, too.

Until now.

My car's windscreen is made of it. It's like the window is the skin of a drum (and it makes the same noise). The temporary repair has been done whilst the real windscreen is on order and the insurance company, repair company and windscreen company all have a bunfight to decide who should pay for it. The only thing that's certain is that I'm not.
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Omen

This is Apple's Dictionary definition....



You're probably wondering why I'm even mentioning this. In fact, I'm boring myself as I write this, but yes - it's about the car again.

  • To have an accident after owning it for just two weeks could be considered unlucky.
  • Would something else happening just two days after I've picked it up from the repair centre be a very big omen?

This evening, after training, I went to pay a visit to some friends who were down the pub. As I drove along, I noticed that the rear windscreen had misted up - officially a reminder that summer is well and truly over - so I press the heated rear thingy button.

Three minutes later, just as I'm entering Calstock (for those that live in the area, I'm sure this is totally unrelated), a large crack was heard, followed by a squeaky noise, a bit like fingers down the blackboard. As I looked in my rear-view mirror, I could see that my rear windscreen had totally shattered.

Perhaps the glass wasn't a good fit and the heat expansion caused the crack. We'll never know. It's academic now. Suffice is to say that I shall be calling the "recommended repairer" back and telling them that their repair was not so good.

I only pray that I don't get the bananamobile back. That would certainly be a bad karma thing.
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Nature's Calendar

If I didn't have a diary or calendar, I'd still know that it's mid-September at the moment. This is because my front-room is filled with feathers as my parrot (*clicky*) goes through his annual moult.

I guess this must be a tad inconvenient for him. Imagine - if someone told you that you were going to be naked by the end of the month, you'd at least want to keep a spare pair of pants with you to keep your dignity....
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Not so alert.

Maybe I wasn't so alert yesterday. I woke up this morning and felt the top of my right leg. It's been shaved smooth in a neat four inch square. Why didn't I notice that before?

I'm assuming it's so they could stick the sensors on me that were hooked up to the ping machine (remember: every hospital must have a machine that goes "ping!") and not a student doctor joke.

Answer to previous question: Yes, I will be pushing my luck to train. Like a kid with a verruca in a P.E. class, I'll be watching from the bench this session. Poo.
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Progress

What a strange day. As you'll see from my previous post, today was the day I went to hospital and had surgery.

It's been 18 years since I've had any form of hospital treatment, something I feel pretty lucky about. I didn't quite know what to expect. Times have moved on.

Oh yes, they've moved on. Here I am, typing shite at my computer, just like yesterday - but this morning I was under a general anaesthetic. It's freaky. I don't feel doped and the only reason I feel a bit tired is because I had to get up at the god awful time of 6:30am this morning. Isn't progress wonderful?

Of course, will I be pushing my luck to go training tomorrow evening? Hmmmmmmmm......
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Luck

The last few days have been pretty good...

1) My plumber turned up, did plumbing things and finished after an hour and a half. Never did he suck air through his teeth or demand cups of tea. He also did a good job.
2) The weather was good, so I actually managed to fly my kite. In fact, the weather was so good that there was barely enough wind.
3) My Powerbook G4 is one of the ones affected by the recent exploding battery scaremongering story (*clicky*). I somehow doubt it would happen, but who cares? I'm getting two new batteries (usually £100/battery) out of it.
4) My car may have it's repairs done for Monday/Tuesday. I could be back in a car I actually like soon.
5) I don't seem totally incapable (yet) of doing my routines for my blue belt.
6) A date came through for some surgery I've been waiting for. Saturday's the day. Some people will do anything to get a day off work. Gasp)

...it's funny how good-stuff/bad-stuff all seems to come at once.
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British Gas, kiss my....

When I lived back at my last address, I used to have my electricity supplied by a company called Good Energy (*clicky*), who only supplied electricity generated by renewable forms (i.e. wind, solar), so it was something of a disappointment to find that when I moved into my house, British Gas were supplying everything (the gas and electricity) and to be honest, not doing it very well.

So, I tried to change back to Good Energy - not an easy task.

It has taken me 13 months to get there, but finally, I have. They have billed me for someone else's readings, billed me for meters that don't exist, billed me at the wrong rates and billed me for stuff I don't use. Partially I suspect this was also because the previous owner was doing a scam to ensure that he got billed at the "off peak" rate for peak electricity, but I digress.... And every time I put a change request in to transfer companies, they would put in an objection. In fact, I have never known a company act so aggressively (and incorrectly) to ensure you couldn't go elsewhere. They would then send letters which said things like, "...so we had no option but to object to the transfer...". Exceptionally infuriating, especially if you've ever had to endure their hold music for half an hour to actually speak to a person.

So, I'm back with Good Energy again, which makes me feel just a little bit better - and allows me to take another step towards being carbon-neutral. Not an easy task.
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Misnamed

My replacement vehicle at the moment is a Vauxhall Corsa, which my insurance company has misnamed as a courtesy car. I beg to differ.

I'm not sure if that makes it a rude car or a slap-around-the-face-with-a-wet-haddock car, but you get the idea. Avoid.
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Confused of Devon

Most days, I don't get it.
Today, I really, really didn't get it.
And the problem is, the more I try, the more I realise that I understand it even less.
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Thermae (2)

You may remember that I mentioned a little while back (*clicky*) about visiting the only natural hot spa in the UK, mainly out of curiosity as to whether the complex would have any similarity to Japanese Onsen culture. Well, I've been now - and it was an interesting visit, so read on....

The place is relatively easy to get to, because it's right in the centre of Bath - so head for the City Centre and you'll be fine. As a pedestrian, you'll see signs to "Thermae" everywhere, so I defy anyone not to find it.

As you enter, you get the distinct impression that money has been spent. This is not just some jumped-up swimming pool, it's architecturally much more. The stonework is something to behold. Everything is curvy and smooth and impressive, even down to the welcome sign behind reception.

The prices are on their website (*clicky*), but at the time of writing, a two-hour session cost £19. For a spa in the UK, this is cheap (although when in Japan, most Onsen entry-fees are more in the order of 200 yen / 1 pound) and a session such as this is a good way to get familiar with the place.

When you enter, you're given an armband. The armband has a chip in it, which is too damn smart for its own good. It knows when you came to the place. It knows your locker number. It knows if you ate at the restaurant. In short, everything is charged back to the armband - you then settle up for anything outstanding as you leave.

Changing is in a unisex area, which is full of little cubicles. Facilities exist for families and the disabled.

The building has five (I think) floors. Probably the best way to start, though, is at the top and work your way down. The rooftop pool is great. It gives you a view across the top of Bath and over to the countryside. Here's a shot of the pool. (It's OK to use these images - they're on the PR section of the website).



I have to say it's much more fun sitting in the pool if the weather isn't sunny. When it's raining, it's great. It's probably great by moonlight. It's also probably great on a freezing icy day. It was certainly interesting during the rain, mainly because of the cold rain on your face contrasting with the 40+ degree water temperature.

Anyway, head downstairs and you enter the steam room, which looks a bit like something from Doctor Who, but it's sooooooo cool.



The steam room has four separate sections, each with their own distinct smell. For example - floral in one, wood in another. It's worth going to all four to experience the difference. The steam room also has individual foot spas, so you can soak/bubble your feet away. Nice. Finally, there's the central shower, which makes you feel like you're being pelted with pebbles. It works a treat at removing dead skin from every pore of you, but that's probably a thought you don't want to linger over.

There are other treatment rooms on the next floor down and by the time you've got to the ground floor, you're in a place called the Minerva Bath, which is more akin to something swimming pool-esque, but it's not - if that makes any sense at all.

All the pools seems to have this random controller built in to them, so bubbling spas pop up in places you didn't expect, along with water cannons operating from the side of the bath, which work a treat at leaving your back squeaky clean, combined with some nice lighting and high pressure pumps, which make you feel as though you're getting a massage. The surface of all the baths is covered in a paint that can only be likened to a sandstone with bits of pumice in it. It's like all the time you're in there, the nasty dead skin is being removed. You do come out squeaky clean - and you feel great.

I was in there for just two hours, but want to go back. I'll probably do a four-hour session next time. This place is a distinctly British affair and is nothing like the Japanese spas I've been in before - this is much more grand. The water quality here is great. There are drinking stations around the building and the water is exceedingly soft and pleasant to drink. The place has had so much money spent on it, that I hope it doesn't go under. It deserves to do well. Some of the layout is occasionally non-sensical, but being such a unique building which has been so tastefully renovated, it deserves to be supported.

Go. Go now. You won't regret it.
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Strike Twice?

Since the resumption of the rain on Wednesday evening, the weather has gone rather strange, with thunderstorms not just once, but on two consecutive evenings. However, this evenings lightning was nowhere near as spectacular as last night (~1am), which gradually got closer and closer until it's peak at about 1:30am.

Usually, you see the lightning, then hear the thunder, but last night the distance was non-existent, evident by the fact that the flash (I think) struck not that far away from the house. There are some fields and rather large trees over the other side of the river, about 150 metres away - I believe it struck there.

Interestingly enough, the sound of lightning striking sounds not like a rumble, but more like someone ripping apart velcro. The sound lasts for about a second. It's a really weird noise, but you know exactly what it is when you hear it. I also know it struck lucky by the brief power-cut that happened immediately afterwards. Luckily, the trip-switches cut in and avoided any blow-outs.

The weather is getting freakier and freakier, even the die-hard sceptics must soon accept that global warming has a part to play, surely?
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Luck On Our Side

Today, I did a sponsored walk with some work colleagues. The walk was a circular route from Cremyll, taking the coastal path through Penlee Point and Cawsand, followed by Rame Head and back through Millbrook, finishing again at Cremyll - about 10 miles, which we took at a leisurely pace.

The overnight weather was awful and the BBC weather forecast for the area showed no sign of improvement. I was not looking forward to the prospect of sitting under the warm air drier of a gents loo in some random pub in order to get warm. We had similar weather last year, resulting in the destruction of several items of my clothing, combined with a lot of people vowing "never again". Someone's mobile phone was even wrecked through rain damage. It was hard work getting people to do the walk again this year.

However, we had a stroke of luck and the tap on the downpour was magically turned off as we started at 10:30am this morning, with the rain returning again at about 7:30pm. The timing could not have been better, which all goes to prove at least one of the following:

a) The BBC's weather forecast sucks.
b) There is a god - and he's being nice today.
c) I'm impervious to rain.
d) Luck meant that all the rain-clouds in the area avoided us.
e) All of the above?

Whatever - it was all good.
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Dreams

When I wake up in the morning I don't usually remember any dreams I've had, so when I do it's a rare thing. Today was one of those rare days.

It's a shame it was a work-related dream and didn't involve something more pleasant, like eating pies or finding a pound down the back of the sofa.

It's doubly a shame, because it involved a colleague attempting to blackmail me.

Additionally, the language the individual used in the dream was spot on, only the body language was more aggressive - this changed the tone of what they were saying from a joke to a threat.

This almost adds credibility to it potentially happening. I hope it wasn't some sort of premonition. I've felt a bit spooked all day and I can remember the dream-based conversation perfectly. Grrrr.
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Friends Redistributed.

I was sat in the pub this evening, discussing the matter of friendship. The two of us sat there chatting and whilst the result was inconclusive, the whole thing did make me think about people, life and stuff, if I can use such terminology. Stuff is as complex as I get.

I used to be part of a group of friends. Well, I say used to be, but it's more a case of something that now ceases to exist rather my estrangement from the group. However, the big question is when did the group cease to be - and how?

The answer to the first question is relatively simple - I'd put it at about a couple years ago, but the reasons why are more complex. Relationships within the group have changed and everyone has grown up a bit more, resulting in a different set of priorities. People have moved around and even finances have changed. There's more than one reason, but ultimately they all have the same effect. People are more distant, have less time to meet up and things quite simply just aren't the same. It's not their fault, more of an indictment on modern life.

On reflection, should I be sad about this? I guess the answer to that depends on personal circumstances. If they were the only people I knew, then yes - but thankfully they're not. Maybe I subconsciously realised that it was coming to an end and decided to do something about it. As time has gone on, I've gained an entirely new set of friends. Ju-jitsu, work and my studies have contributed towards that. But with all those other strings to my bow, I still occasionally wonder whether the old group will get back together again. It's not sadness - more nostalgia than anything.

Occasionally, we hook up and conversation is more along the exchanging of pleasantries. Soon we'll be at the Friends Reunited level, a well known condition whereby you send off just two e-mails to someone to ask how they're doing after all these years, find out and then ignore them again for another five. It becomes more of a curiosity.

Whilst this may sound somewhat morose, it simply isn't the case. I'm just taking stock. I evaluated my life not long ago and came to the conclusion that I'm actually pretty darn happy. I finally have a place of my own, a reasonable job, financial independence, good friends, reasonable health and a good relationship. It's just nice to realise it every so often - and not take it for granted, however cliché ridden that may sound.
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Burberry Baseball Caps

Yesterday I spent an awful lot of money - enough to make me wince as I handed my card over to pay for my purchase, although I know I've probably done the right thing really.

My car had reached it's autumn years, a time in it's life defined as the point where you've driven it past 100,000 miles to the point where anything else is academic. Your vehicle is just high-mileage and nobody would steal it if you paid them, which doesn't bother me until other problems start to develop. Then, every time a problem does occur, you end up doing a cost-benefit analysis on each repair, saying to yourself, "is it worth it?".

Well, this time it wasn't.

About a week ago, Rubella started leaking pink fluid from the engine head. The parallels between this and human anatomy were a little unnerving and with further examination I was pretty sure that the engine head had developed a rupture. Not good. There's no real temporary repair that will get you through this one, just as sticking an elastoplast on a ruptured aorta really isn't going to work. The pink substance was coolant.

I've had something similar to this happen in the past and the repair is a time consuming task. It involves taking the top of the engine off, skimming the head, replacing the gasket and putting it all back together again. It is not cheap and usually results in said mechanic sucking the air through his teeth and making a comment akin to, "It's not the parts, it's the labour, y'see". When it was done before, it took a complete day of the mechanic's time, but as he was cheap and accepted sheep as part-payment, it came to less than £300. No such luck this time, the cost would have been at least double.

Which brings me back to the question, "do you pay £600 in repairs on a car that's worth probably less?".

The answer is, probably not. Chances are that you're on the slippery slope and further problems will occur. Don't get me wrong, for the last two years I've had a very reliable little Polo, but it was time to move on. I made my decision to cut my losses and invest in a newer vehicle (again), using this one as a trade-in. Hopefully, nobody would notice the haemorrhage. My criteria for whatever I drove next was:

1) Cheap and easy to maintain.
2) Fun to drive. (Has a bit of performance without guzzling and at least a sunroof if I can't afford a convertible )
3) Small (it's only ever me and one passenger), but can fit a parrot cage in the boot (occasionally necessary when I go on holiday).

I did test-drive a Citroen C2 VTS and liked it, but as the salesman was a complete arse-hole who had redefined the term telephone harassment, I decided not to go for one, and instead bought a Saxo VTR. Yep, I've got a Chavs car. Woot.

To be honest though, I don't actually care. I've bought one that's barely 3 years old, has ~26,000 miles on the clock, been well looked after and hasn't been modified in any way, thank god. The economy seems fine, it is indeed fun to drive and does 0 - 60 reasonably well (~ 9 seconds). It's also covered under a warranty for a substantial amount of time, so hopefully my vehicular problems will now be far and few between.

The garage in question didn't notice the bleeding pink, which was also a bonus. So, ya-boo, I'm off to find me some Burberry seat covers. Gasp)
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80 Miles A Day...

This man is a legend. Revere him.




You might remember that I mentioned (*clicky*) a while back how this chap was cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats and back again. Well, he did it, arriving back at Land's End on Tuesday 25th July. It's not often that somebody cycles nearly 1800 miles in just over 20 days. So, I'll say it again, donate. (*clicky*)
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You belong to us now, Dave.

Give or take a day, it's been a year since I moved into my place. My place. Not Desmond Tutu's place, not Haile Silassie's and not Mr Magnolia Landlord's, but mine. Each night, I rub my hands in glee, cackling a maniacal laugh that puts the fear of god into the woodworm. The novelty hasn't worn off yet.

Really, it's only nearly mine - I've got the bank to pay off first. This is all new to me. On a yearly basis, the bank you've got your mortgage with send out a statement telling you how much you still owe them, a reminder that it's not your house at all. No, not one bit. And it won't be yours until you retire.

During the course of the year, I've paid 6,000 pounds in mortgage payments. Because I'm right at the beginning of my mortgage, this has paid off the princely sum of 650 quid from the capital I owe. Wowzer. The remaining 5,350 quid was pure interest. And this was from a financial establishment that offered a low interest rate. It's enough to make you think that the nice men at the Concrete Boot Loan Company would probably have offered you a better deal.

Ah well, 1 year down - 29 to go.
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Ethically Sound Trainers

You'll probably have seen in my last post, where I decided to get some running shoes. I really should ask why I make it so hard for myself, but I also decided that wherever I got them, I wanted them to be ethically sound - meaning that I didn't want them to be made in some Asian sweatshop. It rests easier with my conscience.

As luck would have it, I immediately found a pair in the first sports shop I went into. They're made by New Balance and if you want to have a look at the manufacturer website, click *here*. They're pretty good. They make stuff in the UK (not entirely though, although they're better than most manufacturers I could mention *cough* *Nike*). Interestingly enough, they're also good if you're a Vegan, as there's not a hint of cow in there at all.

I can also report that they fit very snugly and do a good job too! (And they only cost me £25, which was nice).
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Disappointment & Encouragement

Well, today was the day. I was all geared up to do the bleep test, despite the heat.

"Oh sorry, we can't do the test - someone's nabbed the CD", said the instructor.

At this point, I decided to bite my tongue and not launch into a lecture on the merits of forward planning, particularly the bit about when you advertise an activity, you have the materials to run it. Instead, I laid it on thick about how disappointed I was since I'd solely come in to have a go, and that all I wanted was a good benchmark of my fitness levels. My amateur dramatics were rewarded and they decided to make it up by giving me a free session with a personal trainer who would do a fitness assessment. Result.

Most of my session involved jogging. The instructor started by getting my warmed up by setting the treadmill to 4km/hr for a few minutes, then 8km/hr. And there I was, jogging away - and strangely enough, finding it relatively easy.

So, she continued by increasing my speed by 1km/hr, each minute, then returning it to 8km/hr for another minute as a "recovery" minute. (So I did 9, then 8, then 10, then 8, then 11, then 8, etc... etc...). She explained that it was similar to the bleep test in that you did a sprint, followed by a jog in exactly the same way, although the distances were shorter (bleep test runs over 20 metres). I concentrated hard on my breathing and found that I was still not doing bad.

I got to 14km/hr and still did not feel like dying. We had to stop at that point, because time was pressing and I had to some other tests to do.

From what I understand of the bleep test, level 1 is 8.5km/hr and each successive level requires you to cover the distance .5km/hr faster. Based on today's run, I figure that actually I would have been able to make at least level 10, which was my original objective. In fact, 14km/hr is something like level 13. I'm fitter than I thought - although I attribute that to the half-hour warm-ups we do before ju-jitsu training. They're good at building up fitness.

I've been told that the tests happen on a monthly basis, so I should hopefully get another crack in August (if they find the CD). In the meantime, I've been encouraged to do more running - to the point where I've actually bought some running shoes and will see the trainer again in a few weeks time. I aim to do well when I finally give it a go. It'll also build my stamina up if/when I grade again.
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Bleep.

I said in a previous post that I wanted to do it, now I have to put my money where my mouth is.

On Tuesday, at about midday, I shall be doing the bleep test. This will tell me how fit (or not) I am.

If you want to find out about it, click here, or here. I'll stick my result here on Tuesday - for all to see.
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MySpace

It's a bad, bad thing. Admittedly, it's not as bad as Bebo, but it's still on the dark side in terms of site hosts. Garish mini-sites, screamingly bad designs, awful pictures, nasty txtspk and an inherent wish from each poster to be really alternative and in-duh-vid-ual. Yeah, right.

What started me off on this tangent was a thought. I was thinking about an entry I made back in February, when I was considering writing about my job (*clicky*). I decided against that, a decision I'm happy with and a policy I intend to continue. However this time I thought I'd have a search to see if anyone else was writing about my job. On the balance of probabilities, this seemed quite likely - there are 850 staff where I work.

Enter MySpace.

So, here's the dilemma. What do you do when you've find a couple MySpace sites/blogs, with names and all (even voices on one), that occasionally take the piss out of a manager who happens to be your work colleague? Gosh! It just gets more fun, doesn't it? I guess I am duty bound to tell him, even though it could potentially be a case of passing him the can opener to allow the worms to come wriggling out.

Pass me my thinking grenades.....
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Thank god for that.

It's over. No more football pundits talking shite for a few weeks at least. I can come out of my bunker now....

...and hopefully the talk of, "he's let himself down, he's let his team down, he's let his country down", will fade quickly.
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Wow

If you didn't watch Doctor Who tonight, you need to. Wow. Cracking stuff.

It nearly made me consider getting a TV and licence again. It's just a shame that I'd have to tolerate all the other bilge until Christmas. I now have to wait five months or so until my next fix.

Again, wow.
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Depressing Music

Wednesday's a shopping day. As I pushed my trolley around a certain supermarket that shall rename nameless, I heard music playing over the tannoy. Why they need to do this, I don't know. Is it proven that musak sells more beans? My trusty Apple spell-checker doesn't know the word "tannoy" and suggests the word, "annoy" instead - it's not as thick as it looks.

Anyway, I'm wandering off the point here....

...as I shopped, one track played was by The Carpenters (*clicky*), which started to make me think, "Are The Carpenters, just maybe, the most depressing music act in the world?". Why is it, whenever I hear the incessant droning of Karen Carpenter, that I feel a sudden urge to run to the razor blade aisle? She could have been singing about winning the lottery, or perhaps the happiest time of her life, but the fact is, that she sucks all happiness out of whatever she sings. Perhaps it's also the fact that she was one of those music people who died young that supports my argument further.

People always made jokes about The Smiths or The Cure being a depressing bunch - bugger that, at least they put some life into their act. Karen Carpenter sucks it back out.

Any other acts spring to mind?
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Dead Horses

Today, I was thinking about the NHS. You'll probably be asking me why, but there's reason which I think becomes self-explanatory as you read.

A few years back, my mother was in hospital. She was in intensive care. I can honestly say that whilst the notion of intensive care is not a nice one, the staff, attitude and standard of care whilst in there seemed to be marvellous. Relatives were kept regularly updated on their loved one's situations and enough nurses were on hand to do what needed to be done. Things were good, in a roundabout sort of way...

...until you went to a normal ward. Once transferred out of intensive care, you were back a lesser standard. My mother said that she was treated like an errant child whilst on the ward. She was truly grateful for what she received whilst in intensive care, but said that regular ward care had just degraded beyond all comparison. What she said probably stuck in my mind, due to the fact that she was unable to talk and had to write everything in a pad. The hospital concerned, more worried about freeing a bed up, discharged her and she died within approximately 12hrs of being out. Things like that stick in your mind.

On a slightly less serious note, I've got a minor condition that needs treatment. I've seen one person, who then refers me to someone else, who adds me to their waiting list, who then on getting to the top, allows me to see someone else, who has then added me on to another waiting list for surgery. Marvellous. Another statistical pissing contest.

And finally, there's my partner, who just seems to be being fobbed off, untreated - although they'd probably give her any pills in the world. And pills to counteract the effects of the pills. And maybe pills for that, too.

Is it me, or has the NHS just finally lost the plot? It's like it's concerned merely with the short-term. In a common-sense world, people with illnesses see people who know about the illnesses and the illnesses get treated. But no, it's almost like the whole thing has been reduced to statistics, that quotas need to be satisfied, people move up the queues and numbers get crunched for the benefit of league tables. I'm sure that the staff are wonderful people and that it's just misguided management or government policy.

If someone were to tell me that I could pay a couple pence less per pound in income tax for the sake of investing in my own private healthcare, I'd do it, because my little stories are not sole cases. Despite the government mantra, things are not getting better. People have recalled similar stories to me recently and this seems to be the norm. Whoever invented the league table system needs to be shot. They just don't work.
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Photo Update

Just a quick note to say that I've updated my photo gallery with a few more shots from Japan. Hope you enjoy - comments always welcome.
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Christmas

For the last couple years in the run up to Christmas, I've worked away in Sunderland. This was not an easy task. I'd work about 14-15hours a day (70-80 hours per week), doing a night shift. I'd be away from partner, family, friends and fun for a significant amount of time and due to the hours I was working contacting them would also be hard. It put a lot of strain on mind and body.

That's not to say it didn't have it's benefits - at a time when you need the money (i.e. Christmas) the extra came in very useful. In a career sense it was also a challenge.

I've given a repeat performance this year a significant amount of thought.

I thought I'd get asked again - and sure enough I was, but this time I said, "no". Last year, I did so well that I'd rather finish on a high. I've built up a good reputation and now it's time to let someone else have a go.

In addition, it will be nice to come home from work to my own home, sit on my own sofa, drink my own coffee and actually get some sleep. Living in a hotel for months, no matter how comfy, is awful. I think my better half will also appreciate it too.
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Nailing jelly to a wall.

A lovely phrase, it sums up my experiences in the last couple days, but could also used as a way of describing how impossible it can be to actually get a tradesperson (carpenter, electrician, plumber, etc...) to actually do anything.

Here's an example.

I get an electrician to come to my house and give me a quote (of the electrical sort, that is - hearing Shakespeare being delivered by some nasal ex-Essex boy with a voice like Henry's Cat really isn't my thing). He proceeds to tell me that I need the equivalent of brain surgery performing on my electrical system and a few days later, a quote of the monetary sort drops through the door. It's not a nice number on the quote, but if that's what needs to be done, that's what needs to be done, so I phone him and try and book an appointment. As always, tradesmen are busy people and so I am told that I shall have to wait three and a half weeks. Irritating as it is, I book him up.

Then I wait three and a half weeks, give or take a day. The day before he's due to come, I get a phone-call, stating that he cannot make it, as his colleague broke his leg playing football. Perhaps you can understand my loathing of the game a little more now. "Nothing but overpaid arseholes kicking around a bag of wind", said someone close to me. So true. It still makes me chuckle when I think of it.

Anyway, I digress.

I then try and book in someone else. He's a nice chap, gives me a quote on the spot for something that isn't brain surgery and proportionally, a quarter of the price. Good stuff. I book him in to come along in a matter of days.

15 minutes after he was supposed to arrive, I'm told me that he couldn't get the parts he needed (nice cliché, there) when he tried two days beforehand - so I've wasted an evening waiting around for someone who knew days before that they wouldn't be able to make it. Taa muchly. Make mine a pot noodle and wasted night for one.

I'm trying again for Wednesday, but I'm starting to feel like a very ineffectual hammer, with a rubber nail, trying to nail up some electrician flavoured jelly. (What colour is electrician flavoured jelly?)

As a random point, someone has tried to nail jelly to a wall, in almost scientific style. You can read about their experiments here (*clicky*). It's thoroughly educational stuff and it answers many, many questions.
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A pleasant surprise...

Having just noticed that a download was running at a 50% higher rate than normal, I wondered why - and it appears my free ADSL Max upgrade has kicked in. Whilst I previously had a 256K downstream / 1MB upstream, I now appear to have a 448k upstream / 3MB downstream....

...which is nice.
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Disappointing...

Having become rather fed up with Vodafone, I decided I was going to go back to Orange, a mobile phone company I was with quite a long time ago and in all honesty, didn't have major problems with. Additionally, the cinema near me does 2 for 1 on tickets if you're an Orange customer, so it was a money saver in two ways. Last Wednesday, I picked a phone, which promptly turned up on Friday and got going. It was one of these - a Nokia N80. (*clicky*)


The thing had the kitchen sink in it (3mp camera, wireless networking, marvellous screen, etc..), which to a gadget freak like me is a good thing. I've got used to owning a 3g phone (a V800) and this seemed to be the thing that offered the most. I was hoping that in a year, things would have moved on and improved. It would appear not, however. Unfortunately, Nokia forgot one important thing....

... the battery....

I've never seen such bad battery life, apart from an NEC 616 that I had for about 36hrs. It was shocking. I took it off charge at exactly midday yesterday. With just about 20 mins or so of calls, it should not be doing too badly, but by the end of today, the battery was going to be flat. Absolute crap. I called Orange up and got the plug pulled. I'm sending it back. Thank god for 14 day trial periods. I shall be trying a 6280 instead, which has a larger battery and apparently offers better standby times as a consequence. We shall see how that one fares.

Mobile phone creators need to remember - there's no point in putting all this stuff in a phone if you've got to run to a charging point every 24hrs - it's pointless. And what do high-users do, carry a car battery with them?
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The less I drink...

This evening, I'm off to the glamorous location of Burnham-on-Sea to go to a Martial Arts training camp (*clicky*). Last year, it was a sociable and enjoyable event, which allowed the group to make some friends with people in other disciplines. Hopefully, this year will be no exception.

They use the phrase, "The more I sweat in training, the less I'll bleed in battle". Problem is, they forgot the bit about staying sober. Most people get absolutely bladdered, which sorta negates the whole point of it all - but it's fun, nonetheless.
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Surviving the World Cup

In just under two weeks time, most of the world will be tuning in to one month of intolerable shite called The World Cup. The populace will eat football, sleep football, drink football and quite probably, vomit football. It's a well known fact that vomit is contagious purely by smell alone, so therefore it's a damn good reason that you get out of the way and seal yourself off from the outside world, lest you get sucked in to repeated talk of In-guh-lund, along with developing a good honest bout of xenophobia. Here are a few handy hints to help you avoid the sight of astroturf and Italian men falling over.

Firstly - get rid of your television. Not only will you save yourself from having to watch pundits talk of "precocious talent", but you'll save yourself a licence fee, along with sufficient electricity to light your house and probably run your fridge for several months. If you don't want to sell it, the alternative is switching channels to QVC and burning the remote - after watching some bint sell yet another gold chain for the third day running, your brain will melt and you will no longer care.

Secondly - change jobs or shifts. Luckily the matches are in Germany, time difference of just one hour. This means that if you can work during unsociable hours (such as overnight), you'll be asleep when all the action is taking place. Marvellous. Then when you are awake, all the football fans will be so inebriated and asleep. Along with avoiding the oranges at half-time, you'll also be able to achieve lots of wonderful things, because nobody else will be around to distract you.

Remember:

Don't read any newspapers. It's a well-known fact that all world disasters stop for the tournament period, so there'll be nothing to read, anyway.

Don't go down the pub. That's just silly. Stock up the fridge. You can afford to - you've just saved money in step 1.

If you must be entertained in some way, go to the cinema - you can be sure of a seat during match times. In fact, you'll probably have the auditorium to yourself.

Good luck... and I'll see when things return to normal on the 10th of July, when everyone will think that Sven Goran Wotsit is the spawn of the devil and no doubt, we'll have hyped ourselves up such that we face inevitable disappointment by losing against South Korea after we squeak through to the quarter finals.
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Wot no Constable?

Since I moved into my place, my loft has been an area I've largely avoided - and probably for good reason. The previous owner decided that he obviously couldn't be bothered with clearing it out, so muggins here had some fun doing it tonight. My hand was somewhat forced, as I've got electricians coming in a couple weeks time and they'll need access to the loft in order to work on the ceiling space above my bathroom.

I think the previous occupants just liked storing shite. I found 3 boxes for DVDs and Video players, a TV stand, a food heater (a bit like the candle ones you get in Indian restaurants), a cordless drill (which works), the bits to hang a shower on a wall (courtesy of that quality emporium called Trago Mills), a joystick (a Logitech one that must be about 10 years old, that quaintly describes itself as a "lite" stick, but looks like you fly Jumbos with it) and something that looks like a strange stool on wheels which proudly advertises that it's made from moulded rubber.

Whatever floats your boat, I guess. Should make for an interesting evening of sado-masochism.

Anyway, that's filled up my car ready for the recycling centre in the morning - but unfortunately there's still about 2 car loads of stuff still up there!
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Long Overdue

Something happened tonight that made me seriously think about doing a fitness test. After the amount of training I've been doing recently, I started to think of myself as "averagely fit", but after a self-defence bout against two people tonight, I'm starting to wonder if that's really the case.

I'm intending to do 2 tests. The first one is here *clicky* and is four simple tests that you can do to see how you fare. I've also had a word with my gym, who can do a "bleep test" that will probably involve me getting wired up somehow. I'll publish the results on here and it'll be interesting to see if anything has improved in six months time.
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Solar update (2)

Things are going well so far - the tests show that it all should work.

My mains inverter turned up today. I've also got a storage medium for the generated electricity (a high ampere leisure battery). I gave it a test and powered a few things off the battery for a while, which worked marvellously - so the concept works.

As luck would have it, my house is south facing and has a good wooden panel on the side of the porch that directly faces the sun. This means that when I mount the cells there, it'll be an easier job to do than climbing on my porch roof and trying to do something on slates. Gasp)

I'm now just waiting for the charge controller, which will prevent the cells from cooking the battery on really sunny days. Once I've got that, I can start wiring and get things hooked up!
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Solar Power

Having gradually watched the price of electricity increase over the last six months, I've decided that the best way to offset the price increase is simple - I shall generate my own. No, I don't plan on getting on a bike attached to a generator, but I'll generate solar power instead. Where I live I get a reasonable degree of sunlight. My house is also facing in pretty much the right direction. This should allow me to capture sunlight for a good chunk of the day.

The intention is to run a test with a small solar cell (~60cm) on my porch roof. This should allow me to generate ~30 watts, which I can store in a leisure battery, attached to an inverter that'll give me mains voltage. The inverter is a cheap one, but will enable me to run devices that run at up to 300 watts from the battery. This means my laptop (at 45 watts) is a distinct possibility, plus the mains lighting in my living room (which totals 27 watts) is also a potential candidate. I use low energy bulbs in all my lights, so that will minimise current drain. Of course, Mickey Mouse devices such as mobile phone chargers and radios could also be hooked up.

I figure that taking into account my current electricity usage (plus the fact that prices are only likely to go up), I should be able to make my money back in about four to five years - although this would require me to put up a larger solar cell than I would initially start with. All jolly exciting stuff though.

Even if it only works on a small scale, it'll help towards minimising my carbon emissions, which is nice.
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Childhood Memories

I learnt to swim at the grand age of 2 at a pool called Seaton, in Plymouth....

...and unfortunately, a couple of weeks ago, the local council decided to close it down. (*clicky*)

That's not to say that Seaton Pool has gone without a fight. There's been a sustained campaign (*clicky*) to try and keep it open, but it's been unsuccessful. I remember being young and a friend of my Dad's used to do the maintenance of the place back in the 70's. We used to go swimming and pay him a visit.

I'm sounding old now. It's a shame to see places of your childhood go - especially when I still used them up until not long ago.
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Happy days.

Not a bad day. Not a bad day at all.

  • Partner discharged from hospital.
  • A work colleague on seeing my photography, asks me to do her wedding photos. (Flattering, but a lot of responsibility, so declined...)
  • I manage Ushiro Goshi in Ju-Jitsu. (A somewhat showy technique, that involves doing a 360 degree backflip). And I did it several times.

It's enough to put a smile on your face. Gasp)
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Hospitals

Yesterday and today, I've been into hospital to see my partner. This is the first time I've been in to hospital to see a loved one since my mother died a few years back, so I have to say that the past did lurk at the back of my mind a little bit when entering.

When I compare the hospital concerned with a couple years back, not a lot seems to have changed:

1) Communication doesn't seem to happen.
2) Hygiene is laughable. You step in areas that actually are disgusting, below dumb posters that tell you how ward cleanliness is so important. They're just words - nothing more.
3) Some staff just don't care, in what is supposed to be a caring profession.

For all this governments crap about how so much more money has gone into the NHS, I see no improvement whatsoever. It would be so easy to bash NHS staff - but I'm not going to, because it's obviously a morale/management issue.

I think I can quite confidently say that I'm not a fan of hospitals.
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Don't forget...

... the only program worth stealing a television for, Doctor Who, is back on this Saturday night! I can't wait! Gasp)
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Wading..

Well, I've started wading through all the photos and one I particularly like is this:



Simple as it is, I just like the effect of the light appearing to burst out of the top of the tower. This will end up in my image gallery, no doubt.

It would seem that so far, this trip has been pretty successful in photography terms.
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Back to normal (almost)

Well, my body clock is nearly back to normal, which means that I have to get myself back into my normal training routine. As you progress in Ju-Jitsu, the time period between belts increases, along with the amount of work you need to put in for each respective belt. Theoretically, I should be grading at the end of May, but I've got a few obstacles before I get there.

The first one is practice. Luckily, my training sessions will be going up to 3 per week in the run-up, which should get me fitter - and in addition, allow me to do the extra work on the syllabus. I've still got a fair bit to do.

The second one is fitness. I need to visit my gym as much as possible in the meantime to ensure that during the free self-defence section, I don't lose it.

I have to say, though, I'm looking forward to getting back in the swing of things. It'd be cool if I can get to Italy with a shiny new tag on my belt...
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Maybe not.

I've given the whole thing a lot of thought and come to the conclusion that putting anything in my blog about my job is a really bad idea. Sure, I want to leave (and that's no secret), but not under a cloud.

Some articles I used when deliberating:

1) Microsoft fires worker over weblog. (*clicky*)
2) Should you blog your job? (*clicky*)
3) How to blog safely. (*clicky*)

The EFF document made my mind up pretty quickly - reason? I couldn't be arsed to go through all that work to protect my anonymity. I'll stick to ranting into TextEdit, with occasional visits to the wastebasket. Plain laziness has won the day.
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Ignore me if you like.

I tried to ignore it for years, but the sad truth is that everyone who said it was right - exercising more does actually make you feel good.

When I started Ju-Jitsu nearly 2 years ago, I got fitter. This was a good thing. I did one or two sessions a week.

About a year ago, when I started gearing up for my orange belt, I started doing whatever sessions were available. Mostly this was two, sometimes it was three. This was pretty good for me and I got fitter still.

About six months ago, when going for my green belt, I start swimming twice a week in addition to the twice/three times a week training sessions - there was very little in daily life that ever pooped my out and I attribute my increased fitness as the thing that got me through my hour and a quarter grading.

Now, I may be grading at the end of May for my next tag. Who knows? I take every training session available and do a variety of different things. I'm going away to a training camp in Italy at the beginning of July. I'm going away to another training weekend at the beginning of June (in the not so glamourous place we call Burnham-On-Sea). I'd say I exercise about six days a week - and I've never felt better. Colds last for a day or two at most, if I get them. I rarely run out of energy. I can run for a good amount of time without getting knackered. I take the stairs up the four floors to work instead of using the lift - and it's not really any big deal in terms of exertion. In fact, I feel rather marvellous.

I may not be the skinniest person on the planet. In fact, I know I'm not, but I do actually feel I can say I'm pretty fit. And no matter what anyone says, it is worth it - and I now feel more motivated to get even fitter. Sickening, isn't it?
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The pitfalls of writing about your job.

So far, when I've been writing in my blog, I've taken great pains to not write about my work. I've done this for a couple of reasons:


  • A lot of people know about my site.
  • Some people who read my site would know who I was talking about.
  • I would get reprimanded/sued/sacked/slapped/molested with a haddock.

This, for me, creates what we call a dilemma. A dilemma is something that I can get away with using silly colours for, for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

I would sometimes like to write (read: rant) about my job, however, the above points preclude me from doing so, unless I started a new and anonymous blog - but then, nobody would read it, as nobody would know it exists. That being the case, I may as well rant into an open copy of textedit and discard the contents once done, as it would have the same net effect.

The big question is - is it actually possible to write a blog about your work, without getting in sticky brown stuff? For example, take this. (*clicky*). If Staple Gun Boy, mentioned on the 3rd of January 2006, knew that he was being talked about, would he have any legal recourse were he to get pissy? Possibly.

Advice is always welcome. It's a minefield, in a virtual sorta way.
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I'm Alan Partridge...



It's Saturday night and my first weekend off. I think that working 14hr night shifts has turned me into Alan Partridge:

The cinemas are closed.
The shops are closed.
There is a disco going on in the reception downstairs, full of punchy rambling gobshites, who I cannot understand.

I have three options:

  • Get quickly drunk.
  • Go to bed.
  • Take my Corby trouser press apart.

I'm deliberating between options two and three at the moment.
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OooooooOOOoooh! AAaaaAAAaaaaah!

Last night, I went to the second evening of the 2005 British Firework Championships (clicky). The displays are shown over two nights, and on each night there are 3 ten minute firework displays. Each is a pretty impressive affair, with the Hoe area providing a really good backdrop - we sat on the side of the hill at Stamford Fort, which gives an even better view looking back toward Plymouth.



If you'd like to have a look at one of the displays, here's a link. I took it on my phone (It's a 3GP video. Quicktime 6 or better required. Do a "Save as.." - It's 5.6MB), so yes, it's shaky. Yes, there's the noise of the crowd, but it's not bad, considering it's a mobile video. View it at double size to get a reasonable view.

Top tip: To get the full firework display feeling in your home at any time of year (without the parking problems), simply show the video fullscreen on your computer, switch the lights off and sit in the opposite corner of the room on a carrier bag. Cook yourself a couple of burgers until they're burnt and generate enough smoke. If you have any chip-pan fat that's seen better days, warm it up and let the smell waft around the house to generate that "Do-Nut" stall atmosphere.

Eat the burgers whilst watching the display and set fire to a fiver for that real firework evening feeling.

Disclaimer:
I am not responsible if you burn your house down.
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A strange day...

Yesterday was a bit of a weird one.

1) We had a huge thunderstorm last night - and pretty close by too, with about 1 second between the flash and the rumble. The lightening lit up the house somewhat, the heavens opened and even I woke up for a while. (Well, about 5 minutes, to be honest). I get into work and people are talking about floating cars, the smell of sewage (result of the flooding, or just bad personal hygiene?) and general destruction. The papers have got pictures of where lightning punched holes in the roofs of houses and people being rescued all over the place. Only a couple of counties away, Glastonbury doesn't get started. Bit of a freaky weather day. Yet in my area, you'd never think anything had happened.

2) Then, I get a phone call. My house purchase is close to completion. Can't pull out now (well, unless I want to incur a 10% penalty). On the 15th of July, I'll be a homeower. As one of those fabled "first time buyers", I'm about to saddle myself with enough debt to keep me going for 30 years. It's enough to make you wonder why people bother doing it.

The world is a strange place.
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