Thursday, 22 December 2011

merry wishmsases

I hope you have a good Christmas and New Year period :)

I am away on holiday now until the 10th of January, so I thought I'd post my usual Chrimbalo message for over the festive season.

As I mentioned earlier this week I will actually be going on contract next year, so the blog will almost certainly switch to being a weekly one next year.  The contract doesn't actually start until a little after I'm back, so initially I'll be blogging as usual, so see you then.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

saw vii

My basic feeling when I reviewed saw 6 was that it had kinda disappeared up its own fundament.

The saw films have always tried to have an approach where there's a twist to them, so when you get to the point of having 6 or 7 films, you've piled on so many twists that you probably don't know whether you're coming or going.  It also probably doesn't help that (as the commentaries indicate) none of it was really planned - they've just kinda gone with the flow.

I'm setting aside the fact that the twist in the first film isn't really a twist as such and was kinda irrelevant.  What's more important is that in the early films you could genuinely see that there was a reasonable chance most of the people would have a chance of doing what was required of them and surviving.

Yes, it would be brutal and nasty and the thing they'd have to do was traumatising and painful, but you felt there was a good chance of them making it.  In the later films - 7 especially - that seems to have gone away.

Indeed, in most traps they came to rely on other people having to do something and / or there was a death guaranteed.  In other words, one or more people had to make a decision that affected somebody else and often times that decision resulted in one person dying, rather than another.

This was kinda explained by what happened in the story that flowed through the narrative, but it also started to feel a lot like pandering to the audience.  An audience that was, by now, almost entirely consisting of gore hounds and more hardcore fans.

This of course was not helped by all the complicated back story - you couldn't watch most of the later films unless you'd seen the earlier ones.  There was no way you could 'dip in'.

In 7 you get more of the same.  Indeed, you get so much more of the same this feeling of pandering to the core audience becomes pretty overt.  I mean, they've set it up as the last one (both commentary tracks hint that actually maybe they'd do more in the future - you never could keep a good horror movie killer down) so they kinda had to do that, but still, there's so many deaths and so much gore that it just becomes a bit silly.

Especially at the end - the people who die have nothing to do with traps or what was meant to be the point of the film in the first place.  I mean, at the start, Jigsaw was very clear about how he never killed anybody - he just tested them to see if they could break through and survive.

At the end of 7 you've got exactly the opposite - all the traps are virtually un-winnable or some people are guaranteed to die and a lot of the deaths are just nasty killings, not even traps.

In other words, it kinda has become torture porn - that label the critics slapped on it but probably wasn't deserved at the start is really what the films now definitely are.

One last thing - the screaming in this film is ridiculous.  I mean, people always used to scream a bit, obviously, but mainly when they really had something to scream about.  Or you'd get bits where they tried to hold back the screaming or they couldn't scream.  Now the screaming becomes like an iron bar to beat you into submission with.  It's all just a bit too much, much like the film itself.

If they ever do re-start it, I hope they go for something a little less complicated, or go back to when it was Jigsaw proper and it was about proper (and significant) moral lessons and winnable traps.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

ringing in the changes

Right then, a bit of an announcement.

The intention of this blog was always that I would post every weekday about things happening in my life or giving my opinions on things that were happening and to post up reviews of stuff.  Fairly mundane stuff, but at the least it kept me writing and it makes it more like a diary, which was kinda the idea.

Anyway, this was all pretty much based on my work situation, where I was based at the main offices of my company and would only be out of the office due to the occasional meeting or through holiday or illness.

Well that situation will be changing at the start of next year.

I don't tend to talk too much about what my company actually does, but one of the things we do is provide contractors.  Another, more precise name for this is "Manpower Substitution" and as this suggest we provide people to fill roles.

And that's what I'm going to be doing from next year.

It's initially a three month contract, running until the end of the financial year, but there's the possibility of an extension.  Financial year is obviously when budgets get re-worked out so they will see if there's money for me to continue.

Also it's obviously dependent on whether it goes well.  They may hate me or I may prove to be incompetent or the work may dry up - anything could happen - but what is certain is I will be there until March.

Now the weird thing is that actually while on contract I will be doing less hours than I do at my normal work.  The reason is that the contract is paid per hour and they effectively by a set number of hours a week, but at my work, although we have a working day, I actually work loads of (unpaid!) overtime in the sense that I get to work at least an hour early and often go home half an hour later.

However, the place I will be working at will be an extra hours drive on my commute (which may actually act as a bit more of an incentive for me to move) there and back, so although I'll be doing less working hours it'll still be about the same length of day.

Of course I get to claim expenses on the extra miles, so that'll be a nice little cash bonus (except of course the increased wear and tear on the vehicle does add up), but it does mean that I won't be able to post blogs on weekdays.

The reason is that where I'll be working I won't have any internet access, and I'm very unlikely to be bothered to do anything like write a blog post every evening when I get back.

I will keep the blog though, with the intention that it will become a weekend blog.  Whether that means I post on both Saturday and Sunday, I don't yet know, but it'll be some sort of weekend thing.

The reason I'm going on contract is that it's not been the best year for the company - expenditure has increased while revenue has decreased, so we need as much cash coming in as we can get.

Monday, 19 December 2011

it's actually back this time

Total Wipeout appears to be properly back this time.

It also appears to have started in a "Winter Wipeout" format.  Whether this is a temporary Christmas thing or the whole series will be Winter Wipeout I'm not sure.

It was again very quiet in the Laundrette.  Not sure why it was quiet, but I did therefore take the opportunity of not being worried about my machine ending without me there (not from a people may knick my stuff point of view, but due to politeness - not wanting to keep a machine occupied when it's not doing anything) to go and explore the Co-op.

I'm pretty sure I mentioned this before, but a new Co-op mini-supermarket / convenience store type of thing has opened up at the end of the road.  It's taken over an old electrical goods store that's been closed for years and is of a reasonable size.

I think there's quite a lot of the store been used for storage and back-room area, though, because I was actually a little surprised by the actual shop-floor space.  It's quite 'rammed in' to compensate.  Most of the aisles are very narrow - it would be a struggle to get past someone if they were down the row and you certainly couldn't get two trolleys past each other.

IT was obviously quite early so it wasn't exactly busy, but I could imagine it would seem quite full even if there were only 5 or 6 people in there as you'd all be getting in each others way.

Having said that, part of the reason for it being so full is that they've tried to get as much in as possible.  The range of stock is really quite good and you could easily do a reasonable shop in the one place.  I mean, it doesn't have as much as a big supermarket, obviously, but there's a good range of products.

The opening hours are also very long - it's open 7AM to 11PM according to the sign, and I've been past it quite early on my walks and going to the laundrette and it did genuinely appear to be open.

I didn't exactly buy a lot - just some mini-baguette things - but then it was more of a reconnaissance exercise than anything.

And speaking of my wanders, on this weekend's saunters I got to see some of the damage the reason storms caused.

It was obviously not as bad as they had up north, but there were a couple of trees down and where there were roads with lots of trees there was a lot of detritus of broken off bits of branches in the road.  It was obviously a lot windier than I'd appreciated at the time.

Friday, 16 December 2011

a week to go

Wow, it's only a week until I go on holiday and then a couple of extra days and it's Christmas.

As I mentioned before I'm quite looking forward to it this year and the news there's less than a week to go is very pleasing.

I've pretty much done all my Christmas shopping now.  A few things are still to arrive, but all should be here by the time I go away.  If not, it's not a disaster, as I can just post those bits that don't arrive in time.

I'm hoping we don't see a repeat of the snow we had over the last few years.  Fundamentally I like snow, but it's best when it happens when you yourself don't have to get anywhere or do anything.

Or, even better, when it snows you in from work.  Although that always has the difficulty of knowing when it's safe to go back.  It's best when it knackers you mid-week, but then goes away over the weekend.

I sort of sympathise with those who moan about how the country grinds to a halt when it snows, but I can fully understand why.  I mean, yes we've had a few years in a row of bad snow, but then we could easily have five or ten years of really mild winters, so spending loads of money on gritters and ploughs and stuff would then be seen as wasteful.

The best compromise idea seems to me to be the suggestion that farmers be provided with ploughing equipment that they can easily store and then they're brought in when it does snow to clear the roads.  Not sure how much that would cost, though.

Anyway, plans for the weekend are to try to clear the decks of some domestic stuff ahead of the break, so that when I'm on holiday I can spend more time relaxing, rather than fiddling about with that sort of stuff.

I'm also planning to do a bit of cleaning and washing - this'll be two weeks in a row and I think I might need to make it weekly over winter, as the colder weather means I wear more clothes (jumpers and vests and stuff).

Thursday, 15 December 2011

noises of the night

I mentioned before that when I got back I'd had a radiator installed and that necessitated a move of my bed across to the other side of the room.  Now that actually sounds a lot more spectacular than it was - it was actually a move of about 1.5 metres.

However, it did mean I was now closer to a different window compared to where I was before and so it took me a while to get used to sleeping in this position.  They reckon it can take up to three days to get used to sleeping in a different bed, but I don't know if the same applies to moving your bed.

Anyway, point is that I felt a bit disjointed for a while and I'm still not operating at 100% smoothness after the change.

And that's when the noise started.

Initially I thought it was a reflection of the aforementioned change - I was now closer to a different window, so there was perhaps a change in noises.  In particular the noise was a bit like the dull roar you get from traffic noise even through double glazing.

However, it was too constant in tone and volume to be traffic noise.

I then tried simply opening my window - it sounded a bit like the noise my air conditioner makes so I thought maybe someone had a heater going outside.  No, I don't understand my thinking either - I think I was perhaps wondering if it was maybe a set of temporary traffic lights that were run from a  generator, something like that maybe?

But when I opened my windows there was a really weird effect where it was almost drowned out by the general background noise.  In other words, it was louder inside with the windows closed than outside.

I therefore then investigated the actual radiator itself - was it perhaps making a noise?

Not as far as I could tell.

So I left it - the noise was there, but it wasn't too loud and I often wear ear plugs to bed anyway, so I could resurrect that practice.

And then I discovered the cause when I went for my walk, and it's a weird one.

Basically, the Farnham Rugby club has a built a new ground and associated with it is a big building.  One of these fitness places is on the same site, so I assume the big building is mainly a gym, but with a few bars and stuff for the rugby club.

Well, as I was walking along with my ear buds in early Sunday morning I could here the same noise I hear at night.  I took my ear buds out and there it was - horrendously loud and coming from the direction of this big building.  However, it was really foggy, so I couldn't really see where it was, so I wandered down to investigate.

There's a dirt path that goes behind the facility along the edge of the fence and I walked along there until I got right behind it and discovered this horrendously loud fan-like noise.  Given the correlation with my air conditioner, my guess is that's what it is, though why they need to run a huge air conditioner all night in the middle of November I haven't a clue.

What I think is actually happening is that the noise is being carried up to where I live (which is about half a mile away) and, because of the particular frequency of the noise, it is getting through my double glazing and then bouncing off the side of the inset part for the window and being reflected back to where I sleep.

In other words it's rather a conflagration of circumstances.

Hopefully they've just been running it over night for a particular reason, though what that could be and why so many nights I don't know.

I also noted on my wander round they'd put some trees in, but they were tiny little starter trees and will likely take years to mature to the state of providing any kind of sound baffling.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

fast and furious

I made a bit of a cock-up here.

See, I thought that fast and furious was the first film in this series, but it turns out that the fast and the furious is the first in the series, and fast and furious is the fourth.

I'm not sure when the trend of not simply giving sequels a number started, but Fast and Furious seems to be a chronic case.  The second film is 2 fast 2 furious, so that has numbers, but not in a normal way.  The third film appears to be The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift, the there's Fast and Furious and then it goes Fast 5 and Fast 6.

Clearly the furiousness of the cast lessened as the cash rolled in over the series.  Also, I think Tokyo Drift is more like a spin-off than a film in the series proper, so it's all a bit confusing and hence my error, I guess.

I don't think it matters too much, though.  The plot for the film I watched was so simple as to be comparable with a child's crayon scrawled oeuvre.  I mean there's character baggage, sure, but it's so generic and easily understood, it barely needs explaining.

Obviously you can tell I thought the plot was bobbins, but then to be honest a good plot of a film like this is way down the list of what you should be expecting.  A film like this is all about the car action - chases, crashes, stunts, that sort of stuff.

In a way they're like giant cartoons, but only in so far as they're like poor cartoons.  Good cartoons have plots and good characters too.  No, what I mean is that they ignore stuff like physics and are a bit daft in a cartoony way.

And this film delivers to some degree on that.

If I'm honest there was a bit too much farting about with plot and character stuff and it could have done with a lot more of the action element.

Also a lot of the action was a bit too cartoony for me.  I could have done with less in the way of stupid stuff.

However, the thing I'd really complain about was the sound.  It was really difficult to hear the characters talking as they mostly seemed to mumble (or growl menacingly I think was meant to be the idea).  It could have been something wrong with the disc I guess, but the car bits where plenty load.

And that was the problem - I kept turning the sound up to hear what they were saying (or mumbling in a menacing / manly way if you insist) and then suddenly there's squealing tyres and the bending of fenders and blood is leaking out of my ears.

Also, the sound-track seemed pretty poor.  Half the thing of films like this is for the soundtrack to really compliment the action and I barely remember any of it.

So yeah, I don't think I'd really recommend it.  I am planning on watching the other films to see how they compare, though - who knows, perhaps coming in after 4 films does hamper the enjoyment, but I kinda doubt it.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

turned out well

Well that was a good weekend.

And I don’t mean that with any sort of sarcasm - the weekend went well.

The work chrimbo lunch was okay.  We went to the same place as we did last year and I have to say the food itself wasn’t as good as last year.  It was okay, but it was better last year.

However, it was slightly marred by the fact I ended up sat next to someone who, well, they were nice and all, but they never stopped talking.  I mean, I’m obviously not the most talkative of people, but I know that, in order to have a conversation, you need to stop talking for a bit for others to say stuff.

Indeed, conversation is almost be definition about not talking in certain bits - if you do all the talking it’s a speech.  But this person didn’t seem to know that, and it became a bit boring a bit quickly.

Saturday I decided I would do a wash out of sequence, taking advantage of the lack of Grand Prix.  It should hopefully pay dividends next weekend where it’ll reduce the normal clothes amount so I can wash a couple of bits I’d like to before the Chrimbo holiday.

It was weirdly quiet in the laundrette.  I always go just as it’s opening and usually there’s a short bit where few others are in there, but then when I go there’s loads in there.  But this time there were a couple of us to start with and when I left I left one guy in there.

And that's not with machines going and people having left them - we were the only ones using machines at all.

The rest of the weekend went okay.  I was obviously still a bit coldly, so I wanted to take it easy in order to try to recover.  This went pretty well and by the end of Sunday I was staring to feel fairly normal.

Today I still seem to have a bit of snotty nose for some reason, but I’m not really suffering with the cold anymore.

And then yesterday of course I took the day off, with the intention of doing chrimbo shopping.

In reality I decided to buy most of it online.  I did look in shops but it was all more expensive (though surprisingly close in some places).  However, I did buy almost all the other bits I needed to - cards and wrapping paper for example.

Unfortunately it then turned out that one of the things I wanted to get wasn’t actually available for quick delivery online.  I’m crossing my fingers, but my guess is that I wont have it by Chrimbo.  It’s not too bad as I’ll have other stuff, so I can just give it to them afterwards, but it was a bit ironic as I’d seen it in one of the shops.

So yeah, a good weekend.  I even lost two pounds, despite the huge Chrimbo lunch!

Friday, 9 December 2011

chrimbalo lunchings

It's the work Christmas lunch today.

Some companies have a full-on bash, and we used to do that when I first joined, but a few years back it turned into more of a long lunch at a pub thing.  It's usually okay, marred only by the fact that we have to go back to work afterwards.

I went for traditional Turkey and Christmas Pud of course.  I know some people don't really like turkey - the breast can get quite dry - or can get sick of it, but my viewpoint is that it's Christmas, so you should have a Christmas meal.  Also I think Turkey is okay and I don't really have it any other time of the year, so what the hell.

Also, on a more fundamental level, Christmas meal is basically just a roast with a few more trimmings than usual, so since I love roasts I actually quite like it.

It's been a particularly horrible week, having been suffering with this cold.  Things have been getting better in the last couple of days, but were I not so busy I'd have taken a couple of days off at the start of the week for sure.

Hopefully, the weekend should prove relatively quiet.  We're now out of the Grand Prix season, so I kind of get my weekends back for a bit, if you see what I mean.  I've also got a days leave booked for Monday.

The plan is to do some Chrimbo shopping, as previously mentioned, though it may well be a case of looking at things in shops and then buying them on line.  I mean I will definitely be buying a few bits in the high street (plus things like wrapping and cards) but you can just get more bang for your buck online is the simple fact of the matter.

So yeah, I won't be back blogging until Tuesday.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

work broadband

We now hove a vaguely decent connection speed at work.

It's a weird package we're on, in that it's like a managed service.  This idea is that it has very little downtime, but you pay a premium for that and it really is expensive compared to most packages.

Quite how they guarantee that up time, given the reliance on the bits of the service being provided by BT, I'm not sure.  But what's also weird is that it didn't seem to be a low contention line.

Contention is basically when you have multiple people using the same line at the same time.  You get broadband because of bandwidth, which you get because they make use of multiple frequencies down the telephone line instead of just the one "blip and bloop" like you used to get with old fashioned modems.

Anyway, the idea is that the higher the contention, the mode the line is divided up and so the lower the speed everyone gets.  By having a service that guarantees low contention, you therefore ensure a good minimum speed.

For businesses this can often be more important that potential lofty maximum speeds.  If you're a business you're likely to be using your broadband during the day when lots of other people and business will be using there's, so guarantees over minimum speeds can be more useful.

However, this isn't a low contention line, but it is more expensive with guarantees about up-time - weird, as I say.

What they've done is basically given us access to the full capability of the line.  Previously it was fixed as a 512mb line and they've only just offered this as a free upgrade.

My guess is that actually, BT probably won't allow them to get a line restricted to 512mb any more, so they've had to offer it as a free upgrade.

The connection is a bit quicker.  I wouldn't say it gets anywhere near the claimed 8mb maximum, but then it never used to get anywhere near the 512mb it used to be.  We actually used to get something like 200mb, which is better than ISDN, but not greatly.

If I was to guess (I haven't done a speed check) I'd guess it's running at about 750mb, somewhere around there.  It's certainly a lot easier to use with much reduced waits for pages to load, but it's still not really able to cope with streaming video properly unless you allow it to buffer.

Obviously you've always had to do that, but before it would have to buffer the whole thing, but now you can set it going if it buffers half of it.

It is remarkable how much more pleasant the experience becomes though even with such a relatively modest jump.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

men in black 2

Well this was disappointing.

A big part of the charm of the original film was the relationship between Will Smith's and Tommy Lee Jones's characters.

The basic set up was that Smith was a world-wise cop who wasn't phased by anything, but then he got pushed into the MIB world where there are aliens everywhere and suddenly he was a wide-eyed noob making errors everywhere.

Meanwhile Jones was an utterly dead-pan seen-it-all before MIB agent. In other words, almost the same as Smith's character.

The comedic interplay between these two characters was made the film good.

However, at the end of the first film, Jones retires, has his memory wiped and goes to live a life with his old love.  As such, at the start of the second film there's something of a role reversal.

Except not.  Smith is now supposed to be the super-wise MiB agent, but Jones's shift into the equivalent role to Smith's in the first film doesn't really work.  When we eventually catch up to him he's supposedly working in the post office and running a tight ship.

But it's also revealed his wife has left him - it just all doesn't work as well.

But what really annoyed me was that when Jones gets back to normal, suddenly Smith's character reverts back to being the noob.  I mean, why would this happen?  It makes no sense and is just odd - why would he suddenly become dumb?

Unless maybe we're supposed to believe he's pretending?  Or maybe he was pretending before?  I dunno - I just didn't get it.

And the trouble is the film is very reliant on that chemistry.  I mean the plot is almost identical to the first film, but it has to be said in a good way.  It just doesn't feel like any effort has gone into it.

Also the bad guy (or gal or alien or whatever) is pretty lacklustre and she has a sidekick who I think was meant to provide some comic relief, but actually didn't do anything funny.

Even the characters that recurred from the first film didn't really add anything (well, the worm guys worked quite well).  And as for the love interest for Smith - that was just so half arsed it was almost painful.

I think I'm probably giving the impression I hated the film, but I would say that was too extreme - I just found it all very meh.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

broken cupboard

There's a cupboard at work with a combination lock that I occasionally had reason to get into.

We actually have several such cupboards, but this one used to have some bits in that I would regularly need to get to.  I say "used to", because I have transferred the bits I need access to over to another cupboard.

The reason I've done that is because the lock is fucked on the other cupboard.

I don't know if you've ever done a combination lock, but the idea is that you twiddle the dial clockwise and anticlockwise, stopping at the numbers that are the combination.  Well on this lock, the mechanism is so loose and sloppy you can't actually use the numbers, you have to go past the numbers.

So if a number to enter was 1, you'd actually have to go to something like 1.5 or 0.5 (depending on which direction you're coming from) in order for it to work.  So, in other words, you still have to "accurate" but you now have to be accurate with a number that's not a full number.

Well, as you can imagine that opens up all sorts of possible "real" combination values - if you say you have to be "half a degree out" how much is half a degree?  And do you have to be out by that exact amount each time?  Or does it vary for each number?

The annoying thing is that hen I first started using the cupboard I was able to work it out.  I couldn't get it first time, but I'd give it a go and it would pop open.

But then, a couple of weeks back, I suddenly couldn't do it any more.  And, to my shame, I got so annoyed with it, I actually walloped the lock with my fist.

Well, after that I was really worried I'd broken it, as it felt even sloppier.  Thankfully it turned out I hadn't, as a colleague was able to open it.

Frustratingly they were actually able to open it first time with only the vague instruction from me that it had to be "about half a degree out".  I was actually stunned when they opened it, because as I say, I thought I'd damaged it.

Well, after that I tried myself again to see if I'd regained the knack, but I hadn't and so I transferred my stuff to another cupboard.  This other cupboard works beautifully - the lock is crisp and you put in the numbers properly and it opens every time, no matter who's trying it.

I occasionally try to the crap cupboard, but still haven't opened it.

Monday, 5 December 2011


Well that was a crappy weekend.

On Sunday I really fell foul of a cold that seemed to be brewing all week and essentially spent the day in bed.  I still feel really crappy and don’t really seem to be over the hump yet.

The cold has come from someone at work, who’s been suffering for more than a week.  I really hope it doesn’t last that long for me - I really don't fancy a week of feeling crap and I’ve loads to do at work.

As I say, she’s had it for more than a week and it seemed to start coming on for me earlier in the week. It’s been really weird, actually, because normally when I get a cold it happens fairly quickly - I generally get a tickly feeling at the back of my mouth in my soft palette area, and then within a day I get the sniffles and that shortly develops into a soar throat.

Well this time the tickly feeling lasted for days.  I wasn’t initially sure if it was cold because of that, but then as I say on Sunday it really kicked in and my nose flowed like a tap.

I’m guessing the cough will follow soon, although given how long it’s taken for the rest of the cold to show up I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m still suffering with a sniffly nose at the end of the week and then the cough happens at the weekend!

In some ways I was lucky that it happened on Sunday as I had loads to do on Saturday, which I was able to complete.  If it had kicked in then I’d probably not have gotten it done, which would have been a pain.

There was also a slight surprise when I weighed in on Sunday morning in that my weight hadn’t really changed.

With the impending cold I’m afraid I really let my diet slip and ate quite a lot of really bad things.  Who knows - perhaps it was the sudden increase in calories that held it at bay?  What I would say is it’s weird I didn't loose weight.

Another possible explanation is that I really had trouble sleeping last week as the cold came on.  That tickly feeling is usually associated with a ramping up in snoring - it swells, so it blocks the airway, cause really bad snoring, which bruises the area, causing it to swell more and hence producing a feedback loop.

The problem really was hat I would drop off okay, but then after a couple of hours I’d wake up with that area feeling really soar and tender.  So I was then basically unable to get back to sleep.

Thursday night in particular I think I only got two or three hours of sleep.  And as I found before, lack of sleep tends to ramp up the need for calories.

It doesn’t make a particularly sensible diet plan, though, as generally I feel terrible the next day.

Friday, 2 December 2011

chrimbo look forward

I'm really looking forward to Christmas this year.

Well, I'm looking forward to the holiday.

This year has been absolutely manic - I've never known a period like it since I joined the company.

I've booked a smidge over two weeks for holiday - my first day off is the 23rd and then I don't come back until the 10th.  I've actually also booked the 12th off so I can do my last few bits of Christmas shopping, so that means from the week of the twelfth I have two four day weeks, followed by two weeks completely off and then a four-day week when I get back.

The only real plan I've got for that period is to go visit my dad over the Christmas weekend.  I'm not planning on staying for very long - just until the Tuesday, when I'll head home.

I have to confess a part of not staying very long is my Dad tends to have a bout of depression at Christmas.  It's fairly obvious this is linked to the fact that Christmas is the time of year my mum passed away.  Although I suspect it also punches a bit of a whole in his traditional "I hate Christmas" thing.

Not that I'm saying I think he secretly likes Christmas, it's more that he liked certain aspects of our Christmas - the family gathering and, in particular, the big meal my mum would cook.  I miss that too, of course, but I think it all just reminds him too much that she's gone.

My sister will also be there, though hers will likely be a flying visit again.  She works in a pub, so she tends to take advantage of the overtime and extra hours, I think.  Well, she could also make it a short break for the same reason as me.

I'm also not staying over in Devon for any extra days or anything, so the rest of the time I'll be able to chill, watch lots of stuff and get some of the jobs done I like to do over Christmas, like give the flat a good clean and do a full back-up.

So yeah, I think I'm actually looking forward to Christmas this year - especially if it stays quite mild like it has been.  we've had way too many super cold winters in recent years and it would be nice to have a mild one for a change.

Plus of course that will help reign in my heating bills even further, which would be a nice Chrimbo present in and of itself.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

first spam

I received my first spam post on this blog recently.

I made a post about the new heating my landlord has installed and the spam post was basically vaguely aimed at trying to look like a post but then giving a link to some random plumbing company.

I always wonder about things like that - has the company set up its own spambot?  Or have they hired someone to do it?  Perhaps they've paid some company to get them a higher ranking in Google or other search engines and it's therefore crawling around spamming links in order to achieve that for them (page rankers tend to include numbers of links in their algorithms).

Certainly the fact it was a link to a plumbing company and my post was about something to plumbing (central heating is plumbed in) suggests it was a bot crawling around fro relevant content to spam on.

I have comment moderation turned on of course.  I can't say I was expecting vast quantities of spam or loads of nasty comments or anything, but I figured it was better safe than sorry.

As for the plumbing in question, it continues to be a mixed bag.

It comes on slightly too late in the morning and probably goes off slightly to early at night for it to suit me perfectly.  And it's still a bit random whether it comes on and how hot it comes on when it does.

The radiator seems to be very effective at heating the room and bedsit generally, although it doesn't actually get very hot to the touch.  It is quite a big radiator with a lot of surface area, so I would guess it relates to that - it transfers the heat to the room very well, rather than getting hot itself.

However it has definitely saved me money - there have been quite a few days I'm sure I would have turned my own heating on but the radiator took care of that.

As I say, it doesn't quite come on during when I need it, so I have turned it on a couple of times and on the couple of occasions it's been super cold as well, but even then I've only tended to have it on for a little while and not at full blast.

So yeah, it's save me a bit of money.  Indeed, I think it will probably pay for itself, especially if we get a proper cold spell.  There were predictions of a cold snap for pre-Christmas, but that doesn't really seem to have happened as it's been very mild for the time of year.

I'm still hearing predictions of super cold temperatures for the post-Chrimbo period, though, and given the last two years have been horribly cold I'm still expecting the worst.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

battle: los angeles

Now here's a difficult review.

I'd heard that Battle: Los Angeles was an awful film.  And it is.  But I actually kinda enjoyed it.

One of the clichés of Hollywood is that when they pitch movies, they do so by going "it's x meets y".  So, for example, a film might be "top gun meets love actually" or whatever.

Well, battle is basically that - it's Independence Day meets Black Hawk Down.  Well, there are other elements in there, like Civilians, but that's basically it - aliens invade and we follow some regular marines who end up essentially surrounded and besieged on all sides.

So it's not particularly imaginative as a concept, but it's also very poorly written in practice.

The problem is that it's crammed so full of clichés it almost groans with them.  If you've seen lots of war films then you can just about predict what is going to happen in any given scene and what the people are going to say.  It's so bad it somehow contrives to make you actively disinterested in the characters where it's trying to make you care for them.

It's also odd how it's playing out a kind of mini version of independence day.  So where the idea of that film was that it was a deliberately over-the-top and big budget alien invasion B movie, here they've taken the same basic plot and scaled it back, but kept the enormous budget.  So instead of stepping back to a proper B movie you end up with a big movie with a terrible script and hackneyed plot.

Even the thing that's meant to be something different - the fact it's filmed hand-held - I've seen dozens of time before.  In fact isn't nearly every war film since Private Ryan filmed like that?  It's almost become a cliché (who'd have thunk it?).

It's also weirdly jingoistic (as in "America - Fuck Yeah!"), but it's a jingo-ism directed against aliens who we learn so little about that we can't hate them.  It's like it's trying to make you hate the aliens because they're not the stars of the film, rather than giving any particular reason for them to be considered "bad".

Okay, there's some voice-over bits that imply they're here purely to wipe us out in order to grab our water, but why?  I'd have loved it if the film had pulled the rug out from underneath itself by suddenly revealing at the end that in orbit was a ship full of women and children aliens who were all dying of thirst.  But it's not that clever a film.

Indeed, it manages to come up with some intriguing concepts for the aliens - the foot soldiers have weapons bonded to them and they look like they might be cyborgs.  Their air power is central controlled using drones - but why is that?  Can the foot soldiers not be trusted with ait power?

Certainly you end up with a weird contradiction that this appears to be an alien race geared for intergalactic pillaging and war with super powerful weapons, yet the foot soldiers are generally poor shots and seem very poorly organised, given that central control idea.

And yet despite all of the above, I actually secretly kinda enjoyed the film.

I think what probably happened was that there was so much action and it was so well done and I was just in the right frame of mind for a dumb action film that I ended up enjoying it from a pure spectacle point of view.

I certainly don't think it's a good film.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

back up

Before I went away I did a bit of a back-up.

I've got some USB hard drives I use for backing up everything.  This can take ages to do, as I've the best part of a terabyte of stuff to back up.  In all honest, I therefore tend to do an incremental back-up on some of it.

For most I delete the old backups and redo the whole lot, but for other folders where I know I've not changed anything I keep them as is.  If I've only done a few small changes I try to identify where they are and transfer those over.

I've come to this process after some real horrendous backups in the past.  My machines are obviously quicker nowadays, so that helps, but previously it has taken days to copy things across when I've just done the whole lot.  This time it took about half a day, most of which was just setting it going.

I also tend to use my laptop nowadays, so it doesn't tie up my main machines.  I can do this because I use a single large hard drive to store most of my stuff on.  I do have stuff on hard drives on my machines, but every week I ensure I move or back-up everything to the remote HDD.

I also try to keep a secondary back-up of the important things on CD & DVD.  Mostly this is things like scans, but there's some other stuff on there too.  This was the part of the process I didn't manage to do during my last holiday.  I will, however, make sure to do a full back-up at Christmas.

Indeed, I may well do a refresh of my back-ups on CD & DVD.  recordable CDs & DVD apparently have a lifetime on them of about six years or so.  I don't think I've ever had any actually degrade, but after I heard this I decided to redo the back-ups every so often, as loosing the content would be a disaster.

Also, because recordable media is so cheap and easy to get nowadays it's hardly a massive cost.

Backing stuff up is really important.  I've lost loads of stuff before because I didn't have proper backups.

My dad also recently learned this lesson as he lost almost all the pictures he had taken as part of his trip to the Canadian Grand Prix.  He basically transferred the stuff to his computer and then deleted it from the camera memory card.  He then was trying to process the pictures and (I really don't know why) was using the recycle bin as kind of storage area.

There's loads of errors there:

  • he'd deleted the version on the memory card (!)
  • he was working on the versions he'd transferred to the machine, instead of making copies and working on those
  • he was using the recycle bin as a temp folder (!)
  • he hadn't made and sort of back-up

To be fair I hadn't gotten him fully set up to do back-ups yet, but then why was he forging ahead with fiddling about with stuff until I had?

Of course they say you only really learn some lessons after you've had the disaster, and I think he's learned his lesson.

Monday, 28 November 2011

a swift Brazilian

This weekend saw the last Grand Prix for the year in Brazil.

Usually Brazil is a good race and while I wouldn't classify this last weekend's as a great race, it was certainly among the better ones this year.

There were a few interesting battles and overtaking manoeuvres and there were some strong strategic elements to the race.  Also it's an interesting circuit, and is very fast, so it's always an enjoyable race to watch.

There was a lot of talk of rain - something that crops up fairly often in Brazil due to the time of year it's normally held - but it never actually happened.

However, there were a lot of people having problems with their gearboxes, which was a bit weird. My guess is it was because everyone was at the edge of the lifetime for their gearboxes, but still, it was a bit weird.

Overall it's been an interesting season, with the Pirelli tyres really throwing the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons at the beginning.  The team's seemed to have gotten a better handle on things later into the season, but it's still helped lead to interesting racing.

The added element of DRS was an interesting experiment, but it didn't really seem to work as advertised, either not helping overtaking at all or making it far too easy.  KERS is difficult to know if that really helped or not - my guess is it did, but was still too underpowered to really have a huge effect.

The unfortunate thing this year was the Seb seemed to be the total master of the tyres from the get-go where everyone else struggled, and he was also in the best car, so he just romped away with it.  Hopefully with few rule changes next year things will be a bit more interesting in terms of the championship, but I wouldn't want to guarantee it.

Red Bull still have bar far and away the best designer in F1 and in Seb they have a guy who can pull spectacular laps out of the bag on demand, therefore tending to put the best car on the front of the grid - always a difficult thing to get the better of.  The Red Bull has also been staggeringly reliable, with I think Seb only having any sort of technical issue in the last two races of the season.

It really is a winning combination and it doesn't seem likely their suddenly going to loose form over the winter season.  Certainly it's going to be up to the other guys to take the fight to them.

But the odd thing about the year was that, despite the championship being a bit dull, the actual races were generally rather good.  I guess the trouble was that they were good much further down the field than the man in front.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

index of screwocity

Obviously I don't generally blog over the weekend, but the beeb announced just how badly they're going to screw us F1 fans on Friday night, so I figured a special blog was warranted.

My overall feeling is that the news is very mixed.

Firstly, they've announced two types of highlights packages - a 90minute version and a 120minute version.  Obviously we will have to wait and see what this actually means, but in theory they could actually show all of the race is a 120minute "highlight" package, because races are limited to 120minutes.

In reality guess is that really this means that the 90min package will feature half an hour of flannel (the "analysis" stuff) and then 30 mins f racing and the 120min package will also have 30mins of flannel and 90 mins of racing.

~The other announcement is a bit weird in that it says those races in the "eastern time zone" will be the 120mins and those in the "European time zone" will be 120mins.  This is complicated because some races are shown in the evening/night in order to bring them into the European time zone.

But also, of more importance, what about the races in the "western time zone", which is to say those races in Canada and Texas, but also Australia - what time zone is that in?

So really it's about as clear as mud as to how good/bad the highlights will be.  Certainly I'm slightly relieved that they also seem to be saying that they will be showing a separate highlights show for qualifying.

But what about the races they will be showing in full?

This is where it become a real mixed bag.

The first thing to note is that there is a new race next year - Austin.  There's some doubt if it will go ahead, but what it does mean is I have no idea if it will be any good or not.  Also, on a similar note, although Bernie insists Bahrain will go ahead, it might not; however, it has been run before so I do have some idea how good it will be.

What I've done is compile the date, location, type of coverage (full or highlights) and my personal rating (a score out of 5 so 1=awful, 2=poor, 3=okay, 4=good, 5=great).  It should of course go without saying that other people's opinions will vary (well, except for Valencia - everyone hates Valencia) and by showing half as highlights they were never going to be able to please everyone (not even people who hate the sport, because they're still showing it).

So here's how it breaks down:

date              race             coverage    rating
18-Mar        Australian        high        4
25-Mar        Malaysian        high        3
15-Apr        Chinese           full           4
22-Apr        Bahrain           high          2
13-May       Spanish           full           2
27-May       Monaco          full            1
10-Jun        Canadian          high         5
24-Jun        European          full          1
08-Jul        British              full           5
22-Jul        German             high         3
29-Jul        Hungarian        high          2
02-Sep        Belgian           full           5
09-Sep        Italian              high         3
23-Sep        Singapore        full          1
07-Oct        Japanese          high         5
14-Oct        Korean           full            4
28-Oct        Indian              high         3
04-Nov       Abu Dhabi       full          2
18-Nov       United States   high        unknown
25-Nov       Brazilian          full         5

Now obviously the BBC has a bit of a difficult job in that presumably they want to have a bit of a spread of full coverage of races across the year, but then as you can see from my scores, it's not like all the great races are one after another - they're generally quite spread out.

An easy way of highlighting my point about it being mixed is if you simply add the scores for the highlights and for full races you get 30 points in each case.  However, if you include Austin as a presumed average, the highlight scores is just about the full race score.  Sol we're getting screwed, but only just.

The real problem is highlighted by the great races and the awful races:

The picture for the great races is like this:

race         coverage
British        full
Belgian      full
Brazilian    full
Canadian    high
Japanese     high

So we get 3 of the five great races in full.  But note we don't get Canada or Japan.  Who the hell though that was a good idea?  Especially when you look at the picture for the awful races:

race           coverage
Monaco     full
European   full
Singapore  full

So we're getting full coverage of all three of the races that are awful.  I mean okay, I can understand Monaco, it has the tradition and all that, but the European Grand Prix?  Valencia?  Seriously?  I mean, even with the new tyres, DRS and KERS it was fucking awful.  Plus they're showing Spain in full?  What - did the BBC fancy a couple of holidays on the Costa Del Sol?  And we get these instead of Canada, which was by far one of the best races this year and is almost always good.

And Singapore?  Oh, right, but that's the race at night, and there we see the exact thing I was afraid of.

Singapore - night (and street) race in full.
Bahrain - evening race in full.
European - street race in full.
Monaco - street race in full.

The "novelty factor" has had too much sway.  At least some sense has prevailed - we get Belgium and Brazil (they'd have to show the British Grand Prix, so that was a given).

What makes this worse is Canada is right before the European Grand Prix and Japan is right after Singapore!

But what about the middling ranks?  Well we get China & Korea but not Australia and we get none of the races I've given a 3 to (Malaysia, Italy, India and Spain).  We also get half of the races I've given twos too.

Which pretty much brings me back to the point - it's going to be a real mixed bag.

Friday, 25 November 2011

final grand prix

This weekend sees the final race of 2011 at Interlagos in Brazil.

The championship was decided a while ago of course and it's actually fairly rare that it comes down to the wire, so since Brazil is normally towards the end, usually it's been decided before then.

The place where the race is in Brazil is not a particularly nice area, as I understand it.  Brazil has a lot of poor people and big slum areas, and I believe the track is close to one of those.

This usually leads to someone getting robbed or mugged or something similar.  This usually makes the headlines, but the media generally reports it as crime, rather than focusing a spotlight on the poverty.  I mention this specifically because in India that was clearly the angle they'd gone for - F1 is profligate and rich but India's poor, so do the Indians really want it?

It's a ludicrous argument of course.

Football is wasteful and rich, with big British team players being paid ludicrous salaries and tickets costing a small fortune, but I don't hear anyone saying there shouldn't be football allowed in India.

And any sort of argument that anyone can play football is only on slightly firmer ground.  Okay, very few people ever become F1 drivers, but then few ever become premier league players of football.  And there's lots of motor racing people can have a go at, from rallying to carting.

Anyway, got sidetracked a bit there.

Brazil is usually a really good race.   The circuit has always had lots of opportunities to pass and it's not uncommon for it to rain and make things a bit complex for the teams.  I'll be interested to see what happens with things like DRS and KERS - could this be a track where they're not really needed?  Could they make things silly in terms of passing and repassing, etc?

The race will be on fairly late in the evening as it's run on local time, which is always interesting.

I will hopefully also go and get a haircut at some point this weekend.  It's really becoming something of a mop head at the moment.

And I'll also hopefully be able to get some more stuff on e-bay.  I put a lot of the DVDs I ripped up there last weekend.  I thought about putting some up that I hadn't ripped, but it's always risky doing that.

I've done it before with things I hadn't quite finished, and if something happens it can be very tricky.  The obvious example this time is not finding the time, but I've also had problems ripping some of the DVDs and while I sorted them, that suggests there's a risk of delay or finding one that just won't rip at all.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

downton abbey & other telly stuff

While I was away I saw this Downton Abbey people seem to have gone nuts for.

I can't honestly say I understand why it's so popular.  It seemed very poorly written and had an odd, staccato feel to it - like all the scenes were filmed with the intention of being the last in the show, or just before an ad break.

You know the drums you get at the end of Eastenders and there's that dramatic pause while they play?  All of the scenes seemed like that in Downton.

Also, the camerawork was very sedate, with mostly static shots, so it had a feel of only having 1 camera, which usually goes along with a low budget, but it clearly had some money spent on it.  It looked very lush - lots of lovely costumes and old cars and stuff.

But as I say, the story was very languid and it seemed daft.  It also seemed a bit theatrical - you know that way in which things are a little bit hammy in theatre sometimes, because they're having to emote to a big room?  It felt a bit like that.

I wasn't keen at all, to be honest.

There's still no sign on Total Wipeout's return to the telly.  The latest series of QI is well past half way and Have I got News for You is back again, so it's well into the autumn season, but there's no sign of it.

I ended up suspecting I'd actually missed the series, but I did some investigating and my theory about them showing the celeb specials (which were clearly intended as the last thing in the series run) and nothing else appears to be correct.

I'd have thought if they were planning to run it up to Christmas they'd have started by now and Chrimbo is only 5 or 6 weeks away.

There's been a brilliant new wildlife series on BBC one all about the frozen bits of the world (the far north and south).  I actually got to watch the first episode at home and at my Dads.  This is significant because my Dad has recently purchased a gigantic High Definition TV and has Freesat HD (basically the satellite version of digital telly - he used to have Sky so already had the dish).

It really looked good in HD and again made me think about getting a freeview HD box.  I've decided against it for a while at least, because the analogue signal isn't being turned off for me until April 2012.

It seems to have taken ages for the switchover to happen where I am.  I'm pretty sure it was originally planned for 2010, but then got pushed back.

It's a real pain because I'm just on the cusp of a receivable signal.  Indeed, if it weren't for my brilliant Humax box I probably couldn't watch digital.  My telly has freeview built in, but it can't really get a very good signal.  But as I say, it's just on the cusp - sometimes it will be okay, sometimes it will break up a little bit and sometimes it will be so bad you can't tell there's any picture at all.

I did identify that the plug on the arial was in pretty poor condition, so redid it and the signal quality improved massively, but strength was basically unaffected.  When they switch off analogue they will turn up the strength of the digital - they can't set it to "max" at the moment as it would interfere with the analogue.

After that I will probably look again at getting HD.  Another issue will be that, while my telly is a nice size for my room and the space I have available, it won't really make full use of HD.  I mean, I can see the benefit a bit when I watch Blu-Ray movies, but I'd need a bit bigger telly to really get the full effect, and so it's quite an expensive proposition.

Lastly, the Big Bang Theory is back on... but I unfortunately didn't realise and have missed the first couple of episodes :(.

The problem was that it's come back to E4, but doesn't appear to have been shown on channel 4 yet.  Usually (or at least, my memory is) they show new episodes first on E4 and then repeat them a week later on channel 4, but this time they seem to have just started showing them on E4 without the repeats.

As such, I've only realised because the new series of the Mentalist started and I was like "hang on, shouldn't the Big Bang Theory be on too?" so I did a search on the old PVR and eventually worked out the new series was already 4 episodes in.

I say eventually because there isn't a day when E4 aren't showing multiple (old) episodes of Big Bang - they repeat it like they used to Friends - so finding new ones is a tricky task.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

tron legacy

I seem to recall quite a lot of negative reviews for tron legacy when it came out.  However, looking at the page on Wikipedia it describes critical reaction as "mixed".

I think that probably sums up my opinion of it too - mixed.

I can't honestly say I've watched tron in a while.  I have seen it quite a few times over the years, but I guess with it being from the very early 80s it's not something they tend to show much any more.

If I'm honest, I don't really remember the plot, as such.  I remember the awesome, innovative and clever visuals once it goes inside the computer world, I remember the games (the light cycles and disc battles) and I remember the sound, which had the dull and flat quality, like it was set in a foam box.

I do also remember it was riddled with clever little 'puns' and usage of names - programs and users being good example, but also that the whole inside world cleverly parodied (if that's the word) the outside world.

So what about this sequel?

Well, the plot was bobbins.  It was such a generic action film plot that was so predictable as to be almost painful.  It was like they'd taken a big book of Hollywood movie plot ideas and just transferred them into the film.

But as I say, I'm not entirely sure the original tron was up to much cop in terms of plot anyway.

The visuals were amazing.

Well, generally amazing.  They'd done something to produce a young Jeff Bridges and the results were okay, but a little freaky.  Now as it happened this kinda worked with the character in question, but it still looked a little off to me.

The games part of it also still worked well.  They'd taken the basic ideas if the games and amped them up to the next level.  This was rather in keeping with how games computer work - sequels are often the same basic concept (or, indeed, exactly the same game) but with more bells and whistles.

And the sound was great - more because of a storming sound track by the Chemical Brothers (turns out it was actually Daft Punk - groups that use keyboards really aren't my bag :/) than any particular overall clever strategy, but it still worked.

The thing that didn't really seem to have made it through and that I really missed was the clever ideas.  I'll give you a specific example.

In the real world at the beginning the encom corporation is launching its latest operating system and the main character sneaks in and plays a tick on them.  Fair enough, but in the meeting of the board (which was weird - you'd normally expect a big launch party, but whatever) there's this young guy who's meant to be the son of the first film's bad guy and he's also a bit of a bell end.

But when they go into the digital world, rather than him being the bad guy or, indeed, involved in any way, it's all about the old tron mythos.

Now there are justifications for this, but you could easily have made it so that they weren't issues.  Indeed, a plot along those lines may have worked a bit better.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

audible burning

I discovered a little problem with audible and itunes the other week.

Basically, I like to listen to audio books while I'm walking.  I found music difficult to walk to as the tempo mismatch was disruptive.  The best audio books to listen to are autobiographies and non-fiction, as they tend to be in the form of little stories and you don't have a big plot to follow.

Anyway, I use audible, which is run by amazon.  The prices are really good (you get a book a month for your subscription, which is only about £7 and they're constantly running special offers.  Also, it operates entirely through download, which is nice and convenient.

When I first started using it I did have some issues.  Firstly, they have their own proprietary format, so most programs can't use it.  secondly, the manager software that allows you to play the files is horribly flaky.  It actually looks really naff - like a "my first application" thing you'd put together when learning C++ - and has poor functionality and constantly crashed.

But also, although they allow you to burn a copy of the audio book to CD, you can only do so via itunes.  I hate itunes with a passion, so this is horrible, but also you can only burn a copy of the book once.  SO if it goes wrong, you can't simply retry it.

I do understand this, as they need to be careful with pirating, etc, but there should be a simpler mechanism for redoing it if it fucks up.

Fucks up like it did a while ago.

What I tend to do is take advantage of the offers and buy a chunk of audio books at one time.  I also stack these up with my cheap subscription book and then burn and rip them all at once (you burn them as a standard audio CD, so you can then rip them to your heart's content!) and I did that last weekend (which, given how much other stuff I was doing, I'm not sure).

Anyway, I burned the CDs in one go on Saturday and then went to rip them all on Sunday.. and discovered some of them were totally silent.  Initially I thought maybe I'd turned the volume down, but no, it turned out there was nothing but 80 minutes of silence on each CD.

After some quick investigating I discovered that this is a know problem with itunes 10.5 and audible "format 4" files and the "solution" was to use another format (format 3, which is slightly poorer quality). Initially I was worried because of the issue of only being able to burn them once, but I guess that applies to each format, or maybe they've lifted it temporarily while they fix the problem.

It was actually on the audible site I found out about the issue, but they've not actually announced it, so I Wonder how many people have been affected?

What was also weird about it was that it was random - some of the books all of the CDs had burned fine, some none of them had burned at all and others it was just one or two of the CDs.

All very weird and obviously it cost me money in the sense that blank CDs aren't free and I wasted quite a bit of time, but now I know for future reference at least.

Monday, 21 November 2011

through the barrier

For the last few months (since around summer, in fact - so the best part of the last six months) I’ve been struggling.

I've been struggling to make it below the 19 stone mark.

19 stone doesn't represent anything in particular.  It doesn't signify a shift in my BMI from one category to another.  It doesn't represent any particular milestone (well, give or take it's about vaguely half way to my hoped for target weight).

But it did seem to present me with a particular barrier I just didn't seem to be able to overcome.  As such I've been hovering around in a sort of limbo between 19 stone and 19 and a half stone for all that time.

The issue has been my diet.  Generally what's been happening is I've been having random days where I was on my diet, but then other days where I'd slip and eat lots of bad stuff.

Also, generally speaking, I would have to buy lots of said bad stuff (for example a packet of x, as that's what they come in) so I'd then be locked in to eating that bad stuff for several days to come.

I'd also then loose my commitment - having slipped up a bit I'd then fail to come back properly on course ("well, if I'm going to slip, I might as well just not bother this week at all") and so the week would end up with me either not loosing weight or gaining weight.

Oh, there'd be weeks I would loose weight, but those were always been balanced by weeks I'd gain.

Well, last week I finally told myself I was being silly and decided to adjust things to try to get below 19 stone.  What I did in particular was make an upward tweak to my walking (I walked quickly round the industrial estate after work) and also stick as close as I could to the diet and not slip.

I also deliberately bought some more and different breakfast cereals so that I could have them as a snack instead of the more destructive types of things I was having (chocolate cakes or whatever was replaced with breakfast cereals).

Anyway, upshot was I got past the 19 stone barrier.  Indeed, it was a bit of a gangbusters week in that I actually lost around 4 pounds, which is similar to what I used to loose when I started this process.

I guess what it really proves to me is that I can still loose the weight, I just need to stick to the diet and exercise (who'd have thunk it?!).

Friday, 18 November 2011

dvd burning

I really need a haircut, but I doubt I'm going to get the chance this weekend.

In fact I know I won't get the chance, as I need to do loads of washing and I do that first thing Saturday, so I won't be able to go to the hairdresser's early, which is my usual slot.  Plus it's a cleaning weekend and that takes up all day Saturday anyway.

I'm a bit sick of this new pattern of doing stuff - it's kinda burdensome.  It was sparked because of my desire to save a bit of money (well, more like not be ripped off so badly) on getting my washing done.  This hasn't worked out too well, because I'm pretty sure my local laundrette charges a lot more for use of washing machines and tumble dryers than the place I used to get my washing done via service wash.

So although I'm not paying for the service wash and I'm able to adjust the payment base don size of load and how much drying it needs, the extra expense of the wash itself kinda wipes that out.

It also has the issue that it now sucks up a total of about two hours of my time on the days I do it.  This is quite a bit of time, and because I'm doing it first thing (so I can get easy access to tumble dryers) it blocks me from doing other stuff.

I've actually considered going and doing it after work or late on - the place is open pretty late, but I dunno.  A big problem there is I never seem to have much time in the evening anyway (I go to bed pretty early) and I've no guarantees it will be any easier.  I'd also be worried about getting finished before it closes.

I think the whole BBC loosing full rights to coverage of all the races may be a blessing in disguise, as it could free up a lot of spare time.

Anyway, that wasn't what I wanted to talk about.  What I wanted to cover was how my adventure with ripping DVDs is going.

Last weekend was actually stupidly busy.  There was all the GP stuff to watch, but I also decided I was going to process some audio books (more on that another day) and see about ripping the DVDs.

I mentioned this a little while ago and I've been investigating options.  The one that I thought I'd try was by slysoft and there are two parts.  Firstly they have a bit of software that allows you to watch any region locked DVD and then there's another bit of software you can use to clone/copy DVDs.

Both are available on free trial, so I downloaded them and gave them a go.

Results were pretty good.  Initially I tried it out on my laptop.  My theory was that this will be a convenient way of doing it - I can position my laptop to keep an eye on the progress of the rip and burn while I watch TV or whatever in the evening.

It worked well.  My laptop DVD isn't the quickest, but it took about 45 minutes to rip and burn a DVD containing a complete series of the show peep show.  I think it took less time burning a film, but I didn't pay attention tot eh time.

There was a problem with one disk I tried, but I didn't experiment to see if this was solvable.  The software has various options and it's very easy to use.  The only difficult is working out what's what ("title 2" doesn't mean anything, but it has a preview thing so you can see what it s).

It wasn't quite as successful when I tried it on my proper PC.  The issue was that it failed to burn at a decent speed, although I've had this problem before and I think it's more to do with the drive itself.  This meant it wasn't any quicker on the desktop, so I think laptop is the ay to go.

As I've said before it's a little daft if you think about it - why not spend that time watching the stuff instead of ripping it?  Well, I can still watch other stuff and it's way quicker ripping than watching - that 45 minutes was for a series with 6 half hour episodes, 3 of which had commentaries and about 45 minutes of other extras, so time wise it's better.

So yeah, I think I may actually purchase this software, with the hopes that it will quickly pay for itself via e-bay selling.

Thursday, 17 November 2011


So what was this mention about Liverpool all about then?

Well, it was a trip for work and it was very interesting.  Unfortunately, I can’t really tell you any details about the reason for the trip and what we did, but what I did want to talk about was the journey.

It was, to be frank, rather horrible.

I basically set off at 8AM and got back at about 9PM.

I went by train and went via London.  This was good in that the journey was simple (single train journey, up the northern line, single train journey) but it did make it slightly longer.  In particular I ended up having to wait at the station on the way up and the way back, adding a good hour to the total journey time.

Getting back at 9PM wasn’t great -  it was a horribly long day and I obviously didn’t get to bed until something like 11PM.  And of course, being Thursday, I went to work on Friday.  I tried to sleep in, but failed, to be honest.

I did, however, go home from work early, but then I was achieving very little at work because I was so tired.

You may be detecting a bit of a negative tone to this post, and that’s really directed at the journey and the day and its aftermath, rather than reason for the trip.  That was very interest, but as I say, it’s not really appropriate for me to talk about.

But also, the negative tone is there because, well, I did really badly with my diet last week, and while it would be wrong to blame the trip, it was a big part of the cause.

I ended up gaining two pounds, which was very disappointing, especially as that was the amount I lost on my holiday.  I was actually a little surprised it wasn’t more, which kinda shows me just how much exercise I had and energy I burnt off with the trip.  The problem was I massively overcompensated.

In particular I ate loads of junk (5 big chocolate bars, for example).  This was because I was just so tired by the time I was heading home, which was when the slide really took hold.  IF I’d managed to maintain some willpower I’d have lost eight, but once I reached that low point I just ate crap in the afternoon and evening and then on Friday I ate crap too.

This was partly because of an effect I’ve noticed before where as soon as my diet slips, I’ll jut keep on “being naughty” until the end of the week.  But also, because, as noted I was shattered on Friday, I just felt like eating lots of comfort food (Another big area of problem of me).

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

cod: mw3

Yesterday I mentioned I’d talk about Liverpool tomorrow, because today I’m going to give a few thoughts on call of duty: modern warfare 3.

I went into the weekend wondering what I was going to do, but then MW3 turned up and basically absorbed a whole chunk of my spare time.  MW3 is the third in the modern warfare series and I played through the whole campaign and a few of the spec ops missions over the weekend.

It looks as great as ever, although I have to say the basic graphics engine doesn’t seem hugely different to that used across the rest of the series, but then I think there’s a very good reason for that.

You see, the modern warfare series is really one thing in three parts.  The first was done in such a way that a sequel wasn’t essential (presumably in case it was a flop) and so it was actually a bit of surprise that mw2 picked up directly after mw.  Indeed, I wasn’t hugely keen as it had been so long since the first part I felt a bit disjointed.

I don’t know for sure, but the gap seemed smaller this time.  Even if it wasn’t, I was prepared for a direct sequel this time, so I didn’t get that same disjointedness.

But, more importantly, it occurs to me that the call of duty games pre-cod used to have really long single player campaigns.  The campaigns in the mw series have actually been pretty short.  I mean they’re not so short as to not be enjoyable, but certainly I can remember it taking several weeks to get through the campaigns in the old cod series, where the mw series you could play the entire campaign in a single lengthy session if you wanted.

I guess it helps them make he games “bigger” in the sense of being more complex set pieces and stuff, but it’s also a way of getting more cash for the same amount of story.

One thing that the cod series has always used in pre-scripted sequences.  These always work well and I like them, but I will admit they're quite old hat. Also the other thing they do that is very old school is enemy spawn points and waves of enemy.

The idea is you keep moving forward and thereby pass points that switch these off and if you remember that you can lessen the effect, but it’s still very old hat.  It’s also quite old hat that the levels are very fixed, guiding you along a single path through them.  This last one I also don’t mind, though.

Anyway, overall I quite liked it.  I thought the story was a little simpler his time compared to mw2, which actually helped.  It also seemed to come to a pretty solid conclusion, so I’m guessing if there is a MW4 it will be a different story.

So yeah, enjoyable enough, but could have been a bit longer.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

plumbing / heater

While I was away my landlord had a radiator fitted to my room.

I’m pretty sure I mentioned this before I went, but if not, basically he’s increasing my rent by £5 a month and for that I’m getting a radiator in my bedsit area.  It’s plumbed into my landlord’s heating, so I don’t have any control over it (well, I can turn it on/off and I can adjust the “balance” - whatever that is) but it’s better than an increase and getting nothing in return.

Last week was therefore the first week I’ve been experiencing it and the results are mixed, if I’m honest.

The weather has been quite mild, so it's difficult to know just how much they have their radiators on, but there’s a bit of an “all or nothing” effect.  When the radiator is on, it’s very effective, but it doesn’t really come on when I would have it on.

It’s been okay in the morning (a little later than I get up) but it soon warms the place up when it’s on.  In the evening, it’s on before I come back, so I get back to a somewhat warm flat.  However, it’s a bit unpredictable if it’ll stay on all evening or just for an hour or so.

So some days it turns off and I have to put my own radiator on, other nights it’s stayed on right until I go to bed.

The effectiveness of the radiator is partly a function of its size.  It’s a lot bigger than I was expecting, which means it really pumps it out when it’s on, but it also takes up a heck of a lot of wall space, which I wasn’t expecting.  Indeed, I’ve ended up re-arranging everything and moving my bed across to the other side of the room.

I’ve still got the other radiator of course, and so my bed is up against that, as it’s on the other side of the room.  It’s long winded to explain, but fairly simple in practice.

So yeah, mixed result really - it’s saved me a few quid, but it’d be nice if it was more consistent.

It did also have a weird effect in that it caused me to strain my knee.  Basically my bed is very low down (it’s sort of a futon thing) so I have to get in/out in a specific way.  Well, moving to the other side means I’ve had to do all that in a different way, and I made a mess of it and strained my knee.

The timing of that wasn’t brilliant, as I was off to Liverpool in a couple of days, which I’ll talk more about on Thursday.

Monday, 14 November 2011

abu dhabi don't

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this last weekend.

On previous occasions it’s been horribly dull. Last year it was where the championship was decided and that, to be frank, was mainly because neither Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber nor Lewis Hamilton could make overtakes that they needed to.

As such, I was pretty much not expecting very much from the race.  They’d introduced two DRS zones, both of which were pretty big which was clearly an acknowledgement that overtaking was nearly impossible.  Indeed, they actually extended one of the zones for fear it wouldn’t help.

In the end the race was... okay.

The first third of the race had quite a lot of interest, but once things had settled down there was very little action.  My guess is there was more of interest further down the pack, but we didn’t get to see to much.

So I wouldn’t say it was the worst race this year, but it certainly wasn’t the greatest either.

I’m also a bit worried about the tyre issue.  The teams seem to have  started to get a better handle on them, as you'd expect, but also, Pirelli have been talking about making the softer tyres more durable for next year, which doesn’t bode well.  I was hoping they'd make some decisions that would throw another cat amongst the pigeons.  If they go for more “normal” tyres it could make next year less interesting.

Perhaps the most interesting thing in the race actually happened right at the beginning, when Sebastian Vettel seemed to have a puncture (there wasn’t a very good shot of it), which caused him to spin off and by the time he’d gotten back to the pits the back end of his car was trashed, so he had to retire.

This opened things up for a bit of a different result, but it also really underlined just how reliable the Red Bulls have been this year.  I’m pretty sure this has been Seb’s first retirement all year.

Reliability nowadays is remarkable - you very rarely see cars breaking down any more.  Back when I first started watching F1 you regularly used to see more than half of the grid braking down.

Given the extremes they deal with and the levels of precision required, it’s really remarkable.

Friday, 11 November 2011

abu dhabi du

It's the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend.

I can't say I'm particularly looking forward to it as it's not really produced any classics so far.  It's one of the newer races and it's also one of the duller ones.

From memory it's held in the evening, so it starts out fairly light but the sun sets during the race and it's dark at the end.  This doesn't really add much to the race, but I guess it's something different.

It's also the circuit where it goes under the weird hotel which has loads of glowing lights on it.  Also, the exit from the pits is a tunnel.  Again, neither really add anything to the race, but it's something a bit different.

It's also the second to last grand prix.  The season is way too long this year - the last race is Brazil, which is usually a good race, but it's way out at the end of November and the new season starts mid-March next year.

I appreciate with F1 being a properly global sport you can go on for a long time, but I think it's kinda reached a maximum length this year.  Also, by adding more races you actually amplify the effect of dominance.  So this year there have been lots of races where Vettel has already won the title.

To be honest, I don't think it matters as much in F1 - they still want to win each race, but the heat does go out of it a little.

Other plans for the weekend are... to be honest, I'm not sure.  I know I need to do a big shop and one of the things I did do when I got back of holiday was identify a bunch of stuff for e-baying.

In fact I'm actually almost out of stuff I could put on e-bay in the shed.  Indeed, I've actually got loads of empty stacking boxes in the shed that I've positioned to give the illusion that the space is has still got loads in it, but actually they're mostly empty.

Well, I say that - there's still quite  a bit I could get rid of, it's just it would take quite a lot of sorting out, and I'd say half of what's left is really only tip-worthy if I was forced to dispose of it.

Also I've actually cheated.  I've brought all of my manga in and stacked it up on top of my smaller set of shelves.

I do actually want to sell most of these titles, it's just that I'm either waiting for them to finish (which could take a few years in some cases :/) or to get a good chunk that I can sell as a batch (1-10 say) and then when new volumes turn up I'll sell them individually.

This doesn't get me such good prices, but it reduces the amount of stuff I've got hanging about.

Oh, I also made a bit of a decision - I want to rip some of the DVDs I've got so that I can get the originals on e-bay.  Having spent quite a lot of time recently sorting through things there's a lot that clearly isn't going to be of "classic - must keep" status so I think I'll rip them and sell them.

That does mean I need to work out a quick, easy and efficient way of doing that.  And of course it means there's a weird bit of transference going on - I won't be doing what I really need to (watching stuff) but I'll still be able to sell it :/.  Also, I'm going to spend hours (?) ripping it when I could be watching it... ?

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

indian grand prix

The Indian Grand Prix was on while I was away.

In fact it was on while I was at my Dads and so I watched it down there.

I have to confess it wasn't the greatest of races - there was very little overtaking (mostly the rubbish DRS type overtaking) and not much really seemed to happen.  I think there were a couple of reasons for this dullness.

Firstly, and probably most crucially, Pirelli brought the wrong tyres.  They basically said they were being conservative, so the tyres they brought were harder than they really needed to be.  This meant they lasted ages and it kinda took us back to the situation for the last few years.

In a way this was a good reminder of the great things the Pirelli tyres have done for the racing this year, but in a more important way it meant that they didn't really have to worry about the tyres and could all just do one stop pretty much when they wanted too.

So next year a much less conservative approach please.

Another problem was the incredible dust.  To be fair the circuit is new, so a bit of construction dust is to be expected, but I also think they've built it in a place that's quite dry and dusty, which bodes less well for future years.

The dust meant that going off line (which is what you have to do to overtake) quickly coated your tyres in dust, meaning you'd loose grip and therefore struggle to overtake.

What they need to do next year is get some of those jet washers and clean it up a bit (they even have these at Silverstone).

Another problem, I think, was it's yet another circuit where they've gone for gigantic straights.  I really don't understand the obsession with giant straights.  I mean, I guess they're okay for more normal cars which take a while to get up to top speed, but maximum straight line sped (vmax) s achieved incredibly quickly in F1 cars (and most other formulas).

I mean that's the point - they're very fast, very light cars, so they can hit top speed quickly.  The bit that's interesting is the corners - cornering speed is where you gain real lap time and it's also where F1 cars excel.  Nothing corners like an F1 car.

And of course if you're going to have some huge straights you reduce the number of corners.

Another issue was that I think they overhyped the circuit.  It's brand new and it's Tilka, who has built most of the new circuit, most of which are rubbish, but everyone was saying this layout was great and there'd be loads of overtaking, but there wasn't

To be fait it did look like an interesting circuit and elevation and super wide corners designed to help overtaking, yet in the end it just didn't seem to work.

Well it was only the first year and so perhaps next year will be better.

Note that tomorrow I'm away in Liverpool all day (it's going to be a really long day) so no post tomorrow.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

no water

So I got back last night and discovered there was no water.

I knocked on my landlord's door, thinking he may have turned it off and forgotten to turn it back on (I'll explain why in a future blog post), but actually it turned out there's a burst main and there's no water for the whole street.  It had, apparently, been off for more than four hours at that point already.

Why does this stuff always happen to me at the worst possible times?

I mean, I've lived there six years and at no point has the water been shut off (the heater for the hot water has failed occasionally, but that's it) but now, the very day before I have an important meeting the water is totally gone.

And that's the thing I missed.

Water to drink being gone was annoying (I like to drink quite a lot of water) but copable with - I have bottled water, milk and other stuff - but water to do things like wash up, have a shower with, shave with and even use to clean your teeth is really difficult to replace.  And as for flushing the loo... well.

But the real key is this was happening the night before I've got an important meeting.  I mean, why now?  The odds must be astronomical.

And given the amount I sweat during the night I couldn't really get away with not washing at all.

I decided to leave a tap on so that if and when it did come back on and luckily at about 9:00 it sputtered into life.

Of course the water that came out of it was a horrible muddy brown, and the hot water had been emptied so that glugged and gurgled as it filled up for several hours.  However, in the morning I was able to take a shower and do some of the other water dependent things, so that was good.

The cold water in the morning wasn't brown any more, but it was full of bubbles and it tasted a bit funny.  Hopefully I can run it through a bit tonight and it will clean up and be okay.

I guess somewhere in there is a big indicator of my personality - my reaction was "why is it always me?  and why now?" but I could be reacting in a "lucky it got fixed in time" way.

Monday, 7 November 2011


So, back to work today.

Can't say I enjoyed it.

I dunno, normally I'm pretty happy to go back, but this time it just felt like the worst thing ever.

Part of the problem was that the holiday just flew by.  It really doesn't feel like I've been away for more than a day or two, but I've actually been off for more than a week.

The first part of the holiday as spent at my Dads - Friday to Monday, and I think this was too long.  Not that I don't like seeing him, it's just it meant that the Friday and Monday were pretty much right offs.

And when I visit my dad it doesn't really feel like holiday proper.  So, in a way I sort of had a weekend at my Dad's and then a four day holiday, making it not feel like long enough.

Anther reason is that the holiday wasn't really very good.  The weather was a bit meh (cloudy and drizzly and foggy for most of it and it was just the wrong side of chilly) and I didn't really seem to enjoy it very much.  I kept thinking about work stuff and as I say I "lost" a few days.

Usually I go at the beginning of October / end September and the weather is much better - just the right side of chilly, usually at least a few sunny days.

Also, the clocks changed while I was on holiday.  While this technically gave me an extra hour, I always find it a confusing experience when the clocks change.  Also, it meant that it suddenly switched to getting dark really early and that made all the days feel very short.

And I didn't really seem to get any of the other stuff done - I didn't pre-write any blog entries, didn't watch hardly anything on DVD, didn't read a single page of any books.  The only thing I did do was read plenty of manga and that was silly in a way as it's not really something I struggle to do normally.

One thing I would say is the walking and diet went pretty well.  This time I'd planned to eat some specific bad things (clotted cream teas, 1 Burger King meal and 1 McDonalds) and I think because I'd included them in the plan I didn't go nuts on the other days.  I also walked loads and so still managed to loose about 2 pounds despite eating those bits of rubbish.

When I got back things seemed to be manic - it took ages to unpack and there was loads of stuff for me to catch up on.  Plus it was a cleaning weekend, so that was on top of all the regular stuff.

I've also come back on a Monday so I've the prospect of a full week at work.  I usually try to stagger holiday so it's a half week once I'm back, but I don't have the days to spare this year.  That's partly because of the Grand Prix holiday, which, although greatly enjoyable, has kinda made a bit of a mess of my holiday timings for the rest f the year.

I'd also kinda hoped that someone who was filling in for me while I was away would clear up a few niggling jobs I haven't had the time to deal with, but when I got back I found they hadn't done any of them.  I mean, I don't blame them, it's just it would have been nice if at least a few had been done and I could focus on the bigger stuff (which didn't really seem to have advanced any further either, which I'm less pleased about).

To be frank, I'm in a bit of a "roll on Christmas" mood.  I think I may take quite a long Chrimbo holiday this year.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

last day

So today is my last day in the office for a while.

I'm off on holiday, but it's nothing spectacular - I'm going down to Devon.  Initially I'll be seeing my dad over the weekend and then I'm booked in to a travel lodge until the end of the week.

IT was my dad's birthday at the beginning of the month, which is why I want to see him, but I've also not seen him since the British Grand Prix back in July, so that will be nice.  It's also a Grand Prix weekend, with the Indian Grand Prix on.

India is new this year, so it will be interesting to see what the circuit is like and how the racing is.  Both of the championships are well over after Red Bull wrapped up the constructors championship at Korea.  Now it's all just about who can win the races.  Some people tend to think as soon as the season's over that's it, but of course in reality, the drivers and teams want to win every race they go to - otherwise why turn up?

Plus, since there are very few rule changes next season, it follows the cars won't be hugely different and it will be important to keep momentum up for the beginning o f the next season.

Anyway, after that I'll stay in a travelodge for a few days.  The idea there is I'm going to do lots of walking.  This is the same pattern I've done a few times now and it works quite well, so long as I can resist the temptation of eating lots of junk food.  I mean, I'll have a couple of treats, but if I can avoid eating junk continuously I should be able to concentrate on loosing a few pounds.

I will also use the opportunity to watch a load of DVDs and read a bunch of manga.  I'm hoping that I'll be able to watch a few films mainly so that I can then e-bay them when I get back.  t would be nice to eat a chunk of unwatched stuff away.

Also, while I'm away my landlord is apparently going to install a new radiator in the flat.  The idea is they're going to run the pipes across from his place and put the radiator in the living room/bed area.

The hope is this will cut a big chunk out of my heating costs (now that it's turned chilly I'm starting to put the radiator on), although I'm not getting it for free - it's costing me £5 extra month in rent, and while that may seem a bargain, it's not quite as good as that, because of course during spring, summer and early autumn I don't use heating at all and of course the rise is across the full year, not just the winter months.

Still, it should represent better value at least.

I think he's also a bit concerned about the possibility of pipes bursting.  By putting a bit of heating it should stave off the cold a bit, so it's a preventative thing - clearing up after flooding would not be cheap.