Monday, 21 December 2009

Christmas Is Here...

I don't know about any of you, but I don't really feel properly Christmassy until we put Mr Hankey the Christmas Poo in the downstairs loo. Forget trees and tinsel, Mr Hankey really reminds you what Christmas is all about, which of course, is Ham.

Friday, 11 December 2009

BBC iPlayer on the Wii

It's great!

OK, it's not quite broadcast quality but it's perfectly watchable. And it's much nicer to watch things on the TV than on the computer.

Just as long as the iPlayer site is actually working, which it wasn't last week.

Formula Poo

I know, I know it's another baby post, not as you might have thought a somewhat feeble dig at Formula One. Tsk. Well, it's not really about babies, just what comes out of them.

After Phoebe's bout of (probably) hand, foot and mouth which caused her to stop nursing (sore mouth presumably) we had to top her up with evil formula from a cup while the lovely Hayley got herself going with a pump. Blimey! I remember they told us in the ante natal classes that formula makes baby poo more smelly but yuck! They didn't emphasise just how much more. If ever there was an argument to favour breast milk over formula, this is it.

OK, that's it. Baby post over.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

The Grim Challenge 2009

Another of my blogging rules was that I wouldn't post about exercise, since I already have a whole blog devoted to that elsewhere. Still, this was a bit different so I figured it would be worth mentioning.

I was somehow persuaded to enter the Grim Challenge, which is an 8 mile cross country run over the Army vehicle testing area. Needless to say the terrain was rough and there was a lot of (very cold!) water and mud. To make it a bit more interesting they also through in some nets to crawl under.

It was brilliant. We did make a bit of a schoolboy error by not getting to the start line early enough, which meant we were essentially stuck in a massive slow moving group of people for the first few miles. So slow in fact that I ended up walking in places. We did our best to get through but there were thousands of people moving along some fairly narrow paths and it was almost impossible. It's a bit of a shame as without that we could easily have shaved five or ten minutes off our time which would have been good for around five hundred places. Not that we were racing but it would have been good to get a proper time.

I'm glad the weather was good though, the water was cold enough that even splashing through a few meters of it was enough to numb your feet and legs, I can't imagine what it would have been like if it was icy. Brrrr. Mind you, it wasn't all bad, numbing your legs did help a lot as you couldn't actually tell if you were sore or tired.

It's a shame the training is so boring and time consuming because although the race itself was great fun I'm not sure if it makes up for all the other tedious running required. I'm also not sure I'd be able to manage to fit it in if I was working. So unemployment does have some benefits.

I am still considering entering next year though!

Oh and we did it in 1:21:43 in case you were wondering.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Seasonal Stig Facts 2

Some say...

That his idea of a carol is Ace of Spades.

Seasonal Stig Facts 1

Thanks to the awesome power of my Top Gear Advent Calendar, I can now reveal a series of festive Stig facts.

Some say...

That he puts up his decorations in June.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Tissot T-Touch Trouble

I'm a bit grumpy about this... After seven years of faithful service, my Tissot T-Touch started playing up. It all started when the analogue hands started going out of synch with the digital time. It turns out there is a procedure to resynch the two clocks which seemed to work quite well. Bish bosh, job done, I thought*. Exactly why the two clocks need manual intervention to synch themselves is a bit of a mystery but just added to the quirky charm as far as I was concerned.

Unfortunately it soon happened again, and again, and again. Eventually the resynch procedure failed to do the necessary and I was stuck with a watch that didn't tell the correct time any more, which isn't really what you want in a time telling device. Then the touch function started acting up and I started to get really concerned. Fortunately it wasn't anything too troublesome - the flashing "bat" on the digital screen eventually clued me in that all it needed was a new battery. Nothing untoward about that you might think. But as ever, nothing could be further from the truth. I took the watch in to our local jewellers, he had a battery, he popped it in, I resynched the hands and... It worked. Bish bosh, job done, I thought*. I did notice in the shop that the watch was reading the temperature as 86.2 C which I commented on as being a little on the high side but the jeweller said he'd just been working under a hot light, so fair enough.

I was really pleased for a few days that my trusty watch was back in full working order, until that is, I tried to check the atmospheric pressure during a big storm. The screen was blank. I then noticed that the temperature was still reading as 86.2 C and the altitude screen was also blank. Uh oh. A swift trawl round the Internet revealed quite a few people with a similar story "my T-Touch was working fine, then I changed the battery and now the temperature is stuck on xx.x degrees and the pressure and altitude screens are blank." Even worse there's nobody saying "my T-Touch was working fine, then I changed the battery and the temperature got stuck on xx.x degrees and the pressure and altitude screens were blank. But then I did xyz and now it's all sorted."

What kind of a watch breaks when you change the battery? That's just pathetic. Now, I'll admit that the temperature function was a bit pants, after all, it only ever showed you how hot your wrist was which is fairly, if not totally, useless. So I can live without that. The altimeter also wasn't much use as you need to recalibrate it every day and I don't know how high I am almost ever, unless I'm at the seaside of course. So I can live without that too. But, I did use the barometer function quite a lot. No reason for that particularly I just used to find it interesting. And anyway, what kind of watch breaks when you change the battery? I know I said that already, but it's a bit of a sore point. And in fact I know the answer to that question, it's a hugely expensive Tissot. I suppose it's not that expensive compared to Rolexes and the like but it's the most I've ever spent on a watch.

It's obviously a not entirely unexpected problem either as it's listed in the manual in the troubleshooting section (next to the ominous words "return to dealer for repair".) So I'm going to take it to a local Tissot dealer and see what they say but I think it could be a bit expensive to fix. If it's too much I don't think I'll bother, I'll just buy another more sensible one with the money.

Still, at least the title is nicely alliterative.

*OK, that isn't really what I thought.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Stairgate SG-1

Spent the afternoon fitting a stairgate to the top of the stairs. It doesn't look much like the one off the telly, but still, I can't wait for the aliens to start walking in through it. Some people might wonder how it is that such hugely dangerous and highly advanced alien technology is being sold in Mothercare. I say, who cares? Let's just be thankful that it is.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Adventures with Windows 7 part 3

Won't boot...
Won't boot without the DVD...
Oh for fecks sake...
Create Master Boot Record...
Still Won't boot without the DVD...
Boot Manager...
Disconnect Other Drives...
Cut Fingers...
Repair Installation...
At Bloody Last...

So there you have it. I have to say it wasn't the easiest installation I've ever done. But I have now got a bootable version of Windows 7 Professional. It seems the installer can't cope with creating a bootable Windows 7 installation in a computer which already has a bootable installation of some other version of Windows on another disk. I'm guessing it was trying to update the Vista boot manager to point to both installations but obviously the Vista BM didn't like that much. In the end I had to disconnect the other hard drives and then the repair programme correctly diagnosed that boot manager wasn't present and repaired the disk but only after I repaired it a second time. No idea what it did the first time but obviously it wasn't repaired properly.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Demon Spawn

One of the main rules I decided upon when starting this was that I wouldn't wibble on about Phoebe too much. The other was that I wouldn't wibble on about work too much. But this is definitely worthy of comment.

I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised, after all, she was created by a gravely evil act so something like this was bound to happen. To be honest I had my doubts about her even before she was born when we couldn't seem to pick up any heart beat on the foetal heart monitor. I'd sort of resigned myself to the fact that she was was going to be some kind of undead zombie baby clawing her way directly out through Hayley's stomach. That did sort of happen, although she had a little assistance from a surgical team. Since birth though she's seemed perfectly normal, almost as if she was human. Presumably now though the gaping void within her where a soul should be has now been filled by its rightful demonic occupant...

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Secret You

Another fascinating Horizon episode about what gives us our sense of self. I find this sort of stuff incredibly interesting. I'd read about a lot of the experiments he did (the equally fascinating Mind Hacks book is a great source for interesting psychological tricks you can do at home) but it was cool to see them actually done. It's amazing how easy it is to trick the brain into thinking 'you' are somewhere else other than in your body. Presumably these sort of effects are responsible for out of body experiences too.

I'm so interested in the workings of the brain that sometimes I wonder if I chose the wrong career, but I suppose it's not as dissimilar as it seems at first. It's really trying to understand the software of the brain which isn't too different to understanding any other software. Possibly.


Spent a nice afternoon at Wisley Gardens with Hej and Phoebs. I know, it sounds like something an old person would say. However, of course, my motives were photography related. There's a selection of sculptures, including a (fake) Henry Moore and interesting looking plants in the glasshouse. So I took along my camera. Here's what I found:


The lovely Hej spotted this excellent crop of mushrooms growing by the fountain thing in the garden. I'm very pleased she brought them to my attention.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Adventures with Windows 7 part 2

Emboldened somewhat by the ease with which the NC10 took to Microsoft's new operating system I thought I'd move on to the main computer. After spending hours running the backup utility, just in case, I tried to begin the upgrade. I thought at first I'd try to move up to 64bit, but no, it seems you can't upgrade from 32bit Vista to 64bit W7, you have to perform a fresh install. Obviously I don't really want to do that as it would mean reinstalling all the other stuff I've put on it over the years.

So, reluctantly, I decided to upgrade to 32bit W7 and do the 64bit upgrade later when I've got myself a bit organised, dug out all the disks for the various bits of software and so on. But no, it seems you can't upgrade from Vista Ultimate to W7 Professional, you have to perform a fresh install. Obviously I don't really want to do that as it would mean reinstalling all the other stuff I've put on it over the years. Hmmm, I seem to have a slight sense of deja vu.

Still, it's good to see that everything's back to normal. I was getting a bit worried.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Adventures with Windows 7

After an attempt to install a routine update to the wireless driver on my NC10 resulted in complete disaster - not only was the wireless networking broken but the wired Ethernet was gone as well. Even more bizarrely any software to do with networking like the Atheros wireless client programme also completely vanished. Exactly how Samsung managed to achieve this on my behalf is beyond me. Still, on the basis that I would need to do some extensive fecking about with the machine anyway I decided that I might as well go ahead and install Windows 7 instead.

It wasn't an entirely painless exercise although not through any fault of Microsoft. The main problem was creating a bootable USB drive since the NC10 doesn't have an optical drive and downloading all the Samsung Windows 7 drivers. After that it was amazingly trouble free. Even more surprisingly, the vanilla Windows 7 install just worked on the NC10 even before I had installed all the Samsung drivers. Wireless networking the lot. Of course the function keys didn't work but the XP version of Magic Keys runs fine on W7. I did decide to install the Samsung drivers anyway, just in case, although it would have been interesting to see how things would have gone if I hadn't.

I admit it was a bit sluggish at first, for some reason it had decided to enable the Aero theme, even a swift poke through the secret BIOS settings to give it more video memory didn't help but after a bit of twiddling with the performance settings I think it's fairly similar to XP. One thing I will say is that the wireless networking seems a lot more stable, fingers crossed, the connection hasn't dropped for no apparent reason like it used to with XP. So I reckon it's worth upgrading for that alone.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Spidre Doux

Tried out my +4 close-up lens on a spider in the bathroom. I had it fixed on my Sony 50mm f1.4 and it worked pretty well. Annoyingly I misremembered the f stop that the lens is at it's sharpest (I thought it was 2.8 but it's actually 3.3) so the photos probably aren't quite as sharp as they could have been, but then I didn't have a tripod either so it's probably not that significant. And so, without further ado, here he is.

I think it's come out OK, you can make out his (or her) hairy legs quite well. It's far from perfect of course but it is my first go.

...gehog News...Hedgehog News...Hed...

We saw Harriet again today, with one of the little ones, which means of course that she wasn't run over. Hurrah! She was clearly it's mother, it was running round her and following her all over the garden. Very entertaining, although I couldn't help wondering what had happened to the other one. Let's not speculate about that. Both young 'uns have been seen wandering round on their own so the other one was clearly just off on it's own somewhere...

Leonardo's Machines

Spent a wonderful afternoon at the Lightbox visiting the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition. The main displays were scale models of some of his major 'firsts', such as his tank, his machine gun, his diving suit and of course his flying machine. I'd seen many of them before in the excellent TV series a while back when they attempted to make full scale versions and actually test them. Most of them worked perfectly, perhaps most surprisingly even the diving suit and the glider. Well, I'm not sure if the glider was perfect, but still, it wasn't bad. Most impressively though, upstairs in the life and times portion they actually have one of his original notebooks. Wow. Annoyingly you can only see two pages of it, which is just mean.

The most incredible thing for me, is to see just how damn clever the man was. It's truly humbling. I can't help wondering what he could have achieved if he had today's knowledge to build on, instead of having to figure everything out from first principles for himself.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Martial Chi

I spent last weekend at an excellent "Internal Strength" seminar given by the legendary Mike Sigman. He's a superb teacher and has managed to distill the basics of the internal martial arts into a few simple concepts and drills. Most importantly he emphasised that although the word "Chi" is used to describe the strength and power that can be developed using these methods, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the wishy washy mystical Chi that you often hear people wibbling about. In fact it's much better translated as connection to the ground, or solidity, rootedness, etc. Essentially what you are striving to achieve is the ability to contract and release your fascial net and elastic tissues of the body to store and release force like stretching and pinging an elastic band. You're also striving to maintain correct structural alignment to allow a sort of effortless solidity and strength. That's all, although of course, it's easier said than done. He described it like your body was covered in a rubber suit metaphorically speaking, so for example, if you contracted the suit across the back and shoulders it would pull up your arms. You can apply this to all parts of the body although the bits that connect to what aren't always entirely apparent.

So in essence all of the Tai Chi forms are really just ways to practice this stretching and releasing and a complete form should cover stretching "the suit" over all the bits of the body. He's also restored my faith a bit in the martial arts in general. Interestingly as well, he commented that martial Chi not understood that way in China so it's a uniquely Western misconception probably caused by poor translation - people without a martial background translating martial texts - which has been passed on and become institutionalised. It's also a sad fact that all the people who are practising forms without understanding the underlying concept of stretching and training the elastic parts of the body have been wasting their time!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Harry The Hedgehog II

Here's another (much better) shot of Harry. I've decided to stop trying to photograph the little things because it was disturbing them a bit.

In related Hedgehog news we had another two little baby ones in the garden a few days back. So that's four visiting our garden (that we know about) although we've not seen Harriet for a few days and there is a hedgehog squashed on the main road not too far away... :(

New Lens For Old, New Lens For Old

Well, not exactly, more like Old Lens for Money, but that made a better title. I picked up a second hand Minolta AF lens which will fit my camera in Harpers very cheaply (it's slightly damaged.) I've taken a few test shots and I can't see anything wrong with the pictures at all, in fact they look significantly better than the ones taken with the (more or less) equivalent kit lens. The guy in the shop said it was "the bees knees" in its day and it's certainly looking that way. Fortunately lens technology doesn't change nearly as much as the technology in the bodies does, so a good Minolta lens is a great buy at a fraction of the cost of the equivalent Sony ones. I might be haunting the second hand camera shops a bit more!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Police Van Fakery?

Something a little unusual happened on the way home from work last night. I was just through the Dartford Crossing in the usual heavy traffic when I heard a faint police siren. Naturally I started looking around too see if it was behind me. Sure enough I saw a white transit van behind me with it's headlights alternating. It was moving along the middle lane so in fact I didn't need to move over, it just swept past me on the inside. As it went past I noticed a few odd things. The first was that the siren was very quiet even when it was right beside me. The second was that it didn't have a blue flashing light anywhere in evidence. The third was that the back of the van was full of what can only be described as electrical junk. And the fourth was that it was quite an old and fairly dirty van.

So I started to wonder, was it really a police van or was it just some bloke who had rigged up his headlights and a siren to get through traffic a bit quicker? It certainly seems like it was the second one! And it certainly seemed to be working, everyone was getting out of his way! Unfortunately I have no way of telling.


Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Meditation Time Part III

Eagle eyed readers will no doubt have spotted I've not mentioned my meditation classes for a while. It's mainly been because nothing worth reporting has occurred. That all changed a week back, I would have blogged about it already but I've been too preoccupied with my nature photography shenanigans.

Anyway, for the past few weeks we've been doing a guided meditation called Damo's Cave. It's enjoyable although I'm pretty bad at visualising completely imaginary things. The basic concept is that you imagine you are climbing up a mountain to a cave (which I suppose represents your mind) and inside the cave are all sorts of rooms, like a control room which you can go and explore. There are also various other rooms with doorways to what are essentially elemental realms (as in Earth, Water, Fire, Air not Gold, Lead, Mercury and Uranium) which you can also go into and explore. Later on you're supposed to explore the environs. No idea what you're supposed to see then. All very relaxing and fun - so relaxing that I actually fell asleep during the second part, which I'm sure isn't conducive to the shamanic journey we were supposed to be undertaking.

But here's where things started to get a little silly. There are supposed to be other rooms too, like a bedroom, a room of knowledge, a room for practicing martial arts in, stuff like that. I know, I know, it's all meant to be symbolic, but, and here's where it got really silly, the course leader suggested that if we did things in the cave they would happen in real life. He gave an example of when he fancied some girl, slept with her in the bedroom of his cave and lo and behold they got together and had a real relationship after. I find this a little unlikely, to say the least. Not the fact that he got together with the girl, but the fact that it was his imaginary spelological adventure that caused it.

But there's more. After that it got really, really, silly. The class was over and some people were asking a few questions. One guy asked what use the whole imaginary cave thing was. The instructor launched into what I can only describe as a major paranoid rant. I don't have the exact words to hand unfortunately but it was something to the effect that people who run the world (presumably not the figureheads like mere prime ministers but the shadowy people who are really in charge) use this technique to control the world and we could too. In fact we should to try and bend the world back again. "They" do this, "They" do that. It went on for quite a while.

I was shocked and not a little stunned. I am of course aware that some people think like this but I've never had direct exposure before. I'll try and remember to check my chat history and post some of the best bits.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Nature Photographer - Part III

I was all excited to get out in the garden last night and lay my photographic trap for Harry the Hedgehog. But the little whatsit never showed up. Harriet did, but she doesn't circle the garden like Harry does so I didn't even bother turning the camera on. Typical.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Nature Photographer - Part II

Things are getting more exciting in the garden as we discovered we had not one, but two hedgehogs rummaging through the dropped bird food and Phoebe leftovers (we shake Phoebe's floor protecting tablecloth out near the bird table as well.) We've called the big one Harry and the smaller one Harriet.

On the photography front things are looking up too. In true obsessive style I crumbled in the face of my previous inadequacy and bought a wide aperture lens. Not, (un)fortunately the really expensive one that I actually wanted but a much cheaper model, just to see if the faster lens made a significant difference to the photographs. I'm pleased to report that it does, I got a more or less sharp handheld shot of Harriet and lots of blurry ones too, the damn things just won't stay still! I still don't have a tripod of course or a remote shutter release but let's not forget that in a few weeks I'll be unemployed again so that's probably enough spending for now. The other good news is that they don't seem too mind the camera noise too much (Harry especially) which means I will hopefully have a few more chances. I've also noticed that Harry likes to circle the garden following a route which takes him right under the outside light where I've determined I can take relatively fast shutter speed photos which should result in some decently sharp shots. All I need to do is camp out by the garden furniture for a few nights and with any luck I'll get some really good photos of him.

My polarising filter should be turning up any day now as well, which will give me a good chance to take some shots of the fish and crabs in the impressive sea aquarium at the office without any nasty reflections.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

UncleMungo - Nature Photographer


Well, I had my big chance and blew it. Picture the scene, we had popped into the garden to put Riff-Raff back in his hutch after giving him his antibiotics when we saw our resident hedgehog snuffling around the lawn, apparently completely oblivious to our presence on the patio just feet away. Oblivious that is until I ran inside and got my camera to take some pictures of it. I managed to scare it off with various camera starting up and focusing noises although fortunately it did come back. So, there I was in position, the outside light was on which should have given me a fighting chance of getting a picture, but no. I just couldn't set a wide enough aperture to get an exposure of less than a second or two, even at higher ISOs. Of course, I don't have a tripod either and the hedgehog was hardly staying still for me. All I managed to get was a blurry garden with a ghostly shape or two. Eventually I was banned from trying as I managed to scare it again with the shutter noise. Result: a total washout.

But it seems, nature wasn't done with me yet. When we got in the house there was an impressively big spider lurking in the corner of the dressing room and brushing my earlier disappointment to one side I once again leaped into action. This time I was able to use one of my Father-In-Law's close up lenses to allow me to get really up close and personal with the spider. Well kind of, it was right in the corner of the room, up by the ceiling, so I had to hold the camera up at arms length but luckily the excellent Sony Live View feature came to the rescue so I could actually still see the spider and focus on it. Unfortunately though almost exactly the same thing happened as with the hedgehog. Even though I was indoors with the lights on I still couldn't get a decent shot. It's not as if the spider was running around either. Flash was no use as I was too close and the ceiling is white so even with the flash stopped right down and the shutter as fast as possible I couldn't get a shot that wasn't just a total white mess. Without the flash I needed a shorter but still fairly significant 0.6 second exposure which is a long time to hold still without wobbling. I tried employing a Hejpod but she couldn't stand still enough for me and swapped lenses and close-up lenses but I'm still not convinced I got a good shot.

OK, I did at least manage to get some shots that looked all right on the LCD, I won't know how good they really are until I look at them on a big screen. So all in all I felt pretty deflated. I could really, really, do with a wide aperture lens.

The only thing is, that although I really love my Alpha 350, it's a brilliant first DSLR for someone like me who is moving up from a compact camera, I'm not 100% sure I want to stick with Sony. The newer cameras they've produced have been a bit poor (according to the reviews for example, the 380 which is supposedly the new model upgrade to mine is in fact a downgrade in almost every area) and the Sony's, even the really expensive ones, seem to be much weaker in bad light in general than the competition with a lot of noise at higher ISOs and a rather brutal noise reduction programme which removes photgraphic detail as well as noise. Unfortunately, it seems I almost always take pictures in bad light. Now, a wide aperture lens would mitigate that a lot but do I want to start investing in Sony lenses which would effectively lock me into the Sony system if I know I might be better off switching to one of the other systems to get good results for low light shots? Especially since I already know that's what I generally shoot. I'm awaiting with interest the reviews of the new 550 which seems like it could be a proper upgrade for the 350.

What a dilemma. Of course, it could be that by the time I am looking to upgrade they've fixed all that stuff, but that's not going to help me take awesome pictures of hedgehogs tomorrow night. Or whenever the next time we see it is.

Don't get me wrong here, I would still chose the 350 as my first DSLR even now, I suppose this would be made a little easier if I knew how much better my low-light results would be with a better lens. If I can get good results without needing to switch to higher ISOs none of this is an issue. Arrgg. If only the lenses weren't so damn expensive.

UPDATE: Sony do seem to be aware of the noise issues and are touting the 550 as having much better performance in this area. Maybe I don't need to worry after all.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Crown Estates Tokaji Aszú 2002

Another desert wine (of course) this one a fair bit more expensive than the ones I usually buy and therefore slightly more disappointing. The lady in the wine shop was raving about it so I was very excited as I poured it out but to be honest it's not all that great. Well, not that great in proportion to it's cost. It's certainly nice enough and is a bit sharper (by reading the label I have discovered that this is called acidity but to normal people that's just sourness) than most desert wines - probably 7/9 on the Sainsburys white wine sweetness scale, I'm so classy, which although it may mean that you can drink it a bit more in an everyday situation surely somewhat defeats the object of having a desert wine in the first place. Isn't the whole point of a desert wine is that it's supposed to be sweet? Making one that's more acidic isn't actually a good thing. Yet somehow wine people obviously think it is. Clearly I have a long way to go as a wine aficionado.

I thought it tasted very like the Australian Botrytis Semillon I enjoyed extensively on my first flight to New Zealand, which is good because after reading the label I discovered that it is also made using grapes affected by Botrytis so a) it should taste similar and b) my nose is still in working order. But c) you can basically get exactly the same thing much cheaper.

I should also note that the wine contained five Puttonyos of Aszú grapes. Yes. Five. Five whole Puttonyos. Not half Puttonyos, oh no and none of your three or four Puttonyos rubbish either. I think that's supposed to be good. Clearly though, it's a load of poncy wine bollocks.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009


Finally got hold of my father-in-law's lenses, he's got some good glass (see I'm already using the lingo, just like a proper photographer) unfortunately though Minolta must have changed their lens fitting some time between 1970 and now (OK, that's a little unfair I don't actually know how old the lenses are) and they wouldn't fit on to my camera. It's a real shame as he's got pretty much every lens I was planning to get (a wide angle, a macro, a wide aperture telephoto and a teleconverter) and it could have saved me a fortune - a decent example of any one of those lenses would cost more than my camera, some of them about ten times more!

It did however give me an appreciation of just how massively complicated and difficult "serious" photography was back in the pre-digital era. There are so many dials on some of those lenses to set aperture and focus (a digital camera can set these for you based on exposure sensors), plus filters to get the right white balance depending on how the colour temperature the film is optimised for (ditto), plus matching the ISO of the film (again, ditto) and after all that you couldn't actually see if the picture was properly exposed or in focus until weeks later, by which time of course you weren't going to be able to take another if it wasn't. It's amazing anybody ever managed to take any photos worth keeping at all.

Although according to the lovely Hayley, Bob hardly ever did...

Monday, 14 September 2009

Buckfast Abbey Tonic Wine

My ever helpful brother has been kind enough to provide me with a sample of the (in)famous Buckfast Tonic Wine which I took for a test drive over the weekend.

It's nice - sweet and strong but with a slightly bitter edge reminiscent of tonic water, like its Sherry’s slightly unsavoury younger brother. I can see why the kids like it.  It's also chock full of caffeine, more so even than Red Bull, which was a bit of a surprise, and we should all know the consequences of mixing caffeine and alcohol by now. That could go quite a long way towards explaining its (possibly undeserved) dubious reputation.

But as a responsible adult (kind of) I feel I can enjoy it without wrecking the house or running out into the street and having a fight. Although I did only have a small glass. Who knows what could happen if I have two small glasses...

The Return Of The Plague

Of maggots.  This time not in the house though, it's much, much nastier - they were on one of our rabbit's bum.  Yes, Riff-Raff has fallen prey to the dreaded fly strike after getting a bit of a bad stomach.  Fortunately we spotted it really early and it looks like he should be OK.  It's pretty nasty though as you can imagine.  There's nothing I enjoy more of an evening than peering at a stinky rabbit bottom and then seeing hundreds of tiny maggots in there too.  Yeuchk.

I did learn one interesting blow-fly fact though while trawling the Internet for clues.  For 'tis the blow-fly that causes fly strike.  It turns out that blow flies, which as we all know have medicinal uses (maggot therapy anyone?) are in fact blue bottles.  And green bottles.  But not beer bottles, sorry Ned.  So in essence, they are just, well, flies.  In fact a blow fly is any fly that lays it's eggs on meat.  So there you go, don't say you never learn anything when you read this.

Friday, 11 September 2009

A Slippery Situation

I was following a fuel tanker coming off the roundabout at Junction 31 when it started spewing diesel out the back and onto the road.  He seemed completely oblivious and left a huge trail of diesel round a roundabout and up a hill.  Needless to say driving through it was more than a little treacherous!  Especially in a rear wheel drive car on the roundabout - fortunately my karting trips had instilled a few useful reflexes and I recovered from a several spins before I had time to even think about it.  Maybe the traction control helped a little too!  Now my whole car absolutely stinks even though I had the air on recycle and there's diesel all up the sides by the wheels. 

I suppose I should be a little grateful that I wasn't a few minutes further down the road as apparently it's turned into complete chaos with the side road and possibly the main roundabout both being closed.  I wouldn't have a clue how to get to the office any other way.  It also seems that the telephone exchange for the office is down there and all the phones are out too.  I'm not quite sure how a fuel spillage can take out a telephone exchange but apparently it can.  Let's hope the terrorists don't figure that one out. 

Fingers crossed it will be all cleared up before I leave this evening.

Monday, 7 September 2009

The Danger From Swine Flu Is Officially Over!

At least that's what I'm inferring from the sudden disappearance of the alcoholic hand gel stations by the car park door. 

Not that I'm complaining, normally I quite enjoy using alcohol gel (mmmm vodka) but this stuff was terrible, it felt like liquid soap and left a nasty residue on your hands, again just like liquid soap would if you didn't wash it off after applying.  And woe betide anyone who accidentally put a gelled finger in their mouth before washing it with soap and water normally.  I foolishly tried to (dsicreetly of course) get a bit of meat out from between my teeth after lunch (there was a hand gel station at the canteen entrance too) - yeeeuuuchk!  It has the most horrendous bitter taste imaginable.  It was about 30 minutes before I could taste anything else again, despite running straight to the kitchen to get a glass of water and gargling furiously.  It's probably the second worst thing I've ever put in my mouth, after the as yet not definitively identified (but possibly rotted/fermented soy bean) maki roll I bought in Japan.

Travel Survey

Bleh.  School holidays are definitely over.  It took me an extra fifteen minutes this morning to get to the motorway.  Strangely, the motorway itself was if anything running slightly better than normal, although that was possibly only because I was later than I usually am. 

That's got nothing to do with the post though, Hayley and I have been selected (Phoebe is too young  apparently) to take part in a Department for Transport travel survey.  I have no idea why.  It seems to be all about cycling, but I'm afraid there's not much chance of me cycling to Dartford every day, or for that matter taking public transport.  It's kind of a pain, we have to log all the journeys we do including "all walks no matter how short" in a travel diary but it's not clear if I need to put  things like "7:30am walked five meters to garage" or if I need to log the run I did this morning.  After all running isn't walking and I wasn't going anywhere anyway.  It's all just too confusing.  I also have a feeling it's going to make me look a little boring, as all I'll have in it will be "drive to work, drive home, drive to work, drive home..."  At least it's only for a week.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Campbells Rutherglen Muscat

After a special request from Ned I've decided to up the alchohol content of my blog for a bit.  So here's what I had to drink last night:

Campbells Rutherglen Muscat
Very nice indeed.  A good rich desert wine, one of the best I've tried.  I still think that the obscure Sicilan Passito di Pantelleria is the best ever but this is a fairly comfortable second so far.

Hmm, this drink reviewing is harder than it looks, it's not easy to come up with descriptions that aren't, "Yum, it was was tasty."  Need more practice obviously.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Quiet Week

Nothing much to report this week, the traffic is definitely worse now unfortunately, it's taking me about 15 minutes longer to get in than it did during the holidays but so far no major snarl-ups.

Things are looking up on the job front too.  One of my former employers has been in touch to see if I fancy coming back for a spell (still contract unfortunately.)  To be honest I'm not entirely sure I do want to go back, but beggars can't be choosers.  At least I have the option (hopefully) if I want it.  The only person at my current employer who could do the work I'm doing has just left, so if I play my cards right there should be more work here too.

My photography books arrived and I've been driving Hayley quietly mad sitting in the lounge taking endless photos of the fireplace to see what all the different settings do.  Not entirely sure the fireplace is actually the best subject for this but it's the best I can do for now.  My father-in-law has offered me his old Minolta lenses to try (they should work on my camera) which would be great and could save me a fortune.

That's it really.  Boring eh?

Edit: anther former employer has been in touch also requesting my services.  Much less likely to happen than the other one, but having options makes me feel good, even if they're not very likely ones.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

The Holiday Is Over

Sadly. It's back to the grind-drive. Impressively after only a week (or so) off, I seem to have totally forgotten how to get ready for work in the morning, neglecting to shave and generally faffing a lot instead of getting ready with my customary slick and automatic efficiency. I also managed to leave all sorts of things I was supposed to bring with me at home into the bargain - including the work laptop I had been loaned for the holidays, my mobile, my little umbrella (suits get knackered when they get wet) and the jumper I've been wearing in the office (I sit right under a very chilly aircon vent.) At least I remembered my wallet, my iPod and my house keys but that's still not a very good remembering things to forgetting things ratio.

Then, of course, the traffic was really bad at Dartford which rounded out quite a good morning from a grumpiness perspective. Unfortunately I obviously have a bit of holiday cheer left which has cancelled most of it out, so, reluctantly, I'm forced to end the post here.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Holiday Part Deux

Well it's been a hectic week. We've been to Tesco - again! I know, it's astounding. We even had lunch there. Which was pretty shit if I'm honest.

There have been a couple of more interesting excursions though. Astute observers will have noticed that I bought a camera a few days ago, something I obviously didn't do in Singleton. I can now exclusively reveal that we went to Chichester for the day. It was nice. After a bit of aimless wandering we had lunch in a Weatherspoons where Phoebe discovered that she is very fond of chips! She gets that from her mother.

The next day we took Phoebe on her first swimming trip. Not entirely sure what she made of the experience, she didn't look sad or happy. The entire thing seemed to be a total non-event as far as she was concerned. Unlike showering and getting dressed again afterwards which was a bit fraught. Even with two of us to juggle her it was still really difficult and she got very hot and miserable.

Today we went to sculpture and insect world where I got plenty of opportunities to use my new camera. Unfortunately we'd been out for lunch and then kept Phoebe up instead of sensibly going back to the cottage and putting her to bed (which would have meant not going to SAIW of course) and she was really tired and upset. I ended up (literally) running round the forest on my own (it's 24 acres) taking pictures of as many of the sculptures as I could while Hayley sat and waited in the car with her. It was a bit of shame for Hayley, I think she'd have really enjoyed it if she'd had the chance. It was also a bit of shame for my wallet as it costs £10 to get in and I can't really say she got her money's worth. Anyway, if I ever get around to it, you will be able to see the fruits of my photographic labour here at some point.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Digital Photography Adventures

Just upgraded my photography equipment to a DSLR with the purchase of a Sony a350. Bit of a step into the unknown as I know nothing about 'proper' photography, fortunately one of my birthday presents was an Amazon voucher so I can see a few Idiots Guide to DSLRs coming my way fairly soon. Luckily the quick start guide only has four steps - set the dial to auto, view through the screen, half press the shutter button to focus, fully depress to shoot. I think I can cope with that!

Monday, 24 August 2009

Holiday Part Un

Well it's the end of an action packed day, yes, days end pretty early at the moment. We went to... Tesco! I know, unbelievable. We did almost manage a full-on Wray family expedition when the the Sat Nav sent us off a on a 15 mile detour down a dual carriage way just to get us to the next exit further along on the roundabout we had been on in the first place. Personally I'd have preferred to just go round a few more yards, but Nora knows best. By the time we realised what had happened we were stuck and had to take the entire detour. Our day would have been complete if had been shut when we got there but sadly it wasn't.

Phoebs is a bit reluctant to go to bed, we're not sure why, could be teeth, could be that it's a strange place. Fingers crossed she gets used to it.

Teeth Teeth We Want More Teeth

All the girls are cheering
Get the effing teeth in

Phoebe's round is it? I'll have two upper lateral incisors thanks.

The Breakfast Song

In keeping with family tradition, I have composed a song to be sung at breakfast to Phoebe. Traditionalists will no doubt complain that it actually rhymes and the words fit with the tune. But sod 'em.

The Breakfast Song (you can guess the tune for yourself)

Phoebe, Phoebe come for your breakfast do
I'm half crazy picking up toast for you
I won't think that you're a nutter
When you smear your face with butter
But you'll be there
In your highchair
With your toothy smile shining through

Another Decade Exits Stage Left

So my thirties have made a graceful, if inevitable, exit stage left and my forties have shuffled in from the right. Got some good presents though, I'm especially looking forward to charging round Thruxton in a Ferrari F-430. Hope I don't crash it. My groovy book reader is doing sterling work already, I've read the latest China Mieville and really enjoyed it, I'm currently working on Harry Ramsden 10, with 11 waiting in the wings.

I was wondering if I'd feel any different now I'm, gulp, forty. And the answer of course is not in the slightest. After all I'm only a day older than I was when I was thirty nine. If anything I feel better now than I did when I was thirty, I'm certainly a lot fitter and stronger (thanks CrossFit and Kettlebells, with an honourable mention to Ross Enamait) so that's not an issue. I suppose the future is a lot more uncertain and of course I have a daughter to worry about too, but that would be the case whatever age I happened to be, so I can't blame that on being forty either.

So, that's about it really, with the stage makeup on my forties look very like my thirties...

Friday, 21 August 2009

Holiday Time

Last day of slogging round the M25 for a whole week. Hurrah!

Have been given a laptop and a 3G card by work so I should be able to blog about all the exciting things we get up to over the next few days in Sunny Singleton, like... Well... Anyway, I'm sure there will be something. Phoebe's teething again so if nothing else that should add some spice to the week.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

And The Lesson Of The Day


No, not how to die. Don't try and load 17,000 books all at once onto your Sony Reader. Firstly Vista will crash halfway through, secondly it will take hours and hours (around six to get the first 9,500 I managed before Vista crashed) and thirdly after you turn it on it will sit there "loading" for some indeterminate amount of time. So far about an hour. It is still working on something because the icon in the middle is slowly spinning round but while it is in this state I can't read any books. Grr!

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Beer, Beer, We Want More Beer...

...the residents of Chobham must be chanting, because they were restocking the Sun again. Blocking the road, again. Delaying me for ages, again. Can't they at least do it after 9:00? Surely that isn't too much to ask.


Monday, 17 August 2009

The Joy Of Text

No not text messages, I mean just plain, ordinary, old fashioned words. Well, sort of old fashioned. Perhaps I should say plain, ordinary, old fashioned words repackaged in a fancy high-tech wrapping. I am of course talking about the new Sony Reader which my lovely family got me for my tieth birthday. Even though it's not my actual birthday until next week, like a naughty boy I loaded up some of my ebooks and got stuck in.

It's so good, I'm already wondering if I'll ever read a paper book ever again. Of course I will, that's a silly thing to suggest. Even so, I do think it could easily be to books what iPods are to music. I always thought it would be a good gadget but held off getting one for a while as I wasn't able to find any ebooks that I actually wanted to read. All that changed though last month and I'm now the proud owner of enough ones and zeros to keep me going for quite likely the rest of my life. I'm in heaven. I'll probably stay there as long as I can keep getting hold of up to date books, fingers crossed my current source keeps delivering. Mind you, even if I can't, it's not as if I'll be short on things to read.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Plague Maths: Plague A + Plague B = Plague A?

It's also just occurred to me that we could have effectively cancelled out our plague of flies by using the plague of spiders to eat them, although that may have entailed chasing the flies upstairs into the bedroom which is where the spiders mainly hang out. Which got me to thinking about plague maths and if other plagues would cancel out or if they'd reinforce each other. Now as previously discussed we could cancel out a plague of birds with a plague of cats, cats with dogs, dogs with cows and so on.

You could argue that although the plague of spiders would eat the plague of flies, it would become much larger as a result and you'd just end up with twice as many spiders, but I'm not sure that would matter much. After all, once you've got to the point where it's a plague how much more plaguey can it get? The answer is none. None more plaguey. Plagues are like infinities in that respect.

Looking at the ten classic plagues you could for example cancel the plague of blood with a plague of vampires. That's probably not a very good example. Let's see... No, I'm not getting much inspiration. I suppose a plague of darkness could be cancelled out by a plague of street lamps.

Yeah, OK, I didn't really think this whole plague maths thing through.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The Second Plague

Or - Arrrgh! Maggots!

This is quite literally yucktastic. Whilst I was upstairs removing the 13 spiders that had taken up residence overnight, the Lovely Hayley spotted a maggot in the kitchen which was unpleasant but seemed fairly innocuous. Then a bit later on she found another, and then another, and... Well you get the idea. Further investigation uncovered around 50 or so all round the utility room, under the doormat and even in the doormat buried deep into the fibres. So that went straight in the bin - wrapped up in a plastic bag of course.

We must have had some flies get into the kitchen bin, which is where they seemed to be coming from. I shudder to think how many were still in there! We are now having to reconsider what we do with the food waste from Phoebe's meals, there's quite a lot of it. Current thinking is to pop it in an ice-cream tub and empty it into the main bin in the evening. We'll have to see how that goes.

I also can't help noticing that we seem to be experiencing our second plague although I'm not sure if it was meant to be a plague of maggots or if it's the start of a plague of flies, I suppose it could even be both if we'd left it. So I have to wonder what's coming next, after all plagues come in packs of ten as everyone knows. Unfortunately our plagues aren't following the normal pattern or flies would be quite a bit later on. I doubt it's going to be a river of blood either although that would certainly be interesting to see. I'm not sure if a canal of blood counts but that's probably the closest we could get. I'd think I'd quite like a plague of frogs so fingers crossed for that one.

The lovely Hayley points out we should hope we don't get the death of the first born after all the trouble we went to to get her. I have to agree.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Normal Service Has Been Resumed

Thanks to the neighbour's cats yowling and caterwauling during the small hours of the morning I woke in a fine grump this morning and my blogging fire is burning brightly.

For some reason while cleaning my teeth this morning I found myself thinking about the theory that we are living inside a giant computer simulation - what's become known as the "Matrix Hypothesis" (at least by me.) I'm not really sure what to make of it. Having read the original paper I'm now even less sure. In many ways the entire argument can be considered in the same manner as the arguments made by the Intelligent Design (it's not science) crowd. If the entire observable universe is a simulation, right down to the sub-atomic level, we have no way of telling. Everything in the universe looks the way it does because the implementors of the simulation made it look that way, including the apparent appearance of it not being a simulation.

This is the same rather weak argument that ID (i.n.s) proponents use to reconcile the observed state of the universe - many billions of years old, evidence for evolutionary history and so forth with their belief that it isn't really like that at all. It obviously looks that way because God made it look that way for some unfathomable reason of his (or her let's not make any assumptions) own. Of course there is no way of disproving this because any experiment you could devise would just show that the universe is the way it is as a consequence of some relatively simple natural laws just as God intended.

You can, however, apply some simple logic to try and work out the truth. If the universe appears to be very old and all the experiments we do show that and the mechanisms for life to evolve on it's own and develop into new forms seem to be present and have even been observed happening at least on a microscopic level (antibiotic resistance anyone?) then the simplest explanation is that's how the universe really is. You don't need to postulate the more unlikely scenario that the universe was created a week last Wednesday with all of it's prehistory fully formed and ready to go. It could have happened, and as mentioned, we of course wouldn't be able to tell, but the most likely explanation is that the observed state of the universe is the real state of the universe. The universe appears to be billions of years old because it is, life appears to evolve because it does and so on.

Now, here's the interesting thought that occurred to me in the bathroom. If I set up a giant simulation of the entire universe there's no way I'd make it so perfect that it was totally indistinguishable from reality. I'd make sure to leave small clues, some little anomalies that the inhabitants of the simuverse would be able to use to deduce the truth about their situation. Perhaps it's just me, but I think that would be pretty funny. I'd probably even have some sort of mechanism in place so people who are able to part the veil of reality so to speak could subvert the logic of the entire system to get some sort of reward for doing so. Wouldn't you? Let's face it, it would just make the whole thing a lot more interesting. And if I think I'd build my simulation(s) that way, you can bet that if there are uncounted billions of them as has been proposed then other people would do the same thing too.

Now, you can argue that a posthuman civilisation would be more mature and responsible than ours and therefore wouldn't do such a thing. It undoubtedly has the potential to cause unnecessary stress and suffering to any of the simulated inhabitants that manage to work it out, but come on, that's just bollocks. There's no reason to suppose that evolved humans would be any more saintly than the current crop of (less-evolved) humans. Even if they are let's not forget that we wouldn't actually be real so there's equally no reason to suppose that the same moral rules would have to apply to their treatment of us. You don't see me agonising about the fate of the zombies in Quake III. And, yes, I know that's not a completely valid argument as our all powerful descendents would be making conscious beings in their computers and not mindless, well, zombies but even if the majority of people would never dream of doing such a thing it would still happen sometimes. After all, the majority of people would never dream of committing murder but murder still happens and slightly messing with the heads of simulated people is nothing like as bad as murder.

Besides, is that any more morally ambiguous than creating an entire simulated universe full of conscious beings in the first place? If we are living in a simuverse they've made it pretty unpleasant for a lot of the people a lot of the time. I'd argue that deliberately giving the inhabitants the chance to work it out and maybe even escape from it is kinder.

Maybe that's all the evidence we need that we're not living in a simulation after all.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Sudden Excitement!

Brought on by the appearance of a hedgehog in the garden. Bless. Hayley has already started planning some sort of multi-storey hedgehog house extension to the shed. Still, it's made my day, I do like hedgehogs.

Friday, 7 August 2009

All Fun And No Grump Makes Jack A Dull Blog(ger)

Or No News Is Dull News.

Yes, it's been pretty quiet on the things worth blogging about front this week. Phoebes has been sprouting teeth like she's part shark (another two have appeared, making six this month) which is causing a few ripples in the normally tranquil pond of fatherhood.

Meditation class has been postponed this week again, so I can't even mutter under my breath about mystical energy forces. Well, OK, I can - but not without repeating myself.

Summer holidays are in full swing so the traffic has been pretty good. I even managed to drive right round the roundabout, onto the slip road and all the way to the Dartford Tolls without stopping once which has never happened before. It'll probably never happen again either.

In many ways this is of course a good thing, but it's pretty clear that my urge to blog is almost entirely fuelled by grumpiness. I could have blogged about the inconsiderate feckers who parked their beer lorry outside the pub in Chobham High St, totally blocking one side of that very busy road which added an extra fifteen minutes onto my journey. I realise they need to deliver beer and all that, that's not what annoyed me. What annoyed me was there's a car park right next to the place they stopped. They could have parked in there and avoided all that chaos. At the most it would mean lugging the barrels a couple more feet, surely not too onerous? Thoughtless gits.

Hey! I just realised, while describing the blog entry I didn't make I got a bit grumpy and ended up doing the post after all. Has normal service has been resumed?

Monday, 3 August 2009

Of Dreams and Demons

I was listening to the sceptical podcast by the NESS again today. They discussed something called Waking Dreams or Hypnagogia which they said was responsible for the majority of UFO abduction claims as well as historic claims of demonic presences like succubi. It's the result of certain physical changes that happen in the brain when you fall asleep - parts of it deactivate leaving you unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality, which incidentally, is why even the weirdest dreams don't seem odd at the time. They also leave you paralysed or you'd act out your dreams - which a best would be silly and at worst would probably kill you if you leap out of a window or fell downstairs. It's possible to partially wake into a strange in between state where you are conscious but still under the influence of these sleep induced changes.

So why am I commenting about this? Well, I realised that it's actually happened to me. I had a very strange experience a few months back where I woke to see a huge (several feet wide) jewelled spider dangling down in front of me. As I looked it it, it retreated up it's web towards the ceiling. I stared at it for a while not knowing what to do and eventually went back to sleep. Some time later I woke again and still saw it dangling down over my head.

Now, at the time I had no idea what was going on and I remember it very vividly. Looking back with my newly acquired knowledge I can see that I was clearly having one of these waking dream experiences. The first red flag is that upon waking and seeing a giant spider dangling in front of my face I just went back to sleep. I mean, come on I know I'm fairly laid back but that is ridiculous even for me. The second is that there was a giant spider there at all, let's face it, I live in the UK and unless I'm very much mistaken we don't have giant spiders. I hope that nowhere has spiders that big! And finally let's not forget it was covered in sparking blue jewels. Not the most common look for a spider as far as I know.

In some ways it's a bit of a shame to have an interesting and mysterious experience explained so prosaically, but I think it's always better to have a genuine explanation even if it makes life a little more mundane.

Size Isn't Everything

OK, so I'm obviously rambling a bit, I'll try and keep the length a bit more reasonable in future.

Meditation Time Part II

After an unfortunate hiatus while the instructor looked after his sick daughter we're off again. This week was "Fire". I got on with this a lot better than the previous week(s) focus of water which to be honest didn't do much for me at all, no doubt my chakras are out of balance or something. This time we did a new breathing exercise which made me feel very hot and sweaty. Fortunately this is what's supposed to happen, I suppose the fire theme should have given me a clue.

Again though, my sceptical brain kicked in. While there's no denying the meditation had a definite physical effect I found it pretty hard to swallow the explanation about purifying Chi or whatever it was that was supposed to be happening. The breathing involved slowly taking a breath, compressing the lungful of air using your stomach muscles and holding it then breathing out slowly while maintaining the compression. It's a fairly hard isometric stomach exercise. Could the apparent heat generation be simply due to the effort involved in intensely contracting my muscles? In addition I have a vague recollection that breathing is one of the major ways heat is expelled from your body. Clearly if I'm right about that then taking around two breaths per minute rather than the more usual 10-12(ish) would have a significant impact on body temperature too.

Again, I'm not being overly critical about the course itself, you unfortunately have to expect that sort of thing on a meditation course. I'm also not trying to second guess and sneer at the instructor all the time. I'd just be more even more interested in it than I already am if there was an explanation of the genuine physical processes underlying what you can clearly feel going on in your body rather than some vaguely mystical almost certain nonsense.

Hmmm, there could be a book in that, "The Sceptical Meditator." Although the audience comprising the intersection of people who are both sceptical of new agey explanations and still interested in what, let's face it, are new agey practices is probably fairly small! I should probably point out I do draw the line there, meditation is pretty much my limit, it's relaxing, it makes you feel good and you can definitely feel "something". I put something in quotes because what you can actually feel isn't certain. You won't find me taking any courses in crystal healing or dowsing or any other blatant nonsense.

It's certainly interesting to me that I can make myself hot when I want to, it'll come in handy at the office since my desk is under an air conditioning vent. I suppose I'm just puzzled that firstly these clearly flimsy explanations get created and secondly that they get absorbed uncritically and then passed on as truths when even a modicum of thought would indicate there may be a more rational explanation. Presumably this is how religions start.

Now that I think about it it's not too different from some of the martial arts experiences I've had. In particular the Go (5th) Dan test I took in Japan. The test is very simple and has a digital pass/fail result. It comprises of you kneeling on the floor with your eyes closed while someone stands behind you with a shinai (bamboo training sword) at the ready. After a time (it seems like forever) and without warning the person attempts to smack you on the head with it. The test is that you have to move out of the way of the unseen strike. If you do, you pass, if you don't you fail and presumably you get a sore head into the bargain. It was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. I think about it fairly regularly to this day. The official explanation is you are sensing and reacting to "the killer intention." The person administering the test is supposed to emit the feeling that they are really trying to kill you and apparently it won't work if this doesn't happen.

So, fair enough I moved at the appropriate time and passed the test, hooray for me. I certainly felt something - I heard a loud roaring sound and it felt as if someone had hosed me out of the way with a high pressure jet of hot water. I felt decidedly peculiar for the rest of the day. But what really happened? I have no idea sadly. As a senior (and presumably also slightly sceptical) student remarked at the time, "It's certainly a test, but a test of what?" I don't have a better explanation unfortunately but that doesn't mean I don't think there is one. I suppose I can vaguely consider that I heard it coming at a subconscious level or something similar. Who knows, perhaps I really did sense the killer intention. I'd love to do some proper testing but it's not something I'm in a position to do. Shame. So until then the best explanation I have is the one I was given. It doesn't mean I have to believe it unconditionally though.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

A Biblical Plague of Spiders

I have no idea where they came from, or how long they're planning to stay, but we have been invaded for the past few summers by herds of pesky daddy long legs spiders. I don't know why they have supplanted the more traditional house spider and why they feel they need to congregate in every corner of every room in our house but they are damn annoying. They don't even have the decency to spin a proper web, instead creating something which can only be described as "a big mess of spider silk" in virtually all corners of the house. We can easily collect and remove five or six on any given day we care to try (and by remove I don't mean carefully catch in a glass and place outside) with only a cursory search, occasionally as many as that per room. But a only few days later we may as well have not bothered. I do wonder if we could reach some sort of natural spider equilibrium where all available room corners have a spider in residence but I suspect they would just start stacking up and down the walls like they do in the garage. Don't get me started on the vast numbers of spiders in the garage!

We have even reversed our usual house spider removal policy in an unfortunately vain attempt to encourage some sort of inter species predation. I would have expected normal house spiders to jump at the chance to eat up a few of their spindly cousins but it seems they don't. Lazy bastards. If we could risk encouraging birds in to eat them up I'd probably be willing to give it a try, but this would begin the inevitable process of getting cats in to eat the birds, then dogs to eat the cats. At that point I'd probably just take the dogs out myself rather than wasting my time with cows and horses. If I'm honest I'm not entirely sure how effective a cow would be at eating a dog anyway. Unless it was a dog made of grass, but then how effective would a grass dog be at eating cats? I think I can guess that the answer to that is "Not very" without actually having to go to the bother of making one. I suppose I could just throw the grass dog repeatedly at the cats until they get the message they're no longer wanted but then I could equally well throw it in the bin myself when all the cats were gone, so I'm pretty sure that bovine intervention would not be required at any point. Which is just as well, imagine the mess they'd make.

Stick, our own in house bird, seems somewhat reluctant to rise to the challenge. Perhaps she's worried about the cats.

The peculiar spider invasion mystery becomes even more puzzling when I ponder what they might be eating. It's not like our house is full of flies like some giant spider supermarket. I mean, fair enough, we do get the occasional fly passing through like anywhere with open windows but as a rule we don't leave little piles of decaying meat and faeces all over the place so we don’t exactly get swarms in. You wouldn't think the few we do get wouldn't be enough to support the vast spider army that is occupying our house but clearly it is. Although now that I think about it I can’t remember any of the thousands of webs we've hoovered up having little mummified fly corpses wrapped up inside them. Could it be that they’re just eating each other?

Perhaps it’s some sort of spidery attempt to force evolve a race of super spiders. This would also explain why the regular spiders leave them so very much alone. Personally I’d probably have started with something a little more impressive but remember, as Darwin pointed out, from humble microbes mighty dinosaurs grow. You've got to admire their strategic thinking.

Yes, I am pretty bored at work today.

Monday, 27 July 2009

A Little Light Scepticism Before Work

I've been using my seemingly endless car journeys round the M25 to listen to the excellent podcast series from the New England Sceptical Society (NESS) called "The Sceptics Guide to the Universe." They've been mostly very interesting although they cover the whole Intelligent Design farrago far too often for my liking. Not that I think there's any validity to ID but they essentially just keep saying the same thing over and over (it's not science) and in my view don't quite go far enough and tar all religious thinking with the same brush. Again I suspect because it's such a hot button issue in the States. Still, I'll let them off, they are American and ID was a big issue in America in 2005 (when the podcast started) as various school boards tried to change the science curriculum to include ID supposedly for balance (but it's not science!) Thankfully they failed in their attempts but it's worrying that something like this happens at all in a supposedly 'advanced' country. It would be funny if it wasn't so serious.

I am slightly concerned that my current bout of grumpiness is induced at least as much by listening to all the ID nonsense in the car as it is by sitting in the traffic. I had hoped to be amused by it all but generally it's just worrying. So I'm going to try and put it all in it's proper context, it's not news after all it's history, the ID people lost. It's not science! Fortunately they've moved onto some more lightweight topics to debunk like spiritualism and alternative medicine. Certainly listening to the excellent Collings and Herrin podcast on the way in today put me in a much better mood.

In any event I'm not sure I've got the stamina to work my way through the entire back catalogue, although I'd like to - I'm currently on 22 out of 250 and each one is around an hour long! By my reckoning I'll need to be at Carpetright for another 77 days to work my way through the current crop, although they'd have produced another 11 in that time, so that would mean... Didn't Achilles and the tortoise do something similar?

Anyway, I won't be here that long, so my consumption of sceptical material should slow down enough for me to safely vent it all out in a controlled manner without the danger of getting too wound up.

Something To Get Your Teeth Into

The mystery of the Screaming Phoebe in the Nighttime has been solved. She's getting some more teeth through! Typically, it's not the set you're supposed to get next (upper incisors) or even the ones after that (upper lateral incisors) she's gone for the more avant-garde lower lateral incisors. Obviously she's not read the same book we have.

It does puzzle me somewhat that getting teeth is so painful and distressing. Well, sometimes, the first pair appeared with virtually no warning at all. I suppose it just goes to show that humans are the way they are due a (very) large chain of mutations and adaptations rather than, say, some big bloke with a white beard decreeing how things are supposed to be. Sorry to all the Deists out there - OK, I'm not sorry, but them's the facts. There's no point getting all upset about it because they will still be the facts regardless of what it says in whatever book you happen to believe in.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

A Taxing Question

Tax return completed for another year. Yaaay! Bit of a boring thing to post about I suppose but not every day is exciting.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

A strange realisation dawned on me yesterday, as I sat in traffic at the Dartford Crossing once again. I used to be a fairly easygoing sort of guy. I used to queue in traffic without complaint. I used to sit calmly, the light smile of the Pharaohs on my lips in jams of almost any duration. But not any more. It's true I'm inexorably approaching my fortieth birthday, but surely mere age can't explain my transformation. Maybe when I'm fifty*, but not now.

So what is it? The thunderbolt of insight that hit me was the realisation of what the M25 is actually for. I know there are those that would argue that the M25 is for conveying cars round the outskirts of London. But that's clearly wrong. For a start, cars are mainly conveyed up to the rear bumper of the car in front at which point they stop. No, it's a giant machine. A giant machine whose main purpose is to convert normal easygoing people such as myself into grumpy bastards. The only possible explanation for this is that the Government wants to maintain a large pool of angry men (or women) in case they want to raise an army. I'm betting that at least 50% of the people who regularly commute on the M25 are so frustrated they would welcome the chance to lash out at pretty much anyone.

Good job I worked it out.

*Obviously when I actually am fifty I'll have to edit this and put sixty instead. And so on.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Traffic Calming

After sitting in two traffic jams today (car on fire between Chertsey and Guildford in the morning and a broken down lorry on the Dartford Crossing in the evening) I was feeling a little grumpy to find myself coming to a stop again at Junction 8. Three jams in one day is just a bit much. I was grumbling and muttering all the way up the hill until I finally got to the source of the problem and saw, sitting forlornly at the side of the road, a smashed up Ferrari FXX*. Ouch! Suddenly my day didn't seem so bad after all.

*To be honest I'm in no way a Ferrari expert and I didn't exactly get a good look at it. Still, in my head it was an FXX which for the purposes of this blog entry is all that matters. Does the fact that I want it to be the most stupidly expensive Ferrari of all make me a bad person?

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Word of the Week

The first in an occasion series.

The made up word of the week is Mentaclop. It means someone who isn't operating at full mental capacity - such as someone who has recently had a baby. Some people of course seem to operate at what I would consider to be well below full mental capacity for no discernible reason.

The origins of this fine word are thanks to my wife, the Lovely Hej who was trying to say "I'm not operating at full mental capacity" but actually said "I'm not a mentaclop." Clearly she said that because she was a mentaclop. Having babies does that to you. Now, I realise that technically this would mean that being mentaclop meant you were operating at full mental capacity, but let's face it being mentaclop doesn't sound like it's a good thing. Besides, it's our word so we can define it how we like.

One of the things I really love about her is that when she's tired she talks complete and utter nonsense. Sometimes she comes up with gems like this. Thanks to the lovely Phoebe, I'm sure there will be a steady supply of new words for some time to come.

In a Roundabout Way

Grrr, it took me an extra 40-odd minutes to get home last night because there was some kind of problem on the other carriage way of the M25. So annoyingly, thanks to some thoughtless fuckwits who were trying to get on to the presumably closed motorway forming a nice solid queue across the roundabout entrance everyone who wanted to go the other way got stuck too. I was starting to get more than a little narked as I sat staring at a gloriously empty slip road that I couldn't get to thanks to some mentaclop in a transit van (amongst others) who just had to get another three feet further down the road. For forty minutes. Forty. Minutes. Forty!

So I'd just like to take this opportunity to say "Thanks guys. Nice of you to share the misery around."

Thursday, 16 July 2009

It's Meditation Time

Surprisingly to some perhaps, I'm doing a meditation course. This week it's 'Earth' - not the Earth we live on, but Earth as in Earth, Water, Fire, Air (which will be coming up in subsequent weeks.) I'm enjoying it, it's certainly very relaxing and you can definitely feel some sort of physical response such as tingling and even twitching in all the right places (the place in the body that corresponds to the Earth Element is at the base of your spine/coccyx.)

I can't help feeling a little sceptical about the explanation for what's happening though. I mean, come on, Chi energy and Chakras, it all just a bit (OK a lot) silly. I'm not saying I can explain what is happening but invoking some mysterious force as an explanation in fact explains nothing. It's probably something to do with increased blood flow, nerve stimulation or tiny muscles or fascia that rarely move consciously twitching. It's times like this that I wish I knew a bit more biology.

Still, I am enjoying it!

Unidentified Crying Objects

For what I think is be the first time ever (and I realise that makes me a lot luckier than most new parents but it's little consolation this morning) Phoebe woke up screaming in the night. I'm knackered. Fortunately I'm working from home today, driving half way round the M25 could have been a bit risky considering how sleepy I feel.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Why am I here?

No, not that why am I here, I already know the answer to that. Why am here writing this blog? It's certainly not because I'm desperate to share my innermost thoughts with thousands of attentive readers. I'd be surprised if anybody reads this ever. It's mainly an accident. I was just trying to comment on my brother's beer blog, but the only way I could do it was by creating a blog account. So I thought "Sod it, may as well post a few times now that I'm here."

So there you go. Mystery solved.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Buying a car by accident

Went with the Mrs to test drive a Golf today. Ended up buying it. Not entirely sure how that happened!

Edit: Still reeling a bit. I should point out that we weren't going to test drive a specific Golf, we were just looking at Golfs in general. My excuse is I was very tired.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Fuck off you red nosed bastard!

So this is my first blog entry. Starting a blog after a few beers (well not actual beers obviously, somewhat strangely I've been drinking Wray & Nephew's Roman Catholic Eucharistic Wine) probably isn't the best idea. In fact it's definitely not a good idea, so I'll pause until some measure of self censorship returns - the Catholics drink the good stuff!