Tuesday, 26 November 2013

electric-trickery

I'm guessing regular posting won't resume for quite a while as I am struggling to cope with everything at the moment.

However, I got a spare chunk of time so I thought I'd rant about what the electricity company has been up to.

I first noticed something odd was going on when I got back from holiday.  I have a pre-pay key meter and when I left for holiday I was sure I had about £35 on it and when I got back it was more like £20.  Given there was nobody there for that week this seemed odd, but I put it down to miss-remembering the amount on it when I left.

However, over the next few weeks I seemed to have to feed a hell of a lot more into it than usual (£110 over the course of about 5 weeks).  I therefore started to pay closer attention and specifically noting down the amount left when I when to work and when I got back.

This showed me that, during the 10 hours I was out it was still getting through 70-odd pence of electricity.  Even when I turned everything off bar the fridge-freezer, it still said I was apparently using 60-odd p of Elecy when I was at work.  Now when you consider that 1 kilowatt hour was about 16.5p, that's a hell of a power-hungry freezer!

Except it wasn't - to cut a long story short, what was actually eating up my money turned out to be a mysterious debt that they'd assigned to the meter.  Without telling us.

The meter is actually in the landlord's name and they hadn't received any letters about this supposed debt, yet they'd still assigned it and decided to take it out at a rate of £10.00 per week.  We're still not clear on how much debt they assigned, but given it was done via the key at the paypoint, that means it was put on some way before my holiday, so I reckon it was over £200.  Certainly when I worked it out there was £140 left and it had been 4 weeks since I'd topped the meter up after my holiday, so it was at least £180.

At this point my landlord basically stepped in and had to go through a tortuous process phoning them, but the end result is that they sent an electrician around and installed a new meter.  Interestingly according to this the rate of usage seems much lower.

I therefore suspect the meter was faulty - certainly it didn't seem to be doing things in line with what they said it should (they supposedly assigned a credit to it, but nothing happened when they put it in the paypoint machine).

However, I also suspect I know what might have caused them to think there might be a debt.  They obviously put the prices up at ever chance they can (electricity company profits have increased 5-fold in recent years) but a few years ago I decided I was going to put a load of money on the meter and therefore delay the need to get more.  this meant that my key didn't go into the paypoint machine for months, so it couldn't update the per-unit information.

That meant I had several months at the old rate after it changed.  Now my understanding is that they can't retrospectively apply the new charge, because it is a pre-pay meter.  I effectively pre-bought lots of electricity at the old rate.  Think of it like buying a load of toilet rolls when they're on offer: Andrex can't turn up at your door once the offer is over, demanding you have to pay 2p extra every time you wipe your arse.

However, the maths also doesn't work.  They put the price up by about 10%, which equated to about 3p per unit.  IF you do the maths it therefore only works out to be a debt of about £40, which is why I think the amount of debt is due to a faulty meter, but the period they think it occurred was during that period where I pre-bought.

Why ever did people fall for this bullshit about privatisation being a good thing?

I really wish the labour party would grow some balls and promise to re-nationalise them.

The basic services should be in state hands - that's the point of them.  Power generation and distribution has a basic cost and must be done at a national level for the benefit of the entire nation, not a handful of shareholders.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

formula one

So Sebastian Vettel has wrapped up the driver's title and Red Bull has the constructor's title.

It seems like after the mid-season break they have become unbeatable.  From what I understand this is partly because the change of tyres back to last year's compound following the tyre-failure issues played into the design of the Red Bull, but I also think they focused on the development of this year's car where others moved on to next year's car.

There are quite a lot of big changes coming next year - the engine changes to a 1.6 litre turbo, there's a much bigger energy recovery aspect (not just the KERS), but also the front wing is much smaller, the rear wing changes, the exhaust exit point changes and the fuel capacity changes.  I'm sure there are other things, but those are pretty big already.

I think that means that the teams had to make a decision much earlier to switch all effort to next year's car, otherwise they'd end up impacting their competitiveness, and I think Red Bull left that decision until much later.  Certainly McLaren were saying they'd switched before the season was half way in, Force India haven't done anything since the mid-season and I think Mercedes switched some time ago, just to name a few.

The other aspect of course is Vettel himself.  His big advantage, I think, over the others is his flexibility and willingness to listen to what the team tell him.  If they say "do this" he tends to do it (I mean specifically in terms of how to drive the car - we all know he'll ignore team orders and his engineer is always telling him off for going for the fastest lap), where I think other drivers try to get the car tweaked to better suit them, rather than adapting to it.

The last grand prix I actually blogged about was Singapore so I thought I'd give a very quick run-through of the races:
  • Korea - I've always felt Korea was an okay track and the races were okay, it's just it suffers because it's in the middle of nowhere.  This year's race was pretty good, I thought.
  • Japan - Japan is usually pretty good, but this year I thought it was okay.  This might have been a bit affected by my holiday issues, so I was watching it some way out of sink.
  • India - a fairly dull, pedestrian race.  This isn't one of the better newer circuits, though obviously Vettel was crowned champion, so it wasn't totally uninteresting.
  • Abu Dhabi.  The beeb's highlights suggest it was better than it actually was: it was a pretty dull race, with a few interesting moments.  I mean, it's better than when it was first held as they've tweaked the circuit a bit, but it's still pretty dull.
That leaves only two races, which are another double header: Austin next weekend and then the traditional closer of Brazil.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

job hunting

So my job hunting has continued, obviously without success.

It's been odd, actually.  I've had a reasonable number of interviews with a mixture of face-to-face and telephone-based, but I've been struck that most of these haven't felt "fully formed".

When I was looking before and going to interviews, it felt much clearer that the organisations I was talking to had a clear idea what they wanted.  Obviously I'm not saying that they pre-decided who they wanted, but I mean they had a clear idea that they wanted a bid manager and were either keen to explore if someone from a different sector could fit or already appreciated that they could.

This is one of the key things that's causing my search to be longer - I am very keen to move into a different sector.  The problem this time is that I seem to be encountering lots of people/organisations that don't really have a clear feeling about quite what they want, but then having been through some interviews, they then decided "no, we want someone with experience in our sector."

Now I've no problem with them wanting that experience, it's just that it's quite a big waste of my time, money and holiday (all of which are in short supply) if they're bimbling around not really knowing what they want.

And it's quite clear that they don't have any real clue.  Two of the interviews I went to in person (one in Essex, and one in Knutsford, so pretty excessive travel) I've seen the jobs being re-advertised several times since.

Or at least, they seem to have come to the decision that they want someone with experience in their sector.  But the problem there is we're talking sometimes talking about such a specific sector that there basically isn't anyone in the country.

It boils down to a combination of a lack of bravery ("as in let's take a chance" - these organisations are all coming across as quite risk averse) but also, mainly, I think, a lack of understanding of the generalist nature of a Bid Manager's skill set.  It's like Project Management - it's a fully-transferrable skill-set: if you can manage one thing, you can manage anything.  But they don't appreciate that, and I think a big part of that is because they don't really understand bid management themselves, and certainly don't appear to have properly defined and established processes.

Which is the flip-side: in all honesty, I'm kind of glad none of these have gone any further, as I've had red flags being hoisted at each interview.  One of the big advantages of where I currently work is we do a lot of things badly, and I find a lot of frustrating, so I know what I'm looking for in terms of things I don't want.

Of course the other aspect of going back to job hunting is that I'm having to deal with employment agencies again.  Quite why companies don't just place the job adverts themselves, I don't know, but the thing nowadays seems to be to use job agents.  They're basically on a par with estate agents and used car salesmen, in my opinion.  I mean, you get the odd one that's okay, but generally you're talking about a bunch of people who are only interested in getting their commission, and they don't really give a shit about things like never telling you you've been unsuccessful following a job interview.

Monday, 4 November 2013

a month ago

So it's been a month since I last posted on the log.

Exactly a month, in fact - my pre-holiday post was on the 4th of October and today is the 4th of November.

The reasons for the long delay in posting are somewhat complicated.  The main issue was that I had planned to spend some time over my holiday writing some blog posts and that didn't happen.  I'd also particularly planned to write a bunch of the back-log of films reviews I've build up and was going to fill the weeks after the holiday with many of these.  Obviously this didn't happen either.

The reason this didn't happen was because the holiday was a lot messier than I'd intended.

Firstly, my plan wasn't a good one. My landlord needed the time I was away to install a new shower (not the actual shower, but the unit around it), so I couldn't be home at all.  However, I also couldn't stay with my dad for that entire period.

I therefore decided (badly, it turned out) to spend the Saturday night at a Travelodge, then go to my Dad's on Sunday, then stay at another Travelodge from Wednesday to the following Saturday, when I'd return home.  The following Monday was a recovery day.

However, this didn't work at all well - the Saturday at the Travelodge was okay, but it wasn't a "productive" thing to do - I spent a lot of time farting about and couldn't see the time productively.  The time at my dad's was okay, but then I had to change plan.

Basically, rather late before the holiday I was asked to attend an interview (I'm still job hunting).  I said I could do the Thursday, so it was booked in, but the place was in Essex.  Now that would be far away even if I was at home, but obviously I wasn't - I was in Devon, so it was a huge drive.

Having already booked the Travelodge for Wednesday to Saturday and gone with the "non-cancel" option to save money, I then had to also book a Travelodge near the interview.  That meant I ended up spending one night and a morning at one place, then driving all day, getting lost (the town had two exits off the main road, and I took the first where I should have taken the second), going to bed very late, not sleeping well, getting up very early (I wanted the interview in the afternoon, but they then had to change it last minute), going to the interview, then spending all day driving back to Devon again!

In other words, I spend half my holiday driving places, killing time while I waited for things or recovering.  So all my grand plans basically gone knackered.  Here's the things I was going to do and the progress I made:

•    Write some blog posts - didn't do any.
•    Write some film review blog posts - didn't do any.
•    Watch some stuff on crunchyroll - didn't watch any.
•    Watch some fansubs - watched some, but my plan was to clear out the past years shows, and I only watched about a quarter of them.
•    Lots of walking - there were only two days where I went for a walk.
•    Clear backlog of e-mails - didn't read any.

Of course I also spent a fortune in petrol and a room booking which was relatively late so was more expensive, as well as having to buy food at services, which is always more expensive.  None of which I could claim back, as I was told (I'm not 100% sure I believe the agent - more on that later) the company wouldn't refund travel expenses.

And of course I didn't get the job - more on that later as well.

The other factor in my not blogging is that I returned to a shit-load of work: I actually worked a bit of one of the weekends.

As "holidays" go, it's been pretty non-fun.

Friday, 4 October 2013

holidays

I'm away on holiday for the next week and a bit.

I'm going to see my dad for a bit of it, but the rest is basically just relaxing.  I'm going away, which has cost me more money, but unfortunately I was kinda forced into it because my landlord needs to replace the shower in the bedsit.  It's the enclosure, rather than the shower unit, but it's a pretty hefty job.  It also means he'll have to turn the water off to the bathroom.

I don't; mind too much as I could do with a bit of a change of scenery, even if it is going to be about as cheap a holiday as I can possibly achieve (so no days out anywhere).

I've taken the Monday off as well, even though I'll be back on Saturday.  This just gives me a bit of a chance to sort things out and get back into the groove before I'm back to work.  I generally don't like to come back to a full week anyway, as I find it a bit much after a holiday.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

cockneys versus zombies

I seemed to go through a terrible stretch of movies during this period.

Having not enjoyed Fanboys and The Raid, I then received Cockneys versus Zombies.  I'd heard this wasn't very good, but was hoping it would be a bit of humorous relief.

Unfortunately, it wasn't all that funny.

One of the problems with it is that it doesn't actually seem to have much of a grasp on what it wants to do with "cockneys" side of things.  Yes, it's set in the East End of London and the older characters are definitely getting into "proper" cockneys territory, but the younger element of the cast could almost have been anywhere.  And it's the younger element of the cast that's really carrying the story.

Well, I mean, obviously the story is a bit thin, but it takes up most of the time, so they're obviously on screen more of the time.

It almost feels like the whole "Snakes on a Plane" grand-concept thing.  They've come up with a title and then tried to work a plot up so that they can call it Cockney's versus Zombies, but in reality haven't really achieved that as it could have been set anywhere - there's nothing all that cockney about it

It also fails to really hit the mark in terms of scares and laughs.  I'm guessing one of the inspirations for the film was Shawn of the Dead, but the problem of course is it's not as well written and not as funny.  Also, one of the things that's probably not obvious with Shawn of the Dead is that it's actually a RomCom in structure with Zombies added as a twist.

CvZ lacks this as its core, which is okay, there are other types of films, but it's replaced it with something along the lines of a heist movie, and it doesn't do a very good job at being a reasonable heist movie.

The effects were okay, if a little thin - I'm guessing that they couldn't quite scrape up enough budget to do everything they wanted and the horror side of it ended up without enough cash to do lots of good, gorey kills.  It doesn't make up for that by being scary - there are some good jumps, but it's not really a horror movie-proper.

And as I say, it doesn't achieve the trick of being a comedy either, so it was very disappointing.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

the raid

I'd heard good things about the raid.

Specifically I'd heard it was an entertaining, somewhat old-skool martial arts film, that had loads of great action.

Well it had loads of action, I will give it that, but I have to confess I found a lot of it a bit dull.  No, that's not quite right - it's more that I got rather bored of it.

One of the things I say in quite a lot of my reviews is that they've taken a perfectly good 1hr 30min film and made it 2hr long.  Well, the raid is only 1hr 30min (ish) long, but it felt like it should probably have been 1hr long.

A lot of the fights just drag on, and I know they're brutal and harsh and well filmed and all that, but I just found myself fast-forwarding through them.

A big part of the problem was that I found the whole film ludicrous.  The plot makes no sense whatsoever.  There are also some twists in it, and these just make things confusing and undermine whatever little sense it had.

Now, don't get me wrong, I wasn't expecting it to be sensible, it's just that some of the stuff that happens doesn't actually hang together, even within the logic of the film.

I dunno - I guess I'm being harsh again, but I just found it boring.  Maybe if I'd watched it back when I went through that traditional phase most young guys go through of loving all things martial arts (Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, et al) then I'd have liked it more?

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

simcity

So...  simcity.

They released the game back at the beginning of August and the 7th (I think - I've lost track a bit) patch came out in August/September.  That's 6 months.  And I think it's only now that they've finally addressed all of the stuff that was either broken or (more depressingly) badly designed/implemented.

In some ways this isn't uncommon nowadays.  Modern games are super complicated things that have to excel both in terms of visuals as well as content.  During the early days it was all about the content - the game itself - but nowadays there's an expectation that games will look great too.

That obviously makes them expensive to develop, so there's always going to be a temptation to rush them out before they're really ready.

This is particularly the case for testing.  It must be very tempting to just do some basic testing, rather than big-scale betas.  It must be quite expensive to do proper testing and fix the game before it some out.  The temptation to release it quickly and effectively treat the first few months an extended test (one where they're paying you to test the game!) and then fix stuff later in patches.

Which is pretty much what's happened with SimCity.  Some of the stuff they've finally fixed with the last few patches makes the game operate like it probably should have done at the beginning.  Don't get me wrong - I think plenty of the stuff they've put out was probably always intended to come out as extra content and some of it has occurred to them after release (like the road height thing), it's more that some of the stuff is effectively the final version of the code that simply wasn't ready at release, or they've had to come up with because their original design was broken.

I find it all a bit disheartening and the time this has all taken and my desire not to waste time on a game that wasn't ready has meant I've not played it a great deal recently.

However, they've just announced the first proper expansion for the game, and it looks rather interesting.  It's basically a raft of things to make your cities "future cities", and includes some nice stuff

The problem is that I also think he fundamental "model" is broken.  It was clearly the intention to make a multiplayer SimCity, which is fine as it goes, but the problem is that SimCity isn't a multi-player game.  The mechanic they've chosen to achieve multiplayer seems okay - smaller cities that are interconnected, but the problem is that when you play single player, the method they've used for "simulating" other cities is just a mess.  You have to keep exiting the game (this is the only way you can force it to save) simply in order for the other cities to look even vaguely like they did when you last played them, and even then they still don't work like they should.

I mean, this whole notion they had of one city "doing garbage" another "doing industry" another "doing education/research" only looks like it might work in proper multiplayer, with all the players playing at the same time.  I say this, because I've never played multiplayer and have no interest in doing so.  I've therefore only played single player, and I can assure you this mechanic doesn't work like it should when played that way.

The thing I find bizarre is that it seems like such a simple thing to achieve.  We're simply talking about storing some basic numbers for each city - they don't need complex simulation, you just store the fact a city has x litres water spare somewhere.  Why do I have to exit the game for it to even save that number in a place that my other cities can see it updating?

Monday, 30 September 2013

eBay fun

I mentioned eBay the other week, but I thought I'd do a separate blood about their latest scam - the racket that is e-bay appears to have come up with yet another way to rip everyone off.

They've now started charging for postage.  Yes, that's right, if you enter the correct amount of postage on your item, you're now going to be 10% worse off.  Well done you cunts.

They've stated some bullshit about this being to "encourage people to offer free postage" and to "provide better value for buyers".

Now don't get me wrong - there is a giant loophole in the system as was.  If you selected "other courier" then it allows you to enter whatever value you want.  And of course, auctions up to 99p are free, so by putting 99p and then, say, £30 for postage, you could sell quite expensive items and not pay e-bay a penny.

Of course, this is playing the system, and it was something I never engaged in.  Indeed, until Royal Mails more recent price hikes, I was relatively happy to charge less for postage than it actually cost me.

For cheaper items (genuine 99p, not worth much, just want to get rid of it but don't want to throw it away type ones) I would try to get roughly the right postage, but didn't factor in cost of envelope and all that.  I didn't mind too much as 99p auctions are free to list (well, you can do 100 a month free) and then they charge 10% (10p) at the end and PayPal take 4%+20p (25p-ish), so the postage was made up by what was left.

But now let's look at the economics.  The 35p it costs on the item is still the same, but you now pay 10% of postage.  Well, for one of the White Dwarf magazines I've been selling recently, for example, the postage is a staggering £1.40.  So if you put £1.40, you're now effectively being charged 50p total, and suddenly the economics don't make a lot of sense.

But if you increase the cost of the item about 99p you're suddenly going to start being charged the insertion fee, which for a magazine is 10p.

So if you raise the initial price to £1.15 cover the additional fee, now you're being charged 10p to post the auction, and of course the end fees rise a bit too! It's the classic vicious circle that means you end up having to post the thing at £2 to make your money back, but then of course nobody wants to bid!

So why not add the extra on to the postage? Well technically it says that you're not allowed to raise your postage cost to cover this fee!

And what about offering free postage? Have they looked at the cost of postage nowadays? It costs 60 p just to send a letter.  Well if you add 60p to the 35p of charges, that's 95p of a 99p auction!

Oh, and another thing that amused me (if you didn't laugh you'd have to kill somebody) - e-bay now trumpets that they offer a money back guarantee if you're not happy with the item.  Yes, that's right; e-bay offers a money back guarantee on your item.  You've got no say in the matter...

Friday, 27 September 2013

landlord returns

My landlord came back the other day.

I'd obviously set myself a list of things I wanted to get done, which included:
  • Sort stuff in the shed
  • Put some of the shed stuff on e-bay, including some of my figurines, old art books and DVDs
  • Clean my car
I sort of did all of these.

I cleaned the car, but it was only a "normal" clean, rather than being a full-on polish.  This wasn't so bad, as I'd polished the car a few weeks back.  However, I did also top up things like the oil, washer fluid and tyre pressure, and it was while doing the last of these that my old foot pump finally gave up the ghost.

I've had it ages, and it's been a bit temperamental for a while, but it's just typical of the recent months that it's another thing that's broken that I have to replace.  I've blogged about this recently, but I've had some more things go as well.  For example, I broke the Ethernet switch I use to connect my computers to the BT hub, so I had to replace that, and some of the buttons on my printer are dodgy (you have to press really hard and they don't always work) so I'll need to replace that.

Anyway, I'm waiting until I get paid this month before replacing the pump, which means I've actually been running on slightly low pressure tyres, as it was the connector to the tyre that broke.  This meant it was bleeding out air and whenever I tried to pump it would pop off, so it's deflated the tyres a little - nothing disastrous, but it needs sorting.

I attempted to sort the stuff in the shed, but there were a couple of problems with this.

The first was that my landlord didn't actually go until Saturday lunch.  I also missed him leaving, so it was quite late in the afternoon before I ventured out to the shed.

The second was that I had also decided to try to stay up all night.  I've mentioned before that I have been having trouble staying asleep and waking in the middle of the night.  While I still think stress is a part of this, I think the whole "habit formation" I also talked about is a big part of it.  One of the ways I've found to sort this is to basically stay up all night, which totally disrupts my body clock and allows me to reset it.

However, when you're doing that after having spent all day shifting big heavy boxes around, it doesn't quite work.  You're not only tired from being up; you're physically shattered from the exercise.  And of course, it's not a 1 day job, so going into the night sorting boxes became quite a chore and I wasn't really alert and thinking straight.

In the end I did go to sleep for a couple of hours that night.  The night time waking is still not sorted - I am waking up early, but it's early morning (5AM-ish), rather than middle of the night (1AM-ish) so I'm just a bit tired, rather than the walking dead.

However, I did generate a lot of stuff to go on e-bay.  And I mean a lot of stuff.  So much that I was too tired to put it on that first weekend and instead left it for this weekend, which also turned out to be a free-listing weekend.

This wasn't such a great idea.  I'd used the Saturday to clean the car and do other bits in order to leave the Sunday for it, but partly because of the Interview earlier in the week I was so tired I had to have a lie in on the Sunday and it was late before I started.

I then just launched into it without really thinking I would "do x, but not y" so I ended up doing it all day, and even then I had only put on about two thirds of it all.  I've also apparently been missing a trick with my auctions - I knew Sunday was the best day for them to end, but apparently he evening is the best and I was ending mine mid-afternoon.

By the time I'd finished I had 85 active auctions.  Now to be fair, some of these were re-lists I was doing to take advantage of the free listing, but still, that's an awful lot of stuff!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

fanboys

What a terrible film.

I thought it best to just come out and say it.  The problem I had with fanboys is that it was just a sort of weak, thinned-down version of a Kevin smith film.  Indeed if you take the dialogue of Clerks and mush it into Jay & silent Bob Strike back then you've basically got fanboys.

The idea behind it is of a bunch of nerds going to Skywalker Ranch to steal/view Star wars Episode 1 ahead of its release.  So you're talking about a bunch of nerds and you're talking about a road movie.  And that's basically it.

Unfortunately, the movie is just not as well written as a Kevin Smith film.  The dialogue lacks real punch.  It also seems to try to be "inclusive" of non-nerds - it felt a bit toned down and 'lite', instead of being full-on nerdy.  It was like they felt they couldn't be too extreme with the jokes because they might alienate some of the non-nerd audience.

The characters also felt a bit thin - fairly loose stereotypes, without a great deal of interest or individuality to them.

And of course the plot is very minimal - more like a series of sketches than a plot.  Given it's a road movie it could perhaps have had some saving graces in terms of how it was filmed, or the places they went to, for example, but it fell down thee too.

I'm being very harsh.  It wasn't painful to watch, the acting is okay and it's watchable, it's just that it was supposed to be funny and I didn't laugh once.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

dad's dog & fraud

I mentioned that it wasn't just work that had been making my time just recently a bit rubbish.

One of the other things was unfortunately that my Dad's dog has died.  He was a Labrador and apparently average life expectancy is around 10 years old.  My dad's dog was about 13 or 14 I think, so it has been on the cards and therefore wasn't totally unexpected.

However, that's not to say it wasn't a shock.

Being a typical Labrador he was motivated by his stomach and when he went ill the first few symptoms were "loose stools" and he wouldn't eat his food.  As such, my Dad took him to the vet promptly and they worked out that he was suffering from kidney failure.

Obviously you'll be aware kidney failure is pretty serious.  When people get it they have to do dialysis (filtering the blood, which is the kidney's main function) and need a transplant fairly promptly as they don't tend to last too long.

For a dog that would be an extreme length to go to.  They tried a few drugs in the hopes it might restart his kidneys but they eventually decided to put him down.

It's a shame - he was a nice dog (although to be totally fair he could have done with a few obedience classes).  My Dad has obviously therefore been a bit down and of course I'm so far away I can't be there in person.  I am going down to visit him for my holiday in a couple of weeks, though.

The other thing of note was that I suffered some internet fraud.

Well, I say that, I have a very strong suspicion they fucked up.

I have a PayPal account (you unfortunately can't get away from having one if you use e-bay) and what happened was that I received an e-mail saying that I'd made a payment to one of these online money things.

I hadn't, obviously, but the money had come out of my bank account (PayPal links to your bank & a credit card, in case you're not familiar).  It was £42, so not a giant sum, but significant, particularly given my current financial situation.

I immediately flagged it and they solved the case in my favour.

However, what makes me think it was a cock-up is that it was a single sizeable payment (they often do lots of little payments with fraud), but also it was how it was how my account was described on the e-mail.

Initially I'd thought it was just a phishing thing, but as I say, I checked my accounts and it had come out of my account.  But here's the thing - the account name given on the e-mail was not mine, but it was a sub-string of my account.  So if my account was "RandomName123@gmail.com" then the account it said was "Name123@gmail.com".

So as I say, this leads me to think they fucked up and a genuine transaction for somebody accidentally came out of my account.

The most annoying thing, though, was how long it took them to process the actual refund.  So I spotted about 6 hours after it happened (it was a weekend) and flagged it to all concerned.  Within 24 hours it had been decided in my favour and I was informed it would be refunded.  Within 48 hours I had received an e-mail telling me it had been refunded.  However it was 2 weeks before the money actually made it back into my account.

I've said it before, but PayPal is a fucking racket.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

and more moaning

I'm guessing it's not been fun to read for anyone that does, but it's felt quite cathartic to get all this stuff out in the air.

Hopefully today will be the last about work (well, for a while), but I'm certainly a long way from finishing with the moaning!

And this one's only a bit about work.

Around a month ago one of the Directors got married.  Congratulations to him, but it also acted as a stark statement of my standing.

Basically, I've known him longer than all but two other members of staff, and one of those was a friendship from way before he started working here.  However, most of the rest of the staff were invited to the wedding proper, whereas I was just invited to the evening reception.

Well, that's me told where I stand.

Anyway, when I arrived at the reception a bombshell was dropped on me. I would have to attend the redundancy meeting for a member of staff they're making redundant as their witness.  Or shit-canning them as I like to call it.  The reason I would have to do this was because the member of staff who was going to do it has had a tragedy (which has also really helped to improve the atmosphere in the office!)

They've actually made a complete mess of things with this employee, to be honest.

Now I will hold my hands up - I never really got on with this employee.  They're not my sort of person, and I found them a bit annoying.  I also found them quite unprofessional and borderline incompetent.

I honestly couldn't see why they'd been given a job, or, failing that, why they'd been kept on following the initial trial period.

But setting that aside, the reason for making them redundant was entirely about getting rid of them, and not about change in the business making that position redundant, which is what redundancy is supposed to be about.

And don't get me wrong, they did something that essentially made them useless to my company.  Basically the company is (currently) about selling out people as consultants to work for our Customers.  And this person initially was happy to do this, but then suddenly flipped and refused to do it.

Now instead of this being dealt with calmly and rationally, the MD flipped out.  The redundancy was how they decided to get rid of them.  But it's a poor decision, and I think the employee may take it all the way to a tribunal.

Anyway, the thing I was going to say is that the other element of why I had to attend this meeting was because there were fuck all other staff in the office.  The MD who got married took three weeks honeymoon straight after.  The other MD also had that week off and, in fact, there were only two members of staff in for the normal office for that first week and then it was hardly any better in the second week.

And to further underline my status: even though I was the only vaguely senior member of staff in the office, both of the MD's out of office messages said to contact other members of staff who were in the office for about 2 days during the whole period, but not me.

Monday, 23 September 2013

singapore grand prix

Singapore grand prix this last weekend.

The circuit used to have a rather notorious corner "turn 10" (why do none of the new circuits have proper names for the corners? I mean, I appreciate they also should have numbers, but giving them names too adds character.), which was essentially a chicane on a corner.

However, in order to make the drivers go around it properly it had really high curves.  The idea behind it was that with it being a street circuit, there was no run off so they wanted to encourage them to take the corner properly.

But, of course, racing drivers being racing drivers, they would always push it to the limit and therefore run over the curbs.  However, they were so high this launched the cars into the air and there were more than a few cars damaged by the subsequent landings.

This year they did away with the chicane element, so it was a normal corner.  This shaved a good 5 seconds off the lap time, but it wasn't enough for the circuit to become a decent length.

The race itself wasn't actually too bad in the beginning and end sections, but it had quite a long middle period where very little happened.  And because it was Singapore it meant it was banging up against the 2 hour limit.  Of course, being Singapore it also had a safety car period after someone hit the wall, so I guess if it hadn't had that it would have been under 2 hours, but every time the race has been run they've had a safety car.

Unfortunately for the championship, Vettel won, making it almost certain that he will win.  He has almost enough margin that he could miss a couple of races and still win.  I mean that in a reliability sense, rather than him taking a holiday - if the car blows up and Alonso wins he would still have a huge margin.

But then, given how reliable all the cars are nowadays that's not very likely.

There was also finally the announcement that Raikkonen will be moving to Ferrari next year, which seems to mean Ferrari will have two number one drivers.  This is very odd for them - they're a team that likes to have a clear number one and a number two.

Rumours therefore flew that Alonso might go to McLaren, but I doubt this, and, interestingly, Ron Dennis was at the race.  Ron was the main part of McLaren that Alonso didn't like.  Plus, given how things are changing next year, it's a bit of a crap shoot - even Adrian Newey at Red Bull might be wrong footed if the Renault engine isn't up to snuff.

Unfortunately the unluckiest man in Formula 1, Mark Webber, had a problem with his car that caused the engine to blow up (wasn't clear if it was engine or gear box) and to cap the weekend he then got a reprimand for running out onto the circuit to get a lift back from Alonso.  It wasn't the lift that was the issue, but the going on to the circuit, but because he's now had 3 reprimands he gets an automatic 10-place grid penalty at the Korean Grand Prix!

It's weird how it's always Mark that has these issues - KERS failures seem to be particularly favourite.

Friday, 20 September 2013

singapore grand prix

I was away yesterday attending a job interview, so there was no post because of that, rather than me lapsing again!

Singapore Grand Prix this weekend.

Unfortunately, Singapore is usual one of the really dull races.  It has some novelty appeal in that they hold it at night under great big lights.  So far they've been lucky with the weather (artificial lights would be particularly bad if there was spray) and it's been a dry race.

The real problem with the track is that it's a street circuit.  Street circuits have something of an appeal if you're at the track as you can get really close to the cars and the noise echoes around the buildings, but in terms of a race they're often quite dull.  The problem is that roads are very different to circuits.

Circuits are generally a lot wider than roads and the corners and bends are much more organically shaped - following contours in the terrain or avoiding obstacles, etc., whereas streets are about taking you to somewhere as quickly and directly as possible.

It's also a very long, slow lap and therefore the whole race often rubs up against the two hour limit.

I think you can tell I'm not really looking forward to it.  The BBC is only showing highlights, but I'll probably listen to it on the radio (if they're covering it).

Otherwise its' the last weekend before my landlord returns, so I will probably try to finish off stuff.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

starship troopers: invasion

Invasion is actually the fourth film in the Starship Troopers series.

It is a "canon" in the sense that it follows on from the events of the previous films and even includes some of the characters; however, there's a notable difference in that it is a CG film.

When I started watching I wasn't sure it was canon.  It used the costumes and equipment from the previous films, as well as the bug designs, but that didn't necessarily mean it fit properly into that same universe.  It also even included the Marauder suits, which appeared in the third film (one of the weird things with me getting so far behind with reviews is that I have watched this, but it was on TV, so it is a lower priority for me to write about, and there are now about 20 things I've rented and not blogged about!).

The marauder suits are the films finally incorporating the proper mobile infantry concept that is actually key to the original books.  Indeed, the concept of powered suits was actually invented by Heinlein for the original book and it was always a bit odd that it wasn't included in the original film.

I mean, I understand why they took all the troopers out of the suits - expense, difficulty identified with people covered up in suits, reduced threat from the bugs - but they could have had them in it a little bit, like at the end or in a lab or something.

Anyway, this CG film is actually Japanese.  I actually think it was made by the same group that put together the Appleseed CG films, but I'm not totally certain on that.  It looks about similar to the second of the Appleseed films, so certainly better than the first of those, but not quite in the realms of so real you can't tell it from reality.

It's also a bit odd in that it was filmed in English.  I mean, it was filmed in Japan by a Japanese Director, but many of the actors were American and spoke English and the VAs spoke English.  This works okay, but felt a little odd if I'm totally honest, but I'm not sure why.

The film itself is okay.  It continues quite a lot of the tongue in cheek over the top aspects, but manages to stay this side of pastiche.  The plot is a bit hokey, though, and twists itself in a couple of knots.

The real question though is whether being filmed in CG really adds anything.  I'm not sure it does, tbh.  I mean, I guess it means they were able to produce a bigger film than they otherwise might be able to?  However, it also makes it more of a niche product, which limits the degree to which they can distribute it.

Monday, 16 September 2013

landlord away

My landlord has gone away on holiday for about a week and a half.

This is good timing and bad.

The good part is that it means I can get into the shed.  I've a lot of stuff I need to get rid of in there, both from a space point of view, but also from a getting some cash point of view.

He's basically blocked in all my stuff in a corner, which is staggeringly annoying if I want to get something out, but I mean, it's his shed, I shouldn't really expect to have easy access, should I?

I'm particularly expecting to sell a lot of the figures I've collected.  I think these were one of my madder moments from the recent years.  They take up quite a lot of room and I don't actually have anywhere to put them.  Unfortunately they also lose value quite quickly - once a series is a few years old, people don't want the figures.  In fact, they don't sell all that well even if they're a current series, in my experience.

Still, I've so many of them I should do okay with getting a bit of money, which I sorely need.

I'm struggling with the finances quite badly.  I'm just about living within my means, but I really need to see about getting something done in terms of a loan to replace the credit card debt.  The payments for the cards are killing me and obviously being credit cards you're mainly just paying off interest, rather than the debt itself.

It's not so good in that it's a bit late - I had thought he was going away last week, which would have worked a lot better from a timing point of view.  It also means the weather is now proper autumn, so it's been raining a lot, making it difficult to do some of the stuff I want to / need to.  So, for example, giving the car a clean will be a bit of a trick shot.

Friday, 13 September 2013

for sale

I ended yesterday mentioning the sale of the company I work for.

At the time I talked a lot about "cake".  I may have subsequently explained this, but the cake in question was actually an employee share scheme.  Basically the Managing Director wants to retire.  To do this she needs to sell the company so that she can release a nice pot of money for her to go away with.

However, if you say to all the employees "I'm selling the company so I can retire" they may not view that too kindly as it introduces a lot of uncertainty, particularly around who will take over and what the new conditions will be like.  This would therefore generally encourage the employees to look for new jobs, so by having the share scheme you effectively promise to give away a chunk of that sale money so that those people hang around.

My problem is that basically I've ended up with a share option, rather than actual shares.  This option means that I have the option to buy the shares at a later date at a reduced price.  The idea therefore being I sell the shares immediately as part of the whole sale and the difference between what they pay and what I get is therefore a nice sum of money.

But there are some problems.

The company is currently worth nothing.  Now this is deliberate as it's basically a way of minimising tax, but it also means that the shares I've got are next to worthless.  If sold the next day I wouldn't even have been able to pay off my smallest credit card debt.

Now in some ways that's a good thing in that it means they have the potential for the maximum gain, but the real problem is that I have no idea how many shares there are total and what my proportion of those shares is, and I only have vague ideas what the company is currently worth, what it might sell for eventually, and there are no mechanisms to know how the company/share value is changing.

So, to use some simple numbers, it's all very well knowing that at the start I have the option to buy 1,000 at 10p each and sell them at 20p each.  That means I would get £100.  But I have no way of knowing if the value of the shares has doubled across the year or tripled, or halved or what.

The other issue over the proportion of shares makes things even more complicated.  Basically, for example, there are actually 1,000 shares, and what they've done is take, say, 100 of those shares, turn that into 1,000 shares, revalue them, and then distribute them to the employees.

This makes things very complicated to calculate the actual value of the shares.  With the above numbers, if they sold each original share for £1, that means that the 100 shares would be worth £100, but as I say, they've then made each of the actual shares distributed 1/10 of those shares, so actually we get shares worth 10p each.  This means it might seem attractive to us to sell the shares at £1, but then we only get 10% of that.  Or, remember, we need to buy these shares at 5p each, so really we get 5% of the value.

But of course I don't know the real numbers.  So if I've been given 1,000 shares is that a big proportion of the total pot?  Have I got 10% of the shares?  Or 0.01%?  And this really matters because it affects what I actually stand to make, but I can't know, so it's all a bit meaningless.

It's like if I give you a million spondulics, have I just given you a fortune or nothing at all?  Of course you didn't have any spondulics to start with, so in a way you've got a fortune, but only in spondulic terms.

I've been with the company the longest, which from what I was told means I have a bigger proportion of the shares.  But then I was told a lot about the share scheme when I agreed to stay on and only a small proportion of it has turned out to be true.  Firstly I was told there would be dividends.  Well, there are no dividends on share options.  I don't own any shares, so I've nothing to receive a dividend on.

It also transpires that the shares have been divided up based on seniority as the most important factor, rather than length of service.  I mean, that's a factor, but seniority is a more important factor and of course I'm in the "middle" tier, so I'm pretty sure I have less shares than the directors, even though they've only been here a couple of years and I've been here more than a decade.

And here's the other thing - I'm underpaid.  I've also been underpaid for the last five years when I didn't have a single pay rise, despite the rapidly escalating cost of living.

I have debt because I was underpaid (well, that and me being a fucking moron).  So what's better, getting a new job that pays the market rate now?  Or gambling that the amount I get down the line is sufficient to make up for that underpayment+ a little more?

Well looking at some numbers I can't make the latter make sense.  Plus, as mentioned, I don't really enjoy working here any more.

So why stay?  Particularly since it will be at least three years before the company is actually sold.  I can't stay here three years - I can't stay six months.  Did I mention I don't enjoy working here any more?

Thursday, 12 September 2013

work

So I thought I'd do the first blog about why I've not been having much fun just recently.

Unfortunately it's become very apparent to me that my decision to stay on at my current employer last year was a big mistake.

I'm really not enjoying work.

All the same crap still seems to happen.  I had thought that some of the reason for me staying on was to help introduce some better ways of doing things, but basically they've all been either ignored or actively disregarded.

I'll give you a very good example - we've recently introduced a new Contact Management System.  Now, Contact Management is key to what I do - bid management.

However, at no stage have I been asked my opinion or in any way included in the process.

The old thing we used to use was a bespoke system put together by one of the employees and it was bobbins.  It was full of fields that nobody understood, nobody used to fill it out anyway and there was never any training to explain anything.  The problem being it wasn't properly designed - it was thrown together and packed full of "wouldn't it be nice if it" stuff.

Guess what's happened with the new system?

It's full of stupid fields that are either pointless or nobody understand the purpose of / what to put in there.  And there's not been any training.

Part of the problem is they've bought something that is a product - it is an "out of the box" thing.  Now there are a few ways they could have gone that would have worked:

  • Get a complete bespoke solution, a bit like the old one, but made by professionals.
  • Get an existing solution and either:
  1. Pay to make it bespoke
  2. Modify the processes and procedures of the company to match the product.

Guess what they've done?

They've kept the out of the box product and added in loads of fields that mimic the crap the old system used to have.  So the problem is they're trying to make it bespoke when the product itself is set up such that in other to make it bespoke in any useful sense you have to get a programmer in to change stuff.

A programmer who costs a lot of money.  And they're not willing to spend any money.

This bespoking has also been done by someone who is not that way inclined - he's not a programmer, not an analyst and really not at all suited to the job.  And it's been "managed" by the MD.  Who has started taking loads of holidays and breaks like she has already retired and is focused on trying to sell the company.

Which is the other thing, but I will continue with that tomorrow.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

underworld: awakening

I wasn't sure what to expect with this fourth film in the underworld series.

I enjoyed the first one quite a bit, but found the second one underwhelming and a little confusing.  The third film was actually a prequel and was okay, but really Selene (Beckinsale's character) was the only one that was interesting and she wasn't really in it.

This fourth one does star Selene, but also introduces a daughter (sort of).  Now when actresses and characters get older there seems to be a bit of a thing for them acquiring children.  I mean, don't get me wrong, obviously people get older and have children, but when those characters are odd (vampires or superheroes or whatever) the children thing is also normally odd (not really a child, but a clone or whatever).

I dunno, you can get some weird stuff in order to force the film down the whole maternal instinct path.  And that's basically the case here - the maternal thing is pretty much crowbarred in.

However, if you set that aside, I actually quite enjoyed the film.  Selene is still quite an interesting character and it doesn't hurt that Beckinsale seems even more gorgeous (she may be of equal gorgeousness, but the previous films were a long time ago!).  I mean, don't get me wrong, the story was a bit poor, constructed of quite a lot of clich├ęs, but then if you're watching the fourth Underworld film, why would you be expecting anything less?

No, what I enjoyed was the visual look of the film, the action and the special effects.

Now it's not all great the film was shot in 3D and there were a few of those stupid moment they always build in to have stuff flying out at the audience but then look daft when you watch them non-3D (and daft in 3D if you're of that persuasion) but it wasn't too bad here.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

sleepy

I've been having a terrible time sleeping just recently.

I've been doing a bit of research (always dangerous!) and there's a suggestion it might be a form of insomnia.  It's not the sort of insomnia you generally think of, where you have trouble getting to sleep, but instead I keep waking up in the middle of the night.

Specifically I've been waking up at around 1AM-4AM for the last 2 weeks.

That's quite a range and what actually appears to be happening is the waking point is drifting earlier and earlier.  So I was generally waking at about 4AM when it first started, but on Sunday night it was 1AM.

It seems to be happening irrespective of the actual time I go to sleep as well.  So if I go to sleep at 8PM then it happens, but if I go to sleep at 12PM it also still happens.  Of course in the former case that means I've gotten a good chunk of sleep and in the latter I've only gotten a few hours.  However of course in the former it means having no life.

There's also the problem of reinforcement.

By that I mean that by playing to the timetable (going to bed early in the expectation I'll wake in the middle of the night) it will reinforce the pattern.  And, indeed, instead of being insomnia there's a good chance that is what it really is.  It's something I've always been susceptible too - over holidays and weekends I will wake up when my alarm would go off and start to fall asleep at my usual time.

The insomnia is called Middle-of-the-night insomnia, which is a rather uninspired name, but it is actually something that seems to be well known.  There are some possible medical reasons, but basically it seems to be down to stress, which would match well with all the rubbish stuff that's been happening to me and I still haven't posted about yet.

The frustrating side of it is that I don't have any trouble getting to sleep.  No actually, the frustrating side of it is that when I wake up in the middle of the night I initially feel great and rested like I've had a good night's sleep and I think Finally "I've slept through".

It's then only after about half an hour that I start to think "hang on, why is my alarm not going off?" and then look at my curtains for the tell-tale cracks of light that indicate daylight, which I don't see and then I think "oh for fuck's sake, not again".

I then go for a pee and check how bad it is by checking my phone, which is when it gets annoying.

If I get up then by normal day time I'll be shattered.  If I try to watch a bit of telly or similar before going back to bed I'll have woken up enough to have the same effect.  If I read for a bit I get bored and then lay there often not able to get back to sleep.  And if I just try to go back to sleep my mind races and 9 times out of 10 it doesn't work properly.

Even if it does work, the quality of sleep seems to be poor and I am still tired all day.

Monday, 9 September 2013

italian grand prix

Well, that was a lot better than I was expecting.

I have to confess I wasn't really looking forward to Monza as my memory of it is as a circuit where it's very difficult to overtake, but that didn't appear to be the case this weekend as there was a lot of action on the track.  Indeed it also seemed to disprove what I was saying about the DRS, but that wasn't quite as it might have appeared.

Basically because Monza is so high speed (I think it only has about 6 corners!) they all use a special low-down force package, and of course that means the rear wing is quite skinny.  As such the DRS (which basically opens a hole in the rear wing to reduce its drag) doesn't have a huge impact.  That means it generally allowed them to get into overtaking position without just driving past.

I mean, that wasn't always the case - there were some drive pasts, but even these weren't as daft as they were at Spa, for example, with the drivers able to defend a bit and then fight back at the next corner.

Unfortunately it was also a bit of a weird weekend.

Riciardo was confirmed as Webber's replacement at Red Bull, but the whole rest of driver situation is quite messy.  It seems like Raikonen is likely to go back to Ferrari, and Alonso wasn't happy.  Well, the feeling was that that was a big part of why Alonso wasn't happy.  He could easily have been unhappy at how the weekend went generally.

It's odd - the Mercedes has generally qualified well this season and then gone backwards on race day, where the Ferrari seems to qualify poorly then do really well during the race.  Reliability issues aside, I think Alonso has always finished some way above where he qualified.

And mentioning Mercedes, they had a bit of a shocker.  Hamilton said he made a mess of qualifying, but I think that was overly harsh.  Rosberg didn't actually do that much better, it was more that Hamilton messed up his quick laps in 2nd qualifying.

However, his radio then failed during the race, so he couldn't hear them calling him in for his pit stops, for example.  He did make up a couple of spots, taking him into the points, but it was clear he felt he could & should have done a lot better across the weekend.

I have to say it now looks like Vettel is going to take the driver's championship as the others just haven't been able to deliver a consistent challenge.

Friday, 6 September 2013

italian grand prix

It's the italian grand prix this weekend from Monza.

Monza is one of the fastest tracks on the current circuit and is not that far off being an Indi-car style oval circuit.  Indeed, I seem to recall the old, banked circuit was an oval.  I mean, it has a few chicanes and that, but if you were to take an oval and stretch it and put a dog leg in it, that wouldn't be too far off of Monza.

Anyway, the point is that it's a very fast circuit and the race often doesn't take much more than an hour to run.

It's normally an okay race.  It doesn't tend to have a lot of overtaking, though it is possible.  Part of the issue is that being so fast and having so few corners it's not often they make mistakes, so there's not much chance to take advantage of that.

Still, it's usually a good race for Ferrari who tend to build a car that does well on high speed circuits.  Hopefully therefore Alonso should do well, which should keep the championship alive.

There's also the possibility that if the Mercedes can get on pole in qualifying then they'll be able to dominate and hold the others back.  That was part of the key as to why they did well in Hungary - get on pole and stay there.

Of course that's also the general Red Bull tactic, but then the car (deliberately) doesn't tend to have the highest top speed so they may struggle to achieve it.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

belgium grand prix

Thought so - I wrote this yesterday, but turns out I didn't post it!

During my absence I only missed blogging on the one grand prix, which was Spa Francochamps in Belgium.

Usually Spa is one of the best races of the year, as it has natural opportunities to overtake and the drivers enjoy racing there.  It's also a place where it often rains, and unpredictably so.  Because of the hills it has its own little micro-climate that can take the teams by surprise.

Having given it the big build-up this year's race was okay.  Qualifying was good as it was quite exciting.  The weather played a major part and parts of the sessions were wet.  However, in the race it stayed dry throughout.

I also have to say I think DRS ruins a circuit like Spa.  The problem is that there are good places to overtake, and they still use them, but because there's quite a big DRS section some of the time they wait until they can get on the DRS straight and simply overtake with the extra speed.  Which is the worst form of overtaking.

Good overtaking is getting them into the corner (or I guess sometimes when coming out of a corner) but simply driving past the other guy on the straight because you have extra speed that he doesn't isn't overtaking.  And there was a fair bit of that this year.

DRS does work on a handful of circuits (notably the circuits in the middle east) but the intention was meant to be that it aided overtaking, helping them get into an overtaking position, not that it allows them to drive past.

Monday, 2 September 2013

a month away

I’ve obviously not been blogging for the month of August.

This wasn’t deliberate.  Well, it became deliberate, but it didn’t start that way.  It started as just the usual lack of blogging, but then some stuff happened that meant I haven’t really been having much fun, so writing a blog didn’t really seem like something I wanted to do.

I’m feeling pretty miserable, actually.  I definitely wouldn’t go so far or as dramatic) to say I was depressed, but I would rate my mood just recently as being below average and I’m one of life’s less cheery people, so you can see I’ve not been happy.

I’ll make some posts in the future about some of the stuff that’s been happening.  These won’t be immediate, and I’m not sure this blog will be particularly regularly updated for a while, but I’m definitely going to do my best not to be totally silent for a whole month again.

I thought though for this return post I’d mention something a little bit positive.

I’ve been struggling with the diet/weight for quite a while now.  I’d basically reached a point where my weight has stabilised, but it was some way above where I wanted it to be.

Now part of the problem was that I‘ve been eating bad things - high calories, stuff. However, it wasn’t like it used to be and I was a bit puzzled how my weight wasn’t really changing either way.

However, I've now figured out that exercise is also a big part of the problem.  It’s not that I’ve stopped doing my walking - indeed, I’ve been doing the same amount that I’d built up to before.  And that is the problem.  I think my body/metabolism has built up to cope with this level of exercise.

It’s difficult to explain, but basically the last couple of weeks I’ve been testing out doing more exercise and it’s led to some more significant reductions, despite still doing badly with sticking to the diet.  So the key is for me to increase the exercise.  It’s going to be difficult as it means more time spent doing it, but I’m some way below the recommended 10,000 steps per day so it’s not like I’m going nuts.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

tinker, tailor, soldier, spy

I actually listened to this as audiobook while walking shortly before watching the film.

I found the book good but a little confusing.  It's one of those with a lot of characters who are introduced in fairly subtle ways and often without much in the way of physical description so there's not much for you to hang onto.

Plot wise it made perfect sense, but I had to really concentrate on the characters - particularly since the point is that one of them is a spy!

This film has a bit of a hard act to follow.  It's one of a few adaptations and one of the most famous was by the BBC and starred Alec Guinness of all people and was quite well regarded.

This is also the first in a set of stories by le Carre and featuring the character George Smiley and revolving around Karla, a Russian spy.  Smiley features in many other of le Carre's novels, but these are probably the most well known.  What I'm saying is that if they are adapting this then they probably intended to do all of the other Karla books.

So do I think they should - was it any good?

Well yes, I thought it was quite a good adaptation.  Smiley is played by Gary Oldman and I have to say he's perfect in the role.  He really nails the character and it's a suitably subtle performance - Smiley is a very taciturn, deliberate, thoughtful character, not given to outbursts or displays of emotion.

The story is necessarily tweaked to fit the running time, though the main core of the story is there.  The real changes are around the more peripheral characters.  One of the best examples of this is Jim Prideaux.  In the book there's quite a lot of stuff around his job as a school teacher, particularly revolving around one of the boys.  In the film he's a school teacher, and we see some of the events, but they're incidental flavour, rather than things that take up significant screen time.

This has the advantage of not muddying the waters - the focus is squarely on Smiley, though it does remove some of the colour.

Overall I thought it was a good adaptation then, particularly of material that's very cerebral in nature.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

hungarian grand prix

I didn't post a blog yesterday because I got busy with something from early on and basically forgot.

It was the Hungarian Grand Prix this weekend.

It's been on the calendar a long time has Hungary, but it's not one of the classic races.  The nature of the circuit is such that it's very difficult to overtake.  The circuit is relatively slow speed as it is basically a continuous series of corners.  This makes it challenging and (I imagine) interesting to drive, but doesn't facilitate overtaking.

However, saying all that, this recent race was okay.  I mean, it wasn't amazing, but there was enough stuff happening that it wasn't totally dull.

It was also Hamilton's first win for Mercedes.  I have to admit they've done a lot better this year than I thought they would - I thought they'd struggle this year and then possibly pull off a blinder with the new engines next year.

He's also theoretically in the hunt for the championship, but I think this weekend was actually somewhat distorted.  Basically Vettel, Alonso and Raikonnen got a bit stuck behind Button's McLaren.  Button actually did quite well in the race, as he was down in 13th after qualifying and ended up 8th.  I think they drove a clever strategy that Button was able to make work, but it was helped by the difficulty of overtaking at the circuit, as he then delayed a lot of people.

However, there is another way of looking at that, in that Lewis was also in the position of having to overtake people on a difficult circuit, but he did it, where others either failed or took too long.  Hamilton had to overtake Button once and Webber twice and did so it quick order each time.

To me this shows the difference between Lewis and some of the competition - give him a car that's up to the job and let him go and he will race, where others will perhaps tend to sit back and consolidate.

It's now the F1 mid-season break, so there won't be any races for a while, and I think when it comes back at the end of the month it's the always entertaining Belgium race at Spa.

Friday, 26 July 2013

hungarian grand prix

Hungarian grand prix this weekend.  It's not usually that interesting as a race, and the BBC is only showing highlights.  After this there's a 3 week gap, during which F1 has its "two week holiday".

I have to confess I've not found this season all that memorable.  There's been a few interesting races, but it doesn't seem as close as last year.  Weirdly, even though the rules were pretty stable again, it seems to have had something of a crystallising effect on some of the teams.  Perhaps they've shifted significant focus to next year's car?

It doesn't help that McLaren are not in contention and some of the mid-level teams have relatively poor cars.

I've no particular plans this weekend.  I had thought that I might play some games other than SimCity.  I mentioned doing this a while back, but didn't actually do it.

Alternatively I might try to get ahead with watching some of the anime I keep selling, rather than having to watch it once it's already sold.

My landlord is going away on holiday in September this year I believe so I'm expecting to have a go at the contents of the shed.  There's quite a bit of stuff out there that I think I'm going to have to sell, given my financial situation.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

loads of anime pt3

rideback

I seem to be making the same basic point on quite a few of these series I've watched - that I found the direction it took a little disappointing after the initial few episodes that I'd watched by way of preview.

Well in this case I can say... pretty much the same thing.

In the first couple of episodes of rideback we're introduced to the main characters, as well as the ridebacks, which are essentially bicycle mecha hybrids.  They're pretty cool and the sudden and instant connection that the main character Rin has with them is just as enjoyable as I remembered.  It also develops the point about her being a former ballet dancer and that the ridebacks become something like a replacement for this.

The problem really is that there's a whole political thing that is uses initially as a kind of backdrop, which is fine, but that then becomes a central part of the story.  And my problem with it was that it was the usual unrealistic anime weird political stuff.  I mean, it goes on about the world government and this being taken over and stuff, but it makes little to no sense.

Of course the important thing is how it affects the characters, and it does this quite well, though it does generate a couple of rather one-dimensional military types as a result, which just took the edge off of it for me.

I also found the character designs a bit off.  I'm not saying they're bad, it's just they felt very old skool, but obviously it is quite a new anime.  It wouldn't have been so bad if the technology was depicted in a similar old skool style, but it isn't so it felt a bit like taking an older anime and airbrushing some new CGI mechs over the top, which didn't really work for me.

I'm being quite harsh and it is an enjoyable anime that seems to have fallen between the cracks a bit; it's just for me it didn't become an instant classic.

kimi ni todoke

I actually first encountered kimi ni todoke in anime format, though it is actually an adaptation of a manga.  Having sampled the show and enjoyed it I then read the manga and subsequently bought the anime.  I have to confess I got a bit annoyed at the manga, so I was a little worried when I finally came to watch the anime.

Anyway, kimi ni todoke it's a shoujo series and centres on a girl who unfortunately looks like the character "Sadako" from the ring films, with a similar name.  She is Sawako, where the ring character is Sadako, which her classmates give her as a nickname - it doesn't really refer to this fully in the anime, I'm guessing for copyright reasons, though keeps the nickname so it's still there.  She therefore ends up linked by her peers to the occult, partly due to the films thing, but also because of her look and behaviour.

Unfortunately, Sawa is socially rather inept.  She's actually very kind and does lots to help her fellow students, but the way she presents herself and behaves means that they are all scared of her - or creeped out by her, at least.

However, she has fallen for the class's mister popular and he has fallen for her, and the series is therefore about their love - will it overcome their shyness, etc?

Well, that's definitely what the anime is about.  There are obviously some peripheral characters to this main story and the reason I got a bit pissed off with the manga is that it veers and hauls over to focusing on those peripheral characters.  Now this would be okay if it was short-ish or it was about how the main characters really help them, but actually our main characters become a real side-act during these diversions.

However, the anime doesn't lose this focus, so it's more satisfying in a way.  Well, the first series is.  I found the second series quite frustrating.  It deviates a fair bit from the manga and takes the whole miss-understandings aspect of the story to an extreme that I actually found a bit annoying.  I mean, it justifies why their friends don't properly interfere, but I just wanted to bonk them on the head and say - "Look: you love each other, get on with it!"

But that's really only a small thing and it is a very good series that's worth watching if you like romantic stuff.

steins;gate

I have to confess when I sampled this one I wasn't massively impressed.

I'd watched a bit of the previous one in this "series" (I don't think series is quite the right word - I think these ones with the semi-colon by 5pb are related, but I don't think they have the same characters in them, so I'm not 100% sure how) Chaos;Head and found it awful.  The main character was so annoying I couldn't watch more than an episode, from memory.  The premise also seemed daft.

My sampling therefore pretty much boiled down to me watching the first couple of episodes and deciding the protagonist of this was also annoying (though not as bad) and finding the story very confusing.

However, later on I read quite a few people raving about the series, so for some reason I decided to buy it (yeah, no wonder I'm skint, right?).  When I came to watch it, then, I wasn't really expecting much from it, and suspected I might end up stopping half way through.

I guess time mellows a bit as I didn't find the protagonist annoying, but did still find the plot a bit confusing.  Well, initially I did - it takes a while, but it starts to make a bit more sense later one.  Or rather it does until it fully gets into its time travel stuff, then it becomes quite confusing, but in a good way.

I have to confess, though, until about half way through the series I really didn't see what people were raving about.  However, at that half-way point there's a particular episode that really elevates the series from okay to quite good.  the rest of the series is about the ramifications from that, and it's this latter half that really works, helping to develop the characters and their relationships properly.

If I'm honest I'm not sure it quite "works" in terms of its time travel, as I think the way it does it means that it undermines itself, but really that's secondary compared to what it does with the characters.

I wouldn't put it in the "classic" bracket, but it was certainly more enjoyable than I'd expected.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

the king's speech

I think part of the reason I've fallen so far behind with these reviews is because I wasn't really sure what to say about this film.

You'll almost certainly be aware that the film won four Oscars and a whole slew of other things, was critically praised and made a bucket load.  And, unfortunately for writing this review, I don't really disagree with that.  It is a damn fine film.

As I understand it was actually based on an adapted version of a screenplay written by the voice coach (Lionel Logue).  It is deftly written - the characterisations of Logue and Albert are particularly good, though some of the more peripheral characters are rather incidental and not really fleshed out in any particular depth, but then it doesn't really suffer for that.

Anyway, what is particularly good is it does make them feel like real people - Albert is quite caustic in many places and the no-heirs Aussie nature of Logue isn't over-done as it could easily have become pastiche.

The performances are also excellent.  Firth and Rush portray Albert and Logue extremely well.  Firth actually sounds just like Albert (there's some extras with original audio on there).

The locations are also well used.  It could so easily have fallen into a big productions palaces and posh frocks thing, but it avoids that altogether.  Indeed, much of the film takes places in relatively ordinary spaces.

So yeah, pretty short review as I'm not quite sure what I can really add.  It is a good film.  I guess if you were a total anti-monarchist you may be able to be miffed at it, but really the point of this is that it works because of that, rather than against it.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

duff stuff

I posted the other week about some things that seemed to have all broken at the same time.

When I started the post I was sure there was a big long list of stuff, but then the actual list wasn't that massive.  I later remembered some of the stuff that has also broken that I forgot to mention.

Although first, I should say that my suspicion over what was causing my computer to go funny proved accurate - the wire that provides power to the CPU cooler was trapping the fan, causing it to make the funny noise and, presumably, do the whole restart thing.  I'm not quite sure I follow how it was causing the issues, but I adjusted it so it's nowhere near and the noise and unreliability stopped.

Anyway - the other broken stuff does actually mostly relate to my computer.

First off the speakers - the right speaker has stopped working.  The left speaker and the bass module are still functional, but the right doesn't seem to want to play ball.  To be honest, the speakers are old and knackered anyway and had started to make odd feedback noises if the cables were in particular positions.

Then there's my printer.  This appears to have gotten to the stage of printing some stuff in particular colours okay, but other colours or big things with lots of colours are coming out funny.  I've tried cleaning the heads and using all the deep cleaning (which costs a fortune in ink) and it doesn't make any difference, so I'm guessing something is rather more permanently clogged.

There's a stage with printers were the need to clean them (and thereby waste ink) makes them uneconomical.  I read somewhere that printer ink is one of the most expensive fluids in the world, ranking up there with semen from famous horses.

The next thing that's been on the fritz was my mouse.  I've had it a very long time so my suspicion was that it was getting gunked up.  It's an optical mouse, so there's not the rollerball gunk issue, but I've always produced a lot of greasy (and acidic) sweat that tends to foul even optical mice up.

However, with the mouse I was fairly determined to see if I could fix it, where the other stuff I will have to replace.  I therefore set about it with a screwdriver (it had a surprising number of screws in it) and some tissues to wipe off any gunk.

I have to confess it didn't seem as bad as I'd thought it might be, so it may just be knackered, though it seems to be performing better now.  Well, it is once I'd corrected my classic mistake.

Having put the thing back together, I naturally found a spare spring (there's always a spring or a screw left over!).  I couldn't for the life of me work out where it had come from, but then eventually worked out it was the spring that you push against when depressing the centre mouse wheel.  It took me ages to work out how it must go in order to achieve the tension, but it's all back together now.

And now for the biggie!

This actually happened just last week, but my exhaust fell off my car!

I was driving back home along the A31 when suddenly the car started making a very deep noise like those idiots who have the "loud" exhausts on.  There was also a noticeable drop in power and a kind of scraping noise, leading me to think my exhaust may be damaged.

Even a cursory glance when I got back confirmed this and a more thorough examination showed that at the least back end of the exhaust (where the silencer is) was very loose, if not detached from the rest of the exhaust.

I therefore had to take it to the garage, having attached some string to hopefully keep it from dropping off.

A new exhaust + fitting cost me £145!  But then also this was mid-week so I had to still go to work, which meant the train for several days, which added another £20.  I have no idea how train fares work - they certainly don't seem to bare any resemblance to common sense.  How it costs as much as they charged me I've no idea - how can two singles, one at off-peak and the peak one being only 2 stops cost half as much again as a 3-stop return bought during peak?

Oh, the joys of privatisation.  Fuck you Maggie.

Monday, 22 July 2013

melting

I think I'm melting

This last weekend there was a bit of a let up from the heat, but today it's been even hotter than it has been.  It also seems much more humid today.  The only small element of comfort I've been taking in the heat has been that the humidity hasn't been too high, but today it's been hot and sticky.

It's been costing me a fortune of course as I've been having to have the air conditioner on in order to bring things down into a more acceptable range for sleeping.  One of the problems I have is that I can't have the windows open at night because of the risk of mosquitos (I react rather badly to their bites) but also I have to have the black bags on the windows in order to block out the light.

Unfortunately the way the sun shines on my bedsit is quite inconvenient as it tends to cause it to heat up quite a lot in the late afternoon / early evening, just when you don't want it to.

I have discovered a bit of a trick with one of my fans, though.  I have to turn the air con off to actually go to bed, but I have a big vertical fan that has a timer on it.  What seems to work quite well, therefore, is if I turn that on for a short period after the aircon is off then it blows across me, helping to keep me cool, but obviously the timer means it won't then go all night.  It's quite loud, so I would be worried it might wake me up if I left it all night, but I tend to get dry eyes and things like that if I have a fan on me too long.

There were no posts last week as I was maxed out on the bid I mentioned.  It was a horrible week, actually, if I'm honest.

Friday, 12 July 2013

phew what a scorcher

Well, summer appears to have arrived this last week and, as per usual, it has arrived with an exclamation mark.

I've always found this a bit puzzling about the British weather, in that it suddenly seems to flip.  A couple of weeks back I was regularly having to use my thick duvet cover and was dithering over whether to put my jumpers and tracksuits in the shed, and now I'm wandering about in shorts and a t-shirt.

Last weekend I actually broke out the air conditioner.  I tried to avoid it on the Saturday, as it does obviously cost money to run and I don't have very much of that spare.  However, Saturday night's sleep was terrible as it was too warm and so Sunday I had it on all day.

I used it again Monday and Tuesday after work, but then the rest of the week it's been a bit more tolerable and the evening more conducive to sleep.

It's meant to be really hot again this weekend, so I might have to wheel it out again, though actually there's a very good chance I'll have to be in work this weekend.  The problem really is that I have a big bid that needs working on and I could have worked on it this week, but unfortunately a series of other bids needed me to fix them and that ate up all my time.

It's a shame really as I think the bid could represent a good general opportunity for the company, but it's kinda been received like a wet fart.

I find working where I do so frustrating.  If I had a bit of spare cash I'd be back looking for a job, I think.  Unfortunately money is so tight it makes it difficult - I'd need to buy some new smart clothes (trousers in particular) and then there would be the cost of travelling to the interviews, etc.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

cashless

I'm still quite badly skint.

Things aren't quite as tight as they were.  I've been very stingy with my spending and my relatively higher salary has meant that it's started to come back into parity.  I've also not done too badly with selling things on e-bay (the Blu Rays in particular) so that's helped alleviate the situation more than I had feared.

All my cards are still pretty much maxed out.  Indeed, part of the issue is that some of them slipped over the credit limits and I got hit with various fees.  That meant I had to spend even more to bring them back into the limits.  Of course it also means I have no safety net in terms of spending.

It's quite surprising actually how bills turn up when you're skint that you don't normally think about when you're not skint.  A good example of this was the TV licence.  I'd actually been randomly thinking that I didn't seem to have paid this in a while and then the bill turned up last month and I was shocked by how much it was.

Well, I was shocked that I couldn't afford to pay it until payday came around.  This was a little stressful in that it gave me a very small window to actually pay it (payday is quite a variable concept where I work), but also I realised I'd never really thought about how much the license is.

I mean, don't get me wrong, I think it's good value for money, but it's quite a bit to pay in a lump.  You can do various quarterly or monthly things to spread the cost, but some of these work out more expensive and others you still have to pay, like, half straight off and then the rest is spread out.

It was a bit like my car insurance a few months back - it wasn't an extortionate sum of money (in this case after I'd shopped around) but paying it as a single lump or spreading it out left me scratching my head.  the single lump was the cheapest, but it means paying a big wedge all at once.

I mentioned I'd curbed my spending - this has meant being a bit more careful with general shopping (I've talked extensively before about how I tend to hoard and so buy replacement things long before the old one has actually run out) but also killing off my spending online.

In particular I cancelled all my anime pre-orders (there are some "second halves" of series I should buy as I won't watch them until I do and they won't sell at all well as first half only, but I figure they won't sell out instantly and I can get them once I've gotten through the existing stuff, by which time I may have the money).  I also cancelled everything I'd pre-ordered on amazon.  In particular this meant loads of manga that I'd pre-ordered.

Something I did notice while I was doing this was that the price of a lot of manga has gone up significantly on amazon.  My guess is this is because of the ending of the tax-exempt Jersey thing for small items that allowed them to sell stuff cheap.   However, this does mean that amazon is now not the automatic choice and it's worth shopping round.

Again, with the manga there are some volumes I should buy in order to complete the series so I can sell it on e-bay.  The series tend to divide into those that are still on-going, where I try to sell on the most recent volumes as I read them, and those that have completed where I try to buy them all so I can sell them as a complete lot.  These seem to work quite well as they sort of match what those buying on e-bay want.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

loads of anime pt2

More of these anime mini-reviews.

no. 6

I'm not sure this was quite what I was expecting.

I basically bought it on the strength of the first 2 episodes and what essentially happens is that after that it takes a bit of a left turn and goes in a rather different direction.  Well, I say that - it retains the same basic thing that I thought it was about, but it then includes a bunch of stuff that was rather different and not quite what I was expecting.

The inclusion basically relates to these wasp things that kill people.  It's part of a whole environmental strain to the story that, as I mentioned, is kinda included later, but wasn't part of those first couple of episodes.  It's also not a particularly satisfying part of the story.

The bit I "signed up for" was to do with a perfect city that is rotten to the core and a kid who is dissatisfied and finds out what's going on.  I mean, I'm not saying that was some super original story, but it's the kinds of dystopia stuff I really like.

I'm also not saying that the other stuff broke it, it's just a found that part less satisfying - it had quite a bit of religious mumbo jumbo wrapped around it.

Anyway, the important bit is the characters and No. 6 really excelled at this, with some really interesting characters who were developed really well.  I'd therefore recommend it, though it's quite 'grown up' and cerebral, rather than being an action-packed adventure.

bunny drop

Bunny Drop is an interesting one as it's difficult to put it into a genre and thereby let people know exactly what it is.

This isn't massively helped by the fact that the anime concentrates on the first half of the manga.  I mean, this is good in some ways, but the second half of the manga is more easily categorised.  Although, to be fair, the categorisation is part of what makes the second half of the manga somewhat controversial.

Anyway, the series is about Daisuke, a guy who adopts Rin, who is, in actuality, his half-aunt.  I know, bit weird - basically, his grandfather had a child with his housekeeper, so in a technical sense the child is his half-aunt, but she is around 6 years old where he is in his thirties.  When his grandfather dies, they essentially discover the child and the rest of the family doesn't want to adopt her due to the shame associated with it, so Daisuke takes her in and raises her.  So what genre does that fit in?

Anyway, the anime series is beautifully done.  It is not 100% faithful to the manga, but takes the key elements and bases the story around them, tweaking to suit the structure better.  The artwork is very pretty and it doesn't go quite as "70s" as the manga does, which was always a weird look given it's set in the modern day.

baka and test

I have to confess to being massively disappointed with baka and test.

As is my usual way I watched the first couple of episodes as a sampler and enjoyed them quite a bit, so I decided to buy it, as it was a licensed series.  It came out on Blu Ray and there was a second series and an OAV too, so I bought all of them.

My problem with the show really stems from the fact that the bit I found most interesting and amusing - the class fights with the avatars actually ends up playing a relatively small part in the show proper.  I mean, there are some stretches where it's key, but there are also long stretches where there's none of that.

It's also becomes quite reliant on running jokes - particularly in the second series - and I have to confess I found many of these unfunny and even in some cases a bit annoying.  I mean some were okay and I did find some bits of the show amusing, but not enough to really justify the purchase.

It's weird - I also found the main character quite shouty and annoying, and he's like this from the start, but I don't recall thinking this when I sampled the show.  I think part of it might be that the US dub version was even shoutier - I'm not blaming the dub as "ruining it" or anything, the Japanese character is shouty and annoying, it's just not quite as bad.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

fat bastard

I mentioned previously I was intending to do a food diary.

That didn't quite work.

A part of the problem is that I was doing it online and as this very blog shows, sometimes I can't be arsed.  Also the format for doing it - a blog - wasn't very helpful, because this blogger thing fits better with single posts a day.  Editing posts is a pain or just posting after each time I ate wasn't practical and didn't make a lot of sense when I was trying to review it.

So basically I gave up, but one thing it did prove was that I was eating quite a lot of bad things.  I mean, I hadn't gone back to the old ways of eating loads and loads, but I was certainly eating lots of things that I wasn't eating while I was properly losing weight.

Over the last few months I've unfortunately been steadily gaining weight, such that I'm about a stone heavier than I was at the peak of the weight loss.  To be fair I only hit this peak for a very brief period and about a stone is the maximum I've been over that.

My weight has actually been bobbling around quite a bit during that period, where I'll lose a few pounds for several weeks running and then have a bad week where I put it all back on plus a little more.

One problem I've been having is the weather.  The period when I did my best weight loss was when we last had something resembling summer.  I found it much easier to lose weight when it was warm as you more naturally eat less when it's warm (or rather, you tend to eat more when it's cold - it's a natural reaction that is made redundant by our modern central heating).

Also it's much easier to eat salads and things like that when it's cold.  I found it a bit naff trying to eat salad when it was cold and I have to admit I got a bit sick of it.  It's also much easier to walk for longer, more concentrated periods of time (meaning the mornings) when it's warm.  I mean, walking in the winter is nice enough (assuming it hasn't snowed and isn't raining) but I tend to find longer walks easier in the summer, not least of all because it's lighter earlier and later.

So I'm hoping that this warm spell represents a summer proper and will last a while.

I've also decided my cereal at lunch idea hasn't really worked properly.  It works in terms of the number of calories I'm eating as a meal and it's perfectly good at filling me up until dinner.  The problem is it seemed to encourage me to eat poorly in the evenings.  I think a part of it is that the meals are very repetitive, so I end up craving variety - not only in terms of taste, but also texture too: the cereal is very samey.

However, also, because I know that the cereal meals are light on calories it seems to have encouraged me to have treats (this was clear from the food diary) thinking I could "afford" the calories.