Archive for April 2007

Musical Cars

Posted on Tuesday 1st May 2007 at 00:00
At the first bang my world shatters around me, as though the noise itself were sufficient to break apart physical matter, or else reality itself. At the second bang my eyes open and I realise the world just gone was in fact one of a dream. A split second later comes the third bang and I recognise it to me the sound of a fist on my door.

Next comes a voice, loud and impatient.

'Mark, please move your car!? The voice appears to belong to D, H's boyfriend, who J and I generally refer to as Monkey Man.

'Whemiwhtshapninwhoruwhtuwntythfuck?? I reply, still not entirely sure of the situation. After a moment I work out that H and Monkey Man have decided to go somewhere this morning and for some reason are taking H's car, which rarely goes anywhere and which I cleverly blocked in when I got home last night.

I pull on some clothes and step outside, blinking in the strong sunlight. J is there also, waiting for a lift and seemingly amused that I've been woken up to play musical cars once again.

'You look like...? she begins.

'Like someone who just got woken up?? I finish the sentence for her. 'Like someone who should be in bed for another hour? Yep, that's me!?

I get into my car at begin to manoeuvre it onto the road when I am stopped by a wave of morning traffic, which won't be able to get by with me sat in the middle of the road. H comes over, opens my passenger door and suggests that if I just pull forward a bit, she should be able to get through. In my tired and confused state I consider this for a minute. It occurs to me that if I pull forward more than 6 inches, I will be sharing space with the Fiesta in front of me, and given that we both exist in the same dimension, this would cause quite a lot of damage to both vehicles. Granted, I'd come off better than if I went up against the white van that had been parked in that exact spot when I came home last night, but that is scarcely a comforting thought.

I mutter some dark things about blondes being allowed to drive cars and then pull off down the road, coming to rest a few houses down, where the pavement is less crowded. Once H has gone and J has been picked up, I reverse onto the drive, go back inside and go to bed.

Happy 1st May.

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Posted on Monday 30th April 2007 at 00:00
The other day I was quite shocked to observe extreme levels of blatant chip homophobia at work. I was given the task of serving a group of law students who'd come in for lunch and were using our service counter. Today's menu allowed them a choice between two types of Panini and either spiral fries or regular chips.

Imagine my disgust when a large number of people asked for 'straight fries?. Since everyone knows that spirals fries beat chunky chips hands down any day, I can only assume that the reason for this request was the result of some perverse dislike of anything hinting of homosexuality.

Oh sure, they never actually referred to the spiral fries as 'bent chips', but I could tell the thought was there. I could see it in their eyes! As if to confirm my suspicions, a small minority chose to ask for 'normal chips', as though suggesting that there is something unnatural about curly fries, in all their camp little twirliness.

I tell you, if I myself was into potato bum love, I'd have been quite offended by their behaviour. As it is, I'm proud to say that I take my potatoes as they come; without prejudice or stereotypes; with ketchup or sour cream; bent or straight, thick or thin, baked or fried!

People of the interweb: love thy potato products, and thou shalt come to love thyself!

Happy Fake-Made-Up-Festival-Called-Potato Day everyone!

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Short Thoughts

Posted on Sunday 29th April 2007 at 00:00
I have to admit, I'm not well known for my Saturday brain activity. Most of the time I end up slouching around and achieving very little at all, and anyone who is lucky enough to be spending time with me usually resorts to talking to the carpet in the hope of getting a more intelligent conversation. Often they succeed as well.

With this in mind, I'm particularly proud of the little brain wave I had earlier this evening. It's a new feature on the site that I've called 'Short Thoughts' and which can now be found on the side bar below 'Inside the Mind' and above the archive. I've added it in response to a problem that I think many bloggers must have.

As a blogger, I find myself continually thinking of ideas throughout the day for possible blog posts, either as a result of what I'm experiencing at the time, or because I've been inspired. Some of these ideas are retrospectively crap and I ditch them straight away, but many more are well worth writing up, but for one reason or another just don't make it onto the blog.

Time is a major constraint, as is the length of posts. A lot of the ideas I think of are good but don't produce more than a couple of sentences of text, which is nothing like enough to justify posting up, and so the ideas are dropped, until now that is.

Short Thoughts is a blog within a blog; a mini blog if you will. It is a short collection of super short posts in the side bar to complement the main blog. The idea here is that I can write down an idea quickly and concisely, either to develop into a post when I have more time or else leave as it is.

Unlike normal posts, there won't be any images used, and I won't take the time to proof read or spell check, as this slows me down significantly. I'm not planning on creating an RSS feed for these posts, so you will have to check back regularly to see if I've added to the list. A link in the side bar will take you to a full page showing all the thoughts, in case you wish to look back or catch up. I also won't be adding a comments facility as it doesn't seem worth it for such short entries, but if you wish to comment on anything written there, you can leave a comment attached to any of the main posts.

I'm hoping that this will be an interesting and original addition to the blog which readers will check often. If you have any ideas or suggestions for improvements I'll be happy to hear from you.

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Posted on Saturday 28th April 2007 at 00:00
I hear the rattle of the letter box and step out of my room to pick up the daily waste of paper that drops onto the mat at about this time each morning. But not today apparently, as the postal gods have chosen to withdraw the usual helping of junk mail in favour of delivering a grey plastic A4 envelope.

Curious to see which of the absent house mates have received the still unidentified item, I pick it up and turn it over. Seeing my own name above our address comes as something of a surprise to me and I nearly drop the thing in my excitement. It's a curious fact that whenever I receive post, a phone call, email or text message, I automatically assume that there has been some kind of mistake, and it must be intended for someone else.

What could it be?

It feels too light to be my copy of Shaggy Blog Stories and at any rate, if it were it'd be pretty battered by now in this envelope. Feels to light to be anything really, and besides I'm not expecting anything, so maybe that is exactly what I'm going to end up with.

It takes me some time to get into the envelope and with every bit of plastic ripped or tape torn I get more and more excited. Just as I've decided it has to be a cheque for a million pound and nothing less, I get the thing open, turn it upside down and wait expectantly to see what falls out.

Inside the envelope is a small plastic bag, within which I can clearly see what looks like a stopper for a bottle of wine. I stand there and stare at it for several seconds, turning it over in my hand and wondering why anyone would send me such a thing; then I remember.

It's the sodding foot for my damn fridge.

Sickened by the terrible anticlimax, I let the whole thing fall to the floor and go off to take a shower.

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The Penny Pinchers Strike Again

Posted on Friday 27th April 2007 at 00:00
Back in January I wrote about my hours at work being cut due to managerial incompetence and how very annoyed about the entire situation I was. What I failed to then write about, for fear of tempting fate, is that within a couple of weeks my hours had gradually been restored to me, the financial crisis in catering had abated and I was able to continue as normal.

Until now anyway. Last week I worked 10-3 on Monday, 10-4 on Wednesday 10-7 on Thursday and a couple of hours on Friday and Saturday. This week my hours on Monday were cut to 11-3, Wednesday was 12-2:30, Thursday was 11-3 and then 4:30-7 and God knows what hours I'll get tonight and tomorrow.

You see, in order to find a long term solution to the catering deficit (rumoured to be in the region of '50k in the red), they've brought in a new, squeaky clean and probably highly paid new manager who will fix everything. His first action - besides sitting at his desk for an hour sharpening pencils - was to immediately lay off anyone who doesn't have a contract, ie all the students in every university run bar on campus; or to put it another way, around half the workforce. This was not the smartest of moves in my opinion. Ok so it cut the wage bills dramatically, but it also crippled most of the bars affected and left them unable to function as efficiently as they should.

The only reason I still have a job of sorts is because my boss is fighting extremely hard to retain my services, and those of just one other student. Sadly the trade off of this is that my hours have had to be cut dramatically. In the future I'll be down to just three hours of work a day, twice a week, rather than 5 hours a day, twice a week and up to 9 hours on a third day in another bar, which I've now lost completely. The reason for my odd working hours yesterday is that they needed me for the day and for the evening but couldn't afford for me to work the 90 minutes in between, at a cost to them of just '9.45.

I wouldn't mind the cuts if it wasn't for two little grievances. Firstly, so far, not a single manager has been fired. I honestly cannot understand this at all. For a start, there are probably double the number of managers in the department as are actually required to do the job. Everyone seems to be friends or married to someone else with influence, which means a dozen or so of them sit on their backsides day in and day out, making stupid policy decisions and doing absolutely nothing to justify their huge salaries, while the bars that are actually trying to make some money have to make drastic cuts. This would be odd enough, but the fact that they've brought in this new bloke to fix things shows that the old ones have failed to do their job properly, which in any other profit making organisation is cause enough for immediate dismissal.

My second grievance is that in a few months time I'm really going to need the work. I'm moving out soon and finding a new more expensive place to live, for which I will need a new, higher paid job with a proper contract and guaranteed work and such like. I'll have almost a whole working week available to me, thanks to my slim uni hours and I very much wish to fill them in a productive way.

At one point the plan had been to stay in catering at uni and just boost up my hours, but sadly that no longer appears to be an option. As a result, thanks once again to other people's screw ups, I'm now forced to go out into the big wide world and find myself a new job.

Lucky me.

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Fridge: The Epic Conclusion!

Posted on Thursday 26th April 2007 at 00:00
One key feature of a personal blog is that you regularly return to old stories, as and when there is something new to report. One of the longest and most exciting stories I've covered here has been the seemingly never ending battle with the landlords to replace my dodgy fridge-freezer, which first went on the blink in December. Previous reports on the situation can be found here, here and here.

Although I've not written on the subject on every opportunity, if only to avoid repeating myself, tonight I had to write, for this is the day, oh historic day, when I am finally victorious! As I wrote a little while ago, the landlords decided to come down and appease us by carrying out some repair work on the house. They attempted to fix the mold (by ripping off the affected wall paper and pouring bleach all over the place), they bought us a new kettle (as the old one had finally given up on life in our house) and they gave in to my frequent complaints and ordered a new fridge-freezer from Currys.

Well, I say new, what I actually mean is ex-display model, as they couldn't quite bring themselves to actually buy something new for the house. They also couldn't bring themselves to pay out a few extra quid to have the nice Currys people take away the old unit, which is now sitting in the back garden of all places, where it will probably remain until someone decides to do something about it, or (more likely) it rusts away, leaving nothing but a pretty red stain on the ground.

On the whole, it seems to be a good piece of kit. A whole foot taller than its predecessor, it has much more storage space, and it even comes with a couple of build it ice cube trays. Wooooooo! Obviously it is in this house, which means it can't possibly be perfect. For fear of being too good for us, the powers that be conveniently arranged for one of the feet to drop off somewhere along the line, so it now no longer stands up properly and wobbles at every opportunity.

Luckily this was easily rectified with a quick phone call to Currys. 'Easily' and 'quick? in the sense of 'with great difficulty' and 'slowly?. I had to phone at least four premium rate phone numbers and a local one before I got through to the Currys help service, who kept me on hold for about a year before promising to send me a replacement foot via snail mail as soon as they can.

Having recently had some bad experiences with snail mail, which I'll tell you about in my next post, I'm not overly hopeful about this, but hell, I have my freezer, a mere four months after I informed the landlords that the old one had packed up and only a month or so before I move out of this dump.


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Postal Hell

Posted on Thursday 26th April 2007 at 00:00
Those of you who followed my feeble attempts to edit a DVD a couple of weeks ago may be interested to hear that I've finally finished. Actually, I finished the edit nearly 2 weeks ago in an epic day of problems which ended at 11 o clock on a Sunday evening when I remembered I had to go to Bristol before I could sleep. Unfortunately the job wasn't quite finished by this point, and so it was decided that I'd burn the first copy of the DVD in Bristol and then post it to my friend in Egham, so that she could duplicate it and distribute copies among the cast and crew of Iolanthe.

So a couple of days later I found myself posting a small padded envelope, designed specifically for posting discs, into the post box, complete with a first class stamp, since I wanted it to get there as quickly as possible. That was last Wednesday. On Saturday I received a text telling me that it still hadn't turned up. I was very annoyed but agreed to post a new copy, since the original had clearly been lost somewhere along the line.

This time round I didn't want to take any chances, so on Monday I trundle down to the post office and paid the outrageous sum of '1.18 to have the replacement package sent by recorded delivery. Accordingly it arrived at its destination the next morning and all was happiness and flowers and stuff. Today I received a text telling me that the original copy, sent first class has finally arrived. Or rather it hasn't, but a note from the sorting office has, informing my friend that she can't have it until an extra pound is paid to cover postage.

What a cheek! I bet this is down to the stupid new system they recently brought in of charging for postage based on size as well as weight. I've never understood this at all. Charging by weight makes sense, because the heavier something is, the more fuel it takes to drive it across the country to wherever it is going. But why size? It doesn't cost them anymore to deliver an A4 envelope! It goes through the same system. Nothing is different! It makes no sense!

Oh wait, charging extra for larger envelopes is a sneaky way of upping the cost of postage whist at the same time confusing everyone so much that no one realises how much they are being ripped off and so can't complain about it. That way the Royal Mail can find more money with which to prop up their overpriced, inefficient, slow, unreliable excuse for a postal service that makes me shudder to imagine how people got by before the invention of email.

What a waste of space!

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If You Go Down To The Restaurant Today, You’re Sure Of A Big Surprise!

Posted on Tuesday 24th April 2007 at 00:00
I've experienced many things when eating out, but this is a new one on me:

Man Cuts Off Penis In Restaurant

When I told J she squirmed with horror. It seems you don't need to be a man to feel the pain here.

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The Book Worm Is Stuffed

Posted on Monday 23rd April 2007 at 00:00
?When you?re in a hole, stop digging.?

A very appropriate saying for many situations I'm sure you'd agree. Just now though, I've found one I didn't think it would fit to: reading. As those who check my current book list will know, I'm currently reading a book by Clarkson that I picked up in WH Smiths a couple of months ago, while looking for a birthday present for my mother. I chose it because I'd previously read a book of his that had proved to be something of a page turner. Indeed, I finished that book in about three days flat, which is quite unusual for me.

This one is a lot thicker, but despite this, I'm just not as gripped as with the last one. In short, I've got myself stuck in a hole that I can't dig my way out of. It isn't a bad book. Not bad at all. The problem is that it's incredibly samey. To tell the truth, it isn't really a book in its own right at all but merely a collection of articles for newspapers and magazines written over a number of years, and as such, it is great reading if you only read one article a week.

Put them all together though and you end up with page after page of overlapping short stories, reused analogies and more car reviews for vehicles that hit the market 10 years ago than a reasonable man can stomach easily.

If I'm fair to Clarkson, I must say it isn't him, it's me. It seems that these days I'm unable to read any particular genre or author for more than a short while at time before either loosing the will to live or else giving up on reading altogether. My obsession of last summer was Lee Child's Jack Reacher books. I read about three of them in as many weeks, but after that I couldn't read anymore. I have the book I'm currently reading on the shelf above my head, where it has sat for months. I was in Moscow when I started it and it was August.

I'm still almost on the same page as Moscow as well. I've brought it out once or twice since then, but I've never been able to get stuck in and finish the damn thing. And now the same has happened with the Clarkson book. It seems in future I'm going to have to alternate between different authors after every book I read, otherwise I'll need to rent a second room to store all the unfinished books I own.

Last year I must have read a dozen books in as many months, which for a slow reader like myself is quite something. This year I've not finished a single book and have only started two or three. I'm all for growing and changing as I get older, but this is one trend I need to reverse and quickly!

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Feed Me

Posted on Saturday 21st April 2007 at 00:00
I've just been making a few small changes to the RSS feed for the blog that I thought some of you might be interesting in hearing about.

Firstly, I fixed the date tag that is used to tell your RSS reader when I wrote the post. This is important for making sure that posts appear in the correct order when you view them. It is especially important for readers using Windows Vista, as this operating system has an RSS reader on the Sidebar, which will show you headlines for your most recently updated feeds. Unfortunately this requires the date tag to be correctly formatted; otherwise it misses out the post from the list, which is what was happening to all my posts. This has now been fixed.

The other change is to the way the links within the RSS feeds work. Previously, if you clicked the Comments link at the bottom of a feed, you'd be taken to the comments page on the site itself, and would then have to click a link from there to see the RSS Comments feed. Now if you click that link you shall be taken straight to the relevant feed without having to visit the main site at all.

Also, up until now, if you clicked the name of a commenter in the feed, you'd be taken to their comment on the main site. I've decided though that this is useless, since you can see what the comment is anyway from the feed. This link will now takes you directly to the commenter's web site, same as clicking on their name on the website.

Got all that?

I think I've made it all sound rather confusing, but at quarter to 2 in the morning I'm past caring. If you are using RSS feeds you will probably understand what I mean. If you haven't moved on to this piece of technology yet, I highly recommend that you do so, as it is by far the easiest way of checking to see which blogs have been updated and which haven't. Internet Explorer 7 comes with an RSS reader built in, so really you've got no excuse not to use it :-)

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Dangerous Drivers Dissected Spring Special

Posted on Saturday 21st April 2007 at 00:00
In this special Spring Edition of Dangerous Drivers Dissected, Ignorminious looks at how not to negotiate a narrow stretch of road when there are vehicles coming the other way.

This is a problem encountered by drivers everyday on Britain's roads. Being the elderly sort of country that it is, Britain has many old buildings about the place, and subsequently, many narrow roads attempting to weave between them. Sadly, navigating such roads is not something that is covered specifically in the UK driving test, though it probably should be.

You see, many people on our roads today apparently are unable to understand that when the road narrows on their side and there isn't enough room for two vehicles to pass, it is up to them to give way to oncoming traffic, not the other way round. These are apparently the same people who don't appear to be able to gauge the width of their vehicle accurately enough to know when they can and cannot squeeze through a gap. A bad combination you might say, and you'd be right.

I bring this up now because just the other day I was very nearly run off the road by some bloke driving a bus. I was minding my own business driving back from Tesco when I began to pass a stretch of wall that stuck out a little way into the road on the far side. Part way along I encountered a bus, and so began to slow down.

The driver was clearly worried about his nearside wing mirror, because I remember he'd left a gap of at least three feet between himself and the offending wall. Unfortunately this put him well over the centre of the road, and by so much that as he approached, still doing 30 and with no signs of slowing, I was forced to pull right over and pass the vehicle with my nearside tyres scrapping along the curb, just to stop my offside mirror from becoming a new feature on the front of his blasted bus.

I think I'd have been pretty pissed off if it'd been a regular car or van driver, but bus drivers are supposed to be trained professionals, who we trust with the lives of their passengers, as well as other road users. This guy clearly didn't have a clue, and for this reason he makes it into the Dangerous Drivers Dissected hall of fame.

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Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Posted on Saturday 21st April 2007 at 00:00
All afternoon and into the evening I've been feeling a little on edge. One might call it a combination of frustration, irritability, nervousness, worry and unhappiness, but put together it isn't exactly any of those things. It's a feeling I get quite often and on most occasions I have managed to cure it.

Basically the feeling seems to be one of inadequacy for whatever reason. A sense that things aren't quite right and that I should in some way be able to improve them. I tend to deal with it on a day to day basis by spending a considerable proportion of my leisure time focusing on improving the environment around me in one way or another, no matter how small.

Most common of all is when I find myself tidying up my room and cleaning the house. Suddenly I'll have a compulsion to do my washing up or dust my desk or mow the lawn, as if by removing the offending mess from my life I can somehow remove the discontentment from inside me.

On occasion I will take this a little further, perhaps by carry out some DIY, rearranging my room or maybe even going shopping. It can be hard to ignore the voice that tells you that the purchase you are about to make will complete you forever, even if you know it isn't really true.

But right now neither shopping nor gardening can help me because this time things are different. A few days ago I took the decision to move out of this house when my contract expires and find somewhere new. I'd been thinking about it for a while now, and when J said that she wasn't going to stay, I figured it was time for me to leave as well.

I don't know where I'll go or who I'll end up living with, nor how I'll pay for it. All I know so far is that I'm going just as soon as I can sort something out for next year. And that is causing me a problem now.

I can't fulfil myself by fixing my environment because it is no longer my environment. Now that I've made the decision to go, there is no longer any point in rearranging my room or planting something in the vegetable patch as I won't be here to enjoy it. Ok so I'll carry on cleaning, but beyond that there is no point in doing anything to change the place I see before me.

And that is incredibly frustrating. I imagine it feels very similar to giving notice to your boss, especially if you are going to work for a rival firm. For a little while you are still doing your job, but from a distance. No one is prepared to talk to you about the future or long term company plans. You are suddenly cut out of all the meetings and all the memos, and all your old friends shun you at lunch times. Soon you start thinking Actually, why am I still here? Wouldn't it have been easier to leave as soon as I said I was leaving? After all I can't do very much here now can I?

I've had a funny old year in this house, but these last few weeks are going to be the oddest of all. I'll have to keep going as normal, living my day to day routine, but all the while becoming subconsciously more detached from the house and the people in it. I'll start wondering about whether it is worth buying food in bulk anymore and if there is any point putting my posters back up when they fall down.

How does one get used to the idea of moving out weeks in advance? Should you plan that far ahead at all, or is it better to do it at very short notice?

I'm so confused!

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Horray For Old Brissol

Posted on Monday 16th April 2007 at 00:00
You may remember that a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how I much prefer my Yateley life to my life in Bristol. At least, I certainly remember writing it. It may come as a surprise to you, therefore, to learn that I have returned to Bristol for the new term and discovered, once again, that I actually quite like the place.

It isn't Yateley, not by a long way, but it isn't Hell either, and nor is it Swindon, which I think is important to note. There is always something very strange about coming back to somewhere you know well but have been away from for a while, and such was the case at 2 o clock this morning when I walked in through my front door and, having unloaded the contents of my car into my room, proceeded to walk around the communal parts of my house, wondering why it felt so weird to be back.

I guess that is what comes of living a double life. I have two homes, two sets of friends, two occupations and two fairly different life styles. Although I switch between the two fairly often, I've never quite gotten used to the change. As I stood in the clean, yellow, dilapidated kitchen of my Bristol home, I found myself smiling with pleasure to be back.

I'd not been over enthusiastic about leaving Yateley when, an hour and a half earlier, I'd reversed down the drive and away into the night. Home is fun, even if it can be restrictive for anyone used to their independence. Bristol means work, looking after myself and waking up every day thinking I really don't want to live in a house like this for the rest of my life, but even so, once I found myself back here, I was delighted to have my freedom back and be going back to work and all the rest of it.

Going slightly off topic now, in the interests of staying current: J just received a reply to the angry email she sent the landlords the other day, detailing all the problems with the house. In the reply, they promised once again to replace my fridge (not the freezer) and tackle the mold in my room and H's room.

Now, we aren't opposed to the mold going away (although we have strong reservations about the methods they might use) but what we'd actually like them to tackle is the cause of the mold, i.e. the serious damp problem that causes paper to wrinkle up, people to keep getting ill, the rooms to be cold all the time and my milk shake powder to go rock solid.

Sadly damp is rarely a problem that can be fixed by painting over walls or doing anything else that doesn't involve spending lots of money. Our landlords won't fork out on this house, that much is pretty clear now. I guess we'll just have to sit tight and hope the building doesn't fall down before our contract runs out.

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Squeaky Squeak

Posted on Friday 13th April 2007 at 00:00
When I sit at my computer, which I do rather a lot, I have the privilege of doing so in an executive leather desk chair that I rescued a number of years ago from a man who was about to bin it. It is obviously old and worn, with many scratches down the back where its sheer size has caused it, inevitably, to rub against other items of furniture.

Aside from that though it is as good as new, and easily the most comfortable seat I have ever had the pleasure to park my backside on. The back rest comes up as far as my head and the back and tilt mechanism are carefully designed to facilitate lounging wherever possible.

In fact, aside from the lack of an accompanying foot rest, the only thing wrong with this chair is its squeak. Every so often, perhaps once a year or so, it begins to squeak when you tilt it. Now, bear in mind that this is the sort of chair that you physically cannot sit down in without automatically leaning back.

It starts off with a little squeak, every now and then, hardly noticeable. Just at the end of the tilt when you?re slowing the movement down. But it increases in frequency and volume until within an hour of first hearing the squeak, half the street knows every time you reposition your arse.

I mention this now because this is quite definitely a squeak day, and at 2 in the morning I can't move for fear of waking somebody up. WD40 isn't an option at this time of night, although it will prove the ultimate cure in the morning. For now I'm stuck trying to find a way of getting out of this chair and going to bed without one of the neighbours being forced to call the police.

It could be a long night....

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And Now Something Funny

Posted on Friday 13th April 2007 at 00:00
In a little while I'll get round to writing a proper post, but in the mean time I feel duty bound to bring the following to the attention of anyone who's not already seen it:

It is officially the funniest thing I've ever watched. I saw it for the first time a few weeks ago and I've not stopped laughing since.

Hopefully it'll brighten your day, if only for a minute :)

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Googlies II

Posted on Friday 13th April 2007 at 00:00
Once again a quick flick through the list of search queries that have brought people to my site over the last week has produced some interesting results. Sadly I've neglected to clear the list for quite some time, so I may well have missed many of the gems lurking from between old results, but here are a few of the ones I did spot, which I thought you might enjoy:

"things to say" public toilet - While I can quite easily picture many scenarios in which one might walk into a public toilet and be lost for words at what they see, it had never occurred to me that someone might seek to rectify the problem by looking up some suggestions on Google. I'm even more confused that they seemed to think that this site was a good place to find quotations for such an occasion. I'm pretty sure that I've never said anything witty or profound about public toilets, and I certainly don't remember ever writing about them. Of course, the obvious answer is that if it is the gents, you don't say anything. Remain completely silent at all times and do not make eye contact with anyone. Even if you cannot manage to stick to these two golden rules of the loos, do not, under any circumstances break the third one: Never, ever use the urinal next to that of your neighbour if there is one further away that can possibly be used. You will probably be killed quicker than you can mutter 'I wasn't looking, honest!?

shower red power switch wall stuck - I can't help but wonder if this is the same person with shower problems from last time. If so I am very sorry that they are here again, since it must be terribly frustrating trying to find help for their shower and ending up with me each time. Whoever you are Mr Shower Man (or woman), I hope you find what you need soon, before the lack of washing becomes a problem.

cant get my wireless keyboard to work - Then what are you typing on?

what are the main factors of demotivation in a work place - While I don't find anything surprising about the question itself (after all, motivation in the work place is a very serious issue), I am a little hurt that Google seemed to think that Ignorminious? Misty Mind was the obvious answer. While I can't say for definitely that this site doesn't cause people to be demotivated, I've no reason to suppose that it should, and so nor should Google. Let's hope it was just a bit of search engine humour; like when someone linked the search phrase 'miserable failure? to George W Bush's official website.

tackiest website ever - Again, no need to be offensive. I rather hope it's not that bad! Perhaps the owl that blinks is a bit too much for some people?

how to drive round a corner - As regular readers of the site will know, I'm always open to suggestions for how to improve the site, and here we see a request from a reader who is clearly in trouble. I can't refuse to help them.

So, without further ado, here is the Ignorminious Guide to Driving Round A Corner:

Step 1: Approach the corner at a safe speed and look to see that your path ahead is clear.

Step 2: Turn the wheel in the direction you wish to go, making continuous adjustments as you move round the bend.

Step 3: Straighten the vehicle up so that it is parallel to the edge of the road at a distance of approximately one metre from the curb.

That's all for now folks!

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Ignorminious Unbalanced

Posted on Friday 13th April 2007 at 00:00
So about a month ago my car was due for its MOT, and since I was in town anyway I arranged for it to be done in Yateley. Everything went fine (in the sense that the car failed and had to have two new tyres) and off I went on my merry way.

As I was driving to Bristol the next day, I fancied I felt some slight vibrations through the steering wheel, a bit like when my wheels were unbalanced, but much more subtle. I ignored it and carried on driving.

Anyway, over the next few weeks the vibrations got steadily worse and worse until Tuesday night when they were so bad that my brother could feel them through the passenger seat and I was having to fight to keep the car on the road.

This morning I took the car back, explained the problem and left it with them to fix. I was told the work would take about two hours (as oppose to 10 minutes to correct at the tyre place I went to last time) but since I didn't need the car today that was fine.

9 and a half hour later I get a phone call to tell me my car is ready. It turns out that two of the balancing weights for the front wheels had fallen off. They didn't admit as much, but my guess is they accidentally loosened them when they changed the tyres over. They may well have thought the same thing as there was no charge for the repair work.

I would be quite annoyed with them, but to be honest I was so happy upon driving my car again with the right setup that I found it hard to be annoyed with anyone on that journey back. The Mark 6 Fiesta is an absolutely amazing car to drive, with smooth ride, confident handling and steering that's so sharp you could mount a gun on the bonnet and hit targets a mile away, just by pointing the car in the right direction.

Now I just have to hope the balance stays and nothing drops off, at least until I'm next in Yateley.

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Why I'll Never Become A Producer II

Posted on Thursday 12th April 2007 at 00:00
It seems that the gods have not taken heed of my video editing complaints and so yet another afternoon of my life has been all but wasted trying to wrestle a relatively small amount of video into its proper places.

The only difference this time round is that now I am using a decent piece of software. Adobe Premier Pro 7 to be precise. Sadly though, the more professional the software, the more disappointing it is when you can't get it to work properly.

At its most basic level the problem is, and always has been, that you can't easily edit 15Gb of video on a computer with 1Gb of memory, more than half of which is taken up by the operating system. It simply isn't physically possible. Unfortunately the program itself isn't doing a very good job of working round this problem, since it simply isn't possible to get 15Gb of RAM in a home computer and it never has been.

The result is picture quality of a variable nature and audio that trails along several seconds behind the video in any clips over 5 minutes in length. Given that the total edit is two hours long, it perhaps isn't surprising to discover that most of the clips fall into this category.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it, so unless a solution presents itself pretty sharpish, expect a few more posts on the subject before I give up all together.

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Why Oh Why Do We Need The BT Home Hub?

Posted on Thursday 12th April 2007 at 00:00
In November 1998, Sega launched a new games console onto the market in order to replace the flopping Sega Saturn. This was the world's first glimpse at the Sega Dreamcast and initial interest in the new toy was encouraging. The console was clearly better than anything that had come before it and the wide range of games opened it up to a variety of gamers who collectively bought about 10 million of the things.

Ultimately though it wasn't very successful and a rapid decline in sales caused Sega to withdraw from the console market in March 2001. The reason for this was simple. It wasn't all that good. At least, it wasn't as good as the competition, which by this point was the Playstation 2. Love it or hate it, there's no denying that the PS2 was and still is a great console, whereas the Dreamcast was just a little bit crap.

The same can be said of the BT Homehub that I discovered in our study on a recent trip home from uni. IE, it is rubbish. I don't know if you've seen the things I mean, but if you are a BT broadband customer you probably have one, or are about to receive one. At the moment BT are pushing these things pretty hard, phoning up all their existing customers, trying to persuade them to switch over.

If you happen to receive a call from them on this subject, please tell them to get stuffed. You really do not want this piece of hardware, even if it is free, as I believe it now is. For a start, it is large and bulky, and the part where you plug the cables in is covered by a back panel, as if to suggest that once you've got it all plugged in, you'll never want to unplug it ever again, which is simply not true, as I have to yank the power cable out at least once a week to restart the bloody thing when it crashes.

That leads me on nicely to problems two and three. Problem two is that it is actually less reliable at maintaining a connection to the internet (or reconnecting once it has dropped the connection) than my old router was, and that in itself is quite impressive I feel.

Problem three is what happens when it all goes wrong; or rather, what doesn't happen. What should happen is that I cut the power, switch it back on again and by the time I've walked back up to my computer, everything is working the way I like. Sadly though, this is no longer the case, as the start up time for a BT Homehub is not the 30 seconds I'm used to, but a full 3 minutes so far as I can tell, during which time it just sits there and blinks at you repeatedly. Even once it is all working, you still have to manually connect your computer again, since the DHCP server is slower than a three toed sloth on a hot summer's afternoon.

At first I thought it was just me being anal about the sort of technology I use, as I normally am, but since getting the thing, I've heard several stories from friends about similar problems with their own BT products. In one case the signal was so bad that even after a BT engineer had set it up, not a single computer in the house could connect and sustain a connection.

And this is a shame really, because if it wasn't for a few little design flaws, this would be a pretty neat bit of kit. It looks stylish, modern and sleek. The set up is relatively easy, even if you don't know what you are doing, and when it works it works well. In our case, the line speed has more than doubled and the signal is stronger in more of the house than ever before. If BT sorted out the problems with it, it could be the best thing in their entire product portfolio.

So come on BT, show us a PS2, not a Dreamcast!

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Why I'll Never Become A Producer

Posted on Wednesday 11th April 2007 at 00:00
Once upon a time, I wrote about how sometimes you set out to do what you think is a small job and it quickly reveals itself to be a big one. I mentioned at the time that I have a lot of experience of such tasks, and so should have seen this one coming a mile off.

On Thursday night I received a communication from a friend of mine who wanted to know if I'd mind helping her to compile a DVD from the recording of the Iolanthe production that she put on a few weeks ago. The job, she assured me would involve nothing more than sticking a few bits of video together and then burning the DVD. Perhaps two hours of my Friday lunch time might be required. Friday being a bank holiday, I agreed and we arranged a time to meet.

It can always be assumed that such jobs will take a little longer than initial estimates might suggest, and so I was not surprised to discover, as two hours came and went that the job was not yet complete. It turned out that in addition to merely sticking the video together, some quite extensive editing was required, taking footage from three of the four recordings and compiling them to make a single problem free copy. After 8 hours we called it a night, happy in the knowledge that we'd got the main video sorted and just needed to compile it and then make the DVD, complete with a few extras.

That night I began the compilation process and when I got up the next morning, ran eagerly to my computer to see the finished result. It started off well enough; the picture quality was good, the sound clear enough to hear, and the opening credits bang on cue. In fact things didn't begin to go wrong until I reached the first cut, where to my horror I discovered a gap between one side of the join and the other. Nonetheless I carried on, only to find at the second cut that the two bits repeated themselves slightly. I kept going right the way through to the end, shuddering at every single cut. I couldn't believe it. Only the day before I'd spent hours pain stakingly aligning all the clips so that they moved seamlessly from one to the next, even making sure that the music fitted to within a semiquaver.

It turned out, after a little experimentation that in Windows Movie Maker, the measure that tells the program where to cut and the one which shows you a preview are not the same, and don't tend to line up. This means that you aren't always cutting exactly where you think you are and the problem gets worse the longer the video is. If you are making a quick 2 minute YouTube video you probably wouldn't notice anything wrong, but when the edit is a 2 hour musical which you want to look professional the software seriously lets you down.

Since then I've spent every free minute of the day attempting to work around this problem, but so far to no avail. The next plan is to use better software which will hopefully prove to be more accurate, but we'll see. After that, it'll just be a small matter of wrestling the DVD maker into submission so that it'll create a decent DVD, and then perhaps I'll have time to blog more regularly again. I've taken some time out to catch up with other stuff today, so I'm hoping I'll punch out another post before sunset.

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Old Hobbies Die Hard

Posted on Wednesday 11th April 2007 at 00:00
I clasp my hand around the handle of the case and lift it. It feels light; lighter than I remember it, but that's nothing new. I always remember it through the eyes of a 7 year old, picking it up for the first time and struggling with the weight. I place it carefully on my bed and release the catches, first the right and then the left, as I've done so many thousands of times before.

The trumpet looks much as I remember it; dull brass visible through the scratches in the shiny lacquer and the silver mouth piece, dulled by a decade of heavy usage. My hand closes around the body of the instrument and I lift it from the case, remembering a little too late that a collapsed stand it concealed within the bell. This unbalances the horn and, as the bell dips, slides with gravity and falls to the floor accompanied by a dull thud.

I inspect the mouth piece for dirt briefly and on finding it clean, insert it into its sleeve until it stops. I raise my other hand and the fingers find their place with well rehearsed ease. The trumpet sits between my hands as I press the valves for an experimental wiggle. It feels like an old friend, but is more familiar to me than any friend I can name. Although it has never grown, my ever lengthening fingers fit as snugly as the day I first held it, in that music room on a Thursday morning in September 1993.

Despite all this I am nervous; nervous of what might happen when I press it to my lips and attempt to play a note. It has been nearly a year since I last picked up the instrument I spent 11 years of my youth mastering, and three years since I went to university and stopped playing regularly. Will I still remember what I used to know so well? Will it be like riding a bike or more like trying to remember an obscure French verb that I learnt once at school and have never needed since?

I raise my trumpet to my mouth, purse my lips and blow, all the while hoping that I can still remember where middle C lives. I hit it dead on first time. Good thing to really, since it was the first note I learnt and by far the easiest to play. The sound is not clear at all, yet it is right and it is as familiar as my own voice.

I tighten my lips, press down on the first and third valves without even realising I'm doing so, and play a D. My confidence is growing faster than a mushroom cloud, and before I know where I am, I've jumped an octave and am playing the introduction to a sad sounding Latin jazz piece that I used to play in the school jazz band, and have long since forgotten the title of. I do not however forget the E Flat, thank God, and for the next twenty minutes I happily experiment with scales, arpeggios and motifs not yet forgotten, despite the time past.

As is expected my lips soon tire and I am forced to rest, but only for a few minutes. I work my way through every book of music I can find, wishing I'd had something decent left to play after I returned all my sheet music to the various bands it belonged to. I've had little incentive to play trumpet since I went to university and left the youth bands which had made the hobby fun. Little opportunity as well, what with student accommodation coming without adequate sound proofing.

Despite this though, I do miss the good old days, when I was actually a rather good musician, able to join pit bands for a whole host of amateur productions and so busy with concerts each term that I hardly had time for anything else. I hope I find time to play tomorrow, if only for old times? sake.

I gather up my music and replace it, and the instrument, back into the case, which is then closed and sealed, safe and ready for another day.

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A Complete Spanner In The Works

Posted on Wednesday 4th April 2007 at 00:00
A few weeks ago I wrote a reply to a comment on one of my posts, and for a split second after hitting submit, I noticed a new page had loaded below the comment form. A moment later the page refreshed and it was gone.

A short while after, the same thing happened again, and then again after that. It took a little tracking down, but I soon discovered the cause to be the script which updates the RSS comments feed. It is supposed to run every time a comment is added, so that those following the thread via RSS are aware that a new comment has been added.

Sadly though, just weeks after getting the script to work the way I wanted it to, some complete smeg head had come and overwritten the file with their own stupid gay hacker crap file! I was pretty pissed off and even more so when I discovered that I didn't have an up to date back up for the lost file. Ugh!

Sadly, that was how it had to remain until yesterday, when I decided to carry out an extensive overhaul of my administration area, to make it more practical. In a week or two I'm going to be redeveloping a similar control panel, and I use the one on my blog as a test bed for that.

It took a bit of fiddling, but I'm now proud to announce that the RSS Comment Feed is back online and is fully up to date. And yes, I've made a copy of it this time in case the hackers return ;)

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Living Arrangements

Posted on Tuesday 3rd April 2007 at 00:00
Over the last few days I've been puzzling over some ideas about the level of affection one has for the house and the area in which they live. This has come about because on Sunday I moved back home for the Easter holidays.

Despite my best efforts over the last three years, I've been unable to stop myself from noticing how much more I like Yateley and my family home than any of the three places I've found myself living in since I came to Bristol at the start of my degree course.

Granted, I have things pretty sweet when I'm at home. My house here is large, modern and well decorated. It is situated a little way from the nearest main road and we have a large garden. There is ample drive space for the four (soon to become five) cars parked outside, the neighbours are pleasant, quiet and very much detached from us. Basically it is as good a place to live as you are likely to find in suburbia. The town is also rather lovely, being more of a village than anything, with not too much traffic, little crime and more than your average number of parks and greens.

Bristol on the other hand does not have any of these qualities. Despite living on a supposedly quiet street, hidden away down the back of Fishponds, I find it noisy, dirty, crowded and often rather intimidating. The house is also nothing to be looked twice at, with a badly paved over front 'garden' and a back that doesn't exactly shout out 'Alan Titchmarsh? when you step outside. The house itself is old fashioned, in a dreadful state of repair and full of unexpected holes in all sorts of odd places.

It is perhaps not surprising therefore that I like my Yateley home a lot more. But is it really that simple? Do I only like Yateley because I've been to Bristol or did I like it before? Given that Bristol is a fairly average place, will I find that where I live in the future will be met with a similar disapproval?

I guess what I'm really trying to work out is do I like Yateley more because it is where I grew up and have most of my memories, in which case I might well never be as at home anywhere else again, or do I like it because it is a nice place and because it is my full time home, where as Bristol is not as nice and only temporary, in which case I will hopefully hold a lot more affection for my future home once I find somewhere that I like, in a place that I like and decide to settle down there.

I think one of the key points is control. I have no say in the house in Bristol. I can't paint the walls, change the carpets or install a porch light so people can spot the door bell when visiting at night. It is an ugly building and I can't do anything to change it. When I finally own somewhere of my own I'll be able to mould and shape it to suit my tastes, whatever they may be. Even renting as a graduate will allow me choice of some nice flats, not the scabby houses given to students to dwell in.

Perhaps the most valuable thing I'll take away from uni, when I eventually leave, is a firm idea of what I do and don't want my living situation to be like in the future. It is practically a life ambition to find somewhere as nice as my family home. If I can do that, I know I'll have made it.

Because let's face it, there are few things worse than living in a place that doesn't make you happy.

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