Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Up, up and away...

I love travelling and especially flying. Although it's a pain to spend so much time travelling the short distance from the airport entrance to the departure gate and onto the plane (in fact longer than the flight itself), it's still fun to fly.

Here's TAP flight 357 being prepared for boarding - according to my itinerary (so that I have a clue), it's an Airbus A321:

The photo is really a few stitched together into one wide one - getting the whole plane into one shot just wasn't practical. What almost scuppered the shot was the man you can see closing the hatch - in the shots the door is in various states of closure and in the last the man is walking away! Luckily I managed to find enough good bits for the stitching software to make the panoramic view. Apart from the curvature of lines on the floor, you can't really tell it's not one single shot. Bizarrely it looks like there are big beams of sunlight from the storm but obviously what you are seeing are the strip lights from the departure lounge reflecting in the glass.



Flying business

Unfortunately there were not enough cattle class tickets so I was forced to fly business class to Lisbon (no such luck on the way back, though). I love business class - as you would - but company policy is that everybody flies economy. So I savour it when I can, sitting in the Lufthansa lounge (as I am) munching through bowls of chinese crackers, olives and yogurt-coated nuts whilst sipping from bottles of beer in a comfy armchair. And what a lovely view over the airport too...



If there was only one CD you could keep...

mine would be "Celebrity Skin" by Hole. There is no other album I'm happy to listen over and over again, and it has held this postion for a few years now. I have little idea why - it's not as if I know what half the songs are about - but the music does it for me. Great set at Glastonbury '99 too.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


eBay nightmare of my own making

Today I decided to sit down and unravel a tale of woe over one of my auctions and found it was an even bigger mess than I thought.

Way back in November, I managed to sell a book at the second attempt - a Terry Brooks hard-back called "Antrax", in the Jerle Shannara series. The buyer was an American stationed at Minot AirForce base in North Dakota, home of the 5th Bomb Wing and 91st Space Wing. Interestingly Google Earth doesn't label the airstrip but roads like Bomber Boulevard show that this isn't a civilian establishment. But I digress.

After an exchange of email and receipt of cheque, I post off the parcel in December and move on to other things (like planning for Christmas). I didn't hear anything from the buyer for a while and on January 4th I sent him an email to see if the parcel had arrived OK. No reply.

By mid-February, assuming that he would have let me know if he had not received the book by now, I left feedback "Hope the book arrived OK - enjoy the read." The buyer noticed this and woke up, replying via eBay "we never received the book." So, after about 10 weeks since I posted the parcel, I find it never arrived. Obviously after this long it is now near-impossible for me to get the post offices to check if they have seen the parcel - if it hasn't been delivered or returned to sender then I'm sure it's gone for good.

I spent the last week or two wondering what I'm going to reply - do I offer a refund when it's not really my fault? I bought the book myself on eBay back in August for over £4.00 and made a loss on the re-sale so there's no profit margin to use.

Checking through Paypal and my bank account I see that neither received any US$ from the buyer last year - searching around for Post Office receipts so I could find the exact date I posted the parcel I found a bank paying-in book containing a US$ cheque ready to deposit ... but no posting receipt. To add to the happy feeling, I discovered a £2.40 cheque dated from July for another (UK) eBay sale so that's over 6 months old and will no doubt get rejected, stamped as "Out of date".

So, no available proof of postage and a cheque I haven't cashed. No wonder he didn't complain - the money never left his bank account. Sigh. What to do...



It's always nice to see where an eBay sale is destined, especially when it is somewhere far from home.

If you're ever staying at this B&B near Limoges:

ask if you can borrow their PlayStation :-)


Ha, Mice make no more plans!

The mouse that invaded our house this week has finally met his match. We thought he had disappeared voluntarily but Sue's Juiced session was interrupted by a lightning-fast black flash out of the corner of her eye. After a lot of moving furniture and discovering how quick and small the mouse was, we discovered what it had been eating for the past week - peanuts.

We have a couple of bird feeders in the garden, one for seeds and one to take peanuts, and these are stored in the living room by the patio windows. In the corner of the room were a large scattering of brown peanuts skins and the occasional half-nibbled peanut. The trail of evidence let back to the bag of peanuts that until recently did not have any holes in it. I know worked out how peanuts has mysteriously appeared in the kitchen - I assume he had been carrying them away and been frightened into dropping them on the way.

So there I was at 3am in the morning, a piece of string held tightly in my hand, the other end attached to a box lid suspended precariously over a handful of peanuts. Around me I could hear scuttling as the mouse went behind cupboards and sofas on his nightly search for food. Eventually I saw him pop up near the patio windows and knew I would soon be going to bed. A quick dash and he was under the plastic crate lid and - yank - trapped! Now how do I get him out from under there?

In the study is a large clip-frame picture so I dismantled it and slid the back-board under the crate lid. The next step of the plan was to open the trap over a large black sack and drive off into the distance, releasing the rodent at some far point. The wheels came off this idea when Sue decided that the mouse was going nowhere near her car as it WOULD escape, no matter what I did. So I instead wrapped up warm and marched off towards the lake at 3:30 in the morning, hoping that the police I'd seen walking past whilst I was waiting for the mouse to reveal itself weren't still in the area.

The perceived wisdom is that mice will find their way home - to your home - if you release them up to 1,000m away. As the board and crate lid were very tricky to carry in the cold wind, trying not to let the board bend to release the mouse, I managed a Herculean 210m. Bye, bye "Rex", as Sue named him (after this Rex).

Friday, February 24, 2006


We counted them in and we counted them out again

A regular fixture for me, the Reading University Student Union (RUSU) election count was tonight and I had the prestigious role of counting bits of paper. The power in my hands ... to control the future of the student body ... exhilerating! Last year I even flew in from Paris just to be there.
It's a strangely exciting event - a bunch of RUSU staff and unsuspecting innocents cluster round tables and are given piles of votes to count. Usually there are about a dozen different votes - NUS positions, RUSU positions and the occasional vote to indicate what the executive should do on a particular subject.

Normally about 1,500 students decide to vote, around 10% of the student body, so not really representitive but it's as democratic as you're going to get. The indicative vote this time was whether smoking should be banned in the Student Union or go for some compromise - the total ban won. Although the government had already decided to ban smoking in the workplace (and therefore the RUSU bars and shops), the vote would help the executive decide how to approach the move.

This year the elections went pretty much as expected - we are still waiting for the ever-present candidate called Ron to get in but he is always just so unpopular (Ron=ReOpen Nominations). There was a protest vote in one uncontested position where RON got 100+ votes - so the winner was unpopular but not unpopular enough to force
someone else to stand against him.

The greatest test of the democratic process - and the transferrable vote system - came in the headlining act: choosing the President. The incumbant was standing again and exit polls were not in his favour. Throught the night he turned to his old mate Snakey B or sympathy...

There were five standing and the person with the fewest votes would be dropped each round, their votes being transferred to the next choices (still remaining) on the voting sheet. In the first round Dave Lewis came second with Bill Smith way ahead; in the second round the same dismal picture was seen; come the third round and a huge swing meant the two candidates were almost neck and neck. Only 4 votes seperated them and Dave couldn't believe his luck. The Student Union called for a recount (cheers, Ben) and the margin was slightly greater. Again Ben sent us back to the tables and again we counted more for Dave. So with the slimmed of margins, Dave went on to a second year.

The student body seems pretty split down a sports/non-sports division. I can see that the executive has a lot of work to do there. Bill's pro-sport backing was very "vocal" as Dave, president elect and kebab advocate, was announced the winner. [[Being interviewed in the picture below]] Bill was not impressed by the way the voting had gone, which was understandable - winning up to the 3rd transfer and then losing by a handful of votes would be gutting. It does show, though, a broader support amongst students for Dave - basically, if they weren't going to vote for Bill then they were going to vote for Dave and there were more people not voting Bill.

RUSU Trustee
Board for 2006/7...

: Dave Lewis 
VP Education: Ryan Bird 
VP Welfare: Nick Smith 
VP Sports & Societies: Sam Hibbs 
VP Equal Opportunities & Ethics: Mike Hance 
VP Development: Emily Beardsmore 
Student Trustees: Julia Horne, Pete Jeffreys & Chris Hampson



Just found out I've won a Starck-designed Optical Mouse in an internal competition at work. Thanks very much, Emma!

Comes in a shiny plastic display box which it seems a real shame to open up but I want to see how classy it looks in use so out with the knife.

Robyn Peterson wrote a good review of the mouse for ExtremeTech:

"Functionally speaking, the Starck mouse is quite ordinary. Frankly, it's a comfortable but ill-equipped mouse by today's standards. It's not wireless--nor will it ever be. It's not a power user's mouse – but it doesn't pretend to be. What it is, however, is stylish--with more thought behind it than 99% of the peripherals on the market. By partnering with Starck, Microsoft is making an artistic statement, something that needs to be done more in the PC industry."

It is definitely different. The small patches on either side of the mouse are where you grip it between thumb and little finger. The rest of the case is the buttons, one half for left and one half for right, so it actually looks like it hasn't got any. Down the middle is a gorgeous blue illuminated strip with the obligatory wheel (I'm sure I wouldn't be using it if the wheel was not designed in). Underneath is also stylish and no labelling at all - the only way you know it is a Microsoft mouse is a tag attached near the USB connector.

I notice that the box says 2004, as does the ExtremeTech review, so it looks like somebody had some hardware lying around collecting dust and found someone with morale budget to spend. Every silver lining has a cloud!

Friday, February 17, 2006


First Target Reached

Celebrations - body weight down to sub-15 stone so that's about 7-8 pounds lost and kept off for a month now. Next target will be to get under the 200 lbs mark (14 stone 4 lbs).

Saturday, February 11, 2006


Reassemble and .... switch ON!!!

I was a bit concerned that hacking and sawing away at the motherboard had wrecked it at the sub-atomic level so it was with trepidation that I went shopping at PC World for a video card to test out my workmanship. Now I'm looking for an image on their website for the product I bought, I note that video cards are not available for sale on-line. They didn't have a huge range in-store either. Hmmm, weird.

Anyway, I splashed out a whopping £60 on an ATI Radeon X550. I know realise, after looking at the box, that this just means it has that ATI ship-set on and the card is really a PowerColor card.

This card has itself as much RAM as Samantha's machine does. Works a treat first time so Samantha can at last make use of her Christmas present.


Take that, Dell!

Being someone that's "worked" in the IT industry since 1986, I always like to think I actually know what I'm doing as far as computers are concerned. This is combined with being a tight bastard and results in taking advantage of special offers on Dell's website so all the family PCs are cheap servers. The problem is that Dell want you to buy such machines for running your business on and NOT for the home - they have lots of perfectly lovely machines for that market but they are obviously more expensive. Apparently Dell had been burnt by people with a few brain cells buying the cheap servers and chucking in a powerful video card to make a games machine for less than Dell could. To get round this, they decided to make it physically impossible to make use of the PCI Express slot on the motherboard by making them differently:

The two bits of plastic on the right mean you can only fit a half-length video card into this slot. Can you find a half-length PCI Express video card? No, of course you can't as they don't exist any longer (assuming they ever did). And even if they did, Dell don't support the fitting of such a device. What bastards.

But luckily the Internet is at hand with a solution! You declare war on the plastic bits. I didn't go the whole hog and buy a propane torch to heat up the knife like Dan did. Instead I searched the loft and found a Stanley knife and started hacking away.

This seemed to be okay to start with but I soon realised that it wouldn't work too well the deeper I carved so I started looking in the kitchen for something more useful.


A Kitchen Devil with handy saw action was just what I needed and soon the evil work of the manufacturer was undone. Samantha would soon know the delight of graphics unknown to the on-board chip-set!

Thursday, February 09, 2006


White Man in Hammersmith Palais

Mid afternoon and the company starts to grind to a halt. Quick glances outside to see if people are starting to get on the long queue if coaches stretching round the lake. It's fun time and we need to be off to London for the Mid Year Party & Briefing. Last year this was about 5 minutes of chat from the MD and several hours of partying - we are expecting a repeat of the same.

A little later and we step off the coaches and into the Novotel London West to freshen up and change for the evening - an evening at the Hammersmith Palais round the corner. It's a bit nippy so we get driven by coach to the event too - 0.7 miles round the serpentine one-way system (or half that on foot) - because we're worth it.

This is the first time I'd been to Hammersmith Palais and I was a bit worried as it looked a little dingy when we went through the main doors. I suppose "dingy" may be the wrong word - it wasn't dirty or in need of maintenance but it looked old. I was expecting something a little smarter, I suppose.

Once into the main hall, though, it was much nicer - free booze and food. Every few minutes a waiter would come past with a tray of cones full of chips and mayo. Actually they were half potato and half parsnip, which was a pleasant surprise (or an unpleasant surprise for those who react violently to parsnip - I'm glad Mike didn't manage to make the Party!).

I liked the layout of the stage - nice open area around it with heavy-duty bars at the front to lean on. Gina Yashere was the compere for the evening - for compere, read "rabble rouser" whose job is to try and get people to shut up and welcome whatever act is coming next. Luckily I was paying attention so she didn't need to hunt me down on your safari through the audience and bars.
Alistair Baker was first up to get the numbers out of the way (took a lot longer than last year) and then Gina introduced Swansea's Rob Brydon. A bit of an unknown quantity for me - I had only seen adverts for his cab driver monologues until now. As he was just one of several acts on tonight, he didn't have a full set and I feel we ended up with a pick'n'mix instead - some jokes, impersonations of Robbie Corbett and Coogan (good, mind you), and crowd involvement with doing voice-overs. Variety but nothing to really get you going - but then it was early and I hadn't had the chance to get hit the drink enough. Alcohol always makes things funnier.
The highlight of the evening for me was seeing and listening to Soul 2 Soul. They were given a good hour to go through their back-catalogue with great tracks like 'Back To Life'. Although I'd heard a lot of their work on the radio since the late 1980s, I didn't really know what they were about and tonight was a good intro.

Girls Aloud





If Soul 2 Soul was the best part of the evening then their mate Trevor Nelson was the pits. He must have been thinking "mid-week corporate bash... yawn... roll on the weekend". Trevor turned up, put some average records on, chucked out a few lines about everybody having a good time, and then disappeared into the night with his cheque.  What a waste of space.


1,000 people like me - official


Monday, February 06, 2006


Wolves in happier times

Happier times as there isn't a game on so we aren't losing:

Friday, February 03, 2006


We won't be retiring, then

No, our one-off syndicate at work didn't win the EuroMillions lottery so we will still be turning up as normal on Monday. We weren't even close. Ten of us put in our hard-earned cash for a ticket each and none of them came up with more than a single number. Looking at the odds, getting 2 main numbers and 1 Lucky Star number is only 1:39. We managed 7 numbers across 10 tickets. Pathetic.


Being one of the pattern-matching creatures that we all are, I see that 3 of these numbers (09, 21, 01) appeared last week as well. If I didn't have the basic knowledge of statistics that I do, I would go "Oooh, isn't that
spooky?" but I do and it isn't so I won't.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The eating regime was trundling along nicely - still 6-7 pounds under my start weight - until Sue decided tonight we go to {{chilling horror music}} Colleys Support Rooms! "But," you say, "that is a lovely restaurant serving top quality food - what is the problem?" The lashings of cream and sugar-dripping puddings, THAT'S the problem. Take tonight's menu, for example (luckily it was mid-week and so only 4 courses rather than traditional 6):

I managed to choose the horse's doovers that didn't include cream but the soup must have had a ladle-full of fresh cream in it when the tureen arrived. And the tart? Didn't you know that about 45% of blue cheese is fat? We're talking a waist-busting 450 kcalories per 100 grammes of dairy product! Yes, I know... I could have had the Poached chicken supreme with mushroom duxelle & spinach with white wine & tarragon cream sauce instead. Colley's are legendary for their puddings and the fact you can have seconds - I resisted and stopped at just the one. Really I should have washed all this down with iced water, or maybe diet cokes, but the truth is much worse (two bottles of Guiness). So maximum points for the taste buds but nil point for the on-going campaign.

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