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.