Monday, April 30, 2007


The Singing Ringing Tree

If you are old enough, you will remember the children's horror story "The Singing Ringing Tree" from the 1960s. For some reason this water feature in the lake outside our office building always reminds me of it.

Saturday, April 28, 2007


"Rock and Reel" at The After Dark

The After Dark club is still going but is no longer a regular haven for local bands looking for a stage and instead caters for clubbers with regular club nights. Partly because of this and also due to the local bands that we followed having disbanded, we had not been there for probably a decade before tonight.
This evening was a Pressgang gig - a special for the band as they had played the After Dark a lot back in the distant past when they were still a local band.
Their warm-up band, Lack of Limits, were invited from Germany.


Lack of Limits are:

The range if music was impressive considering the audience were expecting a folk-rock night - I wasn't expecting to hear ska music ("Matsch to me") or didgeridoos injected at all.

Eve, Christian and a blurry AndréAndré, Marco and Sönke

Check out their website as it looks like all their past 4 CDs can be downloaded as MP3s (not full length but long enough to appreciate).
Pressgang came on later with their much-travelled and played set-list with the new inclusion of "Stain On Your Heart", one of George's own songs. The latter was weird to hear - I had listened to it so often on CD that I had always assumed it has been played live but tonight was the first time.
I would say that All the old favourites were there - including "Flanders", "Take A Jump", "New South Wales", "John Knox", "Donkey". with Cliff's ever-enthusiastic story-telling in "Merrily, Merrily" - but it would be impossible to squeeze in all the songs you want to hear from their repertoire in on set.
Cliff and GeorgeThere's one thing you can't criticise Pressgang fans on and that is passion :-)
Damian and Tony performing "John Knox"
Cliff performing "Merrily, Merrily"


The Poles are coming!

The Poles are definitely on the move and changes are popping up all around Reading. First we noticed a lot more cars with Polish plates (after at first struggling to remember whether PL meant Portugal or Poland), like these:

Then there are the dedicated food sections in Asda (we were there for cheap Easter eggs so please don't assume I go there often) where you can buy beetroot-flavoured noodles (yum). Luckily there is a sticker on the back put there by the importing company which explains what you are actually buying (in this case "instant red borsch"):

There was a "tomato soup" which seemed innocuous enough except the ingredients said "6% chicken". I expect that this is either a limitation of the translation services or vegetarian food isn't big in Poland.

And one step up from a food section is a whole dedicated shop! I didn't take time to work out what the shop sells but I guess it will be an "everything you are missing from back home" sort of thing.

Reading isn't a stranger to eastern Europeans as there has been a Ukrainian presence for many years. In the 1980s I used to play D&D at their social centre and it's still going strong. be interesting to see what permanant roots the Poles put down in the Thames valley.

Friday, April 27, 2007


Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be David Hodo from Village People...

Taking decent flash photographs of reflective materials is VERY difficult!


All change...

Today I've applied for a new role within Microsoft, something I haven't done for nearly 11 years. Way back in the summer of '96 I was interested in becoming a web editor in the Africa/India/Middle East division although I did eventually withdraw my application for a mixture of frivolous and serious reasons. Since then I've moved between teams but always staying in technical support so effectively I've always had the same job at Microsoft.

This time I'm after a technical writer position in the BizTalk group so still technical but no longer customer-facing. Anyone at Microsoft who knows me will see the obvious irony in this as I always insisted that I wouldn't touch BizTalk with a barge-pole (although, admittedly, this was mainly a bluff to see how much money they would eventually offer me to support the product).

I can't say that being a technical writer was something I was aspiring to - for the last decade I've been trying to work out what I DID aspire to. I definitely didn't want to be still doing support at 50 - not because you can't do the job at that age but it's a grunt role. The idea of being in a grunt role for 27 years (which I would have done to reach 50 years old) just seemed a waste, a blatant display of lack of ambition. So I'd been waiting for something to turn up, a process that usually works although sometimes it takes a lot longer than you expect.

In the meantime I slowly tweaked my job role - contributing on internal DLs, reviewing KB articles, jumping into technical Newsgroups and posting on my own MSDN blog. In the career textbooks that would be in the "how to raise your profile" chapter but for me it was more a reaction to crushing ennui.

In good old "if you build it, they will come" fashion, interest arose in the US. Anyone who says that I will be a "great fit" for a role (and uses an exclamation mark too) is obviously going to pique my interest in a job which I can still do from the UK so 16 hours later my eCV was on its way.

Now I just need to find out what a technical writer does... I hope it's fun.



Microsoft Building 5

Had a guided tour of Microsoft's soon-to-be finished Building 5 on Thames Valley Park. As you'd expect, it looks very similar to the previous 4 as most of the differences are around hidden things like energy efficiency and health & safety. There are a few innovations, like a couple of suspended meeting rooms which are glass most the way round and attached to the building by the ceiling instead of the floor. I'm sure those rooms will be fully booked for months to come when the building is opened. In the basement will be a gym and dance studio, neither of which I can imagine myself visiting (the gym at home doesn't see much activity so I can't see a public one being overused by me).

I did find the sweet dispenser of blue/red sweets in the builder's canteen amusing - "these are not sweets, they are ear defenders". Yum.

Also, you had to wear full building site kit and you get to keep it ALL! So I now have a hard hat, flourescent jacket, thin gloves (great for snowboarding at Bracknell) and protective glasses. These can be surprisingly useful...


Friday, April 20, 2007


Would the owner of car registration MOJ 381X please ...

Bit of a mystery - what was the burnt-out car doing across the road from our house? Closer inspection showed that the trees above the car were untouched so the fire must have been set and extinguished somewhere else. The tyres (or more accurately wheel rims) show a collection of greenery and the path has some suspicious scratch marks leading away for the car.

Tracing the scratches to their beginning, I found a small area in the woods where the ground was burnt and scattered with broken glass.

Looks like the fire brigade had been called, put out the blaze and pulled the car as close to the road as possible. As you can see, the local council has placed handy pillars to prevent cars getting onto the grass which obviously work just as effectively in preventing cars getting off the grass too... as the flat-bed driver found out when he turned up late at night to collect the destroyed vehicle. After a couple of minutes walking around the car, scratching his head for a bit and giving the metal post a little experimental shake he was off, job unstarted.

Now how did the car get into the woods? The path leads from Kingfisher Drive all the way to the bridge over the A329 (and so to Earley railway station). It looks like the council hadn't planned for anyone to get in from the OTHER end of the path.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


You wouldn't get ME down a pit on that money

Found this piece of old paper in a pile of cookery books when we were having
a sort-out. I've no idea why it was in there - on the back it looks like it was
used as scrap paper for keeping score in a game between two mysterious people, "R" and "D".

The underground wage for a 15 year old in 1951 was 59 shillings and sixpence (half a shilling shy of £3) a week. At 21 this reached £6 7s, or 127/-, which translates to £6.35 in post-decimalisation terms. Allowing for inflation (which, in the 50 years since 1951, has totalled 1784%), that's £119.63 a week in 2001 money. That works out as an annual wage of £6,220.76, which is less than the current minimum wage for someone under 22 years of age. And that was in a time when Harold Macmillan said that "most of our people have never had it so good".

Also, have a look at the bottom - the piece of paper was part of a leaflet called "The Skilled Man the Nation will Always Need". At its peak during World War II there were over one million miners working in 958 mines.

Monday, April 02, 2007


How green is my hobby?

Looking at to see how non-green we were by flying to Edinburgh at the weekend, the flight calculator reports:

Your flight distance is approx. 532 km
In total it will produce 314 kg of CO2

which isn't correct as that's for the shortest distance between airports - the actual flight route turns over Glasgow and is not a straight line as we didn't go by Crow Airlines.

The website generously allows us to "neutralise the emissions from this flight by contributing" £4.60 to Tree Planting in the Great Rift Valley, Kenya. That sounds very simple - the UK government could simply require airlines to divert this amount of the air fare to Kenya and everybody wins. CO2 emissions are eliminated and I get to fly with a clean conscience. :-)

Sunday, April 01, 2007


I'm sorry, could you please spell that?


Beer means buildings

There is some lovely architecture on the University site at Potterow. I don't know how conducive it is to learning but it certainly looks good.

According to, Teviot Row House on Bristo square is one of the Edinburgh University student union buildings, containing several pubs (from 2 to 5, depending on how you count them) which include a quiet local-style pub on the 3rd floor and a Sportsman's Bar with arcades and oodles of pool tables in the basement. Lucky bastards.

On the other hand, McEwan Hall (completed 1897) serves as the venue for graduation ceremonies and other academic events. There is a strong beer connection as the building was financed from Sir William McEwan's bottomless pockets (founder of what is now the Scottish & Newcastle brewing group.

And to think I went to Swansea University which had one bar on campus and that was run by the University (shut on Sundays). What a fool I was.

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And people complain about MODERN buildings...

Who in their right mind would commission a building as ugly as this? The brickwork is just an affront to the human eye. If their intention was to build something different then they succeeded but so would painting it orange with green glass windows. I'm glad I didn't go to Edinburgh University and have to walk past (or, even worse, into) this carbuncle every day.



King Fahad Mosque

I borrowed the following content from the Gazetteer for Scotland, an encyclopaedia that is well worth a browse.

"Located on Potterow in Edinburgh is the King Fahd Mosque and Islamic Centre. The Mosque, which provides prayer facilities for some 1200 people, was opened on 31st July, 1998 and named in honour of the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, who had provided much of the £3.5 million funding. The building took 20 years and three architects to reach completion and it lay half-finished for several years in the early 1990s when funding had dried up. Dr Basil Al-Bayati's design apparently combines Islamic calligraphy with a chequered motif subtly derived from tartan."



Sue's Scrotum

VAGUE, after exhausting their own imaginations for T-shirt combinations, approached those sitting nearby for suggestions. Sue was, unfortunately, most forthcoming...

Sue's Scrotum

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