dalliard.net

Fiddle.

Happy Christmas. If you're reading this and you can hear the Queen's speech in the background, then you really need to get out more - or get back to your sprouts. If you've not got any sprouts, I'm sorry - you've obviously missed out on the true meaning of Christmas. Perhaps you should hunt down another vegetable?

This will be my last posting for the 2007, so you'll not get any new stuff to read for a week or so... I'm sure you'll cope.

As I drove across the moors to meet my other-half for Christmas dinner, I pondered about the future shape of the site. I've done approximately 330 posts this year. I'm not entirely sure if this is a good thing. It certainly shows madness dedication and is credit-worthy, but I think in the coming year I'll be going for a lesser amount of posts - probably two or three a week. They might just be a little more meaty than what you've had recently. Quality over quantity, or something like that.

I was also thinking on how people stumble across this site. Perhaps I shouldn't ponder on that one too much, because after looking at some of the search criteria people use, there's some weird people out there. That said, I'd like to be able to help people better find what they're after. For this reason I'll be introducing tagging (along with some sort of inevitable tag-cloud) into the blog. It's unlikely I'll be tagging old posts (there are over 500 - that would be a huge job),

But that's that until the New Year. I'm now off to get my passport and phrase-book ready as I don't plan on spending New Year in Britain. Have a good one.
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New Tyres

Today, I realised something rather amazing. I've worn out a pair of running shoes - and I've done this by running a lot.

This may not seem like such an amazing thing for you. I'm sure you're wondering what the big deal is already. However, for me this is an Unusual Thing. Most people who know me, know that I was never the most active of people. Indeed, I've taken my father by surprise by declaring that I've been running. It doesn't do any harm to surprise your parents every so often.

When I run, I usually end up doing somewhere around the region of 5k. I've had these shoes for somewhere about 16 months. On average, I've done a couple of runs per week. A rough guestimate tells me that my shoes have probably done about 500k. It's hardly the circumference of the earth, but it's something. They've developed something of a flat-spot and now smell, probably as bad as the woman is intimating in those old odour-eaters adverts.

So, it's time to source some replacements. I think that in the January New-Year Boxing-Day sales, I'll be hunting down a new pair.

It's time to go back to the minefield of finding a pair that haven't been made by eight year-old Vietnamese girls. Wish me luck.
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del.icio.us links - 23/12/07

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Things you don't say in public (1)

Overheard in the showers at the gym....

"You know *name removed*?"
"Yeah, he's a total sad fucker."
"Yeah, yeah - did he ever find out that you fucked his missus?"
"Nah - He's oblivious."
"Sweet. You're a top bloke for keeping that one secret."....

....or have you?

It's good to see the Christmas spirit is alive and kicking. With friends like this, who needs enemies? I've removed the name from this posting, but if you feel a bit of moral outrage coming on, simply put "moral outrage!" as a comment. Where are those four ghosts of Christmas when you need them?
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Wind-Down

As we approach the big day, everyone is starting to wind-down. Having just had my last training session for the year and with "secret Santa" and mufty-day at work, everyone is starting to unwind - and it's long overdue.

Now if you don't mind, I'd like to bring in Hungry Hippos and Ker-plunk, please - just to truly get me in the festive spirit..
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del.icio.us links - 20/12/07

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Hole

I miss John Peel. I really do.

I miss his love of independent music, his fumbles, his playing of tracks at the wrong speed despite having been a DJ for years. I miss his candour and honesty. But most of all, I miss his Festive Fifty.

For the uninitiated, the Festive Fifty is a listeners radio chart that John Peel used to play around Christmas time. It wasn't based upon record sales, but listeners personal choices on the best indie tracks of the year. For me, it became a formative part of my music education. I would tape it off the radio and still be listening to in in April of the following year. I still have one tape even now.

Nobody has filled in the gap he left. It's a big, big shame. He's probably the only "celebrity" that I truly mourned the passing of.

However, I was pleased to see that Radio One still keep a Festive Fifty Shrine, in honour of Mr P. I was clicking around on the site a few days ago, reliving some nostalgia, which led to me finding a torrent containing old radio recordings. It was something of a surprise to find it, but it appears someone encoded it all from a few ratty C120s. Bless 'em. You may wish to have a look on your favourite torrent site for a compilation.

A brief google will show you that there's actually a lot of encoded John Peel material out there. It's gratifying to see. I doubt the BBC will actually object to these, on the basis that the quality is generally mono and bobbins. It's more nostalgia than a genuine desire to infringe copyright - and I doubt most of these will ever become available for purchase.

For those that would like to hear a few of my favourite selection, click some of the links below - you can hear some better fidelity versions on YouTube. My favourite year was 1990 - those that got into that chart formed a good chunk of the music taste I have today. In meantime, I shall be listening to these over Christmas and reliving a bit of nostalgia. Sometimes it's good to look back.

Sample music clips: One, two, three and four.
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Decemberus Shittus

I'd rank this last couple of weeks as the worst I've had for a few years. I'm sure that if I knew enough latin, I'd rank this as a somethingus horribilis - but I don't.

So I won't. I'll just call it shit.

It all started at the beginning of the month. I was not well. On the face of it, you'd just call it a bad cold. However, I've never had something that knocked me for six in such a way. Over a week and a half since I first got it, I'm still coughing away nicely. It's been a pain in the arse, so as to speak. Work has also not been a barrel of fun and not wanting the bad consequences of taking time off sick, I've kept going in.

At the end of last week, I was at my worst - so on my weekend, I spent a good while under my duvet on the sofa, drinking enough tea to float a battleship, with a veritable assortment of painkillers and a dessert of Super Mario Galaxy. I felt foul, and as someone who has only had three days off work in the last five years, I think I must have been justified to feel that way.

I went back to work on the Friday, still feeling appalling, not helped by the fact that someone had broken into my car whilst I'd been indoors. The bastards had attacked the door with a hammer and screwdriver in an attempt to prise the lock from the door. They'd failed, but it hadn't stopped them from making a nasty hole in my door.

They'd stolen virtually nothing from the vehicle. I reckoned that after a break-in which would require three hundred pounds on bodywork repairs, they'd stolen stuff worth about thirty quid - a mobile phone charger, a car-mains adapter for my GPS unit and a box of random vehicle spares from the boot, containing great stuff like windscreen fluid, anti-freeze and WD40. W00T. They also stole a few CDs, but most of them were ones I'd burnt on my computer. It didn't justify the break-in.

They also stole my tax-disc. The police, useless as they've been, said that another eight vehicles along the street had been broken into.

Once I'd twigged that they'd stolen my tax-disc (believe it or not, I don't stare at it every day), I naturally had to do something about it. Investigating further, I took a trip to Truro to get a duplicate at the negligible cost of seven quid. Ironically, the police, shit at catching genuine criminals had a field day with me - I got two tickets. One for "parking a vehicle on a public highway and not displaying a valid tax-disc" (duh) and another as a random parking-offence, which should not have been issued. I am appealing against it. According to the time on the ticket, they issued it four minutes after I got the tax-disc from the office (I checked it against my card-receipt). I just didn't manage to run back in time.

What grates is the inability of the police to do anything but stamp upon those who are generally law-abiding and milk them for their money. Before leaving the house, I called the police up and asked them about the whole tax-disc matter. The response I got from the person taking the call was "It depends on the mood of the police officer who stops you as to whether things are progressed further". Should it really be down to that? Hardly reassuring, is it?

The aftermath of all this is fairly simple - I'm skint. I guess considering my post of a few weeks back, there's not much to say. It's wiped out my money good and proper. In the New Year I'll get the car's bodywork fixed up (requiring a big patch-up, re-spray and new lock) and today I've got the alarm-system upgraded. I can only apologise if it goes off in the future. However, I'd rather it went off every now and then and foiled an intruder, as opposed to having to go through all this again. It's not been fun. It also goes to show how car dependant I am and I'd love to be able to do without. It's just a shame that's not practical.
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del.icio.us links - 4/12/07

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Lard

Well that's it - 2007 has nearly finished. We now enter the season of Christmas meals, shopping like nutters and premature decoration-hanging.

I'm glad to say that this year I've only got two Christmas meals to go to, I'm on a tight budget for gift-giving and my Christmas-lights will be solar-powered. I shall be doing my best to have a lean Christmas. You can call me a tight-arse if you like, but I guess it's partially a kick-back against what seems to be the ever increasing pace of consumerism.

I'm not a religious person. I shan't be going to Mass or singing carols. For me, the arrival of Christmas means something else - the chance to unwind, appreciate some time-off and enjoy some time with those I love, without having to rush away for some reason. Whilst I'm spouting cliches, lets call it quality-time. Hell, I might even have a drink for once. It'll be nice to have a few days off from driving.

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November's Frugality Challenge Update

Total for November: £20.72
Total for 2007: £1,243.72

Hardly an impressive figure, but I think there's a reason for it - inflation.

Prices in the last couple months have steadily increased on most things. Whilst the news would have you believe that the current rate of inflation was at about 4%, I'd hazard that it's significantly more, more in the range of 5% - 10%. Petrol and food prices seem to have increased by about 10% from what I remember them to be at the beginning of the year. Then there's council tax and energy bills, which have also noticeably increased. In fact, most of my other bills seem to be increasing by above inflation amounts.

Whilst I appreciate that we're not back to the 20% percent days of the 1970's, inflation is still something tangible - and annoying.
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del.icio.us links - 1/12/07

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Brick

Today was a rather good day. A pay-rise that I've been waiting for for over six months finally materialised - and the backdated amount was something tangible which could help towards Christmas.

Well, most of it will anyway. Some has been earmarked for a little project I've been intending to kick off - and it involves Lego.

You probably think I've regressed into a Baldrick-like figure, blowing his money on a modern-day giant turnip. Hell, you wouldn't be the first. Actually, I don't intend to play with it - I intend to make a film with it by having a go at stop-motion animation.

The process is a fairly simple one. You set up your scene (in Lego, obviously), and take a digital photo for each frame of animation. You can then use a tool like iMovie or iStopMotion to stitch it all together, resulting in a movie that you can then show.

If you've never heard of people making movies with Lego, it might be worth having a look at brickfilms.com, which seems to have a huge following of Lego animators. Competitions are run on themes and critique is made upon special effects, script, quality of animation, etc...

So if you'd like to see two pretty impressive short-movies, you could do worse than have a look here and here. In the meantime, I've off to play with my bricks...
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Wiik

I'd like to give you a reason for my week-long absence.

Hold on a moment, I'm thinking of something...

Perhaps I caught the rage virus and wiped out humanity.
Perhaps I've been working 80 hours a week.
Perhaps I've been raided by The Feds and my drug empire is coming to a sticky end.
Or perhaps I've been playing Metroid Prime too much.
Or Mario Galaxy,
Or Endless Ocean,
Or Zelda...
Or ...
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del.icio.us links - 22/11/07

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(A)bort (R)ename (D)elete

I'm seriously considering a name change. I clash.

My name clashes with a lot with other people at work.

  • Another employee has exactly the name as me.
  • Three people have my surname.
  • Four people who work fairly closely with me have the same christian name.
  • Several have the same initials. This is annoying because everyone gets referred to by their initials.

It's also a pain in the arse when you think someone is calling your name - and they're asking for someone else.

Perhaps my name is just common. Pah.

My father had the right idea, reversing his first and middle names - perhaps I should follow suit? Or perhaps I could be given an entirely name?

Something that isn't too derogatory may be considered.
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American Gangster

Plot overview: A story set in the late 1960's/early 1970's in Harlem, about a guy who masterminds a huge drug network. People get killed, there are lots of bad hairstyles and you'll get quite used to seeing people shooting up. Drugs, nakedness, guns and bad language will be rife - but then, you can't say you were really surprised, can you? As a contrast, Frank Lucas the boss lives a lie in his big house, entertaining family and taking his mother to church. Nice.

Who's in it?: Denzel Washington plays the bad guy, Frank Lucas and Russell Crowe plays the whiter-than-white (no pun intended) federal investigator. Perhaps I have a bad memory, but it's a pleasant change to see Washington play "the baddie".

Is it any good?: It's certainly one of the better films of this year, but at over two and a half hours you might get a numb bum. It's certainly not dull, though. Russell Crowe actually shows that he can play the part of someone who isn't annoying and Washington will probably be Oscar nominated for his performance - he plays the cold-hearted villain exceedingly well. The story essentially tracks the building of Frank Lucas's empire and a single investigator's efforts to stop him - despite his own agency being totally corrupt.

Should I go and see it?: Oh yes, you should. It's a well-made film that tells a story. I normally hate that "based on a true story" shit, but this one works - with the only superfluous part being a sub-story relating to the federal agent's custody battle for his son. Otherwise, this film has restored some of my faith in American film, which recently had been somewhat failing. Hurrah for Ridley Scott.

Other reviews: Here, here and here.
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del.icio.us links - 19/11/07

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2008

After my general cock-up on the Tavy 7 front, I promised that I'd continue running. Knowing how my motivation works though, I really need something to aim for.

I'm running for New Year's Day.

Whilst there's nothing particularly special about the day in question, it seemed like a good day to go for. The beginning of something new and better, perhaps? It's also just over a month away, so it gives me ample opportunity to improve. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there are no 5k runs kicking around at this time of year, but the trusty old treadmill is still at hand and I can at least beat one person - myself.

When I trained for the previous run, I'd usually run about 5k (~3.1miles). Initially, I'd just go for improving my speed, which at it's best got down to 32m31s. My aim is to beat that time. The closer I can get to 31 minutes, the better. That works out as a 10 minute mile - hardly Roger Bannister, I know, but we all have to start somewhere.

I don't have a problem running 5k at all, whereas when I first started it was something of a struggle. We shall see how things improve.

Here's to a Happy New Year.
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Food-Porn

I like food. I think we can all accept that as a given.

However, that doesn't mean I want to see food-porn. Maybe I'm just a food-prude. Perhaps I've not been liberated yet.

No idea what I'm on about? Well, food-porn isn't porn with food, just food presented in a pornographic way. Like chocolate cake? Well, you can get lots of food-porn of that nature. Perhaps if you like your hardcore food-porn, you can watch a video of the cake being sliced, close-up, with the chocolate cream dribbling down the sides.

It really does get on my nerves. I know what chocolate cake looks like, for God's sake. When I buy it, I don't hold it an inch from my eye and get a good eyeful - I eat the bloody thing.

Not sure what I'm about? Take a look at the current Christmas food adverts from Mark's & Spencer, or have a look here for a site filled with XXX Food-Porn.

There's just something rather wrong about it all.
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del.icio.us links - 16/11/07

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Bleed

Once upon a time, there was a computer programmer.

He worked in a niche industry, doing stuff that nobody largely cared about. Working in such a business meant that he know lots of things that other people didn't - and boy did he make a big deal about it. This meant that he got on people's nerves quite a lot. This was because he knew that if people were nasty to him, he could put a stop to their financial systems overnight, causing chaos aplenty. He wasn't a very nice person.

For a little person, he had quite a lot of power. He knew this and irritated all who met him. Everyone did lots of deep breathing, counting to ten and muttering under their breath. People called encounters with him character building experiences.

He asked for lots of money, lots of times. When his employer eventually snapped and declined his repeated blackmail requests, he left the company and took up a contract elsewhere, working freelance.

Despite the threat of impending financial ruin, most people breathed a sigh of relief, mostly because they didn't want to work with a git.

Times changed, seasons passed and employees moved on. The git became a distant memory.

One such employee who had suffered the wrath of the git was now working for a new company that had nothing to do with computer programming at all. He was now a manager at a very large institution that employed lots of temporary agency staff. On the whole, things were good and the git had been consigned to the archives of his mind.

One evening, the manager was working away, signing off time-sheets for a long queue of temporary staff. In contrast to the permanent staff, the agency chaps usually worked exceptional amounts of hours, because on the whole they were skint and had to make the most of the work they got.

That evening, the git just so happened to be one of the temps, waiting in line for his payment to be approved. Times had obviously been hard upon the chap, who had now resorted to working 70 hour weeks.

As the git and the manager met again, for the first time in ten years, there was an exchange of knowing looks and a realisation that the balance of power had changed.

"Aw'right?", they both said.

Neither answered.

It was the sort of crap question that everyone knows you don't need to answer - because everyone knows the answer anyway. It's plain to see. If you were a firm believer in karma, this would endorse your beliefs - well, unless you think he'd come back as a slug. It was a humbling moment for the git.

Once the queue had been dealt with, smalltalk was made and the git was subsequently never seen again.

There is a reason for this story. It's because I've had to work with another rather unsavoury character - and they've just left. Common sense dictates a few things. If you live in the South-West, you'll realise that there aren't many decent employers around who pay a reasonable wage. I reckon that it's possible to do the rounds of the lot easily during your employment lifespan.

And should I ever bump into Git Version 2.0 again - and chances are I will, I shall make damn sure that he bleeds humility.

Parable bit: Don't piss off your co-workers too much, you never know where you might end up.

Here endeth the sermon.
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Disappointed Saleswoman

"Excuse me Sir, could I ask you a question?"
"You just have."
"Ok. Could I ask you one more?"
"Sorry, you only get one."
"Oh."
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del.icio.us links - 13/11/07

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Eastern Promises

Plot overview: Pregnant Russian teenager dies in London hospital. Midwife finds her diary and tries to reunite baby with the teenager's family. Russian Mafia stuff ensues. People die. Blood happens. Intrigue is rife.

Who's in it?: Viggo Mortensen - You'll remember him from A History Of Violence. He was rather jolly good in it - and he's rather jolly good in this too.

Is it any good?: Hell, yeah. It doesn't have the same "wow" factor as A History Of Violence, but it's still a well written story that has some amazing moments. Probably one of the key pivotal moments is where a Mafia chappie has a naked fight with two fully-clothed Chechens in a steam room. They are both armed with knives - and the realism of the situation will make you will truly cringe. There's some good twisty-turny plot stuff in there. The film makes East London look an unpleasant and grotty place (which largely, it is) and it doesn't do much for the image of Russian men (which it largely portrays as alcoholics and womanisers). I don't remember seeing a gratuitous shot of a top London landmark in there either. Perhaps for that reason I should nominate it as one of the best films for the year.

Should I go and see it?: Most certainly you should. I'd even recommend that you sell at least one parent into slavery to watch it. Two parents might be pushing it, though - only films of a special calibre merit that. I'd watch this ten times in a row instead of having to watch any of the Pirates Of The Caribbean films just once. That says something. Mr Cronenberg has done a rather good job.

Other reviews: Here, here and here.
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Idiot

It's official - I am an idiot.

No doubt there are people around the world who already know this, but the very fact that I didn't do something in good time before today confirms this.

I should have sent my entry form/fee off for the Tavy 7. There are a limited amount of entrants each year. My error meant that I wouldn't be one of them.

Of course when I turned up today for the event I realised this. That sounds pretty dumb - and it is. I'd focused so much on training for the event that I'd forgotten to enter it. Duh.

Today I could only enter the fun-run. As you can imagine, I would have preferred to run something longer than a mile and a half, but beggars can't be choosers. At least I have my first running chufty badge.

I am not a number, I'm a very silly boy.

What detracts from the achievement is when people a quarter of your age run the distance faster than you. Must try harder.

After doing the fun-run, I hung around and watched the runners of the 7-miler finish. I was surprised and tickled to see someone who used to be one of my old cub-scouts finish in a damn quick time. I still remember, however, that at the age of eight he shat his pants. A wry smile comes to my face whenever I remember that moment.

Am I a twisted individual? Possibly.

Whilst I've been busy kicking myself for my stupidity, it hasn't dented my enthusiasm for running in something. I'm off to find a 5k run that I can aim for before that special spread that people gain in December attaches itself to me.
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del.icio.us links - 10/11/07

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Flashback

There are a couple of local cinemas in my area. However, most people usually go to just one - the Vue Cinema in Plymouth, myself included.

This is a habit I intend to change.

Vue have been taking advantage of their dominant position by applying continual price increases over the last couple of years. The final straw for me was booking a couple of tickets online, being charged a 60p booking fee for each ticket and the final price for two people coming to £15.

Cinema used to be a cheap and enjoyable way to pass an evening.

Having a look around at alternatives, I rediscovered an old cinema I hadn't been to for a long time - I guess it must be approximately 15 years. It's the "Reel" cinema, which was previously an Odeon cinema and prior to that might have been called the ABC, if I remember rightly.

Whilst the cinema had changed names, nothing inside is any different. It was exactly as it was when I last visited. It had the same faded carpet, the slightly over-ornate ceiling and wall fixtures, the curtains across the screen, decor from the 1960's and the same nasty pictures on the walls. Even the seats appeared to be the same, albeit with a lot more rips in them. I hate to think how many bums had sat on them. I have fond memories of going in there as a teenager with my friends - I remember lying about my age to see The Witches of Eastwick (I was 15 at the time). With hindsight, I'm not sure it was worth lying over.

As for the experience last week, it didn't change what we were watching - a film. And I doubt I would have enjoyed the film any more as a consequence of paying Vue's excessive prices - even on an Orange Wednesday (which still works out more expensive than The Reel).

Tickets were just £2.50 each, bringing an evening out back down to a more enjoyable fiver.

I think I'll probably go again. In the run-up to Christmas, there's a few good titles on the horizon and if I can avoid giving my money to Vue, I will. It's also worth noting that I'd rather go to Reel out of choice, whilst I still have a choice, because if God forbid they become the only one in the area, they'll charge what they want and pay even less attention to showing minor titles than they do already.
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Words I Hate

Gusset
Moist
Cleansing
Clarification
Towlette

That is all. When the New World Order arrives and they start the first iteration of the Newspeak Dictionary, I'll be campaigning for the eradication of these words.
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del.icio.us links - 7/11/07

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30 Days Of Night

Plot overview: An Alaskan town that's in the middle of nowhere gets invaded by vampires who decide to take advantage of the dark spell and go on a killing spree, taking out the majority of the town's inhabitants and doing the sucky-sucky blood thing.

Who's in it?: God knows. Ugly people with pointy teeth?

Is it any good?: The film is built on a fairly promising premise. It's slickly presented and the gore doesn't relent. When people get munched, boy, you know it. The same also goes for the deaths of the vampires, who share the same splattering when their head is parted from their body. In previous vampire films, they've always been presented as well coiffured individuals who have a tad of gothic-eroticism to them - no chance of that here - they're complete bloodthirsty munters. The story primarily deals with the final survivors, holed-up in a loft, trying to survive until daylight arrives on day 30. However, despite it's presentation and concept, the problem is that for a film that is so dependant on time (i.e. surviving the 30 days), it felt like there was no passage at all and that actually the story was jumping from "Day x" to "Day x+5" to "Day x+a bit more". I really wasn't feeling the 30-day thing. Still, if you like your gore, you'll enjoy it to some degree. Oh, and there's subtitles throughout the film, as the vampires are talking something that sounds like it's trying to mimic an Eastern-European language. Homage to Romanian, perhaps?

Should I go and see it?: That depends. If you're held at gun-point to see a horror film and somebody mentions Saw 4 this could be a better alternative, especially as there's rumours that a Saw 5 and 6 are coming too, god-forbid. It's certainly an interesting and entertaining movie, but you may find yourself like me, nearly shouting at the screen because of it's shortcomings - and hell, we all know our vampire-law, right?

Other reviews: Here, here and here.
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October's Frugality Challenge Update

Total for October: £10.30 (Shopping) + £35.20 (Dentist)
Total for 2007: £1,223.63

"The dentist?", I hear you say? How can you save money at the dentist?

Well, I've decided to cancel my private dental cover, which costs about £18 per month. When I originally joined the scheme, it used to cost just over £13 per month, but in the space of just four years has continually increased. I got a letter through a few days ago, stating that from the beginning of next year, my premium would be about £20 per month. Things have increased well ahead of the rate of inflation and it's got to a point that I can't justify the expenditure any longer.

Time to find me an NHS dentist - this could be a new yearly challenge for 2008 in itself!

As you can see from the total above, I'm about £250 short of my target - and I doubt Christmas is going to help matters. Ho hum.
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del.icio.us links - 4/11/07

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Fizzle

It's that time of the year again, where children come around and ask for money for a guy they're going to burn. We do some strange stuff in this country, we really do.

This evening, like most people, I went to a local organised display. It was the usual affair - a big bonfire, 15 minutes of "ooohs" and "aaaaahs", and candy-floss and hot-dogs if you felt brave enough to try the mechanically-salvaged meat "fast-food" stand. It's the same routine every year. To me it truly signifies the start of the autumn/winter months - and I love it. It goes hand in hand with the leaves falling from the trees, brisk cold mornings and the autumn sun. It's my favourite time of year.

One of my few fireworks pictures that doesn't suck...

But should we be doing this any more?

As I came home tonight, the air quality was evidently crap due to the smog from bonfires. The poor visibility and sulphurous air lingers around for a few days afterwards, but nobody seems to care. It seems a strange notion that we talk of being "green". We recycle, reduce our energy consumption and care about our carbon footprint - then over the course of about three days, we burn piles of rubbish and set off enough fireworks to totally obscure our view of the night sky - and it would appear that nobody says a word. That's good old British tradition for you.

Don't get me wrong. I love my bonfire night, me. I'll be the biggest hypocrite of them all. It's just (dare I say the phrase twice in one week) that it's something of a guilty pleasure these days for me.

There's the odd bit of agreement out there on the internets, but of course no-one wants to be called a party-pooper, do they? I draw the line at bonfire animations as a substitute, though - that's just crap.
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Chufty Badge (2)

Back in August of this year, I set myself a goal - to obtain sufficient Dartmoor Letterbox stamps to get into the "100 Club" (i.e. at least 100) and to do it before the good weather for the year came to an end.

Over the last three months, I've spent most of my weekends walking on the moor, trying to attain that 100. I got number 100 today (and number 101 too). Mission accomplished.

It would be an understatement to say that I'm quite chuffed. The rewards of such an activity are few (the aching feet are evidence of this), but at least I can now apply for a chufty badge. It looks like this:



No doubt I shall sew it on my rucsac.

Of course, there are other rewards. I've seen some spectacular scenery - many will not be aware that there's some amazing places on their doorstep (Devonport Leat is a personal favourite), along with the fact that I've done some interesting photography - and got some exercise too. That doesn't do any harm.

And so my next goal is 200, although I'll be setting a target of attaining the next 100 by the end of next summer. This gives me a fair bit of time. Hopefully the weather won't turn totally foul over the winter and will allow me to get out for a few hours every so often at least. If only my other goals were going so well...
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del.icio.us links - 1/11/07

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Face-ache...

... or not as the case may be. I am now minus a wisdom tooth.



Praise be for 21st Century dentistry.
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Conversation Killer

"You smell nice, what is it?"
"It's just my deodorant."
"What's it called?"
"Moose."
"Oh."
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del.icio.us links - 29/10/07

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Guilty Pleasures

Today I ended up playing one of those musical games. You know the one - the "guess the artist and track" game. Many of the random tracks played were truly awful, but at the same time strangely enjoyable.

This is the world of Guilty Pleasures - the sort of stuff you know is pure unadulterated cheese, but can't help but enjoy.

Here's my starting list:

1) Kylie Minogue - Can't Get You Out Of My Head. (*link*)
2) Electric Six - Gay bar. (*link*)
3) Big Bass vs Michelle Narine - What you do. (*link*)
4) The Bucketheads - The Bomb! (*link*)
5) Daft Punk & Stardust - Music Sounds Better With You. (*link*)
6) E.L.O. - Mr Blue Sky. (*link*)

If you haven't heard any of the tracks, shame on you - click on the link to have short listen, courtesy of last.fm.

I'll leave you to hypothesise for youself why these are on my list, but in the meantime I'm sure you have some of your own - you just haven't confessed yet.
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Going Paperless

I used to spend more money on printer cartridges than I did on crack - not any longer... Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 26/10/07

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Black Sheep

I mention psycho sheep - and then this comes along. Coincidence? Read More...
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...is that you, Harold?

Yes, it is.

Jut like Harold Bishop, I was swept off a rock - and consequently disappeared off the radar. Ever since, I've been with the Salvation Army, singing Onward Christian Soldiers - but now I'm back, thanks to some helpful people on a Tasmanian trawler.

And that's the story I'm sticking to. Mneh.
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del.icio.us links - 09/10/07

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W.C. Britain

We British have a toilet fixation. It's obsessive. Here's my evidence for the prosecution.

  • Many people say that they wouldn't travel to certain countries because the toilet arrangements arre too primitive for their liking. When I've told friends of the Japanese squat-type loo, they've had a fit.
  • Ever notice how motorway service stations pride themselves on the standard of their loos? It's probably that stupid little panel at the entrance that says,"How was your visit today?".
  • Public toilets win awards. (I've seen a few in Plymouth that have this dubious accolade)
  • It gets press columnage.
Yep, we are most definitely obsessed.

Want confirmation? Well, here's a link to the British Toilet Association - and they're having a conference next month. Marvellous. I'm sure we could all think of hundreds of better venues than a motorcycle museum, though.
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Rage

As I jogged along on the treadmill at the gym tonight, I discovered a new form of rage - it's called X-Factor Rage. Forget road-rage and office-rage - this is the new one. It'll be all the rage, believe me, because if you've got any sense, you'll condone it.

It all started as I started running. No - it wasn't my aversion to exercise, but more the fact that X-Factor was on the telly in front of me. As luck would have it, I had some music with me so I could shut out the audio, but unfortunately I still had to put up with the sight of the smug judges. I guess you can't have it all - I've been praying to see Simon Cowell destitute and asking me for some spare change for ages.

After what seemed only a few minutes, various people appeared on the screen, mostly in tears. I assume that this was because they were sad fuckwits with a deluded sense of talent, but the sight of eyes welling up continued - and it seemed relentless. After fifteen minutes, even Dani Minogue was doing it. I was hoping that Sharon Osbourne had been killed in a freak hairdressing accident, but no. On and on it went.

And it was starting to piss me off.

The unfortunate thing about running on a treadmill is that with a screen directly in front of you, it's hard to avert your eyes - a bit like A Clockwork Orange and after twenty minutes or so, I was starting to have enough. The blubbing continued. Perhaps they'd told the entire line-up of contestants that they should lose the will to live? I had no idea.

And then, for some reason, after about twenty-five minutes of running, I'd had enough. I'd not run far enough in my session, but I didn't care - I quit and went for a swim, not because I couldn't complete the distance, but because I couldn't cope with the onslaught of bleating tossers. In my head, I'd been wanting to shout, "PULL YOURSELVES TOGETHER!", but had showed exceptional self-restraint. Escape was the only option.

On the plus side, if it's like that every week it'll probably get taken off the air. Even the great British public will get bored at some point.
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del.icio.us links - 06/10/07

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Back To Mine

After having found over 50 geocaches, it seemed appropriate to start thinking about putting one of my own out - and I've got a potential site in mind.

As a teenager, I did my fair share of hanging around. My hangout was a disused mine called the Prince Of Wales Mine, in Harrowbarrow, Cornwall. Naturally, any parent hearing this now would probably have palpitations, but it was a great place - you could do just about anything and it would be out of the way of disapproving eyes. We'd ride bikes on the sand-dunes (which were probably arsenic spoil-heaps), graffiti the walls, climb trees and generally hang around, even if we did piss people off by climbing/cutting through the barbed-wire perimeter. The blessing was that as we weren't hanging around on a street corner, everyone turned a blind-eye. Out of sight was out of mind. One was just expected to exercise common-sense.

The listing for the cache site will be going up in the next couple weeks and will not expect anyone to endanger their life to get it. I'm really not in the mood to be sued.

Whilst you're waiting for my cache listing to be published, you might want to pay a visit to another Cornish mine site that's been made safe and turned into a nature reserve. It's called Okel Tor and is in a lovely place right down by the River Tamar, in a place called Harewood, near Calstock. I lived in a Calstock several years back and never realised this place existed. It's not that I walk around with my eyes closed, honest.

The cache when listed will be called, "Back To Mine". If you want to see a picture of the mine site, have a look at image 4 on my gallery.
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Wiggle It

After being a Playstation person for years, Mr D defects to a Wii. Was it worth it? Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 03/10/07

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September's Frugality Challenge Update

Total for September: £19.98 (Shopping)
Total for 2007: £1178.13

Oh dear. I could have done a lot better.
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Raw-Knuckles

Over the weekend, I went out with some friends for a curry. Whilst the company was good, the curry wasn't. For most that know me, that's quite a damning summary because I'll eat just about anything that vaguely looks curryesque. The restaurant staff were surly, the food mediocre and the prices hiked up by an appropriate amount to offset the "50% discount" being touted by the sign outside. The general quality of the clientele (ourselves excepted, of course) was also poor, only seeming able to communicate by drunken giggling and "waaaaahaaaaayy". After years of dragging their knuckles, most had skin missing from the backs of their hands. It was a poor show, a poor show indeed.

It was also a shame, because an award-winning Indian restaurant was next door. Ho hum. Another day, perhaps.
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del.icio.us links - 30/9/07

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Give Blood

A day or so after getting back from my holiday, I had a routine visit to the dentist. Unfortunately, as I've been identified as having a gum disorder I have fairly regular hygienist appointments - usually resulting in a quick scrape and polish to keep everything in check.

But today is not so regular as I find out my hygienist has left and been replaced by Hannibal Lector's wife.

"Hello. Sit in the chair and we'll whip you into shape.".

That's hardly the welcome you want.

And as she worked away, she told me that the advice my previous hygienist had been telling me was wrong, whilst repeatedly stabbing me with metal implements. As she put significant body weight behind each scrape, my mouth hurt.

Jesus, did it hurt.

I'm not the squeamish sort - I can take pain as good as anyone. Having had four fillings done in quick succession without issue is testament to this, but sharp metal things aren't supposed to be jabbed in soft-fleshy things. This results in blood.

"Get yourself home and have a salt-water gargle", she said.

Someone needs to work on their chair-side manner, I think.

Two days later and I'm on painkillers (ibuprofen, yet again). I can't swallow, eat properly or open my jaw. The right hand side of my mouth has swollen up and everything still hurts just as much as the moment she moved my gums around like a blob of pink play-doh.

Update (1/10/07): Went back to see my dentist today, who says that my wisdom tooth has become infected and will need to be removed. It's ironic (and crap) that a hygienist gives you an infection.
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Wii all the way home.

After about 500 miles of driving, I'm back. It would be fair to say that although I did a fair bit of driving, that was the joy of the entire thing - the freedom to go where I liked and explore - pure driving for pleasure. I haven't been to Wales for about 10 years and I shan't be leaving it that long before I go again. The trip was exactly what I needed. Here's a summary of the 3 days for you:

Highlights
  • Cardiff.
  • Perfect sandy beaches
  • Some great scenery.
  • Friendly people.
  • Beer.
  • A bit of geocaching.

Low-lights
  • Swansea

It doesn't take long to get to Wales from my part of the world - I'm just over two hours from Cardiff. In all honesty, I'm now starting to wonder why I've haven't done this more often before. I explored some stuff on the south coast, but I shall be back for more. A rough summary of my route would be:

Home -> Cardiff -> Swansea -> Tenby -> The Gower -> Cardiff -> Home

You'll probably be asking why I went to Cardiff twice. Well, as it's on the M4 and you go straight past it it'd be churlish not to do explore some on the way into Wales and back. The first time I visited as an irritating tourist, the second time I visited as someone needing a bit of shopping therapy - different purposes, y'see.

Things of note, just in case you pay a visit:

1) Cardiff Castle is almost unreal. It's a weird place that demonstrates what people can do when they've got far too much money. Each room is amazingly decorated, originally crafted by tradesmen who spent between five and seven years on each room. It's mad, but interesting. In the modern world, this sort of thing would never be created.

2) Swansea is ugly. I'm sure there are Welsh people out there now, screaming abuse at their screens for the very fact I've suggested such a thing, but as a visitor it did nothing for me. It's full of awful concrete accidents, similar to Drake's Circus/Charles Cross in Plymouth, (pre-demolition). It's grey and nasty and creates the ideal environment to get mugged, although please feel free to correct me with examples if you think I've got it all wrong. An unwelcoming place, I spent less than an hour there and felt no inclination to stay longer.

3) The Gower (south of Swansea) and Tenby (south-west coast) have both got their charm. I liken areas of The Gower to being similar to Dartmoor (ponies, sheep, wilderness and gorse), but without the rocky tors. It deserves its status as an area of natural beauty. As for Tenby, well it's a beach-town, but the pleasant part is that it's got lovely golden sand, a nice town-centre (kiss-me-quick hats are in fairly short supply here) and some photogenic old buildings such as a nice little castle, a nearby private island and some pleasant gardens. It's only about an hour from Swansea and worth the drive.

Accommodation was courtesy of a few nice B&Bs I found along the way.

So all in all, I had a good time. I had a pint or two of Brains beer, ate ice cream and left the real-world behind. Oh - and as the title suggests, I bought a Wii during my retail therapy - but I'll write about that later.

Pictures will be added when time permits.
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del.icio.us links - 22/9/07

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Daffs / Leeks

After tomorrow's random linkage entry, I'll be taking a couple days off from posting as I'll be disappearing up to Wales for a couple of days. I've got some time off work and aim to use it productively by visiting Welsh seaside towns, having a look at the odd castle or two - and generally acting like an annoying English tourist. It'll be a very welcome break.

Normality will resume near the end of the week.
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Your Brain Is 140

I don't know if you've ever seen the film Idiocracy. It's not the best film you'll ever see, but is amusing in places. It suggests that the world's populace are generally getting stupider. I think it's probably got a point.

From coffee cups and taps having blatantly obvious warnings of containing hot liquids to lifts that have signs saying we mustn't stick our limbs between the closing doors, it's happening. Companies are generally sacred of lawyers, who sue on behalf of idiots saying they "didn't know (x) was dangerous".

Our jobs are becoming no different.

Most companies would like to de-skill us so that we use our brains less. It makes sense - you're so much more replaceable then. It's where the phrase McJob came from. My job is no different - not quite a McJob, admittedly, but it's on its way. I manage a group of people who do a very boring and menial job indeed. Even managing them is fairly unstimulating stuff. That's not a reflection on those people in my group - they're a nice bunch. It's merely indicates the production-line nature of the work - Dullsville, Arizona.

The screams of dying brain-cells can become quite deafening at times. I encourage my staff to seek external ways to stem the loss. It's just one way of slowing down the rot. It's also half the reason why I try to write a daily blog entry - I have to think, just for a few minutes at least.

I am convinced that the job slowly kills the brain - and would like to prove it with evidence. I thought about measuring this loss in a scientific experiment, perhaps by gauging I.Q. at the start of an employee's term with the company, followed by monitoring it every year thereafter. Perhaps using a simple tool such as Nintendo's Brain Age would be a good indicator of mental agility? A brain age test would only take a few minutes, which is about right, because unfortunately I don't have the luxury of being able to do several hour-long examination papers.

Of course, this is dependent on me still being there in a year's time to measure it, but it could be quite interesting.
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del.icio.us links - 19/9/07

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Ger'orf moy carrrr....

A typical Dartmoor scene....

- Lumps of rock - check.
- Sheep and horses - check.
- Gorse - check.
- German film crew that creep up on you whilst out for the day - check.



It's not often a film-crew move in whilst you've been away for the day. I had to politely ask them to move so I could escape the car park. (The guys on the right are the ones leaning against my car)
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Too long, too gay, too annoying.

I went and saw my dad tonight. Everyone was watching the last of the Lord of the Rings movies on the telly. As I watched with them, three things crossed my mind.

  1. This film is about half an hour too long. That crap at the end wasn't necessary. It's over-sentimental shite.
  2. There's some homoerotic thing going on between Frodo and Sam - kisses on the forehead, synchronised laughs, lingering hugs and romantic fantasising of life together back in The Shire. All that stuff that Sam says about Rosie is nothing but an elaborate facade.
  3. Stop doing the lingering two-second shots on the ring, for God's sake - we know what it is, now just toss it into the lava and be done with.

I'm sure I didn't imagine the homoeroticism - I don't remember that the first time I saw the film, or indeed when I read the book. Looking at it now, I don't know how I missed it. I remember point one though, my arse went numb in the cinema. It's interesting what you see when you watch a film second-time around.
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del.icio.us links - 16/9/07

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Beware



See that cold, menacing stare?

He knows where you live.
He knows what you eat.
He watches you when you sleep.
He'll always be within visual range of you on the moor, following everything you do.

Scoff at Psycho Sheep. Oh yes, scoff you may - but you won't be scoffing when you find two lamb-chop shaped pieces of flesh removed from you when you wake up one morning. It'll be a bigger nightmare than that kidney-removal story.

Consider yourself warned.
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Top-Notch Dough

Today I bought some bread rolls, such is the exciting life I lead. They were Kingsmill "barbecue" rolls. I wasn't having a barbecue or anything, but they were just a bit larger than usual and I needed some man-size rolls. Us men have healthy appetites, you know.

On the packaging, it said they were "Limited Edition".

What the fuck? So, does this mean that I shouldn't eat them, write down each roll's serial number and keep them in an attractive faux-veneer presentation case, Wanklin Mint style?

Note: My spell-checker insisted I use bareback instead of barbecue. That makes for an interesting read.
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del.icio.us links - 13/9/07

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Moor Stuff

When I started letterboxing about five weeks ago, I set myself the challenge of getting 100 stamps before the good weather runs out and winter arrives. This would allow me to become a member of the Dartmoor 100 Club - allowing me to attach a big chufty badge to my rucsac. Silly, I know, but I'm enjoying it.

Well, over the last couple days I've not done too badly - I'm up to 65. Today I had a very productive day around Yar Tor and found 15 in the space of just a few hours. The view from the top is pretty good too.

Word is that the Tor over the road (Corndon) is even better - there's a chance I could get to my goal of 100 by the end of next week.
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Disposable

I'm not as much of a music fan as I used to be... care to find out why? Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 10/9/07

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Wot no lipo?

During the last few weeks I've had quite a few people say that I've lost weight - enough to make me scrutinise my appearance. I can't figure out why they're saying it, though.

I know I've been doing a lot of walking and running alongside my regular training and have also been largely veggie for the last few months, but the scales don't lie. My weight hasn't really changed - so there. Everyone else is wrong and their eyes are defective. I'm not dressing any differently, I'm not sucking in my stomach when people pass by and I'm not getting liposuction done on the sly.

The only difference is that I've got some colour in my cheeks, having spent quite a bit of time in the sun recently - and having a tan doesn't make you appear thinner, surely?
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Run Fatboy, Run

Plot overview: Bloke leaves pregnant bride at the altar. Several years later, bloke wants to get back together with jilted bride. Attempts to run marathon to prove commitment. Hilarity ensues.

Who's in it?: Simon Pegg and Dylan Moran are worthy of mention. There's also a token appearance by Stephan Marchant and David Walliams.

Is it any good?: Well, it passes the Mark Kermode "five laugh" test, so it's amusing, but you won't be breaking ribs on it. Simon Pegg definitely has made a name for himself as a comedy actor. The plot, however, is totally formulaic and his jilted bride seems somewhat unlikely and is as wet as a diver's pants. Fans of bodily-fluid based gags will find a laugh or two in there. Simon Pegg really isn't a fat-boy, though - perhaps I should have starred in it.

Should I go and see it?: I wouldn't recommend that you sell your parents into slavery to watch it, but it's definitely a suitable accompaniment to ice-cream and popcorn.

Other reviews: Here, here and here.
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del.icio.us links - 7/9/07

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Chufty Badge

I feel I deserve one today, as I ran 5.25 miles in 1hr. I admit this is not a blistering pace, but it does mean I should be able to do 7 miles in under 1hr 20 - my target time. The event is about two months away, so I should have ample opportunity to improve.

It also proves that I can run for at least an hour - today was something of a personal best.

So here's my big chufty badge. *clicky* - At £6 for 5, I think it's worth it just to feel smug. I'm going to order some.
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Gems

Sometimes you realise that there's some great stuff in your area that's just a few miles from home. Lopwell Dam is just such a place. I didn't even know it existed. Well, until today, that is.

I only become aware of it's existence when I found out that there was a Geocache there. The dam is actually quite large and is recognised as an area of outstanding natural beauty. Expert I'm not, but I'd agree that it's definitely a great place to go. On the drive down, I saw approximately 50 pheasant, loads of squirrels playing in the trees and swans around the river. With such visually abundant wildlife, I was starting to expect Bambi to frolic around the corner.

When you go there, you'll need to plan your timing a bit. For me, allowance an hour for the visit was about right, but you may feel differently - it depends what you intend to do there. Timing is important because the dam is subject to the tides and you'll only be able cross the dam when the tide is low. If you don't leave sufficient time, you'll be stranded. However, this time of year is an ideal time to go. The kids are back at school after the summer holidays and the weather is pleasant. The sun is still out and the chilliness of autumn hasn't fully kicked in yet. Oh - and don't forget to take your camera.

Further details are here: *clicky* (Site appears to be a bit clunky at the time of writing)
Tide times are here: *clicky*
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del.icio.us links - 4/9/07

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8:10am

For reasons I cannot possibly comprehend, I keep on waking up at 8:10am.

I can go to bed at four in the morning - I'll wake up at 8:10am.
I can have an early night at ten, and still wake up at 8:10am.

Without fail, I look over at my clock - and that's what it'll say....

...except when I go to work at the weekend. Ironically, when I'm supposed to get up at 8:10am, I'll probably oversleep.

I can't figure this out at all. It's exceptionally annoying.
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Clean Break / 2008

Each day, when I drive to/from work, I have the combined total of nearly an hour's worth of thinking time. I use it a lot. Many of my blog entries are spawned from my thinking time. Today was no exception.

On the way home today, I pondered my current employment situation. I'll admit that I'm no career animal, but at the moment I'm in a relatively dead-end managerial position with little chance of further progression, working for a company that is about to head south. It's not really the best of situations. The squeeze has already started, with my shift likely to be canned in the near future. A plan is required.

The plan is to quit my job. Hardly rocket-science, I know, but I've done it before and no doubt I'll probably do it again in the future. I'm still alive and I've done just fine so far. I need a change. I feel stale and at risk of becoming one of those hardened, cynical and jaded people that everyone hates. We have them at every workplace. They're despondent, unhelpful ogres, who spend their time verbally abusing their employer - but they'll probably be the last people out of the door.

I'm not stupid, though. When people in my company become "surplus", they get payoffs to go. In short, I'll take redundancy if it's offered - and I have a very high degree of confidence in the fact that it will be offered in the coming months. It should provide me with about six months (or maybe more if I'm really careful) of financial buffer to cover finding something else.

Of course, the truth is that you can find a job tomorrow - if you really want to. You just need to turn up at an employment agency and get some temping work. It won't pay as well as Elton John's florist, but at least the money will be coming in - and it'll help that financial buffer last longer.

My suspicions are that this will kick off at the beginning of 2008 - a convenient point. I think I've just got my New Year's Resolution already.
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del.icio.us links - 1/9/07

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Sorry

Plymouth City Council get something right for once. It's a very sorry lift. It's rusty and smells of wee.

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Stumpy?

I'm surprised I've managed to do any updates on here at all, to be honest - I've not spent any time indoors.

On Saturday, I did my regular 3.5 mile run - as part of my Tavy 7 training.
On Monday we walked 5 miles around the Sheepstor area.
On Tuesday I walked 6 miles, doing some random geocaching.
On Wednesday I walked 4 miles with my partner, around Ingra and Leedon Tor.
Today, I walked 5.25 miles, doing a walk from Pork Hill to Kings Tor/Roos Tor and back.

I figure that's nearly 24 miles. A few more and I've done a marathon this week.

See? There's a reason I'm short - I've worn down my legs.
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del.icio.us links - 29/8/07

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August's Frugality Challenge Update

There's not much to add this time, apart from the fact that it was car-insurance renewal time. With seven years worth of no-claims bonus, I did an awful lot of searching to get cheaper cover and managed to save £30. I was also happy to change companies as I was previously covered by Tesco - someone who I no longer deal with. So - there you go. Apart from my savings when shopping, that's it for this month.

Total for August:
£29.76 (Car Insurance) + £23.60 (Shopping)
Total for 2007: £1158.15

I've now got a bit of a task on my hands. Over the next four months I've got to try and save £350. I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to do it, as most of my major expenditures for the year have now been done - but that's why it's called a challenge!
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Garmin eTrex GPS

Like being told where to go? This is for you... Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 26/8/07

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Geocaching

Treasure? Where? Read More...
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Batspex

With the war on crime won, Bruce Wayne diversifies into other industries...

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del.icio.us links - 23/8/07

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Box-tastic

As luck would have it, my Dartmoor Letterbox catalogue turned up this morning. This allowed me to do letterboxing and geocaching at the same time. The weather was great and made up for the crappy rain that we've had over the past few weeks. I caught the sun, turning my nose bright red. Honestly, my body won't know what to do with all this sunlight.

The extra clues, combined with the great weather allowed me to find 6 letterboxes and 4 caches. It's been a very productive day indeed. As you can track geocaching results online, here's mine. They'll appear at the bottom of the page when I can figure out how to do it.

Profile for mrdalliard
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Cheeky

Buying stuff online can be a bit of a lottery... Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 20/8/07

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Winner

For the first time in a very long time, I've won a prize - accommodation for two in a reasonable hotel (breakfast included). I've got a year to use it.

It's just a shame that the hotel in question is about 200 yards from my partner's place, although I guess it could be useful. Perhaps I have somewhere to take my mistress if I have an affair?

Oh well - at least I didn't win a lifetime supply of Marmite.
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The Bourne Ultimatum

I am probably not the best person to write a review of this film... Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 17/8/07

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Memories

Whilst the weather was good, I continued my quest on the moor to get 100 letterbox stamps. By the end of the day, I'd managed to get my total up to 20, which isn't bad going when you consider that I only started a few weeks back.

As I plodded my way across Staple Tor, I encountered another group of people that were also letter-boxing - and they just happened to be hiding a new set of their own. Speaking to them, they said that the new site was in honour of a friend who used to walk with them, and that they were marking her favourite places on the moors with letterboxes. They're unofficial boxes, unlikely to be listed anywhere. Only word-of-mouth (or luck) is likely to help you find them.

You can find out more about the person behind the memorial here. The box I discovered on Lower Staple Tor is called Rita's Rendezvous.

People put boxes on the moors for a whole pile of reasons. Kids put them out to make new friends, parents make special stamps to commemorate the naming of their children and in this case, past friends are remembered. I guess that's what makes the whole thing so interesting. This is real local history. Perhaps if my local studies teacher had got us letter-boxing and finding out about the places we visited, as opposed to drawing lots of crap pictures of Kit Hill, I would have taken a lot more in.
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Tweak

As you may have noticed, the site is going through a few minor changes:

  • The site is now guarded by a wobbly, clumsy ninja. (He's a YTS trainee - finances were tight.)
  • All galleries will be available under one button. There will be a swanky flash menu popping up shortly.
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del.icio.us links - 14/8/07

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Hell

What's yours? Read More...
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Clumsy Ninjas



Inspired by a discussion with a mate during training a few nights ago. Stipgenerator is jolly good fun.

Update: Then I found this: (*clicky*) - Seems as though I'm not the only clumsy ninja.
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del.icio.us links - 11/8/07

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Yaa-Boo To The Horde

I've just saved myself £9/month... Read More...
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2 Down, 98 To Go

Dartmoor letterboxing - is it just a form of obsessive train-spotting? I'm undecided, although I enjoyed it regardless. In the meantime, I'll let you make your own mind up... Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 8/8/07

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The Hot Seat

This is the result of a work discussion on "The Hot Seat".



Yes. I know. It's stupid. You don't need to be a mastermind to tell me that.
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Freaky Queries

Every so often, I'll have a look at the webstats for the site. I couldn't help but notice that over the last twelve months, hits to the site have quadrupled to over 8,000 for last month.

Possibly more interesting, though, are the search criteria that people use to get to the site. Here's the results for July:



Why you would want to Google for dead flies, car-crash clip-art or find out about reading whilst snowboarding is beyond me - anyone care to tell me why?
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del.icio.us links - 5/8/07

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Change

This evening, I went to a barbeque over a friend's house. It was all friendly and enjoyable stuff, but as is the usual with weekend social functions, I ended up having to leave early.

"Sorry guys - schoolday tomorrow", I'll say - just as things are starting to settle in nicely and everyone is enjoying themselves. Such is life when you work weekends.

However, after working my current shift-pattern for the last four and a half years, change is likely to be coming in the next few months. It will probably mean that I no longer have to work Sundays, allowing all sorts of Saturday night antics. The downside is that I'll probably have to work late evenings during every night of the week.

The consequence of this would be that I couldn't train - at all. Evening-classes would be a non-starter and one of the chances I get to see some of my mates down the pub would also be removed.

I'm often told that I sometimes work some strange and unsociable hours. Unfortunately, they may well get a whole lot more unsociable. I'll just have to wait and see.
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Italy Gallery

After my recent trip to Italy, here's a few pictures. Each image has a description, so things should be fairly self-explanatory.

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del.icio.us links - 2/8/07

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Sanyo XACTI CA65

Mr D upgrades his video camera - was it worth it? Read More...
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July's Frugality Challenge Update

This month was a simple one. I managed to save nearly sixty quid from my water bill, which was already pretty cheap because I don't pay sewerage charges - the benefit of having a septic tank. I asked South West Water about the installation of a water meter. The surveyor came out, looked at the house and cursed when he realised there was no chance a meter would fit, because my water comes from next door. As a consequence, he reduced my bill even further due to my single occupancy (just like council tax). That's a little bit more saved.

Total for July:
£58.38 + £22.91 (Shopping)
Total for 2007: £1104.79

I have five months left to save just under £400. Hmmmmm.
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del.icio.us links - 30/7/07

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The Simpsons Movie

Like a moth to a bright light I decided to join the masses and watch it. You can't talk about a film like this for pages, so here's the shortest summary you're likely to get.

Story: Springfield becomes so polluted that the American government decided to separate the town from the outside world. The film starts in a similar manner to the TV show and makes use of virtually every Springfield resident during it's run-time.

Length: About an hour and a half. It appears someone finally understands how long a film should be.

Funny?:
I reckon I was chuckling every 15 seconds or so. The jokes keep coming and most of the viewers in the cinema sounded happy.

Worth watching:
Definitely. A rare moment where a film with a huge build-up to release is actually worth watching.

Other review links: IMDB / FilmFour / Times-Online
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Back On Form (ish)

As you might have seen from a previous post, I've been having some problems in getting back to my previous running form. Today I decided to just go for it and see what would happen.

Goal: 6.4kms (4 Miles) - No stopping.

I'm glad to say that I managed it. My time sucked, but I didn't really care. The consoling part was that by multiplying the time up to the full 7 miles, I shouldn't come last (hopefully). Things appear to be back on track and I shall aim to go for 6.75km on my next run.

Footnote: I also did something that made the run far, far easier. I'm not going to tell you what it is, but rest assured it wasn't illegal or immoral. If you'd like to hazard a guess at what it is, add a comment. If anyone gets it right, naturally, I'll confess to everyone.
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del.icio.us links - 27/7/07

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Avian Indifference

As you might have seen by now, I've been trying to save a few quid over the course of the year. My reasons are many. The obvious one simply questions the point of spending money if you don't have to. Another reason was that I wanted to save enough money to buy my parrot a new cage. He's had his previous one since he was purchased seven years ago, so it seemed only reasonable to upgrade his accommodation.

So last week, I did just that and he now has a little parroty mansion (below).



The cage is a vast improvement over it's predecessor. It's a more regular shape. It's a bit more spacious. It's easier to clean. It's easier for him to clamber around on and also has little play-area on the top. It's parrot-heaven, parrot-tastic and other such superlatives - if you have a normal parrot, that is.

I was hoping that this improved environment would bring him out of his shell a little bit. Those who know my parrot would class him as the "grumpy old-man" of parrots. Whilst totally tame, he doesn't play, thank-you, nor does he have a complex dietary make-up or vocabulary. He makes fart-noises (god knows where he got that from), barks, eats seeds and green fruit. The change didn't bring him out of his shell at all.

So I bought him some new toys. After all, something new to interact with might help. Or it might not. He has ignored the lot. None of this new fangled rubbish is going to change the habits of a lifetime.

So there you go. I have a grumpy old man in parrot form. One new cage, lavish food and toys later and we still have the same bird that would probably have been happy with a cardboard box and enjoys throwing my mobile-phone on the floor when he can get near it.
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Blub

It's not quite Gloucestershire, but here's the closest we have to a flood. I guess that's the benefit of living in a hilly area.

The water is about a foot deep.



Pedants alert: Yes. I'm stationary. I didn't drive and take the photo.. etc.. etc..
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del.icio.us links - 24/7/07

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Can you tell what it is yet?

For the last week or so, I've been playing around with photo mosaics. No doubt you've seen them - the pictures that are a huge image of some sort, composed from thousands of little ones. They're quite interesting to build and look at - miles better than all those crappy magic eye pictures that everyone used to go on about. I just used to end up with aching eyes and could never see the dragon/kitchen sink/ninja or whatever that was supposed to be there.

There's loads of bits of software out there that can do the task of assembling a photo mosaic for you - if you're a Mac user, you might be interested in having a look at MacOsAix, which does a good job at using Google Images, Flickr or your own iPhoto collection.

Of course, you can be just plain lazy - and use this tool instead. It works really well.

In short, you upload an image to it, then the application trundles over flickr for you - and in about 5 minutes, you've got yourself a mosaic.

Here's a test image I tried out. You should recognise who it is...

Oz!

What I had generated was this (click on the image below to see the bigger version):



Good, eh? Go on, run along and play.
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Potato-Based Snack Scandal

First there was the scandal of Monster Munch being sold in bite-sized chunks - now I buy a bag of salt'n'vinegar flava Discos and discover the horrific truth that they've changed and are no longer tongue-shrivellingly savoury!

HAVE MERCY! IS NOTHING SACRED?
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del.icio.us links - 21/7/07

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Slog

After getting back from Italy, I've been trying to get back into my running routine - and it's proving harder than ever. At the moment, I'm struggling to complete the 5km run that I was managing to finish with reasonable ease not long before departing to Italy.

It seems as hard as running in lead trainers up a hill covered in treacle.

Of course, there will be those that say the copious guzzling of limoncello, red wine, ice-cream and pizza were what hindered me. I can't deny that the aforementioned items were consumed (your honour), but I would suggest that the lack of intensive cardiovascular activity is probably how the rot set in. My weight didn't change, so something else must have contributed.

In short, because I didn't run in Italy, my fitness has gone downhill. I did hear someone say that one week of inactivity can undermine the progress made during six weeks of activity. Whoever someone is, he's got a point...

I'm a little concerned by this. It means I've got to get back to my previous fitness level quickly before making further advancements - and the race is in four months. It's not time to panic yet.
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Glug

Yesterday was my birthday - W00T for me. I am now 35, an age which dictates that I should be listening to Radio 2, complaining about "yoofs" (and I would have good reason, because one of them vandalised my car) along with the effect that such activity is having on house prices in my local area.

Or maybe not.

I did get given a fair bit of wine, which was nice - but I've got a favourite tipple of the moment.... Happy
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del.icio.us links - 18/7/07

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Dalliard Simpson

Ok. I confess, I couldn't resist. Have a look over *here* and play with the avatar creator. I did - and the closest I could get to me was this - if you can excuse the stomach....



I'm easily amused.
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Filing & Clipping

In a similar style to Oz, my feathered friend, my partner has decided that she would also like to have a pet bird. As she lives in an apartment block, we've had to do a lot research to find the ideal variety. She wanted something that was extremely colourful with a good personality, but nothing that was noisy.

This pretty much rules out lovebirds, cockatiels, sun conures and many larger parrots - a macaw, apart from the obvious financial implications would have the neighbours complaining in no time.

During the course of our research, we stumbled upon many different varieties of parrot, which naturally leads on to investigating the recommendations for their care/diet/etc. I can't believe so many people advocate the filing down of a parrots beak, or the clipping of their wings. It's just plain wrong.

Parrots fly and nibble things. That's how you know it's a bird. It's part of their personality. To stop a bird from flying through wing-clipping is like removing three toes from each foot to stop a human from running. Just the mere discussion/suggestion of the subject is enough to get my blood-pressure rising.

And don't even get me started on filing beaks. Give your bird a good diet and something to chew on and this won't be an issue.

I've read all sorts of rationale for these activities:

1) Behavioural - Wing-clipping eases training and reduces aggression. Maybe this is true, but in effect you've broken the birds spirit to get it to do what you want. Hardly positive enforcement, is it?

2) Safety - Stops them from flying away or into things that are dangerous. The reverse of this is also true. If the bird can only fly down, it can't fly away to escape a predator or escape something else that's dangerous. It also suggests that the location of the bird's cage is not entirely in the safest of places.

It seems that people can justify mutilating their animal for conveniences sake. Grrr.

Anyway, my better-half has now purchased a peach-fronted conure (sometimes called a petz conure) - there's a picture of the little chap below. I've never known a bird so cheeky and relaxed, even during the car journey on the way home. She's undecided on his name as yet. I'm sure something will come to mind. Oh, and the ruffled feathers are from him being damp after a shower.

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del.icio.us links - 15/7/07

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Boycott List

Since I've been doing all this money-saving-by-ethical-means malarky, it means I have been asked questions by friends about which companies I won't give money to, along with my reasons why.

To save long explanations, here's a list. It is not definitive and will be updated as I remember. Wherever possible I'll get more than one source, so you get an overall picture.

Consumer ethics is a minefield. My ethics are no doubt different to yours. It's an extremely personal affair. Nonetheless, I have always tried to do the "right thing". It is one of the true areas where consumer democracy works, an example being our local franchise of McDonalds closing down due to being permanently without customers - evidence of what happens when you ignore the local community. It does work, just not overnight.

Anyway, here you go:

- Nestlé - For a full list of Nestlé's brands (and there's a huge amount of them), click here.
- Shell
- Esso
- Diageo - For a full list of all Diageo's brands, click here.
- KFC
- McDonald's (1,2)
- Asda
- Tesco (1,2)
- Levi's
- Nike
- Starbucks

These are just a few and I would welcome your comments on any companies that you boycott, along with reasons why. In the meantime, if you're in any doubt on the ethical credentials of any company, you could do worse than buy a copy of the Good Shopping Guide as a reference point.
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18 Again

Conversation overheard in the middle of a newsagents....

Kid : Hey Dad, look (points at magazine) - It's Doctor Who
Dad : Ah yes. So it is.
Kid : Is it true that he's really 900 years old?
Dad : Yup.
Kid : Nine-hundred years?
Dad : Yeah, just like me...
Kid : NO YOU'RE NOT! YOU'RE FIFTY!
Dad : I think it's time to go...

Kids suck at discretion.
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del.icio.us links - 12/7/07

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Boom

As promised, here's my first video snippet taken from my trip to Italy. The video is of a ju-jitsu technical demonstration and these guys are good, even if at times the noises are a little bit over-egged. Enjoy.



Footnote:
This is also my 400th entry. W00T for me.
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June's Frugality Challenge Update

Two-thirds of the way towards my target! Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 9/7/07

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Chilled

I got back from Italy in the small hours of this morning. The holiday was great stuff and was just what the doctor ordered. I did exactly what I said I'd do before I left - train, drink and lounge. I'd also go as far as to say it's the most relaxing and fun holiday I've had in about fifteen years.

It was memorable for so many reasons. Apart from the fun and alcohol, I also had the honour of being the uke for the club's first black-belt grading. The grading went well, with the tori impressing the panel and getting his belt. Congratulations - you know who you are, history-maker. Happy

Consequently, there was much celebrating to be done - we were plied with drinks at a beach party that was laid on by the ju-jitsu foundation. It was a wonderful way to end the week.

I think I've consumed more alcohol during the past week than I have in the past year.

With all that went on, the one memory that will stay is of the beach. Listening to the waves crash against the moonlit shore (below) in the small hours of the morning was something special. Combine this with friends and a great atmosphere and it would be sufficient to say I had a very enjoyable time.



This is the first of many pictures - I'll be posting a little gallery of the best bits around Wednesday/Thursday.
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Emergency Stop

Well, you won't be seeing any updates on here for just over a week. This is because I'm taking some time off and going to Italy for a while to train, lounge on a beach, drink beer, curl up with a good book and listen to music, thus providing a much needed break from the world.

I'll be posting again on Sunday 8th July.
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del.icio.us links - 26/6/07

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Solar Expansion

Believe it or not, I've now had my solar-system in place and working for four months. The whole thing has been a painless affair, generally allowing me to power a couple of items from the system - usually my front-room lighting and audio-system, along with some smaller devices such as my mobile-phone charger.

During this time the system has performed well and has never been totally depleted. As I sit and type here now, my living-room is being illuminated by solar-power. That's not to say the system is perfect. I think it needs upgrading to get around some of the issues I could encounter during the winter months (such as reduced daylight hours). So, here's some changes I'm thinking of implementing:

1) Panel location - I don't need more panels to be more effective. With some careful positioning, I might be able to extend the amount of hours that I can collect sunlight for.

2) Storage - This is probably the most likely upgrade. To get this whole project going, I bought a cheap 85amp/hour battery. On most sunny days, though, it's charged by about 2pm - meaning that I could be harnessing more energy. I'm looking to double my storage capacity.

A recent conversation with a friend brought up a new idea for cheap energy storage - the batteries from motorised wheelchairs or mobility scooters. These batteries usually have a good capacity and are very used to being charge-cycled (i.e. constantly discharged/recharged). Looking around in the right place might reveal a cheap deal.

3) Inverter / Wiring - At the moment, I'm running things off one specially installed double-socket in my front-room, but the system has potential to be expanded all over the house. For example, what if all my lighting ran from it? Funnily enough, I already have a separate mains-box (currently unused) in my electricity cupboard - it wouldn't take much to make such a modification (i.e. re-routing from the lighting circuit from the old box to the new box)

I'm also considering changing my inverter to a slightly more expensive version that gives cleaner power, so that more electronically sensitive equipment can run from it without issue.

Changing over some of my energy needs to solar along with generally being more energy efficient has definitely paid benefits. I now use less than £5/week of electricity, which isn't bad considering the continual recent price-hikes. I was doing the same when I first moved out of home over 15 years ago.

I'll keep you posted on the modifications and how it all fares during the winter months.
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Squirm

In the last couple of years my life has changed quite a bit. Whereas I previously just had a parrot and a large CD collection, I've now got a bit more to think about - especially as I now have a mortgage. So, to save a lot of people a lot of hassle, I've finally started to make a will.

It's a strange affair, this death malarky.

To write a will involves looking at everything in (and including) your house in such a clinical way. When you die, all that you leave behind is just stuff. There's the stuff that people might want, the stuff you think you should give and the stuff that you should sort out for people. It all gets very complicated. It's a lot of stuff to think about.

I wish it weren't so complicated. I've even had to consider that there could be different ways in how I could die, which will effect those inheriting my "estate" in differing ways. For example, if I die at work, there's things to be done (I have a "death in service" policy), along with being covered for outside-work eventualities. This means there are differing permutations of what needs to done. I'm actually having to think of all the ways that I could cash in my chips.

Then there's the matter of your possessions.

A while back, I had a discussion with my Dad about his will. At the time, he started the conversation by telling me that he'd made one, but if there was anything I particularly liked in his house I should say, so that it could be written in. At the time, I squirmed, because it's not a nice thing to think about. I'd like my father to be around for a long time yet, although he was asking a sensible question. There's no doubt that I'll ask the same of some people too. And they'll probably squirm as well.

True, it is an awkward question to ask, but it saves an awful lot of hassle later - although the Egyptians probably had a smart idea when they buried their dead with all their possessions, as long as you forget the killing of slaves bit.
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del.icio.us links - 23/6/07

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Splink (2)

After my little rant about road-safety a while back, somebody proved my theory on the lack of pedestrian road-sense during my journey home from work this evening. They were hit by a car.

Before we get all judgemental on the driver, hold off for a moment whilst I tell you that the incident in question happened at about 11pm (pub chucking-out time) on Mutley Plain (one of the places in Plymouth with the highest concentrations of pubs).

Still not convinced? So what if he decided at the very last second to run across the road in front of the vehicle in question? There was literally nothing the driver could do.

You might have guessed that I wasn't the driver he collided with but I saw quite enough, thank-you. It happened just two cars in front and the casualty landed just a few metres in front of me. The guy literally belted across the road without looking, his legs flew through the air and a second later was on his back on the tarmac. I doubt it's the most fun Friday night he's had. I offered assistance to the driver/injured, but everything was in hand. The best thing I could do was get out of the way.

With the ambulance call made almost instantly, nearby pub-bouncers directed traffic. I felt more sorry for the young woman who was driving the vehicle - she looked totally distraught. Such an event will undoubtedly stick in her mind and will make her question herself, even though it wasn't her fault in the slightest. Not every accident is preventable by car-drivers. The fact of the matter was that this was another idiot who didn't think.

This is the second instance of a negligent pedestrian causing an accident that I've been close to in the last three months. For all the cracking down on car-drivers we do, we really need to continue educating pedestrians, even if they are less financially lucrative for local authorities.
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Cow & Chicken

Over the last six weeks, I've lost seven pounds (nearly four kilos), which naturally I'm quite pleased about.

Is it my continued running, or pursuance of a more meat-free diet? Perhaps aliens are sucking stomach fat out of me whilst I sleep? Who knows?

P.S. If it's the aliens, then here's a little message for you - take all you like. Supplies are still plentiful.
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del.icio.us links - 20/6/07

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Squeek (2)

Q) Just as I'm leaving home this evening, what do I see?

A) The same cheeky rodent that ran across my kitchen last night. (Camera phone picture below - not the best of quality)



However, he's now outside the house - which is a Good Thing. Hopefully, he'll stay there. I don't actually mind rats/mice that much, just as long as they don't eat my food or burn down my house when they bite electrical cables.

Should I have asked him to say "cheese"?
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Squeek

I think I've got a mouse in my kitchen. I think it was a mouse, anyway, because I saw this dark furry thing with a tail run across my kitchen floor a few minutes ago and it didn't look like a squirrel or dog. Then again, it wasn't eating a lump of cheese with holes in it, which was a shame, because that would have been a very positive identification.

One can never be sure. Mother nature really is very cunning.

Anyone got any good tips on how to catch errant rodents? I've been watching Tom and Jerry for some tips. Should I buy some cheese with holes in it, some iron filings and an ACME brand giant electromagnet?
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del.icio.us links - 17/6/07

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Slaps

Tomorrow, it's Father's Day. You probably already know this because most greeting card shops are constantly reminding you. It's strange though - the person you're buying the card for is a bloke, 50% of those people who buy cards are probably male too, so why is it so hard to buy a good bloke-ish greetings card?

To verify my point, you'll probably have noticed that most greetings cards seem to fall into the following categories:

i) "Happy Fathers Day, dearest Daddykins" - The card usually is covered with faux-cuddly bears, kittens or puppies. Any normal man would vomit on receiving this and only doesn't do so out of kindness to your feelings.

ii) "Happy Fathers Day, bald/stupid/lazy person" - These cards seems to insult you more than say thank-you, in the name of "humour".

iii) "Happy Fathers Day, golf/football/big car lover" - Unfortunately, there just aren't enough categories to pigeon-hole everyone sufficiently.

iv) The same cards you see at the rest of the year, re-badged with "Happy Fathers Day" at the top - These fundamentally lack any imagination whatsoever.

No. What we need is a company that can make blokes cards, from blokes, as this entire category seems to have been overlooked.

How about:

- "Happy Fathers Day, mate - want a pint?"
- Or "Many laddish back-slaps of the day"?

I think I might have discovered a new business idea...
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Tales Of The Unexpected

Today, my washing machine was finally repaired - and as luck would have it, Chuffing Billy didn't come to do the job - somebody else did. He was a pleasant chap who repaired everything quickly, did a good job and thankfully didn't have an alternative hygiene issue such as nasty body-odour or chronic dandruff, which was nice.

However, today was a day of strange coincidence....

(If you'd like some creepy music to accompany this story, click here....)

A couple of work colleagues were busy being code-monkeys, writing an application in Excel. What these guys can't do in Visual Whatsit isn't worth knowing. We got into discussion about how real programmers don't write documentation and about how debugging was notoriously boring, because you had to set up traces in the program to monitor every single instruction - it's a very laborious and dull task, reminding me of my days when I used to do software development work. The debugging was necessary because their program kept going around in circles, needing intervention to kill it off - not exactly the desired effect.

One of the two chipped in by saying that her partner is a PHP developer who experiences this same level of boredom and frustration in his job. When I asked which software houses he'd worked for, one of the names mentioned happened to be the same place that my best friend of old used to work at. If you've looked at my scrapbook page, you'll see him - he's the guy with the elastic bands on his face.

It turns out that my colleagues partner has been mates with the guy for nearly 15 years and they're still in contact. I also used to see this co-worker on an almost daily basis because she worked at the newsagent opposite the college I used to go to. More often than not, I'd buy lunch from there. This explains why she said my face rang a bell (not like Quasimodo) just after she joined the company some four years ago. Basically, we knew each other, but there was a ten year gap between sightings. I also found out that Mr Elastic-Band is now married, doing very well for himself and living in Bristol.

At the same time as I lost contact with him, he started to make some rather unsavoury friends. I remember meeting up with him once before going to an Orb concert (appropriately). The house we met at seemed not too dissimilar from some scenes in Trainspotting - just without the baby.

She went on to tell me that one of the guys that was in that house died three years ago from a heroin overdose. I wasn't that surprised, but I guess that's the twist bit.

Nonetheless, it's amusing how our paths had crossed for so many years and I was totally oblivious to it - going to show that sometimes you don't recognise people when they're in a different environment.

The bug in the spreadsheet wasn't found.
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del.icio.us links - 14/6/07

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Summer Of Discontent?

I work for a company that is heavily unionised. I'm no ultra-leftie, but being in a union has it's benefits, because they keep employers in check - sometimes, however, unions push their luck too far - and my current situation is a really good example of when a union has obviously lost touch with reality.

We have a ritual that kicks off at the beginning of each new financial year. It's a painfully slow affair, but in the end they usually sort things out and it goes like this:

i) Union asks employer for a big pay-rise.
ii) Employer declines and offers a tiny pay-rise.
iii) Both parties talk and compromise on a small pay-rise.

Unfortunately, this time the union has asked for a stupidly high pay-rise. The business, in return, has said that they can only have a pay-rise which in effect amounts to a pay-cut. Both parties have polarised and consequently, there's no common ground to reach a final deal.

This is where the shouting begins. Each day, I go into work and two propaganda machines spew out stuff, telling us which story we should believe. As usual, the truth probably lies somewhere between the two - just like kids having a playground scrap, there are cries of,"but he started it!". It's just a shame that it hasn't stayed as a playground scrap, because the union has decided to press ahead with the threat of industrial action. Whilst they haven't actually done it yet, they probably will go ahead and do it as their 28 days-from-ballot expiry period comes to an end. Why waste an opportunity to let them know who's really the boss?

This will result in my work environment becoming very unpleasant.

Having to cross a picket-line to get to work hardly fills me with joy, nor does the fact that I may be called on to police it. To me, all this union stuff seems totally reminiscent of the 1970's/1980's and the miners - and it didn't do them any good. We're supposed to have moved on and learnt from this, aren't we?

Evidently not.

I can see why the union is spoiling for a fight, though. It's a very big union. If the business gets it's way, it might not be such a big union - and they probably can't afford to lose such a huge amount of subs from paying members.

Perhaps the argument is about money after all, just not the sort of money it would have you believe. It's just a shame that people have to get caught up in this sort of stuff, because it's going to put pressure on our job security and make it a summer to remember.
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Give It Up

On July 1st, England starts a ban of smoking in enclosed public places. I'm thoroughly looking forward to it and welcome our smoke-free overlords with open arms. It's a long-awaited vote for common sense. It might even result in me being more sociable, as one of the reasons I don't go pubbing much is the smell. It's not a pleasant thing after a night out, aside from the passive-drinking, of course...

In the meantime, lots of people are giving up. This is a Good Thing(tm).

You're probably wondering what triggered off these thoughts. The answer to that question lies in the box that I was rummaging through a few weeks back. In there, amongst the photographs, I found this:



This probably looks like the writings of a five-year old. It's actually one of the last things my mother wrote before she died at the age of 50. Unknown to us at the time, she had a secondary cancer just below the chest-cavity of her lung, causing her capacity to disappear randomly and instantaneously, akin to suffocation. As a smoker, it didn't help her condition - in fact it probably caused it. At the time she wrote this she was in intensive care, breathing through a tracheostomy. Communication was via the art of mime, along with pen and paper - hence the scribbling.

It says, "This certainly helps u stop smoking".

I look on this as a somewhat late moment of realisation.

When I was a teenager with something to prove, I used to hide her cigarettes. Many a time I've wondered whether this was the right thing to do. Inevitably, it just pissed her off and despite my pleading, she wouldn't stop. On the flip side, she was quite disabled and I didn't totally begrudge her the activity. She was largely confined to the house and didn't have much in the way of other pleasures in life - you can empathise to some degree.

You could be asking what the point of my writing is - indeed, I'm wondering it myself. Maybe it's that there are a lot of adverts on the T.V. that seem to try harder and harder into shocking the smoking public into submission, whether that's by showing bottles of tar, fat, or pictures of people in their dying days - but most switch off at the sight of them. I guess that by telling you this story I'm giving you something personal. Believe me, fifty is not a good age to go - it's only about five on top of the average life expectancy during the middle-ages. There are also nicer ways to go, too - suffocation is hardly peaceful.

Believe it or not, she wasn't a comparatively huge smoker - 15 per day isn't a huge amount when you consider that there are many who will go through 60 - 100 per day, but I guess it's all about risk and statistics. You just don't know how the odds will add up.

I hope that July 1st will mark the demise of a pointless, archaic habit - and a marked increase in life expectancy for the average Brit.
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del.icio.us links - 11/6/07

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Rubberwhere/Rubbertear

When a company states that they've designed an object to withstand the wear and tear of life, they should be careful what they're saying. I once purchase one of these:

Corsair 1GB USB Memory Stick

But now, it looks like this:

Memory Stick
A memory stick, in the most literal sense of the phrase.

It got that way in 3 simple steps:

1) Rubber cap came loose and eventually got lost.
2) The rubber ring that attaches the device to a key-ring/lanyard wasn't thick enough and got ripped.
3) The sealant that kept that USB port and chip inside it's rubber housing came unstuck, resulting in the device working loose.

Perhaps I should be a product tester for anything that claims "durability". Funnily enough, it still works - as long I don't put it near anything dusty, wet, humid, hot, with an electrical charge or with a beak.
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June's Progress Report

You might remember me saying that I was going to enter the Tavy-7 this year. Well, here's a little progress update:

1) The training is going quite well. Last Saturday (2nd June), I managed to get my first 5k time under 33 minutes, at 32m55s. I've continued to do about 2 or 3 sessions a week and whilst I still feel knackered at the end, I think it's getting a little bit easier.

2) Considering that my first 5k time was 34m36s, I was quite pleased when today I managed to improve further and get a time of 32m31s. It's my best so far.

3) Having now shaved two minutes off my original starting time, I've upped my distance by another 250 metres. I'll aim to up it by 250 metres per week from now on, meaning I should be at 6k sometime next month. For the meantime, any distance over 5k is going to be taken at a slightly more pedestrian pace until I can get used to it, but nonetheless it's all encouraging. I'll keep upping the distance until eventually I get to the magic 11k, which is about the 7 miles I'll be running when the real thing happens in November.

4) In a couple of weeks time I'll be running 5.5k - half the distance required. This should be a vague indicator as to how long it'll take me to run the distance.

It's a strange thing to get used to, but quite rewarding. It's stranger still that I use the words rewarding and running in the same breath.
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del.icio.us links - 8/6/07

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W.W.I.A.F.T.M (2)

Honestly, you never see any - then all of a sudden you see a pile of 'em. Perhaps they're planning to invade earth?

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Nasty Niffs

After just ten months, my washing-machine has broken down. I was initially concerned, as the electrical retailer who sold me the thing no longer exists, but after a shedload of phone-calls and waiting for a week (praise be for the service-wash), an engineer arrived.

After a bit of manhandling, combined with some poking, prodding, tutting and sucking in air over his teeth, the engineer declared that things were not right. The machine needed some new parts, which he would install after another ten days. Again, hurrah for local launderettes.

Whilst he had been working away there was a strange smell, almost like something had gone off. As the machine hadn't been used for a week and stale water accumulated in the machine's outlet-pipe, I put the odour down to that.

Well, at least until he had left, anyway. The kitchen absolutely stank.

It transpired that my friendly repair-man had probably the worst case of flatulence known to man. I couldn't enter the kitchen. Instead, I opened some windows for a significant amount of time before re-entering. It was nothing short of foul and lingered for the best part of an hour.

I just hope it's not the same engineer that comes back next week, otherwise I shall be getting out the clothes pegs and air-fresheners..
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del.icio.us links - 5/6/07

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Zodiac

"There's more than one way to lose your life to a killer" - Very aptly demonstrated by this film... Read More...
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Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man

When I first saw this on Family Guy, I thought it was just a joke, until I saw a real one today.....

(Quicktime 7+ needed - it's a 3gp movie file)



I've obviously led such a sheltered life.
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del.icio.us links - 2/6/07

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Scrapbook V1.00

As promised, you can start to see a bit of my family history. I haven't spell checked it yet and it needs a tweak or two, but you can see the first version of my online scrapbook....

Here. (Oh, and on the button at the top of the page)
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May's Frugality Challenge Update

Savings continue to be made:

1) Mobile phone - changed company, changed to a more flexible tariff - and I also get free weekend calls. Saving for the year: £35

2) Shopping - Saving for this month: £15.43

Other savings are still in the pipeline, but they just seem to be taking ages to come through. At least I'm continuing to make progress...

Total for May: £50.43
Total for 2007: £760.22
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del.icio.us links - 30/5/07

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Purge

Every so often, I go on a purge. I pick a room, get ruthless and throw a lot of stuff out in the name of minimalism. I don't like clutter and after having grandparents who were descendants of magpies, I make a point of doing this every couple of months. This reassures me that it's not in the genes and I generally fill a few bin-bags with rubbish and stuff that's never going to be touched again - it's good for the soul. If I ever use the phrase,"That'll be useful sometime", that's the indicator that it won't and should go in the bag.

Today's area to be attacked was the loft. In there is a large crate filled with photographs. It weighs a bloody ton and was once affectionately referred to as the "travel box", containing a whole pile of crap that myself and my ex-wife picked up from our trips - photos, coins, flyers, newspapers - you name it, it's probably in there. Or, should I say, was.

When we used to travel a lot, we were (understandably) very trigger happy with the camera, thus generating a lot of pictures. It's just a shame they're all fucking awful pictures. Honestly, we couldn't take a decent picture to save our lives. Most are wonky. The remainder have appalling lighting, bad aim (I lost count at the amount of shots of a pavement or stomach), or were just plain shit. If the spirit of Mr Polaroid became aware of such abominations, he'd probably be turning in his grave like a doner kebab.

Nonetheless, whilst I filled a bag with a whole pile of photo-nasties, there were also some absolute gems that were so good that they really shouldn't be living in a box. It just doesn't seem right to only bring them out once every couple of years. They need some digital immortality.

Over the next couple of days, I shall grab my partner's scanner and give some of these photos a bit of a face lift, ready for a nostalgia-flavoured online photo-library, which I expect to have published by the end of the week. If you love bad hairstyles, mullets, moustaches and a bit of family history, you'll love it.

P.S. Knocked another 22 seconds off my 5k time - Now 33:20. Happy
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Flesh vs Metal

Remember public-information adverts? The 70's were full of crap things, but the public-information film was one of the few good things to come out of the decade, even if just for the entertainment value. Remember the immortal words of that kid trying to get his frisbee, screaming,"JIMMY!" Well, here's another classic....



...and we really, really need them back. Soon. Common sense would appear to need constant reinforcement.

As a driver, I seem to be encountering a new attitude amongst pedestrians. When crossing the road (contrary to Mr Pertwee's good advice), instead you should do either of the following:

1) Totally ignore the vehicle whatsoever. I mean, it doesn't matter, does it? After all, if the driver runs you over (even though it was your own stupid fault), you can always sue them, can't you?

2) Scowl. Don't forget, a really big glowering scowl will make the driver shrivel in his seat - and then he's bound not to run you over. Coz you're 'ard.

It amazes me that a frail 80kg bag of skin and bones wants to argue with a 1 ton lump of metal travelling at speed, but maybe I'm just not with it. In the past two days, I've nearly hit a drunken 20 something who tried the scowl technique and today, ironically, I nearly hit a mother who had two kids with her. The kids saw me - and stupidly enough, she encouraged them to walk out in front of me - at the entrance to a building site and on the corner of a junction. In both cases I've been the observant one who avoided an incident, luckily travelling at less than 10mph in both cases.

I wonder what the figures are for pedestrian traffic accidents over the last few years? I wonder if they've increased, like drink-driving?
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del.icio.us links - 27/5/07

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Chunks

Mainly out of choice, I've now not eaten meat for over a week.

I'm not sure as to whether I should be pleased about this, or whether Hambo should be called to pelt me with dead pigs. It's all very confusing.

On an unrelated note, I've knocked down my 5k time to 33:42.
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Flossin' Your Grip Of Cheddar

Sometimes I download video podcasts. They're usually free, but as a consequence there's some sort of advertising beforehand. I keep seeing this one and it's almost viral, I kid you not.



After seeing it a few times, it's amazing how it can stick in your head. All I could think was, "What the hell does stacks of heads, chisland in the heazy mean?". I sought answers - enter my good friend, the trusty Slang Dictionary. Now fully enlightened, I can provide you with a translation:

"Homie was flossin' his grip of cheddar" - This gentleman appears to be affluent chap, expressing his wealth by showing a not too inconsiderable sum of hard currency.

"There were stacks of heads, chizzlin' in the heezie" - There were many people, enjoying a pleasant state of relaxation in the house.

"His whip is a janky hooptie" - This young gentleman's car is a vehicle of considerable age and mileage.

So there you go. Dalliard.net cleans another mystery up for the confused masses (i.e. me). I am now fully with it, down with the kids and da bomb, with a little bit of federal thrown in for good measure. Word.
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del.icio.us links - 24/5/07

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Running Mates

A while back when I started running, I started to look through my music collection to dig out tracks that actually helped you run. Here's the result of the first sweep of my music library. I've got 3,000+ tracks, so this will undoubtedly change a fair bit over time.

The thing you have to bear in mind here is that these are not the best tracks of all time, they merely keep you going (no, smart-arse - they don't move your legs for you). The tracks have a bit of energy and/or something with a tempo or identifiable beat that you can match your pace to. So, for example E.L.O.'s Mr Blue Sky has that amazing orchestral back-beat. It works a treat, believe me. Running is pretty boring stuff, so the right music makes all the difference.

Anyway, here's a copy of the playlist widget below - I'll also be keeping it in my "Music?" tab at the top, so you open it as and when you feel like it. There's also a nifty little icon on the bottom right that lets you expand the widget into it's own window. You can also click on each track for a 30-second preview.

Somethings working, anyway - I knocked ~40 seconds off my previous 5k time. (Best to date is now 33:56)


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Dribble

The fiasco with my ISP continues, so whilst I couldn't train this evening (having not been well), I decided to start doing a search for alternative providers. My current front-runner is ADSL24, which seems to allow quite a large monthly bandwidth allowance (30GB daytime, plus 300GB at weekends and evenings), along with having the necessary web-space and CGI support that I need to ensure my sites continue running. On top of that, they seem to be generally well spoken of. And they're only £20/month.

The whole matter with Plusnet is somewhat annoying - after changing my e-mail address just a few months back (and staying spam-free), they have effectively undermined me to the point where I'm now getting a significant amount of spam per day. A post-mortem of the event is due soon and Plus are to publish a report on what went wrong. It will make interesting reading.

Nonetheless, I suspect I shall be getting a MAC code and transferring. It's a shame the whole thing can't be done without any disruption.

Update: The report has been published and the alleged perpetrators of this incident are apparently Russian. Having read some of the other details on the report, I'm glad I'm using a Mac as it appears that there were further exploits that affected Windows users. It's time to get those tin-foil hats on....
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del.icio.us links - 21/5/07

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Magicians

Following on from the genius that is Peep Show, can Mitchell and Webb do a great film? Read More...
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Mr Plod

This evening I did my first training run. It was nothing horrendously serious and the mere point of it was to get used to the routine. I aim to do three training runs per week and gradually build up the distance as things get more comfortable. Whilst I'll be spending most of my time running on a treadmill in a gym, I'll do the occasional road-run too.

Anyway, as I've done a little bit of running before, I started with 5 kilometres. I took it at a fairly slow pace and had no problems at all, finishing in 34mins 36 seconds - hardly a blistering pace, but a starting point. It'll be easy to improve upon - shoot me if I don't.

Checking on last years Tavy 7 scoreboard, I did some basic mathematics and was consoled to see that if I ran my projected time at the same pace for 7 miles, I would not come last.

I feel better already.
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del.icio.us links - 18/5/07

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Run, Fatboy, Run (2)

Following on from my last post I've decided to do the Tavy 7 run in November, along with something a bit shorter in September (~5 miles).

I only have two aims:

1) To finish.
2) Not to come last.

Anything else is a bonus.
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Incompetence


This evening, I received an e-mail from my friendly ISP, explaining why all of a sudden from Sunday my e-mail address (which previous received not spam whatsoever) had started to get full with spam. Naturally, I was not impressed.

From:
"PlusNet Customer Support"
To:
[removed]
Subject:
Important information about your email address
Date:
Wed, 16 May 2007 22:35:15 +0100

Username: [removed]

Dear [removed],

This email contains important information about a problem with our
Webmail service which may have lead to your email address being exposed to
a spammer.

If you are affected by this, you may have noticed an increase in the
amount of spam received since Sunday 13th May. This includes spam to
email addresses that were previously spam-free. This increase in spam is a
result of a security issue on our Webmail service. You can read about
this on the Service Status pages of the Usertools website:
http://usertools.plus.net/status/archive/1179240249.htm

I would like to make it clear that the Webmail platform is separate to
the systems we use for storing personal information such as credit card
numbers and none of this type of information has been exposed as a
result of this issue. However, purely as a precaution we would advise you
to change your account password by visiting the Member Centre then
clicking Account Details then Change Password.
Please note if you change your account password this will need to be
updated in your router or modem as well as your browser and email
software.

I am extremely sorry that a malicious third party has managed to gain a
list of email addresses from one of our Webmail servers. On behalf of
PlusNet I would like to sincerely apologise to you for this security
breach and the increase in offensive spam emails that may now be affecting
your email address. We understand how annoying and upsetting spam email
can be and we are treating this with the utmost seriousness. My team
and I will continue to work round the clock to reduce the inconvenience
caused to you by this problem as much as we can.

When we learned of the attack on our Webmail service, we identified the
source of the vulnerability and implemented a fix as quickly as
possible. However, following a full audit of our Webmail service we identified
a number of additional security vulnerabilities that it has not been
possible to patch. While these potential vulnerabilities have not been
exploited, we are not prepared to compromise on customer security so we
have removed our Webmail service.

We intend to replace our current Webmail system as quickly as we can,
and this is one of the next priorities for my team at this time. In the
meantime, if you use Webmail to check your PlusNet email from your own
PC, you might find it more convenient to use an email program which
runs on your PC instead. You can find information about setting up most
popular email programs at
http://www.plus.net/support/email/setup/email_setup_guide.shtml

If you have been receiving spam email to any of your mailboxes, then
you could also reduce this by taking some or all of the actions
recommended here:
http://www.plus.net/support/security/spam/spam_problem.shtml

This incident has highlighted the importance of keeping systems as
secure as possible. It is important to ensure that you always have the
latest operating system updates and patches installed. Windows users can
obtain these by visiting Windows Update, which is linked to from the
Tools menu of Internet Explorer. We always recommend the use of fully
up-to-date third-party anti-virus, firewall and Internet security
software, particularly for Microsoft Windows users.

Again, I would like to be clear that we fully recognise the impact this
will have on our customers and indeed the internet community in
general. All of us here are taking this week’s security breach extremely
seriously and we are doing everything possible to resolve all outstanding
issues. We will be publishing a full incident report and plan on what we
intend to do next to our website before the weekend. This will explain
exactly what has happened and how.

As you might imagine at this time, our Customer Support Team is
extremely busy. I would be most grateful if, during the next few days, you
could avoid contacting us unless you have an urgent issue that is not
answered by any of the FAQs or elsewhere on our website. You can also find
more details on our recorded information line 020 7517 8754 (please
note that our Customer Support team are not available on this number).

Kind Regards,

Phil Webb
Networks Director
PlusNet

...and for this reason, you will understand that I'm now looking for a new ISP. I can't believe their slack attitude. Anyone got any recommendations?
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del.icio.us links - 15/5/07

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28 Weeks Later (2)

So, if you remember me having a little rant about this at the end of last year, you'll see that I wasn't entirely for the idea of this sequel. Nonetheless, like a moth to a bright light I went and saw it. Was it worth it? Read More...
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Run, Fatboy, Run

I went out on Saturday night with some friends, to eat another one of those curries that I told you about. One of the group had recently done the London Marathon. Inevitably, during the evening, he got barraged with questions on the event.

I am a curious person. I can run, but I am not a runner. Those that know my physique know why this statement is very true indeed.

Nonetheless, there are lots of runs that take place that aren't marathons. You can bet, as sure as eggs is a poultry-based non-dichotomy that I could not run 26 miles.

But I could run a lot less.... (duh)

Most times I go running, I run about 2.5 - 3.0 miles and with a bit of training, I could build that up. Given some time and a bit of persistence, this could be something more. For example, should a quarter-marathon exist (6.5 miles), this would be the ideal thing to aim for.

I might even finish it. Who knows?

So, my friend has truly planted the seed. I'm going to go away and have a ponder. Having a goal would be a good thing - and at the same time there would be benefits for my regular ju-jitsu training. I'm off to do a bit of research. If something of about six or seven miles around September-time existed, that would be just the thing to aim for.

I'll keep you posted.
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del.icio.us links - 12/5/07

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Where?

Over the last three years, it's been about this time when I go to Japan for a few weeks and get some language practice in. However this year I'm trying to save some money - so I'm going to take just a short break somewhere else.

I've got a shortlist of places to go, including the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, the Odessa and Kiev areas of the Ukraine and St Petersburg (Russia), which the last time I visited was a complete washout. I feel a need to go back and redress the balance.

Whilst I haven't made a decision yet, the Ukraine is currently in the lead. I'm contemplating taking a visiting to Pripyat and the Chernobyl reactor whilst in the country, but it's a big decision to take. Such a visit is bound to be a humbling experience.

You're probably asking, "Why would you go there, idiot?". It's a tough question to answer.

I have a somewhat strange affinity with empty towns/cities/areas, of which this is a perfect example. Evacuated in days, the city had nearly 50,000 inhabitants. Having seen many images already, this offers the opportunity to take some stark photography with a high degree of visual impact. Nature is starting to claim back the land, another aspect which interests me.

What I shall say is that I am not the sort who slows down at car-accidents or who gets off on ghoulish events, but this has now become part of our history. Back in 1986, the incident was a significant event for myself, Europe and mankind. I was 14 at the time and had little understanding of how the events would effect us. That's something I'd like to change.

That said, I'm intending to take my holiday in September. For all I know, I might fall out of bed tomorrow morning and change my mind... I might end up booking a week in Ibiza.
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Smell

Usually on the day before I go back to work I cook a curry. This ends up being my tea, and provides me with something enjoyable to eat for lunch at work - thus avoiding the usual mass of suspicious fried objects in our work canteen.

But I forgot something. I forgot that I was going out with my workmates on Wednesday for a curry, followed by having yet another one with my ju-jitsu chums on Saturday.

That means I will have eaten curry for four days in a row. Oops. Best keep your distance.
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del.icio.us links - 9/5/07

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Manners

Once upon a time, there was a corner of the universe called Great Britain. It might not have been particularly great at all times, but everyone knew it as the cornerstone of manners and polite society. Other countries revered us for our ability to wait for an eternity in queues, politely open doors for people and receive cuffs on the back of the head from lofty policemen.

However, something at sometime changed. People forgot how to use pleasantries and somewhere along the line, the nation got a whole lot ruder.

In the last couple days, I've had (unwarranted) verbal abuse from an old woman, witnessed people who eat like pigs and suffered the ignorance of people who don't bother to thank you when you open the door for them. Sometimes you feel like descending to their level.

When did it all change? And why?

P.S. Maybe it's not just this country after all.
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It's In The Genes

Analysing my eating habits over the last couple months, I've noticed something - the amount of meat I'm eating is gradually getting less and less.

This shouldn't really be a surprise, my father has been a vegetarian for many years. I guess it's in the genes. Curiously enough though, my reasons for reduced consumption are threefold - and they don't have anything to do with animal welfare:

i) I just don't crave meat much any more.
ii) I don't like the bloated and sluggish feeling I get when I eat it, especially with red meat.
iii) I just like vegetables.

I haven't eaten a burger for about 4 months - New Year's Eve to be precise. I haven't eaten a steak in significantly longer and as for bacon and sausages, well, I've barely touched them in months. Today, we went out to one of those places that does carveries. It was all jolly nice, but I thought that all the veg on offer was actually a lot more enjoyable than the meat.

Mmmmmm, roasted parsnips.

I'm not going to force the matter though. I'll continue to let my appetite for meat continue to fade. To declare myself a vegetarian tomorrow would be folly, as I'd probably be eating a bacon sarnie in days due to feeling deprived - as soon as you deny yourself something, you want it. Nonetheless, it does all go to show that as you get older, your taste in food changes.
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del.icio.us links - 6/5/07

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Mr D Gets A Kicking (1)

I've been meaning to upload these for a while - here's the first one (of two).

As well as my grading, I recently took part in a ju-jitsu demonstration at our local school. I made quite an impression - but that's another story.

Anyway, here you go - it's short, but sums things up quite well. I felt like I took more of a beating in this than in my grading....

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From The Ashes

What music has had an instrumental/memorable part in your life? Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 3/5/07

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Unexplained

After all the punishment I've taken in training recently, I'm glad it's a new month. I've just been paid and can afford some physio again. This time, though, I had an unexpected bonus when my physiotherapist threw in a bit of something else for free.

No, potty-mind. I don't mean that. I got some acunpuncture.

This is a first for me, having never had it before. I'm glad the idea was put to me at short-notice, because under normal circumstances I hate needles, wuss as I am, and this would have just given me more time to think about it, which wouldn't have been good.

Of course, in reality, acupuncture needles are very fine - so you barely feel them being inserted. After having about seven or eight of these inserted into my back, there I lay - and strange things started to happen. My shoulder started to warm up. Ten minutes later, when the needles were removed, the pain was gone. Freaky.

I don't know how these things work. It seems inconceivable that sticking a needle into your body should make you feel better, but it does. For the moment, I'll just have to leave someone else to explain how it works, but in the meantime I think I'm a convert.
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April's Frugality Challenge Update

Another month, another bit of progress. I'm nearly halfway to my target... Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 30/4/07

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Motorway Spotters

What is the obsession with middle-aged men feeling the need to discuss the anatomy of their dull motorway trips?

"Well, I came here via the M5, M6 route - but was delayed by 20 minutes worth of slow moving traffic at junction 6. I therefore came off the motorway at junction 4 instead and saved myself 2.4 picoseconds. It's a much more efficient way than going by the M4, M5, M78 route that everyone else takes."

Honestly, does anyone give a gold-encrusted crap?

The next time you have a go at train-spotters, think again.
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Daddy Or Chips?

You've got to give it to those Sainsburys chaps for comic juxtaposition. It's a tough decision when you're shopping...

Smoothie or lard?
Smoothie or lard?

Smoothie...... or ...... lard?



Lard - obviously. You can't make pie with smoothies.
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del.icio.us links - 27/4/07

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Dude, where's my ninjas?

Yoof : Dude?
Me : Yes?
Yoof : Is all that ju-jitsu stuff you're doing real?
Me : Of course.
Yoof : I mean, could that black-belt guy take you down if he wanted to?
Me : Believe me, he could.
Yoof : Ah, it's just that it looks a bit Chuck Norris from where I'm sitting.

(..and being a bit Chuck Norris is a problem?)
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Brown

One damaged left shoulder.
Two weakened knees.
A variety of bruises.

But it was worth it.

Wasn't it?
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del.icio.us links - 24/4/07

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Happy St George's Day...

...I'm off to traditionally celebrate - with a curry.
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Superstar

Congratulations to my friend Jim, who completed the London Marathon in some unpleasant running conditions.

The title of this post says it all.

Update: It seems fitting to plug Jim's nominated charity - VICTA - So if you're feeling generous, please sponsor him...
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del.icio.us links - 21/4/07

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Neighbourhood?

I'm embarassed to say that I've lived in my village for nearly two years, but I've explored is very little of it.

OK. I'll be honest, I've not explored at all.

So when South West Water started some work in the village, I had to take a detour on my regular commute to work - and as a consequence, I stumbled onto this. I didn't even realise it existed.



Surely, you actually have to have a neighbourhood to watch?

At a guess, there's about thirty or so houses down this way, spread around two main streets - population zero, bar me (at the time) and a cat. Most have some degree of graffiti, smashed windows, missing fixtures, open doors and partially gutted garages. However, they could have some potential - a couple of thousand pounds would see them restored back to something more pleasant. They've also got reasonble gardens to the rear.

There's a shortage of good, cheap housing around at the moment and as a consequence, they should be sold off as soon as possible. I think they're M.O.D. property. There's a board at the entrance to the area with a website address, but details are scant.

As a consequence of this, I've made a decision to have a really good exploration session on Thursday - it's about time. Who knows what else I might find?
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Haddock

Come July 1st, pubs won't make you smell like a haddock (thank God). I only wish it could have come around sooner.

In the meantime, I'll stick to my vice of eating. I'm not addicted to eating, I just enjoy a good eat with a drink. It's part of my daily ritual and nobody has any evidence to prove that passive-eating damages health - so I'll continue to munch, if you don't mind. My Dad ate several times a day and his Dad before him - and it never did them any harm.

I'm sure we can accommodate you in that nice no-eating area over there, in the corner of this fine interweb.
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del.icio.us links - 18/4/07

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Budge (please).

Tonight, an irresistible force met an immovable object...

...except that the immovable object realised it was moveable after all and thus the paradox was shattered. Shame.
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Last.fm

The Web 2.0 moniker is something that's being banded around a little too freely at the moment, but that's not to say there's not a few good offerings out there. My favourite of the moment is probably Last.fm. If you've heard me go on about Pandora before, then you'll know where I'm coming from, as this could be placed within the same category.

The principle is fairly simple - you download a little piece of client software, which runs like an internet radio station. You give it the name of something you like as a starting point and it quaintly "scrobbles" around and tries to suggest things that you might also like. You can't ever specifically name a track you want to hear (this probably has something to do with playing rights and royalties) - well, unless you want to pay a little fee, the paltry sum of £1.50 per month.

If you hate tracks, you can ban them from being played again. If you love them, add them to your favourites list - it's simple.It's a good way of identifying what you love and hate. On top of that, though, you can keyword tracks. For example, you might think a track is particularly good to use when running or driving and can keyword it as such - a bit like the way del.icio.us works. This means that you can build up a list of good running music, or driving music - and then recommend those key-worded playlists to the rest of the world.

The site is free, easy to use and has introduced me to some new music, which is a good thing, 'coz I listen to loads of the stuff. You don't really have much to lose.
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del.icio.us links - 15/4/07

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Plymouth Mafia

Solely responsible for the increase in organised crime in the South-West.



"Hand over the chips and nobody gets hurt..."
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Beer & Bruises

This morning, I woke up aching. I ached all over. My chest, shoulders, back, legs and arms hurt - nowhere was excluded from the party. I attributed this not to being thrown down the stairs in my sleep, but feeling the aftermath of what has now become the ritualistic three-hour training session the day before.

There was one small difference this time - I ran it - with some help, of course.

It wasn't too bewildering. I'm not scared of dealing with people. At work I manage approximately 45 staff, a position which involves dealing with some very awkward personalities. I've also done volunteer work, working with children. Believe it or not, I was once a Cub Scout Leader for nearly seven years - and hell, most people know my opinions on children - but at the time, it was right.

And whilst last night was a weird affair, effectively instructing people in how to perform ju-jitsu techniques, it could have gone a lot worse. As a newbie white-belt three years ago, I never thought I'd see myself get this far.

Of course, the main question you're probably asking is why I was doing such a thing in the first place. That's because I will probably be volunteering my time and services to help with the start-up of a new ju-jitsu group for teenagers - I never thought I'd be a volunteer again. It's all very strange.

Anyway, no matter what the problem is - be it a comet on a collision course with Earth or a variety of aches and pains, there's always a solution: Beer. Healing, mystical, all powerful beer.

So today, I got up early and with some friends made our way to the Newton Abbot Beer Festival, as you can see below. See? That's beer, that is. That's just a small snapshot of nearly 300 varieties of the stuff. It's literally beer-tastic...



...which all added up to a rather enjoyable day - even if the public transport was something of a fiasco. Whether that was because it's Friday the 13th or the British rail system being shit, I'll leave to you. However, for a beer-related recommendation I can whole-heartedly suggest Wessex's Lost Gerbil. It's smooth, very drinkable, smells of peaches (no, really - it does) and is 7.2%. Just a couple of pints does the trick, believe me.

The web-site for the venue is here: (*clicky*)
Want to see the list of the several hundred beers on offer? (*clicky*)
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del.icio.us links - 12/4/07

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Murder On The Shop Floor

Once upon a time, I was a very large person - very large indeed. Buying clothes was nothing short of trauma. After a while, the realisation set in that I would have to do something, when one day I bought a pair of trousers that were huge - the sort of trousers that one usually would buy from The Very Tall or Very Fat Man Shop, apart from the obvious health consequences.

These days, I wear a more normal size. Well, at least as far as my waist is concerned...

...because I have very short legs. I ain't no circus act, but trousers with "short" legs are usually still too long - and if you go to a shop like Zara, where one length fits all, you actually end up cutting about 6 - 7 inches of material off when they're adjusted to my size - and such a removal ends up making the garment look a bit weird, because it usually tapers in at the base of the leg.

One or two retailers used to manufacture an "extra short" sizing. I used to shop at such places for the sheer comfort factor - it was bliss to actually just buy something and wear it, with no alteration. C&A, For all of their nastiness, were one of the few to accommodate us stumpies - more the shame when they pulled out of the UK.

Yesterday, I went to buy a pair of jeans. It took me approximately 10 shops to find a pair that:

a) Fitted. I have a tendency to look like a 10 year old in his first school uniform.
b) Didn't have my arse hanging out of them, like some skater dude. There's a relaxed fit - and there's indecent.
c) Weren't boot-cut. I mean, boot-cut on a really short person - do they make these for comedy value?
d) Were under fifty quid.
e) Hadn't been pelted by pebbles imported from Jupiter.

I just want some plain jeans that fit - is that too much to ask?

Anyway, congratulations to NEXT for actually delivering the goods. Jeez, that's three hours of my life, gone.
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The Lavender Mafia

Every bank-holiday in National Trust establishments all over the country, they lurk. You cannot escape them...

...for they are The Lavender Mafia - old women who volunteer their services to press-gang innocent members of the public into parting with fifty quid. It's like having religious fanatics knocking at your door.

"Would sir like to join The Trust?"

No sir bloody wouldn't. Piss off, leave me alone and I might just go to another National Trust site another day...
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del.icio.us links - 9/4/07

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Sunshine

Is it all style over substance? Maybe. Maybe not. Read More...
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Cake / Wine / Chocolate

Well, I've come back from France - the land of chocolate, wine and cake. No doubt my waistline already hates me.

This makes me think - I didn't really see any obese people. My wiser-half thinks that they've locked them all away in special fat-camps. With a lack of alternatives, I'm inclined to agree with her. I don't understand it really. French meals are typically marathon-esque affairs consisting of many courses. Combine this with the daily trip to the boulanger and one asks the question,"why aren't they fat?". I doubt cake, wine and chocolate is their sole dietary makeup, but it does make you wonder what they're doing.

One thought that crosses my mind is that they're eating real food - and good quality food at that. I didn't see a fast food chain whatsoever on my travels. Mucky Dee's does have an awful lot to answer for.

That said, I'm open to other suggestions.
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del.icio.us links - 6/4/07

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Onions / Bicycles / Berets

There won't be an update for a day or two, as I'm trundling off to France for a holidayette. In the meantime, feel free to stare at this picture of a nun until I return.



Look carefully now - I shall be asking questions later.
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The Bedford Mile

If you ever wanted reassurance that communities can still pull together for a cause and have fun, this would be it. Tavistock's residents joined forces, so that they could start to raise the £300,000 necessary to build a full-size running-track for the benefit of the town. The idea was to get a thousand participants sponsored £100 for an activity, thus providing one third of the project cost in one go. The activity in question was "The Bedford Mile" - and I was one of many who took part yesterday. It was one of the most fun sporting events I've been to in ages.

Of course, running the mile was a pretty easy affair, because of the way that Tavistock was laid out. Quite simply, you run from one end of the main road into the town to the other - hardly taxing for the marshals. Nonetheless, a mile it is and whilst there were a good few "serious" runners there who wanted to clock up a good time, there were also hundreds who came in fancy dress like the Chinese dragon, as snapped by myself and shown below...



... and not forgetting those who also came as fairies, did it on roller-blades, unicycles or three-legged!

As for me, well I wore my gi as part of the ju-jitsu contingent - and we really had good fun, using it as a good bit of publicity to let everyone know that we existed. I don't think I've ever had that much fun running. It was more like a carnival.

More info on the event is available on the Track4Tavistock site (*clicky*) - perhaps it might turn into a yearly event?
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del.icio.us links - 1/4/07

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March's Frugality Challenge Update

The next instalment in Mr D's tight-arse challenge... Read More...
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Barrels Of Fun

Science gives us something useful, for once... Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 29/3/07

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Deprivation Central

As someone who once lived in a seaside village, I quite like going to coastal towns when the tourists aren't around. The atmosphere is totally different - you can get an ice-cream, some fresh air and have a walk around by the sea. There's usually a pleasant air of tranquility - broken when the hordes return in the summer.

However, for the first time today I went to Ilfracombe and whilst the weather was pleasant, it felt more... well, miserable.

As we walked around the town, you couldn't help but notice the amount of shops that were empty - not just "closed for the winter" empty, but totally abandoned. In fact there were a couple of streets with more closed/empty stores than open. There's a demolition site where one large hotel once was. The town seriously needs some money. Additionally, there were quite a few homeless people and loads of holiday homes sitting empty - could the two not be united somehow?

Seaside towns have always had it hard. By the end of the summer, the party is over and everything goes quiet. This is to be expected as the employment market is seasonal, but this was a pretty miserable state of affairs. Do dwellers of seaside towns suffer more from seasonal affective disorder?

With things so bad, it made me wonder if I should return in the summer so I can get a cheerier view of the town. I might just do that, although I doubt it'll improve my opinion of the giant lampshades that are the landmark building.

As an aside, I have given the road to Ilfracombe the dubious title of "roadkill highway", due to the sheer hundreds of dead pheasants that littered the dual carriageway. It's amazing there's any birds left. If you drive that way, you'll know exactly what I mean.
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Suicidal Cyclists

This evening whilst in town, I nearly hit a child on a bike:

1) He had no helmet.
2) He had no reflectors.
3) He had no lights.
4) He was wearing black.
5) He was cycling on the wrong side of the road - around a turning. (So he came out of nowhere)
6) He was wobbling all over the place.

In the dark he was as good as invisible. Perhaps he didn't want to live - who knows? I'm just glad I was doing about 15mph, making him relatively easy to avoid. It's people like this that need the new-fangled cycling-proficiency test. When I was a child, my parents wouldn't let me go anywhere on my bike until I passed, which on reflection was a very good thing to do.

As I swerved to avoid him and he swerved to avoid me, he continued to ride along the road on the wrong side - onto a major A-road. It's only a matter of time before something more serious happens.

What galls me more is that his mother was with him all the time and did nothing.
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del.icio.us links - 26/3/07

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Wot no life?

Occasionally, I play Warcraft. Yes, I admit it. I've come out of the closet and told the world - I'm one of the 8 million. That said, I'm not a huge player, usually only managing a few hours a week. In fact, I mainly played when I was off sick from work for a few days. There are other people play a lot more, though, such as the friend I bumped into online, who does just that - admitting that he played for four hours per day as an average.

Four hours per day? I can't imagine playing that much. That's about 25% of your waking hours, just playing a game - and if that's an average, that means there are days when he plays for longer. What about working, friends and other interests?

Perhaps I've just answered my own question. Eeesh.
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I'm a...

I don't care what Apple's advertising campaign says. As a Mac user, I'm ashamed of that smug, holier-than-thou and trendier-than-you attitude. It's just wrong - and it certainly doesn't convince me.



If you've been living under a rock, here are the ads: (*clicky*)
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del.icio.us links - 23/3/07

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Car-crash web design.

I've never ranted about a web-site before, but MySpace seems like it will receive the dubious accolade of being my first... Read More...
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The Science Of Sleep

A random film in French with English subtitles, or English with French bits? Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 20/3/07

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Solar Setup Picture

As promised, here's the details...

Warning: Contains pictures of little bits of wire and screws. Read More...
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Solar Stuff (3)

This evening, I got my final solar power tweaks done - and everything is working marvellously. After using some panels that generated about 28 watts of power, I've finally gone for something a bit more beefy. The panels were fairly old technology, but I've now invested in a panel that was basically the same size as the previous two combined, but generates 250% more energy! (Which goes to show how things have moved on).

So, I'm now using a single Kyocera 65w panel, which is doing amazingly well, even when it's not very sunny. In fact, it's a good job I have the solar controller hooked up, otherwise I'd be cooking the battery.

This panel generates enough charge (up to 4 amps of current) such that I can continue to use the panel and it will even continue to charge the battery at the same time. It's quite impressive stuff.

Anyway, now things are set up, it'll be interesting to see how it fares over the long term - and whether my electricity bill comes down as a result. I'll post a few basic images tomorrow so that you can see the final set-up.
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del.icio.us links - 17/3/07

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Notes On A Scandal

Judi Dench plays an acidic battle-axe - but I quite liked her... Read More...
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Take my pain, bitch

"So, if you're doing martial arts stuff, how come you come off with some many bruises?"
"Because, to understand a technique, you've got to be on the end of the receiving end, just as much as you dish it out."
"But wouldn't it be easier if you had someone to take all the pain and be thrown around for you?"
"Like a pain bitch, you mean?"
"Yeah."
"You volunteering?"
"Errrr, no. (*points*) He is. He's tubby, he'd bounce well."
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del.icio.us links - 14/3/07

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No room at the brain.

Ju-jitsu training as of late hasn't really gone to plan. The original idea was that with sufficient time, effort and a lack of injuries, I could have attempted grading for my brown belt in a couple of months. However, the plan isn't working, as my knee injury is taking far longer than I would have liked to clear up. Even though I have somewhere near a full range of mobility, it still aches in a somewhat pathetic manner, reminding me that I've still got to take things more carefully than I would like. It also has weak points, which occasionally mean it randomly gives way underneath me. Christmas was supposed to have been a recuperation time so that I had my batteries fully charged for the New Year - I should be well on the way by now, but I'm not. I'm also picking up extra problems along the way, such as my shoulder/elbow feeling out of place and crunching through about 35 of 50 press-ups. It hurt like hell afterwards.

This injury has also had a knock-on effect of stopping me from getting my fitness where I would have liked. In the early stages, I couldn't walk, let alone run. When running, I reach a limit where it "grumbles" - about 25 minutes - and that's if I give it a few days of break. It's really not where I want to be, but I can't push it any further just in case things get worse.

The original schedule was to attempt grading mid-April, although I can't see that happening now - I'm miles away and have just five weeks left. I don't keep rabbits, so I can't pull one out of a hat.

The final thing that is stopping me is a mental thing. My brain is full. It's definitely a vessel with a finite capacity. Teach it something new and something else falls out of my ears. On some days, I can barely remember my name and phone number, let alone 100+ techniques. I might reach brown one day, but it's certainly not yet.

Everyone has their limits, I think I'm reaching mine.
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Plain English

I got this e-mail from Second Life - and I have no idea what it means. Anyone care to offer a translation?

The object 'Second Life' has sent you a message from Second Life:
Your object 'Warm Soak' has been returned to your inventory lost and
found folder by Meditation in Paradise from parcel 'Francoisito
Jacquimoto' at Matsushima 61.9654, 203.713 due to parcel owner return.

I should add, this isn't spam, believe it or not.
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del.icio.us links - 11/3/07

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Go on, prove me wrong.

Do all video-rental places predominantly stock crap? Read More...
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Happy Birthday, Paul

30 This weekend - Have a good one.



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del.icio.us links - 8/3/07

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Bruises

240 Rounds of ammunition - £24
1 Smoke grenade - £3.50
The ability to inflict pain and bruising on your work colleagues - priceless.

There are some things money can't buy, but in the meantime, have a game of paint-ball.
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Angle Of The Dangle

The solar generation has been going ok. I've been able to charge plenty of small-drain items from the system, along with running my lounge lighting during the evening - not bad considering the rain we've had recently, which at times has been been nothing short of torrential.

That's not to say that I don't think it could do better, because it could. One thing I've definitely noticed is the output voltage, which I think I could increase. Currently, the system is mounted totally flat against the side of the house - giving it a slight tilt would distinctly help matters. So on Thursday I think I'll be making a few modifications, changing the rack so that the bottom points out a little bit. Ideally, I'd like it angled at about 45 degrees, but that probably won't be possible as it might overhang my neighbours house - and I don't want to piss them off.

Nonetheless, it proves that a system can be quite easily and cheaply put together. I'll keep you updated. When I've got the system how I want it, I'll put a few diagrams and photos on here so that budding home DIY enthusiasts can use it as a reference point.
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del.icio.us links - 4/3/07

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Eclipse Schmeclipse

10x Zoom, ISO 800 and 3 second exposure. All I get is this:



Not very impressive. Significantly more impressive to watch.

This could be me looking under a microscope, photographing a streetlight or indeed the inside of my mouth. Not to worry.

At least I only have to wait about a year to try again.
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The Generation Game

In May of last year, I mentioned the possibility of getting a small solar power project going. After several months of faffing around, I've finally got it started... Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 1/3/07

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February's Frugality Challenge Update

It's been quite a productive month... Read More...
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I can read your mind!

I sometimes wonder if work is actually a bit like a school playground. With things such as these going around the office, it probably is. Read on for the latest craze - a toy that isn't just for kids. Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 26/2/07

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Embarrassment

Sometimes, I wonder what the housing market is coming to... Read More...
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Dissapointment guaranteed...

...or your money back!

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del.icio.us links - 23/2/07

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Perfection

This evening, I had a long debate with a friend in the pub about women - mostly brought on by the fact that he'd been admiring the barmaid. We exchanged two different points of view when it came to attractiveness, which should not be confused with beauty. Attractiveness is the package, whereas beauty a single characteristic. Our two theories were thus:

1) His theory - The perfect woman is out there. If you were scoring each of her facets (we'll be polite), you would arrive at 10/10 for each. Admittedly, these sort of people are in short supply, but they exist. Likewise, there are some unfortunates at the other end of the scale. A bit of random distribution exists throughout the human race, meaning that the majority are average people, who would be somewhere around the 5 out of 10 mark, but in slightly lower percentages there were people who scored 8 (or 3, perhaps) across all the categories.

2) My theory - Mother nature in her infinite wisdom gave each person a (more or less) equal and finite amount of "talent points". They could be distributed around as Mrs Nature saw fit, but if one area (such as beauty) was exceptionally high, it probably meant a deficiency in another area - such as an irrational hate of all other human beings, a saggy arse or being thick as pig-shit, reinforcing my point that nobody is perfect - the antithesis to his argument.

As previously mentioned, beauty is only one part of being attractive. Intelligence and personality (amongst other things) come into it just as much as everything else and whilst the theories are mentioned in a female context in this article, I'm sure that us blokes conform just as well.

It's sufficient to say that we didn't agree, leading me to suggest that I shall research my theory and conclusively prove that my theory rules supreme. I'm going to do this by writing a little research paper, explaining my talent-point system and using famous people throughout history to prove my theory.

I've obviously got too much time on my hands.
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Family Pub

Spotted in Plymouth - a drinking establishment for the discerning customer.



Yes, that does look like two sea-mines and a speared dolphin. Classy.
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del.icio.us links - 20/2/07

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Ropey

A little while back, when I was ranting about people who had an inability to deal with six inches of snow, I started looking on the web at some places where snow is a little more commonplace, such as Russia. In particular, I dug out the tourist-board web-site for a Russian area I'd passed by years ago when I went on the Trans-Siberian Railway. It's amusing reading.

The site mentions several towns in the region, but in particular the best one to read is the page for the town of Molyobka, which is described as being a UFO Mecca, a place full of graffiti and has places such as The Meadow of Horror, where moaning ghosts can be seen - hardly a compelling reason to visit, is it?

Don't forget to see the man with the cap and the mental bacteria!
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Brown

I went out with a few friends tonight, to a pub that I can't remember having visited for at least ten years. It didn't look any different at all, although if you were being patronising you'd say it hadn't lost any of it's "rustic charm". The building looked a little bit down on it's luck.

It once had a small brewery, which produced some good beer - but that had long disappeared. The chipboard-esque ceiling was still there, although it was now a lot browner and the wiring looked ropey. All was covered in a film of brown from years of smoke. When the barman said that one of the lights didn't work, I wondered whether he was just too skint for a new bulb, or whether he couldn't afford rewiring. I guessed it was probably both.

In the corner, farmers chatted at length on the subject of shit, followed by a debate on how to kill a rabbit. I learnt something new. I could count the amount of customers on two hands and have a few fingers left over. It was a very quiet Sunday night.

On the plus side, it had a bar-billiard table, operated by inserting coinage from the United Arab Emirates. It's a game I haven't played since my lazy days in the sixth form common room, so that made it all good. It was a fun, sociable evening.

And I still suck at the game - no change there, either.
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del.icio.us links - 17/2/07

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Indecisive

A person has thousands of thoughts each day - here's just six of mine. Read More...
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Hot Fuzz

After Shaun Of The Dead, has Simon Pegg done it again? Oh yes! Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 14/2/07

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T.G.I.T.

Forget Fridays, I love Tuesdays. Read More...
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Zzzzz...

For reasons that I can't explain (yet), I've been having a lot more dreams when sleeping. For years, I've never remembered my dreams - until recently. In the last month or so I've had quite a few memorable ones, and some of them have been pretty strange affairs that have made me scratch my head a bit the day after. There could be many reasons for this, ranging from differing stress levels to eating cheese. I have no idea.

Of course, this may be a phase which could have already disappeared. Who knows?

If it hasn't, then it only seems right to take advantage of the situation. I'm going to try a few techniques to provoke lucid dreaming. Why? No reason - I'm just curious. If you read the Wiki document, you'll see a section on "Wake Back To Bed", which is the most probable way I'd trigger a lucid dream. It's quite commonplace that I'll wake up after about five or so hours of sleep and wait for a while before returning to bed. We shall see.

I've got a pad and pen by the bed, so I can immediately write down results. It'll be an interesting experiment. If I can manage anything particularly strange, I'll publish the details for all to read, although you might recommend me for "special care".
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del.icio.us links - 11/2/07

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Schnö

So, six inches of snow, eh?

Get a grip.


That's barely past your ankles. Deal with it. Jeez.

There's places in the world that are sub-zero degrees Fahrenheit, let alone centigrade. Their trains probably run on time, too.
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Site Stuff

Apologies if you've noticed my updates have been sporadic in nature recently. This has been down to my friendly ISP being a load of old arse. As a consequence, it's taken me about six or seven attempts each time to publish my daily update. Then I get e-mailed this...

Dear (name removed),

It recently came to our attention that a potential security problem existed on our website discussion forums (
http://portal.plus.net/central/forums/). It could have been possible to exploit the forum software, and retrieve an encrypted copy of the password details we hold for your account.

As a user of our forums, we are now emailing you to advise you of this, and of the next steps you should take. Although we have no evidence that a malicious attack has occurred, we can confirm that one of our customers proved this vulnerability, and subsequently contacted us. We would like to publicly thank that individual, and we have had assurances that any data obtained has now been destroyed.

We are now asking all customers in receipt of this email to change their account password as soon as possible, purely as a precaution. This can be done on-line, at the Account details section of our website -
http://portal.plus.net

[..snip..]


So, on top of the mediocre service, we now rely on customers to bring up security issues?

Hmmmm, might be time to get my MAC code and change ISP, I think.
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del.icio.us links - 8/2/07

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Down With Evangelism

Windows Vista has now been released to the general public - and along with it old arguments return. Read More...
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McShut

It's not often that I rejoice in the demise of a business, but in this case I'll make an exception. In the last few months, two McDonalds "restaurants" have closed down in my local area - and I couldn't be happier.

In one case, it has been replaced by Nando's, a personal favourite - a place where chicken actually looks like chicken.

In the second case, the establishment has closed down and is now cordoned off - with nothing but a "To Let" sign on the outside. When it was discovered that McDonalds were going to open this restaurant in our area, there was significant opposition. I distinctly remember signing a lengthy petition against it's opening, although the council in their infinite wisdom let it go ahead anyway. Ever since, I've always noticed a distinct amount of McRubbish in the area, although it could be argued that this is more down to the attitude of their customers. Add the fact that the food has virtually nil nutritional value, smells vile and doesn't provide any significant benefit to the local economy, it's easy to see why it went. Whenever I drove past, it was largely empty. I'm glad to say I've not eaten a McAnything for about 6 or so years.

Which reassuringly goes to prove that consumer power must work. You don't close a place that makes lots of money.
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del.icio.us links - 5/2/07

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E.T.A.

My AA cover expires this month, and to my surprise a more environmentally friendly breakdown company exists. They claim to be carbon-neutral. They also appear to be cheaper than the AA, meaning that no doubt I'll go with them instead and add some more financial savings onto my frugal challenge.

If you're interested, they're called E.T.A. (I doubt there's a Spanish office) and you can have a look here.

Alternatively, if you heard good/bad/ugly things about them, add a comment....
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Fraud

Exercise? Once upon a time, you would have had to lever me off the sofa with a crowbar... Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 2/2/07

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Self-Esteem Booster

A: Try this on. It'd suit you - it says "Golddigga" on it.
B: Most people already say that about me anyway. (Puts jacket on)
A: That looks really nice. It looks really good on you.
B: Really?
A: Yes. It makes you look less fat.
B: Thanks, Gran.
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Frugality Challenge Update (January)

The first progress update in my frugal challenge. Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 30/1/07

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Missed

Fed up with sitting around and waiting for things to get better, I went back to work today. It was a gratifying experience. As a manager you don't expect to be missed, but I was. People were genuinely concerned, given that I'm one of those people that just never seems to take time off. However, after just a few days I was climbing the walls and wanted some normality. Whilst the damage was to the cartilage in my knee, it seems to be repairing - I'm about 75% there. Oddly enough I can now run, but stairs are a bit awkward. Give it another day or two and I'm sure things will be fine.

I bought a copy of Warcraft about a week before going ill, which cost me the royal sum of a tenner. It's been the best tenner I've spent in ages. Whilst I wouldn't normally play online games, a bit of curiosity never did any harm - and as it happens, it was just what the doctor forgot to order, alleviating my boredom whilst I was stuck at home. What I did find disconcerting, however, was the amount of time the average player seems to spend on there. I mean, I'm at home because I can't work, but what about all these other people - don't they have jobs? How can they play for twelve hours a day? Do they eat? Do they sleep? Surely the World of Warcraft can't be totally filled with people on sickies?

Maybe they're all just bunking off school.

You also might have noticed that the site has changed again - another product of being sat on a sofa for far too long.
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Mneh

Everyone's got a nightmare story about a company they've had to deal with - here's mine. Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 27/1/07

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Friendly advice.

- Sit down a lot.
- Take ibuprofen to reduce the swelling.
- Use ice packs.
- Walk with the aid of a stick.
- Don't drive...

...get very, very bored.
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Pogo

I don't know how it happened, but I woke up on Wednesday morning with an extremely painful knee. I can't bend my leg at all and I'm walking around like an old man - or a pogo stick.

As to how it happened, well, I can't attribute it to training. I just woke up and it was there. If I'd damaged myself on the night, I would have known it. Maybe it's fallout from my strange dreams. Usually, if I get injured, a blob of ibuprofen gel does the trick but this time it's not working. My joint has lost it's shape, with enough swelling around it to make me think I've got someone else's leg. Its plain damn annoying and I'll have to see a doctor about it.

More annoying is the fact that I've not had a day off sick from work in 3 years - meaning I'll be breaking my duck. I spend most of my day walking around a large building - not tomorrow, though.
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del.icio.us links - 24/1/07

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Analyse This

I don't usually remember my dreams, but I remembered this one - and it seemed very vivid. Anyone care to shed any light on it's meaning? Read More...
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Painting the world red

I like to travel. Everyone's got their weakness. I was going to do a list of where I'd been to, but then I stumbled over something better - a site that generates a graphical representation of where you've been, with the red bits denoting the countries visited. It also gives you some useless statistics. Apparently, the 30 countries I've been to represent 13% of the planet. I'll keep up dating this as I manage to tick more off.

13% Seems so little. Maybe I should make it a life ambition to achieve as close to 100% as I can get, somehow.

Pasted Graphic
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del.icio.us links - 21/1/07

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What goes on, comes off

It's taken a little while, but by the end of this month I should have got myself back to the level of fitness/weight that I was pre-Christmas, which is pleasing - I really didn't want to be on a treadmill until June anyway.

How I've gone about that is simple - I've run a couple of miles, four times a week (on top of my regular ju-jitsu sessions), along with getting into a good habit of cooking more lunches to take with me to work. This is a definite plus, as largely everything in our canteen comes out of a fryer. It's also saved me some money - a pleasant side-effect of my Frugality resolution for this year.

Of course, this isn't to say that I was fit enough or the perfect weight anyway, but it does prove these things can be reversed.
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Thank goodness for stupid people

Unless you've been living on Jupiter recently, you'll probably have heard that there's a bit of controversy on Channel 4. In fact, while most will see Jade Goody as a pariah, she might have just done us all a favour... Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 18/1/07

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The Last King Of Scotland

A story of lies, genocide and flatulence. Read More...
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Cake & Sympathy

The village I live in is relatively small. As a consequence, we don't have a huge butt-ugly shopping centre shrouded in blue-neon, a special bridge to commemorate the millenium or the largest crack-den in Devon - or do we? Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 15/1/07

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I did it myyyyyyyy way.

Whilst out today, I bumped into someone I went to university with. It's been ten years since I've seen this person, but to be honest he didn't look any different. We spent ten minutes "catching up". That's about a minute per year, I guess.

As the conversation continued, I explained that during that ten years, I'd changed employer six times, had been married (past tense) and had done a reasonable amount of travelling, including living in Ireland for six months. I also explained that I no longer worked in I.T. - something I'm now quite happy about.

He told me that he was still with the same employer and hadn't been up to much, nor had he really seen any of our fellow classmates. In fact, to him, nothing had happened at all. In ten bloody years. Had this guy gone around with his eyes closed? Did life just pass him by?

Which proves unanimously that you never look back in regret at the stuff you did, only the stuff you didn't.
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del.icio.us links - 13/1/07

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Minefield

Another article on my ethical money-saving challenge for 2007 - this time it's about grocery shopping. It's not as easy as it looks. Perhaps my good-shopping bible will help out... Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 11/1/07

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ecoballs

Part of my money saving regime for 2007 involves having to change a few habits, laundry being one of them.... Read More...
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del.icio.us links - 9/1/07

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Linkage

I've signed myself up for del.icio.us, meaning:

- All my external links (which were on the right) have now been removed, apart from the del.icio.us one. If you want to see what I link to, you now know where to go.

- On some days, I'll just add links. When that happens, I'll put them on my daily entry, along with the tags I've chosen to classify them by.

- Over a good amount of time this will amount to a large link database that hopefully contains lots of interesting random stuff.

This is called "social bookmarking" - and if you don't know what that is, have a look here...
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Ho Ho Ho Ho

Well, that's it. The twelth day of Christmas has now passed and you should be packing your decorations away - especially if you're a neighbour of mine with a dancing snowman that constantly sings the same 20-second tune from about 7pm until the small hours of the morning, every bloody night.

If it's not removed soon, it may be taking a trip to somewhere where snowmen melt.

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One man and his car

As I was driving home last night, I saw something you don't usually see at about midnight - five sheep in the middle of the road.

So, I did my "good citizen" bit and herded them back into the field by slowly driving them behind them, using my spotlights as a guide to the gate. It's probably not the right field and they're probably wolves in sheepskin jackets looking for a nearby poultry farm, but I did my good turn for the day - as the evidence below clearly shows.



2 Megapixel camera-phone, my arse.
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4 Minutes

I've been to Japan a few times now, and whilst I've been there I've collected a reasonable amount of video footage. So, after a bit of editing in iMovie, here's the result - 4 Minutes - Shaky camera hand and all.

I've tried to encompass everything I could in here - Gardens, bullet trains, koi, pachinko, baseball, the madness of Tokyo, etc.. etc.. I can think of other stuff I should have put in there, but more will come in the future as I get more footage. I'd like some sumo, /kabuki and temple shots as the one shot I've got in there doesn't do Japan justice. Unfortunately, YouTube/Google seem to take what was reasonable quality video and make it rather grainy, so some of the clarity is lost. Sorry 'bout that.


When opportunity allows, I'll also subtitle it with placenames, so that you can put a place to an image.

Anyway, if nothing else enjoy the music. (Hexstatic - Perfect Bird)
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Sarcasm

If you'd like a chuckle, follow this link (*clicky*) and have a read of the reviews of Katie Price/Peter Andre's album, "A whole new world". It's good to see the art of sarcasm is not wasted upon this talentless couple. No doubt the reviews will probably get pulled in a couple of days....



Quotes include:

"Restored my eyesight after 36 years"
"I cried strange tears"
"Saved me from killing myself"
"Blew my testicles off"
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The Sign Of A Worthwhile Christmas...



It's a swan. I think.
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