Archive for March 2007

Speed Trap

Posted on Saturday 31st March 2007 at 00:00
A couple of nights ago, a friend of mine got flashed by a speed camera doing over 50 in a 30mph zone. It wasn't as bad an offense as it might sound, given that it was the middle of the night and presumably not in a residential area, as few of those have roads sufficiently straight to allow such speed. As well as being very bad news for her, it was also rather unsettling for me as well.

Although I'd travelled with various 'young? drivers before, she was the first of my immediate friends to pass her driving test and therefore the first with whom I spent a lot of time on the road. She'd actually been driving for a whole two years before I myself was awarded a full license and therefore I'd spent many hours in her passenger seat, on the way to and from various places, watching how she drove as she gained confidence and experience.

She and I have a lot in common with regards to driving. For a start, we are both passionate about it, both as a means of getting about when we want to, and as a hobby in its own right. We both had the same driving instructor, although not at the same time, and we both drive different models of the same car.

My friend is what you might call a girl racer. She's not reckless by any means, but she does enjoy driving at speed whenever she gets the chance. It has to be said that we have this in common as well, although I'm not as comfortable with breaking the rules as she seems to be. When I started driving I was keen to emulate her style, confidence and skill, since she is without a doubt a highly competent driver and as such, I benchmarked myself against her.

I used to justify any minor speeding with the argument that she'd been driving faster than I do for a lot longer and had never been caught, nor had any sort of accident to speak of. This was my safety net, my guard against any guilt at disobeying the overzealous and absurd speed limits that we seem to have been cursed with in this country.

And now she has been caught and I don't have that argument to protect me. What now? Am I going to have to start sticking to the speed limit like an anally retentive grandmother, out for a Sunday drive without her glasses and seemingly oblivious to the fact that the world is a much faster place than it used to be, where people don't have time to slow down for something as insignificant as the law, or a stupid child who has run out into the road after a ball, because its parents are too damn ignorant to lock their bastard brat away until it has grown some common sense?

If that is the sort of driving your humble narrator must resort to, then you'll be seeing a lot more of a sad and deprived Ignorminious, or maybe not, since he'll be running too damn late all the time to be able to fit in a blog, even on a Sunday.

I hate living in a nanny state.

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Love Actually

Posted on Saturday 31st March 2007 at 00:00
I've just become the happiest person in the world, at least for the next couple of hours, as I've just found my long lost copy of Love Actually!

For those who don't know, which I'm guessing is everyone, since I don't think I ever wrote about it, I lent a number of DVDs out to my siblings over the summer, since my DVD collection is by far the biggest in the family. As usual, I left it up to the last minute to pack before returning to uni, and so had to round up my films very quickly.

It wasn't until a couple of months later that I discovered, upon opening the box, that my Love Actually disc was missing. This made me very cross, and things were not improved by the complete lack of interest in the crisis shown by my brothers. I had of course expected both of them to drop everything they were doing to tear the house apart looking for the DVD that one of them had somehow managed to lose. Instead they just shrugged and told me that they didn't think they still had it.

Since neither of my brothers had the good fortune to be born with a brain, neither could remember putting the disc down somewhere, or indeed having it in the first place. Being the busy sort of chap that I am, I hadn't a clue which of them had asked me for it, and in the interests of fair justice I didn't feel I could torture them both for the disc, so I had to let the matter rest.

Earlier this afternoon I felt the need for something jolly to listen to while tidying my room, and the Love Actually sound track was chosen. Half an hour ago I discovered myself with the empty DVD box in my hand. I'd tried searching the other boxes on my shelf for the disc before, trying to remember what else I'd lent out. Today though I couldn't cope any more, and so I resolved to go through all 70 odd DVDs in my room until I found it.

About half way through I picked up Wayne's World 2, which gave a curious rattle as I brought it down to eye level. With my heart in my mouth I pulled open the case to reveal Wayne's World 2 neatly placed upon its holder in the middle of the box. I was about to turn away in disappointment when my eye caught a shiny reflection from the inside front cover.

It was a disc! A disc, dammit!

I turned it over and loo and behold, the glorious broken red heart that couldn't belong to any other film :D

As soon as I've finished writing this I'm so putting it on, no matter what time of night it is.

Happy love for everyone!

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I Have A Theory … Part Two

Posted on Friday 30th March 2007 at 00:00
I have a theory that the sun is hotter in the morning than in the afternoon. No, hear me out on this one! I know it isn't actually hotter in the morning, because that would be impossible. The temperature of the sun doesn't change all that much from one millennium to the next, never mind over a single day, but I think maybe the effect of it does. My case study is thus.

My house has been built with the front facing west and the back facing east. The rooms at the back of the house are continually warm and seem to benefit from a lot of sunlight. They are dry and comfortable and ideal for hanging one's washing in, as it dries in a couple of hours, even in winter.

The rooms at the front of the house couldn't be more different. They are perpetually cold and damp, even with adequate ventilation and the heating switched on. Drying clothes takes closer a couple of days than a couple of hours and there is mould all over the walls. If I'm honest, the front probably gets a little less sun than the back, but even taking that into account, the hours of sunlight in the afternoon and evening aren't nearly as beneficial as the ones in the morning.

I wouldn't mind but my room is at the front; it sucks. Also of relevance is the positioning of the radiators. I've always thought that the whole putting them under the window thing was a bit of a farce, but it can't escape my notice that the two rooms which are cold and damp all the time are the two with radiators across the room from the window, rather than directly underneath it.

I'm very reluctant to move at the end of this year, but even I can't deny that the house is a bit shit. Mind you, the landlords haven't even mentioned next year yet, so who knows what is happening there ...

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I Have A Theory …… Part One

Posted on Thursday 29th March 2007 at 00:00
I have a theory that one's perception of time is affected (at least partially) by the distance that they have travelled.

This thought first struck me on Sunday night, when I returned to Bristol after a day visiting friends. It was about 10:30pm when I pulled up to the house, and I remember thinking that it felt like I'd been away for quite a while. There is a certain feeling of unfamiliarity that comes from seeing a place you know well for the first time after having been away for a period, like you are looking to see what has changed. In my case I felt as though I'd been away for a week, or a long weekend at the very least.

This feeling refused, however, to tally with my watch, which was convinced that I'd been away for less than 12 hours, having left (for once) at my planned time of 11am that very morning. The next day I had work, where I completed a 12 ? hour shift. This time when I came home, it hardly felt like I'd left at all, despite being absent for even longer than on the previous day.

The only explanation I can think of for this is the difference in distances travelled. Work for me is a quick car trip lasting a little under 10 minutes; a journey of maybe 4 miles each way. On Sunday through I drove from Bristol to Egham in Surrey, almost exactly 100 miles from one end to the other. After seeing a delightful amateur production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe, directed by a good friend of mine, and spending a happy hour or two in a nearby pub (The Monkey's Foreskin Forehead) with a group of my best friends from school, I took a slight detour to Yateley to drop in uninvited on my parents, before driving the 90 miles back to Bristol, a total journey of just under 220 miles.

Although this took less time than work, the huge distances covered and number of places visited made me feel as though I'd been home for the weekend, as was the case a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps this reaction highlights a flaw in our ability to cope with the wonders of modern technology which we've yet to evolve to be comfortable with.

After all, it wasn't very long ago that such distances couldn't be travelled in a day. There is an old saying that I can't really remember, but which seemed to be suggesting that it is unnatural to ever travel faster than the walking speed of a camel, as this is the speed which we have evolved to move at. In many ways our current jet setting lives are an assault on the parts of us, such as our body clock and sense of direction, which are meant to help us maintain an understanding of where we are and what is going on around us.

It'll be interesting to see if we change at all in terms of our physiology or psychology in order to adapt to this fast changing world in the future. Shame none of us will live long enough to notice such changes, unless we invent a time machine, and that will present us with a whole host of new problems to get used to!

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Dangerous Drivers Dissected: Part Three

Posted on Tuesday 27th March 2007 at 00:00
In the long awaited third part of his award winning highly acclaimed series, Ignorminious continues his examination of the most dangerous acts of total stupidity seen on a regular basis on Britain's roads. In this part we look at why you shouldn't park on junctions, no matter how little space there is.

Like most people living in a residential area, I have to drive through a number of narrow, car lined streets each morning, before I reach the main road to work. Despite the small distances covered, this is the slowest and most stressful part of the journey, with cars coming at you from side roads all over the place and more near misses, dodgy manoeuvres and reversing half way down the street to let people through in five minutes than you'd come across in a month of driving on main roads.

With all these irritations lurking round every corner, it should be quite a challenge to decide which of them is the most anger-inducing hindrance to my morning drive. Not so however, since the worst of all these problems is the one stopping you from ever getting round 'every corner?: cars parked on junctions.

I think I placed myself in something of a minority when I was learning to drive, in that I actually read the Highway Code. In fact, I remain to this day the only person I know to have ever glanced at it, never mind read it cover to cover, as I did before my theory test. Had anyone decided to follow my example, they'd have discovered, as I did, that it is illegal to park your motor vehicle on the corner of a junction, immediately opposite a junction or in fact anywhere where you might obstruct other road users trying to navigate said junction.

I know it is one thing to be anal and quote the rules until someone listens and another to actually follow said rules, but something really does need to be done about this. The trouble seems to be caused by town councils, who still seem to think it is a good idea to allow houses without adequate drives to be built on the ends of roads, right by the T-junctions. What they don't seem to realise is that anyone who can afford a house, either to buy or to rent, can probably afford a car or two as well, the latter being a small fraction of the price of the former.

If you ask me, it doesn't take much brain power to work out that if you have a car, you are probably going to want to park it outside your house, at least some of the time, and that if driveways are not provided, this will mean parking on the road, regardless of how much disruption this may cause to other road users.

For some unknown reason, the sorts of people who buy houses on street corners are also the sort of people who buy big white vans, and the sort of people who buy big white vans are often the sort of people who aren't very good at parking neatly with two wheels on the pavement to minimise the amount of road space taken up.

This sort of parking has caused some of the most spectacular traffic jams I've ever had the pleasure to be a part of, usually on the sorts of roads that manage to combine corner houses with rows of parked cars, side roads with people pulling out who can't see round the corner and of course, much reversing to let people through.

I have, on occasion, sat at the same junction for 10 minutes, watching with much amusement as two cars (usually with awful drivers) attempt to pass each other at a crowded junction, before getting hopelessly stuck and pissing off everyone else on the road.

Sadly, the only solution I can think of is to either build houses with drive ways, or else limit who can buy certain houses. Perhaps limiting who can drive would be better. Better limit those pesky pedestrians too, while we?re at it. In fact, let's just throw everyone else off the road and then I can drive round as fast as I like.

Everyone in agreement shout Aye!

That was the last in the current series of Dangerous Drivers Dissected. Ignorminious returns later with a new series, for which he's yet to think up a catchy enough title.

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Posted on Thursday 22nd March 2007 at 00:00
I wake suddenly and, disorientated, look at my watch. 9:48am, Bugger! I leap out of bed, now wide awake and run to my phone for a second opinion. 9:49am. Double Bugger! No time for a shower it seems; no time for anything really. I should be parking my car at uni now, ready to walk into work and start my 10am shift, not standing in my bedroom in nothing but a pair of boxer shorts, wondering what to do. Bugger! Bugger! Bugger!

Somehow I am dressed in less than a minute, an impressive feat for a man in a buttoned shirt. I dash into the kitchen for a drink, if only to wet my throat enough to aid the swearing, and then tear up the stairs, not even pausing to consider whether I'm disturbing anyone with my earth-shattering thuds.

Looking in the mirror I thank the gods for my short, neatly cut hair, which is not yet long enough to really need combing. Shaving too can be dispensed with, but only because I am delusional enough to belief that I actually pull off the dashingly unshaven, handsome young man look rather well. My mouth tastes like I imagine a rotting corpse in a greenhouse would taste, but you'd be surprised how quickly you can brush your teeth when you really put your mind to it.

J and her boyfriend look on in mild amusement as I rush about the place, eventually making it out of the door and into the car, just as the clock on the dashboard reads 10:00am. At this point I find myself in a battle of wits, between the part of me that, given the choice, would happily drive to work at 90MPH and to hell with the consequences, and the part that knows that dangerous driving is wrong, no matter how late you are or what that consequences may be. The latter part seems to win, helped in no small part by the hordes of Sunday drivers who have chosen this exact moment to get in their cars and drive in front of me at an infuriating 25 miles per hour. If this isn't bad enough in the 30MPH zones, they fail to show any obvious sign of speeding up when we hit the one section of national speed limit on the route from Fishponds to Frenchay Campus.

A quick bit of parking and an even quicker walk later, and I arrive at work a full 20 minutes after I was supposed to get there, my worst record for any shift I've ever worked. I'm extremely lucky to have the sort of bosses who don't fire you for such offences, though I'm not planning to push my luck like that again anytime soon.

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The Campaign For Real Specs

Posted on Monday 19th March 2007 at 00:00
Has anyone else noticed how incredibly lax technology companies are getting when it comes to including accurate specifications for the equipment that they manufacture and sell? This is something that has been annoying me for quite some time now, as it seems that whenever I buy a piece of kit, it always manages to come up short.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this around today is advertised broadband speeds. I'm currently connected to what my ISP assures me is an 8Mb line. Now, as I understand it, this means that I should be able to achieve a transfer speed of 8Mb in all normal conditions. Why then is it that after more than half a year of heavy usage, I've still not reached a speed better than 7Mb, and most of the time it seems to hover around the 1 or 2Mb region? Am I being ripped off? Is this a case of false advertising?

Sadly it seems I can't ask for my money back, as the 8Mb advertised speed is a theoretical maximum. That's to say, I could possibly be capable of achieving this speed, but in reality it will be much lower most of the time, and this is what really annoys me. I don't want to be sold things based on what they might be able to do; only what they actually can do.

Take my hard disk for example. I bought it under the impression that it was a 250Gb hard drive and therefore should be able to hold 250Gb of my data. When I actually try it though, I find out that it's actual capacity is only 232.1Gb. I'm sorry but there is a hell of a difference between 250 and 232. 18Gb in fact. That's nearly half the space on my laptop! What happened to all that space which I paid for and never received?

Now, I know that with all these technologies there are various quirks which create a difference between their estimated spec and their actual one, but these differences aren't random; not by any means. It is perfectly possible to calculate what size a hard drive will be when formatted based on its physical construction.

There is nothing wrong with a 232Gb hard drive, I'd just like to know that is what it is when I buy it, rather than being taken in by some crap about 250Gb. And it is true of so many other technologies as well. At the moment, I'm trying to have an MSN conversation with a friend of mine, except they keep dashing offline because of a dodgy wireless connection. The wireless router proudly tells us in its spec that it has an indoor range of 150ft. Not bad really, except that my friend is barely 20ft from the router, and can't maintain a connection for more than a minute or two because of the poor signal strength.

How are we ever supposed to be able to plan things like wireless networks, hard disks and internet connections if the people building these technologies can't even be honest about what they are actually capable of? It's truly insane!

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Posted on Sunday 18th March 2007 at 00:00
One of my favourite parts of blogging is going through the statistics for my visitors and finding out how and why they came across my site. Although this has been spoilt recently by the large numbers of hits from people who've received junk email with links to pages on my server that don't exist (thus stopping me from finding out which of the blogs I comment on gets me the most hits), I'm still able to amuse myself once a week or so by finding out which search phrases entered into Google have led people to my site.

Here are a few of my favourites for this week:

why is my shower water getting colder? - There are so many answers I could give to this person, but I can't think of an answer to my own question, which is What in God's name would drive someone to search this on Google?! It beggars belief that someone would actually feel the need to look something like this up on the internet, rather than perhaps, oh I don't know, checking their hot water supply?

huw invented the dynamite - Ok, first things first: how did Google connect this to my blog? I've never once mentioned 'the dynamite? in one of my posts, nor inventions ..... until now of course, when I've written both things twice. Second thing: Although Google is very clever at filtering out spelling mistakes, I don't think even it could get 'who? from 'huw', which is what I assume they were trying to ask. Unless of course, I've got totally the wrong end of the stick. Maybe it isn't a question at all! Perhaps it is a statement. Huw invented the dynamite! Absolutely. If only we'd been given a surname we could all go and thank Huw, whoever he is, for such a fabulous invention.

is my third class degree useless - Clearly written by a graduate trying to get their first proper job it seems. To answer their question: yes. It is probably the most useless waste of three years you could have come up with if you tried. Might I also suggest that the reason you only got a third is because you never learnt to finish a question with a question mark? Good luck getting the job for which you are most suited, and remember: if you?re only going to empty my bins once a fortnight, at least empty them properly! I'm sick to death of coming home from work and finding a load of crap still sitting at the bottom, stinking to high heaven!

drunk flashing - I've got a pretty good idea why this one was being searched for, but they seem to have made a bit of a mistake. What they should have done was change the search from a page search to an image one, and then switched off the safety filter. If they remember this for next time, I'm confident that they'll get exactly what they are after, rather than the comparative disappointment that my dirt-free blog must have been to them.

There were many more interesting and morally questionable searches that found me, but I do have standards to maintain, and repeating them here might just bring in a flood of precisely the wrong type of customer next time Google trawls these pages ;)

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Empty House

Posted on Sunday 18th March 2007 at 00:00
I'm all alone! The housemates have both deserted the house, and now I effectively have control of everything, so why am I still sat in my room, like on any other day? Very odd. In fairness neither of them have gone away for very long. H left a week ago for a 'few days? with her parents, which has now become a week, although I'm told she'll be home fairly soon.

J left last night to spend Mothering Sunday with her family and parted with the words 'see you tomorrow', so I assume she'll be back soon, though she didn't specify when exactly. It has only just occurred to me, after 7 months living here that if I go by the name Ignorminious, our three initials are H, I and J. I promise I'm not making that up.

I don't mind having the house to myself. Obviously I like it when my Housemates are here, as they can be good fun, but I don't miss having them here when they are absent. I guess it is nice to have a bit of peace and quiet; to not have to worry about making a noise when I move around the house or play my music too loud. I enjoy not having to feel guilty if I don't wash up straight after eating, nor make sure I don't disturb anyone by turning on the bathroom light at 3 in the morning.

Student houses are strange places and not like other households. Three or more people living together who are neither related nor in a relationship. Everyone has their own sets of cooking equipment. Everyone washes their clothes separately and you never share towels in the bathroom. You?re expected to use communal resources fairly and evenly, but you never have any sort of ownership or control. This is the first year I've been able to keep my shower gel in the bathroom, instead of in my bedroom. Instead, a large chunk of my room is taken up with the cooking utensils anyone else would have in their kitchens, but for the lack of space in the shared cupboards.

The result of this is a strange dispassion for anything and everything outside of one's own room. There is no sense of pride, or desire to keep rooms clean and tidy, because they aren't yours. In a family, everything is generally owned by everyone and so everyone sees reason in keeping it nice. In a communal house, no one owns anything and so the kitchen, bathroom, hall and living room become a sort of no man's land, which everybody has to use, but no one is prepared to take responsibility for.

At least while I'm here alone I can leave my loo roll in the bathroom and make the kitchen look the way I want it to look, and feel as though all of this house is my home, even if I know it'll all change back to normal the second I hear a key turn in that infernal lock.

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The Future of Blogging

Posted on Sunday 18th March 2007 at 00:00
Almost every week now I hear someone say that 2007 will be the year of the blog, that this year there will be more active blogs than at any point previously. The internet will come into its own at last and that more people than ever will have a very personal connection to the web, in the form of their own page of writings. This is the year when the number of blogs will level out at last, after years of unprecedented growth in popularity.

Is this really true though, and if so, what does it mean for the future of blogging? It can't have gone unnoticed by those with an ear to the news that every year since blogs were first invented has been the 'year of the blog?. That being the case, how do we know that this will be it and that growth in this sector of the internet won't continue to increase further next year and the year after? How do we know when we'll have reached the point where everyone who is likely to start blogging has already done so?

While statistics and trends interest me about as much as soaps and football, what has actually got my brain twitching with thought is what will happen after the 'year of the blog? has come and gone. What will it mean for all of us?

Well, I see two possible futures. In one, the level of active blogs will become a regular value, as those who are going to give it up do so, and everyone else sticks at it as a regular hobby. In this future, blogging ceases to be a novelty, but settles itself into the role of a popular pass time. The shape of the media world and the internet will change to incorporate blogging as a standard source of news, opinion and gossip, in which a large portion of people blog, but not the majority. Instead, far more people read a group of successful blogs, whist a dedicated and talented minority keep those blogs going, thus providing an entertainment in a similar role to newspapers or TV today, with the latest posts on popular blogs becoming talking points in staff rooms up and down the land.

In the other future, blogging emerges as nothing more than a passing fad. Now, instead of levelling out, the number of blogs sharply declines as people realise that the current number of blogs is unsustainable. More and more popular blogs will close, as their writers feel that 'it's time to move on?. Those that remain will get less and less of an audience, as people who read but don't write blogs decide they've got better things to do.

In this future, when you let slip that you are a blogger, people will no longer react with interest and curiosity, but instead will look sympathetically at you for a moment, before secretly striking you off the list of people they wish to be seen with.

Of course, all this is speculation. I have no idea what the future holds for blogging, and for those caught up in this crazy new phenomenon, but it'll certainly be interesting to find out the answer.

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Just Before Bed …

Posted on Saturday 17th March 2007 at 00:00
My internet is fucked :(

For two days now, pretty much every other page I've tried to load has turned into a message from BT Wholesale, complaining about issues with my service provider. Quite what they expect me to do about it I don't know, but I really hope someone sorts it soon, as this is really pissing me off.

Every time I get one of these messages I have to close my browser down and start again. It's insane! How is anyone supposed to get any work done?! On the odd occasion it doesn't redirect to that message, it decides to be selective over which parts of the page to load. I'm attempting to browse a selection of photos taken by a friend of mine, but only about a third of them actually load, and hitting refresh doesn't do anything either. Most annoying!

I've just come back from what could be described as an evening out. It started with an early evening session at work, as is often the case on a Friday evening. After we'd finished, the boss and I went to visit the duty manager, who was supervising an event to showcase the many different cultures within the university as part of the Destination:World week.

I hadn't planned to stay long, but before I knew where I was I'd been sucked in. There was an absolutely fantastic Chinese Dragon, the operators of which were unbelievable dancers, jumping onto the tables around the room and dancing across them without spilling a single drink. It was most impressive! There were several other acts, including Bollywood dancing and a Gospel choir, none of which was the slightest bit disappointing.

I ended up staying for the whole event in the end, before moving across to the Student Union, where St Paddy's was being celebrated with Drink the Bar Dry. Not sure I've ever seen it so busy actually. I was queuing for at least 30 minutes to get served and nearly died from being squashed between people so much. If anyone had been in a bad mood and started a fight, someone would have died & it was that packed! Luckily though everyone was in high spirits, and no one seemed to mind me standing on their toes all the time.

In other news, I'm going to try and use the weekend to catch up on the list of blog posts I want to write and haven't. Previously I've considered waiting a few days before writing about an event, in order to get some perspective on it, but I see now that this doesn't work. In order for a post to be well written, it needs a close emotional connection to my memory of the event. As time fades the emotion dies with it and the prospect of writing the post becomes far less interesting.

There are many posts I could have written over the last few days, but probably never will now. Things like my trip to the swimming pool for the first time in years should have been written about straight away, and the agony that followed when I slept badly on one of my shoulders should have been put onto the blog before the pain killers kicked in. I may still write about them, but written retrospectively, the essence of what I want to say will be lost.

So yea, expect a good few posts over the weekend, and then I'll try and be more regular during the rest of the week. No more gaps between Monday and Friday! Work is not a good excuse, whatever you may care to believe.

Laters people!

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Red Nose Day

Posted on Friday 16th March 2007 at 00:00
A deluge of posts across the UK Blogsphere today has reminded Ignorminious of two things:

1. It is Comic Relief today.

2. A certain book has now been published. The book in question is of course Shaggy Blog Stories; a complication of funny blog posts from many famous, and some less famous bloggers, created for Red Nose Day and with all the money raised going to charity (minus printing costs of course).

It looks something like this:

Ignorminious is sadly not in it. He wanted to be of course, but when he asked his readers to tell him which post they thought was his funniest and should be included, NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON COULD BE BOTHERED TO REPLY!

Ignorminious is not a bitter so go buy the book now!

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The British Gas Minute

Posted on Sunday 11th March 2007 at 00:00
Over the summer, our esteemed landlords made a desperate attempt to pull our house out of the 11th Century by installing gas central heating and a gas hob. Prior to this, everything had been on electricity generated by slaves pushing a big wheel round and round in the basement. We were not living in the house at the time, but were assured that everything was being taken care of for when we arrived.

In September we all moved in and began setting up our utility bills. We had a little difficulty setting the gas up at first, partly because A was supposed to be doing it, and he was a complete moron, and partly because no one seemed to know who our supplier was. The two possible candidates were British Gas and EDF Energy, both of whom denied having any knowledge of our existence at all. Rather odd we thought, but eventually we managed to persuade EDF to supply us, since this would allow us to benefit from a discount they were running for customers also receiving electricity from them.

A left in November and was therefore asked to change the utility bills out of his name and into one of the others. As far as we knew he'd done this successfully, and so were a little confused when, after 4 months of living in the house, we'd still not received a gas bill of any kind, but were receiving electricity bills.

We phoned EDF and asked them to forgo all the confusion about names and just set us up a new account for both gas and electricity in all of our names jointly, which they said they would do. A few days later we received confirmation of our contract with them and assurances that we'd be billed shortly.

We were mildly puzzled when, a month later we received a letter addressed to our landlady from British Gas informing her that she would soon be billed for her gas account which she had set up. We thought this rather odd, and so phoned her. She denied having ever set up an account for the gas, as it wasn't her responsibility.

Still no bills came, and so about a week ago we phoned up EDF again and were told that first of all they had no record of our names (which were eventually found in an account under A's name) and secondly that they were not actually supplying our gas, and so were unable to bill us for it. Apparently the problem is that British Gas are supplying the gas, and have yet to relinquish control of the account so that EDF can take it over and charge us.

We aren't sure why British Gas are involved at all, but we think that they were required to fit the gas supply and metre when the central heating was installed, and so automatically assumed that the landlords wanted an account with them as well. Until that account is cancelled, we can't be with EDF.

British Gas was unable to find anything on their computers when we phoned up originally because we think that they hadn't registered the new supply at that point in time. Sadly, upon our last attempt to contact British Gas, they were having a few problems with their computer system. During the first call, it was being upgraded and was therefore unavailable for use.

The second time we phoned, it was working well, until we gave the phone operator our address, at which point his computer crashed. Having failed to restart it, he promised to phone back in a minute, once he had got it working.

Now, I think, as a good customer service guy, he should have elaborated on this point. What he should have said was not 'I'll call back in a minute? but 'I'll call back in a British Gas minute', an entirely different scenario. A regular minute is a period of time lasting for exactly 60 seconds. It never alters this pattern and is so reliable that it can be used to keep track of time between the hours.

A British Gas minute, on the other hand is a so far undefined period of time, which to date has lasted for nearly 5 full days, with no sign of relenting anytime soon. Obviously we should probably pre-empt their phone call by calling them, but we aren't really sure there is much point. Either the guy was telling the truth and the computer system is buggered, in which case it'll probably take a year to fix, or he was lying about the crash, in which case he isn't going to start cooperating just because we phone him back.

To be honest, as far as we are concerned, if no one wants to charge us for the gas we use, that is fine by us. Our contract finishes in July, and if they haven't fixed the mistake (which is entirely on their part) by then, they'll have to write us off as a loss, because we won't be paying British Gas for a service we never asked them to supply us.

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A Big Red Idea

Posted on Saturday 10th March 2007 at 00:00
Ok, so I should have written about this earlier in the day, but I've been a bit strapped for time. That being the case, I should have left it until tomorrow, when I'll have even less time, but will at least be awake again. Hopefully.

Having failed on both these fronts, I'm instead writing to you now, at a little after 2 in the morning, which I like to think shows how much I care about this issue, and doesn't in anyway give the impression that I'm a sad loner with rather weird sleeping patterns.

So anyway, Comic Relief is upon us again, and rather than just burying my head in the sand, as is customary, I've decided to join in with the fun happening over at troubled-diva where Mike has had rather a good idea.

For those of you who've not heard about this from almost every other blog on the net, the idea is to compile a book of funny blog posts from British bloggers, ex-pats etc and use the sale of said book to raise money for Red Nose Day. Anyone wishing to participate can do so by emailing over a funny post they've written, and hopefully it'll be included in the book.

Not wishing to pass up what will probably be my one and only opportunity to ever make it into print, I've decided to join in. The only trouble is that the post submitted has to be funny.

Now, as some of you may know, I'm not very good at funny. I am not it and it isn't generally in my posts and when it is, I'm not usually aware of the fact and so am unable to replicate it again. So, what I need my dear readers to do, (yes, both of you) is to have a trundle through the archives and try and find the funniest post I've written to date. It doesn't matter how old it is or what it is about, so long as you found it funny.

If I get more than one person who bothers to reply, I may have to ask you all to vote on the short list, before I submit the winner. Our deadline is fast approaching so I'm going to have to ask you to be quick on this, as we really don't wish to get left behind now do we?

Remember, it's all for a good cause, and that good cause is me and my slow ascension to fame and fortune.

Oh yea, and some poor kids or something.

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Posted on Monday 5th March 2007 at 00:00
Whenever I read a magazine article, watch a television programme or view a news report about the use of mobile internet, I always end up hearing the same message:

'Internet access on mobile phones is a fantastic new invention that will revolutionise the way we communicate and browse the internet, but for some reason, take up of these new services is much slower than expected.?

On Tuesday, I finally figured out why my GPRS wasn't working, and to celebrate, I spent an hour or so browsing a few websites, just to see which ones worked on the phone and how they looked on the tiny screen. I didn't really think too much about what it was costing me, after all, I wasn't downloading songs or videos, or any of the other new things that we are supposed to be doing with our phones.

Imagine my dismay therefore when I checked my credit balance and discovered that I'd shaved around '3.70 off the '10 I'd put onto it just the night before. My texts are free for the first 300 a month, so I knew I hadn't spent any money on those, and I don't often make phone calls, so it must have been the web browsing.

A quick check of the O2 website (if such a site can ever be navigated quickly) tells me that I should be paying as little as 1p per page. Seems like a reasonable rate. Until, that is, I see the tiny little link to people who joined before 30th September 2005.

At this point I have to cast my mind back, as I've been with O2 since about 2002. Rather a loyal customer in need of a bonus you might say. An eventual check of my memory informs me that I changed my sim card in July 2005 in order to get a better deal, and so I click the link.

In this version of the tariff, GPRS is calculated rather differently it seems. Instead of being by page it is by megabyte. '2.35 per megabyte to be exact, which to give you an idea is like loading just one page of my site. '2.35 for that?! That's outrageous!

Not only is it disgustingly priced, but it is on the same call plan as the 1p per page. Exactly the same plan, except the older, more loyal customers get penalised for not changing their sim card (and all the hassle that that involves) within the last 18 months.

At those rates, no wonder no one wants to touch mobile internet! A regular days browsing would cost you more than your handset, and they aren't exactly cheap. I had be considering using the lovely new version of Skype for mobiles, which is supposed to reduce your phone bill by putting the call through the mobile internet rather than the normal phone line. Sadly it would cost me more to do that than it does to make my already overpriced calls.

Get a grip O2, and start delivering a service that might actually be beneficial to your customers, as well as your shareholders!

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Uncouth Customers

Posted on Monday 5th March 2007 at 00:00
I'm reliably informed by the government and the media that we are heading towards a society of equality; that old social barriers are being broken down and that the average man (or woman) on the street views everybody he (or she) meets as an equal, regardless of financial standing, intelligence, qualifications, job status or sexual preference.

This is a most appealing view of Britain today, and one which I truly hope is accurate and on the increase in this country.

I'm very concerned, therefore, that in my work I encounter such a high proportion of customers who are rude, selfish, arrogant and generally most unbecoming towards me because they are ordering coffee and I am the one serving it. Now, I'm not saying that anywhere is perfect or that we can expect equal respect wherever we go just because the media says it is so, but this is really quite worrying.

I work in a staff only bar where the vast majority of patrons are academics. Lecturers, tutors and researchers all come in daily to have their great brains stimulated by our caffeine, and their stomachs filled with choice morsels, that they may have all the food for thought they could ever need. It should, by all accounts be so overindulged with IQ points that even the birds on the tree outside should feel their power, and leave in time to attend a recital of Shakespeare before the day grows tired.

It should not be a breeding ground for bad manners, rudeness and snobbery. Although I admit that many of the staff are very pleasant and polite, a whole lot more are quire shockingly uncouth. The sense of class difference being portrayed by these people is so extreme as to make a Dickens novel appear positively timid on the subject of social injustice.

Just because I am serving their coffees and teas, cleaning up after them and being polite and respectful at all times, apparently means I am to be sneered and looked down upon at every possible opportunity. It is quite likely that they've not even realised I am a student, and as such may just be on an intellectual par with them, and perhaps a better financial standing.

Most of all though, what their wasted brains appear to have failed to grasp is that in one very significant way, I am better than them. I'm good at my job. Not the best perhaps. Not mistake free all the time. But not even the French could tell me that I don't know how to make coffee, and make it well.

The majority of the lecturing staff on the other hand, can't teach. They are not qualified to do so, as no formal training in teaching is required at university level. They haven't a clue how to speak publicly, some of them. Many can't even keep a class awake for the first half an hour, and very few of them have discovered a way of actually allowing their students to learn anything.

No doubt they know something or other about their particular fields, but that's like me being able to quote you the price of a latte (?1.25) without having a clue about how to make one. Absolutely useless to everyone.

I've always believed that if for nothing else, you should respect a man (or woman) for being good at what he (or she) does, and for that reason, I think the greatest minds in Bristol should perhaps reconsider their re-adoption of middle class snobbery at a time when everyone else is trying to get rid of it.

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Lunar Eclipse

Posted on Sunday 4th March 2007 at 00:00
It's getting a little late for a full post, so instead I've decided to share a few of my photos from the lunar eclipse with you instead. J and I ventured outside for a quarter of an hour or so earlier and resisted cold winds and polluted air in order to better see the moon it its rarest state.

These were the results:

I'm deeply suspicious of this picture, as it looks more like a worm than the moon we all know and love.

Does anyone remember those videos in physics lessons that tried to demonstrate how the rubber ball bounces?

At last a reasonable result!

I've not included full size versions as I really can't be bothered. If anyone is desperate to see in more detail what a blurred moon looks like, just let me know.

The basic problem was that I don't have a tripod, and at that sort of distance, with the increased shutter time to account for the poor light, even small movements made huge differences to the picture.

Need a more powerful camera for next time me thinks!

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Fridge: The Saga Continues

Posted on Sunday 4th March 2007 at 00:00
The landlord came round on Friday, supposedly to replace the fridge. I'd been on the phone to him the night before and explained that it was the freezer unit that was faulty, but the fridge part works fine. Since he'd been planning to bring a fridge round without a freezer he was rather put out by this news, but said he'd come anyway and hopefully pop into Currys to buy a new fridge freezer, and then replace my faulty one.

He showed up at about half 11, sans fridge freezer, by which time I was in mid coursework panic mode and headed straight upstairs to bleed the bathroom radiator and look at the damp problem in H's room. A few minutes later he returns downstairs and comes in to admire the mould I've been carefully growing on the wall behind my bed.

Having decided that he has no idea what has caused either problem he announces that he's off on holiday on Monday and so won't be able to sort it til he gets back. When reminded by H about the fridge freezer he says he is still looking for one and I'll have to manage as I am for the time being. Lucky me.
This morning J points out that the pressure gauge on the boiler has dropped from 1 bar to almost zero. We aren't entirely sure why, but we think that when the radiator was bled, no water was added to the system to fill the gap, and so now all our radiators are half full.

Since we didn't install the boiler we have no idea how to refill the system and are now waiting for the boiler to break down as well. Oh happy days.

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An Interesting Development

Posted on Saturday 3rd March 2007 at 00:00
Following on from my last post I have good news to report.

It seems that somehow, while thinking about my work ethic and wishing I could enjoy what I do or else do something I enjoy, something clicked in my brain, and before I knew where I was it occurred to me that I was actually enjoying my coursework!

Ok, so it was 4 in the morning and I may well have been delirious, but it seemed pretty genuine. The case study I chose to base the work on was my own place of work, and it seems that that personal touch was enough to make me interested in what I was doing. For months now, I've been experiencing the organisation, learning about it and discovering all its problems. I've obsessed about all the things I think could be done better, and then suddenly, I'm there writing a report about that very thing!

An hour or two in and I found myself wishing I had much more time to do the essay, so that I could write multiple drafts and really refine my thoughts on the subject; really make it a good piece of work. I've probably never felt like that before about something I've actually had to do, not once. Now suddenly I can see myself actually liking the idea of becoming a manager in a company, being able to find these problems and actually fix them myself.

Perhaps this is the turning point. Perhaps this is the part of my life when I finally decide what I want to do, after years of having no idea whatsoever. It is early days yet, and I still have many tests to get through, but it would probably be the best thing in the world is this the start of the next chapter of my working life.

Stay tuned folks.

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Going Legit

Posted on Saturday 3rd March 2007 at 00:00
I went shopping earlier today and bought myself a copy of Windows Vista Home Premium Edition for my dear PC, which has suffered terribly under the current illegal version I've been struggling to keep going. It expires in a day or two, so I decided it was at last time to go fully legit, and not have to arse around with work arounds all the time. Apart from anything else, Vista is a damn good operating system and I think MS deserve to get paid for it, although I do think their prices are a little high.

I also bought an FM transmitter, which I plug in to my MP3 player and it broadcasts the signal on a frequency of my choice. Then I just have to tune my car stereo into the same frequency and I have access to all my music whilst I drive. Pretty cool huh?

I'm about to install my new version of Vista, so I may be offline for a while. Hopefully everything will go smoothly and I'll have all my programs reinstalled in a few hours, but if not, you know what happened to me.

See you on the other side!

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Work And Play

Posted on Thursday 1st March 2007 at 00:00
An acquaintance of mine has the coolest home office I have ever seen. It is a reasonably sized room, maybe 12 foot by 8, with a pine floor, light coloured walls and wooden office blinds at the windows. Along two adjacent walls are a length of custom built fitted desk units. They've been designed and installed with a clear understanding of their use, and everything is in exactly the right place. Granted, the main computer in use is a Mac, but that almost doesn't matter because everything is so lovely. The desks themselves form a single, unbroken surface along the two sides of the room and are nothing short of massive. I'd guestimate that they are nearly a full metre in depth.

All the cables for all the computers have been run down the back, through specially positioned holes, and are kept totally out of sight, thanks to panels at the back of the foot wells that run from the desk surface right to the floor, seemingly without any gaps and leaving none of the ugly stuff showing. It must be a pain if you ever want to switch anything around, but it is so perfect that I can't imagine ever wanting to. With the aid of a wireless desk set it has been possible to totally obscure all the wires in the room.

That's not to say you can't get to stuff if you really need to. I once spent an afternoon in there working on my laptop, and as you'd expect after a couple of hours the battery ran flat. I looked around for a mains socket to plug the machine into but couldn't see any. Eventually I asked my neighbour if there was anywhere I could plug in, and he pointed at my legs. I was confused at first, until I felt the underside of the desk at which I was sat, whence my fingers grasped a four-way extension lead, screwed upside down to the underside of the desk, in exactly the right position to plug in any portable equipment you might choose to bring in with you.

Not that you really need much, it has to be said. It would take quite some imagination to think of a device that has been forgotten, either on the desk itself or hidden away in a convenient cubby hole. Pretty much every gadget, peripheral and tool ever invented for use with a computer is there and you know what? It is one of my highest life ambitions to have a home office like that.

The problem comes down to a different outlook on life. This acquaintance of mine has every gadget under the sun, but rarely plays with them. The computer is never switched off, but equally never has a computer game on its display. The gadgets, the computers and the office are strictly for work. Understandable perhaps, given that the guy works from home, but I can't imagine a time in my life when I'll be able to do that.

Right now I am supposed to be writing a 2,500 word research project for my degree, which must be handed in no later than 2pm tomorrow. That isn't very long away, and if I want to get any sleep tonight I really should get on with it. But instead I'm writing this.

You see, I love computers. Absolutely love them. I love the technology life style, the always on connectivity, the broadband, the wireless, the general greatness of it all. Hell, I even love Microsoft Word! At least, when I'm writing my blog I love it. Since starting this blog, I decided it was necessary to put a little more thought into spelling and grammar and so I started writing all my posts in Word before copying them into my browser, thus getting use of the spell checker. Now Word has become my most used app. I have it open every single day.

Yet, the second I start having to do some work with it, I hate it. Absolutely hate it. The computer becomes shit, the software is shit, the gadgets are crappy and even my new wireless keyboard is a pile of junk. The problem is that computing is a hobby of mine, and as such I can pick it up and put it down whenever I feel like it. But when I have to do proper work, I'm forced to use the computer and Word etc whether I want to or not. There is no freedom, no waiting for the right mood. I just have to get on with it. It is for this reason that I'll never be able to get that office, or if I do, I'll never be able to appreciate it. Work takes the fun out of everything, no matter how great it is.

This is a problem I need to address. It occurred to me recently that I don't dislike my degree, or even having to study for it. Give me a Wikipedia entry on it and I'll happily kill an afternoon reading as much as I can on the subject. I think what I hate about it and about work in general is not having the choice. I may choose to blog every day, probably more than I've ever studied, but I choose to do that. Anytime I want to stop I just do, and that will never be true of work, no matter how my career pans out.

What can one do about that?

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