dalliard.net

Lacklustre

It's been tough to pick the best things in 2006, but nonetheless, here's my list.... Read More...
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Frugal Dougal

In just over a day or so, 2006 is finished and another year kicks off. It's time to think on what I want to get out of 2007. Yes, call those thoughts resolutions if you like. Read More...
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Deja Vu

Denzel Washington plays one those serious investigator types in this film about time-travel. Have we seen it all before? Quite possibly. Read More...
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Site Update

As you might have gathered, the test was successful, resulting in a significant update. It's taken me quite a bit of time to transfer across 270 entries. There's also a few things I need to mention:

- Comments on old postings have been lost.
- Some of the layout may have slightly changed but the content is pretty much still the same.
- Minor posts (i.e. one liners) over a year old have been deleted. That's about 40 inconsequential postings.

Anyway, I'm pleased to leave iBlog behind, as it was getting quite large and unwieldy to use. It also had a habit of not keeping links updated properly, meaning that I had to do lots of other maintenance (usually recreation of the site and republishing) to correct the errors. Combine this with Rapidweaver's theme support and it means that the site can get more frequent make-overs when I get bored! I'll also be making use of summaries for long articles, which should mean that you find what you want a lot quicker.

Hopefully, you think it's an improvement too.
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Testing Times

For the 18+ months that I've been maintaining this blog, I've been doing it with the help of iBlog, which in it's day did a rather good job at things.

The problem is, it hasn't moved on. It's now getting rather slow and clunky to administer.

So, I'm going to set up a replica blog site soon - and I'll be using RapidWeaver to build it. If it works, I shall be using it all the time. This means that if you see any strange things going on, then don't be remotely surprised. I'm sure I'll have it all finished (or destroyed) by the end of the month!
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Bloater (4)

Another day in December, another meal - this time in Brown's Hotel, Tavistock. The meal could best be described as nouvelle cuisine, but was very well presented and of a good quality. Enjoyable.

As an aside, I weighed myself a couple weeks ago, before this bloatfest started. I shall be keeping an eye to see if my waist/weight increases over the next couple weeks. Due to the lack of training over the next fortnight, it's sorta inevitable, but I shall try my best at the gym to counter it all, otherwise the New Year shall be very hard work.
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17/11/06 - 1:12am

Today, I got a rather cool Christmas card, hand-made by my neighbour's own fair hand. It has a little black and white photograph inserted into it.

Remember the lightning that we had so much of last month? Well, my neighbour managed to get a shot of it - actually striking my roof!

I thought it was just a tad loud. Gasp)

This all goes to prove that the personal touch on Christmas cards makes all the difference, which has inspired me to give it a crack next year.
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My Only Festive Joke

Q) How does Good King Wenceslas like his pizza?
A) Deep pan, crisp and even.

*drums*

I thank you.
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W00T

Not being a fan of the whole Christmas shenanigans, I was somewhat chuffed to get everything in the shopping department done in one day. All food, drink and prezzies, sorted today in just a few hours. Whilst I did a proportion of it online, I'm rather pleased with myself. I'll now go back to forgetting about it, and looking forwards to having a fortnight off work in a few days time. Hope your preparations are just as painless....
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Humbug

Am I the only one who sees the hypocrisy when people complain of rising energy prices, but then cover their houses with 10 megawatt arrays of festive lighting and giant glowing snowmen?

Energy conservation is for life, as well as Christmas.
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Pan's Labyrinth

A Spanish film (subtitled), set during the Spanish Civil War. The story cleverly flips between the activities of both sides during the conflict, whilst also telling the tale of the encounters between a young girl who still firmly believes in fairy stories and "The Faun" - a strange animal that appears as half-tree, half-goat (it's probably not, but that's how it appears to me), discovered in a labyrinth near her makeshift home. With all the death and destruction running through the film, you wonder if it's only the girl's belief in fairy tales that keeps her going.

It's another one of those. It's good and enjoyable, but it's not "nice". The director has not held back from showing the unpleasantness of war (on both sides), nor is the outcome pleasant, but there's plenty in there to keep you going and the running time (about two hours) did not make it feel like an epic.

This has been touted by many as the film of the year. Is it? Well, it's certainly well made and tells a great story, but this is where I'm not sure. It all comes down to what sort of film you like. At the moment, I'm still feeling that Children of Men is the best so far this year, but this one comes mighty close. It's well put together - you won't be punished for faltering concentration on the subtitles. It's definitely one to go and see.

Filmfour link: (*clicky*)
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Bloater (3)

Next stop on my December Christmas meal bloat-fest: Wah Tin, a Chinese restaurant (surprisingly) in Plymouth.

To be honest, we went there out of habit. A bunch of my work colleagues have been there before because they did quite cheap and cheerful set lunch menus. Usually, you pay about £5.95 and get a starter, main course and dessert, although the dessert did look like Happy Shopper ice-cream.

Well, today we paid £11.95 per head and guess what - we got virtually the same menu, along with the same crappy ice-cream, but paid an extra fiver for the privilege of having the word "Christmas" appended onto virtually everything on the menu. Combined with the slightly surly staff, it didn't make for an enjoyable eat. I'm not entirely sure what my extra fiver got me, apart from a crappy cracker which ironically had a comb in the middle. Maybe they have a sense of humour after all.

Bad, bad, naughty restaurant.
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Phat Beatz

For those that read my previous article (*Hooj Choonz*) on my iAudio music player, here's a further bit of information for you.

I'm still extremely happy with it. The interesting thing though, is that the battery life (the spec says ~35 hours) is living up to expectation. I charged the unit two weeks ago - and despite it being listened to for between one and two hours a day, there's still battery life in it, possibly for a few more days. The only downside is the lack of an iPod-esque browser, but apart from that, it's a damn good unit that is living up to it's specification.

If you get the chance to go for one, do it.
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Evidence

Today, I received a Christmas card from a work colleague in my team. Along with the statutory Yuletide greetings there was the statement, "You are a good manager".

There. I have it in writing. Somebody has said it. I shall wave it under my bosses nose at regular intervals. All good fodder for my yearly review.
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Edukayshun, Edyoocasion, Edjoocation

I liked the bit of spam that I got today. Their entertainment value gets better and better.


So, where do I sign up?
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Forgotten

One year ago today there was an explosion at Buncefield, an oil storage depot.

It's strange really, I was actually away working in Sunderland this time last year, but for the weekend I took a Christmas shopping trip to London. The blast was something else. I was in bed at the time (it was about 6am) and I felt a huge shock-wave nearly pop the windows out of their frames. I was staying at a cheap Bed'n'Breakfast and the noise scared the shit out of me. Virtually all the nearby vehicles had their alarms triggered off and this was 30 miles away from the explosion, but there were reports of it being heard up to 100 miles away.

At the end of the weekend, as I flew back north, you could see the huge plume of smoke over a good chunk of the South East. It was all pretty freaky stuff, freakier still that we forget these things so quickly. The claims for the damage caused by the incident total well over half a billion quid.

There's a BBC Report on the incident here. (*clicky*)
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[Insert expletive here]

It's official, the great British public are officially stupid.

3.5 Million people voted for three random people on ITV's X-Factor tonight. At 35p a text, it doesn't take the brain the size of a planet to work out that ~6% of the British population were willing to spend over £1m on such a brainless piece of drivel.

What's the chances that such a sum was spent in texts/calls on the previous program on their schedule, Extinct? Slim, I'd guess.
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Thick

My Thursday nights follow something of a ritualistic pattern. After training, I go and join some mates down the pub and take part in a pub-quiz. It's something of an institution. More so is the fact that our team never have the answers and invariably come last. Coming last results in us picking the specialist subjects for the following week. Unfortunately, this gives us no advantage whatsoever and we come last again, a cycle that has been perpetuated for probably more than three years. We excel at stupid - and we're running out of subjects.

- I do not know all the words to the songs in The Sound of Music.
- I have no idea which country has an area of 95,000 square miles, is a kingdom and has a population of 5 million.
- And I really don't have a clue who the inventor of the hovercraft is.

I like to think that by lacking the necessary skill in this area, I must surpass in another.

I'll let you know when I find out what that is.
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Flashmobbing

I'd never heard of such a thing until it took place somewhere I used to frequent a lot - Paddington Station, London. It was a place I used to pass through the place every day, when commuting to work in West London.

Flashmobbing is described as:

"A flash mob is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, do something unusual or notable, and then disperse. They are usually organized with the help of the Internet or other digital communications networks." (Wikipedia)

So, at 7:18pm, on Thursday 30th November, 3,500 random people - all plugged in to their music players started dancing to "What you do", by Big Bass. A little YouTube video is provided for you below, along with a news article, courtesy of The Independent. (*clicky*)

I like the guy at the end, who totally doesn't get it.



Random is good. Should such a thing ever happen down this end of the country (unlikely, but you never know) I'd love to get involved. Check out flashmob.com and flashmob.co.uk for examples...
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Bloater (2)

Just got back tonight from meal of the month number two, at a place called Arribas - a Mexican restaurant (just in case you hadn't guessed).

It was thoroughly good stuff. They've also got a nice bar upstairs which is a pleasant and comfy affair, decked out in sofas and low lighting, along with music that isn't too loud and makes you want to cut your ears off - it was more like a chill-out room. It's a good place to go before the meal and to unwind afterwards. The meal itself had very generous portions, was delicious and wasn't extortionate. I believe they also do quite a reasonable lunch menu.

You can count that as an endorsement. I know I've linked it before, but I'll link it again. (*clicky*)

And no, they don't play the music on the website in the restaurant, thank God.

I sometimes dread work-related meals. They seem like a good idea at the time, until you hear....

"I didn't order that, I ordered....."
"Can I pay by cheque?"
"I don't know why we don't just split the lot and pay the same"
"Anyone got a calculator?"


*shudder*

This is usually where I lose all patience.

Anyway, none of this happened tonight. Everyone got what they should have, paid the right amounts with no fuss and thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe I was lucky, or maybe organising meals is my forte. Who knows?

I think number three will be Chinese.
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Bloater

Well, it's the beginning of December - the start of the Christmas meal/party season.

At the moment I'm down for six Christmas meals of some sort this month - and I had my first blow-out last night at a pseudo Italian restaurant called Frankie & Benny's. It was passable, but you can imagine the decor. It was, as Moe Szyslak would say, "With a whole load of crazy crap on the walls" - and I'm sure there'll be more like it.

My next one is on Wednesday, where I'm eating Mexican stuff, although I have to say that it's already starting to feel like a bit of a challenge - can you trough this much food and yet keep the pounds at bay? I would guess that you probably can't.

I am at least trying my best to avoid the inevitable. I went for another run this morning in order to undo some of the effect of last night. I shall be mighty narked if my attempts to get fitter in recent months are undermined by the activities of just three weeks.
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Defensible Chortle

I don't read all my spam, I'm not that sad - but today I saw one (see title above) that did at least make me chortle with some of it's rather random text. Here's some samples for you:

"Google doesn't believe in setting up perverse incentives when it comes
to improving the user experience. I don't think so for a moment, but
it's Friday, which means that idle speculation is allowed."


or...

"They've also recently completed an improvement in the algorithm that
scours landing pages. Like I posted earlier I am trying to kick what is
either some bad food . The problem is, if we give too much information
about the process to the bad guys, they'll turn around and use that to
circumvent the process. Anyway, the key point is you create whatever
look you're happy with - though frankly, as in real life - looks are
only skin deep."


...which all goes to prove that not all spam is awful drivel selling Viagra - although if it starts to make sense to me, I'm not sure what that says about my mind.
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Hooj Choonz

For a little while now, I've been looking for a suitable MP3 player. Whilst I've had one for a couple years (an iRiver-iFP 899), it's capacity was somewhat limited and I was getting somewhat annoyed with having to plonk new content on each day to listen to. It's a very well featured player (I've got to say that, I'm now selling it on Ebay), but it just doesn't come with any more than 1GB of storage.

Never believe the spec on the box of an MP3 player in relation to capacity and how much music they say the unit will store. Invariably, they mean "will store up to 20 years of music, if you like sound quality akin to said tunes being hummed by a wasp". 1GB = 34hrs, my arse.

So, here was my feature list for the music box of choice:

- Works on a Mac.
- Good sound quality.
- Will either take standard rechargeable batteries or....
- Has battery life of 20hrs+ (If it uses a proprietary battery).
- Can record.
- Has a radio.
- Storage of 4GB+
- 150ukp budget.

I don't care about putting photos, movies or my life history on it, thank-you. Just play music - and play it well.

I did an awful lot of searching. If you stick to your guns with your wish-list many players fall by the wayside, the infamous iPod being one of the first to go namely because the sound quality sucks, it has no recording facilities (unless you buy extras) or a radio. But then I stumbled on this:


It's made by Cowon and is the iAudio X5L. It's about iPod sized and totally fulfilled my feature list. If you believe most web-sites, however, it retails at about 210 - 240ukp, so I was rather chuffed when I got mine for 110. Gasp)

Anyway, it features:

- Colour screen, which does show movies/photos.
- 20GB Storage.
- Radio.
- 3D Sound
- Recording (either through mic, line-in or radio)
- 35 Hours of battery life (I'm still testing this one).
- Works on Win/Mac/Linux (Just mounts on desktop as a portable hard-drive)

I have to say that the sound quality is really good and that it's doing pretty well. It'll take me a while to see if the battery life claim lives up as I'm still on my first charge, but I discovered another feature that I wasn't aware it had - it can act as a USB host. This means that you can hook up a digital camera with a USB lead and download your pictures to it, thus saving memory on lots of expensive memory cards.

In all, I'm pretty impressed with the unit. My only gripe is that it's got a really strange adaptor that if you lose, you're screwed - you can't charge or transfer data to it. I've already ordered a replacement, just in case (they're only a tenner), because I can see it happening at some point. Otherwise though, I'd recommend it.
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Drip

...and the rain continues. I wonder if in a few years time, we won't call this season autumn, but the monsoon season instead?

Anyway, as I drove home tonight the rain was nothing short of torrential. Along the way I saw a lone female pedestrian, looking extremely uncomfortable - probably because she was getting a drenching in the downpour.

Once upon a time I would have stopped and offered a lift, but things have changed. Whereas I would have been previously happy to offer random acts of kindness such as this, I no longer wish to be looked at like a potential rapist/idiot/mugger and spoken of as that "creepy man who pulled up next to me" to the individuals friends the following day, when I was merely being altruistic.

Similarly, about 18 months ago I was first on the scene to a severe road accident (the car was upside down). I called the emergency services and stayed with the driver for a significant amount of time. When they arrived, they were verging on abusive, despite me having to deal with the incident and direct traffic whilst waiting for them. It makes you think twice about becoming personally involved with strangers at all.

It's a very sad state of affairs. Just as we seem to have forgotten how to be polite and kind to strangers, we also seem to have forgotten how to accept kindness without questioning it's motive, when most of the time, there isn't one.
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Jackass Number 2

After all I've been saying about the recent decline in film quality, I go and see this.

I mean:

- It's not really got a plot.
- There's not a hint of acting in here.

So, why did I do it?

Well, the simple answer is, because it has no pretence of anything more. Watching Jackass is like reading The Sun. Nobody of sound mind actually thinks that The Sun is a deep, meaningful, quality journal full of comment and analysis - but at least it knows it.

Jackass is similar - it's pure objective is to make you laugh by any means possible.

Anyone familiar with the first film or who has watched the T.V. program will be familiar with the format. It's simply an hour and a half of the same. Several American nutters try to do stupid stunts. Examples in the film include:

- Filling a hallway with ice and skiing down the stairs.
- Strapping somebody to a rocket, exactly a la Wile E. Coyote style and seeing where it goes.
- Sitting on a firehose like a rodeo bull.

It's pure, simple, unadulterated, laugh out loud stupid stuff - the sort of thing where we've all thought, "What would happen if...?". The difference between this and Borat is that it merely aims to amuse, but not at the expense of others, which makes it a far funnier film because the cast merely seek to ridicule each other.

Leave your brain at home, never look at a horse in the same way again and laugh your arse off at the same time. There's worse you could do.

Filmfour review: (*clicky*)
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Flash

Some people still deny it, but I don't care what anyone says - climate change is happening. Year on year, things are getting warmer. Probably the most notable evidence I've seen recently has to be the quantity of thunderstorms we've had. I've seen about eight in the last six weeks.

Anyway, I set up my camera and made an attempt to capturing the lightning - with a certain degree of success, as you'll see below:




...if want to see a quick flash of lightning, click here (*clicky*) - not bad in my barely awake state at 3:45am...
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Pickled

I'm not entirely sure why, but during the Christmas period people eat a lot of nuts. I've never really been a nut person, though - I think I'll leave those to my parrot.

In the MrD household though, consumption of pickled onions increases. Remember folks, they're the ideal accompaniment to any cold meat (*snigger*) you've got left over from Christmas day - and of course a cheese and pickled onion sarnie is a marvellous snack at any time of the day. As I read the side of the jar, I'm informed that 100g of these only contains 32 calories! Tasty and low fat too! It's a food miracle!

This probably explains why I'm sat here with a fork and a jar of onions - Christmas has obviously come early.

I'm not the only one who likes them. Follow this link (*clicky*) and you can see the Japanese equivalent of the "Good Onion Guide". It's good to see their top rated product - they obviously know their onions.

*sigh*
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Fun with wood.

No doubt you have the same problem as me when it comes to buying Christmas presents - all the shops sell the same old tired crap, thus making it hard to buy anything remotely original.

Well, I've stumbled over something different, local and distinctly Cornish - and chances are that if you buy it for a family they probably won't have it.

Cue Smite. (*clicky*)

In short, it's a family garden game that's locally made - and now, each year they have a World Smite Championships! Woohoo!

P.S. If you know me, this obviously reduces the possibilities regarding your present. Sorry 'bout that. Gasp)
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Shazam

Ever clicked on the "Pandora" link on the right and explored some new music ideas? If not, give it a go. However I've just stumbled over another website that works in a similar way, called Shazam. (*clicky*)

The best thing to do is click on the "Explore" link once it's loaded. The explorer system will start by showing an artist, followed by related artists the system thinks you'll like if you like the one highlighted in the centre. You can listen to most suggestions and if you want to start from a different point, you can put the artist name in yourself. You can even change the way the system organises it's alternatives so that it fits your line of thinking. Naturally, you can listen to a small sample of an artists work.

It's suggestions tend to be a little more mainstream than Pandora, but it's fun to click around.

Probably the best part, though, has to be the tagging system (look on the "Mobile" bit). If you're anywhere in the world listening to a bit of music, simply call the supplied number and let the system hear 20 seconds worth. If it knows who the artist is, it'll send you a text with the details - and it's only 50p a throw. It's quite an impressive idea.

(They say they've got a database of 3.5m tracks - if you give it a go, let me know how you get on. I'd be interested to see if it works.)
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Workshy Fops

Each year, Children in Need comes around - and I hate it. Yes, I know - I'm a miserable bastard. You can't seem to go anywhere without people indulging in faux-wackiness or losing all resemblance of dignity just to raise a couple of quid. I just want to give the collectors my donation and say,"here you go, now please shut up, take your stupid hat off, go away and leave me to work", although that's not my main beef with the day.

The problem is this - people take time away from work to extort the money from the rest of us. Sure, I contribute and I have no doubt in my mind that the fund-raising effort will generate money for a worthwhile reason. The problem is that it turns into a slacker's charter, a way for lots of people to avoid doing any form of work for a day in the name of charity - and I doubt I'm in a unique situation here. It's like they want to help just to avoid working, not because they actually believe in the cause. Where I work, we still have a business to run no matter what day of the week it is and far be it from me to give Mr Public some ammunition to shoot us with, should we fail to keep up with his requests.

The end result is that all the work that our lovely volunteers have avoided doing on Friday will have to be done on Saturday by us - and there will be a lot of it. Of course, the majority of people who organise the activities work Monday to Friday, meaning that they won't have to deal with the mess they've left behind. It just seems wrong, but I'm sure if we asked those who avoided work to make up their lost productivity in their own time we'd neither raise as much money or get as many volunteers, not to mention the booing-and-hissing resulting from the bad P.R.

I'm glad this year was a record success for the appeal, but please, stop ramming it down my throat. It's sore. If you don't mind, it's time for my medication now. I'm not the snot-monster any more, just the voiceless one. I think I'd best have a lie down.
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£1m? Is that all?

Yesterday, I did something that I haven't done in a good few years - I bought a lottery ticket.

To be honest, I largely can't be arsed with the National Lottery. Camelot seem more and more obsessed with introducing more and more games to the point that there's no sense of occasion, unless you're a seriously committed gambler. It's a sorry state of affairs. The prize fund has continually diminished - where once you had the quantifiable sum of £10m as a weekly jackpot, it's now been reduced to the staff at Camelot having a whip-around at the office and you now just win your weight in free biros. With so many jackpots, the whole thing has been diluted - although every cloud has a silver lining. It might just put Dale Winton out of a job on Saturday night.

That said, there is one prize fund still worth winning - The Euro Millions. The problem here is that it seems to work in the opposite way - nobody ever seems to win it. There's talk that this week the jackpot is £120m, because it's rolled over so much. Now we're talking. If you're going to win money, make it an obscene amount. It's even convinced me to invest the princely sum of £1.50 on a ticket. You can tell that I don't do this sort of thing much - I had no idea how many numbers to tick, how much the fee was, what the odds were or what winning options there were. It'll probably take me 10 minutes to check the ticket when the numbers are announced.

The thing is, what constitutes a prize that's large enough to retire on?

I'm of the opinion that you need at least £2.5m, but you need £5m to do it properly.

Once upon a time, just about any gambling emporium would tout £1m as their holy grail. Sad really, a million quid just isn't what it used to be. If you pay off your mortgage and have a splurge, changes are you'll have £750,000 left - then you have to think about the rest of your life. Naturally, what you want to do is set yourself up with an income so that it keeps topping itself up.



Most banks pay 5% on that amount if it's kept in savings. Deducting 2.4% for the current rate of inflation, that leaves you with 2.6% left per year - and you'll probably want to put in more than 2.4%, otherwise you'll be getting poorer over the years. So, say you put 3% back in that leaves you with 2% as your yearly income. That's £15,000 a year, hardly a princely sum. That's about the going rate for working in a call-centre. Great.



So, using my logic and multiplying everything up, winning £2.5m would give a nice comfortable income (~£40k/year after a splurge), but £5m allows you to have some serious fun.

Of course, should £120m come my way, I shan't be declining it as obscene. I shall keep my job on a part-time basis and say irritating things such as,"of course, I know I don't have to work, but I find it just helps me keep a handle on normality". I'd want to kill me already.
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Snot

Apologies for the lack of update. I'm currently the snot monster and I find it can clog up the keyboard somewhat.

I'll be back shortly, before you can say, "contac".
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The letter "s"

So for anyone who has heard far too much about the intricacies of my septic-tank, I shall give you one final instalment. Lucky, lucky you.

My problem with "slow-drainage" magically went after the man with the sucky-sucky-truck came and emptied the tank. Unfortunately, that wasn't it. The bill came to £200 (much to my annoyance) meaning that once split I was having twice as much extorted out of me as originally thought.

Although that wasn't all.

The company said that there was a problem with the tank. Apparently the "soakaway" isn't working too well, meaning that the tank doesn't really ever drain properly. To ensure that it does work properly, this will require lots of very expensive work to be done (we're talking thousands). The worst-case scenario is that the tank needs replacing (were talking several thousands) - this isn't really what I wanted to hear.

Bugger. Bugger. Bugger. Bugger.

But probably the bit that really bugs me - the thing that irks me the most, is that the company calls itself a "cleansing" company. No, it's not a cleaning company, it's a cleansing company. That word really, really bugs me. If you were to say the word, "cleansing", to me in a word-association game, I'd come back with,"ethnic". It is not a nice word, much like gusset, flange, moist and embolism.

Cleansing suggests purification, perhaps of a spiritual nature - and last time I checked, sucking shit out of a hole in the ground was not a spiritual affair.
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Entertainment for meetings

Today, I shall be in a meeting so desperately awful, I shall want to gouge my eyes out with an HB pencil.

However, I've found a solution - and it's here - (*clicky*) - Bullshit Bingo.

Simply print a gamecard out (they're randomly generated) and give to your colleages, an ideal way to brighten up a dull moment.
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The Prestige

This is a film set in Victorian London with a plot revolving around two magicians who are trying their best to outwit each other. A simple idea, with a very twisty-turny story.

It's an interesting film with tricks that get more amazing as the film progresses - and each magician tries their best to increase the "wow" factor. Sabotage is no stranger to their acts, though, as many a time the arch-enemy will plant a member of the audience who can wreck the trick. Michael Caine plays yet another good supporting role (he seems to have had a good year) and the two magicians (Christian Bale / Hugh Jackman) do a great job of hating each other, to the point of turning bitter and twisted beyond belief.

The set and surroundings are marvellous and is combined with an excellent story. The plot goes through several twists and turns (I lost count) to the point that if someone told me that the magicians were actually badgers from Dimension X, I would have believed them.

I've given very little away, but maybe that's the best way to do it - after all, magicians don't give away their secrets, do they? This is worth watching. It's a film that to my knowledge hasn't had much publicity, but that doesn't mean it's a bad'un - you'll be pleasantly surprised.

As usual, FilmFour review here: *clicky*
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Bins²



So the bins are disposable? Does that mean that when they're finished with, they go in the bin?
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School = no hug zone?

When I was a young'un, I used to go to Callington Community College. I therefore couldn't help but look when I was told that the school had got into the news because the current headmaster had tried to ban hugging. Of course, if you look on the site for the school, you won't find anything in the form of a statement, as there's obviously been some sort of hasty retraction, but it's amusing nonetheless. The ban changed to "discourage". Of course, thanks to Google's cached page (*clicky*) for pointing that one out.

These days, people don't get much in the way of human contact. Friendly human contact is a good thing, essential for our mental well-being. Unfortunately, we're probably more used to beating the crap out of each other than hugging, so it's rather sad when such conduct is frowned on and deemed inappropriate - a case of the British stiff upper lip, perhaps? That said, I remember that there used to be a rule in place stating that the sexes were not allowed to come more than within a foot of each other, so perhaps this isn't such a remarkable thing after all.

Anyway, here are the links:

The Times (*clicky*)
The Sun (*clicky*)
The Mirror (*clicky*)
BBC News (*clicky*)

P.S.: It would also be good if Ms Kramer could spell "Citizenship". (*clicky*)
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Borat

Whilst seeing other films, I saw the trailers for this. From what I saw, I wasn't that impressed or compelled to go watch it, until I read my usually trusty FilmFour review (*clicky*) which appeared to be waxing evangelically about the film and finally convinced me to go watch it this evening.

I should really trust my own judgement more in future.

The film has had the nuts hyped off it - Kazakh guy arrives in U.S. to attempt to investigate culture, make a documentary and take his findings back to his home country. You know that much. There's also the press who have lept on this, saying that the Kazakhstan government weren't happy and some Americans weren't overly happy either.

To be honest, I think I'd be least happy if I was Jewish. Yes, I know Sacha Baron Cohen's Jewish, but that doesn't make it right.

Borat describes how in his home town, they have the "Jewish Run", which is akin to a bull-run, but with figures in overly large "It's a knockout", style costumes. When in America, Borat and his companion run away in the middle of the night from a Jewish couple who run a B&B, as he thinks they have transformed into woodlice. He portrays the Jewish as money-grabbing, evil scumbags. Some of the "humour" in my opinion is just on the wrong side of the infamous line, making a joke seem someone ill-placed.

That's not to say that the film won't make you laugh, as there's plenty of other things in there to chuckle at - he winds up so many people - Pamela Anderson, members of the public, feminist groups, government ministers, the list goes on. There are also the amusing random moments such as his encounter on the subway, session with a prostitute and lesson with a driving instructor. There's no doubt that he has comic timing.

However, when FilmFour state that this is,"The funniest film imaginable right now", this is not advocating how good the film really is, but more of an indictment on how poor the humour in most modern film is. We really have descended to the lowest common denominator. Whilst they give the film 5/5, I would be somewhat less generous, at a 3.

Maybe I don't get it, or maybe I've got too PC for my own good. A good chunk of the auditorium laughed it's ass off. Or maybe my sense of humour has just grown up.
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Problems with the water works.

As neighbours go, I'm pretty lucky. I have three, all of whom seem to be fairly reasonable people. None of them have any kids (friends know my opinion on children), neither do they have a fetish for late night D.I.Y. or large collections of pneumatic drills in their lofts. They like their peace and quiet, much like myself and they're rarely at home - an added bonus. So, apart from the odd yappie dog there's only one annoyance - I share a septic tank with one neighbour.

Generally, having a septic tank is a good thing. Drainage charges by South West Water are extortionate, so it's a lot cheaper to have one of those than pay the monthly fee for drainage. The only problem is... well, when there's a problem - and that problem is what we experts call, "slow drainage".

I have problems understanding why our septic tank is such an issue. None of us are home much, maybe our septic tank is actually a septic bucket, or a septic thimble?

Obviously it needs sorting out, so the neighbour phones up the local company, who then promptly come along with their sucky-sucky-tanker and proceed to remove everything from it. This usually costs about £100 - and the cost is split between us, which means I have to randomly keep forking out fifty quid every so often.

Do the random demands for fifty quid ever get made when I'm having a good month?

Do they bobbins.

It's always during a financially shit month, when there's a shedload of other issues and this month is no exception. I so need a financial crystal ball. Anybody got one they could lend me?
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The Algorithm March

You might have noticed that in a previous posting I mentioned a Japanese program called ominoes (2)">"Pythagorus Switch", which is a bit like a Japanese Sesame Street, but with more brains. Anyway, I introduce to you the "Algorithm March", which is a dance with a staggered start for everyone but the first individual - and nobody collides.

On top of that, because it's Japanese, it's done by Ninjas! How cool is that?

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28 Weeks Later

I've deliberately not placed this in the film section because it isn't actually out yet.

Anyway, it looks like a sequel to 28 Days Later (one of my favourite British films of recent years) is being shot, which takes a look at Britain seven months on from it's predecessor.

A link to a chap who reviewed the script is here. (*clicky*) I wouldn't be remotely surprised if the film does turn out like this. I mean, is there actually a sequel out there that's better than the original? Discuss.

In fact, read the script - and if the reviews next year are consistent, then you've saved yourself seven quid at the cinema.
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Jubilation & Beer

Things went pretty well. As usual, there was stuff I could have done better but the key thing was that I knew what to do - and it all felt much better than last time.

Anyway, here's a picture of me being smiley and wearing my latest fashion accessory.



I managed to get this grading recorded, which will serve as a really useful tool in ironing out my mistakes should I ever grade again. Whilst it wouldn't be fair on all those involved to put the complete video on the web, here's a tiny 30 second snippet showing me doing some self-defence, just so friends/family can see what I was up to. My uke took things very well, considering how hard I threw him sometimes.



As you may have gathered, some celebratory beer was consumed and despite having a slightly cloudy head today, I'm still a very happy bunny.
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Uncertainty

Well today's the day. It's grading day - No more practice sessions left. At 4pm, I pass or fail. Such uncertainty - it could go either way:

1) I pass and feel rather jubilant after putting in all that effort. I go out and drink a lot of beer, the first time for five months. Drunkenness follows.

2)
I fail and wish to drown my sorrows. I go out and drink a lot of beer, the first time for five months. Drunkenness follows.

Maybe things aren't so uncertain after all...
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Whatever

Today, the BBC tell us the revolutionary news that most of Britains teenagers are complete scrotes. Cutting edge journalism, I'm sure you'll agree. I never knew that at all.

Indeed, where I live it's certainly not yet a case of drive-by shootings or the chippie actually being a local crack-kitchen, but the problem is there nonetheless. There's a group of about a dozen "yoofs" that hang around at the bridge near the bottom of the village - doing absolutely bugger all on most days. From what I've seen, they're not an evil bunch - they just need something to occupy themselves, and therein the problem lies, because there's not that much around our way for them to do.

Whilst it's really easy to scream that it's the parents fault and that they need to be shot at dawn, there are probably some more telling reasons. Let me tell you a story...

Several years ago, I used to be Cub Scout Leader. Sure, you can make pedophile jokes and say, "dyb dyb dyb", to me and I'll poke your eyes out ("dyb", was actually something that finished back in 1971, but I digress), but the truth was that kids loved it, just as much as the older kids loved Scouts. Whilst every child didn't turn out a model citizen, they knew the concept of respect, fun and that occasionally doing nice things for people was actually a good thing to do sometimes. We gave them life skills and socialised them with the adult world. Every so often, I bump into one of my old Cub Scouts. I don't think any have had an ASBO so far....

"So, why did you give it up?", I hear you cry. Well, there were many reasons, but the main one was help. There were four of us that used to run the pack of 30 kids - and it was bloody hard work.

Could we get any help? Could we shite.

In my last year as leader (I did it for six years), I appealed repeatedly for assistance - and got none. Even with threats of closure looming, nobody came forwards. And eventually, a little bit of the community died. It was a sad time.

There may have been many reasons that nobody came forwards - The lack of flexibility demonstrated by employers towards those that do voluntary work, the longer commute times in order to get to work, dysfunctional family circumstances or maybe, just maybe, people just can't be arsed. I don't know.

What I do know is that the voluntary sector in this country is very slowly declining. Soon, we'll be at a stage where there are no after-school activities left - and the gangs that hang around will slowly get bigger and bigger. We bemoan the situation we're in - but one way or the other, we caused it.
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Crazy

With slightly better weather today, we took a trip to Paignton - something of an underwhelming experience as it was exactly like going to a seaside town that was closed. Surprising, eh?

I did see this, though. That has to be the craziest of crazy-golf courses....



If anyone could care to show me where the holes are, I'll be on my way.
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Polysics

Today, I decided to go on a random music quest and find something interestingly different. Think I found it.

What I stumbled on was a Japanese group called Polysics. Their music is quite indescribable - a vague attempt would be something between rock and electronic, almost like The Hives or White Stripes with a bit of occasional Kraftwerk in there. That description probably still doesn't do them much justice. Anyway, I think I must have had my head buried in the sand because I was totally unaware of their existence until I started watching some Youtube stuff, where I found 'em. Apparently they've already done a Europe/UK tour and have a huge following. Shows how much I know.

So, here's an example. The track is well and truly stuck in my head and won't be going for a few days - The track, "I, my, me, mine".



If you can't see it, it's probably down to those pesky YouTube people removing the video. (They recently removed a lot).

Anyway, the little girl that's doing the robotic dancing is something of a Japenese phenomenon. She's known as "Strong Machine 2" (Strong Machine 1 is her dad) and she's only 11.

Finally, if you liked the track, you can see some other stuff on Rolling Stone's site, (*clicky*) or on Polysics own site. (*clicky*). There's plenty to listen and see. Oh and here's a Polysics Wiki. (*clicky*)
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Grief

A sobering day - one that's made me reflect, as today I did something that hopefully I'll never have to repeat.

I informed someone of a bereavement.

There is little else to say - the what, when and where are irrelevant. It's shit news to deliver. Such crapness can never be padded out with humour or a "silver lining". There's the moment of composing your thoughts, delivering the news and that moment of realisation, combined with the shock and grief that follows - and all the time, you're acutely aware that there's very little you can do to alleviate matters. Moments such as this stick with you for the rest of your life and you can't obscure your body language. Before you've said anything, you're giving out different signals which change the atmosphere.

This probably explains why (qualifications aside) I couldn't be a surgeon. It would be hard to be emotionally detached in a profession where such an outcome is always possible...

...which makes me wonder. As you get older, you become more aware of death. Is it because as life goes on, you know more people - or is it that you always know about the same amount of people, but when you're younger, you're simply shielded from the unpleasantness?
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Separation agencies

Some of you will remember my previous idea for a business (*clicky*) and how that idea was taken on by someone.

Well, there's even now a website! http://www.ibreakup.net/ (*clicky*)

Interestingly, they also have a "Make Up" section too, but does anyone find it just a little bit disturbing that they have an age categorisation for "Age 9 and under"?

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Random Linkage

Hopefully you can now see a few new links on the right-hand side.

1) No2ID is quite simply me saying that I don't agree with the introduction of a national identity card database.

2) Spam-Poison is my attempt to confuse the bots that crawl over my page, in an effort to reduce spam e-mail. The e-mail address on this page is getting about 60 servings of spam per day - mildly annoying, as I'm sure you can imagine and certainly more than the government recommended daily average of 5 portions of spam per day. Whether it actually works, of course, is another thing. I won't hold my breath.

On the plus side, this blog is now (scarily) getting over 100 hits per day. My webstats indicate that I'll have had about ~3,200 hits by the end of the month.
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Think

Lots of signs such as this are popping up in my local area, pointless as they are.



The sign doesn't state whether the deaths are attributable to car-driver ignorance or biker negligence. Will the number get changed each time someone gets killed, like some sort of sick scoreboard? Does telling road users how many bikers get killed actually change anything?

Of course it doesn't. Educating people, changing behaviour and improving safety will do that - but that might cost significantly more than a dumbass sign.

Footnote: To the biker guy I know who confesses to regularly doing more than 130mph - given enough time, you will be number 7.
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Farewell Mr Bucket

You can stuff your fancy cars, blingy jewellery and expensive clothes - I've got a toilet that works.

Yes, you heard me right. I can push a little flushy button, or a big flushy button - and whatever is there disappears, a bit like standing on the outside of the TARDIS.

Sheer unadulterated luxury, I'm sure you'll agree.

For those that haven't heard my story before, I shall just for a moment turn into a house bore. When I moved in, my bathroom was frankly disgusting, providing spacious accommodation to several hundred dead flies. It's now undergone something of a transformation.




The smallest room has had:

A new window.
A new door.
New electrical work.
New paint.
New tiling.
New bathroom suite.
New fixtures.
New lighting.
New plumbing.
A new floor.

In fact, there's virtually no trace of the previous room left. It's been quite a major project, which will soon come to a close. Probably a few more days of work will complete it. In the meantime, I'm just going to enjoy the fact that I no longer have to flush the loo with 2 buckets of water - and that friends can actually come around and use it.
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RSS Feed (Eventually)

I'm attempting (somewhat unsuccessfully at the moment) to implement an RSS feed for those that read their blogs with news-reader software (feed-link is on the right). If you encounter problems with it, you can probably be sure that I'm already aware that it's knackered in some way. In the meantime, this shouldn't affect the usual site functionality. I should get it ironed out in a couple days. Thanks for your patience.
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2007 Trip Planning

As soon as I was able, I booked my 2007 Japan trip. I'm now enjoying a bit of planning.

This will be my fifth visit. As before, I'm aiming to go for a little bit over a fortnight, so that I have plenty of time to mooch around and talk crap to strangers. I've not had it yet, but I'm eventually going to get the question, "Haven't you seen enough yet?". The answer (if you hadn't guessed) is,"hell, no". I guess if I'd chosen to speak French it would have been an awful lot cheaper, but there you go.

So, as usual, I started thinking of the things I want to do this time - and as usual there's a few, so here's a list:

1) Rotemburo - You've heard of me talking about bathing and onsen (*clicky*), but they hold nothing to the Rotemburo, which in the open air. I tried to find a picture of one and this was the best I could muster up. Apologies for using a shot which has lots of exposed flesh, but at least you get the idea (*clicky*). After going to Bath's Thermae Spa and enjoying the rooftop bath, I can confirm that outdoor bathing is a wonderful experience, which I hope to find again in some of the most tranquil settings in Japan.

Talking of which, if anyone wants a read, I found another good article on Japanese bathing - here you go. (*clicky*)

2) Fuji - Previously I've been to Japan in March/April (Cherry Blossom season) and September (typhoon season), which are both really bad times to climb. This time, I'm going in May/June, which whilst not being the "best" time of July/August (when the entire country climbs), it should make the weather an awful lot more hospitable than freezing temperatures or torrential rain. I'm aiming to climb a few days before coming home, to maximise my chances of good weather.

3) Hokkaido - Generally renowned as a very different island to Honshu, Hokkaido is supposed to be a much greener and rural affair, with several national parks. I'm looking forward to seeing untouched woodlands and soaking up some lakeside tranquility - unless I go to Sapporo, of course. In temperature terms, it's also the coolest of the main islands. As a person who doesn't get on well with super-hot temperatures, this should feel much more bearable than the 35 degree humid unpleasantness that exists back on Honshu, as it's about 5 - 10 degrees cooler.

I guess that this time, what I'm looking for is contrast. The frantic pace of Tokyo is a huge contrast to the solitude that can be experienced in the middle of a Hokkaido national park. I spend my days at work continually dealing with people. To take a step back and experience tranquility will be a welcoming affair. True, no man is an island, but for a couple of weeks I'll be looking forward to enjoying just my own company.
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Mr Who?

Here's link to follow when you're about to say, "Where did you get that Mr Dalliard thing from?" - (*clicky*)
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Performance Anxiety

You're probably sniggering, but I can assure you that I don't mean it that way.

In about half an hour, I'm going training again. Last night, I went running. Same again the day before. It was training the day before that. The continuous physical activity over the last couple months has had many effects. Whilst fitter, this morning I felt so knackered that it was more of a struggle than ever to get out of bed. I don't think I was awake properly until midday.

You could ask, "why do this?". A very good question indeed. The simplest answer would be that I'm supposed to be grading on Saturday November 4th, but actually it's not that simple, so I'll elaborate further.

This time, I'm grading for my blue belt. If it were just a question of doing the necessary techniques, it's possible I could scrape a pass, but it's not. Fitness is important - there's no point in being able to do a few throws if after thirty seconds of self-defence you need a defibrillator to help keep going. And to be honest, I probably wasn't far from needing one last time. Remember, time is relative - and I've invested a lot of time in this, probably about 8 days of my annual leave entitlement has been used to ensure I get my Tuesday nights off.

No, there's more to it than that. It's actually a question of honour.

Before you think I've gone all turned clichétastic, I'll qualify that statement further. My grading will not just take place before my instructor, but before my instructor's instructor. He is a thoroughly nice chap, but compassion and niceness don't come into a grading. Things must be done well. Thus, we have two reasons for doing a good job, namely the reputation of our club, combined with the fact that I do not want my performance to appear as a bad reflection on the instructing capabilities of my own Sensei. It must go well. One does not come all the way from Italy to watch a damp squib.

= Performance anxiety. It's two weeks away and I'm nervous already.
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J-Pop Illustrated

Not long ago, I was trying to explain to a friend what Japanese Pop (or J-Pop for short) was like. J-Pop is nasty, nasty stuff that makes you want to cut your ears off. It usually adheres to the following criteria:

1) Sung by a nobody who you'll have forgotten by next week.
2) Usually an insipid song that has no redeeming musical features - stuck in your head today, stuck in the bin tomorrow.
3) Must have cutesy, cuddly cartoon creatures in the video.
4) Must include randomly borrowed English phrases in the lyrics.

Anyway, here's one that fills the criteria nicely. Strangely enough though, "Ken" looks English.

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The Departed

An American film that doesn't shy away from foul language, gun culture and organised crime. Whilst it's not entirely my favourite genre (Pulp Fiction excepted), I shan't complain as it was a cheapie, courtesy of good 'ol Orange Wednesdays.

The story revolves around an investigation by special police into an organised crime group. However:

One of the investigators is actually a mole, supplying information to the mobsters.
One of the mobsters is actually an undercover policeman....

...and there we have it. Once the scene is set, there's about an hour and a half of cat'n'mouse antics, but with guns.

Jack Nicholson (as usual) plays the larger than life and somewhat evil head mobster, Leonardo DiCaprio the undercover cop and Matt Demon is the corrupt investigator. With Scorsese directing, that's a lot of big names, but does it work?

Well, the answer is a "yes", but the ending just felt a little too clinical and final for me. It has enough twisty-turny stuff to keep you going and in a Pulp Fiction style, even the most awful of things (usually involving splattered body parts) will make you chuckle. You could see an awful lot worse on a rainy Wednesday night.

The film is a remake of the Asian original, Infernal Affairs. As most comparisons between Asian films and their remakes tend to show the original in a better light, I'm now curious as to what the Hong Kong original is actually like.

Filmfour review here. (*clicky*)
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We'll be right back...



...just as soon as we can remember how to spell our name.
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Explanation Time

Time to explain the Chinese thing....

At work, I manage approximately 50 people, about a dozen of which are of Chinese origin. They're good people, but whilst they're working I really don't understand any of their banter.

They could be saying,"That bloke, he's a fat useless bastard".
They could be saying,"That bloke is so inspirational, he should be the next Prime Minister".
They could be saying,"Damn, I left the gas on".

Who knows?

I understand about 8 Chinese words. One of them is "chocolate". This doesn't go very far in establishing a harmonious working relationship - unless you work for a confectionary company, which I don't.

From a managerial standpoint, I certainly cannot "force" them to speak English, nor would I want to - I'd be banged to rights quicker than you can say the phrase, "Employment Tribunal". However, I need to ensure that their conversations are appropriate for the workplace - no matter what language they choose to use.

Make sense?
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Another language to learn.

For reasons that I'll go into another day, I need to start learning some Chinese (Mandarin) - and I probably need to start learning it soonish.

Should anyone on t'internet know of classes in Devon/Cornwall where one can learn, please get in contact. You'd be doing me a great favour. . .
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Boof! Ugh!

Today, I was talking to a colleague about my involvement in Ju-Jitsu, which provoked the question, "So, like, everyone really tries to punch you?".

At that moment, a wry smile was brought to my face as I thought of how funny it would be to run a session using "school playground rules". We could all do "play fights", and swing wildly at each other with our right arms (in slow motion, of course), each person taking about six mime-punches before being knocked out - and if we really wanted a realistic look, we'd put an open left hand near the target person and punch that instead, so that it made a good smacking sound. Oh, to be eight again.

Boof! Ugh! Aaieeeeeee!
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The History Boys

It's the story of a bunch of boys being coached in order to gain entry to Oxbridge. Hmmmm. Go on, tell me - you're bored already?

It's nice to be proved wrong. A BBC film set in 1983, it does a very good job of setting the scene, as a load of rowdy A-Level students get their results to the sounds of The Smiths ("This charming man"). The high-flying students are told that in order to get the best chances of success into Oxbridge, they'll do an extra term of study. The headmaster (a weasel of a guy) gets a new teacher in and the story revolves around the experiences of the boys with the teachers in their attempts to produce "rounded individuals" that will do well.

Still not convinced it's a good one? I'll continue.

The key to the entire film is the excellent scripting and casting - each of the boys has their own distinct thread in the story, combined with their motivations as to why they want to gain entry to Oxbridge. The teachers are not exempt either, with the likes of Richard Griffiths, who brilliantly plays a teacher that can't keep his hands to himself. The scripting is such that one entire scene is conducted in French, but the quality is such that even if you didn't understand a word, you'd still know what was going on - and find it amusing.

And maybe that's the final point - it has funny highs and saddening lows, although perhaps only a teacher would be able to tell you as to whether any of the sentiment conveyed is remotely realistic. It's an intelligent film - but it doesn't beat it's chest to tell you.

Anyway, it's another one to go see. British film has done pretty well this year, with a few worthwhile entries. As usual, the FilmFour review is here. (*clicky*)
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Japanese Bathing

As I didn't get around to it when discussing Capsule Hotels (*clicky*), I thought I'd write about the whole bathing thing in a separate article, so here you go.

The Japanese have pretty much got bathing down to an art form. Whilst us Brits just get our kit off and dunk ourselves in a bath, it's nowhere near that simple for the Japanese - so I'll do my best to explain.

In Japan, you can bathe in loads of places, but this list of three sums up the most common places:

a) Japanese homes.
b) Ryokan/Minshuku (Japanese-style inns) and many hotels.
c) Public baths.

I thought I'd show you a pic of what a public bath looks like. As a tin shed, this is a pretty basic one (although it was free, so I wasn't going to complain).



But the more seriously cool ones look like this:



Should you ever want to find one, you'll need to ask for o-furo. (The "o" is honourific. One always talks about baths nicely). Alternatively, if you're looking for one of the baths that are heated naturally by volcanic activity, you'll be looking for an onsen. The characters are shown below:


温泉

Bathing prices in most public baths are around 200 yen, although some "sauna" complexes in capsule hotels will add up to another 1,000 yen for the privilege of visiting theirs. When you enter, they'll probably ask if you want one of their towels. Unless you've already bought a special Japanese bathing towel (in which case, you probably don't need this guide), get one. They're usually only about 200 yen and are about the dimensions of a facecloth, but about three times longer. They're marvellous things - I'll explain why in a moment. Don't bother using your regular Western towel. The Japanese call towels ”タオル” (taoru).
Of course, the first thing to do is find the changing rooms.

The men's is: (otoko).....

Whilst the women's is: (onna).

It's usually the case that a big curtain with the character concerned is hanging over the doorway - so you shouldn't be able to miss it.

The next thing to do (and this might sound like a stupid thing to say) is to take one's clothes off. Whilst in Britain we keep ourselves generally covered in a swimsuit in baths, it's not the case in Japan - get your kit off. That said, most (but not all) Japanese baths are segregated, so you'll only bump into people of the same sex, anyway. When you take everything off, you should find that you've either got a locker to put things in, or a little basket. Stick everything in there and then walk your way through to the main bathing area - everything in these places seems to be separated by sliding doors. Don't forget your little towel!

You should discover two things as you go through:

1) That there appears to be something that looks like a huge bath or appears vaguely swimming pool-esque.
2) That there are loads of low-level showers with little stools to sit on next to them.

The key thing to remember here is:

DON'T WASH IN THE BATH.

It's purely for relaxation purposes. All scrubbing must be done at the showers. To be remotely soapy when entering the bath is a bad thing and will lead to much scowling on the part of your fellow bathers.

Now, this is the fun bit. The scrubbing. Without going into too much gory detail, the towel is a multi-purpose magical item that works as facecloth, loofah and all sorts. In most baths you'll see a little hand-bowl next to the stool. The usual protocol is to fill the bowl with hot water and work with that and keep refilling it as you use it. That said, the Japanese quite like throwing their water around and emptying the contents over their heads. Washing with gusto is just fine. Soap/shampoo is usually provided - so there's no need to take your own. They usually have a few bottles of it right to your shower.

Anyway, wash away and just make sure that you don't have a bit of soap remaining on you. Once rinsed, it's time to enter the bath.

Most people tend to enter somewhat gingerly, as there's a tradition of having the bath water so hot that it nearly causes burns and turns your skin pink. Simply easy yourself in and relax. After an exceedingly hot Japanese day, it's a really good way of unwinding - and even on a cold day it works nicely too. Sit in it for as long as you can stand (usually a few minutes, at best).

In some places, they have cold baths too, so once you've boiled yourself, you can die of shock. I've not worked out what the benefit of this is yet, although I have tried it, weird a sensation as it is.

Once you're finished, it's time to exit, dry off and get dressed. If you wring out your towel you bought earlier well enough, you can dry off with it too. They're marvellous little things. It's usually good protocol to get rid of the worst of the wet stuff on the wooden stands that are usually by the bath door - this saves you from dripping all over the place. If you're staying at a Ryokan/Minshuku, this is the time you then put on your yukata (bathrobe) and go vegetate somewhere.

...and there you go. Hopefully, that's enlightened you a bit (if you ever were curious). It might seem a bit daunting at first, but actually, it's thoroughly enjoyable. Bathing is such a deeply ingrained part of Japanese culture that should you ever go to Japan, it'll be hard to avoid. As usual, feel free to e-mail me with any questions - I'll take the answers to the bottom of this post for the benefit of everyone else.

Questions....and answers!

Q) Would it be bad form to wash, soak, wash and then soak again?I only ask as on the few occasions I've had a Turkish bath, the theory was to wash, soak out the grime in a sauna, wash (cold shower), sauna again then get a two stage massage involving a harsh scrubbing then a full on deep tissue massage. The point being I think to get a deep cleanse by sweating out any impurities. As the Japanese are bath experts do they have a similar system where you can wash, soak, wash, soak, shiatsu?

A) No. In fact, it's ok to wash, soak, jump in another bath of cold water (does things for the pores) and then hop back in the hot one again - that's a common thing and would probably replace the second scrub. Another thing is that you can almost get in the bath without scrubbing - as long as one washes one's genitals first. Nice. I didn't go into that originally. A lot of saunas are "gentlemen only" establishments and for an extra fee, one can be "scrubbed" by a lady. I kid you not, it's pretty commonplace in a lot of capsule hotels and the like to go for massages/scrubbing as well as the bathing. Shiatsu or an alternative is fairly commonplace.
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Steeped In Tradition

With summer behind us and the nights drawing in, it's that time of year where we start getting a bit miserable and reach for the Domestos. As luck would have it though, in my local area we have something called the Fayre, which is an attempt to bring us out of our gloom and be happy - or alternatively, get pissed, eat too much and vomit whilst riding poorly constructed fairground rides.

On the second Wednesday of each October, we have the Goose Fayre, an event that renders all the main streets in Tavistock to be closed off to traffic, much to the annoyance of local residents, who are urged to park in Croydon to avoid any inconvenience - one can't get in the way of tradition, y'know. People say the event dates back to at least 1990. Village elders hint at even earlier beginnings.

Of course, such a traditional Fayre, complete with market stalls and all wouldn't be the same without, well, traditional fare. If one searches hard enough, olde goose rolls can be found, replete with snout hoof beak - a steal at just a fiver a throw. Soak up that atmosphere whilst you're served it up by a surly Essex boy in a mobile greasy spoon.

With such an event having traditional roots, it's no surprise to see that the contents of the market stalls haven't changed over the years. Inflatable hammers, Tammy Wynette tapes and flashing mobile phone charms are all yours for the taking - it's no surprise that Fayre-goers come back year after year to take advantage of the bargains. In fact, the greatest bargain of all (three boxes of cling-film for a fiver) was the original celebratory reason for starting the event back in 1981, when cling-film's invention allowed the residents of Tavistock to preserve their beloved dead geese through the long, cold winter.

But now, it's past midnight and things are winding down. It's over for another year. The cleaners are out, shovelling up the vomit, beaks and hammers so that the town can return to it's normal self the following day.

Isn't tradition great?
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A rare find.

Today, I discovered someone who actually believes that these...



...taste as described - Flamin' Hot.

A surprisingly rare discovery, I'm sure you'll agree. Mr Walker should go take a photo of them, quick, before they're an extinct species.
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Bitter & Twisted

In not too long, I will have worked for my employer for five years. Five years. It's a long stretch of time - many get less for manslaughter. There's a well known phenomenon that happens in our company when people have worked there for five years.

Loathing and resentment set in.

A good few happy, confident and competent employees have turned into prickly, inept ogres around the five year mark. It's like somebody flicks a switch. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, merely darkness and a daylight-effect bulb with a sign below that says, "This tunnel-effect-light is here purely for demonstrative purposes - please do not remove".

Of course, those little rays of sunshine that we accept as part of the furniture are joyous people to work with. They sneer at everything, are derisory at innovation with their standard retort of,"well that'll never work", get a sense of humour bypass and of course have the enthusiasm and ability to motivate people akin to that of a haddock past it's sell-by date. It's no wonder that the people they work with also feel miserable.

Me, for the most part, I enjoy my job. I deal with people - a lot of them. It's all those different people with their different lives and different things going on in them that make no two days the same, almost like a little soap opera. However, should you see me transform into some snarling beast over the next few months, at least you know the reason why - I'm going through the change. It's perfectly normal.
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The Honesty Test (2)

Well, a little while back I told you I was going to have an "Honesty Day" (*clicky*). So, here's a bullet point summary of my findings from the day in question:

1) The experiment generally went well. It was a liberating experience which no doubt I shall do again. Admittedly it was hard work, namely because I had to think hard about every single thing I said, but nonetheless, it was worthwhile. No doubt, as you become more used to being totally honest, it gets easier.

2) The main thing you have to be wary about is that many don't know how to take honesty. It's almost like they can't take it at all. Is that because they have an over-inflated self-belief, they're delusional, or nobody else has been honest with them and they've formed incorrect perceptions? At this stage, however, I'm not going to go that far and ask, if you don't mind.

3) It is possible to be honest without being rude. No, really, it is.

4) The occasional individual will actually thank you for your honesty.

The most important point, however, is that you will confuse people by your potential change in behaviour - and maybe that's the enjoyable bit. Never underestimate the fun that can be had by making people think. This is a good thing.
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Money Making Ideas (1)

A little while back I was getting bored and thought that instead of working for somebody else, it would be so much better if I could control my own future by being self-employed. The romantic notion of being able to pay yourself what you like is just that - a romantic notion. You need to put in a lot of work, along with having a sound business model. There are 12 billion hairdressers, restaurants and corner shops around. No, I needed a better idea, something that hadn't been done before.

One thought I had was a "reverse dating agency". After all, there are shedloads of websites out there dedicated to getting people together. However, nobody wants to deal with the ensuing mess that occurs when splitting up - the "It's not you, it's me", conversation, the dividing up of CD collections, the tears and anger - the general awkwardness of it all.

Unless you got paid for it. Then you could just fob the job off onto someone else, surely?

I was considering buying two domain names - www.shuntthemunter.com for men to dump women and www.dumpthelump.com for women to dump men. This would allow tailored content for each sex. If things took off, I would probably have bought some suitable domain names for same-sex separations too.

The shopping experience would have been the usual basket affair. You bung in the personal details of your soon-to-be-ex, then you pick your package. For example, do you want your victim to have a face-to-face chat with one of our friendly representatives, or a text? Perhaps you'd like the Red Arrows to write, "Steve, you're chucked", in the sky in red, white and blue smoke or have graffiti daubed over the garage door?

No problem - everything comes at a cost.

Then, there's the aftermath (or, as we call them, "optional extras"). Do you want relocation? Do you want a new phone number and/or identity? What about the insertion of prawns into your partners curtain-rails (a previously documented activity) or hot grits in their favourite underwear? It could all be done. Your pain could be our gain. All you'd need to do was get the ball rolling and retreat to a safe distance whilst we do the business. Simple.

Damn shame really. I saw this story on the BBC news and discovered that someone has beaten me to it. (*clicky*)

Poo. Back to the drawing board. Interestingly, dumpthelump.com has now been bought, although there's just a placeholder page there at the mo'. I wonder what will be there?
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Arses

Tomorrow, after many years of cranes, pneumatic drills and hairy-arsed builders, the Drake's Circus Shopping Centre will open. This is not a good thing.

I'll be honest and say that I'm hardly looking forward to this. The opening signifies the start of a very slow, painful death to some areas of Plymouth's City Centre, as people become less bothered to shop in the high-street.

The building itself is the disastrous evidence of what happens when a committee of architects get together and can't make their mind up. How about a bit of glass here? Or a bit or giant terracotta here? Or perhaps some random bits of wood sticking out? Add some cheesy blue neon lights? Ick. Make no doubt about it, the place is an eyesore. Prince Charles would be turning in his grave - if he were dead.

Not forgetting of course, that poor old Charles Cross Church has been somewhat dwarfed by this concrete nasty. Wasn't it supposed to be a memorial, or have we all forgotten?

The skyline of Plymouth is changing - and for the worse. In the last few years, higher buildings have been popping up - slowly depriving the streets of sunlight. A few years back, one of the chief architects of Plymouth said that the city should have more skyscrapers. Idiot. Drake's Circus was commissioned because apparently, "Plymouth was now the only remaining city in the UK not to have an indoor shopping mall".

Sorry. I actually thought that was rather good. It meant that Plymouth hadn't been genericised (if such a word exists) to look like every other city in Britain.

Anyway, for those of you who are further afield, you'll be wanting to have a look at this link. (*clicky*). This gives you photos of it all, along with some amusing video prior to the areas last development back in 1967.
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Pies, pies and yet more pies.

I think this summed up how I felt about today - carrying on regardless, no matter what happens. The video links below brought a smile. I won't give anything away, just click and enjoy.

I couldn't embed this one into the blog, so you'll need to follow the links.

Update: There's 3 parts - (*part1*) (*part2*) (*part3*)
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Relativity

Aggression is an interesting thing. I don't think you can fake it. Real aggression comes from moments when you really lose it - and I figured I must have been pretty close tonight.

When training tonight, we did a small and simple "self-defence" round. It's a simple idea, you have someone trying to knock your block off for a set amount of time and you keep them at bay. It usually means that you have to keep a good succession of throwing techniques to hand and is quite a tiring affair, so we usually keep some sort of time limit on it - unless you flake out, of course.

When I attacked my partner, I tried to throw punches at him like I really, really meant it. This didn't mean much on the first one, but once he'd smashed me to the the ground, I immediately bounced back up and was actually on the verge of seeing red. My subsequent punch came in a way that would have probably separated his head from his body, poor chap. Bang. Down I went again, but instead, the rage was making me get up again in a matter of a second, before he'd composed himself from the previous technique.

And so it continued, I went like a mad one (even growling as I tried to connect) and he continued to block.

Eventually, we both sat on the mats, knackered. It had seemed like we'd gone on forever.

"How long were we doing that for?", I asked.
"Thirty-six seconds", came the reply.

This goes to prove that time is relative.
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Clerks 2

Take brain, put in dustbin - that way, you'll find it easier to enjoy the film.

It's pretty much like all those other films you saw back in the late eighties and early nineties, such as Bill & Ted and Waynes World, apart from the fact that this one actually has a dialogue that really makes you laugh out loud. Like the first film, it's a pretty low budget affair, but that's part of the appeal. The focus is definitely the script, not the action or special effects - exactly where it should be.

It's the story of two thirysomethings in a dead end McJob, who talk crap all day - subject matter includes Lord of the Rings vs Star Wars, Helen Keller and Anne Frank, "interspecies erotica" and why the Transformers are a gift from god. It's basic humour and it knows it - but somehow the writers have got away with ridiculing every single taboo. You'll probably laugh nonetheless, even though you know you probably shouldn't. And it's all rounded off nicely by the familiar sight of Jay and Silent Bob... This film was better than I thought it was going to be.

Oh and I haven't watched the original Clerks yet, so I can't tell you if this one is better or worse than the original.... but I will, don't worry.

Filmfour review here: (*clicky*)
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The Hippopotamus

Just recently, I've been watching The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, a comedy originally broadcast back in 1976. I was just four at the time and therefore too young to appreciate it first time round, but watching it now I've been enjoying it for a good few reasons:

  • All the characters are entirely predictable and have the same mannerisms/problems each day.
  • The random thoughts that go through your head when people say particular things or talk about specific people.
  • The indictment of modern-day life.
  • It's still funny. (Shouldn't forget that one).

Despite being 30 years old, there are parts that I can still look at and identify with, in a sort of "my god, that's me!", way. Maybe that's what makes classic comedy such as this so timeless. Oh, and the urge to run down to the beach, disappear and start a new life elsewhere, of course. But maybe I won't come back as a sewage worker in Dorset.
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You look like a girl!

About eighteen months ago, I got my hair shaved off. I'd previously had long hair for something like 14 years. Looking back, shaving it off was one of the best things I ever did. To be honest, I'd now really like a permanent solution. Is there a way of ensuring complete hair removal forever, or am I going to have stay best friends with my razor?

If you know of any solutions, I'd sure love to hear them.

On a related note, I found this. The BBC has a great archive selection of video, which is slowly increasing. It's not Youtube, but what you don't get in quantity, you sure get in quality. This clip is marvellous and comes from the local news in 1964. Three boys are interviewed about their decision to grow their hair and the attitude of the interviewer, along with the opinions of the general public at the time is marvellous. This is cutting-edge journalism at it's best.

"Tell me, how long have you been growing your hair?"
"You're not trying to look like a girl, by any chance?"


Marvellous. See below:



Update: Poo. The BBC have now pulled their creative archive project footage. Sorry 'bout that.
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Alive

Yesterday was one year since I got my first fish. Today, I'm pleased to say that all three are still alive, which is nice. See, I don't kill everything I touch!

That's an honour specially reserved for houseplants.
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Confessional

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.

I confess that yesterday, whilst driving home, I raced another vehicle.

No doubt, Daily Mail readers throughout the world are now claiming moral outrage and would like to bring back the death penalty for evil scum like me who pose a threat to the very fabric of society.

Whatever.
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The Honesty Test

Every day, we lie. It's a sad and perhaps ironic truth. From the "Yeah, I'm ok, you?", you say automatically when you're walking past a colleague at work, to your understanding nods at the person who has been boring you with the story of their bad day, when actually you don't give a shit, we all lie repeatedly.

Is it right? Are we lying to ourselves as much as everyone else? Would honesty be doing people a favour and saving them from delusion? Who knows. Some cultures have almost brutal honesty and are accepted, whilst others spend their lives living a lie for the sake of harmonious relationships. It's a tough one. There is no right answer, but I would like to see the other side. Is one easier than another?

So I've decided that for just one day, I'm going to stay totally honest. It'll be tough and will require me to have to think long and hard about what I say. You can be honest, but you don't have to be rude and brutal. People may appreciate a frank opinion, whilst some may be taken aback by what may be considered outspoken. That said, I do know a handful of people who do so and get away with it, so it is possible.

I've not decided on a day yet, although I am going to do this in the next week. I think it'll depend on my mood when I fall out of bed. When I have done my day, I'll let you know how it goes.
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Sauce

Well, I've finally done it. I've gone and entered myself for the Level 4 Japanese Proficiency Test (*clicky*). It takes place in December in London. The examination takes place simultaneously around the world at virtually the same time. It's an internationally recognised qualification - much more so than my GCSE.

I was pondering over entering level 3 (the levels run backwards - 1 is hardest, 4 is easiest), but having now seen that some of the vocab and kanji are substantially different from my GCSE papers, this was probably the right thing to do. I seriously need to discipline myself into a good study regime, as I've only got two months to get it right.

Anyway, I ordered a past paper from these guys (*clicky*), which should allow me to get to grips with the examination format. And as a plus, they sell Japanese curry sauce at two quid a block! Marvellous! Gasp)
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Children Of Men

Today's word is: dystopian. Say it slowly now. Dis-toe-pee-en.

There seems to be a trend to my film-watching. This year, I think I've watched three or so films that take a grim view of our future. Here's another.

Set in London, it's 2027 and the world has changed. The last child was born in 2009. Mankind has become infertile. The story starts with the mourning of the youngest person in the world dying at the age of 18. Without children, so many things have taken a turn for the worst. Disasters have happened in so many other countries (such as Russian pushing the nuclear button on Kazakhstan) and Britain is a military state that revels in it's island status. There's propaganda everywhere - "Britain Soldiers On". Policy has changed so that all refugees are shipped back out of the country or put in the equivalent of British concentration camps. This doesn't really do Bexhill on Sea any favours. All the meanwhile, there's terrorism from "The Fish", who are trying to instigate an uprising, because they believe that humanity has a future elsewhere and the population is dwindling. Things really are quite bleak and London is plain dirty - full of smog, rubbish and graffiti.

You wonder if there's something in here that's also trying to be damning or prophetic about our immigration policy.

Hope comes along in the form of a pregnant woman and the story turns into a modern-day nativity, except it's set to a backdrop of a war-zone that is Bexhill. The war scenes, if I can use such a phrase are powerful and the camera work is startlingly close. It made me wonder if that's what the current situation in Iraq is like. Who knows.

The film does a very good job of showing one possibility for the future of Britain. It's slightly sci-fi, but in a discrete way. Cars and computers have moved on, but the smog hasn't. Michael Caine gets the best part I've seen him do in ages, playing an ageing hippie who grows and sells his own dope. The film keeps you guessing, has emotion, plot and is well written, along with having good camerawork. The bleak environment occasionally makes you think of 28 Days Later, but believe it or not, there's humour there too. I'd rate this as probably the best film I've seen this year so far and I'd even happily watch it again - a rare accolade. Go see.

Filmfour review. (*clicky*)
Trailer. (*clicky*)
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Banging Against A Wall

As like most people, I've got more than one e-mail address. Usually this is so that people who I know can actually e-mail me without problem, whilst all the spam/crap gets diverted elsewhere. For about the last three weeks, one of these has been dropping into my mailbox, probably at the rate of one every 12 hours or so:



What sort of complete retard thinks,"well, I've had 20 e-mails from Barclays, asking me to confirm my bank details - and here's number 21, so I think I'll go do that now."?
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Cappuccino Schmappucino

Today, I'm feeling knackered. The drive home after the course combined with another early start this morning to go and get my windscreen replaced has meant that I feel pooped.

I guess that it would have helped if my keys hadn't fallen out of my pocket at work yesterday. Picture the amusement if you will, when I get to my front door, scour my pockets, bag and just about everything else to find my keys - and I can't. This resulted in getting a cab back to work to pick them up and coming home again - adding a 35 mile round trip to the 300 miles I've done that day. Nonetheless, I thanked the security guard chappie for keeping hold of them for me. I would have been taking a chisel to the door otherwise.

Anyway, is the car saga finally at an end?

Of course it's not.

The glazier did his bit, although on removing all the sealing from around the area, he's shown the inadequacies of the work that the bodywork guys did when spraying the new tailgate. There's sections that haven't been painted. As the work is covered by a 3 year guarantee, I shall be giving them a call tomorrow. Metal that isn't treated properly becomes rusty metal - and I'm sure as hell not letting a three year old car rust.

On a happier note, I started running again today. It was a short run, but nonetheless, it was good to get back into the habit.

Footnote: Today I discovered the place that makes the foulest coffee in the South West. Its the cafe in the Homemaker store in Plympton (a Co-Op place). Avoid at all costs. I wouldn't have gone there out of choice, but it was the only place in about a mile radius that made something hot and brown whilst waiting for my windscreen repair. Made from a bucket of powder and hot water by a disinterested sixteen year old who had obviously never drank it. Ack. I feel dirty.
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The Knowledge

Well, I'm back from my course - and what did I bring back with me?

Beanbags.

Well, actually, more the knowledge of where to get kick-ass beanbags. Ladies and Gents, I introduce to you, The Fatboy. (*clicky*)




Yes. It's only a beanbag.
Yes. It's £150.
But I sooooo want one.

So as you can see, my course wasn't a total waste of time, energy and company resources.

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Big fish, little fish, cardboard box.

My next update will be on Wednesday, as I'm away on a training course for the next two days. Actually, rephrase that - it's called a "Management Experience".

Having your eyes gored out by alsatians is an experience.
Being the survivor of a plane crash in the Himalayas that forces you to eat your fellow passengers is an experience.

You can feel the enthusiasm just oozing out of me.

No doubt, by the time I come back, I'll be managing perceptions, downsizing, kicking arse, cutting mustard and thinking outside of the box. Alternatively, I'll be foaming, dribbling and repeating the phrase, "I, for one, welcome our new managerial overlords", or "That would be an ecumenical matter".

This made me think. If everyone starts thinking outside of the box, would that mean that thinking inside of the box would then be the new thinking outside of the box?

I think it would. I think I'll stay in my box and wait for everyone else to come around. That's fashion for you.
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Useless becomes useful.

I never actually thought that cling film had a use. It always seemed to be one of the world's greatest useless inventions, appalling stuff that only seemed to cling to itself when you were trying to get it off the roll and didn't want it to cling just yet. Squeaky and a bit stale smelling, too.

Until now.

My car's windscreen is made of it. It's like the window is the skin of a drum (and it makes the same noise). The temporary repair has been done whilst the real windscreen is on order and the insurance company, repair company and windscreen company all have a bunfight to decide who should pay for it. The only thing that's certain is that I'm not.
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Omen

This is Apple's Dictionary definition....



You're probably wondering why I'm even mentioning this. In fact, I'm boring myself as I write this, but yes - it's about the car again.

  • To have an accident after owning it for just two weeks could be considered unlucky.
  • Would something else happening just two days after I've picked it up from the repair centre be a very big omen?

This evening, after training, I went to pay a visit to some friends who were down the pub. As I drove along, I noticed that the rear windscreen had misted up - officially a reminder that summer is well and truly over - so I press the heated rear thingy button.

Three minutes later, just as I'm entering Calstock (for those that live in the area, I'm sure this is totally unrelated), a large crack was heard, followed by a squeaky noise, a bit like fingers down the blackboard. As I looked in my rear-view mirror, I could see that my rear windscreen had totally shattered.

Perhaps the glass wasn't a good fit and the heat expansion caused the crack. We'll never know. It's academic now. Suffice is to say that I shall be calling the "recommended repairer" back and telling them that their repair was not so good.

I only pray that I don't get the bananamobile back. That would certainly be a bad karma thing.
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Queue Jumping

Overheard from a young-ish woman in a restaurant today:

"Of course, to get myself into my council flat, I had to be pregnant. My G.P. had to put it in writing. Although I only got a one-bedroomed place...."

So that's what babies are for.
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Mythology

Tuesday has been a good day, a good day indeed.

I had the phone call this morning - my car was finally back on the road. On hearing the news, I drove the discourtesy vehicle back to the hire company and dispatched it. Before I got out, I checked the vehicle over - it was cleaner than when I picked it up. I'd even left more fuel in the tank. The company hadn't cleaned the vehicle whatsoever before I collected it, so I felt a return of the favour was in order. Originally, the floor was covered in nutshells as someone had been eating a bag of peanuts and raisins. There was still an unopened bag in the glove box. However, the bigger surprise was that there was a banana behind the bag.

I decided to leave it there. It's at least two weeks old so far. Whilst I've hoovered and pressure washed the vehicle, there is a strange smell inside, almost like someone has died. The rather mouldy banana is secreted behind all the owners manuals, so it won't be immediately visible - it's a derivative on the "prawns in your curtain pole" prank.

Anyway, one of the hire guys drove me to the repair company and I had one of those moments - where someone has a "feature" about them that you can't help but look at, no matter how hard you try not to. This fifty-something chap had the most virulent nasal hair I've ever seen. Whilst we trundled towards Plympton and put the world to rights on matters such as Afghanistan and why the Drake's Circus Shopping Centre is nothing but a hideous eyesore, I tried my best to avoid staring at his nose-foliage.

The repair guys have done a good job of patching up my vehicle, which goes a little way towards redressing how shambolic their administrative department is....

...and so on to Ju-Jitsu. Well, I trained - and escaped without injury. I'm so pleased that in such a short space of time, I've got myself active again. There were two routines that were a Really Bad Idea and better for me not to do, but the night went extremely well. Whilst I'll never be perfect, I managed to carry off all my blue belt throws - which means that once I've mastered the twelve techniques of the 2nd Ippon Kumite (I've just realised that this sounds mythological), I'll be in a position where I can just practice, practice, practice and then, who knows?
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A Demonstration

Whilst sat on the benches on Sunday, my ju-jitsu colleages kindly demonstrated the techniques I need to master in order to attain my blue belt. Again, it's all been recorded on the little Xacti (*clicky*). Sanyo rule.

So, if you'd like a look at what I've got to do, look:

Here (If you've got an average broadband connection)

*edit* - To save bandwidth, the high-res version has been removed. Apologies.
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Silent Library (2)

For those that enjoyed my last forage from Youtube of "Silent Library", here's another.

They're doing very well and staying pretty quiet at the beginning... Well, until the tarantula.....

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Nature's Calendar

If I didn't have a diary or calendar, I'd still know that it's mid-September at the moment. This is because my front-room is filled with feathers as my parrot (*clicky*) goes through his annual moult.

I guess this must be a tad inconvenient for him. Imagine - if someone told you that you were going to be naked by the end of the month, you'd at least want to keep a spare pair of pants with you to keep your dignity....
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Not so alert.

Maybe I wasn't so alert yesterday. I woke up this morning and felt the top of my right leg. It's been shaved smooth in a neat four inch square. Why didn't I notice that before?

I'm assuming it's so they could stick the sensors on me that were hooked up to the ping machine (remember: every hospital must have a machine that goes "ping!") and not a student doctor joke.

Answer to previous question: Yes, I will be pushing my luck to train. Like a kid with a verruca in a P.E. class, I'll be watching from the bench this session. Poo.
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Progress

What a strange day. As you'll see from my previous post, today was the day I went to hospital and had surgery.

It's been 18 years since I've had any form of hospital treatment, something I feel pretty lucky about. I didn't quite know what to expect. Times have moved on.

Oh yes, they've moved on. Here I am, typing shite at my computer, just like yesterday - but this morning I was under a general anaesthetic. It's freaky. I don't feel doped and the only reason I feel a bit tired is because I had to get up at the god awful time of 6:30am this morning. Isn't progress wonderful?

Of course, will I be pushing my luck to go training tomorrow evening? Hmmmmmmmm......
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Webstats / Visitors

Every day, the webstats for this site are updated - and they make interesting reading (for me, at least). Apart from English visitors, many come from other countries. Less surprising readers from further afield are Canadian, American and Japanese. However, without fail, I get Swiss visitors. (Hello, readers from Switzerland). I've no idea why. I've never mentioned the country.

Anyway, in a bingo-stlyee, I've decided to gradually cross off the countries from the big long list, until there are no more - care to wager which country will be last?

The list so far: (This will continue to be updated - last updated 20th January '08)

Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Christmas Island, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, US, UK, Venezuela, Yugoslavia.
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Luck

The last few days have been pretty good...

1) My plumber turned up, did plumbing things and finished after an hour and a half. Never did he suck air through his teeth or demand cups of tea. He also did a good job.
2) The weather was good, so I actually managed to fly my kite. In fact, the weather was so good that there was barely enough wind.
3) My Powerbook G4 is one of the ones affected by the recent exploding battery scaremongering story (*clicky*). I somehow doubt it would happen, but who cares? I'm getting two new batteries (usually £100/battery) out of it.
4) My car may have it's repairs done for Monday/Tuesday. I could be back in a car I actually like soon.
5) I don't seem totally incapable (yet) of doing my routines for my blue belt.
6) A date came through for some surgery I've been waiting for. Saturday's the day. Some people will do anything to get a day off work. Gasp)

...it's funny how good-stuff/bad-stuff all seems to come at once.
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Pub Golf

I was having a clear-up on my hard-disk today, when I stumbled upon this - a little game called "pub golf".

DrinkList scorecard

It's something I put together a while back, when a bunch of us went on an outing for the day. It's a simple idea - 18 pubs, 9 hours. Each drink has a "par" and you have to finish the drink in as many (or less) swigs than the par in order to score. Those who don't drink (or love their liver) come along as "caddies" to keep an air of sobriety to the proceedings and fill in scoresheets, along with making sure that no-one cheats. Just like regular golf, minus scores = good and plus scores = not.

Anyway, feel free to download away. It's my no-obligation gift, no matter what you decide to do. I'm sure you could change it for your local town if you don't live in the Plymouth (UK) area. And even if you do, some of the drinking establishments might not be there any more, so you'll need to change it anyway - but you get the idea. At the time, I was pleased just to get around. From what I remember (which wasn't much), I scored about 10 under par. The winner at the time was -19.

Disclaimer: I'm not responsible for the condition of your liver, or any other bits that fail during trying this. You're on your own.
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Dominoes (2)

Following on from my discovery of the "Dominoes from household objects" video on Youtube (olls & Dominoes">*clicky*), time for:

ピタゴラ スイッチ (Pythagoras switch).

Like dominoes... and just as mesmorising. Enjoy.

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Ex-Crocodile Hunter

As I was jogging away on my treadmill today, the headlines on Sky News flashed up and told me that Mr Irwin (the Australian bloke) died when he was got by a stingray.

Maybe I got him all wrong, but all I remember of him were programmes that showed him deliberately making very dangerous animals very angry indeed and saying things like, "Look, he's really angry now", whilst wrestling said poisonous spider/crocodile/snake to the ground and pissing it off further.

Isn't it ironic therefore that a stringray (which I am informed, is not an aggressive creature) should be responsible for his death?
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British Gas, kiss my....

When I lived back at my last address, I used to have my electricity supplied by a company called Good Energy (*clicky*), who only supplied electricity generated by renewable forms (i.e. wind, solar), so it was something of a disappointment to find that when I moved into my house, British Gas were supplying everything (the gas and electricity) and to be honest, not doing it very well.

So, I tried to change back to Good Energy - not an easy task.

It has taken me 13 months to get there, but finally, I have. They have billed me for someone else's readings, billed me for meters that don't exist, billed me at the wrong rates and billed me for stuff I don't use. Partially I suspect this was also because the previous owner was doing a scam to ensure that he got billed at the "off peak" rate for peak electricity, but I digress.... And every time I put a change request in to transfer companies, they would put in an objection. In fact, I have never known a company act so aggressively (and incorrectly) to ensure you couldn't go elsewhere. They would then send letters which said things like, "...so we had no option but to object to the transfer...". Exceptionally infuriating, especially if you've ever had to endure their hold music for half an hour to actually speak to a person.

So, I'm back with Good Energy again, which makes me feel just a little bit better - and allows me to take another step towards being carbon-neutral. Not an easy task.
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Misnamed

My replacement vehicle at the moment is a Vauxhall Corsa, which my insurance company has misnamed as a courtesy car. I beg to differ.

I'm not sure if that makes it a rude car or a slap-around-the-face-with-a-wet-haddock car, but you get the idea. Avoid.
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Slap / Crunch

Today has not really been the Bank Holiday I'd planned for. My shiny new(er) car is now not quite so shiny after an accident less than a mile down the road, on a day trip to Paignton. The accident wasn't my fault - I had a case of a good old "smack from behind" from a guy who seemed more interested in his dog (unrestrained and sitting on the passenger seat) than anything else. It'll get repaired good as new again, but nonetheless I know the vehicle has now been in an accident and it takes the shine off somewhat.

Jeez. I've not even had it for three weeks. And I now ache in some strange places. The guy admitted he wasn't paying attention at all. Whilst it's an admission of liability, it highlights that he was just plain negligent. Grrrrrrr. I'm glad I didn't go with my original plan of going for a brand spanking new C2 VTS, or I really would have been hacked off.

So, as a cheer-me-up, I've had a look on Youtube for some funnies, which rarely disappoints. Only the Japanese could come up with concept of being hit up the arse with a baseball bat in a public library, or "Old Man Bites Tenderly". A contrived situation, I know, but amusing nonetheless. Enjoy.

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Confused of Devon

Most days, I don't get it.
Today, I really, really didn't get it.
And the problem is, the more I try, the more I realise that I understand it even less.
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Severence

It's not a new story, a group of people in a house being preyed upon by something "in the woods" - but this has been done rather well.

The group of people are all employees of a company that manufactures arms (Palisades Defence), who head to somewhere in Eastern Europe on a team building exercise by coach. Whilst on the journey, the team encounter a blocked road and the Hungarian coach driver refuses to take them any further - resulting in them having to make their own way to their "luxury villa"... and this is where the fun starts.

It would be a shame to give much away, but the film successfully combines horror and comedy. That's not to say that when the horror comes, you don't jump and go "ewwwww" a lot - because you will. This film can be categorised along with Shaun of the Dead as another British horror success. Go see it.
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Thermae (2)

You may remember that I mentioned a little while back (*clicky*) about visiting the only natural hot spa in the UK, mainly out of curiosity as to whether the complex would have any similarity to Japanese Onsen culture. Well, I've been now - and it was an interesting visit, so read on....

The place is relatively easy to get to, because it's right in the centre of Bath - so head for the City Centre and you'll be fine. As a pedestrian, you'll see signs to "Thermae" everywhere, so I defy anyone not to find it.

As you enter, you get the distinct impression that money has been spent. This is not just some jumped-up swimming pool, it's architecturally much more. The stonework is something to behold. Everything is curvy and smooth and impressive, even down to the welcome sign behind reception.

The prices are on their website (*clicky*), but at the time of writing, a two-hour session cost £19. For a spa in the UK, this is cheap (although when in Japan, most Onsen entry-fees are more in the order of 200 yen / 1 pound) and a session such as this is a good way to get familiar with the place.

When you enter, you're given an armband. The armband has a chip in it, which is too damn smart for its own good. It knows when you came to the place. It knows your locker number. It knows if you ate at the restaurant. In short, everything is charged back to the armband - you then settle up for anything outstanding as you leave.

Changing is in a unisex area, which is full of little cubicles. Facilities exist for families and the disabled.

The building has five (I think) floors. Probably the best way to start, though, is at the top and work your way down. The rooftop pool is great. It gives you a view across the top of Bath and over to the countryside. Here's a shot of the pool. (It's OK to use these images - they're on the PR section of the website).



I have to say it's much more fun sitting in the pool if the weather isn't sunny. When it's raining, it's great. It's probably great by moonlight. It's also probably great on a freezing icy day. It was certainly interesting during the rain, mainly because of the cold rain on your face contrasting with the 40+ degree water temperature.

Anyway, head downstairs and you enter the steam room, which looks a bit like something from Doctor Who, but it's sooooooo cool.



The steam room has four separate sections, each with their own distinct smell. For example - floral in one, wood in another. It's worth going to all four to experience the difference. The steam room also has individual foot spas, so you can soak/bubble your feet away. Nice. Finally, there's the central shower, which makes you feel like you're being pelted with pebbles. It works a treat at removing dead skin from every pore of you, but that's probably a thought you don't want to linger over.

There are other treatment rooms on the next floor down and by the time you've got to the ground floor, you're in a place called the Minerva Bath, which is more akin to something swimming pool-esque, but it's not - if that makes any sense at all.

All the pools seems to have this random controller built in to them, so bubbling spas pop up in places you didn't expect, along with water cannons operating from the side of the bath, which work a treat at leaving your back squeaky clean, combined with some nice lighting and high pressure pumps, which make you feel as though you're getting a massage. The surface of all the baths is covered in a paint that can only be likened to a sandstone with bits of pumice in it. It's like all the time you're in there, the nasty dead skin is being removed. You do come out squeaky clean - and you feel great.

I was in there for just two hours, but want to go back. I'll probably do a four-hour session next time. This place is a distinctly British affair and is nothing like the Japanese spas I've been in before - this is much more grand. The water quality here is great. There are drinking stations around the building and the water is exceedingly soft and pleasant to drink. The place has had so much money spent on it, that I hope it doesn't go under. It deserves to do well. Some of the layout is occasionally non-sensical, but being such a unique building which has been so tastefully renovated, it deserves to be supported.

Go. Go now. You won't regret it.
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Hold Music Hell

(Quicktime is required for this one - download the filename below and open it up in Quicktime Player)

I had a somewhat bad experience on hold today - and probably discovered the most subtly annoying hold recording yet - have a listen.

The key points from this hold recording:

1) Please go away, stop bugging us and go to our web-site instead, where you'll be promptly ignored.
2) We're short-staffed, please stop bugging us and go to our web-site and apply for a job with us.
3) We pride ourselves on a high level of customer service - you just called us at a bad time. Why not go to our website instead?
4) Our phone lines are open between and , but why not go to our website and contact us there? If you must be a total pain in the arse and actually want to speak to a person, hold away.... you'll be there a long time.

All nicely spoken by two people who barrage you with information relentlessly until your head explodes. Nice.

<holdhell>
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Environmentally Friendly Plumbers?

In the ongoing saga that is the refurbishment of my bathroom, I stumbled across these guys. (*clicky*), who claim to be environmentally friendly builders/plumbers that are pleasant people to deal with. They say, "We work for people who want a personal service, reliable tradesmen and women who will turn up when they say they will, do the job properly and honour the customer and the company" - An interesting quote indeed.

But the question is, how will they fare?

Well, they've already scored more points than the other plumbers I've had the misfortune to deal with:

Somebody pleasant answered the phone.
That person said the plumber would call me back later.
They did!
They're coming to give me a quote in the morning.

I'll keep you posted on how I get on. If these guys are good, they'll be getting inundated with business. I know of loads of people screaming out for good plumbers.
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A Scanner Darkly

Weird one this - is it a film that's just computer animated, or have they just computer treated conventional film? Who knows. I'd make a guess on the latter.

Anyway, it's a film set a few years in the future in the USA, where the war on terror appears to have merged with the war on everything else, drugs included. The drug of choice is "Substance D", which is made from a little blue flower - and this is where our story steps in, revolving around a household of three guys who share a common addiction to "D". The war on drugs means that Americans have pretty much given up their rights and are under surveillance, the household included, although the interesting thing is that one of the guys in the household happens to be an under-cover drugs investigator, who bizarrely enough has to monitor his own house.

The housemates fall into the right cranky stereotypes - there's the philosopher who feels he knows everything about everything and there's the blond space-case who knows close to nothing, but despite being a film about addiction still has a good dose of humour.

The film covers police corruption, sex, drugs, politics and conspiracy theories. They're all there in good helpings.

Is it a good film? Hmmm, well, it's not bad. It's not the best thing you'll see, but it's certainly the best of what's around at the moment. And for once Keanu Reeves doesn't seem to be acting in too wooden a style, which makes for a change. His acting in the Matrix Sequels was awful. Anyway, check it out - if for nothing else, check it out for the presentation and the fact that it's actually got a plot, which in recent films has been somewhat missing. It's presentation will no doubt ensure cult status.

IMDB Link (*clicky*)
FilmFour Review (*clicky*)
Official Site (*clicky*)

Footnote: I was right(ish) - a technique called interpolated rotoscoping is used to make the film look like it does.
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Strike Twice?

Since the resumption of the rain on Wednesday evening, the weather has gone rather strange, with thunderstorms not just once, but on two consecutive evenings. However, this evenings lightning was nowhere near as spectacular as last night (~1am), which gradually got closer and closer until it's peak at about 1:30am.

Usually, you see the lightning, then hear the thunder, but last night the distance was non-existent, evident by the fact that the flash (I think) struck not that far away from the house. There are some fields and rather large trees over the other side of the river, about 150 metres away - I believe it struck there.

Interestingly enough, the sound of lightning striking sounds not like a rumble, but more like someone ripping apart velcro. The sound lasts for about a second. It's a really weird noise, but you know exactly what it is when you hear it. I also know it struck lucky by the brief power-cut that happened immediately afterwards. Luckily, the trip-switches cut in and avoided any blow-outs.

The weather is getting freakier and freakier, even the die-hard sceptics must soon accept that global warming has a part to play, surely?
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Random Photo

Here's another one I had fun with. I've held on to this one for quite a while before publishing it.

I took this picture about 18 months ago. It's (I think) a Japanese wedding. I was lurking around a temple at the time and my opportunist snapshot worked. Well nearly - beforehand, there was a chap in a suit standing in front of the groom, but with a little bit of Photoshop magic, he's now been removed.



What I like about it is the fact that the picture appears to be of the "fly on the wall" sort - a little capture of Japanese life. What I also like about it is the expressions on their faces. It's a happy day, but their expressions hint that just maybe the happy expressions are painted on - it's not easy to keep smiling all day for the cameras. Finally, the use of black and white just seems to work.

It'll end up on my gallery in due course, but is the first picture I've displayed that has had any Photoshop tweaking.
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Luck On Our Side

Today, I did a sponsored walk with some work colleagues. The walk was a circular route from Cremyll, taking the coastal path through Penlee Point and Cawsand, followed by Rame Head and back through Millbrook, finishing again at Cremyll - about 10 miles, which we took at a leisurely pace.

The overnight weather was awful and the BBC weather forecast for the area showed no sign of improvement. I was not looking forward to the prospect of sitting under the warm air drier of a gents loo in some random pub in order to get warm. We had similar weather last year, resulting in the destruction of several items of my clothing, combined with a lot of people vowing "never again". Someone's mobile phone was even wrecked through rain damage. It was hard work getting people to do the walk again this year.

However, we had a stroke of luck and the tap on the downpour was magically turned off as we started at 10:30am this morning, with the rain returning again at about 7:30pm. The timing could not have been better, which all goes to prove at least one of the following:

a) The BBC's weather forecast sucks.
b) There is a god - and he's being nice today.
c) I'm impervious to rain.
d) Luck meant that all the rain-clouds in the area avoided us.
e) All of the above?

Whatever - it was all good.
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Could someone explain...

...why that racoon has such oversized knackers?

The advert makes reference to Genki (元気 - healthy) - is that a sign of good health?

(
Note: You don't need to understand Japanese to know what I'm on about - the racoon is pretty obvious to see)

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Dreams

When I wake up in the morning I don't usually remember any dreams I've had, so when I do it's a rare thing. Today was one of those rare days.

It's a shame it was a work-related dream and didn't involve something more pleasant, like eating pies or finding a pound down the back of the sofa.

It's doubly a shame, because it involved a colleague attempting to blackmail me.

Additionally, the language the individual used in the dream was spot on, only the body language was more aggressive - this changed the tone of what they were saying from a joke to a threat.

This almost adds credibility to it potentially happening. I hope it wasn't some sort of premonition. I've felt a bit spooked all day and I can remember the dream-based conversation perfectly. Grrrr.
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Pointless Crash Testing

Here's another video for you. Whilst looking for information on vehicle crash tests and safety data, I stumbled upon this. I think it's from Channel 5's motoring programme, 5th Gear.

It's quite chilling, because the speed of the crash (70mph) is something most people do, and it's interesting to see how a vehicle fares in this circumstance. Nonetheless, the end conclusion summarises the pointlessness of the test - who cares about the cars? Humans don't survive crashes with concrete blocks, even if cars do....

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Friends Redistributed.

I was sat in the pub this evening, discussing the matter of friendship. The two of us sat there chatting and whilst the result was inconclusive, the whole thing did make me think about people, life and stuff, if I can use such terminology. Stuff is as complex as I get.

I used to be part of a group of friends. Well, I say used to be, but it's more a case of something that now ceases to exist rather my estrangement from the group. However, the big question is when did the group cease to be - and how?

The answer to the first question is relatively simple - I'd put it at about a couple years ago, but the reasons why are more complex. Relationships within the group have changed and everyone has grown up a bit more, resulting in a different set of priorities. People have moved around and even finances have changed. There's more than one reason, but ultimately they all have the same effect. People are more distant, have less time to meet up and things quite simply just aren't the same. It's not their fault, more of an indictment on modern life.

On reflection, should I be sad about this? I guess the answer to that depends on personal circumstances. If they were the only people I knew, then yes - but thankfully they're not. Maybe I subconsciously realised that it was coming to an end and decided to do something about it. As time has gone on, I've gained an entirely new set of friends. Ju-jitsu, work and my studies have contributed towards that. But with all those other strings to my bow, I still occasionally wonder whether the old group will get back together again. It's not sadness - more nostalgia than anything.

Occasionally, we hook up and conversation is more along the exchanging of pleasantries. Soon we'll be at the Friends Reunited level, a well known condition whereby you send off just two e-mails to someone to ask how they're doing after all these years, find out and then ignore them again for another five. It becomes more of a curiosity.

Whilst this may sound somewhat morose, it simply isn't the case. I'm just taking stock. I evaluated my life not long ago and came to the conclusion that I'm actually pretty darn happy. I finally have a place of my own, a reasonable job, financial independence, good friends, reasonable health and a good relationship. It's just nice to realise it every so often - and not take it for granted, however cliché ridden that may sound.
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Burberry Baseball Caps

Yesterday I spent an awful lot of money - enough to make me wince as I handed my card over to pay for my purchase, although I know I've probably done the right thing really.

My car had reached it's autumn years, a time in it's life defined as the point where you've driven it past 100,000 miles to the point where anything else is academic. Your vehicle is just high-mileage and nobody would steal it if you paid them, which doesn't bother me until other problems start to develop. Then, every time a problem does occur, you end up doing a cost-benefit analysis on each repair, saying to yourself, "is it worth it?".

Well, this time it wasn't.

About a week ago, Rubella started leaking pink fluid from the engine head. The parallels between this and human anatomy were a little unnerving and with further examination I was pretty sure that the engine head had developed a rupture. Not good. There's no real temporary repair that will get you through this one, just as sticking an elastoplast on a ruptured aorta really isn't going to work. The pink substance was coolant.

I've had something similar to this happen in the past and the repair is a time consuming task. It involves taking the top of the engine off, skimming the head, replacing the gasket and putting it all back together again. It is not cheap and usually results in said mechanic sucking the air through his teeth and making a comment akin to, "It's not the parts, it's the labour, y'see". When it was done before, it took a complete day of the mechanic's time, but as he was cheap and accepted sheep as part-payment, it came to less than £300. No such luck this time, the cost would have been at least double.

Which brings me back to the question, "do you pay £600 in repairs on a car that's worth probably less?".

The answer is, probably not. Chances are that you're on the slippery slope and further problems will occur. Don't get me wrong, for the last two years I've had a very reliable little Polo, but it was time to move on. I made my decision to cut my losses and invest in a newer vehicle (again), using this one as a trade-in. Hopefully, nobody would notice the haemorrhage. My criteria for whatever I drove next was:

1) Cheap and easy to maintain.
2) Fun to drive. (Has a bit of performance without guzzling and at least a sunroof if I can't afford a convertible )
3) Small (it's only ever me and one passenger), but can fit a parrot cage in the boot (occasionally necessary when I go on holiday).

I did test-drive a Citroen C2 VTS and liked it, but as the salesman was a complete arse-hole who had redefined the term telephone harassment, I decided not to go for one, and instead bought a Saxo VTR. Yep, I've got a Chavs car. Woot.

To be honest though, I don't actually care. I've bought one that's barely 3 years old, has ~26,000 miles on the clock, been well looked after and hasn't been modified in any way, thank god. The economy seems fine, it is indeed fun to drive and does 0 - 60 reasonably well (~ 9 seconds). It's also covered under a warranty for a substantial amount of time, so hopefully my vehicular problems will now be far and few between.

The garage in question didn't notice the bleeding pink, which was also a bonus. So, ya-boo, I'm off to find me some Burberry seat covers. Gasp)
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Unfortunate..

..not a personalised number plate, surely? I'll let you decide.


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Thermae

If there's one thing I love about Japanese life, it's onsen (温泉) culture. Onsen are all over Japan. They're hot springs. People bathe in them, sometimes in the open air and bathing in Japan has been raised to almost an art-form - at some point in the future, I'll write about the oddities of bathing, Japanese style, but that's another entry.

Having enjoyed onsen culture so much (I had in the past been to five in one day, just to experience different types), I was somewhat excited when I found out several years ago that back in the UK, our only equivalent in Bath (*clicky*) was going to reopen. This happened as a result of the project getting a significant amount of funding from lottery money. I was chuffed that eventually, I wouldn't have to hop on a plane to indulge in one of my favourite pastimes.

However, the project has been fraught with delays and problems (*clicky*). It's also cost significantly more than originally planned, and has been cocked-up in only a way that the British could manage it. We've got that down to an art-form too.

But it's open now. Gasp)

I shall be going in about a fortnight's time... I'll let you know what it's like!
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Running(ish).

The running is going well. There is one problem, though - it's a bit boring. I find that I have to take one of the following strategies to cope:

1) Listen to music and take your brain to Jupiter (disclaimer: other planetary bodies are available). This allows you to totally tune out and forget you're even running.

2) Join some friends and run somewhere more interesting - make it sociable. I did a short (4 mile) cross-country run last week and quite enjoyed it.

However, my interest level would probably go up a little more if we got to do this sort of stuff on a treadmill..... Enjoy....

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80 Miles A Day...

This man is a legend. Revere him.




You might remember that I mentioned (*clicky*) a while back how this chap was cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats and back again. Well, he did it, arriving back at Land's End on Tuesday 25th July. It's not often that somebody cycles nearly 1800 miles in just over 20 days. So, I'll say it again, donate. (*clicky*)
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A tip for car salesman...

...harass your potential customer on a daily basis, by phoning them up after the demonstration and saying, "you going to buy it?", repeatedly.

Yeah, like, that's really going to work.
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Dolls & Dominoes

Sometimes I have a peruse around Youtube and random Japanese blog sites to have a look at what's around - today I found two gems that I just had to share.

The first is called Cantomoko and is basically a blog, written by a Japanese sex doll. However, the author has taken great pains to make this doll look like a normal person, posing them, fully clothed in normal situations. My favourite pictures have to be these two:

1) Near the summit of Mt. Fuji.



2) Snowboarding!



This guy has obviously spent a little too much time and effort on doing this, but it's funny nonetheless, especially the temple visits (how did he get away with that?). The blog finishes at the end of last year, but is still well worth reading. Even if you can't read Japanese, don't worry, as there's a link for a (somewhat rough) English translation.

Have a shufty here. (*clicky*)
(Click the bottom link to enter the site)


Secondly, this Youtube video is amusing - don't worry if you don't understand Japanese, just watch and it's quite evident what is going on:



Take all the rectangular domestic items in your house that you can - and make a domino chain from them! Marvellous!
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Playing Dead

A while back, I wrote a little bit about how one of my fish (a clown loach) likes to play dead. After a little bit more research, it's transpired that this is in fact totally normal and the species are just a bunch of piss-takers. Bless 'em. They've got some character.

More information here. (*clicky*)

As a footnote, the first fish I purchased are still alive - and they've been in the tank for 10 months. Only two months to go. Just how much is a "fish year", though?
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You belong to us now, Dave.

Give or take a day, it's been a year since I moved into my place. My place. Not Desmond Tutu's place, not Haile Silassie's and not Mr Magnolia Landlord's, but mine. Each night, I rub my hands in glee, cackling a maniacal laugh that puts the fear of god into the woodworm. The novelty hasn't worn off yet.

Really, it's only nearly mine - I've got the bank to pay off first. This is all new to me. On a yearly basis, the bank you've got your mortgage with send out a statement telling you how much you still owe them, a reminder that it's not your house at all. No, not one bit. And it won't be yours until you retire.

During the course of the year, I've paid 6,000 pounds in mortgage payments. Because I'm right at the beginning of my mortgage, this has paid off the princely sum of 650 quid from the capital I owe. Wowzer. The remaining 5,350 quid was pure interest. And this was from a financial establishment that offered a low interest rate. It's enough to make you think that the nice men at the Concrete Boot Loan Company would probably have offered you a better deal.

Ah well, 1 year down - 29 to go.
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Ethically Sound Trainers

You'll probably have seen in my last post, where I decided to get some running shoes. I really should ask why I make it so hard for myself, but I also decided that wherever I got them, I wanted them to be ethically sound - meaning that I didn't want them to be made in some Asian sweatshop. It rests easier with my conscience.

As luck would have it, I immediately found a pair in the first sports shop I went into. They're made by New Balance and if you want to have a look at the manufacturer website, click *here*. They're pretty good. They make stuff in the UK (not entirely though, although they're better than most manufacturers I could mention *cough* *Nike*). Interestingly enough, they're also good if you're a Vegan, as there's not a hint of cow in there at all.

I can also report that they fit very snugly and do a good job too! (And they only cost me £25, which was nice).
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Disappointment & Encouragement

Well, today was the day. I was all geared up to do the bleep test, despite the heat.

"Oh sorry, we can't do the test - someone's nabbed the CD", said the instructor.

At this point, I decided to bite my tongue and not launch into a lecture on the merits of forward planning, particularly the bit about when you advertise an activity, you have the materials to run it. Instead, I laid it on thick about how disappointed I was since I'd solely come in to have a go, and that all I wanted was a good benchmark of my fitness levels. My amateur dramatics were rewarded and they decided to make it up by giving me a free session with a personal trainer who would do a fitness assessment. Result.

Most of my session involved jogging. The instructor started by getting my warmed up by setting the treadmill to 4km/hr for a few minutes, then 8km/hr. And there I was, jogging away - and strangely enough, finding it relatively easy.

So, she continued by increasing my speed by 1km/hr, each minute, then returning it to 8km/hr for another minute as a "recovery" minute. (So I did 9, then 8, then 10, then 8, then 11, then 8, etc... etc...). She explained that it was similar to the bleep test in that you did a sprint, followed by a jog in exactly the same way, although the distances were shorter (bleep test runs over 20 metres). I concentrated hard on my breathing and found that I was still not doing bad.

I got to 14km/hr and still did not feel like dying. We had to stop at that point, because time was pressing and I had to some other tests to do.

From what I understand of the bleep test, level 1 is 8.5km/hr and each successive level requires you to cover the distance .5km/hr faster. Based on today's run, I figure that actually I would have been able to make at least level 10, which was my original objective. In fact, 14km/hr is something like level 13. I'm fitter than I thought - although I attribute that to the half-hour warm-ups we do before ju-jitsu training. They're good at building up fitness.

I've been told that the tests happen on a monthly basis, so I should hopefully get another crack in August (if they find the CD). In the meantime, I've been encouraged to do more running - to the point where I've actually bought some running shoes and will see the trainer again in a few weeks time. I aim to do well when I finally give it a go. It'll also build my stamina up if/when I grade again.
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Capsule Hotels

When I tell people that I've been to Japan a few times, it seems to be that the first question isn't, "did you eat lots of raw fish", or "did you see a geisha", but "did you stay in one of those funny hotels"?

Well, the answer is "yes", I have - so I thought I'd put a little entry on here about it, so that if anyone who is going to Japan wants to try it, they've got a little background knowledge (which is always useful).

Capsule hotels are wonderful things - they're just hi-tech dormitories and there's nothing to be afraid of. In fact, if you're visiting Tokyo on a budget, it's worth using them, as the price per night is about 3,000 to 4,000 Yen, meaning that you can live/stay cheaper in Tokyo than you could in the rest of the country!

Firstly, you might want to see some pictures - so here goes. The first shot is an entire floor full of 'em. (The capsules are usually stacked 2 high).




Secondly, you'll want to see inside, so here you are:




Think of it as a bunk bed, but with privacy.

Each capsule usually contains:

a) A fan or aircon, to keep cool.
b) A TV
c) A clock
d) A radio.
e) A light.
f) Bedding.
g) A blind (that's your door).

Secondly, you'll need to know how to find one. They exist in most major cities as well as Tokyo and they're usually found near railway stations. They're usually the place to stay for drunken salarymen who don't want to go home to their wives. This means that many become a men-only environment, although a few take women. Drunken salarymen are harmless. Honest. They're good to talk to, as their curiosity takes over.

Most capsule hotels have big neon signs somewhere, which look a bit like this:

カプセルホテル

This literally says, "Capsule Hotel". Sometimes, you might just see the red bit, saying "Capsule".

Next, I'd better say this at all costs - take your shoes off as soon as you get in the door! All capsule hotels have a little locker to put your shoes in. Just bung 'em in, take a pair of the hotel slippers (sexy things, they are) and keep hold of the key.

Luckily, as most of Japan seems to run on vending machines, this makes your life easy, as you won't need to ask for anything. Just put your money in the vending machine, press a button (it will be obvious what the right button to press is) and out will come a ticket, which you give to the receptionist as proof that you've paid. Some do require a formal check-in at a reception, but these are a minority. They will give you a capsule/locker key. The key will probably be on a velcro strap (so you can keep it on your person - useful when bathing) and the strap will have a number on it.

Immediately after reception is usually the locker room. Your key will fit in a locker here. Put on your funky Japanese pyjamas, (which have a habit of making you look like an old man) and grab your towel - it's bath time!

Most baths are on the top floor. Bathing is another matter entirely, which has it's own protocol. I'm not going to go through that during this entry.

Anyway, once your bath is done, you can crash in your capsule. Most capsule hotels have more vending machines and occasionally an eatery, so you can top up on food/beer/whatever. Check out time is usually 10am. You simply do everything in reverse - i.e. go back to your locker, get dressed, hand your key back and grab your shoes from the diddy locker!

As for tips on which capsule hotels are good ones, well, there's a really good one at Asakasa (Tokyo), which also takes women. It's about 3,000 yen. If you want cheap, however, there's one in Ueno, but this is a very ropey establishment indeed and doesn't justify saving the 400 yen. (It's 2,600).

Feel free to contact me if you've got any questions....
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Bleep.

I said in a previous post that I wanted to do it, now I have to put my money where my mouth is.

On Tuesday, at about midday, I shall be doing the bleep test. This will tell me how fit (or not) I am.

If you want to find out about it, click here, or here. I'll stick my result here on Tuesday - for all to see.
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MySpace

It's a bad, bad thing. Admittedly, it's not as bad as Bebo, but it's still on the dark side in terms of site hosts. Garish mini-sites, screamingly bad designs, awful pictures, nasty txtspk and an inherent wish from each poster to be really alternative and in-duh-vid-ual. Yeah, right.

What started me off on this tangent was a thought. I was thinking about an entry I made back in February, when I was considering writing about my job (*clicky*). I decided against that, a decision I'm happy with and a policy I intend to continue. However this time I thought I'd have a search to see if anyone else was writing about my job. On the balance of probabilities, this seemed quite likely - there are 850 staff where I work.

Enter MySpace.

So, here's the dilemma. What do you do when you've find a couple MySpace sites/blogs, with names and all (even voices on one), that occasionally take the piss out of a manager who happens to be your work colleague? Gosh! It just gets more fun, doesn't it? I guess I am duty bound to tell him, even though it could potentially be a case of passing him the can opener to allow the worms to come wriggling out.

Pass me my thinking grenades.....
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Pirates Of The Caribbean 2

I had the misfortune of going to see this film today and all I can say is this:

DO NOT WATCH THIS FILM. YOU WILL FEEL CHEAP AND DIRTY IN THE MORNING.

It has no plot, runs for too long, is full of CGI and wooden acting and on top of that, doesn't even have an ending - it merely sets things up for number 3. Johnny Depp will invariably annoy you as he continually acts like a drunken idiot - and who nails that parrot to the guys shoulder after the Kraken has paid its visit?

I know now how innocent prisoners feel when released. You've taken two and a half hours of my life - and I want them back, dammit!
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Thank god for that.

It's over. No more football pundits talking shite for a few weeks at least. I can come out of my bunker now....

...and hopefully the talk of, "he's let himself down, he's let his team down, he's let his country down", will fade quickly.
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Wow

If you didn't watch Doctor Who tonight, you need to. Wow. Cracking stuff.

It nearly made me consider getting a TV and licence again. It's just a shame that I'd have to tolerate all the other bilge until Christmas. I now have to wait five months or so until my next fix.

Again, wow.
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Sheep, Goats and Llamas.

For the best part of 25 years, I've been playing around with computers and games.


  • In 1981, I started with a humble 1k ZX81. Remember that touch-sensitive (or not) keypad? I remember crashing my version of Frogger, because I clocked the score over a million, but the score was only supposed to go up to 6 digits!
  • Then I got a Commodore Vic-20 and went up to a whole 3.5k, which later was 19k. Riches. I didn't know what to do with it all.
  • Then I went on to an Atari ST (which I still have and works). Half a MB of memory and 16bit goodness, wowzer.
  • Then I progressed to an Acorn A5000 (another part of my computing museum), A 32 bit machine with a couple MB of memory that did amazing things, pretty quickly.
  • After which I got my first Mac, a Performa 5500 - My first "all in one" machine, which could be called the predecessor to the iMac.
  • ...and on to a Powerbook G3, then an iBook, then a Powerbook G4 (I'm on my second).

So, I started with an 8 bit machine with a 1k of memory and I'm now using a 32 bit machine with 1.25GB of Ram. The computing power I've used has exponentially grown.

It's therefore somewhat amusing that the program that is currently giving me an awful lot of joy is the Mac version of Gridrunner, put together by computing legend Jeff Minter , of Llamasoft fame. I was playing something quite similar on my Vic-20, twenty something years ago. The current version is more psychedelic, but the fixation with sheep is still there, the action is frantic like all good arcade games should be and it's top notch stuff, it really is.

If you want to have a play for yourself, go here: (*clicky*) - There's a Mac and Windows download. Get that nostalgia going. If you know nothing of Jeff Minter, shame on you - Wiki has an entry on him here. (*clicky*)

I'm going back to zap some alien scum....
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Depressing Music

Wednesday's a shopping day. As I pushed my trolley around a certain supermarket that shall rename nameless, I heard music playing over the tannoy. Why they need to do this, I don't know. Is it proven that musak sells more beans? My trusty Apple spell-checker doesn't know the word "tannoy" and suggests the word, "annoy" instead - it's not as thick as it looks.

Anyway, I'm wandering off the point here....

...as I shopped, one track played was by The Carpenters (*clicky*), which started to make me think, "Are The Carpenters, just maybe, the most depressing music act in the world?". Why is it, whenever I hear the incessant droning of Karen Carpenter, that I feel a sudden urge to run to the razor blade aisle? She could have been singing about winning the lottery, or perhaps the happiest time of her life, but the fact is, that she sucks all happiness out of whatever she sings. Perhaps it's also the fact that she was one of those music people who died young that supports my argument further.

People always made jokes about The Smiths or The Cure being a depressing bunch - bugger that, at least they put some life into their act. Karen Carpenter sucks it back out.

Any other acts spring to mind?
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Inspired...

It's a good summary of how I feel.

I didn't know what to expect from my Italian trip and I didn't know an awful lot about the proceedings, but in the end it didn't really matter. It was all good and I've got a smile on my face. I've also got some good memories.

I stayed at a place called Lido di Spina, a small town about an hour and a half from Venice. The twelve of us lived in little villas on a fairly respectable campsite that put Butlins to shame (*clicky*), not that this is hard.

The weather was marvellous (~35c most days) and the company equally so. When the high-point of the heat had passed by, we'd train for a couple hours. After that, we'd watch a couple of demonstrations. Whilst that sounds like lunacy, the Gi works very well and wearing a thick cotton bright white garment is actually a good thing - I had no issues with the heat at all, apart from being a pasty white Brit who burns at the drop of a hat.

Although that was good too. At the airport, I bought some factor 50+ kids sunscreen and didn't burn one bit. Sure, I have some colour now, but I didn't frazzle at all, not even on the big shiny white space atop of my head. Marvellous.

In the evening after training, we'd eat wonderful Italian food (mainly seafood) and drink. The Italian guys we trained with were friendly and extremely hospitable, evidenced by the midnight beach party we were invited to. All drinks were free and great fun was had. I swam in the sea at 1am - it was warmer than most UK swimming pools. Bliss. And there's nothing that beats sitting on a veranda at stupid o'clock, talking shite whilst supping a beer. To spout clichés, it's what good times are made of.

Each day, prior to training, I got the chance to explore and do some photography. I've not had chance to look at the results yet, but my visits to Comaccio and Venice were extremely enjoyable. I don't really care what the results are, I was just having fun. I saw a black belt grading and watched the freestyle Ju-Jitsu tournament. The national champions were entrants. This, combined with the skill of Pierro (*clicky*), our instructor have left me feeling inspired - inspired to train more and enter the tournament next year.

So now, I'm back. It was great to ignore the phone and have 9 days where I don't even have to think about work. I'll be returning next year.
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A Worthwhile Plug...

A friend of mine is doing a charity bike-ride, in aid of the Alzheimer's Society. As I speak, he's now on day 2.

However, this is no ordinary bike-ride - he's going from Land's End to John O'Groats and back again, which is about 1,800 miles - and he's doing it in just 3 weeks!

Sponsor him! You can go to his website here: (*clicky*)
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More Training

Better make this quick, as I have to leave in half an hour!

I'm off to Italy, to attend a Ju-Jitsu training camp, about one hour away from Venice - I'll add some more on here when I get back....
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Sling a Sony... Bung a Blackberry...

After me mentioning how useless a Nokia N80 mobile phone was a few weeks back, it now seems appropriate to mention the Mobile Phone Throwing competition..... Amusing idea, but surely all mobile phones weigh a different amount, therefore providing a varying handicap to how far you can throw it?

Or maybe I'm just thinking about it too much.....
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Dead Horses

Today, I was thinking about the NHS. You'll probably be asking me why, but there's reason which I think becomes self-explanatory as you read.

A few years back, my mother was in hospital. She was in intensive care. I can honestly say that whilst the notion of intensive care is not a nice one, the staff, attitude and standard of care whilst in there seemed to be marvellous. Relatives were kept regularly updated on their loved one's situations and enough nurses were on hand to do what needed to be done. Things were good, in a roundabout sort of way...

...until you went to a normal ward. Once transferred out of intensive care, you were back a lesser standard. My mother said that she was treated like an errant child whilst on the ward. She was truly grateful for what she received whilst in intensive care, but said that regular ward care had just degraded beyond all comparison. What she said probably stuck in my mind, due to the fact that she was unable to talk and had to write everything in a pad. The hospital concerned, more worried about freeing a bed up, discharged her and she died within approximately 12hrs of being out. Things like that stick in your mind.

On a slightly less serious note, I've got a minor condition that needs treatment. I've seen one person, who then refers me to someone else, who adds me to their waiting list, who then on getting to the top, allows me to see someone else, who has then added me on to another waiting list for surgery. Marvellous. Another statistical pissing contest.

And finally, there's my partner, who just seems to be being fobbed off, untreated - although they'd probably give her any pills in the world. And pills to counteract the effects of the pills. And maybe pills for that, too.

Is it me, or has the NHS just finally lost the plot? It's like it's concerned merely with the short-term. In a common-sense world, people with illnesses see people who know about the illnesses and the illnesses get treated. But no, it's almost like the whole thing has been reduced to statistics, that quotas need to be satisfied, people move up the queues and numbers get crunched for the benefit of league tables. I'm sure that the staff are wonderful people and that it's just misguided management or government policy.

If someone were to tell me that I could pay a couple pence less per pound in income tax for the sake of investing in my own private healthcare, I'd do it, because my little stories are not sole cases. Despite the government mantra, things are not getting better. People have recalled similar stories to me recently and this seems to be the norm. Whoever invented the league table system needs to be shot. They just don't work.
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secondlife.com

The site is aptly named, as that's how you feel when playing. I started playing a couple days ago and I'm starting to think I've now got a split personality.....

You start by creating a person that exists within the virtual world. You can do more than just look around things, you can totally interact with them - people, vehicles, machines, etc... you name it. The "grid" (world) even has it's own currency and allows full trading.

Probably the best thing is that it costs absolutely nothing to sign up and play - it only costs if you want a permanent home in the world, which works out at about £6/month, but I'll continue to be a cheapskate, thanks.

It seems that people take part for many reasons. Some are graphic artists who want to create fantastic virtual worlds, some are just socialites who just want to chat, some want to make money by selling their wares, but for me, the fun is the exploring. There are thousands of different islands, and the detail and accuracy on some are amazing. Probably the most impressive one I've seen so far is a recreation of central Dublin, which I had fun in when I borrowed a moped and had a ride around! I have to admit to being very unsociable in it and not really talking to anyone, but the single person I have spoken to says that it's a very compulsive, but enjoyable game to play.

You'll need a good broadband connection and a reasonably good computer with 3d capabilities (and sound, of course) to take part in it. I can see myself going back to it again and again as the grid evolves. For me, this is the first attempt at a 3D environment that seems to work well. Take a look... (*clicky*)

Footnote: I'll add some screenshots in the coming days to give you an idea of what I'm on about...
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Photo Update

Just a quick note to say that I've updated my photo gallery with a few more shots from Japan. Hope you enjoy - comments always welcome.
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Tractors

If you lived or schooled in the Westcountry, you'll probably remember that great un-pc playground taunt that children used to say, "Can't read, can't write, but oi can droive a traaaactor". (Sorry, read with a blade of grass in your teeth). Whilst it was never proven, all school children used to believe the notion that for want of a better phrase, all young farmers were, well, retards. It was awful really and went to show just how cruel and bigoted schoolkids could be.

But were all adults now, so that couldn't be true at all, could it?

Well, yesterday, I went out. Being Father's Day, I decided to take mine out to a random pub in North Cornwall. The place was empty, bar a couple and five farmers, aged in their late 20's. However, on sitting down with one's beverage, you just couldn't take your ears off the fact that the five guys could not stop talking about who had the best tractor - how one would see the other off in his Massey Ferguson and how another guy could clear a field in the time that it took one of them to do just a few furrows. Wonderful stuff, the stuff that stereotypes are made of. You couldn't ignore it.

What bugged me, though, was the way these guys put their beer away. Not normally a big deal, unless of course you intend to drive. A somewhat bigger deal if you intend to drive something as big with the capacity to kill such as this:




I have my views on drink driving, namely that the alcohol limit should be reduced to virtually nothing and that offenders should be shot, but that's another story. However, I feel that in this circumstance I am going to support the retard line on the basis that nobody should be driving this after such a large amount of alcohol.

On my way home, I noticed at least three police cars hiding in lanes, ready to jump on those that insist on driving their way back after having a few, which was reassuring, at least. However, if this is your tractor and you did get caught on the way home, then you'll find me somewhat lacking in the sympathy department - you are a genuine retard.
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Thank you for smoking.

It's a simple premise - a spin doctor, working for a sector of business that needs all the spin it can get - the tobacco industry. This film follows the twists and turns of Nick Naylor, who works on behalf of a lobbying group, trying to get his pro-smoking stance over to those that care. Considering the health implications, that doesn't sound like a funny or enjoyable film, but it is.

The film is a pleasant hour and a half, that's intelligently written, full of humour, doesn't take itself too seriously and at the same time explores a few moral dilemmas.

I enjoyed it - but you might not just want to take my word for it - there's a FilmFour review here. (*clicky*)

Footnote: Many a review in other places has said that during the course of the film, you never actually see anybody smoke. That's not actually true, there is one scene where a chap has a cigar in his hand. Those reviewers just weren't looking closely enough.
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Christmas

For the last couple years in the run up to Christmas, I've worked away in Sunderland. This was not an easy task. I'd work about 14-15hours a day (70-80 hours per week), doing a night shift. I'd be away from partner, family, friends and fun for a significant amount of time and due to the hours I was working contacting them would also be hard. It put a lot of strain on mind and body.

That's not to say it didn't have it's benefits - at a time when you need the money (i.e. Christmas) the extra came in very useful. In a career sense it was also a challenge.

I've given a repeat performance this year a significant amount of thought.

I thought I'd get asked again - and sure enough I was, but this time I said, "no". Last year, I did so well that I'd rather finish on a high. I've built up a good reputation and now it's time to let someone else have a go.

In addition, it will be nice to come home from work to my own home, sit on my own sofa, drink my own coffee and actually get some sleep. Living in a hotel for months, no matter how comfy, is awful. I think my better half will also appreciate it too.
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Unanswered Question - 1

Q) Why do old men like directing traffic?

(Don't tell me you've never seen an old man take control of a parking situation or potential snarl-up - resulting in you being "waved" in/out whilst manoeuvring your vehicle)

Answers in a comment, please....
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Nailing jelly to a wall.

A lovely phrase, it sums up my experiences in the last couple days, but could also used as a way of describing how impossible it can be to actually get a tradesperson (carpenter, electrician, plumber, etc...) to actually do anything.

Here's an example.

I get an electrician to come to my house and give me a quote (of the electrical sort, that is - hearing Shakespeare being delivered by some nasal ex-Essex boy with a voice like Henry's Cat really isn't my thing). He proceeds to tell me that I need the equivalent of brain surgery performing on my electrical system and a few days later, a quote of the monetary sort drops through the door. It's not a nice number on the quote, but if that's what needs to be done, that's what needs to be done, so I phone him and try and book an appointment. As always, tradesmen are busy people and so I am told that I shall have to wait three and a half weeks. Irritating as it is, I book him up.

Then I wait three and a half weeks, give or take a day. The day before he's due to come, I get a phone-call, stating that he cannot make it, as his colleague broke his leg playing football. Perhaps you can understand my loathing of the game a little more now. "Nothing but overpaid arseholes kicking around a bag of wind", said someone close to me. So true. It still makes me chuckle when I think of it.

Anyway, I digress.

I then try and book in someone else. He's a nice chap, gives me a quote on the spot for something that isn't brain surgery and proportionally, a quarter of the price. Good stuff. I book him in to come along in a matter of days.

15 minutes after he was supposed to arrive, I'm told me that he couldn't get the parts he needed (nice cliché, there) when he tried two days beforehand - so I've wasted an evening waiting around for someone who knew days before that they wouldn't be able to make it. Taa muchly. Make mine a pot noodle and wasted night for one.

I'm trying again for Wednesday, but I'm starting to feel like a very ineffectual hammer, with a rubber nail, trying to nail up some electrician flavoured jelly. (What colour is electrician flavoured jelly?)

As a random point, someone has tried to nail jelly to a wall, in almost scientific style. You can read about their experiments here (*clicky*). It's thoroughly educational stuff and it answers many, many questions.
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A pleasant surprise...

Having just noticed that a download was running at a 50% higher rate than normal, I wondered why - and it appears my free ADSL Max upgrade has kicked in. Whilst I previously had a 256K downstream / 1MB upstream, I now appear to have a 448k upstream / 3MB downstream....

...which is nice.
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X-Men 3

I don't know why I went to see this really. Perhaps that's not the best way of starting a film review off, but it's true.The problem is you see, that nearby we have a cinema that doesn't like to take chances. For example, Brick, a film that I do want to see, is only shown at about 11:30pm each night, but yet, I can watch the X-Men about 15 times a day, almost at the time I choose in an auditorium that's not even a fifth full. But hey-ho - that's cinemas for you. I wanted to see a film and X-Men 3 was one of the ones that had less evil things said about it in reviews. In fact, some friends had said good things. A sorta cinematic version of Last Chicken in the Shop, if you will. Anyway....

You can sum this film up really really quickly - someone has developed a cure for mutation. Some people like this, some people don't. Therefore, that majority of the film revolves around those that are "pro-choice" and those that are not. Simple as that.

In typical X-Men style, battles happen. Because these guys are mutants, the battles are big and justify the expenditure of a very large amount of money on special effects.

Unfortunately, for all the special effects, I was bored by it all. The film took far too long to get going (they could have easily chopped 20 minutes off it), when it did get going, it was pretty same-y stuff and at the end, well, they do have to leave a little opening for a forth one, don't they? Why they didn't take this one out into a field and shoot it is beyond me, but maybe I just don't get it.

If you like special effects and clichéed cinematic orchestral music, you'll love this film. If you want a plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat, character development and a few twists and turns, you've come to the wrong place. Formulaic and not a patch on the first of the trilogy, I'm glad I only paid three quid to see it.
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Disappointing...

Having become rather fed up with Vodafone, I decided I was going to go back to Orange, a mobile phone company I was with quite a long time ago and in all honesty, didn't have major problems with. Additionally, the cinema near me does 2 for 1 on tickets if you're an Orange customer, so it was a money saver in two ways. Last Wednesday, I picked a phone, which promptly turned up on Friday and got going. It was one of these - a Nokia N80. (*clicky*)


The thing had the kitchen sink in it (3mp camera, wireless networking, marvellous screen, etc..), which to a gadget freak like me is a good thing. I've got used to owning a 3g phone (a V800) and this seemed to be the thing that offered the most. I was hoping that in a year, things would have moved on and improved. It would appear not, however. Unfortunately, Nokia forgot one important thing....

... the battery....

I've never seen such bad battery life, apart from an NEC 616 that I had for about 36hrs. It was shocking. I took it off charge at exactly midday yesterday. With just about 20 mins or so of calls, it should not be doing too badly, but by the end of today, the battery was going to be flat. Absolute crap. I called Orange up and got the plug pulled. I'm sending it back. Thank god for 14 day trial periods. I shall be trying a 6280 instead, which has a larger battery and apparently offers better standby times as a consequence. We shall see how that one fares.

Mobile phone creators need to remember - there's no point in putting all this stuff in a phone if you've got to run to a charging point every 24hrs - it's pointless. And what do high-users do, carry a car battery with them?
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The less I drink...

This evening, I'm off to the glamorous location of Burnham-on-Sea to go to a Martial Arts training camp (*clicky*). Last year, it was a sociable and enjoyable event, which allowed the group to make some friends with people in other disciplines. Hopefully, this year will be no exception.

They use the phrase, "The more I sweat in training, the less I'll bleed in battle". Problem is, they forgot the bit about staying sober. Most people get absolutely bladdered, which sorta negates the whole point of it all - but it's fun, nonetheless.
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Zero 7 - The Garden



The other day, I happened to be at the store of a certain music retailer, when I heard the first track of this album, futures, playing. Apart from the fact that it sounded distinctly like Zero 7's chilled out low-fi sound, the other thing that struck me was Jose Gonzalez's distinctive voice on vocals - and on that basis, I shelled out a tenner and bought the album. Hardly rocket-science, I know, but in listening to this album you start to think that actually Jose Gonzalez does provide the ideal voice. left behind Is yet another track that is typically Jose Gonzalez and wouldn't sound out of place on an album of his own work.

This album provides many tracks that are what you know Zero 7 for, such as throw it all away and this fine social scene - unobtrusive and chilled. They've occasionally tried something new too, with wobbly synth in you're my flame, which sound like something that's possibly come from an 80's arcade game - but it works.

Where Gonzelez has enhanced the album with his vocal talent, it's a shame the same couldn't have been reciprocated on one of his tracks. There's a rehash of Crosses on here and perhaps because I've heard the original so many times, I can't get my head around this one. It was perfect as it was. If there's a track I'll skip, it'll be that one. It's far too busy.

The album won't set the world on fire, but it's a good listen if you're after something that's a relaxed affair. It's well produced and it won't be gathering dust on my CD shelves.

Overall: 3.5/5
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Surviving the World Cup

In just under two weeks time, most of the world will be tuning in to one month of intolerable shite called The World Cup. The populace will eat football, sleep football, drink football and quite probably, vomit football. It's a well known fact that vomit is contagious purely by smell alone, so therefore it's a damn good reason that you get out of the way and seal yourself off from the outside world, lest you get sucked in to repeated talk of In-guh-lund, along with developing a good honest bout of xenophobia. Here are a few handy hints to help you avoid the sight of astroturf and Italian men falling over.

Firstly - get rid of your television. Not only will you save yourself from having to watch pundits talk of "precocious talent", but you'll save yourself a licence fee, along with sufficient electricity to light your house and probably run your fridge for several months. If you don't want to sell it, the alternative is switching channels to QVC and burning the remote - after watching some bint sell yet another gold chain for the third day running, your brain will melt and you will no longer care.

Secondly - change jobs or shifts. Luckily the matches are in Germany, time difference of just one hour. This means that if you can work during unsociable hours (such as overnight), you'll be asleep when all the action is taking place. Marvellous. Then when you are awake, all the football fans will be so inebriated and asleep. Along with avoiding the oranges at half-time, you'll also be able to achieve lots of wonderful things, because nobody else will be around to distract you.

Remember:

Don't read any newspapers. It's a well-known fact that all world disasters stop for the tournament period, so there'll be nothing to read, anyway.

Don't go down the pub. That's just silly. Stock up the fridge. You can afford to - you've just saved money in step 1.

If you must be entertained in some way, go to the cinema - you can be sure of a seat during match times. In fact, you'll probably have the auditorium to yourself.

Good luck... and I'll see when things return to normal on the 10th of July, when everyone will think that Sven Goran Wotsit is the spawn of the devil and no doubt, we'll have hyped ourselves up such that we face inevitable disappointment by losing against South Korea after we squeak through to the quarter finals.
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In the wrong place...

...I was wondering why the door wouldn't close when I got home this evening... poor chap. At least he managed to hop away ok.

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Wot no Constable?

Since I moved into my place, my loft has been an area I've largely avoided - and probably for good reason. The previous owner decided that he obviously couldn't be bothered with clearing it out, so muggins here had some fun doing it tonight. My hand was somewhat forced, as I've got electricians coming in a couple weeks time and they'll need access to the loft in order to work on the ceiling space above my bathroom.

I think the previous occupants just liked storing shite. I found 3 boxes for DVDs and Video players, a TV stand, a food heater (a bit like the candle ones you get in Indian restaurants), a cordless drill (which works), the bits to hang a shower on a wall (courtesy of that quality emporium called Trago Mills), a joystick (a Logitech one that must be about 10 years old, that quaintly describes itself as a "lite" stick, but looks like you fly Jumbos with it) and something that looks like a strange stool on wheels which proudly advertises that it's made from moulded rubber.

Whatever floats your boat, I guess. Should make for an interesting evening of sado-masochism.

Anyway, that's filled up my car ready for the recycling centre in the morning - but unfortunately there's still about 2 car loads of stuff still up there!
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Well, that's that...

...another grading over. My pass was something of a surprise, as things didn't really go to plan. I actually graded on Sunday, but kept it to myself until today, when I found out the results. The grading was sprung on us - I graded 4 sessions (about a week and a half) early.

As usual, it's always a learning experience. What did I learn out of this one?

  • No matter how much you practice, it's never enough.
  • I'm more aggressive than I thought and I can actually knock the wind out of someone when I try.
  • Ultimately, fitness is the key - and you can never be too fit, as my self-defence session showed.

So, I'm a green (two tags), 5th Kyu and my next step is blue, but there's a snowflakes chance in hell that I'll be ready this year. The standard required goes up significantly again - and it took me three months of training from the point I finished the learning of the syllabus to get things to a satisfactory level. Plus, I doubt somehow that I'd be able to get sufficient time off work.

Time for a small celebratory beer nonetheless.
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Long Overdue

Something happened tonight that made me seriously think about doing a fitness test. After the amount of training I've been doing recently, I started to think of myself as "averagely fit", but after a self-defence bout against two people tonight, I'm starting to wonder if that's really the case.

I'm intending to do 2 tests. The first one is here *clicky* and is four simple tests that you can do to see how you fare. I've also had a word with my gym, who can do a "bleep test" that will probably involve me getting wired up somehow. I'll publish the results on here and it'll be interesting to see if anything has improved in six months time.
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It's Eurovision Day! ~:/

I love Eurovision. For me it's a yearly ritual. Not having a telly should have made no difference, as the webcast was available.

But what's this? I require a plug-in called "Octoshape"? WTF Is this?

...and to cap it all, the damn plug-in doesn't work - "You can't connect at this time - you can try again later". Grrrr. Oh no I can't.

Denied my yearly fix of Euro Wogan goodness! Damn you Octoshape!

Foot-note: The United Kingdom's entry this year (as every year), was bilge. I note that it came 19th, about 5 places too high. The British public who voted for this song should be rounded up, taken to a large multi-storey car-park and stoned to death with Milli Vanilli CDs.

Foot-note 2 (23/5/06):I should give thanks for Bittorrent, which enabled me to watch it after all. Amazing - if that's the word to use. My favourite entry had to be Lithuania, simply for bringing a song to the competition that took the piss out of the entire thing - and Wogan should be given a knighthood. And if he's already got one, just give him two. Gasp)
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Ow.

I have just four sessions left before I grade, but I hope they're not all like tonights, because after that, I hurt.

My arms hurt. My legs hurt.
My neck hurts. I have the infamous groin strain.
Even my bloody butt hurts. No, don't ask.

You might not be aware of this feeling, but I was close to being broken tonight. Being broken is an experience I've not yet had, but I got close tonight and to be frank, that's as close as I ever really want to get. It's a feeling you get when someone has thrown you into the ground so much, that you just start to ache. Sure, you landed fine and nothing broke. Sure, no joints were popped, but you just start to get a feeling through your body. All I can say is that the feeling is a bit like this:

OwWwWWw.

Not one specific part aches - it all does.

But you get back up and throw another punch - because that's what you've got to do.

I'll be glad when this grading is done, whatever the outcome. I'll need to give my body a rest at the end. The only problem is that I've volunteered myself for a tournament in Italy at the beginning of July, bloody idiot that I am. I should learn to keep my mouth shut.
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Living up to his species....

I have a clown-fish that seems to enjoy swimming upside-down, and at night sleeps upside-down. Is he:

  • Just taking the piss - and it's normal?
  • About to croak, forever to be consigned to the Great Toilet Bowl in the Sky ?

Most things I look at on the web seem to suggest this is a bad thing, although he's done it ever since I got him.
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Solar update (2)

Things are going well so far - the tests show that it all should work.

My mains inverter turned up today. I've also got a storage medium for the generated electricity (a high ampere leisure battery). I gave it a test and powered a few things off the battery for a while, which worked marvellously - so the concept works.

As luck would have it, my house is south facing and has a good wooden panel on the side of the porch that directly faces the sun. This means that when I mount the cells there, it'll be an easier job to do than climbing on my porch roof and trying to do something on slates. Gasp)

I'm now just waiting for the charge controller, which will prevent the cells from cooking the battery on really sunny days. Once I've got that, I can start wiring and get things hooked up!
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3 Weeks to grading...

I'm at a low in motivational levels at the moment, mainly because I feel like I've got the brains of a goldfish. The reason for this is that I have to learn approximately 25 new techniques in order to pass my next grading exam. There are 20 revolving around self defence, including knives, guns and pointy sticks. There are 2 involving elbows, (don't ask, although an elbow to the face isn't nice), there is one knife technique and a couple stances too.

The problem I've got is that of the 20 main self defence techniques, I'll usually forget one. When I remember the one I forgot, I forget something else. I have a brain that works on a teabag principle - lots of holes, which let things just go in and back out again - and it's irritating, because I can do it and I've got better fitness now, it's just remembering it all. I've now got to remember about 80 different techniques. How does anyone ever make it to a black belt?

"Sir, please stop - my brain is now full".

I just hope that sheer practice time will crack it - if you throw enough shit, something has to stick.
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Solar Power

Having gradually watched the price of electricity increase over the last six months, I've decided that the best way to offset the price increase is simple - I shall generate my own. No, I don't plan on getting on a bike attached to a generator, but I'll generate solar power instead. Where I live I get a reasonable degree of sunlight. My house is also facing in pretty much the right direction. This should allow me to capture sunlight for a good chunk of the day.

The intention is to run a test with a small solar cell (~60cm) on my porch roof. This should allow me to generate ~30 watts, which I can store in a leisure battery, attached to an inverter that'll give me mains voltage. The inverter is a cheap one, but will enable me to run devices that run at up to 300 watts from the battery. This means my laptop (at 45 watts) is a distinct possibility, plus the mains lighting in my living room (which totals 27 watts) is also a potential candidate. I use low energy bulbs in all my lights, so that will minimise current drain. Of course, Mickey Mouse devices such as mobile phone chargers and radios could also be hooked up.

I figure that taking into account my current electricity usage (plus the fact that prices are only likely to go up), I should be able to make my money back in about four to five years - although this would require me to put up a larger solar cell than I would initially start with. All jolly exciting stuff though.

Even if it only works on a small scale, it'll help towards minimising my carbon emissions, which is nice.
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Childhood Memories

I learnt to swim at the grand age of 2 at a pool called Seaton, in Plymouth....

...and unfortunately, a couple of weeks ago, the local council decided to close it down. (*clicky*)

That's not to say that Seaton Pool has gone without a fight. There's been a sustained campaign (*clicky*) to try and keep it open, but it's been unsuccessful. I remember being young and a friend of my Dad's used to do the maintenance of the place back in the 70's. We used to go swimming and pay him a visit.

I'm sounding old now. It's a shame to see places of your childhood go - especially when I still used them up until not long ago.
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Yuk

In my personal version of hell, this is the only drink available:

For some strange reason, unlike other cranberry drinks, it actually smells of the cheesiest feet ever known to man. The sort of feet that have been in hiking boots, three pairs of wooly socks and haven't seen daylight for a week because they've been walking through squelchy marshland.

I know you're supposed to drink it, not sniff it, but please take my advice and stay well away.
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Chernobyl - 20 Years On

I was 13 when the Chernobyl accident occurred, and I don't think it ever really sunk in at the time about the long-term impact. That said, I, like every teenager at the time, had a morbid fear of all things nuclear as the cold war was in full swing.

The BBC has an absolutely excellent mini-site (*clicky*) on the accident, in remembrance of what happened 20 years ago. The site contains some powerful photography. I had a holiday in Minsk in neighbouring Belarus nearly 10 years ago and when you look at the BBCs map of where the contaminant cloud went, you'll see just how poor Belarus really didn't come off very well - Minsk was one of the few places not to get contaminated.

I just hope that we've learnt something from all this.
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おみくじ - Omikuji

When I was in Japan, I paid a visit to a few temples. Whist at one in Asakusa, I thought I'd indulge myself in getting an omikuji (fortune). Omikuji stalls/machines are just about everywhere that there's a temple and the protocol is pretty simple - you pay 100 yen, shake a box of sticks until one falls out, then find your fortune, which will be in a little draw and will match up with the characters on the stick.

Fortunes come in four varieties.


  • Blindingly good luck.
  • Good luck.
  • Not so good luck.
  • Wrist-slittingly bad luck.

It is considered that it's best to get a good luck fortune, as things can get better. However, if you get a blindingly good luck one, things can only get worse, but if you get a bad fortune, you tie it to a tree and let the wind blow it away - which is nice.

So as luck would have it, I got a good fortune. Some of it bore relevance at the time, but reflecting on it now, it becomes even more so. Here's my fortune:

Good Fortune.

"The moon rises in the sky and is gradually getting bright. You will get household goods and your life will be prosperous. Something you've left behind will be completed in the end - then you will be able to be successful.

Your wishes will be realised. A sick person will recover. The lost article will be found. The person you are waiting for will come. Building a new house and removal are good. Marriage and employment are all good. Making a trip is good."


One could be dismissive of this, just as I usually am when someone offers to read Russell Grant's stars to me, but I won't write it off yet. Let's see how this year pads out.

If you'd like an Omikuji for yourself, go here.. *clicky*
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Jose Gonzalez - Veneer



I'd never heard of this guy before, but about a month ago I listened to a couple of tracks on a certain music store's "listening post" and fell in love with the album there. The music feels personal and conveys emotion - a stark contrast to most of the manufactured shit that appears to be churned out at the moment.

This album is just half an hour long and is simply a guy and a guitar, but it doesn't matter. If anything, that's the beauty. It's one of those albums best listened to when you're chilled out in a darkened room, with nothing but a pair of quality headphones for company. It's only April, but I'd rate this as possibly one of the best albums of the year - other artists will have to go some to beat this.

As a random nugget of info, I understand that the track "Hearbeats" has been used in a Sony advert - as someone who doesn't have a telly, this piece of trivia is wasted on me, but it might mean something to you if you've heard it before, but couldn't work out the artist.

Anyway - buy it. And if you want to listen beforehand, you can do so in two places.

Clicky *here* and you can listen to a few full tracks.
Clicky *here* and you can sample a bit of all of the album tracks.

Go on, bugger off and have a look now.
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Happy days.

Not a bad day. Not a bad day at all.

  • Partner discharged from hospital.
  • A work colleague on seeing my photography, asks me to do her wedding photos. (Flattering, but a lot of responsibility, so declined...)
  • I manage Ushiro Goshi in Ju-Jitsu. (A somewhat showy technique, that involves doing a 360 degree backflip). And I did it several times.

It's enough to put a smile on your face. Gasp)
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Hospitals

Yesterday and today, I've been into hospital to see my partner. This is the first time I've been in to hospital to see a loved one since my mother died a few years back, so I have to say that the past did lurk at the back of my mind a little bit when entering.

When I compare the hospital concerned with a couple years back, not a lot seems to have changed:

1) Communication doesn't seem to happen.
2) Hygiene is laughable. You step in areas that actually are disgusting, below dumb posters that tell you how ward cleanliness is so important. They're just words - nothing more.
3) Some staff just don't care, in what is supposed to be a caring profession.

For all this governments crap about how so much more money has gone into the NHS, I see no improvement whatsoever. It would be so easy to bash NHS staff - but I'm not going to, because it's obviously a morale/management issue.

I think I can quite confidently say that I'm not a fan of hospitals.
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Today has been...

... strange. As a person with a small repertoire of words, I think this is the best one to use.

The gap between Good Friday and Bank Holiday Monday is always a weird one - a bit like a miniature version of the gap between Christmas and New Year. Well, that's how it feels to me, anyway. If you're like me, you're at work, but you're not. This weirdness was compounded when my alarm went off for work this morning. I switched it off, blinked and it was an hour and a half later. I was about to be late. Stranger still that I should fall out of bed, get ready and manage the 17 mile drive into work in 40 minutes and actually turn up 5 minutes early.

The strangeness had a cherry on top when I ended up being the first aider at work for my partner, who subsequently went to hospital - and I'd just made the comment yesterday about how in the 3 years we've been together, we've never actually spent an Easter together and this year would be different.

Strange.
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Don't forget...

... the only program worth stealing a television for, Doctor Who, is back on this Saturday night! I can't wait! Gasp)
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Easter

I'm not a particularly religious person to be honest, so Easter has little significance to me - apart from being able to stuff my face with chocolate and have a couple days off work. However, this morning I thought I'd do a little search around on t'internet and have a look at a few blogs to get other people's perspectives on Easter. Does it really matter to anyone else? I thought I'd look at both ends of the spectrum.

Firstly, I discovered this. The "War on Easter" works on the school of thought that Jesus didn't really exist anyway and that telling children they should believe in a man who was nailed to a wooden cross or face the fiery pits of hell is a bad thing. The site encourages an activist stance, asking people to go on "missions" into churches and leave fliers or anti-Christian DVDs in visible places. I really am not sure about this. Sure, I can't say I've ever been Christianity's number one fan, but this form of activism seems to be equally bad in opposition. It's pushing non-belief. Perhaps I just fall into the "let people believe what they want to believe" category. Ignorance is bliss. Or something....

..and then there's this. Sickeningly sweet, this blog is in full celebratory mode, with complements of the season being exchanged between all. However, as one of the posters says, "Remember what this was for". I hadn't forgotten, thank you.

The whole Easter thing just doesn't sit well with me. Lazy oaf that I am, I'll take my bank holidays, but the fact that we're celebrating an event of such barbarism really does make me scratch my head. Someone was nailed to a cross. We then tell children the story of Easter and the fact that eggs are symbolic of Christ's tomb. Really. It's just not right. We are warped.

Have an enjoyable long weekend.
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V For Vendetta

The story is set approximately 20 years in the future, where Britain appears to have been taken over by a regime that is akin to Nazism, with a degree of Orwell thrown in. Those that are deemed "different", such as political activists and homosexuals, are carted off to their deaths. Everything that is said or done is monitored. Fear is used to keep the public at bay and interestingly enough, modern day topics are used to keep the fear running in the press - avian flu, terrorism, AIDS and political spin. They're all there and strangely enough, the film does a good job of reporting them. It's all reported with a sense of stiff upper lip. The tag-line is always "Britain will prevail".

The story starts with the bombing of the Old Bailey. The character claiming the glory for this activity - "V", wears a Guy Fawkes mask (although he does look a bit Zorro). V crosses paths with Evey (Natalie Portman) when they encounter some "Fingers" (members of the ruling party) during the nightly curfew. He goes on to infiltrate the state-controlled TV station and broadcasts to the nation his intent to destroy the Houses of Parliament on November the 5th of the following year. He's an aspiring modern day Guy Fawkes.

John Hurt plays the Chancellor - another part well played - so very 1984. I'm starting to wonder if he ever does a duff part. The middle of the film surrounds the game of Cat and Mouse between the Chancellor's men and V, which is where the story unfolds. Yes, there is a story here - and it's a good one.

The final chunk of the film goes into the plot to destroy the Houses of Parliament using a Tube Train packed with explosives. Does he succeed? Well, that would be giving things away. You're going to have to watch this one and find out. As you might have guessed by now, this film takes modern day fears and shows a possible outcome of those fears. Sure, there are special effects there, but they add to the story - not become a replacement for it. The film takes an awful lot of chances. It includes topics such as civil unrest, terrorism, homophobia and xenophobia to name but a few. Additionally, Stephen Fry (a personal favourite) does a good job as a chat show host who pokes fun at the Chancellor - the kicking he gets ensures he promptly regrets it.

An enjoyable film. It was good to see something that took on some taboos, yet was entertaining. Go and have a look.
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If....

...you'd like some amusement for half an hour, then you could do far worse than have a look at Weebl and Bob's dancing competition, where you can watch the physically challenged attempt to look like they've got the moves. The forum thread is here. (*clicky* )

My personal favourite is the Santa Claus/Rod Stewart number.... marvellous.
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A suggestion...

...to old women who go to swimming pools.

SWIM

This will ensure that you actually manage to do something called exercise (which I assume is what you actually went there to do), whilst allowing the rest of us to actually do a full length without continually bumping into you and having to endure the story of How Edie Got Her Windows Done.

Thank you.
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Wading..

Well, I've started wading through all the photos and one I particularly like is this:



Simple as it is, I just like the effect of the light appearing to burst out of the top of the tower. This will end up in my image gallery, no doubt.

It would seem that so far, this trip has been pretty successful in photography terms.
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Back to normal (almost)

Well, my body clock is nearly back to normal, which means that I have to get myself back into my normal training routine. As you progress in Ju-Jitsu, the time period between belts increases, along with the amount of work you need to put in for each respective belt. Theoretically, I should be grading at the end of May, but I've got a few obstacles before I get there.

The first one is practice. Luckily, my training sessions will be going up to 3 per week in the run-up, which should get me fitter - and in addition, allow me to do the extra work on the syllabus. I've still got a fair bit to do.

The second one is fitness. I need to visit my gym as much as possible in the meantime to ensure that during the free self-defence section, I don't lose it.

I have to say, though, I'm looking forward to getting back in the swing of things. It'd be cool if I can get to Italy with a shiny new tag on my belt...
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Back...

My body clock it totally out of sync, but I'm sure I'll catch up soon. I've got 2GB of photos to wade through, along with a pile of movie stuff - keep your eyes peeled on the site for the good stuff getting published...
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Off!

Well, my bag is packed, my camera is ready and I'm off in a couple of hours - you'll see my next update on here on Thursday 6th April! Gasp)
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The Proposition

Set in Australia in the 1880's, this film is more like a Western. The basic premise is simple. Two brothers are arrested for the rape and murder of a pregnant woman. The elder of the two is given a proposition, although it could be argued that this is more of an ultimatum by the "Captain" - find his elder brother and kill him - or else his younger brother will hang. He is given just nine days to do the task. The deadline is Christmas Day.

There are three things that strike you about this film. The film score is just great, written by Nick Cave (who also wrote the story) and is just right. Secondly - flies. The outback is hot. Very hot indeed. Flies are everywhere - thousands of 'em. Apparently, when the film was made, the flies that seem to exist up every orifice possible were genuine and the cast needed a variety of jabs to stop them from falling ill. Thirdly, it's the brutality involved. The inherent racism and brutality demonstrated against the aborigines is criminal and you come away realising that those people who call themselves "civilised" (i.e. The British) were actually no better whatsoever.

John Hurt also does a marvellous mad bounty-hunter stint and the scene where he discusses Darwin's Origin of the Species is deeply insightful into attitudes of the time.

So, in all - watch it. It's not a high budget affair, but it has a good story, a good score and a good cast. It's brutal in ways that cannot be explained - it would give too much away, but that somehow adds to the reasons why you should see it.
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Japanese Resources

Well, 1 week to go and I'll be off to Hong Kong, followed by Japan. I'm getting all excited now, as dragging myself out of my pit has been hard work as of late and this holiday could not have come at a better time.

However, that's not the point of this post. The point of it is so that I can recommend some web resources to you, should you ever think of trying to study Japanese. It's not as hard as it initially seems. Honest!

Firstly, you'll probably want to learn how to read Hiragana and Katakana. Master that and you've mastered two of the three writing systems. Therefore, I couldn't recommend this link to you more highly (*clicky*). It's called the Ultimate Hiragana/Katakana Challenge and works on a very simple concept - all you do is click on each character as it floats around the screen in alphabetical order. I played this to death and found it a really good way of learning the order and recognising the characters, especially with Katakana, which is always viewed as a slightly more awkward set to learn.

Secondly, there's books. When I started learning, there weren't that many Japanese textbooks around, apart from the "Japanese For Busy People" series, but as time has gone on, there's a lot more about. In particular, you might want to have a look here. (*clicky*) They sell shedloads of good stuff, but more importantly, they also sell the past papers from the Japanese Language Proficiency Tests, which will be invaluable if you want practice.

Kanji will be the bane of your life. There's thousands of the little buggers. But to get to grips with the initial few hundred, you could do an awful lot worse than look at this book. (*clicky*) It presents them in a simple and easy to grasp manner, such that you might actually remember them!

Going back to the proficiency test, this (*clicky*) will also prove useful. It's a full vocabulary list for each of the levels, along with a dictionary. Then, there's the sushi test, which is an online version of the level four (easiest) test. (*clicky*) Unfortunately, though, it's really pedantic when trying to work on a Mac, so you might have to use a PC to do it.

The internet is pretty useful stuff when studying Japanese, as there's a whole load of good reference stuff out there, plus if you want to give forums a go and publicly air your language skills, there's loads of them. Here's such an example. (*clicky* )

Add a comment on if you've got any questions.... Gasp)
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Irrational Hate

Something has been making me ponder lately....

I'm usually a rational person. I do rational things (most of the time), for normal reasons. However for some strange reason, I have formed an irrational hate of two people (not Linda Barker, I should add - this is rational).

They both go the same gym that I do and I can't help but feel loathing as soon as I see them...

One guy is a pretty average thirtysomething sort of chap, who I usually see in the steam room. He's one of those guys who looks like he was spoilt as a child and doesn't understand the concept of courtesy. Does he come in and say, "I'll adjust the temperature - say if it gets too hot"? Course not. He just stomps in, does his own thing and buggers off again. It wouldn't matter if there were another 20 people in the room - he's the most important.

The other is a sorta Mediterranean looking chap who is usually on the machines, virtually non stop. In fact, I don't think there's been a moment where I haven't seen him there. The problem is, he's got this ego. He struts around in that sort of fannymagnet sort of way, whilst the instructors fawn over him. It's vomit inducing. And my, you should see him when he goes past a mirror.

This probably sounds like I have extreme jealousy. Those who know me, know otherwise. I hate egos. The thing is, I'm sure they're very nice people outside, who are wonderful people.

Problem is, I just want to stick pins in voodoo effigies of them, which is a shame.
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Lucky Number Slevin

After watching trash, it was good to watch a film that had:

A cast who could act.
A script.
A story.
Little reliance on special effects.

Near the start, Lucky Number Slevin feels Pulp Fictionesque, as the lead who is subject to a case of mistaken identity is given a tall order from two gangland bosses who are bitter enemies. Luckily, it doesn't fall into the guns and gratuitous violence category, but also manages to explore the relationship between the lead and his next door neighbour (Lucy Liu). Without a doubt, she gets the fun in the film whilst Josh Harnett who plays Slevin seems to spend a good chunk of the film wandering around in nothing but a towel.

The story has got plenty to keep you going and you really aren't quite sure what's happening for a while, but it has humour and is enjoyable to watch. There's an awful lot of bilge to watch at the cinema at the moment - this isn't bilge, thank god. Go have a look.
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Final Destination (3)

"Why, in God's name, did you watch that?", I hear you cry.

Because I wanted to watch a disposable piece of crappy film, that's why.

And that's exactly what it is - disposable and forgettable, but you have to give it to the film-makers, they did manage to turn the gore up to 11.

The basic story is this:

Girl.
Premonition.
Roller-coaster accident.
Some survivors. (But not for long)
Cheats death (possibly).

A 13 word summary for a film isn't bad - and I'm not that not far off the mark. The main part, however, is the "not for long" stage, which involves a variety of interesting and bizarre death sequences. After watching this, you'll never go to a tanning salon again (or start). The amusing thing is that whoever invented all the death scenes must have been watching Road Runner/Wiley Coyote cartoons, as there does seem to be a degree of thethingthatknocksthespringthatstartsthechainsaw - and it's all rather amusing. You wouldn't think that seeing someone's head splattered to strawberry jam could be funny - but it is.

Thoroughly funny (unintentionally). Oh, and people who say, "I've cheated death", really should learn not to. That's just silly.
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Ache

Whilst yesterday was a pretty cacky day, things ended on a high when I was allowed the privilege to be Uke in somebody elses's grading. The Uke is the person who throws all the punches (and you are trying to genuinely hit the individual concerned) and during the self-defence section, there aren't many rules, apart from no grabbing. Punches and kicks have plain and simply got to hit the target.

There were two of us (the other Uke was a blue-belt) and I did feel for our target, as he had to endure a couple rounds of us throwing what we could at him. The poor chap did look totally knackered at the end.

Having done this, it's given me some insight as to what I'm letting myself into should I grade in May. However, I ache today. I really ache. My right arm is nigh-on useless (no comments, please), my legs ache and I think I've damaged one of my toes.

Would I do it again, though? You betcha.
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How...?

Having seen a bit of the Winter Olympics today, I have 2 questions:

1) How do you start a career in ski-jumping?
2) What sort of careers advisor makes a recommendation that you start such a profession?

Sorry. I had to get that thought out. I can sleep easy now.
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Maybe not.

I've given the whole thing a lot of thought and come to the conclusion that putting anything in my blog about my job is a really bad idea. Sure, I want to leave (and that's no secret), but not under a cloud.

Some articles I used when deliberating:

1) Microsoft fires worker over weblog. (*clicky*)
2) Should you blog your job? (*clicky*)
3) How to blog safely. (*clicky*)

The EFF document made my mind up pretty quickly - reason? I couldn't be arsed to go through all that work to protect my anonymity. I'll stick to ranting into TextEdit, with occasional visits to the wastebasket. Plain laziness has won the day.
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Ignore me if you like.

I tried to ignore it for years, but the sad truth is that everyone who said it was right - exercising more does actually make you feel good.

When I started Ju-Jitsu nearly 2 years ago, I got fitter. This was a good thing. I did one or two sessions a week.

About a year ago, when I started gearing up for my orange belt, I started doing whatever sessions were available. Mostly this was two, sometimes it was three. This was pretty good for me and I got fitter still.

About six months ago, when going for my green belt, I start swimming twice a week in addition to the twice/three times a week training sessions - there was very little in daily life that ever pooped my out and I attribute my increased fitness as the thing that got me through my hour and a quarter grading.

Now, I may be grading at the end of May for my next tag. Who knows? I take every training session available and do a variety of different things. I'm going away to a training camp in Italy at the beginning of July. I'm going away to another training weekend at the beginning of June (in the not so glamourous place we call Burnham-On-Sea). I'd say I exercise about six days a week - and I've never felt better. Colds last for a day or two at most, if I get them. I rarely run out of energy. I can run for a good amount of time without getting knackered. I take the stairs up the four floors to work instead of using the lift - and it's not really any big deal in terms of exertion. In fact, I feel rather marvellous.

I may not be the skinniest person on the planet. In fact, I know I'm not, but I do actually feel I can say I'm pretty fit. And no matter what anyone says, it is worth it - and I now feel more motivated to get even fitter. Sickening, isn't it?
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The pitfalls of writing about your job.

So far, when I've been writing in my blog, I've taken great pains to not write about my work. I've done this for a couple of reasons:


  • A lot of people know about my site.
  • Some people who read my site would know who I was talking about.
  • I would get reprimanded/sued/sacked/slapped/molested with a haddock.

This, for me, creates what we call a dilemma. A dilemma is something that I can get away with using silly colours for, for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

I would sometimes like to write (read: rant) about my job, however, the above points preclude me from doing so, unless I started a new and anonymous blog - but then, nobody would read it, as nobody would know it exists. That being the case, I may as well rant into an open copy of textedit and discard the contents once done, as it would have the same net effect.

The big question is - is it actually possible to write a blog about your work, without getting in sticky brown stuff? For example, take this. (*clicky*). If Staple Gun Boy, mentioned on the 3rd of January 2006, knew that he was being talked about, would he have any legal recourse were he to get pissy? Possibly.

Advice is always welcome. It's a minefield, in a virtual sorta way.
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Down to Cornwall...

Whilst it's not exactly millions of miles away from me, I took a little trip with my partner down into Cornwall, which was a thoroughly enjoyable way of recharging our batteries. We had lunch in Fowey, took a little shopping trip in Truro and stayed overnight in a place called Mitchell. The place would rank as the nicest B&B I've ever stayed in and I'd endorse it to anyone. (*clicky*)

The pub, apparently has some historical relevance too, as the pillared entrance was the place that John Wesley used to preach his Methodist views, although for a non-religious eegit like myself, probably nicer was the fact that we were really close to the wind farm at St Newlyn East.



The weather was entirely random - hailstorms one moment, thunder the next, followed by sunshine - so you'll forgive me if I'm not posting the best photo ever, but it was hard work trying to get a good weather moment to take a snapshot.

Anyway, go there - it's marvellous.
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Powerball High Score



Don't know if you've seen what a Powerball is, but they're funny things. Once you pick one up, they're very hard to put down again.

The thing is marketed as a solution for people who suffer from R.S.I. (I should add that I don't), or do sports and want to improve their arm/hand strength and co-ordination (a bonus in martial arts). Whilst I treat such claims with a healthy degree of scepticism, I do have to say that it is good fun to play with (and you can feel your arm/hand muscles working). Back in October, I got roped in when I first played with somebody else's. I ended up buying my own.

Whilst I haven't played with it solidly (apparently, I have a life), I have now managed to work up a respectable score - 11,055. It used to rank quite reasonably on the main high score table, but now wouldn't get an honourable mention.

Ho, hum.

If you've got one of these things and can beat me (probably not a hard thing to do), I'd be interested to know your score.

Updated: 7/2/06 - 11,461! Gasp)
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A Cock And Bull Story

After giving you a mini-review of a film that's a musical about the making of a musical (The Producers), we go on to a film that's all about the making of a film, or more, the personalities involved. This film certainly does make you think about people egos.

The whole premise of A Cock And Bull Story is that it's all about the making of a film that's supposedly unmakable. The production team are attempting to make a film based on the book The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen, an apparently impossible task, due to the many tangents in the storyline and continual use of eccentricities in the English language (along with blank pages and random punctuation) to convey itself. What results is a film that can't make it's mind up. This production team are having a cash crisis and appear seemingly unsure of where to go. Is it a war film? Is it a romance? Or is it just a mad bloke rambling about having his penis caught in a window?

The cast is a good one. The two leads are Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, peppered with short appearances by many other British stars - Stephen Fry and Dylan Moran to name but two. The relationship between Coogan and Brydon is almost entirely antagonistic, with each one continually trying to score points against the other in a similar manner to Ricky Gervais in Extras.

The two bounce off each other very well and you can never quite work out whether the whole thing was ad-lib or scripted. Whilst Coogan seems to have it all (the car, beautiful partner and baby), he comes over as a sad, nearly Alan Partridge-esque (again) character who seems more concerned with his own vanity, whilst Brydon is the smart and funny one, continually poking at Coogan with one-liners. There's plenty to chuckle (or wince) at.

Without giving the film away, it's amusing, but it does seem to try and escape the whole film-making thing in the last ten minutes, possibly because should such a task would indeed be nigh-on impossible, so you feel it's a cop-out. Nonetheless, it's the first film in a long time that's made me sit and watch the credits until they've fully disappeared off the screen.

It's all harmless fun and I'd recommend you see it if you feel like a chuckle. Whilst not the best film you'll ever see, the BBC haven't done too badly. It's worth a look.
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Rats with fluffy tails.



Having received a shiny and lovely telephoto lens for Christmas, I'd not really had much opportunity to test it out, until a couple of days ago when looking out of my window, I caught the common country thief known as the squirrel, thieving food from my next door neighbours bird-table. I think it did a rather good job.

On the higher res version original I've got, you can even make out each individual hair on the body. I was rather chuffed....

If things work this well, it should allow me to take some pretty good pictures come March. (And I need not say what's happening then, do I?)
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Memoirs Of A Geisha

I couldn't make my mind up on this film, so I split things down into positives and negatives:

Negatives:

  • Steven Spielberg (His last good film was Schindler's list - and remember what he did to A.I.? Ick.)
  • Chinese lead. (A big faux-pas, considering they're supposed to be Japanese)
  • Taken from a huge novel. (How can it be condensed down so far and still convey the story well?)

Positives

  • The Chinese lead does a very good job, even if it really isn't right.
  • Amazing cinematography (the dance scene is something special).
  • Cultural accuracy - the streets, temples and sumo basho have been well recreated.

In all, it's a good film - it's just not a great one. It's enjoyable to watch, even if you feel like there are odd moments when you should be boo-ing and hissing at the "evil" geisha - a bit like a pantomime. Nonetheless, there are worse things you could go out and see - and at two and a half hours, it's not too long a film to endure. In short, the film had a lot of potential, of which it certainly delivered on the visuals (Spielberg's traits come out again), even if the story doesn't entirely come through 100%.
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The Producers

Right, I'll get the worn-out phrases out of the way first - it's a film, that's a musical, based on a film about a musical. There. Said it. Now we'll move on.

Having seen the original all those years ago, I was sceptical about this one, but it's a good fun film. Uma Thurman, normally a gorky looking sort of woman, pulls off a good performance as the Swedish Ulla and does a good job of singing, "If you've got it, flaunt it.". The two main men bounce well off each other and the humour doesn't let up.

The campness (is that a word?) certainly adds to the amusement, without becoming too John Inman. The challenge of how to make a musical on a subject such as Hitler into something that is light-hearted is certainly well embraced. Hearing "Springtime for Hitler in Germany" brought a smile to my face and I started to wonder if the musical had ever had a cult following like the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Who knows?

In short, if you want something funny that doesn't take itself too seriously, then go for it.

A filmfour.com review as usual is here. (*clicky*)
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