Thursday, 17 April 2014

easter

Well, last day of the working week today as it's Easter.

I must say it's kinda snuck up on me this year.  I think a big part of that is because of the weather - it feels like it's rained continuously for almost an entire year, and the seasons have virtually disappeared, so it's almost weird now that it's actually spring-like.  It feels kinda sudden, somehow.

The training thing yesterday was horrendous.

Not because it was badly done (though the food at the venue was horrible - rather dried out and sorry looking), but because they'd crammed what should have been two days of stuff into a day - less than a day, actually, as it ended at 3:30.  It was in London so it was a very long day as well.  And then I couldn't get to sleep until quite late, so I'm pretty knackered today.

Oddly, it's the Chinese grand prix this weekend.  I say oddly because usually they time the grand prix so that they don't land on "other" days.

China is usually a good race and I think the new engines will suit it so I'm hoping it will be as good as Bahrain.  Unfortunately the BBC is only showing highlights on the TV again, but I'll listen on the radio.

My other plans for Easter are pretty minimal as I'm trying to save pennies for Canada.

I'll probably do a bit of a swap around with some stuff that's out in the shed - if the nice weather continues I'll need to get my shorts out and put away jumpers and stuff.  I'll also probably do a full back-up (I keep all the drives out in the shed too).  These aren't quite as firm as my landlord recently told me he is actually going away a few weeks after Easter and it's usually easier to mess about in the shed when he's away.  However, the weekend that this covers I'm also booked to go and see a friend.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

irony

I'm going on a training thing tomorrow for work.

It's something to do with some new EU regulations, so I'm sure it will be highly exciting.  It's in London, which makes the travelling painful, particularly as they've scheduled a start of 09:30.  It does mean it ends early, though (about 3:30), but I'm obviously no going to blog.

And speaking of work, I found this quite amusing a little while ago, and very relevant to why I'm looking for a new job.

One of my bosses got an e-mail the other day asking if we'd be willing to send them a tool they'd seen us using to help make bid/no bid decisions.

The first point of amusement was that my boss clearly didn't know what he was talking about, even though I've shown my boss the tool several times.  So the boss asked him for some more details "to help pin down what he was talking about" and then forwarded to me to essentially ask what he was talking about.

I pointed him straight at the tool and suggested it was rather cheeky of them to be asking for us to just hand it over.

The boss took a look at the tool and then we had a very brief chat, where the boss echoed my opinion that it was cheeky for them to ask for it.  However, the boss also said the tool looked "like quite a good bit of work" & "clever".

Which all seemed quite ironic - here's a tool I put together that the boss clearly hadn't ever bothered to look at properly before, but then when somebody else asked for it, looked at it and thought it was quite good.

So it's a tool that helps to make bid/no bid decisions, something we're woefully (indeed wilfully) bad at, that the other company could see the value in, but that my own company cannot.

Which kind of sums up why I don't really want to stay - what I do is not in any way valued.

Monday, 14 April 2014

fat lad

I wrote the following last Friday, but failed to post it:

No change in my weight last weekend, so I still weigh 20 stone 10 pounds.

This was obviously a little disappointing, but not entirely surprising.  As previously mentioned, I'd bought way too much food and this spilled over into the full weekend as well as the following weeks itself.  In other words, I was eating pretty badly all week, not just on those few days off I had.

I've not eaten particularly well this week either, so I'm expecting some horrors when I get on the scales on Sunday.

Easter is rapidly approaching - I've got a few days book as leave for my birthday too, so I now enter a period where I'm not doing a full 5 day week for ages.  However, I'm a bit nervous this will also impact the diet situation quite badly.

I need to clean my bedsit this weekend - I don't generally clean when there's a grand prix on and it's been a double-header, so things are getting a bit mucky.  I'll probably do a spring clean over Easter, but another week is a bit long to leave it.  Plus cleaning this weekend will make the job easier next week.

---

In actuality I weighed in on Sunday morning and found I weighted 20 stone 8 pounds.  So, in other words, I'd lost the two pounds I put on.

I have absolutely no understanding how this could be the case - I ate really badly all week and it was nothing special in terms of exercising.  I mean, we went to the pub on Friday as it was two people's birthdays, and both brought in biscuits and cakes, which I partook in.

I even had a small donor kebab on Wednesday evening!  I do my washing on Wednesday evenings now and I wanted something cooked and would usually have had a portion of chips to satisfy this need, but the chip shop was open so I went to the kebab shop next door, which was expensive but nice - the salad was very fresh, which is a good sign in a kebab shop.

So yeah - no idea how I lost 2 pounds :/

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

civ 5

I've been playing quite a lot of Civilization 5 recently.

I got a bit pissed off with SimCity and have essentially stopped playing.  They've now released the off-line "single player" (like I ever played multi-player!) version, but I've not actually played this yet.  Hopefully it will fix the key issue, which is the ridiculously broken multi-city play, but I'm guessing not.  I think they've just re-engineered it to make it off-line playable, rather than fixing how it does what it does, so I'm guessing it will continue not to make any sense.

Anyway - Civ 5.

I've mentioned Civ3 a lot before on the blog as a game I've played repeatedly and as my favourite of the Civ series.  I found Civ4 quite disappointing - it was pretty and I liked some of the ideas in it, but overall it felt really cramped and compressed as a game, encouraging you just to have, like, 3 cities.

Civ4 I honestly played a handful of times and then went back to Civ3.

Civ5 I followed the development quite closely and was intrigued by some of the new concepts - the game was moving to having hexagonal tiles, rather than squares, and combat was being seriously overhauled.  Given square tiles had some weird impacts on the game and combat has been rather broken for a while I liked the sound of it.

However, when it launched it was one of these new online steam registration jobs and was a nightmare to get installed.   I also then started playing and found a lot of graphical glitches - including tiles I couldn't even see.  It also didn't really seem to explain the new things properly - the advisors just seemed to pop up with links to the civilopedia, rather than actual advice, for example.

I therefore stopped playing altogether.  I had literally only played half of one of the tutorial missions and that was it - I'd give it a few months for patches to be issued and then pick if back up.

Only 4 years passed :/.  I even bought the first expansion pack with the idea of using that as a way to start playing again, but it just sat on my shelf gathering dust.  It was only the combination of the second expansion pack, my being pissed off with SimCity and my complete re-install of my games machine that eventually caused me to start playing the game!

And I have to say I've really enjoyed it.

I mean, it's not perfect, but there's a lot I like.  I like that they've taken some of the core concepts and built them up - you have a lot of smaller events, rather than bigger ones.  So, as a random example, if you're doing culture, you have great artists, great writers, great musicians, but also in the late game archaeology can generate loads of stuff too.  It feels like each of the elements is more in-depth and complicated.

It does maintain the specialisation of cities, which was an aspect I wasn't keen on in 4 - I've always liked building everything in all my cities - but now it's a bit easier to have a mix (so a city that is for gold can also be useful for science), but it's also clear what buildings do what.  If you're doing culture in a city, you have a progression of additional culture buildings that have pre-requisite building of the same type.  It's also helped because the new hex system and increased city influence radius makes cities much more significant entities - you can have loads of citizens doing stuff relating to a specialisation in just one city.

The game does seem to be set up again to discourage large empires, as it was in Civ4.  I'm a little puzzled by the logic of this, as at some point you're going to go to war with somebody and if you're any good at the combat side of things you'll start winning their cities.  And if you're going for a domination victory you have to take all the other player's original capital cities, which means you can't avoid the relevant punishment - the capitals can't even be destroyed.

There are a few options for not having cities as part of you empire - making them puppets, which makes them less of a punishment, but it's still a punishment to have them; or you can raze them, but this can take ages and comes with its own punishments.  Of course, given many of the leaders are often hell-bent on war on the higher difficulty levels this can get quite frustrating.  And those of us who want to build a world-spanning empire, it becomes quite difficult.

As mentioned, combat has been overhauled generally, as we're now only allowed one unit per tile.  The whole thing also works very differently, as combat is now not generally definitive.  Unless there is a significant difference between two units basic strength, combat generally results in damage, so it can take three or four turns to kill a unit.

This is fine, but when you can only have single units on tiles and most units only move 1 or two tiles until the late game it can all get quite frustrating.  It's also very annoying moving armies around when weak ranged units that need protecting only move short distances and need to use up movement points to "set up" for a ranged attack.  This is particularly tedious now every road & railroad you construct costs you gold, making long-distance movement problematic - especially since, of course, one unit per tile also applies to workers.

To be honest, it's like playing two separate games - the combat system is like playing a table-top war game a la Warhammer, only you're playing it on a risk board.  That means loads of obstacles and bottlenecks and restrictions making everything horribly frustrating and inefficient.

But then this is Civ - combat has always been poor, and judged with that background, this version is actually much better.  And there are good things - it's easy to tell what's going on, and the combat predictions are generally accurate and cities have their own defensive strength and ability to attack.

They've badly broken diplomacy, though - I mean, it has a few nice ideas, but key elements are gone, and generally the AI behaves illogically.  To be honest, the AI is generally bobbins - even now, with two expansions, it does daft things and can be very predictable.  Espionage is also rubbish (if they do a further expansion, I hope these get serious work) and you're almost better off ignoring it.

Wow - this is going on a bit, so I'll just mention scenarios and leave it there.

Previous versions of civ have generally had scenarios, but I've mostly found they weren't worth playing.  However, the scenarios that come with Civ5 are actually quite good.  They change the game on more fundamental levels and work as separate games.  They're also generally short enough to enjoy but without eating too much time.

The game also has very good support for modding and they've taken the right approach when it comes to add-ons (when compared to EA with SimCity), which appears to be the good side of it being a steam game.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

bahrain grand prix

I only actually watched the Bahrain grand prix last night.

They've decided to make Bahrain a night race for some reason - I'm not quite sure why.  With Singapore making it a night race has the advantage of putting the race in a timeframe more suitable for European audiences.  It also works as a venue, being at night and in the middle of a city.  However, Bahrain is a proper track and is in the middle of the desert.

The race itself was therefore at close to tea time and the BBC only showed highlights as well, which meant they showed it at 10PM, which is just too late for me - it ended at 11:30, which would mean I wouldn't get enough sleep.

As such, I listened to it on the radio (the radio coverage was notably lacking as well, only showing the qualifying and race - this seems to back up my theory I mentioned that the BBC has further cut the budget.) on the day and recorded it to watch last night.

I have to say, the radio coverage was better than the TV coverage.  I think with doing highlights they had a real problem, because the whole race had something going on non-stop.  This meant they had to show you some bits well, or more stuff in less detail, if you see what I mean and I think they went for the latter.  It also didn't help that they clearly had some sound issues on the TV coverage.

Anyway, in my mind Bahrain is one of the boring races, but last year it produced a good race.  This year it did the same - indeed, it seemed to be one of the best races in a good while.  Certainly it showed what I felt previously - that the first couple of races were simply okay where others said they were great.  This was a properly great race.

Well, great if you were in a Mercedes powered car.  The power plant they've come up with is clearly way ahead of anyone else.  And the Mercedes team has combined that with a truly great car to produce a phenomenal package.  If the performance difference shown after the safety car restart is to be believed (when they would obviously want to turn the car up to maximum to avoid losing the 1-2 and having saved fuel while under the safety car) then they're up to around 3 seconds a lap faster than even the other Mercedes powered cars.

That's a phenomenal margin - Red Bull's dominance was never that sort of scale: maybe up to about 1 second at its biggest.

I'm obviously particularly pleased that real racing is on for this year, with my whole trip to Canada.  I was a bit worried it would be a bit of a non-season.

Monday, 7 April 2014

more on interviews

So, the other two interviews.

The next interview was with another big defence company.  Unfortunately, a similar issue occurred to some of the previous interviews - I'd only been told the big company name and only found out the particular division quite a way into the process.  Indeed, in this case I'd actually only found out once the interview was set up, and if I'm totally honest it's not a division I would particularly have wanted to pursue if I'd found out earlier.

Still, I figured I'd go along anyway, and I was owed some time off in lieu, so I took this (plus a day) and had half a week off.  The interview was really intense - the main guy barraged me with questions and I got into a muddle.  In particular, one of the things you're really not supposed to do is bad-mouth your current company.  As you can image, this is particularly difficult for me - especially when they ask me why I want to move on.  What I'd really want to say is "I can't stand the MD and find the whole experience a horrible combination of annoying and frustrating."  Which wouldn't be a good thing to say, but as I say, with him firing questions at me so much I ended up saying some non-complimentary things - though not in that blunt a way.

As I say - not sure I'd want to work for that division anyway, as it sounds a bit dull.  I also think they were looking for someone with different experience (more on that in a moment).

I've not heard anything about this one as I write, but then I'm writing this some way in advance so that's not necessarily surprising.

The final interview was a weird one - I'd applied a while back and they'd said if you don't hear within 5 days you've been discarded; however, it was 3 weeks before they contacted me, and it was clear that it was all being done in a panic.  I mean I sent the recruitment person an e-mail saying I'd be interested in a chat and mentioned we could talk on one of the days off I'd booked the following week, and then suddenly I'm being asked for an interview on one of those days!

The interview was held with the boss and the guy who I would be replacing, who I got a chance to chat with before the interview and it turned out that this was his last day.  To the extent that he was literally grabbing his box of stuff and going home once the interview was over!  He hadn't been sacked or anything, but ti was clear they hadn't timed things well.

Now in this job you would essentially be working on your own in the role.  So, in other words, I'd found out that the only person who could do a handover of the role was not going to be there after that day!

It was another small division of a big company and it sounded fairly interesting.  Unfortunately I don't think the interview went all that well - I find the questions that get asked are either very predictable ones I'm asked a lot or I can think of myself beforehand, or they're total blind-siders.

In particular, the blind-siders often tend to focus on areas that I just don't have any experience of, but also, more importantly, have no mention on my CV.  So, for example, my CV says nothing about me having done project management, because I haven't.  Yet the person will launch into a whole set of questions that really focus on skills that are ore relevant to PM.  I mean, sure, there's overlap with Bid Management, but the important aspects are unique to each job.

This was like that - they asked a bunch of questions that I couldn't really answer because I didn't have relevant experience, but in particular, weren't really mentioned on my CV.  I mean, I'd done similar stuff, but not the exact thing they were asking about, so I struggled.

It was also weird - they were all dressed very casually.  I'm guessing this was because of a dress-down Friday, but I felt like I'd turned up to a wedding in a clown suit!

However, on the good side, they have let me know quite quickly that I was unsuccessful, though even here it was a bit weird - the feedback didn't make any sense.  I mean, I'm grateful they have let me know, but the fact I've been told was because they weren't keen on my answer to a questions they never asked is a bit weird.

In fact I was going to set down some moans about the whole process, but I've prattled on for a while, so I'll save that for another day.

Friday, 4 April 2014

saving on spectacles indeed

I forgot to mention on the money front - as well as spending a huge amount on my car, with my days off I also went to the dentist, which cost me £45 for the 15 minutes it took (they did some x-rays, but also I'm now private), but I also got some new glasses.

I've needed some new glasses for a while - the coating on my current pair has started to crack, which gets picked up in direct sunlight, but also I think my prescription has changed a little.  I also wanted to get a new pair with Canada looming - partly to have a back-up, but also as part of refreshing clothes & stuff.

Anyway, point is, part of the reason I've put off getting some new glasses was the expense - I usually expect to spend at least £250 and often around £400.  This is partly as frames are quite expensive (it's one of those areas where you pay more for less - if you get cheap glasses, they're often big thick things, but the more you spend, the lighter and thinner they get!) but also, my prescription is so powerful I have to get the thinner lenses.

Well, I don't have to get ones as thin as I usually do, but I do have to get thin ones because the curve on cheaper lenses would make them impractical - I wouldn't be able to see out of the sides as the curve would distort things too much.  I'm so short sighted that when they do the test, I can literally only make out the biggest letter (which is about 8 inches high) by squinting!

So I'd put this off for a while, expecting ti to be expensive, but in the end I've paid less than £75!  And that's for a full test, frames that cost £85 and lenses of exactly the same thinness as my current pair (I recall these were about £130 on their own last time).  It's weird and I'm not entirely sure how he worked it out, but he basically applied a bunch of discounts/vouchers I wasn't properly eligible for.  So here at least was good news.

It's the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend.  It's apparently being held at night this year, though I'm not sure that will improve the racing at all.  The BBC's coverage is very thin - it seems they're not even covering the practice sessions on the radio.

The Beeb's coverage does seem a bit lacking this year.  Gary Anderson has gone, Eddie Jordan isn't going to be there until the fifth race (so a quarter of the way through).  I'm wondering if they've cut the budget even further - they also seem to be a bit lacking in special features, which you'd have thought they could do loads on with the new regulations.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

job interviews

So I've had 5 job interviews in the last couple of weeks.

The first was with a small training consultancy company based just outside Guildford.  This proved to be a gigantic waste of my time.  And I don't just mean it wasn't the job for me, but they had me undertake all sorts of exercises and hoop-jumping crap.  These used up around two weekend's worth of my time.  When I eventually got to the interview they made it very plain that my "personality type" wouldn't fit.

I should perhaps explain they had me to do a Meyers-Briggs test.  These are mostly bullshit, but it does give some broad indicators - in particular, for me, they show I'm an introvert, which I am.  So at the interview she basically said that they have meetings where, in essence, they lose control and only the loudest people are heard.

Now obviously I wouldn't enjoy that anyway, but why ever would I want to work for a company that can't control meetings?  Especially a company that's supposedly doing management consulting for other companies.  I phoned the agent that had contacted me and withdrew as I was walking to my car.  I'd actually wanted to pull out as soon as the Myers Briggs test had been mentioned, but she encouraged me to stick with it.

The second interview was with a big defence company.  And it hadn't really been a good idea from the start, if I'm honest.  Unfortunately, the recruitment person did not appear to be entirely competent (you'll notice a bit of theme with this) - the initial job spec she sent me had the job down as being based in Guildford, with occasional days in London.

However, it turns out the job is entirely based in London with no time in Guildford at all!  She also booked the interview for me for 4:30PM, but booked it with them for 4PM, so when I turned up they thought I was half an hour late!  I'm guessing she booked the extra half hour so that they could prep, but didn't communicate properly with either of us - particularly since one of the interviewers had to go by 5PM, so they left half way through.

To some extent, this was all beside the point - I went to the interview seeking to be convinced that it was a good enough job for me to put aside my desire not to work in London, and I was not convinced.  I actually closely monitored the journey time in particular, and if I was to take the job I would be spending 4 hours each day commuting.  The problem is this line - it's a very slow service (1 hour 10 mins) and only has two trains an hour - and I could move, but it's always going to be horribly busy commuter trains.

Since the interview I've heard jack shit, despite chasing.  As noted, I'm not really interested anyway, but it's just another example of how badly all these recruitment people behave.  I had thought maybe it was just the agencies, but this was an actual employee of the company, and she's acted just as poorly.

The third interview was bordering on a farce.

It was with a company that is quite big and well known for one thing, but this was for a different, much smaller, division.  It's quite engineering focused; however, I have to confess I'm not sure it is really that interesting to me.  Not that I really had the chance to investigate - the agency they were using was shocking: terrible communication and the agent didn't seem to have any common sense.

To give you an example, she fixed up the interview but only told me the location/gave me directions on the day of the interview.  Now to be fair, the interviewer messed things about no end - it went from a face-to-face meeting to a telephone interview, back to a face-to-face, then moved from daytime to evening - but the agent did not help matters.  I didn't even know it was this particular other division until a good way into the process.

The interview itself was also a bit of a mess - because it was in the evening and I had to go up the motorway I basically rushed there and that put me in a bit of a manic frame of mind, particularly as I'd had a coffee quite late in the day and it had been a busy day at work.  I rabbited on like I was on speed :/

On this one I've also heard jack shit - hmm, one of those patterns, perhaps?

I'll continue this later, I think - the other two interviews were after a gap anyway.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

australian & malaysian gps

The formula one season is under way!

I used an exclamation point there as it seems like the last season only just finished.  Indeed, the Australian Grand Prix was actually a few weeks ago, and we've also already had the Malaysian Grand Prix and Bahrain is next week!

Of course there are some big changes this year - there's the whole new powerplant, with the V6 turbo engines and all sorts of clever engine recovery systems.  But there are also some key changes to things like wing sizes and what they can do aerodynamically.

The new engines are very torquey (after all, they use a lot more electric power, which is instant) and the two seems to have made the cars a lot more skittish.  You can see them skidding and sliding as they fight to control the cars, which I have to say I quite like.

It would be possible to make cars that almost didn't need a driver.  Indeed, at several points in F1's history new technology has been introduced that meant the driver was "compensated for", and much of this has ended up in road cars - anti-lock brakes and traction control are obvious examples.

However, generally, F1 has tended to ban these, partly to keep the driver an integral part of the sport (as well as reduce costs and complexity).  The problem then develops that once everything gets banned everything ends up the same.  For a long time now the engines have almost been a non-factor, but now they're suddenly at the forefront of the sport.

Of course there are down-sides - the ear-splitting noise (which no matter how much you tell people how loud it is, you had to experience to really know: some of the old f1 car was as loud as a jumbo jet, but you can't really appreciate that unless you went to a race) is gone.  But then it's been replaced by sound you can understand - you can hear the tyres squeal, for example.  And while the screaming of the engines was an experience, you couldn't ever be at a race without hearing protection, and on some levels that's a bit pointless when you think about it.

Anyway - we've had two races, so what have I thought?

Well, I have to confess I was a bit worried after the testing that very few cars would finish.  The reliability seemed very low, and a race where only 6 cars cross the line can be a bit disappointing.  However, I've been pleased to see things haven't been that bad - sure retirements have increased, but not disastrously so.  It's also pleasing to see some of the lower teams have taken advantage of this aspect and scored a few points.

The Australian race was okay.  To be fair, Australia is not the best of circuits, as it's a "sort of" street circuit and hasn't tended tend to produce great races.  Generally the most interest comes from seeing the new cars in action.

However, Malaysia was generally better.  It's quite a good circuit - certainly one of the better Tilke circuits and has places where overtaking is possible.  If I'm honest Malaysia had a bit of a lull in the middle, but picked up towards the end.

The Mercedes would appear to be the class of the field, both in terms of the engine itself and the team.  Clearly they put a lot of effort in from quite early last year, which obviously hurt them last year but is paying dividends now.

The opposite seems to have been true for Renault, who with Red Bull were clearly focused on last year's championship.  However, aerodynamically Newey's Red Bull seems as good as ever - it certainly narrowed the gap in the rain, where engine performance was negated.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

weight

I mentioned this yesterday, but I unfortunately gained two pounds this last weigh in.

I therefore now weigh 20 stone 10 pounds.

I cannot confess to be surprised by this outcome.  The last couple of weeks I have been eating quite badly.  I've had quite a lot of shop-bought sandwiches and also lots of cakes and various other treats (I've been quite weak when it comes to cream eggs, which have of course become more prominent with it being near Easter).

However, I've also not been doing quite so much walking.  Owing to having the interviews I've had a few half days and haven't wanted to get sweaty, so my number of steps has dropped quite a lot.  The interviews have also been a reason for eating badly - both in terms of having to grab something to eat quickly, but also comfort eating when they've not really been very positive.

I'm actually thinking I will put the whole job hunting on hold until after Canada.  It is proving something of a distraction and messing about with my schedule.  I'm not sure yet if I will fully stop or be a bit more selective, instead.  Because I got so unhappy at work (and there was the fuck up so I was worried I might lose my job) I've been applying to most everything that looked a possibility, rather than the heavy filtering as I did when I looked before.

I also had some slight issues with minor "injuries" - this is too significant of a term to use, to be honest: what I mean is I had a few aches/pains/tweaks/bad night's sleep that meant I decided to take it easy with walking on a few occasions.  This has not been anything long term at any point, and I'm still way above target in terms of steps, but I think it probably contributed to some of the fluctuations.

It's also become apparent I really need a new set of walking shoes.  My current pair the outermost layer of the sole on the bottom has worn through in a few places - indeed, in some places the entire tread is worn away.  I'd been hoping to hold off until my birthday, but I think I will need them before them.