Monday 29 December 2008


Today has turned into 'one of those days'. I had a plan... and the plan has gone awry - fairly predictably.

I got up this morning and took myself down to Woolwich. My plan was two-fold; pay cheques into the bank and buy a wireless adapter for the Xbox 360. The queues in the bank were horrendous... and I decided that I would use the quick deposit point. Great idea, except not a single pen in the entire bank was working, what nonsense! I had to walk to WHSmith, buy a pen, and walk back to the bank. I then I had to walk back up to game to purchase my wireless adapter (and a game) and return home.

I set about the next part of my plan with trepidation. I have (on one previous occasion) managed to connect my Xbox 360 to the outside world. This was the second attempt (the first failing as it wouldn't connect via Windows Vista Home Basic, which didn't have the right 'file sharing' facilities). You think it will all be simple as it is all Microsoft. I wasn't feeling quite so optimistic this time, I knew it wouldn't be simple. And I was right - but for all the wrong reasons.

The instructions seemed comprehensive but that is only because they are provided in ten languages. They are actually brief and not very helpful. I plugged into the router and went into the settings. Everything seemed to go smoothly... the Xbox connected to the network... only it didn't. The Xbox Live Test Settings failed. Network not connected. Useless error code X 8000-0011. What does it mean?! Nothing anywhere.

So I decided to call Xbox Support. They are usually very helpful and even better supply a free-phone number. We went through my problem (twice) and carried out the steps I had already carried out myself. What we wanted (apparently) was the 'security key'. Apparently this required me to call Virgin (internet provider).

I called Virgin. Also happily a free-phone number. I ask them for the security key. They ask me for the make of my router. Belkin I say. They can't help, only Belkin can. I ask if this is the security password I use to connect my laptop to the router... I'm told it is - as we shall later see  there is actually some confusion on this matter. The best thing about calling Virgin is that before they put you on hold they give you five choices of music to listen to whilst on hold! Cute, or worrying (that they think you will be on hold that long).

I call Xbox again. We go through the whole set up again, the assistant assures me that the security key is apparently something different from the password. I really do need to speak to Belkin.

So - eventually I find a phone number on Belkin's website (after two sets of gibberish code). I call the number. It tells me that there are a high volume of calls and hangs up on me. Twice. Now I'm getting annoyed. The third time it doesn't hang up on me but puts me eternally on hold. Fortunately one of the recorded announcements gives me a web address for live support. I hang up on the helpline (which isn't a free call number) and go to the chat.

I am connected to the live chat for twenty minutes, the representative introduces themselves twice and keeps asking me 'Are you there' (four times)... before terminating the session. The next two attempts failed to connect... and then I'm back with the same agent. Time expended on this exercise... 30 minutes with no solution. Why can't this sort of thing be simple. Why can't they send a leaflet in the box so that in the likely event you'll need this information it can easily be found!

I have (generally) no faith in these processes. The last time I used an online chat with HP they concluded that my problem was Windows Vista and 'just one of those things'. That was my scanner that wouldn't work, which randomly started working again the following day.

Eventually after 40 minutes Belkin manage to direct me to the page on the routers own IP where the security key is listed. The security key IS the same as the password. My network is WPA-PSK and PSK stands for 'pre-shared key'. It turns out the only problem I've got in connecting my Xbox wireless adapter is that a) I've muddled the pass-key and typed it in wrong and b) the Xbox doesn't tell me this but just pretends to be connected.

This is not the first time I've wasted a lot of time looking for the routers own IP page... I had the same thing when I was setting up my parents' wireless network for them. Seriously, why isn't the IP address printed in HUGE letters on the box or something?

After all that I'm connected. The Xbox updates itself (again) to a very fancy new dashboard and all is well. Yes, it is great when it works... it is just making it work that is the problem.

Sunday 28 December 2008

Night time

I've had a few interesting night time photos recently.

This first was taken a couple of nights before Christmas in the car park at Sainsbury's on the Greenwich Peninsula. In the distance is One Canada Square at Canary Wharf, with a sci-fi like could over the top of the building. This is caused by the light pollution which is catching the exhaust from the HVAC (heating, ventialation and air-conditioning).

This photograph was taken from my bedroom window on Boxing Day. Just visible above the tree line is an extremely bright celestial body, which research indicates is probably venus. For a good five minutes I thought it was an aeroplane before I finally determined that it wasn't actually moving!

It is amazing what you see if you just look up!
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Friday 26 December 2008

Retail madness

One of my Christmas presents was the much awaited and much anticipated 'Fable II' for the Xbox 360. 'Fable' was the reason I bought my Xbox 360 and remains to this day one of the very few games I have completed 100%. In amongst all the things about the game they do advertise the one thing that they don't advertise is that you need 10MB of memory to save the game. My Xbox 360 only came with a 10MB hard drive! I've rather got out of the habit in recent years of worrying about memory requirements (or blocks as they always used to be back in the day). I don't think that it is something I have even though about since the days of my PS1 and the Gamecube.

This necessitated a trip out to the shops to buy a memory unit. I decided on Bexleyheath, as my favourite trousers had expired and I needed to visit Evans and/or M&S. The best laid plans...

Upon arrival in Bexleyheath I was horrified to discover that 'The Mall' and associated car park were not offering free parking! Next top Game, no memory units for the Xbox 360. On to Argos, don't even gave the in the catalogue. On to Woolworths - rubber-neckking at the train-wreck; many signs from the ceiling 'Closing Down all stock must go' and 'Total Liquidation, Final Clearance'. The store was decimated with practically nothing at all on the shelves. Bye bye Woolies. On to WH Smith (running out of possibilities now). Total failure. The first floor which used to house the DVDs and video games as with the Woolwich branch has turned 50% into the post office. In a very bad temper I eschew the clothes shop (I won't find anything in this mood anyway) and grudingly part with 70p for the parking.

Next stop is the 'Low Road' in New Charlton and the Stone Lodge Retail Park. This, I have decided, should be a good bet as there is PC World and Curry's to choose from. Major mistake. Huge. There is also Halfords, Carpet Right, Harveys and MFI (although I didn't see if MFI were still open or not). The car park was stationary. Parking on pavements and all sorts. The overflow car park was being blocked by two attendents. Now this was realy stupid. They'd blocked off one access to it and had two staff blocking the other. Surely they ought just have let people drive around it and employed the two staff clamping the miscreants! Luckily as I was about to give up and leave I found a space.

PC World failed me, and I was about to give up in Curry's when I noticed the memory cards behind the tills. A (relatively) short queue and I was back to the car to get on home. Getting out of the car park was almost as bad as getting in.

I don't think the whole experience was helped by Charlton playing at home today... hampered by no service on the Jubilee Line and 'alternate' services on the main line trains. More than the usual amount of people have driven to the game judging from the cars abandoned throughout Charlton!

I'm now adding Boxing Day to my list of days on which one should never (ever) indulge in any retail activity... unless it is online!

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Things I love and hate about Christmas

Last night I had to brave the supermarket for the big Christmas shop. Big shop, only because I don't intend to be visiting the shops again until next year and the shopping won't be delivered until next Tuesday.

First stop Sainsbury's to spend my Nectar points that I'd been saving all year. The great thing is that now you can collect them from shopping online and all sorts of places as well as Sainsbury's I had LOADS of points. Enough that the shopping came to 23p after points! It is a good thing I'd only gone to Sainsbury's for the drinks and sweets - the store looked as though a plauge of locusts had just been through. I didn't feel much optimism for Asda.

Asda looked like a Saturday afternoon. The aisles were so full that you could hardly move, but apart from the decimated freezer department the shelves were fully stocked. A few hours later would have benefitted the shopping experience however - manners were certainly not in evidence from fellow shoppers, and I was barged several times by trolleys.  I'll be black and blue this morning. Bad manners and bad tempers were very obvious, and the festive spirit was sadly lacking. Happily I came away with nearly my entire list.

If Christmas shopping is the thing that I hate most about Christmas then Christmas decorations are the thing that I love most. I noticed last night that the area around Charlton has had a sudden explosion of festivity. Clearly most people work on the same basis as my parents when I was growing up that the week before Christmas is the time to decorate. Not true in my house. We love our Christmas decorations and like them up for as long as possible. This means that they generally go up at the beginning of Novemeber, pretty much as soon as Halloween is over. In the case of a well preserved pumpkin it might end up with a Santa's hat! Tinsel, lights, trees, snowglobes, you name it - we've got it. Santa's grotto has nothing on my living room!

Tuesday 23 December 2008

All downhill to Christmas

The amount of Londoners who have started their Christmas break already has had a noticeable impact on public transport. The buses and Jubilee Line were extremely quiet this morning, leading me to wonder momentarily if I was in fact mistakenly taking myself off to work on a Saturday.

The office is also winding down for Christmas. The usual pre-Christmas panic doesn't seem to have materialised this year. Maybe it is the effect of the economic slow-down? Usually, despite the fact that everyone has known it is coming since the previous year the Christmas shut-down seems to take us by surprise... but this year has been very calm and organised. I'm not complaining... although I suppose there is still tomorrow morning for it all to go pear-shaped, so I shouldn't count my chickens. Tomorrow we're having a tidy-up of the office - clearing the decks for 2009.

Tonight it is time for the annual ordeal of the Christmas food shop. Apart from my flying early morning visit to B&Q and Sainsbury's on Saturday I actually managed to keep to my 'no shopping the weekend before Christmas' rule. Sadly the food shopping has to be done. I can't rely on the delivery service to bring meat and vegetables which conform to the dates on which I want to use them, so I have no alternative but to go and choose them myself.

My solution to the overcrowded stores full of panic shoppers (honestly, the stores are barely shut for two days) is to go late at night. They may be halfway through shelf-stacking but at least it is (relatively) quiet. It's late night shopping or run the gauntlet on Christmas Eve, which I have done in the past, and I'm definitely not doing that ever again!

Sunday 21 December 2008

Another garden emergency

I got out of bed on Saturday morning and drew the curtains only to look out of the window and see the heron standing in the pond. Trying, once again, to help himself to his own private all-you-can-eat buffet.

I speedily departed for B&Q to purchase more pond netting. The pond netting gets taken up in the Autumn as when the leaves fall on it they weigh down the netting and then when the pond ices over the netting gets stuck in the ice. Trees have shed their leaves now (pretty much) so the new netting should be safe until we have to take it up in Spring to avoid frog-spawn disasters.

The pond is now safe and the buffet is closed. The heron will have to find his food somewhere else.

Whilst we were in the garden we were visited by several beautiful white doves, who sat on the edge of the roof and watched us for a while before flying off.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Hall of mirrors

For a (very) long time they have been doing construction works just off Piccadilly. They knocked down a rather ugly old office building in order to construct a shiny new office block. We've watched (and sometimes felt the vibrations) as they completed the groundworks and basement, and now they are constructing the frame (today there were three concrete mixers queued up along the road at one point waiting to pupmp their concrete).

The strange thing is that the site hoardings have been given a facelift. Hoardings are usually painted (at best) and sometimes covered with name boards of various consultants for the scheme; sometimes even an artist's rendition of the finished scheme. These take hoardings to a whole new level. Mirrored hoardings.


Working Hours

So, the great debate has ignited once again over the UK's opt-out from the EU Working Time Directive.  This debate has rumbled on and off since the UK first negotiated exemption from the Directive back in 1993.

Advocates call for the abolition of the opt-out to end the UK's 'long hours culture' and those opposed say that business and commerce require the opt-out in order to remain competitive. Another argument at the moment is that 'people need the hours' in the current economic climate. Not to worry on that score. Even if the UK loses the opt-out changes would take three years to come into effect. A lot of workers don't get paid overtime anyway - so for them it would be a step in the right direction for the work-life balance.

I've signed the opt-out of the Directive at every job that I've had, it has come as part of my Contract - and let's face it a 48 hour week still gives you five days of nearly 10 hours. Plenty enough time to spend chained to your desk.

My favourite article connected to this story was a picture on the BBC website.

Friday 12 December 2008

At the end of the week

This week has absolutely flown by! The week began with a trip to the hospital to see my MS nurse. Just a regular check-up which was augmented by my complaints of continuing bad skin reactions to the injection (now affecting both arms). She suggested trying different size needles, and gave me a whole heap to take away and try - which might have worked if I had been able to get the attached needle of the contraption that comes with the syringe! The nurse was followed by the obligatory trip to the blood test department, and the expected hour and something wait. Most annoying was that I had forgotten my wallet and therefore couldn't even get a coffee whilst I waited!

Whilst I was out of the office the contractors came and re-lamped the room. Over the past few months more and more tubes had failed around the room until about a third of them were out. I couldn't quite get over the brightness and the lightness of the re-lamped office.

Thursday brought the office Christmas party. Due to the credit-crunch this was much scaled back from previous years. Having been given a budget per head Reluctant Bachelor organised lunch for us at a well-known pub chain. The best thing about the meal was probably the free crackers. The food was inedible, the wine mediocre, the staff indifferent  and the whole place extremely cold (constantly open door and air conditioning (?!)). The crackers were a huge hit, a mini-water pistol amused some of my younger colleagues throughout lunch as they took turns filling it with the tap water provided and squirting it at each other! After lunch we moved on to another well-known pub chain where we had more drinks, including the now traditional and always ill-advised sambuccas (eugh!). 

This morning there were a few sore heads around the office (OK, actually everyone except me). My plan of sticking to wine all afternoon and evening served me better than those who mixed the grape and grain or ventured onto the spirits!

This afternoon I was back at the hospital for my appointment with Women's Services and the ultrasound. Not the sort of ultrasound that you see on TV it has to be said... rather more invasive and painful. I treated myself to coffee and a doughnut afterwards, forgetting the food in the cafe at the hospital is at best indifferent. I then got on the wrong shuttle bus from the hospital to the bus-on-diversion bus stops and ended up on a magical mystery tour round the back of Shooters Hill before ending up back at the bus stop I required.

Looking forward now to a quiet weekend, and readying myself for next week!

Saturday 6 December 2008

One of those weeks

Yesterday morning I woke up to find that my back had seized up. I'd gone to bed on Thursday night with a hot-water bottle as it was feeling a little stiff, but come Friday morning it was pure agony. The muscles somewhere up near my shoulder blade seemed to be affected and moving just slightly the wrong caused huge pain. I decided to go to work on the basis that moving around might ease things. This proved not to be the case, and the angle of my desk, the computer, everything was not conducive to my pain. My boss agreed that I could work from home, and I set up an office in bed and managed to get into a position that at least wasn't too painful.

In the afternoon I took myself off to the Doctor, who agreed that there was some muscular problem, but didn't elaborate as to what and why. Recommended heat and painkillers. Advice I was happy to follow.

This morning I woke up to find that although still feeling a bit stiff and sore the pain has more or less abated. Thus, as with all inexplicable short term problems I am inclined to wonder if it is yet another random MS problem? Luckily I'm seeing my Nurse on Monday, so I'll ask her.

An odd thing that happened. I was following the 'heat' advice given by the Doctor late yesterday afternoon and taking a bath when all the lights went out. Happens sometimes in our Victorian house when a fuse overloads... but it wasn't just us, but streets as far as I could see! I have very poor night vision, and for a minute I just sat in the bath in the dark (never occurred to me to turn on the battery operated lights around the mirror). I then went onto the landing, which was quite bizarre as my eyes hadn't adjusted and I could see nothing! Rich was walking around with a torch, and opened the front door to confirm that the street was in darkness. I was about to start lighting candles when suddenly all the lights came back on again. Five minute power cut!

Wednesday 3 December 2008


We have a rule in our office, never travel anywhere with Boss-one as all forms of transport hate him and if it can go wrong it will. We could have guessed, therefore, yesterday afternoon that he was back in the country and trying to use the Jubilee Line as a signal failure at Bond Street suspended and delayed it during the afternoon.

Holding out faint hope that it might be running better by the time I left the office at six I was dismayed to find that a further signal failure at London Bridge had once again suspended the line. Options for travel home without the Jubilee Line are many and varied - although some involve a train fare (as my travel card only goes to zone 2 and most of the rail stations are zone 3) and others involve multiple changes to the DLR which still only leaves you in Greenwich. Bus it was then.

This morning I had cause to go to Bank station. This can be accomplished either by changing from the Jubilee Line at London Bridge for the Northern Line or Waterloo for the Waterloo and City Line. As the latter was suspended this morning my choice was made for me. Oh, the horror of the Northern Line (Bank branch) at London Bridge. The platform was so crowded that people were backed up into the central concourse. I decided to go South to Borough and come back, but even then it took two trains before I could squeeze on. They don't call it the Misery Line for nothing!