Saturday 28 February 2009

One basket?

You know what they say... never put all your eggs in one basket. Yet when it comes to the internet, that is what many of us do. Google pretty much runs my life, there's Calendar, Docs, Bookmarks, GMail, Analytics, oh and of course, Picasa and Blogger! Let's face it, it is much easier to choose a provider (whether it is Google, Microsoft or another) that gives you all your services. Less log-ins to remember, everything works together; it really works well, most of the time.

The problem is that what you are doing is putting your trust in a service over which you have no control. Your data is on a remote server, and when it all goes wrong... well, what can you do?

Earlier this week Google's popular GMail was hit by an outage. This is not the first time Google has had problems with their services. There was the famous case of the dissapearing iGoogle pages and email (as with any email service) does come and go. The most frustrating thing with an online provider is that you don't really know where to go to find out what is going on, if anyone knows it is broken, and if the are going to fix it. Well Google users need worry no longer. Google have used their Apps Status Dashboard which means that when your Google service isn't working you can see what is going on.

So much for deterrents

Not only did the plastic heron not discourage the real thing from helping himself at our pond, but it actually encourage him. Rich saw the real heron attempting to share a fish with his plastic counterpart. So it would now appear that the contents of the pond consists of Jaws and the frogs.
We spent yesterday morning putting the netting back to protect Jaws and the frogs. To make sure there are no frog spawn disasters (or similar) the netting is raised a foot above the water on bamboo poles.

There were a lot of frogs in the pond with Jaws, so it hasn't been for nothing. RIP little fishes for whom it was too late.
Some of the frog population

A ladybird which doesn't live in my bedroom!

The heron, still watching the pond

Friday 27 February 2009

Skywatch Friday (1)

Out in the garden this morning and it finally felt like spring!
This was one of a dozen or so planes I saw, as you can see from all the chemtrails!

Wednesday 25 February 2009

Occasional Tourist

Another garden emergency

Honestly, we do learn from our mistakes. We were all ready to prepare the pond for the frogs this year, it is just that the frogs have arrived early!

We opened the back door last night (it got rather hot in the kitchen whilst cooking pancakes) to hear splashing from the pond. At first we assumed it was Jaws getting lively after his long winter sleep; but after shining some light on the situations we discovered that the pond was jumping (literally) with frogs. We could hear one in the center (behaving in a rather cliched manner, and making a loud 'gribbit') and we could see a good few trapolining over the netting. One step away from being tangled in the netting.

So, of course. The netting has to come up. Never mind that it is gone nine o'clock and it is dark outside. Rich and I hastily remove the netting startling all the frogs into what remains of the lily pads. A couple of sensible frogs remain in the Frog Pond (where they belong), the rest are just waiting to lay frog spawn.

Frog hiding in the ivy

Frog taking a rest

Monday 23 February 2009

Plastic birds and rubber ducks

This afternoon I looked out of the bedroom window to see the damn heron standing in the middle of the pond. Standing in the middle of the pond despite the fact the at the protective netting is still down. The centre of the pond is where the plants are, and the netting had dipped into the water, the heron was standing in the puddle that resulted. I banged on the window and the heron flew off. I went out into the garden to inspect the netting (badly in need of replacement) only to see that heron had only gone as far as one of our neighbour's trees. I shouted and waved my arms (much to the amusement of some watching neighbouring cats) and the bird flew off.

I took myself off to B&Q with the intention of buying some bamboo rods in order that the new netting can be raised above the pond (thus avoiding frog spawn disasters). I spotted amongst "pest deterrents" a plastic heron. I bought this and placed  itnext to the pond to discourage any future poaching from long-legged birds

Fake birds in the garden made me think of the bird collection in our bathroom. Our bathroom has a 'rubber duck' theme.

The collection started with a few traditional yellow types some years ago, and over time has grown and grown to the present size (some 30 ducks!). We also have a collage of duck photos on the back of the bathroom door (hiding some damage where a mirror fell off a few years back!).

These were originally a set of postcards which my nearly-mother-in-law took to the copy shop and had enlarged and then laminated.

I spent a very energetic afternoon hammering them into the door wiht small brass tacks. The overall effect is very cheerful in our small rather dark bathroom.

Below are some pictures of the rubber duck collection, it has to be admitted that nearly of all of them belong to me!

Rock Duck and Sue-Ducku
Diamante Duck and James Pond
Darling Duck and Bud 'Breast Cancer Awareness'
This pair light up when their bases get wet

Duck with shower gel (!), temperature checking duck (the base turns red) and ducks that squirt water!

The pair on the left change colour in hot water, the pair on the right glow in the dark

Sparkly ducks and duck a colleague brought back from a hotel visit

Christmas duck, tiny duck and paddling duck (wind him up and watch him go!)

Parent ducks with baby ducks

Traditional yellow ducks

Very small love ducks

Saturday 21 February 2009

Take a walk on the wild side

Whenever workload and weather permits I like to leave the office at lunchtime and take a walk. Sometimes this is a brisk walk around London's streets and other times a more leisurely stroll in the park.

The nearest park to my office is actually Green Park. Green Park is great if you just want to sit and enjoy the sunshine and read a book, but there isn't much to see, it is pretty much just grass and trees.

Walking through Green Park and across the Mall brings you to St James's Park; an altogether different proposition. Although there are neatly mown lawns and beautifully manicured flower beds the focal point of the park is the lake with attendant wildfowl; although wait a couple of weeks if you want the birds as the lake is currently undergoing maintenance.

As you walk down the path towards the lake more than likely you'll meet some squirrels. They are extremely tame, and if you have some nuts to offer them they will eat out of your hand!

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At the lake you will find a variety of wildfowl and birds; pigeons, seagulls, ducks, geese, swans and even pelicans! Again most of these birds are extremely tame (especially the ducks and geese) and will definitely try and join you if you sit down for lunch!







The pelicans are quite stunning with their enormous beaks - and more than happy to pose for the tourists!



Occasional Tourist

New Occasional Tourist post now available.

Friday 20 February 2009

Traffic jams and old friends

After reading a fellow local blogger's observations on the traffic chaos yesterday I really should have known better than to expect to get anywhere other than slowly today. I had quite a few errands to run this morning which were taking me all over my little corner of South East London. First stop Woolwich to go to the bank. This wasn't too bad for traffic, although there weren't many parking spots to be found. After the bank (no queue, somebody was smiling on me) I popped into game to see if there were any exciting new releases - and I stumbled upon "Sega Megadrive Ultimate Collection" for the Xbox 360. Forty odd games for the Megadrive lovingly gathered together. Sonic, Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 - plus Sonic 3D, Sonic Pinball and Dr Robotnik's Meanbean Machine. In addition to these was Ecco the Dolphin (still impossible) and a whole heap of new (new to me, anyway) titles.

Unfortunately the games had to wait as I still had places to be. Next stop the Post Office. Since the Post Office in Woolwich closed and re-opened as a franchise in WHSmith it has been inclined to queues. Today was no exception, I estimated (based on my experiences in the Post Office in Albemarle Street) that the wait would be around 30 mintues. Longer than I had left on my parking ticket. I decided to go to the Post Office in Charlton (which is the only other choice since the one in Charlton Village and the one towards the Barracks shut down). Managed to find a parking space in Floyd Road and (someone still smiling on me) no queue in the Post Office.

Next (and final) stop Asda for the week's grocery shopping. Oh dear. I could see the traffic chaos from Charlton Church Lane. Stationary traffic in Bugsby Way. Stationary traffic on the 'low road'. Resurfacing works between Makro and Asda on Bugsby Way, watermain works on the Antigallican junction. Carnage. I decided to go around the houses (following the 380 route) and come onto the Woolwich Road from Victoria Way. Bad mistake. Thames Water are digging up that road too! Eventually I got onto the Woolwich Road, went under the Woolwich Road flyover, past Sainsbury and came into Asda from that direction.

My shopping was a failure, as I managed to spend about £30 more than I planned (I can't quite understand how) so it is back to online delivery as even with the delivery charge I'd still have been £25 up!

Interestingly I was just looking to find if there was any route through the traffic chaos. I asked Multimap to find me 'Charlton, London' which it did... and told me that the nearest station was Charlton (true) and the nearest tube Pontoon Dock. Whilst technically this might be true it is missing several points. 1) Pontoon Dock is DLR not tube 2) there is the small matter of the River Thames between Charlton and Pontoon Dock and 3) if we are talking DLR then Woolwich is now open and is probably equidistant if not nearer than Pontoon Dock. I love online mapping services - they are so reliable. I've still never forgiven the occasion that I typed in a postcode and was sent to the wrong end of Grey's Inn Road (which is a VERY long road to be at the wrong end of).

Finally finished all my errands and got home to enjoy some quality time with Sonic and friends. I actually did have all the old Sonic games on my Gamecube - which I sold a while ago, and I was quite missing them. Acquaintance with the modern versions of Sonic and his friends hasn't made me any better at the old games though... all good fun, even so.

Thursday 19 February 2009

Draining the lake

This morning I walked through St James' Park on my way to work. I thought I'd go by the lake and see the ducks and swans and other wildfowl. The lake however is pretty much out of action. It is currently in the process of being drained (which apparently happens every 20 years or so) to be rid of silt and rubbish. Pipes and all sorts are now visible with only a tiny amount of water left right in the middle. A few bold birds are still swimming around (or in the case of one duck picking a path gingerly across an exposed pipe) - but not much wildlife to see.

Dissapointing for bird watching - but the worst thing of all is the smell, which is something like rock pools on the sea front, but worse!

Wednesday 18 February 2009

Strange London moments

A well dressed man skateboarding down the middle of Dover Street in the evening rush hour . Well dressed, suit trousers, shiny shoes and overcoat. Very strange.

A large hound on the escalator behind me at Green Park going down to the Jubilee Line (all dogs must be carried!). I was about to turn around and slap the man who was taking liberties only to find an enthusiastic canine.

A good service

My patience was tried beyond endurance this evening as I reached North Greenwich and the tannoy announced "This is the Control Room at North Greenwich, a good service is operating on the Jubilee Line this evening". As I had spent fifteen minutes (two entire sudoku puzzles) sitting on an unmoving train at Bermondsey (yes, it is always Bermondsey) whilst the driver repeatly (and sincerely) apologised for the delays I really had to take issue with the "good service". I will accept "operating normally" because as far as I am concerned delays and disruption are normal; I will accept "no reported delays" because maybe nobody told them. I will not accept good service when the driver has admitted to "only one platform at Stratford" and "delays Westrbound which aren't helping".

In other news the whole of Greenwich seems to have become a no-go area for traffic with the closure of Blackheath hill. The 129 and 188 are reporting delays of 30 minutes at North Greenwich - which when you consider the journey from Greenwich to North Greenwich, well - you might as well walk.

Tuesday 17 February 2009

Things to do and not to do

Being all negative we'll start with the things not to do. Don't take the A2 across Blackheath and onwards to Deptford. There are serious roadworks all the way from the bottom of the hill up across the Heath to the roundabout. These started on Sunday are due to last for two months. Given that the traffic along there is pretty bad at the best of times this is doing nothing to improve it if you're heading to London. If you're coming back the other way it is even worse because the road is closed altogether... goodness knows where the diversion takes you! I was all for blaming "improving London's Victorian mains" and Thames Water, but the signs up on the Heath would seem that it is actually TfL who are to blame.

Let's move on to things to do. Do visit Galaxy Zoo where you can help out the stargazers and classify some galaxies. If you've ever used Google Image Labeller it is like that but more interesting.

Here's another thing to do. If you're using Firefox (and if you aren't, seriously, consider switching) install the excellent add-on Brief. It's an RSS reader integrated into your browser. There's a symbol on the status bar to let you know when new posts arrive; and a page for each feed - and providing the author has set their blog to allow it you get the whole feed there to read, without headers and other bits that slow down page loads. Anyone who follows lots of blogs or subscribes to lots of news feeds should consider this add-on essential.

Monday 16 February 2009

What to do...

When we were kids my mum had a book called "What to do when there 's nothing to do". It was full of excellent ways to occupy children during school holidays and similar. This of course was back in the late 70's and early 80's before multi-channel TV, video recorders (way before DVD players), computer games and the internet. This was back in the days of three TV channels, books and toys. It was an excellent book - and many hours of fun were manufactured. It would help if somebody could do the same for me now.

Mondays are now the strangest day. I no longer work Fridays or Mondays, which essentially turns my weekend into four days. As I've been working at my mum's the last couple of Fridays they haven' t been a problem. Mondays for some reason I can't deal with. They aren't an extension of the weekend. I feel that I should be at work, and failing that, doing something. But what? A three day working week means a three day pay-packet so there isn't cash to spend. I could do the sort of things I do on a weekend (Xbox, internet, reading) but I've pretty much had my fill of that by Monday.

So, my plan is - sightseeing on a budget. An Oyster bus fare is only a pound a go, so that is a couple of quid travelling - and the whole of London at my feet.

Today I went to Canary Wharf. I still had a travel card to use from last week. Out of curiosity I decided to go to Woolwich and take the DLR. Beautiful new and shiny station (no rubbish, no vandalism, yet). Also no ticket office, and only one staff member. So when my Oyster decided not to work I was at a bit of a loss. The helpful guy on the ticket barrier suggested that I go to the mainline station and get a train. I explained that wouldn't take me where I wanted to go. I ended up having to buy a paper ticket (at a much greater expense than an Oyster ticket). Moral of the tale, don't rely on Woolwich DLR for your ticketing needs.

Shiny and new - Woolwich DLR

For my outing in Canary Wharf please visit the Occasional Tourist.

Sunday 15 February 2009

Photo of the Week (Number 4)

Elephant coming out of the wall in Waterloo Underground Station

Running out of spots

Last night I had to take my Betaferon injection, which I take every other day. The way that it works is that you rotate the injection sites to minimise skin reactions. That is the theory. However, increasingly over the last six months I've been getting really bad adverse reactions. It seems OK when I do the injection, and indeed for some days afterwards. The skin then turns purple, then white, then a scab develops. At this point I try to avoid using the site until it clears up. The problem is that can take up to six weeks, and now I'm running out of places that aren't affected. I had trouble on both arms before Christmas - and they've just about cleared up now. At the moment my right thigh is affected and my stomach on both sides. That is the worst, because it get's irritated constantly by the waistband of my clothes. So, I'm down from six available sites to just three.

My MS nurse gave me some alternate needle sizes to try out, the problem is that I can't detach the needle that comes with the medication. I've tried several times, and only managed to stab myself on one occasion! Time to speak to my MS nurse again.

Saturday 14 February 2009

What comes before Valentine's Day...?

At some point last night I realised that if Saturday was Valentine's day then the preceding day must be Friday the 13th.

I'm not generally superstitious. I don't throw salt over my shoulder when I upset the salt cellar (not that we have salt in our house anyway) and I have no problem with ladders. I don't have any problem with black cats (although I always thought they were lucky rather than unlucky). I do have two superstitions that I pay close attention to.

One is never to open an umbrella indoors. I did this once as a small child and the next thing that happened was a slipped and fell on a wet pavement and cut my wrist extremely badly missing my artery by millimetres. The origin of this superstition is quite interesting - umbrellas were originally used as protection not from the rain but from the sun, and to open one inside was considered an insult to the sun.

I digress. Friday the 13th is my other pet superstition. Reason being for this one, experience. Friday the 13th (I have found) is often a most unfortunate day. The funny thing is, I'm not superstitious about the number 13 at all. For seven years I lived at number 13; I don't mind the 13th floor (although most buildings seem not to have one!) - or even 13 at dinner (again, most other people do, and I've never actually sat down with 13 at dinner). It is only Friday the 13th I mind. It is called (according to the ever knowledgeable Wikipedia) paraskavedekatriaphobia which is clearly a very focused form of triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13). Why is Friday 13th unlucky. Nobody seems to agree. Recent years have seen the popularisation of the unlikely theory of the unfotunate Knights Templar being rounded up and arrested on Friday 13th. It seems unlikely as the notion of Friday the 13th didn't really become mainstreen until the late 19th or early 20th Century.

Whatever the reason, my Friday the 13th didn't go altogether well. My camera broke. Again. This is my camera that only came back from being repaired a year ago... died the same death as last time. When I rang up to find up how much it would cost to get fixed (because it is of course now out of warranty) I was told nearly £90 (flat rate charge for all repairs). I can buy a new camera for less, which is what I told the man on the phone, and indeed what I decided to do.

I reserved one online, waited the requisite half an hour and then went to fetch it. I paid for it and they went to find it, and I waited... and waited... and then waited some more. Eventually the manager came to tell me they couldn't find the camera. But I'd already paid for it I pointed out (very reasonably I thought given I'd been standing there for 15 minutes). Perhaps they could fetch one from another store and I could pick it up in the morning, the manager suggested. Not possible I told him, as I was to fetch my mother-in-law from hospital. I pointed out (still quite calmly considering) that the whole reason that I'd reserved it online was so that I would be sure that I would get the model that I wanted. The to-ing and fro-ing went on for some time. The cameras, were missing (presumed stolen) and the only option was to offer me an alternative for the same price, I was happy to go along with this subject to the proviso that the camera took AA batteries not a Li-Ion rechargeable. Stumbling block. Eventually I was offered the display model of the camera I had requested at a 10% discount.

We take several vital lessons from this debacle.
1) Just because you reserve it don't assume they have it - this goes from bitter experience in many stores
2) Don't take payment until you are sure you have the goods to sell
3) Offer the dispaly model first - not last!

I have my new camera - which cost a fraction of the cost of the old one (or the repair bill for the old one) and is actually better specs than its predecessor. All good in the end then.

Monday 9 February 2009

Monday 2 February 2009

White out

Still snowing 
As the day of snow draws to a close those who did make it into work will now be worrying about how they are going to make it home again. London's buses are still mostly not running - the place to go for live news is TfL's website. Similarly you can also get network rail and tube news (I heard that South Eastern's website buckled under the strain this morning!). The tubes are similarly badly affected, with most of the grounds that run above ground part-suspended. Most train services still aren't operating either... my evening update from TfL has never been so long!

As snow continues to fall there isn't much hope for any improvement any time soon. Wrap up warm and stay indoors seems to be the order of the day!