Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Wet day in London

Funny how the London Underground positively cannot cope with bad weather. My journey to work was delayed so long this morning that not only did I finish reading the Metro, but I also managed to finish two Sudoko puzzles! It wasn't just me either. We had to visitors from our Scottish offices down today, and they both had complaints about the Jubilee Line too.

At lunchtime I went for another brisk walk around the environs of Mayfair and the West End (new Occasional Tourist posts are imminent!). Today I went to St James' Park, where I met a lovely lady feeding the squirrels (and the pigeons, and the great tits). Being extraordinarily well fed and therefore exceedingly tame the squirrels were running right up to her and taking the nuts from her hands! Worth the rain just for that spectacle!

My journey home was blighted again by delays (unspecified 'passenger action') and also by hoardes of young people whose volume control appeared stuck on extra loud on their way to see the 'Pussycat Dolls' at the O2. As I observed to Boss-two the other evening, whilst we were 16 once, I don't ever remember being that loud (and in my opinion rather badly behaved) on public transport. Hoping that was the last night of the Pussycat Dolls and that they will be replaced by something more sedate... Carmina Burana is up soon!

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

BBC in new row

The BBC finds itself in the spotlight (again) for all the wrong reasons (again). This time it is the refusal of the BBC to air the DEC's Gaza Crisis Appeal; a decision (incidentally) also taken by Sky.

The appeal has aired on all the other terrestrial channels (ITV, C4 and Five). The BBC has refused to air the appeal, citing impartiality as their reason. This decision has caused protests outside Broadcasting House, actors and directors refusing to ever work for the Corporation again and protesters burning their TV licences.

All of this has given the appeal far more exposure than it would ever have got if it had simply been aired on the BBC. Let's face it - most of us switch off after the show we watched finishes, or channel surf. Very few people (when nearly every TV now has more than the five terrestrial channels) sit and watch one channel for hours on end.

If the point of the appeal is to raise awareness and get charity donations. Well awareness raised. In the current climate I'm not sure that charity giving is quite what it once was anyway. And how many people are persuaded to give money by disaster appeals on TV anyway? Unless you have been living under a proverbial rock you cannot fail to be aware of what is going on in the Middle East. You're either planning on giving money to charities or you aren't.

This whole furore is yet more complaints on something which really doesn't merit the amount of attention that it is generating. Yes, the BBC is publicly funded, so yes Licence payers have a right to not like how the BBC does (or does not) spend their Licence Fee. But you can't please all of the people all of the time. I'd rather the BBC didn't spend my Licence Fee paying Jonathan Ross's inflated salary - but I haven't burnt my TV Licence in protest.

And it isn't like the BBC are ignoring the situation - far from it. They report the entire story in a very straightforward manner on their website - and also give the web address and telephone number of the DEC whose appeal they are refusing to broadcast. How's that for unbiased!

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Technobabble (again)

Idle curiosity moved me to attempt to use the Windows Media Centre connection on my Xbox 360. Unusually I approached this endeavour with optimism, after all - I'd set the Xbox up to use the wireless connection and the internet, so surely this was just a formality? Just because it's all made by Microsoft doesn't mean it is going to be easy.

After clicking through the screens on the Xbox it gave me a security code. Simple, I thought. I went to the laptop and started up Windows Media Centre. Sure enough, going through the "add an extender" it asked for the code. Looking good. Next it tells me that I'm not using Windows Firewall. True enough. I'm using Comodo. I need to configure the firewall it would appear. No problem. I go to the internet page. It walks you through various Windows products, and at the bottom of the page lists the port settings you will need if you are using an alternate product.

I open up Comodo. Can't find the port settings ANYWHERE. I turn to the internet for help. No help is to be found. Correction. Lots of help is to be found for older versions of Comodo... but none for version 3. I am now starting to get frustrated. Windows Media Centre won't play with me and I'm pretty certain that the firewall is the problem. I can imagine the page I'd like - but I can't find it in the firewall.

So. Here's what I do... I open Comodo (for the eleventh time) and click the "Firewall" shield at the top, then under "Common Tasks" I click on "Define a new trusted application" and I add Windows Media Centre whose path is C:\Windows\ehome\ehshell.exe and go through the list on the setup webpage.

I try again and nothing happens. Thinking to solve all my problems I decide to close Thunderbird and Firefox and then close the damn firewall. I close the first two, but before I get to the firewall I notice that Windows Media Centre is now going through all the steps to set up the Extender (to connect the Xbox). Does it take time? Were there too many demands on the ports? Who knows? Now it works though!

The most comforting thing of all is - there is nothing else the Xbox can interface with. No more of these endless quests!

Friday, 23 January 2009

It's official (more gloomy financial news)

Headline news today, it's official... the UK is in a recession. Who knew? Wait a minute... just about everyone. OK, we'll let them off in as much as a recession is officially defined as two successive quarters of negative growth, and obviously you can't definitely say that until the end of the second quarter - but even so... could they sound a little less surprised about it?

Headline on the Evening Standard billboard at lunch time "Brown: I didn't see crisis coming". Really? I'd hope not, otherwise I'd be adding a few other derogatory adjectives in addition to the ones I've already utilised (those being useless, hopeless and others of that vein). If he'd seen it coming then I think his lack of action could only be labelled criminal. The question is  how could the man who is Prime Minister (and was formerly Chancellor of the Exchequer) not have seen it coming?!

In other news famous 'bail-out' bank Northern Rock awards bonuses to staff. They've not finished paying back all the money the Government leant them yet. How dare they give out bonuses. I don't care what excuse they give. There is none. Whilst the rest of the country deal with pay cuts, no bonuses and worse still job losses how can staff at one of the several institutions who helped precipitate this crisis possibly be rewarded.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Inauguration

Today, at last is the day. Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. The Fourth Estate of the 51st State were quite calm about it today - I suppose it is tomorrow that they will really go to town. There is no doubt that it is historic, monumentous and various other hyperbole - but at the end of the day, it isn't our head of state.

Despite what the local news would have you believe. Watching BBC Breakfast this morning I was bemused to find that the lead story on the local news was the imminent happenings in Washington. The tenuous link that lots of Londoners were flying out for the event. Never mind actual news in London (like Boris threatening court proceedings over Heathrow's runway three).

Last word on Mr President - I'm delighted that he upholds the strong tradition of farmers, military and the legal profession by being a law lecturer!

Monday, 19 January 2009

Here we go again

Today the Government announces yet another 'rescue' package. What is announces to is billions (yes, billions) more pounds of tax payers money being tipped into the seemingly bottomless pit that is the UK economy. This time the measures will let banks 'insure' against expected bad debts, give the Bank of England the opportunity to buy stakes in companies across all sectors of the economy, give Northern Rock (already the beneficiary of one of these rescue packages) more time to repay their loans and finally allow the Government to increase their stake in RBS by another 12%.

The idea is that if the banks want to insure against the bad debts they have to make legally binding commitments to start lending money again. Let's hope it works shall we, and let's not worry just now about balancing the books down the line.

The problem, at the end of the day, I'm afraid must come in part (a large part) from the consumer society in which we live and the 'must have' attitudes that are so common nowadays. Why are there bad debts? Setting aside the problems which have arisen in the current financial climate, why were there the original bad debts (which pretty much started this whole mess)? Because people borrowed money that they couldn't afford to repay.

I've been watching a series on the BBC called 'Around the World in 80 Faiths'. An Anglican Vicar is travelling the world and 'taking the religious temperature of the planet'. We've done 30 of 80 so far. It has been quite interesting. What struck me particularly this week was at the end of the programme he visited some Kalahari bushmen. I watched them going about their daily lives (women picking leaves and berries and men hunting) as they had done for thousands of years. I wondered if their lives were any less enriched lacking as they did the modern appliances we all take for granted. Probably not, was the conclusion that I came to - as most of the things that they don't have they probably aren't even aware are missing from their lives.

That is the problem with consumerism. If you know it is out there then you have to have it, don't you?

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Can't do anything because it's a virus

Last weekend I got a cold. Odds on it was going to happen. Rich had a cold over Christmas, back at work most of the office seemed to have a cold. Germs were bound to infect me sooner or later. It started out quite harmless, mostly sniffles and sneezes and a bit of a tickly cough. It then descended into the worst sort of cold, the type where you have a deep chesty cough and a throat that feels like you must have swallowed tennis balls. By Friday I was beginning to feel quite unwell. The constant coughing is tiring, and the bad throat means that simple things like talking and eating are really too much.

I rang the duty doctor on Friday afternoon and described my symptoms (after the chest infection last year I was worried about a recurrence). He told me I simply had a virus and that there was really nothing to be done. He suggested steam inhalation or over the counter medicines. So, I clarified, what you are telling me is to go boil my head? That made the doctor chuckle, although I was a bit miffed that I wasn't getting any real help.

Rich and I went out after I got in from work on Friday to pick up some new china (our old stuff had about five pieces that weren't chipped) and then I went to bed... and slept through until Saturday morning. I spent all of Saturday in bed, still feeling rubbish. The myriad of over the counter remedies do seem to have had some effect though. The chestiness of the cough, and the persistence seems to be fading. The sore throat is still sore though although the tennis balls have shrunk to golf balls. When we get to marbles I'll be happier.

The bad thing is I've got to go to site this week, which is a whole day out and a 300 mile round trip. The good thing is that it is only two weeks until my part-time hours start. Whatever I manage to find for the other two days is unlikely to be as stressful as what fills them at the moment. Hopefully I can make ends meet for the first month or so and just take some R&R and get back on an even keel again. The horrible cold doesn't seem to have done much for my MS as I feel suspicious beginnings of a relapse. Nothing too disabling (fortunately) just the old numb fingers and toes, which is annoying more than anything. Hasn't happened in a long while, but that is what happens when the immune system gets run down.

Monday, 12 January 2009

In a massive hole

This morning Gordon Brown was giving a speech promising help for the unemployed. Employers, he said, would be given £2,500 for every person they trained who had been out of work for six months. Other measures such as 'extensive' job interview training were also announced.

I think that Gordon is missing the point. He can offer employers any incentive he likes to employ people, but if the jobs aren't there then they simply can't . I mean, what is £2,500 - a salary for four to six weeks?

More and more retailers are going under every day. Only this weekend I went to The Pier's website to find that they (amongst so many others) have gone into administration.

It isn't just retail either. Where I'm sitting (in construction) things are just as grim. The phone hardly rings and nearly every job I work on has now gone on 'hiatus' for an unspecified (and possibly indefinite) period.

The Government's repeated attempts to 'kick start' the economy by repeatedly lowering interest rates seems to have little effect - 3.5% since last October. Banks still aren't lending money - to each other, to business or to personal customers. Already at a record low everyone is wondering how much lower they can go... will they get to 0% - will that help at all? I saw a great quote in the letters page of a newspaper the other night; attributed to Albert Einstein "The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over, and then expecting different results". Kind of sums up the Government right now.

All that is happening is that some (not by any means all) mortgage lenders pass on some of the cuts, and most people put the savings aside for a rainy day... after all, who knows if they'll still have a job in a few months from now. Add to that that the self same lenders are equally fast to pass on the full cuts to their savers - meaning that all the 'high interest' accounts now count for very little. In addition although house prices are dropping now isn't the time to try and get on the ladder as some banks/lenders now require a 40%+ deposit.

All these incentives (rate cuts, VAT cuts, money hand outs) will have to be paid for eventually. The good times won't seem so good when we're all taxed to the eyeballs.


The first rule of holes (I was always told) is don't dig deeper. Will someone please take away Gordon's shovel?

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Strange Saturday

Saturday didn't have the best start when I woke up in the wee small hours suffering from side effects from my injection. This seems to happen more the later I take it in the evening, maybe because I also go to bed later and am not so deeply asleep.

Friday night itself was pretty good. After getting in from work I watched the BCS College Bowl final which was my favourite team the Florida Gators playing Oklahoma. I'd (not very surprisinsgly) managed to avoid the score all day - so could watch the game as live. Fantastically my Gators won - and although the first half had been a bit dull the second half was excellent football. Well down coach Meyer, Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators!

So after waking up at the crack of dawn and spending a large part of the morning playing Fable II and pottering on the internet I had plans for the afternoon. These involved further interactions with the internet and some baking.

The internet was scuppered as Virgin had an area wide fault affecting the whole of SE7. No broadband and no TV. I could only keep my fingers crossed that they would fix it fast as if an Engineer was going to be needed he wouldn't arrive until Monday night! Happily around 5:30 (too late for my afternoon) it was fixed.

So my alternate activity was baking. Let it be said I'm not known for baking. I've made bread and cakes that wouldn't rise, cakes where I've forgotten the sugar, and at  best cakes with lurid icing. This time I set my sights lower. Peanut butter cookies. And, to my huge surprise they were quite successful. They looked like cookies, they smelt like cookies and they even tasted like cookies. I have finally found my baking niche.

Favicons

There are some things about my web-browsing experience on which I am not willing to compromise. Favicons are one of these things. Quite uncommon when I first came across them (several years ago) they are now extremely common place, and indeed it is more unusual to find a site without than a site with.

My difficulty has been two fold. First my Firefox (both browser and bookmarks toolbar) suddenly stopped picking up Favicons. I assumed that this must be some incompatibility with some of the (many) add-ons that I have. So I started uninstalling the ones that I never use. No help. I spent around an hour searching the web. No help. I did however see a reference to the about:config page ("Beware, here be dragons" as Firefox will tell you). So I typed about:config into my browser bar and up came the page. I typed 'favicon' into the filter, and, lo, results. First listed browser.chrome.favicons - set to 'False'. Double click to change to 'True' and the Favicons are back! Easy when you know how.

My second Favicon related issue has yet to be solved. Blogger have vanished my custom icons. This blog had one (I never got around to it with my other blog) - and they're gone. I'd thought that maybe the Firefox fix would bring them back, but no. All the suggested solutions on the web of moving the code to just before the </head> tag have been tried and failed. Keeping on searching then.

During all this web browsing I discovered something very interesting. Google have a new Favicon. For some time you would get a different Google Favicon depending on where in the world you were. For example ".com" gave you the 'big G' and ".co.uk" gave you the 'little g'. Now regardless of where you start you get a new (and extremely colourful) Favicon.


The Big G


The Little G


The New G

Some people might say that I've got too much time on my hands!

Monday, 5 January 2009

Other movies

I realise that I've been terribly r emiss in reviewing the movies that I have seen over the last six months or so. For more movie reviews check out my Living Social movie catalogue.

Movie night at last

The relentless pace of TV having dried up somewhat over Christmas we found ourselves we no back-log of unwatched viewing and therefore the opportunity to watch some movies.

First up was 'Journey to Middle Earth'. What a truly terrible movie. It is very rare that a film has absolutely no redeeming features, but this was one of those occasions. The 'V' after the title when you look it up on IMDB reveals that it is a straight to video release. Neither Rich nor I could remember adding it to our list, we eventually concluded it must have got added by accident instead of Brendan Fraser's 'Journey to the Centre of the Earth' (which is happily coming for this weekend). So the sneaky movie people got their wish - it can be no coincidence that this appeared at exactly the same time as the other similarly titled (and hopefully) much better film.

Where to start with what was wrong. The terrible CGI dinosaurs (yes, dinosaurs, don't get me started). The mysterious (and never explained) natural lighting however many thousand kilometres down. The inexplicably entirely female squadron of soldiers. The fact that the soldiers couldn't be less soldier like (they run around in vest tops with their hair lose and pretty perfect make-up). The entirely rubbish shots in the 'Deep Digger' craft. The universally attrocious acting or the fact that before the end credits they had the absolute cheek to state "based on the book by Jules Verne". More like based on the crib notes of somebody who never read the book and fell asleep in the 1960s movie. I will save you time. Do not watch this movie, it gets a zero star rating from me.

After this we had 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall'. I approached this with some trepidation as I am not a Russell Brand fan (in fact, I'm whatever the opposite of a fan is). He did well though. Pretty much playing himself - but that was what the part called for. Do watch this movie... although probably not if you are easily offended as the language is blue and the sex is gratutious.  The music was written and performed by the main actor. It was generally well acted, and the music was superb - Rich and I agreed that we would like to go and see Peter's puppet-vampire musical... and Rich doesn't much like musicals and I don't much like puppets. I give this one six out of ten.

Just weather

Last night it snowed. Not a heavy snowfall (not in South East London, anyway) but enough to leave a dusting on cars, buildings and 'untreated surfaces'. It really was only a dusting though – the snow on the tops of walls and cars was so minor that it couldn't even have been measured in inches.

Notwithstanding, I did not trust that this would not be sufficient to throw London's transport into chaos; especially the Underground which doesn't need much encouragement… power supply problems or frozen points perhaps?

I decided to get a bus to work. I left Charlton at 7:15am and three buses later was at my desk by 8:25am. Unprecedented. The current fledgling flu (severe cold) epidemic coupled with the fact that a large amount of people seem to be taking an extra week off after Christmas and concluded by the fact that it was extremely cold this morning seems to mean that less people than normal are out on public transport. I'm not complaining.

There are things about which I will complain, however. Buses. I got on a 53 (double decker) to Whitehall and then a 159 (double decker) to Piccadilly Circus – both freezing. Bendy buses may not be designed for London's street layout and cause traffic queues, they may encourage fare dodging due to the multiple entrances – but one thing in their favour… at least they are warm. The last leg of my journey from Piccadilly Circus to Green Park (yes, I am that lazy – but it was very cold) on the 38 (bendy bus) was toasty.

I thought I'd be a bit warmer once I got to the office. Sadly mistaken. The central boiler plant appeared to have broken down. Although there was water in the radiators there was no heat being radiated. Out came the fan heaters and everybody's emergency cardigans! It took until early afternoon before heat was restored – what a day to pick for it!

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Xbox obsession

I have spent an extremely large part of this weekend playing Fable II on my Xbox 360. Regular readers will recollect that my original Xbox was bought (at a time when I already owned a PS1, PS2 and Gamecube) in order to play the original Fable (only available on Xbox). Fable was the first console game that I ever finished (much to my eternal delight), so I was understandably excited when I found out earlier this year that Fable II was in the pipeline.

It was a foregone conclusion that Fable II would be amongst my Christmas presents - and although other games were received it has been the run-away winner in terms of gaming hours expended. It is the kind of game that has something for everybody. At a simple level it is almost a shooter, there are a lot of monsters to kill. But there are quests and side-stories and back-stories. There are things to collect (keys, treasure etc.) and there are mini-quests to complete. You can dress your character, change their appearance, buy a home and have a family. I particularly like the fact that although there are ultimate goals to the game you are under no pressure to complete these, and can pretty much wander around doing as you please. I also like the fact that the gaming atmosphere is extremely non-punitative. If you die all you lose is any uncollected experience, you stand up and carry on at the moment (in the middle of a battle) that you stopped at. It also lets you save at any time unlike earlier role-playing action/adventures - Tomb Raider and Spyro spring to mind - which have pre-determined save points.

The other great thing about Fable (and probably Fable II) is that once you achieve the objectives you can carry on playing the game and living in Albion, which (let's face it) is pretty much where I've been living this weekend.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Friday, 2 January 2009

New Year

Happy New Year to one and all.

Time for making resolutions? Not for me. As a child I used to make resolutions along the lines of "don't fight with my brother" and "do my home work on time" or "don't argue with my parents". As I got older they became more directed - things like "go on a diet", "go to the gym" or "quit smoking". What do all of these have in common? Generally I'd have failed in my endeavours by the middle of January.

Now I figure if I'm going to do something I'll do it - 1st January and New Year notwithstanding. So this year I didn't make any resolutions... we'll just take it one day at a time.

The saddest sight, one glorious Christmas tree out with the trash