A day in the life
7 December, 2010
Live for the second
In very cold weather, it's difficult to heat my house beyond 12°C, so a hot shower is the most pleasant place to be, other than bed.
Yet under such circumstances the air temperature in my bathroom, next to the ill-fitting back door, is likely to be markedly below 10°C, which is only bearable whilst the jet of water is in direct contact with my body: cold air against wet skin is... breathtaking.
Which means I'm so busy keeping warm that it takes longer to wash, which means I lose more heat and leave the shower clean but shivering. Which means the whole experience is a sequence of variegated bliss and horror; I can't decide whether the net effect really is enjoyable.
9 November, 2010
In my new job*, I'm now paying more in National Insurance than I received as a PhD student (admittededly rather a long time ago). Seems fair, I suppose.
*: Yes, I have a new job, or rather have successfully defended my existing job in competitive interview, with an amended role. Not – not – fun.
30 June, 2010
With a bump
Whilst I'm writing or editing code, it can be a little disorientating to be forced back into the real world by a phone call.
Doubly so when the caller asks me to confirm that I'm willing to pay import duty on steampunk caffeine molecules.
Though yes, after a moment's consideration, that does make perfect sense, for reasons I'm not currently at liberty to explain....
21 May, 2010
It's not as if I baked a cake
One day this week (not today) was roughly my half-birthday: the same day of the month as my full birthday, but six months away. I've never bothered to work out the more precise date.
I happened to mention the not-anniversary to a couple of friends, who were surprised, somehow even a little affronted, that such an event would occur to me.
It's not that weird a consideration, is it?
22 March, 2010
It requires a very special skill to visit the kitchen to make a cup of tea then return with a cup containing no tea.
Nor water. Nor milk, nor sugar. An entirely empty cup, in fact.
But a cup with intent.
17 February, 2010
Should have taken a frying pan and a day off work
For Shrove Tuesday, there was a pancake stall in the square outside my building yesterday. I didn't visit it myself, as I'd already seen it in town at the weekend, charging £2 per pancake – an incredible price for 1/3 egg and a little flour & milk.
Yet I didn't see the queue drop below about ten people all day yesterday, from ~10:00 until almost 18:00.
26 January, 2010
That was uncomfortable. An ex-colleague called into the office a few minutes ago, and stopped to talk whilst waiting for an appointment. It was, in theory, a great opportunity to catch up on life events, including a little office gossip (not that I occupy a gossipy environment, very thankfully).
The problem is that the ex-colleague is now a journalist, a fact I couldn't forget for a moment; I was constantly aware of protecting my employer, and hence myself.
I'm a guarded person anyway, and struggle to reveal personal information even to friends, but it was awkward to be consciously self-censoring and pre-planning the strict factual accuracy of deliberately innocuous statements, whilst 'casually' conversing with a previously close acquaintance.
9 January, 2010
That time again
Visiting at ~16:45 probably didn't help, but Sainsbury's was very short of fresh produce this evening: no eggs, and only about a quarter of the normal array of vegetables. No onions; anyone would think the ground's frozen, or something.
However, they were selling hot-cross buns, a mere four months before easter. How restrained.
4 January, 2010
Re-reading that last entry made me realise it's probably a little cryptic, as I haven't said what the "events since mid-November" have actually been.
I'm not ready to go into detail, and doubt I will be, but just for clarity: I'm currently single, uncharacteristically struggling with being alone, and terrified by the prospect of dating, an activity I've never really engaged in (H & I met in less 'calculated' circumstances in 1990-91).
One day at a time, and all that. It really, really makes me appreciate my friends.
21 December, 2009
Seeing a student cut a stylised heart into undisturbed snow made me smile this morning.
But when she added a lightning-strike break across the middle....
9 December, 2009
Who knew that the Fire Service has its own hydrant maintenance staff? I'd presumed that was the responsibility of the local council.
25 November, 2009
Taking the hint
When even my dentist's receptionist thinks I look unwell and unhappy, There Must Be Change.
22 October, 2009
Performing beyond the call of possibility
We have new – fresh; vigorous; insightful – members of senior management at work, who are setting Key Performance Indicators in order to quantify their impact on us drones, who are plainly incapable of prioritising our own workloads.
One of mine is impressive: to improve the effectiveness of a website from '44' to '11' – on a scale of '1' to '10'.
7 August, 2009
Why is the University being repeatedly overflown by Apache attack helicopters today?
29 June, 2009
A Saturday evening/Sunday spent in Borrowdale with close friends is a very long way from a Monday morning in the office with, well, colleagues. And I don't mean 120 km by road.
Must do the former more often.
19 June, 2009
Not in a good mood
This morning's 2½-hour meeting with consultants discussed "going forwards" (a phrase I've managed to avoid being inflicted on me until today) at extreme length but failed to reach any conclusions about how to proceed. Going forwards.
That was followed by a meeting in a room overlooking Alexandra Square with a student who'd overslept past midday in his room in Alexandra Park and who couldn't name the University's founding Chancellor. Yes, she's a Princess... begins with 'A'.... No, not 'Anne'.
Just what I needed.
28 April, 2009
Apparently we experienced an earthquake this morning; 3.7 in Ulverston at 11:20.
According to the BBC, it was felt in 'north Lancaster', presumably as opposed to here in the south of the city, which may be why I didn't notice anything. The other side of the building (5-6 m away) shook, though, and the head of Estates is reported to have run downstairs to remonstrate with construction workers.
The BBC also quotes a witness in Grange-over-Sands:
"I went outside and noticed neighbours were also on their doorsteps looking a bit bewildered."
And there was an earthquake, too.
28 March, 2009
My head is evaporating
Whose foolish idea was menthol shampoo?
24 March, 2009
Cry for help
This morning, I dropped a banana into my bag, for elevenses.
Two-and-a-half hours late, I've reached into my bag and pulled out... a box of ibuprofen tablets.
I can't remotely explain how that happened – they weren't even in the same cupboard. Insomnia?
17 March, 2009
It seems I was quoted in the Guardian this week.
Okay, it was the Lancaster Guardian, I wasn't credited, and it was merely a result of my being able to read a URL, but at least my colleagues were impressed.
The issue was that 'a popular mapping website' mislaid my employer's premises: the 'Search' utility provided a location in the middle of the North Sea, so instructions from the accompanying 'Find Directions' utility involved jumping off the Zeebrugge-Rosyth ferry. My insightful observation (yeah, right), was that the URL included the wrong longitude: approximately 2.78, placing Lancaster east of Greenwich, rather than the correct -2.78(ish), west of the international dateline. Just a typo with an amusing result – hardly front page news. But that's where it was published.
13 January, 2009
Gazelles on ice
If my walk across Alex Square during the lunch rush hour was an adequate sample, it seems platform stiletto shoes are in fashion amongst our students. As an observer: great.
However, I can't decide whether that's a matter of titillation or amusement at the sheer absurdity of the things.
6 January, 2009
Okay; it's cold
I don't recall breath leaving frost on my beard before, at least not in the UK.
24 December, 2008
My mother owns an aromatherapy CD.
How does that work, then?
18 December, 2008
How do people live this way?
I know a lot of people have to be accustomed to routinely traveling to work in darkness on winter mornings, but I don't, so arriving at 07:30 was a real shock this morning.
Sitting at my desk before first light, knowing I won't leave before the sun has passed right across the sky and it's fully dark again, makes the day so much more daunting.
30 November, 2008
Road to Hell
Seen on the side of a garage's courtesy car: "Taking you to a better place".
Faulty brakes? Explosive fuel tank?
19 November, 2008
Not rocket science
Another 'refinement' of the working environment introduced when we moved into an open-plan office was that the cleaners no longer empty the bin by each desk. Instead, we use our individual bins as required, then empty them ourselves into larger communal bins, sorting the contents as confidential paper, ordinary paper, and 'general' waste.
The shared bins have lids with access holes; narrow slots for the paper bins and a ~10 cm wide slot for the other one. It's unpleasant to have to pick up yesterday's teabags and drop them in by hand, so I routinely remove the whole lid and tip in the contents of my bin.
I've just been called a 'genius' for the third time, for exhibiting basic lateral thinking. Others evidently don't even see an alternative to the designers' intended technique.
16 November, 2008
You may have noticed that I don't like advertisements, but even someone more charitable than me would have to question the logic of posting a flyer through the letterbox of a pebble-dashed house on behalf of a brickwork-sandblasting firm.
Not the best advert for the marketing/delivery service....
5 November, 2008
Goes without saying
A local hire firm offers 'practical' vans.
Damn. I was particularly looking for something impractical, one metre long with triangular wheels and icing-sugar bodywork.
24 October, 2008
... though it may have been going a bit far to have declined dental anaesthetic this morning in order to be able to speak at a meeting this afternoon.
17 October, 2008
Yeah; it says here...
"I'm pretty good at separating online time from 'real life'."
Mostly. However, I have noticed a change since upgrading to broadband at home: whenever I'm on the phone to friends or family, I routinely have Firefox open to check details of whatever we're discussing.
9 October, 2008
Why is it that whenever I pass the 'Press Office' sign I get a barely-controllable urge to prod and squeeze everything?
No, it's not to confirm whether their materials really are stationary.
1 October, 2008
Out! Now! (Pardon?)
When I was a young child, my father took me to an airshow. I suspect he was disappointed that my response to a jet engine was to scream and cover my ears, but as proud mothers do, mine took it as evidence that I have 'special' hearing. I don't think I do; I have problems isolating a particular voice in a room full of noisy conversations, such as in a pub, but otherwise I'm probably normal.
I was reminded of the airshow incident (or incidents – as my mother tells it, my father repeated the experiment a few times) when the fire alarm went off today. I've subsequently discovered that a department elsewhere in the building had been celebrating a colleague's birthday, without realising that thirty cake candles would trigger the heat/smoke sensors (which we hadn't known had even been installed). It may have been a lucky escape, as another colleague is approaching his sixtieth, and the system includes sprinklers....
The first I knew was a breathtaking assault by the loudest, shrillest sound I recall ever encountering: a painfully, even nauseatingly loud noise that demanded instant action – I couldn't get out of the building quickly enough, and was still aware of discomfort two hours later. This wasn't the hearing impairment of a rock concert, but literal, immediate and lasting pain.
My first thought was that like most aspects of the new offices, the alarm had been configured wrongly and needs to be toned-down, but perhaps not: the important point is that it worked, safely evacuating the affected area in moments – annoyed people move quickly but calmly, rather than in a panicked rush. Maybe minor ear injury – and I'm serious; I do think damage was done – is considered an acceptable side-effect.
27 September, 2008
It takes a certain single-mindedness to go out for bread, milk & cheese and return with bread and tomatoes.
26 September, 2008
Nearly a million items
It's great to have access to a university library; pointless if one's interests extend no further than the latest airport bestseller but invaluable to anyone, say, researching local history/geography for photo captions.
And for staff, 'long-loan' means long: subject to recall, I have the books I borrowed today until 11 June, 2009.
24 September, 2008
The zen of e-mail maintenance
I have achieved purity: I've sent an e-mail which, in context and with full justification, contained no text whatsoever.
22 September, 2008
The personnel touch
If an e-mail states that I'm "personally invited to a Health Promotion event for staff", shouldn't it be addressed to someone other than 'Dear Colleague'?
20 September, 2008
Ah; the smell of the countryside
Just to kill any romantic stereotypes: whilst out in very rural North Lancashire today, I passed three different quaint hill farms absolutely reeking of burning plastic.
Environmental standards? What environmental standards?
5 September, 2008
Audience with La Princesse
Off to see a spider. Back soon.
26 August, 2008
What else did I miss?
Hmm. It seems that there's been some sort of sporting event in China recently, of which I saw a total of ~40 seconds. I can respect the achievements, and that this was the culmination of many people's careers, but I'm afraid I'm just not interested in watching.
That's fair enough, but it does slightly concern me that I didn't even know it had finished until I returned to work this morning after a bank holiday weekend of no TV, negligible time online and (as always) no radio or newspapers.
20 August, 2008
Nice stripes; pity about the colour
Today is Wednesday: lawn-mowing day for my employer's Estates division. Never mind that we've experienced (extremely) heavy rain recently, and mowers will rip wet grass out of the ground rather than cleanly cut it: lawns must be mowed on mowing day.
It's like the Somme out there.
Er. In the sense that the Somme in 2008 is an agricultural region in France, and presumably a little muddy. I wasn't referring to its condition in, say, 1916, as that over-used analogy has always seemed a little crass.
13 August, 2008
When I moved into this temporary office last year, I was concerned about the surrounding relatively tall buildings blocking sight of the surrounding countryside, but the grassed quad hasn't felt oppressive, as the large weeping willow has been a pleasant feature and a break in the southern side introduces plenty of light. I've seen a lot of this sky!
Yet another reason to regret having to move back into my refurbished, open-plan permanent office, in a noisier part of the campus, in a couple of weeks....
Click the image for an enlargement.
7 August, 2008
Whilst collecting this morning's post, I noticed that the porter was reading a garish website about 'dramatic weight loss'. When I politely enquired why that'd so fascinate a small, wiry, near-pensioner, he replied that "it just popped up, so I thought it was important".
I really must install fully-AdBlocked Firefox for him before he sends his entire savings to Nigeria in the hope of receiving certain anatomical enhancements....
6 August, 2008
I've just taught a ~26-year-old colleague how to write a cheque, as he claims to have never done so before.
I suppose I write very few cheques myself nowadays – only to my mother, I think – but it's not that long since I was routinely writing 2-3 each month. I'd vaguely presumed that there must be people under a certain age for whom a paper cheque is unfamiliar, but I certainly hadn't realised that the 'certain age' was so high.
21 July, 2008
Just in case anyone's wondering...
... I haven't had an opportunity to update the blog for a few days, a situation which is likely to continue for another week.
Back whenever I'm able. There Will Be Photos (eventually...).
2 July, 2008
Frame of reference
I suppose that for most people, 'Web' is a sensible 'Subject:' for an e-mail relating to maintenance of a website.
However, think for a moment: when the recipient is a web developer whose work e-mails, by definition, are almost all about website maintenance, 'RE: Web' isn't terribly helpful....
1 July, 2008
Career? What career?
How did I reach a position to be receiving .pdfs entitled 'Cupboard Drawings' and 'Tender Images' (which, disappointingly, doesn't involve fluffy kittehs)?
No, 'kitteh' is not a typo.
23 June, 2008
I've been thanked for my 'inciteful' feedback on a staff survey.
The word doesn't exist, of course, but I wonder whether the sender intended to praise my vision (insight) or call me a troublemaker (incite)....
I suppose it could be a clever pun.
12 June, 2008
Yes, literally. Doxycycline is the antibiotic-of-choice for early treatment of chlamydia, primary syphilis, anthrax and bubonic plague.
Oh, and Lyme disease: on Tuesday I had seven sheep ticks removed from various parts of my body (primarily the backs of my knees), ~48 hours after visiting an area with a history of infections.
The prophylactic course comprises two (2) capsules, to be taken at the same time, but as is standard for antibiotics one must "take regularly and complete the course". I hope I'll be able to accommodate that rigorous treatment regime.
8 June, 2008
Okay; who's been rubbing raw chili into my shoulders?
It can't be sunburn – I haven't experienced that since I was a child – but after x miles* and three days of cycling mainly only in shorts and boots, I suppose I have to acknowledge at least the possibility. The decider is whether I end up sleeping in the shower tonight. How can my shoulders store so much heat?
At least my T-shirt negative tan (blue-white torso, brown arms) has vanished, and the sun seems to have cauterised today's numerous hawthorn gouges & nettle weals. But that's something for a different posting.
*: Probably not very many miles, in fact; can't be much more than a hundred. That's nothing compared to the person I met at Lancaster station this morning, who'd cycled from Bournemouth and was heading on from Barrow to "the top" of Scotland. Freak. I mean: who goes to Barrow?
3 June, 2008
I don't know whether many students take lucky charms into exams, but I suspect most are fairly discrete; a small teddy bear, perhaps.
Not, as in the case of a goth girl I vaguely know, a massive pair of New Rocks: she's just sat an exam wearing ~4" platform boots. I'm surprised she fitted under the desk.
3 June, 2008
Thursday's really busy: lecture, a meeting with [name], and then I've got to get lunch!
Oh, the stress....
Can I just point out I did a 10-hour working day yesterday, an unexceptional (though not everyday, thankfully) occurrence?
30 May, 2008
Yesterday afternoon, a bouquet of flowers* was delivered for one of my colleagues, but he was unable to carry them home so left them in the office overnight; they're still here.
All day passers-by have been failing to pass by, instead calling in to comment on the freesias' "beautiful" fragrance.
It seems I'm the only one who thinks it's absolutely nauseating....
I love the coconut-y scent of gorse flowers, and the appearence of some native wild flowers, but I don't think I like any cultivated flowers, and can barely bear such oppressive floral scents.
*: as opposed to a bouquet of fish?
16 May, 2008
What just happened?
Hmm. A couple of minutes ago I stood up to get some lunch.
Now I'm back at my desk with a cup of tea. And no lunch.
14 May, 2008
I didn't think I'd ever say this, but perhaps I need a little less sleep: I'm too alert at present, and thinking quicker than I can converse.
It was mildly embarrassing this evening to have mentally moved on, when no-one else had, from a conversation about wet T-shirts to one about photography: asking A. whether hers "had come out" was slightly misconstrued....
I wonder if it's the time of year. That linked entry was written exactly a year ago.
8 May, 2008
I reached the office an hour late this morning, having been for a ~20 km bike ride in T-shirt & shorts, as it's a sunny day which promises to get quite hot. I feel great.
J. apparently arrived at work at the normal time by overcrowded bus, wearing jeans, a long-sleeved shirt and a fleece. He's claiming lethargy. He's also twelve years younger than me.
Sometimes my lifestyle doesn't seem too bad.
5 May, 2008
I'll pass. No, really.
Buying a sandwich and bag of crisps from the Students' Union shop, I was offered a free bottle of water.
"No, thanks." *
"Oh. Do you want to get one out of the chill cabinet?"
"Okay, that'll be £2, please."
I paid for my lunch, then, as I was leaving, was called back:
"You've forgotten your water!"
Is it really so difficult to comprehend that 'free' doesn't always mean 'worthwhile'?
*: It's not easy to insert hotlinks into speech, but I am a professional.
4 May, 2008
My spellchecker 'corrected' 'worst-case scenario' to 'Worcester scenario'.
I've never visited the town, but is there something I ought to know?
2 May, 2008
Just for a change, I returned to my office from the postroom via the long route* this morning, passing the office & lab I occupied as a PhD student.
I was quite nostalgic to discover that the combination of the keypad lock 'guarding' that corridor still hasn't been changed since, ooh, 1994.
*: Well, not the long way; much as I'd like to visit H. in Warszawa, I was a bit pushed for time.
29 April, 2008
No fun any more
Aw.... I'm getting so good at spouting buzzwords at cold-calling CRM/CMS vendors that I totally switch off, and I didn't even enjoy totally misleading the last one.
21 April, 2008
Restraint beyond the call of duty
A colleague in Events tells me she held a door open for an elderly male dignitary on Friday, was told she was "the prettiest doorstop I've met all day" and didn't embed the door handle in his head. Wow.
17 April, 2008
I needed to promote a lecture on 'quantum future' (?) this morning, but encountered a familiar conflict: the flyer, printed weeks ago, stated one seminar room, but the organiser's e-mail, possibly incorporating an amendment, stated a different lecture theatre.
The solution was obvious.
I'll advertise both venues simultaneously. It is quantum, after all.
11 April, 2008
Would you let them in?
On my way to work this morning, I passed a van belonging to some sort of home-help, independent-living -enablement agency. I didn't catch the name, as the slogan rather distracted me:
[Company name] – Hearing Voices
7 April, 2008
Don't ask me to talk
Why does dental anaesthetic make the affected area feel massively swollen? Why not smaller; why any perceived change in size at all?
Yes, I've had a filling. It was supposed to be a minor repair to an existing filling, but by the time the old one had been removed and underlying decay excised & sterilised, my dentist was using tools I'd never seen before – I'm sure one was to prevent the drill destroying the entire external tooth. Before returning to the office, I've had to thoroughly wash bone, amalgam and saliva out of my beard, but I didn't feel a thing.
Then again, I can't feel my nose, either.
19 March, 2008
Walking along the corridor a moment ago, I smiled at the person approaching the other side of a door wearing a 'Marbles' t-shirt*.
Before realising the glass was slightly mirrored, and that I'd put on a 'Marbles' t-shirt this morning.
Did you know that recognising its own reflection is considered characteristic of a sentient animal?
*: The door wasn't wearing the shirt.
12 March, 2008
Bientôt de retour.
4 March, 2008
Wake up call
Note to self: remember to close the back door before going to bed, thereby avoiding the necessity of showering in a room at 2°C.
3 March, 2008
A campus-wide power cut today meant that my scheduled three-hour meeting about CRM (i.e. rather reliant on the availability of a networked PC and projection facilities) was moved to a nearby hotel. I hadn't had an opportunity to grab any lunch, as the lack of electricity had also closed all the shops on campus, so my boss was kind enough to buy me a sandwich from the bar.
Six pounds fifty. For a ham sandwich. Admittedly, that'd normally be served with chips & salad, but we'd declined them and expected a more... realistic price.
I'm in the wrong business.
1 March, 2008
Hippies with mortgages
Traffic was rather heavy in town this afternoon, as an anti-capitalist march was criss-crossing the one-way system: a small group of campaigners in oh-so-amusing costumes were protesting against plans to open a department store in the city centre and a supermarket in Scotforth.
It must have been just breaking up as I passed, since by the time I'd completed my shopping, I'd counted fourteen suddenly-off-duty costumed hypocrites in Sainsbury's.
Yeah! Give your money to a multinational corporation! That'll teach 'em!
26 February, 2008
Hide that blimp!
I missed a meeting this morning, instead atttending one which compressed four days of work¹ into two hours².
However, I did receive the 'handout' from the first meeting, a 30-page document "to which [one of the Pro-Vice-Chancellors] spoke". A fifty-something professor lecturing an inanimate object. Yep; pretty normal for a university.
Rather more alarming was the statement that our "undergraduates are inflated", affecting "the proportion of our students showing".
1: Of me struggling alone.
2: Of me nodding and smiling whilst the work was done for me – mildly embarrassing but THANK YOU, J!
24 February, 2008
In principle, it's a great idea for a website to draw on a master stylesheet and store repeatedly-used images in a common directory, but it's a bit of a bugger when one needs to design a new section from a geographical location lacking editing access to those central directories.
Hence, whilst I'd usually work at home out-of-hours (when I must, not by choice!), I've had to spend a significant chunk of the weekend at my office PC. It's remarkably productive to work without the interruptions of colleagues, e-mail and the phone, and with the incentive of being able to go home as soon as I finish.
I have a electronic pass card for my usual office building (a literal carte blanche, as it's plain, unmarked white), but such technology hasn't quite reached my temporary accommodation, so I normally need to borrow a key from Security.
However, the officer on duty today told me of a deceptively simple way to enter the building at any time, without a key. That's really handy, and I'm grateful for the advice, but I could have been anyone. I didn't recognise the security officer, he didn't know me (I suppose there's a tiny chance that other officers had described me, but why would they?), and we hadn't reached a point in the conversation at which I'd offer some ID.
I only have free access to three floors of corridors, communal spaces and my own office, of course, but it'd still be possible for me to return at a quiet moment and, if I was so inclined, take a microwave or shared printer from an unlocked post room or break into individual offices at my leisure. It's not just a matter of computers and other valuables, either – 'in season', offices could contain exam papers.
I'm not sure what to do; it'd be irresponsible and possibly a disciplinary issue for me to just ignore such a gaping security risk, but I can't think of a way to report it without incriminating someone who was only trying to help. I'm certainly not going to do that.
15 February, 2008
As the department's designated 'techie' (a very relative term - real techies would find my level of knowledge laughable), I've been asked to advise on ordering a new PC for a colleague.
I selected a computer from our designated supplier's website and customised the specifications, but we needed to obtain the precise HE-sector price from customer services. That's been a laborious process, featuring unreturned calls, misdirected e-mails and over a week of delays. It's as if the company doesn't want our money. If I'd been buying for myself, I'd have gone elsewhere days ago – it's simply not good enough.
Finally! A quote has arrived this afternoon. It's 'For the Attention of: Dept of Biological Sciences' (er, no, we're in Central Admin) and is addressed to 'Dear Goods In'. It's the personal touch that makes all the difference.
Should we choose to confirm the order, the PC will be delivered to the Dept. of Management Science (they'll be pleased) in the Engineering Building (though Man-Sci isn't in Engineering).
All of which has prompted me to investigate whether we really do have to buy from a 'designated supplier'.
And we don't.
30 January, 2008
That was a little scary.
This morning was entirely usual: I woke at the normal time, ate my normal breakfast and cycled to work as normal. Bright sunlight on my office window made the room unseasonably hot by mid-morning, to the point of being slightly nauseating and ruining any appetite for lunch, which I forced down anyway.
By 14:00 I felt extraordinarily tired, with an annoying headache. I went for a walk to wake up, but as soon as I left the building, I felt astonishingly cold – my fingers even went numb, as if I'd been out for hours. I got as far as the College office before slumping into an armchair, shivering and still very drowsy. After recovering, I went back to work via a more indoor route.
The same pattern repeated itself at 15:00; I needed to talk to the Press Office staff, so wandered across to clear my head (still aching) rather than just pick up the phone. Again, once there I collapsed into a chair, bitterly cold and unable to concentrate.
I gave in to the inevitable at 16:00 and cycled home (perhaps itself an indication of impaired judgement) wrapped in my spare fleece, jacket, dayglo overjacket, scarf and gloves, deliberately riding slowly as I doubted my reaction times and spatial awareness. By 16:30 I was home and in bed with a couple of paracetamol tablets, unable to do more than blink slowly as I watched the last of the daylight oddly pulsing on the bedroom ceiling.
The next I knew was when the alarm clock (which I don't remember setting) woke me at 18:00. H. thinks I must have passed out, and that I should see a doctor immediately, but the odd thing is that I feel absolutely fine now, as if nothing whatsoever had happened.
[Update 01/02/08: False alarm, or rather, false all-clear. By 02:00 I was incapacitated with burning fever and diarrhoea for 24 hours (and counting, though the severity has receded drastically). Apparently there's been an epidemic of norovirus (viral gastroenteritis) this winter; I must have been unlucky.]
22 January, 2008
Ooh! Flying machine!
Heh. I suppose I have to acknowledge I live in a bit of a backwater when I wonder whether there's been a traffic accident simply because I can hear the helicopter. The helicopter: the police helicopter, which is the only helicopter I'm likely to hear in the Lancaster area.
Unless it's the air ambulance, of course.
19 January, 2008
Why is it that a few moments after eating a piece of really good mature cheddar, I break into a cold sweat?
It's a strange sensation, like spirit alcohol evaporating off the exposed skin of my hands and forehead.
3 January, 2008
Thrill of the chase
I'll be travelling back up country with my mother tomorrow, from Devon to her home in North Wales. Neither of us will fancy cooking after a ~7 hour drive, so she's saved a voucher for a free meal from a certain chain of roadside diners.
I don't particularly like fast food, but it'll do.
But there's a twist. In order to obtain two free meals, my mother wants us to go in separately and sit apart.
I'm in my mid-thirties. I earn a decent salary. I don't need to play these sort of games any more, and won't.
That may be my mother's underlying motivation: on some level, such penny-pinching is a game.
21 December, 2007
Don't see that every night
I don't know who was more startled, the 'large cat' I spotted on my yard wall so went out to scare away, or the fox that it turned out to be.
22 November, 2007
Well, that's it. Everything in my office, from the PC to the wastepaper bin to the cleaner trying to empty it (it was a joke, okay?) has been labelled for the removal men and I'm going home for the rest of the week. Publications has left the building.
Remember the NOISY building work last September? The ground floor and half of the first floor were remodelled in that phase of the project; now it's our turn. This weekend we're moving to the far north-east of campus* for a year or so, whilst those departments which escaped the building work last time get to hear the rest of the first floor and all of the second being similarly remodelled.
It seems open-plan is back in fashion with those wishing to practice dynamic and visible management; that's the format to which we'll return. To be fair, multiple stages of consultation have resulted in an acceptable layout with a minimum of tantrums, and I've been promised a dark corner with my own window blind. We'll see – few plans survive contact with the pneumatic drill, and all that.
The fundamental premise of open-plan wasn't open to negotiation, unfortunately, though of those colleagues I'll be seeing far more of on a daily basis, and of those who got to extend their collaborative working opportunities (what fun!) in the earlier phase, I've yet to encounter one person in favour of abandoning individual offices (or open-plan within individual departments' offices, rather than multiple tangentially-related departments sharing a collective space).
It's all so dehumanising. A clear-desk policy was implemented downstairs when those departments moved into their new space, whereby the only items of paper permitted on desktops are those on which the drones staff members are actively working. There's also a (probably apocryphal) rumour that the cleaners are required to remove any posters from work spaces each morning – no more family photos, then.
I wonder if it's coincidental that the 'Personnel' department recently rebranded itself as 'Human Resources'. There's a dangerous semantic difference between 'persons employed' and 'expedients'.
*: To seriously old offices, which will in turn be remodelled once we've moved back out. The plaster around my 'new' door is visibly crumbling – never mind a hefty kick, a meaningful glance would probably break my door down.
19 November, 2007
A true manager
This morning, I woke instantly, from fast asleep to rigidly anxious in an almost audible rush of adrenaline.
All weekend I've been worrying about my next project at work, which magnified the usual Monday morning less-than-eagerness-to-go-to-work. It was a horrible sensation which I thankfully experience rarely nowadays, but it was (literally) a wake-up call: the only way to eliminate the feeling is to face the task.
The problem is that it's slightly beyond my current technical knowledge (I think – I don't even entirely understand what's involved) yet rather important. A good analogy would be to have to learn a whole new language, with a speech to a multinational audience (of potential customers) being one's very first rehearsal.
The rest of the day actually went quite well: I engineered three impromptu meetings about the issue, with a fourth tomorrow, and secured a fallback position: implement someone else's attempt at the same task, though at a larger level, if the more ambitious plan stalls.
Here's the point of the title: my technical knowledge increased infinitessimally today, and I'm still concerned, but now several other people have to be concerned too.
Sorry, folks. ;)
16 November, 2007
I suppose it's good for departmental cohesion that there's a baker on campus, but the staff are useless. Yet again, an order for eight individual cakes has produced a bag of seven items, two of them not the ones requested.
Still, better than having to make my own, I suppose.
12 November, 2007
Seen in the University's internal e-mail 'newsletter':
WANTED: Flemish / Shepherd's / Other Bagpipes: instrument, information, tuition.
Please contact [snipped].
Is that a small ad, or statutory warning?
12 November, 2007
Thought it was too cheap
I'm not entirely sure why I'm advertising my foolishness, but thinking I was ordering Wong Kar Wai's 1995 film 'Fallen Angels' from Amazon, I've accidentally bought some straight-to-video slasher-horror film by the same name.
Bugger. Don't make the same mistake. The Amazon page for the latter contains virtually no textual information about the film and there's no cover image, so the automatically-generated 'Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed' and 'Listmania' sections are pretty much the only content, and feature several Wong Kar Wai items. That doesn't justify my carelessness, but it does at least partly explain it.
24 October, 2007
Incredulity overheard in Alex Square:
"Apparently, there used to be pound notes."
There still are in Scotland, of course, but the English pound note was phased out in 1983/4; the current intake of undergrads straight from school were born in about 1989.
Well, I clearly remember pound notes. I was 13 in 1984 (and a pound went so much further in those days!), so I suppose that was the note I saw most frequently.
19 October, 2007
Rumblings of discontent
Remember I mentioned being asked about availability for the staff chrismas meal? It seems twelve people (of twenty or so) have declined to attend.
4 October, 2007
News is free
A couple of minutes ago, I was stopped in Alex Square by someone wishing to sell me a cut-price subscription to The Guardian.
Pay for the newspaper, whilst the website offers the same content? Are you mad, sir?
3 October, 2007
I tried to book a place on a staff development course this morning, entitled 'Running Successful Projects'.
However, it seems that course isn't running. Successful project, eh?
****. The alternative is a Masters' degree, and I really don't fancy that sort of time-investment.
27 September, 2007
Curtains for me
Sometimes my job seems a little random.
On Monday, I was a tourist in London, at my employer's expense.
On Tuesday, I attended a conference costing ~£100 per hour.
Yesterday was devoted to normal web development work.
This morning I was hanging 64 shower curtains. Eh?
26 September, 2007
Cutting it fine
When it's brilliantly sunny outside and the trees still have most of their leaves, it seems strange to receive an e-mail investigating availability for the work christmas meal.
I suppose a mere quarter of a year (three months from today, the whole ordeal will be over for another year) isn't especially early for booking a restaurant.
24 September, 2007
I can report that according to the Ministry Pollution Index (determined by blowing my nose after a day in a city) the air quality in Central London (particulates, anyway) is comparable to that of Prague, and worse than Barcelona, Madrid, Berlin, Wien, Venezia, Liverpool and Manchester, amongst others; even worse than Warszawa and New York.
[Update 26/9/07: I left London seventeen hours ago, and my nose still itches.]
24 September, 2007
The morning found me miles away
I couldn't have planned this even if I'd thought to....
At the moment my train pulled into Euston station and I disembarked into the world capital of the surveillance culture (London has the greatest density of security cameras on the planet), my mp3 player launched into Geoff Muldaurs' theme from 'Brazil'.
For those who don't know, that film is Terry Gilliam's '1984'-like view of a near-future police state and, incidentally, the source of this website's name.
20 September, 2007
The price of milk on campus has increased!
It's surprisingly unsettling when things like that happen.
Then again, adding an extra 11% overnight does seem a little steep. Now it's a lot more expensive than at supermarkets, just as they're accused of artificially inflating prices.
18 September, 2007
I don't have a particularly fatty diet, but as I've described before, every few months my body decides it needs a minor binge, and I feel the urge for a traditional 'cooked breakfast' (as an evening meal): bacon, sausages, a fried tomato and baked beans. I occasionally add a slice of black pudding, but never, ever, under any circumstances, an egg. That'd totally ruin it.
However, there are two logistical problems; not so much obstacles as minor annoyances.
- Frying liberates vapourised fat into the air, which settles out again onto every available surface. It's essential that I open the back door and close all internal doors, isolating the kitchen as much as possible before beginning.
- The ingredients aren't sold in quantities suitable for one person: I can't eat eight rashers of bacon, six sausages and a whole tin of beans at a single sitting. Hence, I eat half on each of two consecutive evenings, even if the first meal satisfied the desire and I'd much rather cook something else on the second night.
Yesterday was the first of the pair. Yum, but I made one mistake in washing the previous night's dishes immediately before starting to cook, leaving them to dry by the sink – and catch a coating of condensing fat. Oops.
So, tonight's first task was to rewash them immediately before... starting... to....
Ah. You see where this is going, don't you?
At least I'm consistent.
6 September, 2007
Guten Morgen, Wien
I feel the urge for apfelstrudel, perhaps even a little chocolate torte.
5 September, 2007
Thirty years ago, if I took sandwiches to school, it's likely that they'd have contained cheese¹ & tomato, probably enlivened by a little black pepper.
It suddenly struck me that today's equivalent would have been inconceivable in 1977.
I still frequently choose cheese & tomato, but in the form of a wrap² containing Monterey Jack cheese³, chili4, tomato chutney and guacamole5.
'Times change', and all that.
1: crumbly, tasteless Cheshire cheese, if left to my mother.
2: unheard of in 1977.
3: actually, that was new to me mere months ago.
4: definitely not part of my childhood diet, and I suspect my mother has still yet to encounter a chili pepper other than in a restaurant or pre-prepared sauce.
5: not merely 'foreign' in the late Seventies but downright alien.
29 August, 2007
It seems this year's non-Summer has confused the trees, too. Cycling home from work a few minutes ago (yes, at 20:00; don't ask), I noticed an alarming amount of red and yellow at the tips of several branches, especially of sycamores.
It's only August, but it looks as if the leaves will be falling within a couple of weeks.
29 August, 2007
What am I supposed to do with that?
This is hardly a novel complaint, but isn't it annoying when a colleague hands one a sheet of typed text, asking for it to be "put on the web"? The text has obviously been typed, almost certainly using a computer, yet somehow it's considered sensible to print it out and make one retype it, and somehow it's considered "obstructive" to request an electronic copy.
27 August, 2007
You can say that again
I'm regularly relieved to be required to report in writing. Inadvertently composed whilst proofing:
"Redundant. A resident Residence Officer obviously resides officially."
22 August, 2007
I spent an hour or so this morning touring the College's residences, as I need a few photos for the website. My first act on completion was to thoroughly wash my hands. If the corridors smell of vegetable oil, socks and even (in one instance) damp, what's coating the door handles, light switches, etc.? Ew.
Okay, I saw some of the oldest rooms in the University's founding College, so some parts have been in continuous use for over forty years; they really could do with a gap of a few months for them to properly air.
Okay, I saw some of the smallest rooms on campus, in the largest communal configurations (up to 26 students sharing a kitchen little larger than in a domestic home).
Okay, rooms elsewhere in the complex are drastically better (large, well-lit, built in 1990 and arranged into flats shared between 3-4 students).
Okay, even in the best cases, the compromises of communal living are something to be endured; one can't expect too much.
Still, I couldn't conceive of being a 18/19-year-old student again myself.
Needless to say, those photos are absolutely useless. It's not that the residences are bad, and any specific problems (like that damp) are dealt with, but even the best rooms are unsuitable as a means of promoting the College. If I can't sell them to myself, how could I use them to sell the College?
19 August, 2007
Roll-mop herrings: filleted fish rolled around slices of onion and pickled in sweet vinegar. Yum.
Best not supplemented by coleslaw, even if it is approaching its 'use-by' date and needs finishing.
****, that's foul.
16 July, 2007
Pressures of work
Dunno when, or indeed if, I'm going to find time to post anything here this week, so don't worry if it all seems to go quiet.
In no particular order, I'm attending a conference in York, ensuring the University's degree ceremony webcasts go out properly, inflating a couple of hundred balloons for Bowland College's pre/post ceremony reception, moving my mortgage, and catching up the routine tasks which certainly don't go away when I do.
24 June, 2007
New & improved
Label on washing tablets: "New, Effective Formula!"
Not a great advert for the previous formula – it sounds as if an apology to earlier customers might be appropriate.
Yes, I've been shopping (thanks, A & A!). All's well with the world again.
8 June, 2007
If you give a colleague a lift to work, that's great.
However, when you pull-up on a quiet residential street at ~07:15 every morning, particularly at times of the year when people sleep with bedroom windows open, please don't sound your car horn to indicate you've arrived. At least not immediately; wait to see whether your colleague needs that additional prompting – it's quite likely he/she is aware that you arrive at the same time every day (his/her neighbours are) and is waiting by a window.
And if you do need to wait for a minute or so, please turn off your engine, at least until you have an opportunity to get that rattling exhaust fixed.
6 June, 2007
Discoveries of the day
- Ingleton, North Yorkshire, a major focus (if not the major focus) of caving in the UK, is not named in Google Maps, at any zoom level. The streets and buildings are shown, but the settlement isn't named. Search for 'Ingleton' and you'll get a tiny hamlet in Co. Durham.
- A lecture theatre in the refurbished Bowland North (Lonsdale, as was), Lancaster University, has been named in honour of the late Marcus Merriman, legendary senior lecturer in History.
- It's been fourteen years since my Finals, but I've always been vaguely aware of the examinations season in each subsequent year, until this time – the 'Silence-Exams!' sign outside the Great Hall was a surprise. I don't really know why that feels like a life landmark.
23 May, 2007
As confirmed by a University spokesperson...
As I write, my colleague, a clerical assistant working on (print format) promotional publications, is fielding a random phone call from a person wanting her to endorse his solution to global warming.
17 May, 2007
Occasionally, I receive reminders that I work at a prestigious research-led university.
Subtle indications, like the return address on an internal mail envelope being ' [NAME], Physic's'.
14 May, 2007
Get on with it
Ever find the world is moving too slowly?
Automatic doors ponderously swinging open as if a cathedral portal; a cashtill responding as if the pixies inside are back on paper-based accounting; rush-hour motorists decelerating to look at the ikkle lambies; my web host's MySQL server "running a bit slow" (with no further explanation), meaning I have negligible editing access to the blog – dunno when you'll actually see this; ... not a great morning.
Seriously; there are occasions when I feel as if I'm operating at a different rate to my surroundings, when everyone seems to be aimlessly ambling into the line of my purposeful stride, and when I can see conversational responses in a speaker's face before he/she has, well, spoken more than a couple of words. That one's particularly annoying, as I have a slight tendency to formulate a response in my own head, anticipate the other person's next response, verbally answer that one, and come across as random.
It happens most after I've been cycling rapidly in traffic. I doubt that's coincidental.
I haven't even had any caffeine today, though I'm working on that.
If this kettle ever boils....
24 April, 2007
This means you
It seemed a little gratuitous to mention it here, but a student was run-over by a truck yesterday afternoon, right outside my window. The scream was memorable.
During renovation work, delivery vehicles have been accessing the library and central admin buildings by reversing along a long gravel track by the underpass. The path is about as wide as a truck, with a steep slope on one side and a building on the other, providing poor visibility to drivers and few opportunities for an unnoticed pedestrian to dodge out of the way. It seems the obvious finally happened, and the student's arm was crushed.
An immediate response was to close off the track to vehicles, using two traffic cones and a large crash barrier. Yet already this morning one truck driver has gone to the trouble of parking, removing the obstruction, then continuing as normal.
It was impressive to see how quickly the security officers arrived to kick him out, without making the delivery.
15 April, 2007
Not exactly summer
But I have seen my first Swallow of the year, near Ingleton, N.Yorkshire.
13 April, 2007
Work to live, right?
Going to bed last night and waking this morning, I had every intention of skipping work today and going for a walk in the Lakes – the Langdale Pikes, maybe Bow Fell. I'd catch up work tomorrow (Saturday), of course.
However, I made the mistake of checking I have a clean copy of the appropriate files at home (my USB pen drive is intermittently faulty), and got drawn in. There'd be little point wandering lonely as a cloud if my head was churning with navigation structures and CSS hacks, so I'm writing this from my desk, at work. Bugger.
It's also quite humid this morning, so visibility is very poor. That's some compensation, but I'd have preferred to say that was the reason I changed my plan, rather than something noticed after I'd made the decision.
Still; if I do well this morning, and the mist (literal and figurative) is burned-off, there's always the afternoon. We'll see.
27 March, 2007
Grazie, Venezia, e buona notte
I'm back (obviously).
More in a later entry, perhaps, but in short: if you haven't visited Venice, do so. Highly recommended.
Where else could one become slightly lost in a maze of tiny streets and rationally think "let's follow that group of lads into that dark alley; they look as if they know where they're going"?
Pick your time carefully, though. My mother visited a fortnight earlier in March 2006, and reported it was pleasantly quiet but bitterly cold, whereas this last weekend was mild but seemed to be on the cusp of being oppressively busy.
Some of those narrow mediaeval alleys were already at full pedestrian capacity, and a couple of rush-hour vaporetti (water buses) were so full as to reject further passengers at the most popular stops. I suspect it'd be insufferable in June or July.
22 March, 2007
Fino a Martedì
Off to Venice for the weekend.
I've heard the streets can be a bit damp, so I'd better pump up my bike tyres as far as they'll go, and mustn't forget to keep pedalling.
And no, despite my hydrological training and J's request, I won't be bringing back water samples as souvenirs for people.
20 March, 2007
A sign on the photocopier says it's out of order.
The sign itself is a photocopy.
20 February, 2007
Ever dropped small change into the thigh pocket of a pair of combats, then realised one isn't actually wearing combats that day?
Ahem. No, nor me. No-one saw anything. Didn't happen.
Just for casual interest: what's the best way of retrieving coins from beneath floorboards?
18 February, 2007
I was considering a bike ride in the Yorkshire Dales this morning, and in order to eliminate the 15-20 mile lead-in (just getting to the Dales, before starting the 'proper' ride), I checked the train timetable.
Great; there was a train to Bentham, leaving at 10:20, arriving at... 16:59? That's 6:39 hours for a 30-35 minute route!
Must be a typo; check the details.
No, it's correct, but a little circuitous:
Lancaster dep 10:20 (Bus)
Preston arr 11:00
Preston dep 11:37
Leeds arr 13:21
Leeds dep 15:00
Skipton arr 15:36
Skipton dep 15:41 (Bus)
Bentham arr 16:59
The use of buses suggests that there's engineering work on the Lancaster-Leeds (via Bentham) line, but why is this alternative even suggested as sensible?
16 February, 2007
You think you know people
... then discover that an ex-colleague, a senior psychologist, has thrown himself off a cliff in Hawaii.
8 February, 2007
Is it 18:00 yet?
Yep, that's my work ethic.
Well, maybe just at the moment.
[Update 01/08/07: I've discovered that Dilbert.com only archives past strips for a month, so here's a transcript of the joke:]
Pointy-Haired Boss: "Wally, What are your goals for the coming year?"
Wally: "My goal is to replace my soul with coffee and become immortal."
Pointy-Haired Boss: "I mean something about work."
Wally: "Oh, I thought you said my goals."
[Update 07/05/08: The revamped Dilbert.com has a bigger archive, so I've amended the link; you can see the strip itself again.]
26 January, 2007
Not one I'd have chosen
Ever heard of someone naming a baby girl 'Trinity' (in the UK)?
Now I have.
20 January, 2007
Improbable wounds no.1
How the **** have I managed to slice the tips of two fingers with a chicken?
7 January, 2007
It's my cinema; mine, I tell you
Wow. Considering the films I normally watch at The Dukes tend to attract single-figure audiences, it's great to see a long queue outside the cinema less than five minutes before the scheduled start time. It's especially impressive for a film in Spanish.
I'm damned if I was going to join the queue, though. I do want to see 'Pan's Labyrinth', but not in the company of a coughing, whispering, sweet-paper-rustling horde.
30 December, 2006
Message displayed by my bank's cashtill before I inserted my card:
Ask about our gift vouchers!
What a brilliant idea: a token I could give to someone, which he or she could subsequently redeem for money.
Totally dissimilar to, say, a cheque.
29 December, 2006
A crescent of melon, sliced into bite-sized segments is very familiar, so imagine my reaction when it turned out to be pineapple.
I think that was deliberate – my 'compliments' to the chef. ;)
Incidentally, what does one call an unannounced palate-cleansing course between the starter and main course?
28 December, 2006
It would be appreciated if everyone could avoid use of the word 'Next' for a few days.
Thank you for your consideration.
[Six suits? Who needs six new suits? I bet she'll take 'em back.]
26 December, 2006
Extracting the digit
A couple of months ago, I bought a Freeview digital TV receiver (set-top box) for my mother's birthday. There was a complication in connecting it to the existing network of TV, VCR and DVD Recorder, so I left the final configuration to my mother's partner, a self-defined enthusiast.
Yesterday I discovered that whilst the system plays nicely together, and it's possible to watch one channel, record another to video and a third to DVD, the channels must all be analogue. One can watch digital TV, and record whatever's on the screen, but there's no way to record straight from the digibox – turn off the TV and recording ceases.
I found this a little odd, and tried to trace the fault, but that's not the really odd thing.
There is no fault. The system is deliberately configured this way, because my mother's partner can conceive of no circumstance in which anyone would wish to record digital TV – there's simply no point in connecting the receiver to the recorder(s), apparently. Digital is "all repeats".
Needless to say, he doesn't own a set-top box himself.
22 December, 2006
Just seen: a skirt (or was it a belt?) which I genuinely, literally, not at all metaphorically, couldn't distinguish from a belt (or was it a skirt?).
Worn with leggings, thankfully.
21 December, 2006
I remember that...
Wow. A sunset. Haven't seen one of those for weeks.
20 December, 2006
What can I say?
Is it only me who finds it difficult to hold a neutral, unrevealing conversation about leather and garters with my (female, attractive) line manager?
That could have been dangerous, never mind awkward.
And no, I don't think there was any agenda behind the topic being raised.
18 December, 2006
Conflict of cultures
An admin officer has instructed a cleaner to wash the, admittedly very dusty, main stairs in my building, so now they're thoroughly wet just as the contractors are bringing in sacks of cement. It could be plaster, I suppose, but whatever; it's something powdery which will react with water to leave a rather persistent residue.
I think we just have to accept we're working in a building site, and let the contractors get on with it. A bit of dust isn't going to kill anyone (the asbestos was removed a few weeks ago). Cleaning up after them every day is merely a waste of time, and cleaning up after the cleanup could be even tougher.
15 December, 2006
I spend too much time in Photoshop.
Throughout a meeting today, something was bothering me about a colleague's shirt. Then it hit me (metaphorically): the logo had a grey & white chequered background, which is Photoshop visual shorthand for areas of transparency in an image; I was subconsciously interpreting it as unfinished.
What am I becoming?
11 December, 2006
Safety check, my arse.
About a week ago, I received a letter from my gas supplier, informing me that an engineer would need to visit my home in order to conduct a vital safety check, in accordance with the company's statutory responsibilities.
Fair enough, though I rather resent having to sacrifice at least half a day of annual leave for their convenience (there was no possibility of a specific appointment, of course; they could only offer a 5-hour 'morning' slot).
However, the letter went on to say that if I failed to keep the designated 'appointment' (okay; or reschedule and keep an alternative appointment), the company would obtain a magistrate's order without further notice, in order to gain entry to my premises.
Again, fair enough if I'd persistently refused previous visits, but this was stated in the first contact I received. I'd argue it's pretty poor customer service to threaten customers by default rather than as a last resort.
The engineer arrived about quarter of an hour ago, within the final few minutes of the agreed 08:00-13:00 slot, and stayed considerably less than sixty seconds. He read the meter, and that's it. No tools were involved, no valves were checked. I now feel so secure.
*: Carefully note the presence of a comma in the title. It's kind of important. ;)
8 December, 2006
Something odd seen whilst cycling to work this morning: a man who had been raking dead leaves before stopping to comfort a small child screaming in terror or shock, the whole little tableau accompanied by a smell of death* distinct from even 20 m away.
I wonder what the raker had uncovered. It seemed too extreme a reaction for it to have been merely a blackbird or squirrel – perhaps the prodigal family cat had turned up....
*: I've worked on open moorland, and sheep habitually died in the peat. It's safe to say I'd recognise the smell.
5 December, 2006
Just noticed that my boss has a box file on her shelf, labeled:
2 December, 2006
I've just made a cup of English Breakfast tea, at 19:56 in the evening.
I'm a rebel, me.
29 November, 2006
Notice circulated to staff a couple of minutes ago:
There is a sign on the toilet doors saying they are closed but the men working in there will come out if anyone wants to use them.
Right. Good to know. It's almost a pity I'm straight, really.
24 November, 2006
Trying to tell me something?
A cold-caller has just tried to persuade me, nominally a graphic/web designer, to take a Photoshop training course.
At least I think it was an unsolicited call....
15 November, 2006
A notification has been circulated, telling us that there'll be an electrical shutdown on Saturday for the installation of new connections. It advises staff to "save all work/documents before leaving their offices on Friday".
Do people really leave files unsaved and open all weekend?
10 November, 2006
Given that I worked from home today specifically to escape the phone, e-mail and chatty colleagues, it's a little disappointing to have spent at least 75 minutes on work-related e-mails.
I've had enough. Time for a pint*.
*: Of tea, that is.
8 November, 2006
I visited J & F for a meal last night, and happened to notice a pot of Marmite on a kitchen shelf, next to a jar of vegetable bouillion *.
If I wasn't predisposed, would I have noticed that the precise (though random) alignment of labels displayed 'MAR...illion', from right across the room?
Pity a camera wasn't available....
*: I know that's misspelled, but so was the label.
5 November, 2006
Something I like about the Gregson
Well, there are several things I like about Lancaster's Gregson Centre, but the one I want to mention is this: after spending over an hour there last night, my clothes smell faintly of fried food.
That's not an especially pleasant odour, but it's not cigarette smoke – I can't detect even a hint of that smell.
2 November, 2006
My left foot is ticking
I was wearing my boots in the shower this morning (this entry isn't improving, is it? I was cleaning river mud off them, okay, and that's easiest whilst they're on my feet), and they seem to be drying unevenly – I think the drying tongue is gradually shrinking against the still-damp bootleg, or perhaps two freshly-cleaned surfaces, normally lubricated by dust/fluff, are rubbing together.
28 October, 2006
I stopped sleeping with the windows open a couple of weeks ago when I was ill, but for no real reason, I'd been trying to manage without central heating until the start of November.
Well, we're over a month into official Autumn, the clocks go back tonight, Samhain ('summer's end', aka the onset of winter) is only four days away, and, most importantly, I'm uncomfortably cold, so that's near enough. The boiler is now, er, boiling.
If things get really bad, I suppose I might have to put some clothes on. That'd be drastic.
25 October, 2006
Business or pleasure?
J. has rung in sick, reporting he's in bed with a 'chesty cough'.
Or did he say 'tasty Goth'?
24 October, 2006
Condensation on my bedroom window; visible breath whilst cycling; the first frost melting in watery sunshine: the weather's on the change.
18 October, 2006
Geese getting fat yet?
How can one make a precise menu selection for the 'work' christmas meal two full months before the event? I don't even know what to have for lunch today!
There are some odd options, too, which could be fun:
Bowland Beer & Brown Onion Soup with a Giant Mrs Kirkhams Lancashire Cheese Crouton
If one fails to finish the portion, will an extremely large woman come out of the kitchen to enquire why?
Black Sheep Braised Beef with Silverskin Onions, Turnips and Carrots with Dumplings & Pickled Red Cabbage
I think you'll find beef comes from cattle, not sheep. Unless the braising chef is ovine...?
Winter Vegetable Stew with Chestnut, Parsley and Black Wax Bomb Cobs
Locally Produced Cheeseboard
Does that come with any cheese?
12 October, 2006
Cycling with sheep
Cycle commuters in real urban centres like Manchester and Leeds might face tougher traffic conditions than in sleepy little Lancaster, but at least they don't have to share road space with truckloads of sheep* on their way to the livestock market.
Surprisingly, they're not especially smelly (though one knows if they've travelled far), but bits drop out of the louvred sides of the lorries as they overtake, which isn't pleasant.
*: Literally – I'm not referring to the X2 bus to Morecambe.
9 October, 2006
The Michelmas (autumn) term has begun so, by definition, the University's central heating has been turned on, irrespective of whether the weather demands it. That's routine, and not worth questioning; at least individual radiators can be turned down/off (well, those with functioning valves, anyway).
The problem is that the boiler was shut down during an unexpectedly cold spell in the Spring, so most radiator valves were left fully open. It was fired up again on Friday evening (the official first day of term) and rooms have been blasted with heat for the entire weekend. Even with the heating off now, the furniture itself is re-radiating stored heat, so it's almost as oppressively hot indoors as last July.
Quite apart from the inflexible timing of the institutional heating, the magnitude of the temperature (if that's the correct physical concept) is annoying.
People are naturally acclimatised to the ambient conditions of early October, so it'd be sensible to match and maintain that level as external temperatures drop in subsequent weeks. It makes less sense to raise office temperatures to a 'luxurious' summer level, forcing occupants to reacclimatise. That'll make external autumn conditions feel colder, and drive people to heat their homes sooner and more than they'd otherwise need.
I know the staff pension scheme has investments in petroleum companies, but that's no reason to inflate fuel expenditure....
5 October, 2006
I've just realised that it's fifteen years, perhaps to the week, since my last real haircut i.e. by a professional hairdresser rather than merely the ends being tidied by friends/family.
I'd have thought it'd be longer by now. It's still going strong, though, so I'm not complaining!
4 October, 2006
A certain office colleague is completing a dental registration form, and has stated his occupation as 'cleric'. He's a clerk.
25 September, 2006
It's the moment for which you've all been waiting: the Sainsbury's christmas stock is now on the shelves.
This weekend just gone was the equinox (nominally), so the solstice must be 91 days away (21 Sept to 21 Dec). That means there's an entire quarter of a year between today and the festival of commerce. I'd have thought the christmas produce would go off sooner than that.
24 September, 2006
Have you ever taken a bunch of keys from your pocket and, just for a moment, wondered not which key you need but what these odd metal things actually are?
13 September, 2006
In a world of my own
Update on the noisy office environment: acknowledging that, as Tim suggested, my employers were in breach of health & safety regulations, we've now been issued with proper ear defenders.
They work remarkably well – since they arrived, there hasn't been any drilling whatsoever.
11 September, 2006
Drowning out Opeth
ARGH! THE CONTRACTORS ARE (ah; it's stopped) using a pneumatic drill inside thE BUILDING (bugger!)!
THERE HAS TO be a case for doing that paRT OF THE WORK OUT OF OFFICE HOURS.
AND THESE LITTLE ORANGE SUPPOSitories we were given last week are useless.
8 September, 2006
A few weeks ago, I mentioned that my office building is being remodelled, which has involved extensive demolition. One entire corner has gone, as have all internal walls on 1½ floors (one entire floor and one wing of the next floor).
I had presumed that was the noisy phase of the work finished, but an admin officer has just gone door-to-door officially issuing earplugs....
3 September, 2006
If there's a worse sound to hear whilst dismantling a vacuum cleaner than 'ping!', accompanied by a half-seen flash of something tiny, metallic and airborne, I'm almost glad I don't know it.
Luckily, I found the clip(?) and I think it's back in the right place.
I may have established why the cleaner overheated and shut down last month: a cork had penetrated a surprising distance into the air path. Considering I don't drink, that's only slightly more likely than the bottle being in there with it.
21 August, 2006
Need fresh air
Following a delivery this morning, I'm now sharing an office with 26,400 campus maps, nominally a year's supply (not counting dedicated recruitment departments).
That's 26,400 freshly-printed glossy leaflets, all releasing smelly, if not aromatic, voltiles into the air I happen to be breathing. Ugh. I don't think I'll be eating lunch in here today.
I could also complain to the unofficial acting head of Publications, but that'd be me....
16 August, 2006
Don't you DARE
This is just about the most intense week of my working year: Clearing, whereby school-leavers who didn't quite make their grades (or, indeed, did better than anticipated) scrabble around for the remaining places on University courses. I've already spent two 12-hour+ days on it this week, and the prospective students don't even get their 'A'-Level results until tomorrow.
Summarising wildly, the University's entire web presence during Clearing passes through this PC. I'm certainly not in charge of Clearing, but I do maintain the list of remaining vacancies, essential contact details, etc. and I'm the de facto Head of Publications. For a fortnight or so, my PC and I are fairly important.
Hence, it's something of a problem to find my network connection is suddenly unreliable. Each morning this week, I've had to reboot twice before I've had access to network drives and the web server. Normally annoying, this cannot happen right now!
What really concerns me is that if this has a site-wide cause, it might have a site-wide effect, and it wouldn't be as simple as working from a different PC.
[Update 15:55: I'm now working with two error messages in the foreground – if I click 'Okay', the computer freezes.
Discordian tech has visited, and invoked the word 'rebuild'. Bugger.]
9 August, 2006
Stop panicking, everyone! I know you've all been deeply concerned, and thanks for the kind expressions of your condolences, but my vacuum cleaner hasn't burned-out, after all.
It seems it merely got a little overheated and needed a good night's rest.
What? It's a good vacuum cleaner!
5 August, 2006
A better class of fool
Amazon DVD Rental is foolproof (no, this isn't an advert).
A little orange envelope arrives in the post. Open it by tearing off the tab displaying one's address, and there's a plastic clamshell case inside, itself containing, say, 'Cinema Paradiso'. Open the case, drop the DVD into a player, and enjoy a touching (if l-o-n-g) film. Then pop the case back into what is now a prepaid envelope back to Amazon. Drop it in the post.
Then, a couple of days later, whilst inserting, say, 'A Zed And Two Noughts', discover and remove 'Cinema Paradiso' from the player.
Incidentally, don't make the potentially expensive mistake of sending one of your own DVDs in the envelope – Amazon's stated policy is that you won't get it back.
22 July, 2006
Off to Berlin.
19 July, 2006
The current UK heatwave is rather too obvious a topic to write about. It's hot, but considerably less humid than last month's heatwave (30-40% rather than 70-80%) so I'm finding it less oppressive. 'Nuff said.
However, I can't resist forwarding the Guardian's report that:
gritting machines had to be mustered by several local authorities yesterday after tarmac roads began to melt in the extreme heat.
10 July, 2006
Couldn't make it up
J. is out at a staff development course today, but popped in briefly to check his e-mail in the lunch break. He tells me he was the only one who bothered to turn up for the first session, on... motivational techniques.
7 July, 2006
Whoa. I had a broken wisdom tooth removed a few minutes ago. Obviously, local anaesthetic numbed the roof of my mouth, but it feels totally absent. If I raise my tongue, it's as if it's exploring a void extending up into my cranium. Very odd.
£80 for that and a minor filling. When I went private, my mother suggested that "at least you'll get good mouthwash for that price", but I didn't get any. I've been robbed!
I did get plenty of anaesthetic, though. I don't think I've ever experienced a totally painless filling before (not that I've had many fillings, and not counting the rather intense pain of three injections). This one was only a slight pressure and the odour of burning tooth. Perhaps the dentist used extra anaesthetic for the main task, which was similarly painless, though accompanied by rather distressing sounds of cracking and tearing.
The filling was a necessary chore, but I'm really pleased the wisdom tooth has finally gone, and I've been looking forward to the appointment. The tooth has been causing problems intermittently but regularly for almost two years, and it'll be great to get that side of my mouth back.
5 July, 2006
Hot little hands
I suppose it has to be classified as a 'heatwave' when one consciously alters one's routes around campus to avoid sweaty well-used door handles.
It's not pleasant.
4 July, 2006
Small, or far away?
So that's why it's so hot at present: the sun is particularly far away. The Earth was at its aphelion (furthest point on our eliptical orbit around the Sun) yesterday and today.
[Via Emily Grae, commenting at Tranniefesto.]
4 July, 2006
28°C indoors at 03:18. Can't sleep*.
Yet in the very same room I sometimes wake with a sore throat in winter, from breathing air that drops below 0°C.
*: not that the latter is unusual for an insomniac, but that's hardly the point.
1 July, 2006
I spent the two hours between 16:00 & 18:00 in the garden, reading*.
When I say 'the garden', I mean Williamson Park, as that's how I treat it. I can almost always find a quiet corner and reasonable privacy (not quite enough for nude sunbathing, but the world isn't ready for that gross horror and net increase in global albedo anyway).
Today, though, I had the place almost entirely to myself. I could sit on the edge of the old bandstand with only a couple of dog-walkers in the distance. I wonder why....
[In a few months that'll be too cryptic, so I'll answer my rhetorical question: today was the semi-final (or something) of the football World Cup, in which England played... some other national (not that 'England' is a true 'nation') team.]
As if I had the slightest interest: have the English been kicked out of the World Cup yet?
*: 'Century Rain', by Alistair Reynolds. On the strength of books (by other authors) I've ordered from Amazon, the matching algorithms keep recommending Reynolds', so I'm trying one.
Two hours only covered the first 167 pages, so it's a little early to make conclusions, but it seems okay, if not as 'good' as the novels which triggered the recommendation. We'll see.
[Update 18:55: Not penalties again! As I said, football doesn't interest me, but I wouldn't have wished that déjà vu ending on anyone.]
29 June, 2006
I think I'm finally being assimilated into the management culture. I've just sent out what amounts to an invitation to a meeting about meeting, and in context, that seems to make perfect sense.
28 June, 2006
E-mail .sig of a Green activist who keeps sp*mming an internal newsgroup at the University:
Give a man a fish
and he'll eat for a day
Teach him to fish
and he'll destroy an entire eco-system.
I doubt he sees any contradiction between this statement and being anti-globalisation, pro- self-sufficiency.
And these people expect votes, never mind an audience.
26 June, 2006
Bitten the bullet
At long last, I have a dentist.
I've been having intermittent problems with my right upper wisdom tooth for a couple of years – emergence into insufficient jaw space caused infections, cracking, and ultimately the tooth broke a couple of weeks ago.
The chances of obtaining NHS dental care anywhere within the Lancaster district are worse than negligible and show no sign of improving, so I signed up for private treatment. I pay into an employer-subsidised health insurance scheme, so I presumed it wouldn't be too expensive to me, though on further examination the insurance pays out a maximum of £85 per year for dental work, which doesn't cover much.
Admittedly, today's introductory check-up was nominally more thorough than subsequent ones will be (though it felt pretty cursory) and I won't need x-rays normally, but £55 seems startling for a check-up, even before any treatment.
As expected, the wisdom tooth will have to come out (£40), two fillings need to be repaired/replaced (£35 each), and a thorough clean & polish (£25) might combat the amount of tea I drink, but both the dentist and I were surprised that my teeth are in generally good condition considering I haven't seen a dentist since something like 1998 (I told him it was 2002...).
My previous (NHS) dentist gave me bad advice (she wanted to extract all four healthy wisdom teeth; in hindsight removing one would have been sensible, but the rest are still fine), so I never went back, and couldn't find another local (within 30 km) NHS dentist accepting new patients. Careful personal dental hygiene and hope shouldn't have been an adequate substitute for professional monitoring, but I seem to have got away with it.
25 June, 2006
There they are!
I don't often lose things (thereby guaranteeing I will now), so it was a surprise when I mislaid my sunglasses a few weeks ago. I searched everywhere, both at home and at work, and finally concluded they were permanently gone.
I've just found them (rather too late for Madrid), in the breast pocket (I'd checked the waist pockets) of my warmest fleece, possibly the garment I'm least likely to wear with sunglasses.
That should have been a clue, of course. The trick to finding anything is to identify the last place one would look, then look there first....
21 June, 2006
When I bought my first PC in 1993 or '94, it was a big deal: too expensive to pay-off all at once and since I was a student, my credit rating was insufficient for the finance agreement. In effect, my mother bought me a PC, and I paid her each month.
Buying my second PC, in 2001, was a shocking anticlimax. It was almost too easy to buy by debit card, and my immediate reaction was 'is that it?'. Weird feeling.
A few minutes ago, I bought my third PC, the same way, and it was still unsettlingly easy to spend ~£900 (~$1,700). The big difference is that I've moved on (rightfully so!) and that's no longer a daunting amount of money.
It was also an easy purchase. I didn't bother doing intensive research this time, neither of specifications nor retailers. I've known for at least six months that I ought to upgrade, and the recent hot weather focused my mind (my existing PC overheats and literally screams at me when the room temperature exceeds 20°C), but as recently as this weekend I didn't think a purchase was imminent. Even two hours ago I didn't think I'd be buying a computer today!
Let's hope delivery is as straightforward, and there are no problems.
14 June, 2006
Off to Bath shortly. No, not to bathe – I already did that this year; I'm going to the city of Bath (~5 hours away by train), to attend a conference promoting many of the things I like least about contemporary web admin.
Openness. Collaboration. Stuff like that. Mustn't rant... mustn't rant....
Back soon (not soon enough for me...).
12 June, 2006
I can confirm from personal experience that Madrid does indeed exist, and seems to be thriving.
9 June, 2006
Slightly later than expected, I'm off to Madrid.
1 June, 2006
Ugh. It's been a **** of a morning, and it's still only 10:35. A punctured tyre is never a good start, and I don't enjoy gathering evidence for a lawsuit against a student, but the infuriating issue is J's ears.
He has a problem of some sort, which is affecting his hearing. I don't like repeating myself (it's a known introvert thing), so I've been hassling him to see a doctor, and he's been given a prescription for a multipurpose antifungal/viral/bacterial spray.
Yet he won't take the prescription to a chemist and actually obtain the spray. Apparently, doctors can't diagnose common ailments, they issue speculative prescriptions just to get rid of people, and anyway, they're on commission from the pharmaceuticals manufacturers. R-i-g-h-t.
That attitude is less than endearing and his welfare is of limited personal interest to me, but it irritates me that anyone would risk his/her health for such stupid reasons. He's 23 now. How would he feel at 46, his hearing having been permanently damaged by a trivial – if treated – infection?
26 May, 2006
I was in late this morning, so J. took a phone message for me. Someone had called from Kraków, wanting help with her laptop. That's Kraków, Poland, ~1,700km (~1,000 miles) from Lancaster. Unfortunately, it was sufficiently unusual that J. presumed I'd know all about it, so he didn't bother to take a name or contact details (grrr...).
It's rather unlikely that Helen would have travelled the 300 km from Warszawa on a whim, not least because she'd probably have had to travel last night in order to be there by now, and I definitely rang her at home at 21:00 local time!
That means it was P. or J., both of whom are in Kraków, respectively for work and holiday. It's kind of sweet that they'd think of me for tech support help, but I know virtually nothing about laptops and there's not much I could have done from here ("Have you tried rebooting?").
13 May, 2006
I certainly don't define myself by my job and salary (and polite Brits Don't Talk About Money), but I was still a little startled to discover my mother thought I was earning fully £10,000 (~$18,500) less than I actually do.
It makes me wonder whether she has any idea what I do....
8 May, 2006
Cycling to work this morning, I was overtaken by an van. Text on the sides and back informed me that it was the company vehicle of a dog-walking service offering a 'four-sprung paw technique'. Oh dear....
For those who don't get the joke: at least in the UK, Audi's advertising motto is 'Vorsprung durch Technik' ('Progress through technology').
5 May, 2006
I wonder how common this is:
Person A: standing outside a fish & chip shop, with a mobile phone and a dog on a lead.
Person B: standing inside the shop, waiting for her order and on the phone... to Person A.
They were less than a metre apart, on opposite sides of a window; I could easily (and unwillingly) hear both sides of the conversation. Person B had already ordered, so didn't need to remain in the queue – why not simply stand by the doorway and talk unaided?
28 April, 2006
Time & place
I find it mildly objectionable to be approached in the street by those collecting for charity, and almost always decline, irrespective of the cause, but there's something downright offensive and invasive about a collector (a total stranger, not a colleague) going office-to-office in my place of work.
21 April, 2006
Last December, my Lancaster friends and I decided that rather than conform to society's petty rituals and buy one another presents for the meaningless festival of a religion none of us practices, we'd combine our finances and rent a house for a collective holiday later in the year. It was an excellent idea, and has just come to fruition.
We've rented a large house in Coniston, 'at the heart of the English Lake District', for the coming weekend, and I'm due to leave shortly (by car; my bike has already gone on ahead by van). See you on Monday!
21 April, 2006
Influence is spreading
I wear black – only black – to work, of course, as did (does?) H. (Calephetos, not Helen, though she certainly does too). L. seems to wear the colour more often than she did, and she seems to have a tendency to recruit people who routinely wear black. J., er, has a black sweater.
However, that's in a different league to a colleague telling me she chose to wear a black blouse and floor-length black skirt because she had a meeting scheduled with me. I don't know whether to feel flattered or manipulated.
14 April, 2006
Having completed a long bike ride without having eaten enough beforehand, I was rather desperate when I passed the Booth's supermarket in Windermere, so bought a bottle of Coke and an individually-wrapped slice of chocolate cake "like Granny used to make", according to the label.
From which, I deduce Granny is a retired chemical engineer. Ew.
13 April, 2006
Unlucky black shirt
I bought a new T-shirt earlier in the week*, and wore it for the first time today. I suspect it's going to be unlucky.
I don't mean I anticipate it bringing me bad luck, I mean the shirt itself seems to be unlucky (metaphorically; I don't really believe in 'luck').
Within an hour of my putting it on, I'd spilled tea down the front, and I've subsequently splashed it with coconut milk (could have been worse: I was using fish sauce a moment later) and later it was caught in the blast radius of a massive sneeze.
Straight to the laundry basket, I think, before something else happens.
*: The grey Firefox one, a design rather better in theory than execution, as the Fx icon doesn't contain sufficient contrast when simply converted to greyscale and enlarged to a diameter of 12 cm (5"), so is annoyingly indistinct.
[Update 15/02/08: Rereading this today, coincidentally whilst wearing that shirt, I'm glad to say my tongue-in-cheek superstition has been proved wrong: this is one of my favourite shirts, worn frequently, and is as clean as... bugger; what's that?]
3 April, 2006
Forgot to say: I saw my first swallow (the bird, Hirundo rustica, not the act of ingestion) of 2006 on Saturday, failing to catch insects above the flooded Halton Weir. It, not me. I mean the swallow was failing to catch insects, not me; I wasn't flooded, either. I've lost control of this paragraph, haven't I? Better stop....
Look; there was this bird, right? It was a swallow. It was the first I've seen this year. It was at Halton, near Lancaster. One swallow doesn't make a summer, but it's a sign that the summer migrant birds are arriving, and spring is approaching.
23 March, 2006
One of those evenings
It's 21:31, and my long-distance counsellor and I have finished deconstructing my particularly long day interviewing web consultants (i.e. Helen took a while to talk me down), so I'd better get round to considering an evening meal.
Having searched the house I've discovered that apart from 'snack' foods and more appropriate 'main meal' food that happens to be frozen (i.e. would be thawed by tomorrow evening), I have:
- lemon marmalade
Any recipe suggestions?
18 March, 2006
I feel great
You wouldn't believe how therapeutic it is to totally destroy a dead (computer!) mouse. To place it on a concrete floor and literally jump on it with the full force of ~70kg in size 10 para boots. I'd already removed the ball, so it flattened wonderfully.
One slightly disturbing aspect was the amount of... stuff inside (much like the mammalian variety, I suppose): fluff, hair and general grime from at least five years of use.
That mouse had been the interface between my intellect/creativity and the world for a significant proportion of my online life – how could I destroy it?
Ohhh, SO easily....
13 March, 2006
I'm employed as a web designer/administrator, which means that to a certain extent, I'm paid for my thoughts. It's more than possible for me to be fully absorbed in work when I don't actually have my hands on the keyboard.
That, plus the fact that I dislike small talk, means that when some... clerical assistant asks whether I "did anything at the weekend", it's disproportionately annoying.
That's a general trend whenever I'm busy, but I can't deny there's a personal aspect too – I'm not even vaguely interested in J. outside a work context, so petty social interaction with him is more tiresome than if say, L., H. or A. had asked the same question (though it's a circular argument: part of the reason I like those people is that they wouldn't demand my attention to ask pointless 'social ritual' questions).
Right; where was I...?
3 March, 2006
Gothically invalid weather
Yep; we experienced a 20-min blizzard about an hour ago, so everything's white. It seems to be starting again as I type.
One of the things I do like about snow is that it highlights those corners and ledges that, even in busy locations, get no traffic and hence no footprints – tiny points of stillness. I wish I had my camera with me.
27 February, 2006
Getting colder, and boiling
I haven't had an especial reason to mention it, but I have a slight cold: blocked nose, sore throat, occasional slight feverishness; uncomfortable but trivial. I'd thought a cold could be expected to last about ten days, so considering this is the ninth day I've had symptoms, it should be almost over. Then why am I beginning to develop a slight cough, and don't feel better?
My mother gleefully tells me that it's "seven days to get a cold, seven with it, then seven to get over it". Wonderful. It's barely begun, then.
This further increases my annoyance at a certain work colleague. A fortnight ago, he came into work full of cold and plainly infectious. Several people urged him to go home, but he "had to get on", knowing (he actually said it outright) he'd probably pass it to me, only a few metres across the office.
That's disrespectful to me as an individual, but to claim it as an issue of professionalism is simply wrong.
No aspect of his job is so critically urgent that it'd be in the University's interests to risk infecting others. He's involved in lowest-level clerical tasks, primarily data entry*. There is a reason why his salary is only 50-60% of mine. Put bluntly, and without boasting, my role is more important to the University than his.
If he's off sick, undergrad course descriptions for Entry 2007 won't be updated this week. And?
If I'm incapacitated, a high-profile, publicly-advertised webcast won't happen.
I strongly feel he had a responsibility to take sick leave, not for his benefit (which is of limited personal and zero professional interest to me) but for those around him, and for his employer.
*: I hasten to add that this is a function of his (understandable) lack of experience and directly relevant skills – certain previous post-holders made more of the role!
23 February, 2006
Every couple of weeks, I see a certain person around campus. I think he's a retired academic, perhaps even a professor emeritus (old joke: 'e' means 'out'; 'meritus' means 'deservedly'). He's certainly a little 'unworldly', shambling around in a mismatched tweed suit, cycle clips and trilby hat. The main reason I notice him is that he has a habit of starting loud, jolly conversations with random strangers in the cashtill queue, in front of the sandwich counter in Spar, or even just walking across Alex Square.
Always cheerful, I find him intensely annoying, and have no idea why.
22 February, 2006
This blogging thing, i.e. posting links to and commenting on discoveries made on the web, seems to be rubbing off into 'real life'.
Last night, within about 15 minutes, I'd:Told (verbally) my father about the Surname Profiler.Sent my sister a link to the story about 'Top Gear' (her favourite TV programme) being rendered homeless.Told my mother's answering machine to cook its tomatoes, as the anti-cancer active ingredient, lycopene, is rendered more digestable by heat.
I'm not entirely sure what I'm trying to say in this posting; perhaps to observe that blogging might be a mindset rather than an activity.
18 February, 2006
For reasons I won't elaborate, I need to buy ~500g of suet (the hard fat from around a cow's kidneys). It also needs to be in 'factory-sealed' packets, so I can't buy fresh, from my local butcher. I've tried Sainsbury's three times, but although I've found that location on the shelves, it's empty.
This morning, the duty manager explained that there isn't sufficient demand for Sainsbury's to include suet in the day-to-day restocking cycle, so it's difficult to predict when they'll have any, and anyway, it sells out almost as soon as it reaches the shelves.
So there's not much demand, yet it sells very well. Er....
13 February, 2006
In describing my day to Andy yesterday, I said that I'd overslept1, read a book2, processed some photos3, had some lunch4, watched a film5 then visited him and Alizon for a meal6.
He responded that it sounded as if my day had been as productive as his, waiting (in vain) for the rain to stop so he could work on the garage roof.
The implication seemed to be that reading a book or watching a film are means to pass time when one doesn't have the drive or opportunity to do something better. Opinions differ, of course (and I don't know whether that's remotely what Andy meant!), but that's certainly not my view. Books and films matter to me; they are the better thing to do.
1: Until ~10:45. That's extremely rare for me; I normally wake at about 08:00 each morning, including weekends. I must have needed the extra top-up.
2: 'Good Omens' (Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, 1990). This was the third time I've read it since 1990, and I was surprised how much it's dated, particularly (and, okay, unsurprisingly) the references to technology: audio tapes, phones and computers.
And yes, I did read all 384 pages in one sitting, not counting two tea breaks.
4: Chicken red curry. Pretty good, though I simply added chicken and coconut milk to a curry paste, so I can't exactly claim any credit.
5: 'Aguirre: The Wrath Of God' (1972). Not recommended.
6: Though I don't normally comment on personal 'current events', it was gorgeous. Thanks, Al!
6 February, 2006
What's it really about?
As I was unlocking my bike this evening, I noticed a poster advertising that Cartmel College is hosting a screening of England winning the 1966 football World Cup.
There's a blog posting right there, about fans' bizarre desire to cling to an event that occurred forty years ago, but I noticed something else, too.
In teeny-tiny print at the bottom of the poster was the statement (admission?) that the event was being run by the Evangelical christian Union (an organisation that's been less than tolerant of other religious groups on campus, especially PaganSoc), and, in text so small as to defy legibility, that the event will include discussion of St. John's gospel. Evidently the glorious football match has a Moral.
I don't like to ascribe motivation without evidence, but the very size (or lack of it) of the small print does strongly suggest a deliberate intent to mislead, to tempt football fans into a room under blatantly false pretences.
8 January, 2006
Childhood for sale
I recently spent two almost entire days in my mother's loft, sorting through toys, books, papers and... things: tangible memories, which, since the age of about eight, I put into storage rather than discard. A lot of time has passed since then, so I've been able to be more discerning, throwing away 3-4 bin bags of outright rubbish, putting aside 1-2 boxes of fairly tatty items for charity shops and 3-4 boxes of decent-quality books suitable for eBay.
Also recently, I mentioned that I taught my mother how to sell via eBay.
You're getting ahead of me, aren't you?
Yes, she's selling my property for me. How 'helpful'. She's even promised me a cut of the profits, but was careful to state that it'd be nominal. After all, she has all the hassle of advertising and despatching my property. Did I mention it's mine? Not hers? In fact, none of her ****ing business? I am grateful that she's given me storage space for several years, but....
Worse, I'd chosen items I think I could resell for reasonable profits, and which I'd be happy to take time and effort over selling, to get the right price. My mother's selling them at the lowest prices possible, to get them "out of the way" quickly. For example, I'd considered targeting a 30+ years-old Cub Scout book at collectors of Scouting memorabilia, at a corresponding price. It's now available in the generic 'children's books' category at 99p.
6 January, 2006
A few minutes ago, a colleague and I were shown a potential cover design for the 2007 Undergraduate Prospectus. Neither of us liked it, though for different reasons. Mine was that more could have been done with the space (29x21cm, front and back) and that a key graphic element was a photographic impossibility and hence looked 'wrong'.
Unfortunately, the person who asked our opinions (not the designer!) reacted with despair: "there's no point asking people, as they'll only disagree. I'll have to use my own gut feeling."
It's a dilemma. It's a corporate document, so ideally the people most likely to use it (I mean publications and recruitment people, not prospective students!) would have some input into the design process, but I suppose that's not strictly necessary, and design by committee rarely succeeds.
21 December, 2005
Slightly odd productivity tip: miss routine meetings (not important ones, obviously). It seems people presume you're too busy to attend, which also means they're a little more reluctant to bother you without good reason, so do more of the trivial tasks for themselves.
The fact that I am too busy isn't relevant; it's still a useful trick.
14 December, 2005
After my lunch-time swim today, the inner side of my right thigh seems to have acquired an independent pulse, and my pectorals feel heavy and swollen (perhaps I shouldn't have had all that oestrogen in my tea this morning...).
But it's a good, healthy pain, right? ;)
6 December, 2005
Low winter sunlight sneaking under the blinds isn't exactly flattering, is it?
6 December, 2005
Whenever I sneeze, I almost always sneeze twice.
Isn't it oddly disappointing when, occasionally, the expected second sneeze doesn't arrive?
28 November, 2005
Maybe Amazon are beginning to run out of sensible-sized packaging in the seasonal rush. I've just received a 30x30x0.5 cm calendar in a 53x40x12 cm box. That even impressed the Uni. House porter.
This is three days after I also ordered a compact flash card from Amazon, as another supplier wanted to charge postage based on the memory card supposedly weighing 1 kg.
21 November, 2005
Why is it that when I know I have an important task to complete, so important that I clear all other responsibilities to devote a full day to uninterrupted focus, I don't actually start anything substantial until about 16:00, then barely blink until 19:30?
It kind of works, but the exhilaration of having achieved total concentration (sometimes continuous partial attention just isn't good enough) doesn't really outweigh the minor self-loathing of having prevaricated all day (I did that too often during my PhD, so there's considerable emotional baggage) and slight burnout afterwards.
Need. Caffeine. Now.
No, toilet first.
Hmm. Legs asleep.
18 November, 2005
Play for today
Scene: quiet (but well-used) country lane, dusk.
Walking on the right edge of the road: a PEDESTRIAN. In the left verge: a DOG. The two are linked by an extensible dog lead, invisible in the twilight, across the full width of the road.
Enter: a CYCLIST, at speed.
With ****ing good brakes, luckily.
[Provide your own dialogue.]
16 November, 2005
Think I got away with it, pt.2
I'm still alive.
That wasn't a foregone conclusion, since I've just attained an age which my mother told me I'd never see. Seriously.
Apparently it's something she read when I was very young: thirty-three, and game over, so I'm pleased to have reached my 34th birthday.
I presume it was a Daily Mail astrologer's interpretation of Nostradamus (nice of the old guy to give me his personal attention, I suppose), but to a child, that seemed meaningful and truly scary. With repetition, I started to believe it at some level, and it probably helps explain my views on mortality and my need to be constantly productive.
It also says something about a woman who'd inflict that little 'fact' on a young child. "Yes, everyone dies. Oh, and by the way, your 'use-by' date is a litle closer than most people's. Make the most of it.".
16 November, 2005
Think I got away with it, pt.1
Yesterday afternoon was sunny and I had the office to myself (my boss is on leave, and J. had rung in 'ill' (hung over)), so on the spur of the moment, I left early and went for a bike ride. Each time I do that (go for fairly long impromptu rides, I mean, not leave the office early), I'm mildly concerned about not carrying a bike pump or puncture kit, just in case something happens.
Well, it did. Twenty-seven miles (43 km) into a 46-mile ride, at the highest point of the Bentham-Slaidburn pass, I suddenly had a totally flat rear tyre*.
Nineteen miles (31 km) from home. I couldn't realistically walk; at 3½-4 mph it'd take about five hours. The alternative was to ride on, the flat tyre hopefully cushioning the wheel rim itself. That way, I could sustain a steady 10-12 mph – 3-4 times walking pace – whilst acknowledging that I'd probably do terminal damage to the tyre and maybe the wheel.
I'm not entirely proud to say that's what I did. It wasn't a pleasant ride, especially in traffic after dark, and I was continuously, if mildly, concerned that the tyre might rip and slide off at any moment. The base of the tyre valve seemed to project beyond the rim, so every rotation of the wheel jarred; I'm still in a bit of pain ~18 hours later.
Here's the miraculous bit: both the tyre and wheel survived perfectly, without even any marks. I wouldn't exactly recommend it, but if this posting has a point, it's to say that it is possible to ride a long distance on a flat tyre.
The moment I discovered the problem was doubly unlucky: my camera's primary memory card failed, so I only had one image to show.
I'm hoping that just one image on the main card is corrupted, and that if I find a different reader which doesn't insist on trying to access that image (as the camera does), I might be able to retrieve the rest. We'll see. Or not.
[Update 17/11/05: Managed it. I managed to copy the entire contents of the card, directory structure and all, to my hard disk, and have the images. The card itself seems dead, though: still unreadable, and even if I find out how to reformat it, I'm not sure I'd trust it again.]
*: I was going to say that was my third puncture in a week, but it was actually the same puncture, and the repair failed twice. I've now thrown that inner tube away. Plainly latex cement goes off, and becomes inadequate for sealing patches to tubes at 65 psi.
13 November, 2005
Note to self
Don't wash all your work trousers at the same time. If you absolutely must, Friday would be suitable. Don't leave it until Sunday evening.
Mid-November's a bit cold for shorts (yes, Dr. Freer, it is), and waterproofs would look odd unless it's raining.
Shorts and waterproofs? Sorted.
11 November, 2005
Man cannot live on cashews alone
I wonder.... Can fatigue and poor eating, and fatigue due to poor eating, and stress (causing poor eating because of the apparent imperative to get on with things rather than cook properly, or indeed at all), affect balance? I've been stumbling and wobbling all week, and I have no idea why.
For those who know about it: no, falling off my bike yesterday wasn't related – my bootlace simply got caught in the pedal, bringing me to a standstill then preventing me from putting the necessary foot on the ground. It's okay; I have a spare knee, and I like blue-black anyway.
I suppose taking the time to write this isn't helping. Bugger.
A Thai red curry, I think. That's easy to prepare.
8 November, 2005
Free as in forgotten
I've just realised that I haven't received a gas bill for over six months. I shouldn't need to request a bill, but I'd rather do that than pay a lump sum when the supplier notices.
It's actually the second time this has happened to me. A few years ago, whilst house-sitting, I received no gas bills for a full year. The supplier didn't spot their error until the owners had been back for several months. We hadn't bothered to change the accounts, so I'd been paying bills in the owners' names. Since the owners were able to prove they'd been out of the country, and (unprompted) claimed they were no longer in contact with their house-sitter, the supplier had to write it off, and I had a year's free gas. Pity I cant do that again....
4 November, 2005
Can there be greater luxury than lying on the sofa, curled up in a duvet, with a really good cup of tea, watching Macbeth in black & white, in Japanese (Kurosawa's 'Throne Of Blood')? Er, forget about the last bit.
Short of replacing the cup of tea with Helen (I know; it's a difficult choice), I doubt it.
2 November, 2005
I don't often fry food, but just occasionally, perhaps once every 3-4 months, I feel the urge for a 'fry-up': essentially, a British cooked breakfast, but eaten in the evening.
I don't eat eggs , and black pudding is too fiddly (I pick out all the fatty lumps), so my version comprises four rashers of smoked back bacon, three pork sausages (of known provenance and min. 85% lean meat), a tomato, ~125g of button mushrooms and ½ tin of baked beans. All but the beans are cooked together in the same frying pan.
Yes, that's a slight cholesterol and fat kick, but my cholesterol level, tested a few months ago, is pretty good for my age, and I add the minimum amount of olive oil to the pan; most fat for frying comes from the meat, and more liquid remains in the pan than I'd added at the outset. This meal is also atypical of my normal diet, so I don't believe I'm doing myself any harm.
As I write, I'm literally salivating, as I know those ingredients are downstairs, to be cooked and eaten after I publish this entry!
The point of this posting is that as soon as I've finished eating, I expect that the craving will be satisfied, and won't recur until February/March. I'm really looking forward to the meal, but it's not 'comfort food', or a deliberately withheld treat. If I read this back tomorrow, it's unlikely that I'll find even the individual ingredients especially tempting.
It's as if my body takes over and demands something lacking in my usual diet, which I won't require again, and hence desire, until later in the winter.
1 November, 2005
Ah, the pleasures of cycling to work on a crisp, sunny Autumn morning:
- Can't breathe – cold wind and 20-30mph of windchill searing throat.
- Can't see – eyes streaming due to the same wind & chill.
27 October, 2005
Heh. My boss' usual 'power-suit-and-stiletto-boots' image is slightly weakened by the green streaks in her hair today. It seems she has the children for this half-term holiday....
25 October, 2005
It's who you know
Mobile phones don't really impinge on my daily life, so the novelty hasn't worn off. A few minutes ago, I held a conversation with a roofing engineer, who was on my roof. Heh.
A follow-up to yesterday's posting: I climbed into my roof space last night, and studied it. There was one obvious missing slate (or its absence), and a corresponding wet beam, but most of the water had been caught by the insulation, protecting the ceiling below. I was rather glad to find an obvious point of entry, as something more subtle could have been difficult to trace. Unfortunately, I found one, maybe two additional leaks, and another wet beam.
Andy & Al were able to recommend a repairman (thanks!), who I rang this morning. He wasn't taking on new work at present, but my invoking the name of a friend who happens to be a locally-well-known plumber made the vital difference, and the engineer offered to look at the roof pretty much immediately.
It seems the roof wasn't in a wonderful state, and a number of slates need resecuring as the aging steel nails have degraded. As I write, he's working on them, but it seems he might need to return at a later date, when the weather is more stable, to repair lead & mortar flashing at the edges and hence close the other leaks I spotted. Great.
Still, I'm extremely pleased to have resolved the most severe problem so promptly.
24 October, 2005
Waking to the sound of heavy rain outside and water dripping onto one's bedroom ceiling isn't good, is it?
This morning was the first this year for which I'd preset the central heating to come on, so I initially tried to persuade myself that the noise was just the house creaking as it warmed. No, that was definitely dripping. I looked in the roof space and couldn't see daylight, but after fetching a torch, one roof beam was visibly very wet, and I could see the drips, one every ten seconds or so.
Bugger. This sort of thing is the main reason I didn't (and still don't) want to own a house, though financially it's the only rational thing to do. If I'd been renting, I could have simply phoned the landlord and it would have been dealt with, and any damage to the roof and ceiling wouldn't have been my problem. Now it is.
I'm still tempted – regularly – to sell-up and go back to renting, but even if I did, a buyer would want an intact roof, so I suppose I'd better just get on with it.
21 October, 2005
Ton of bricks time
How sensible was it to send sp*m about fake (sorry, 'non-accredited') university degrees to pretty much every member of a university's admin section?
We may be about to find out....
20 October, 2005
I'm British, and we don't like to complain (Ha! Have you read this blog!?), but sometimes one's natural reserve is pushed that bit too far.
A few minutes ago, I bought lunch from the Spar 'supermarket' (it's tiny) on campus: a baked potato with cheese.
At the hot food counter, the baked potatoes are piled in a tray next to a dish of bacon. The latter seems to be oven cooked, which leaves the dish at least a third full of watery fat – it looks ****ing disgusting.
Today, the person at the counter picked up a potato on the point of a knife, to transfer it to a styrofoam takeaway container, but midway, dropped it into the bacon fat, in which it was over half immersed. Yet she simply retrieved it and, ignoring my look of horror, continued as if nothing had happened.
I requested a potato which hadn't just had a sudden bath, and she complied, but seemed surprised that there was a problem.
I'm not, but what if I'd been a vegetarian, and hadn't happened to notice the slip until discovering a very shiny potato sitting in a smelly slick of pig juice?
10 October, 2005
Ten days into October, I've seen my first christmas tree of the year, in a furniture shop window. I also saw someone in a 'santa' hat this evening, and two people in full 'santa' outfits.
Do I need to comment?
10 October, 2005
Now I need a drink
There's one problem area for a non-drinker: eating out.
Celebrating H's (not Helen; that's in May. Different H.) birthday at an Italian restaurant this evening, everyone had a starter and main course, and 2-3 people had a dessert and coffee; no real discrepancy. However, whilst everyone else was on wine and £2.95 bottles of beer, I was drinking tap water.
I wouldn't dream of splitting the bill other than equally, thirteen ways, but £25 was kind of expensive just for a little garlic bread and excessively-oily chicken and pasta.
I'm not complaining; it was entirely my own choice, but still....
9 October, 2005
Time flies supersonic
A while (2-3 years?) ago, I recorded a film from TV, to watch later. I did so last night: 'Kalifornia' (nothing extraordinary; not especially recommended).
What is slightly more remarkable is that an ad break in the film, broadcast on Channel 4, featured one of those 'clubbing annual' CDs, from, er, 1997. Eight years ago. Where did they go?
29 September, 2005
Off to Warszawa
14 September, 2005
The daily grind
That's the clichéd description of work, but I rarely regard it so literally (perhaps I'm fortunate). Today has been an endless stream of hassle and argument, which has worn me down to near-vacancy. Now I'm even reluctant to glance at anything so potentially contentious as my private e-mail.
Enough. I'm going home, to recharge for the same again tomorrow.
13 September, 2005
"If you're not really trying, apples take a long time to eat."
Or so J. has just told me.
It can only be a profound metaphor, as I can't imagine why anyone would waste my time and attention on random, utterly banal... stuff.
10 September, 2005
Shut up until the next time
During election campaigns, all parties distribute annoying leaflets. However, why is it that the only party to continue wasting paper by shoving self-congratulatory leaflets through my letterbox between elections is the Green Party? Of all people, they'd claim to know better.
I can quite understand the validity of a newsletter for Green supporters, but it's mere arrogance to presume the rest of us give a damn about what Green councillors in other wards have been doing i.e. no more or less than their jobs.
8 September, 2005
It burns! It burns!
Argh! My mouth is on fire!
A while ago I noticed a TV advert for a new, citrus-flavoured variety of Listerine mouthwash, supposedly more mild-tasting than 'original' variety.
I have a damaged tooth (and no dentist) which creates a vulnerabilty to gum infection, so I occasionally need to use a mouthwash to remove trapped food and for its antiseptic effect. I've always used supermarket own-brand mouthwashes, but I thought I'd try Listerine this time, and satisfy my curiosity about 'original' variety.
****! No wonder it has a childproof cap!
What am I going to do with a whole bottle of the stuff? It's not even as if I need to strip any paint or degrease the oven.
2 September, 2005
I thought it was just heavy clouds that were making recent evenings seem dark anomalously early, but it isn't, is it?
The nights really are drawing in. I visited Alizon yesterday, but had to decline an invitation to join her and Andy for a meal, as I didn't have my bike lights with me and it was already appreciably gloomy by about 19:45. I've been working away from Lancaster (in Nottingham, Liverpool and Manchester, since you didn't ask) this week, which has required me to leave home at about 07:30 each morning, and I noticed the sun was still very low by then. There were dead leaves on the Hala-Bailrigg cyclepath this morning, and a dew so heavy as to resemble frost. Blackberries began ripening in the hedgerows a couple of weeks ago.
Autumn is my favourite season (with Spring a close second), but I don't want to say 'goodbye' to Summer just yet!
26 August, 2005
It was going fine, thanks
I doubt I'm the only one in a tech- or 'creative'-related job who finds it most productive to load something trance-inducing into one's mp3 player and zone-out from the world for 2-3 hours of uninterrupted concentration.
The next time a certain colleague waves at me to turn off the music so I can hear him ask "how's it going?", I'm going to rip his ****ing arm off.
Ah well. I might as well have a cup of tea; I've suddenly noticed the onset of a dehydration headache.
12 August, 2005
In May, the UK Met Office's seasonal forecast suggested that July and August might be warmer than usual. An appropriately cautious, vague statement from an experimental service suitable as a rough guide, but not definitive.
However, the tabloid newspapers took the central idea, elaborated on it (i.e. blatently invented 'facts'), and convinced the masses that today would be the hottest of the year.
It's not. It's currently sunny in Lancaster, but windy, and today's Met Office forecast is "Sunny spells, scattered showers, rain spreading into the west tonight".
Avoid trashy tabloids!
10 August, 2005
Has anyone else noticed that this has been an extraordinarily bad year for roadkills? I don't think I've seen so many smears of fur at the roadside as I have within the last couple of months. Most corpses have been rabbits, as one would expect, but the wide variety has included sparrows and other small birds, which usually tend not to be hit.
I've also been noticing more raptors than usual, primarily kestrels and buzzards, which hints at one possible cause: if this has been a good year for the survival of young animals, and populations have increased, that'd mean more to die on roads and to support larger populations of predators.
29 July, 2005
Yay! Remember I mentioned last year that a number of local education authorities were experimenting with a revised school year, and that other LEAs were likely to follow? Lancashire just has.
Please see that earlier entry to discover why I, a non-parent, care.
23 July, 2005
It's surprisingly easy to go to Sainsburys for milk, bread and cheese and return with cheese. Only cheese.
It must be easy, as I managed it without a thought.
12 July, 2005
Last Tuesday, I returned from work and noticed that my answerphone had logged a call at about 10:30, but no message, and that the number had been withheld, so I couldn't ring back. On Wednesday, the same thing happened: an unreturnable call at about 12:30. There was yet another on Thurday, received (or rather, not received) at ~17:15.
If someone rings me but can't be bothered to leave a message or even a number, I'm happy to ignore it, but when it happens repeatedly, I do get a little concerned. I know that calls from my father (in Norway) and H (in Poland) aren't properly recognised by my answerphone, so the thought obviously crossed my mind that someone might have been calling me from there, erroneously thinking that he/she had left a message or number. I checked: no.
On Saturday, I received a slightly irritable letter from the bank asking me to contact my local branch at my earliest convenience (there was no indication of a reason), as repeated attempts to ring me had failed (phrased more like "you failed to take our calls").
I went there immediately. They merely wanted to check my account was performing to my satisfaction, and to try to sell me their mortgage, insurance and 'premium' (i.e. not free) account options; i.e. they'd dragged me in as a matter of urgency, to listen to a sales pitch. I, er, wasn't pleased.
The Assistant Manager explained that the cryptic phone calls were 'policy': bank employees are told not to leave a message on an answering machine, in case someone other than the intended recipient hears it, or in case people become worried by the very fact that the bank had called. Policy is to ring once in a morning, once around lunch, and once late in an afternoon, then send a letter. Another policy is to only ring a customer's home number.
So that's: only ring a customer's home number, during working hours, and never leave a message. Right.
The Assistant Manager promised to forward my... concerns to the appropriate people, but guess what: yesterday my answering machine logged an unidentified call at ~09:45, and I've come home from work this evening to a blinking red light and the information that a mystery caller failed to reach me at midday.
7 July, 2005
I don't have much to say, really, but Sal has.
3 July, 2005
I can comfortably cycle 45 miles (72 km) or routinely swim a kilometre. However, after running a mere one mile (uphill, admittedly, and in tight jeans* and para boots) last night, my legs are in agony.
Well, it surprised me, anyway.
*: That may be the problem. I wear jeans only extremely occasionally (much less than annually) because:
a) I dislike them, and their social ubiquity, and
b) when I exercise, my thighs expand to a greater diameter than the material allows, which isn't healthy.
Hence, I always wear looser trousers such as combats, except when moving furniture (as I did yesterday morning) or working with mortar (as I was yesterday afternoon).
16 June, 2005
Off to Prague
Back soon. Play nicely.
15 June, 2005
I knew you were going to say that
I believe in telepathy. Or rather, some means of non-verbal communication whereby one knows precisely what someone will say, a fraction of a second before he/she speaks, and which one subconsciously mirrors.
An example: I've just bought a rail ticket, and at the end of the transaction, the staff member and I said "Cheers" simultaneously.
I never say 'cheers'. It just isn't in my spoken vocabulary, and it wouldn't even occur to me to use the word. So why did I?
12 June, 2005
In order to wash my kitchen floor properly, I need to brush and/or vacuum away any loose dirt first.
If I'm vacuuming the kitchen, I might as well do the adjoining lobby, bathroom and living room. I might as well do the bedroom, office and stairs, too.
However, in order to do them properly, I need to dust around first.
By the time I've dusted and vacuumed everywhere, I've lost interest and/or need to be elsewhere.
Which is why I haven't actually washed my kitchen floor for, well, weeks. It's not pleasant.
24 May, 2005
What use are waterproofs that get one to work warm and dry, except for a sodden area of, er, upper thigh?
Ew. I'm going to have to stay behind my desk for an hour or so.
Speaking of floods, why is it that my mailbox contained 827 spam e-mails this morning (yes, that's since 17:30 yesterday), at least 80% of them having been caught by the server's filters, labelled as spam, then sent to my mailbox anyway?
18 May, 2005
Damn pesky kids
Sometimes paranoia can be useful.
The final section of dedicated cycle track before joining the road at Hala passes through a gap in a high hedge. There's a bollard in the middle of the gap, preventing access by car.
On my way home this evening, I noticed that one side of the gap was totally blocked by a pile of branches and fence posts, and that a group of children ran away into the bushes as soon as I appeared. Why were they hiding, and why was I being forced onto one side of the path? I stopped.
The 'open' side of the gap had been strung with fishing line – invisible until a couple of metres away. I'm not entirely sure what would have happened if I'd hit it, but stretched from the bollard to a tree and back at least six times, I doubt it would have just snapped.
Needless to say, the barricade is now scattered over a wide area, and the fishing line went in a bin a couple of miles away.
17 May, 2005
On the road
Though I take it for granted too often, I do appreciate the fact that I live less than 15 minutes from work. I may have to power the bike myself, in all weather, but a third of my route is in the countryside, and during rush hour I couldn't do it any faster by car.
It also means that on the rare occasions that I oversleep, I can be fully asleep at 08:30 but at my desk before 09:00. Still asleep, of course.
When I was househunting in early 2003, I restricted my search to one side of Lancaster, specifically for ease of commuting. An added advantage of this location is that not only am I on the right side of the one-way system for the University, but I can now avoid the main road entirely: no fumes from queues of stationary vehicles, no traffic lights, fewer inconsiderate drivers. When I occasionally have to go into town to collect a parcel from the sorting office on my way to work, I'm almost surprised by the hectic riding conditions, even though I lived on that side of Lancaster for six years, and plunged into the traffic each day without a thought.
I'd hate to live drastically further from work. A. works in Southport, which is an hour away by motorway. Forty hours a month, just to and from work. A. enjoys driving, and says he doesn't mind the trip, but I could only regard that time as wasted, and I value time far more than money. S. works in Leeds. I don't know how long that takes. The distances aren't so great, but H's travel time around Warszawa can be considerable. The worst of all is my father's commute, of ~90 minutes each way by high-speed passenger ferry or 4-5 hours each way by car. That's the cost of living in seriously rural Norway!
My PhD fieldwork sometimes required me to cycle 9 miles in the middle of the night, in driving rain (because it was raining – if it had been dry, I wouldn't have needed to go), sometimes in rubber thighboots (don't get excited – they were heavily-patched, paint-and-cement-splattered waders), but that wasn't quite the mindless mundanity of a daily commute.
The worst I've done regularly was a nine-minute walk to the railway station, a twenty-minute train ride, then three more miles by bike; I occasionally cycled the full 14 miles just for some variety. On unlit rural lanes after dark in midwinter, that was... thrilling. All for a derisory wage; I lasted eleven months.
11 May, 2005
Whatever the definition of the start of Spring, I'd say it has now reached mid-bounce. All but the ash trees have full canopies of fresh, pale green leaves, the bluebells are out across the wooded campus margins, and I saw my first swifts of the year on Monday. I think I heard swallows at the weekend, too.
18 April, 2005
Via an e-mail account at work, which doesn't reveal my name (i.e. 'role@...', not 'name@...'), I've just received a personal invitation to join a freemasons' lodge in Bournemouth, UK (i.e. several hundred miles from here).
However, the sender's e-mail address ends '.mx' – Mexico.
Do you think it might be spam?
17 April, 2005
Food and drug administration
No particular comment on this Guardian article about interactions between diet and medication, which may render medical treatment less effective or even hazardous (others might make certain chemicals more beneficial, I suppose, though that'd make a less exciting mass-media story...).
Anyway, now I've effectively bookmarked it for my own future reference, and hopefully brought it to the attention of others.
15 April, 2005
Maps of toxicity
For the last three days, I've ended my working day with bloodshot, stinging eyes (my own) and somewhat reddened skin.
Returning from a meeting just now, I was struck by a strong smell of solvents in my office, and made the connection.
We took delivery of several hundred freshly-printed campus maps on Tuesday, and they're stacked in boxes only a couple of metres from my desk. Think of the smell of a brand-new glossy leaflet. Multiply by a couple of orders of magnitude.
Somehow I hadn't been noticing it when I arrived each morning, nor at lunch time, but I presume the chemical has been released as the afternoon sun and PCs heated the room past a certain threshold.
I'm going home. Now. I think I'll leave the office window open over the weekend, too.
13 April, 2005
Operating in stereo
This is a bit of a "you had to be there" situation, but I've just caught myself using the mouse in my right hand, as usual, but with my left hand cradling my mp3 player (which is approximately the same size as the mouse) in the same pose, and mirroring all my mouse clicks on its screen.
4 April, 2005
Me'n vaig aquest matí
Off to pay homage to Catalunya.
30 March, 2005
Should have stayed disciplined....
A bad thing about a compulsory week off work to mark some other people's religious festival is that it obliges me to use up my annual leave at a time I wouldn't choose (i.e. when every other ****er is off work too) – see earlier rant.
A good thing about [oh, you get the idea] is that if (ha! when) insomnia hits, it doesn't matter, as I can just go with it, and sleep late the following morning.
I'm back at work on Thursday and Friday, so now it'll feel even more like waking in the middle of the night. I also need to accommodate an eastwards time zone shift after the weekend, so my body's going to be even more confused.
I've said it before, but:
27 March, 2005
Call me 'Joe'
Although I can't find any definitive information about it (most Google results seem to merely republish the same text from one unverified source), it seems that today is National (i.e. US) 'Joe' Day, when all those who dislike their own names may opt to be called 'Joe'.
Hi. I'm Joe.
27 March, 2005
Why should I be affected?
It takes me eleven minutes to cycle from home, through the city centre to Sainsburys, and back, without stopping. I know that because Sainsburys is closed today, for easter.
Bugger. I'd thought (and hoped) the days of 'respecting' religious holidays had long gone.
20 March, 2005
I enjoy going to the cinema – the non- 'popcorn-and-hollywood-movies' Dukes cinema, anyway – but sometimes it goes wrong, in a way TV or DVDs don't. The massive screen and surround sound are great, but a DVD is manufactured to work perfectly every time, whereas cinema involves fallible human intervention.
Last night I saw 'Alexander' at The Dukes (more about the film itself in a separate posting). As often happens, the first few seconds were slightly out-of-focus. No problem; the projectionist usually corrects that immediately. This time, he/she didn't – the entire film remained out-of-focus. It was okay for close-ups, where objects and faces were so large that the blurred proportion was minimal, but for wider shots, especially crowd scenes, faces were unrecognisable. In overviews of thousands of tiny figures in battle scenes, it was difficult to even follow the action.
This issue was compounded by another. A couple of minutes in, the surround sound failed, leaving only the central (front) channel playing. Again, this was just about adequate to convey events occuring directly in front of the audience, but ambient noise was lost, and anything off to one side, normally covered by lateral channels with a little fill-in from the centre, was very quiet – we only heard that fill-in. After a while, became accustomed to hearing the film rather quieter than is normal, and in mono, but towards the middle of the film it fluctuated, tantalising the audience with 5-10 seconds of full sound every few minutes.
It was substandard, and I ought to have left. However, there was always the thought that 'the staff must be just about to notice and fix it, any moment now', and the terribly British audience sat through the full 175 minutes without a single person leaving. As I cycled home afterwards, I was writing-off the experience as 'it happens', but in retrospect, I think the cinema could have done better.
To be fair, if the audio equipment failed, I doubt it could have been repaired immediately, even if the management took the drastic step of stopping the film. However, the film simply shouldn't have been out-of-focus. It would have taken seconds to correct, but it seems the projectionist wasn't paying attention. That's cause for criticism in itself, but there were cinema staff in the auditorium, watching the film with the paying audience – they ought to have alerted the projectionist.
16 March, 2005
Printers coming out of our ears
My department ordered a PC for a new member of staff last week. It arrived on Monday with two extra boxes: a laser printer and an all-in-one fax/scanner/colour inkjet printer. We've been criticising the provider for their despatching error, but apparently it was deliberate – they're free gifts!
Why don't they ever do that for private individuals, who have to pay full retail prices, too?
16 March, 2005
Happy birthday, me!
Not an anniversary, though: today I am 400 months old, according to Re-date. It also tells me I was 17 million minutes old on Sunday.
15 March, 2005
It's not the messiah...
Most working mornings during the past couple of weeks, my eye has been caught by a patch of discarded chewing gum on the road. It happens to lie in my direct line of sight as I cycle up a steep hill (eyes on the road, not on how much further I have to climb), but I notice it because it has weathered to resemble the face of a man. The gum itself forms a forehead and short beard, with the cheeks and eye sockets suggested by areas where the tarmac shows through. I keep meaning to go back with a camera, but always forget.
The important point is that I feel no urge to call eBay or some American tabloid. Humans are naturally predisposed to see faces in randomness, and a rough lozenge (diamond), quartered and with the top and bottom segments coloured-in, will always look a little like a short-bearded man's face. There's simply no need for 'divine intervention', when an entirely rational explanation exists.
14 March, 2005
Yesterday morning, I woke, wrote that review of 'The Aviator', ate a bowl of cornflakes, and cycled 17 miles. I drank a 330ml can of Coke and cycled back. Seven miles from home, I began to run seriously short of energy, and I had to walk up the final hill (it is pretty much the steepest in Lancaster, but I usually manage to keep cycling).
As usual, I felt fine immediately afterwards; a cup of tea & a little cake were sufficient to recharge me. I drank a couple more cups of tea and a second can of Coke during the afternoon, then prepared sausages and mashed potato for my evening meal at 20:30. I forgot to cook vegetables until too late, so didn't bother. I think I had a handful of cashew nuts at about 22:00, and a pint of milk before bed.
This morning I did manage to eat breakfast (I don't always), but the 3½ miles to work probably used up most of that, and I know that breakfast has usually worn off by midday, so I need a mid-morning boost before swimming. I prefer a flapjack, but Spar had sold out, so I bought a chocolate bar. I don't really like 'sweets', but it was better than nothing at all. Likewise, the shop hadn't received the daily milk delivery, so I bought a 500ml bottle of Coke instead.
The problem with all this is that almost everything was short-term energy, providing no opportunity to build up a reserve. Thirty lengths of the pool were a struggle today – I usually swim 50 easily.
Must eat better! I could live like this as a (relatively) sedentary student, but I expend a lot more energy nowadays.
1 March, 2005
It's really, really quiet at work this morning. Few of the rooms on my corridor seem to be occupied, there's no traffic on the road outside the window, and the background noise of the M6 is also absent.
As the current lead story on the BBC News home page's 'ticker tape' header explains, two lorries (one northbound, one southbound) have crashed on the M6, closing the motorway. Five people have been hospitalised, three due to spilled formaldehyde (they'll keep) and all traffic has been diverted onto the A6 i.e. through the city, which has become gridlocked. There are roadworks on the A6 anyway, which is hardly helping.
I didn't notice a thing when I cycled in along the lesser, local roads, apart from a slightly greater number of pedestrians, but I soon realised that was because the buses weren't running. It seems that those who were going to walk to work arrived about half an hour ago, and at the time of writing, colleagues living south of Lancaster (but locally) are just arriving, two hours late.
The University was built right by the motorway, and since my first visit in 1989, I've been aware of the unobtrusive background noise of passing traffic. It's suddenly stopped.
"The silence is deafening" – well, clichés can be true.
[Update 11:20: colleagues travelling south from Kendal (20 miles away) have rung in from their cars, stranded between motorway junctions three hours after leaving home.]
28 February, 2005
A work colleague has just given me a christmas card, having forgotten in December. It's good to know people care... eventually.
That's slightly odd, but the really weird thing is that it's the second time that's happened within the last week.
26 February, 2005
Still fairly dry
I haven't been keeping an exact count, but I think my alcohol consumption reached double figures this evening.
No, I didn't drink ten pints (5.6 litres) tonight, I mean that I estimate that tonight I had my tenth pint since 22 December.
In the same period, I've consumed a minimum of 20 l (35 pints) of Coca-Cola, at least 50 pints (28 l) of full-fat milk and literally countless cups of tea – easily over 100 l (60 pints), probably a lot more.
Haven't regained a taste for alcohol, then.
23 February, 2005
It's a little worrying to walk past a group of yellow-jacketed building contractors at 09:45 and be almost knocked over by the smell of cannabis.
I'm not aware of any current work on campus involving cranes or heavy machinery, but still, it's hardly conducive to quality, safe working. Do what you want in your own time, guys, but not in a potentially lethal working environment.
23 February, 2005
Snow on a sunshiny day
I've just cycled to work in bright sunshine, with snow blowing in my eyes. Perhaps it was just sublimating out of the cold air, as I couldn't see any obvious snow clouds, just a high-level haze. Then again, it was continental European snow: tiny, dry, individual crystals falling at low temperatures rather than typical large, wet British clumps falling from low, dense clouds at only a little below freezing. Maybe it really had fallen many thousands of metres.
Anyway, this was certainly a five-layer morning:
- T-shirt. Marillion 'Marbles', today.
- Quilted lumberjack overshirt. Allegedly chainsaw-proof. I'm not going to test that.
- Sleeveless 'puffa' jacket. Looks like a flak jacket, as worn by TV war reporters.
- Waterproof walking jacket.
- Dayglo cycling jacket. "There's no warmth in that!" "Okay, Mother."
If I'd fallen off my bike, I'd have bounced.
17 February, 2005
Spam reduction technique
When the campus-wide e-mail system falls over, you might as well close your client (In my case, MS Exchange via Outlook - hey, I didn't choose it). Then forget to turn it back on until, at 16:30, your line manager asks why you haven't responded to her enquiry. Then open your e-mail, and discover that the usual trickle of spam has been transmuted into genuine messages, almost all requiring same-day action. Consequently, stay at work until 19:15.
It's like umbrellas. The one day you forget to take yours out with you, it will rain.
15 February, 2005
Between the heating going off as 22:00 and coming on again at 08:00, the temperature in my home 'office' (back bedroom) dropped a full 10°C last night. For those primitives still on Fahrenheit, that's a drop of 18°F, indoors, overnight.
Yesterday I went to The Dukes to see 'The Merchant of Venice', wearing a T-shirt and fleece (me, not Antonio). This morning the roofs and roads were icy.
3 February, 2005
Ever have a day demanding a death metal soundtrack, when you've only brought ambient CDs to work?
3 February, 2005
Insufficiently tenuous link
I was kind of embarrassed to mention this at the time, but it almost makes sense now.
Yesterday, students were standing in the University's main square, promoting a play by wearing T-shirts and handing out flyers. This coincided with an attempt to promote healthy eating by handing out vegetables. I'm not sure why, but I suppose it seemed logical at the time if the same people performed both tasks - they were standing there anyway, right?
Which finally explains why someone stopped me on the way to the swimming pool yesterday: "Hi! Come and see 'The Vagina Monologues'! Have a carrot!"
27 January, 2005
I think I'm fairly observant. When my boss mislaid her watch at the college ball, I noticed immediately that it wasn't on her wrist, and she recovered it, which seemed to impress.
However, I also find it very easy to 'tune-out' the familiar - I no longer even register the hideous purple and gold ceiling rose in my living room (not least because I rarely use that room). And, after all, who really looks at one's own feet?
In the morning, I put on my socks and boots without any thought. I suppose I'm usually checking my e-mail at the same time, so am looking at the monitor. At the other end of the day, I leave my boots on until I'm just about to go to bed (at this time of year, anyway; I prefer to walk around the house barefoot in summer), by which time I'm tired, so my mind is elsewhere, if anywhere.
Which explains why I was... somewhat startled to notice this morning that someone had painted my toenails black at least three days ago.
Oh, VERY funny....
17 January, 2005
That'll be the problem, then
I wrote that last entry, about high-visibility jackets, from work (after normal working hours, Mr. Employer, sir). I posted it, then got ready to cycle home. I switched off the PC, put on my fleece, put on my dayglo yellow jacket, put on my dark purple waterproof jacket, put on my rucksack, picked up my bike helmet, lights and gloves, locked the door, walked downstairs, then thought about the slight flaw in that sequence....
12 January, 2005
Ever seen three students, deep in conversation, wander into the same segment of a standard, one-person-at-a-time revolving door, then be unable to shuffle it round?
'Future of the nation', and all that....
8 January, 2005
My mother always told me to breathe through my nose when out in fog, presumably because the dense moisture traps smoke and pollutants.
It's been clear but really windy here for the past couple of days, and from the thick crust of airborne dust on my windows, I think I'll be wearing a scarf around my face if I go out. At least fog doesn't leave a coating on glass, which implies it's cleaner.
Perhaps that wasn't the case when my mother was growing up in 1940s, coal-heated Birkenhead, but in modern Lancaster, fueled by gas and electricity, I suspect the greater threats are wind-borne road salt and desiccated cat sh*t.
6 January, 2005
Post your royalty cheques
Waiting (and waiting...) in the sorting office to collect a parcel this morning, I had an opportunity to read even the small print of every available poster. Hence, I discovered that the Royal Mail claim trademark over the colour red and the phrase 'christmas is coming'.
I know 'pillar box red' is a named shade, but I didn't realise the Royal Mail owns it!
1 January, 2005
Blwyddyn Newydd Dda
Since my teens, with a gap of the last 6-7 years, a family tradition has been to see in the New Year at the summit of Moel Famau (English: 'Mother of the hills'), the nearest thing to a mountain in north-east Wales. At 554m (1,818 ft), it's the highest peak of the Clwydian hills, dominating the skyline from Llandudno to Chester. Consequently, the view from Jubilee Tower, at the summit, encompasses a vast area, including Snowdonia, the Cheshire Plains, the whole Wirral peninsula and Liverpool on the horizon.
The weather at 22:00 was warm (10°C) and dry, with broken high cloud, so we decided to go. My mother's health is unreliable, so a lower temperature or the threat of rain would have meant a repetition of last New Year, when we managed to see much the same view from a layby near Holywell - not quite PKiN, Warszawa, Poland, nor even Albert Square, Manchester, UK, but more enjoyable than it might sound!
Traffic through Mold, over the Rainbow and through Loggerheads was surprisingly quiet (I'm not inventing the names: Mold (Welsh: Yr Wyddgrug) is the county town four miles from my childhood home (where I'm writing this), the Rainbow is the local name for the steep, sweeping road over the 300m-high ridge out of the Alyn valley, and Loggerheads is the tiny ex-lead mining hamlet on the far side of the Rainbow), but the car parks at Moel Famau were rather full.
When we first started going, there were a hard core of people who'd visited every year for decades, informally led by Mr. Bentley, a local pharmacist who'd print and distribute hymn sheets, and we were amongst the few 'newcomers'. Nowadays, the word has spread, and well over 100 attend, taking some young children, several dogs, and fireworks (not so good for the dogs, nor humans if the wind is strong). At each turn in the path on the 45 min walk from the car park (at ~350m asl) to the summit, the next stage was visible as a chain of torchlight - quite pretty from a distance, though not really necessary in the moonlight, and beams inconsiderately directed into one's eyes were an annoyance, destroying night vision.
The walk itself passed much quicker than I remembered, inspiring the thought that on previous occasions I was an undernourished, relatively unfit student. Regular swimming and cycling plainly make a difference.
The summit plateau of Moel Famau is 20-30m across, with Jubilee Tower at the centre. Built 1810-12 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of George III, the central obelisk was destroyed in a storm in 1862 and the corner turrets have been lost since then. Partly renovated in the 1970s following the investiture of the current Prince of Wales in 1969, the remaining structure could be described as a huge square cairn. The sides are held near-vertical by dressed stone, but more natural slopes at the corners allow access to the top and create a sheltered hollow in the middle of each side. Most most people were huddled into these, though there were still a lot of people wandering about, sitting just below the lip of the summit plateau or standing in the open on the leeward northern side of the Tower. We went to the very top for the 360° view, but there are few lit settlements visible in any direction but north-east, so we descended for the 'main attraction'.
From about five minutes before midnight until at least 00:20, the entire view of Deeside, the Wirral and Liverpool sparkled with hundreds, even thousands, of fireworks, mostly white twinkles from this distance but with some longer-lasting red distress flares. It's an incredible sight, and well-worth the walk. I'd taken my camera, but had accidentally left the mini-tripod in Lancaster last week, so the accompanying photos are those few which weren't too blurred by camera shake, and it obviously wasn't possible to take really long exposures which might have captured the fireworks. Maybe next time.
[Update 26/12/05: I've been back, in daylight.]
27 December, 2004
Walk: Northop Hall - Northop and back
Whilst K. and my mother were enduring the self-inflicted hassle of the 'January' sales, I walked to the next village, Northop, this afternoon, retracing the route of childhood visits to church - yes, I was christian until my mid-teens - following lanes I first encountered from my pushchair as an infant. The accompanying photos will therefore mean rather more to me than to anyone else, but I hope they're of interest, if only as a snapshot (well, twelve of them) of 'small town' North-East Wales.
25 December, 2004
The sky and ground were clear this morning, so technically this wasn't a white christmas, but the snow did arrive here in North East Wales in the afternoon and evening.
I can report that walking barefoot in the snow, as I did to take this photograph, is an overrated idea.
23 December, 2004
I've just found out that I have an extra day of compulsory leave on 3 January, as the University remains closed until the Tuesday.
Yes, I'm complaining about having too much holiday. The thing is, though it's compulsory, it counts against my annual leave allocation, and as I said earlier, I wouldn't choose to take any leave at this time of year. An extra day now is a day less when I do want it.
17 December, 2004
It this time of year, I'm accustomed to cycling to work in half-light at about 08:30, and returning home in full darkness at sixish. Today, I'm on my way to the departmental christmas lunch, in town, so it made sense to cycle home then walk from here. This meant that I saw the route in daylight, for a change.
That's the point: even at 13:15, under a blue sky (there is diffuse high-level mist, but no distinct clouds), there isn't all that much light. Distant buildings are dark shapes, as are even nearby trees. It's not dim enough for headlights, but nor is there full daylight. It feels a lot like an summer evening, about an hour before dusk.
It's a good thing the winter solstice is less than a week away, after which the days will lengthen; otherwise today would be a little depressing.
10 December, 2004
Last of first light
Strange light this morning.
Cycling to work, I was dazzled by the low sun, but as I reached campus, the sun rose above the line of the dense cloudbase, so the light suddenly diminished.
6 December, 2004
I can see! I can see! Damn.
I swam with goggles today, for the first time since childhood.
Since September, I've been swimming regularly without them, and enjoying the experience at the time, but a couple of hours later my eyes begin to hurt and my vision becomes misty; by evening the entire exposed parts of my corneas are bloodshot. For some reason, itchy eyes make me feel tired (probably just association with how my eyes feel when I am tired!), so a midday swim can lead to an unproductive evening.
Modern goggles are a little more comfortable than those I remember, but the very fact that I recall discomfort meant I deliberately avoided buying bottom-of-the-range cheap goggles this time, so should expect something better. Oversized gel pads provide a superior and softer seal to my eye sockets, without sharp, rigid plastic gouging the sides of my nose. Even so, my skin remained marked for well over an hour after a 30-min swim. I hope there's no cumulative long-term damage.
Without goggles, I obviously can't see much underwater, only blurred shapes in muted colours. As I said above, I rather like that, as the sensory deprivation forces one to focus inwards, concentrating on no more than one's stroke and generally 'zoning out' of the wider world. Unable to see the boundaries of the pool, they lose relevance; the pool could be infinitely wide and bottomless, for all I can see or care.
Goggles slam one back into that wider world - the sides and (rather grubby) floor of the pool are fully visible and surprisingly close, as are other swimmers. I suppose it's a combination of an optical effect and assertion of visual evidence into an imagined space. By that I mean that when I couldn't clearly see the bottom at the deep end, my subconscious naturally exaggerated the depth; my perception was of something much deeper than the actual 2 m. This was very distracting for the first 20-25 lengths, but I was beginning to be able to ignore it towards the end (50 lengths, or 1.25 km (0.78 mile)).
I may need to modify my style a little, too. Obviously, I dived in without goggles, and swam the first length without them, but the full force of kicking-off from the side to begin each subsequent length was sufficient to break the seal around my right eye a couple of times.
I'm sure I'll get used to goggles soon, but there were several moments today when I wanted to rip them off for greater freedom.
5 December, 2004
Whilst in town this afternoon (I couldn't face the prospect of shopping on a December Saturday, but Sunday's always quieter), I bought:
- walking boots (leather; Brasher, size 9 (surprisingly; normally I'm a 9½-10))
- swimming goggles
- shiny wrapping paper, two rolls
- rubber gloves
I almost pity any marketing company or government agency trying to correlate my purchases with lifestyle choices....
1 December, 2004
The water's lovely
Grr. No swim today, as the pool is closed. At 26°C (79°F), it's "too cold" to open.
My childhood holidays were spent on the North Wales coast, swimming in the sea each day. Double-digit temperatures too cold? C'mon!
29 November, 2004
It's later than you think
If anyone is planning to order items from Amazon UK in time for christmas, don't delay too long. I thought there was plenty of time, but put in an order today anyway, just to get a few presents out of the way.
All items were listed as 'Availability: usually dispatched within 24 hours', but I chose the free delivery option, which apparently adds 3-5 working days (it's rarely been more than two, in practice). According to my confirmation e-mail, I should expect a package between 8 and 10 December i.e. up to twelve days away.
That could have been a nasty surprise if time had been more of an issue.
28 November, 2004
Walking between pubs tonight, we passed Lancaster's branch of Ann Summers. The window display featured a black christmas tree decorated with pink furry handcuffs.
**** the handcuffs, but a black christmas tree! How cool is that? If black christmas trees were on offer, even I'd consider putting up decorations!
26 November, 2004
Suddenly feeling old
As I was leaving work this evening, I spotted a poster promoting a student for last night's JCR Exec election in Bowland College. It showed a photo of the student alongside a pink hippo puppet, instantly recognisable as a character from ITV's equivalent to 'Sesame Street', 'Rainbow' (though the latter was less overtly educational), which ran from 1972 to 1992.
That's the problem. Presuming the candidate is a typical first- or second-year student who came straight to University from school, he's 18 or 19, maybe just 20 years old, and would have been 6 or 7, maybe 8 when the programme ended. He probably only has vague memories of it. The text on the poster says something like "Bungo says to vote for George", which caught my eye because:
- The name was Bungle, not Bungo.
- The hippo was called George - Bungle was an entirely different character, a bear.
I suppose it's possible that the student is known as 'Bungo', but that's less likely than someone simply having a garbled memory of the programme.
Rainbow was a major part of my limited TV viewing as a child; I have near-perfect recall of the lineup: Geoffrey, Bungle, George & Zippy, with musical interludes from Rod, Jane & Roger. It's a little shocking to realise a maturing generation don't share that collective memory.
'Er... shouldn't that be Rod, Jane & Freddy?'
Unfortunately not - I feel even older now, as the Rainbow fan site linked above tells me that the lineup I remember clearest was revised in 1980 - the better-known Rod, Jane & Freddy partnership (who apparently had a spin-off series I don't remember) was after my time.
20 November, 2004
First snow, '04
Last year I posted a (dire) photo of the first snow in the Lancaster area on 22 December. It's a bit colder, earlier this year!
We did have a little snowfall in Lancaster last night, but it's rare for any to stick (sea breezes) so the photo (click to enlarge) shows the Lakeland peaks on the horizon.
18 November, 2004
In wet weather, the cycle path between Bailrigg Lane and the University floods. A puddle about 2m (6½') long and 3-5cm (1-2") deep forms across the full width of the path, and a little further on, another puddle some 6m (20') long submerged the entire path and adjacent grass to a depth of 10cm (4"). It's not a problem for cyclists, except when the smaller one, on a sharp corner, freezes in winter, but it's awkward for pedestrians. I noticed that Estates workers dug up the verge a few weeks ago, presumably to install drainage.
Until it stopped this evening*, we've received quite a lot of rain over the last couple of days; not heavy, but steady. I thought at the time that artificial drainage would be pointless in such circumstances, as the flooding is a result of the subsurface water table rising higher than the ground surface, not rainwater being unable to flow away sufficiently quickly. However, I admit I was mistaken: the drainage work seems to have had an effect. Instead of two puddles, there's only one - at least 20m (65½') long and 20cm (8") at its deepest (i.e. the water is 10cm higher overall), well above ankle level.
The only alternative pedestrian route adds about a mile (1.6km) to the trip.
*: Yes, the rain stopped. I've just cycled home in the first snow of the year.
15 November, 2004
Pick a line, and stick to it, unless circumstances alter. If room to manouvre becomes limited, or someone needs a little extra leeway, be flexible, but if someone butts in gratuitously, be prepared to assert yourself.
If those nearby know the path one is clearly going to take, and one can discern theirs, no-one needs to impede others.
If people are forced onto converging lines, it's inefficient for both to dodge, and preferable to be the dodged than the dodger.
I'm talking about swimming in a communal pool, of course.
10 November, 2004
It looks like Lycos Tripod web hosting is in decline, at least in the UK. I've just received an e-mail from them, congratulating me on the fact that my long-abandoned first ever website (no link - it's a little embarrassing!) received 97 page impressions within the last 30 days, making it one of the most popular of the Tripod community in the UK.
Ah. 97 page impressions per month. Isn't that sweet? At the time of writing, the current incarnation of the Ministry receives more than that every two hours, on average.
Maybe Lycos is targeting the Tripod service at entry-level web authors who don't expect many visitors, but if 97 hits is considered noteworthy, it rather suggests Tripod is not the place for anyone wanting to be seen!
6 November, 2004
While I was away last weekend, the blog was quite badly spammed. Only one domain name evaded MT-Blacklist, but there were 500+ instances. A nuisance, but at least it gave a little insight into Google response times.
- The flood attack occurred some time on 30 Oct; I didn't note the time.
- My visitor logs show an atypical increase in traffic on 2 Nov., so it seems obvious Google had indexed the site and large numbers of people were er, 'researching' a wide variety of sexual fetishes.
- I returned on 3 Nov. and removed all the spam comments by about 14:00.
- From periodic checks of my referrer logs, I'm fairly sure the last erroneous visitor left disappointed by about midday on 5 Nov.
So that's 24-48 hours for new search terms to appear on Google, and about the same again for absent references to vanish from the search database.
Incidentally, after the clean-up, I received two aggrieved e-mails from people complaining that there were too few (i.e. none) stories about, well, practices distinctly illegal in the UK. It ought to be instantly obvious that the blog does not - and will not - provide such material, so accusations of false advertising (as if I'd posted the comment spam myself!) are treated with the contempt they deserve.
Actually, I have the e-mail and IP addresses of potentially dodgy people now. I wonder what I can do with them....
No, I don't have a problem with sexual fantasies (so long as the extreme ones are never acted upon) or fetishes; everyone has them to some extent, and careful readers might even catch a few vague allusions in this blog, but that's all you're getting. Anyone looking for 'exotic' material (and some search terms were truly bizarre) needn't bother.
3 November, 2004
I'm back, though since I've managed only about six hours sleep in the last sixty, don't expect anything too substantial for a couple of days!
31 October, 2004
Hallowe'en in NYC
To end an already busy day, having visited the Statue of Liberty, the commercial district, Brooklyn Bridge, Bloomingdales and Central Park, we headed south again at dusk to watch the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. With only an approximate idea of where it'd be, we caught the subway to Union Square by about 18:00 and headed eastward along 14th St. towards the 'touristy' part of Greenwich, as that seemed the most likely parade route.
After only two blocks, we'd obviously found it. Seventh Avenue had been closed and crowd control barriers set up about 2 m from each curb; the pavement (US: sidewalk) behind them was already filled with people right across the pavement, almost to the wall. Yet, having overheard a police officer, we realised this was two hours before the parade itself. It took a while to even cross the road, and I don't remember how long it took us to grab a meal, but we found a good place to stand on the kerb by 20:00.
At about 20:45, we were still waiting for something to happen; I thought I could see lights in the distance, but nothing reached us until ~21:00.
I've provided a few comments with the photographs, but to summarise, the parade was certainly remarkable in its scale, with over a million spectators and many thousands of participants, but it didn't quite match my expectations in terms of splendour. I'd expected hundreds of professional-quality giant puppets and floats, numerous bands and original costumes, but it seemed that anyone who turned up at the start line in any form of home-made or store-bought costume had been permitted to join in. The result was that the dozens of impressive sights were diluted by thousands of people wandering along in almost everyday clothes. One of the park rangers we'd met at the Statue of Liberty that morning had advised visitors to avoid the implied debauchery of the parade, but there was little to even titillate. I will say that there does seem to have been at least one positive effect of the apparently dire Halle Berry film 'Catwoman', as that costume was well-represented....
By about 22:30, we were cold and with no sign of the parade ending or even changing in quality or tone, we left. Perhaps we'd only seen the rather ordinary preamble and missed a more spectacular later stage of the parade; it just seems odd that such a well-known and well-attended event was an apparent anticlimax. That sounds (characteristically) negative, so I'd better stress that though distributed thinly amongst an unimpressive majority, the better costumes and puppets were indeed very good.
A problem of leaving before the end was that we needed to cross the parade route to return to Union Square and hence a direct subway line to our 'home' station. The police were stopping the parade every 5-10 mins to allow cross town (vehicle) traffic to cross 7th Avenue, but were discouraging pedestrians from doing the same, so we had to dodge officers and take a circuitous route. Back at Union Square was one of the more memorable sights of the evening: a vicariously familiar (i.e. from films) view of a New York subway platform, populated by French maids, jesters, and superheroes. Another slight oddity was the short walk from Grand Central Terminal to the hotel, suddenly finding that the busy 42nd Street, Lexington Avenue, etc., felt comparatively quiet, even comfortingly familiar.
And so to bed.
29 October, 2004
Out of, er, office
Off to New York - back soon!
27 October, 2004
About a year ago, a major multinational company ran a promotional campaign. The title of the campaign, and a microsite at the company's website, was a fairly common everyday phrase; for the sake of narrative, let's call it 'Herding Cats', though that isn't the actual term.
I found the campaign interesting, and mentioned it in the blog. I used the phrase as the entry title, and it's in the URL of the microsite (e.g. www.giantcorp.com/herdingcats/), but the phrase didn't appear even once within the 153-word entry itself (purely by chance; it's so generic I didn't even think about it).
Last night I received an e-mail from a total stranger, an author in the USA (I'm in the UK) who alleges that the phrase is a registered trademark, that anyone would need express permission to use the phrase in a blog or other publication, and that I should remove the phrase from my website within five days or face legal action.
This is utterly ludicrous, in several respects.
It's a common phrase. A quick Google search finds 61,900 results for 'herding cats' and 678,000 results for the real phrase i.e. the real phrase is over ten times more generic than 'herding cats'.
I'm not remotely challenging anyone's copyright/trademark. Had I published a book with that title, or opened a shop with that name, there'd be cause for complaint, but all I'm doing is reporting someone else's promotional campaign. If there's any dispute, it's with the global megacorporation. I'm confident the lawyers of a major multinational would have checked this sort of thing in advance, and evidently decided they're able to use the phrase.
In that Google search, I see that the no.2 result is a book by the alleged trademark owner (though let's remember that I have no proof that such a trademark has really been registered, by the person claiming to have done so, nor that the sender of the e-mail really was that person). The no.3 result is that promotional microsite of the multinational. Yet the number one result is an entirely different book, by a different author, published two years before the complainant's. The no.4 result is an unrelated article using that title, in a UK national newspaper which happens to have a renowned legal team....
At no.13 is my blog entry. At no.14, the complainant's website. I must stress that this is just the way things worked out. I have made no attempt whatsoever to optimise my page for that search term; I used the phrase once in the title, it's in the link URL of the multinational, the blogging software (Movable Type) automatically used the entry title as the html page <title>, and one word of the phrase is used in the text, once, in isolation (the single word gives 24.7 million results at Google), but that's it.
The context is entirely different. If I'd used a trademarked phrase, even an everyday phrase which has become associated with a particular company (e.g. 'where do you want to go today?' or 'because you're worth it') to sell a competing product, okay; that's what trademarks are designed to prevent. I had never even heard of the complainant, the book or the website; their subject area is one in which I have no involvement.
Even if I had used a trademarked term (and I do not agree that I did) in a directly related subject area, even writing about the book itself, that's fair use. I wouldn't be claiming exclusive use of the phrase, it would only be for purposes of comment/review, which is permitted. In this entry, for example, I've name checked Google six times, but don't feel it necessary to have contacted the company for permission.
It seems this is merely an entirely spurious and extremely rude attempt to bully oneself to a higher Google page rank, not by optimising the website or link popularity, but by attempting to force everyone else off the Google database. It doesn't work that way.
The manner of the approach is also an issue. A polite e-mail asking me to modify my page (let's face it, the phrase is of no importance to me) might - might - have received a favourable response, but when the first contact is an threat and demand that I take certain action, I won't even dignify it with a response, other than writing about it here.
25 October, 2004
Deregulation reaches Lancaster
I've just received my first item of mail delivered by a private company, UK Mail Ltd. rather than the Royal Mail.
It's just an electricity bill - nothing special, but in its own small way, a landmark.
19 October, 2004
Season's end - has passed
I've just cycled home in the first real anticyclonic rainfall of the season. We get brief bursts of heavier convectional rainfall in summer, but they're usually over within an hour at most, whereas this is reasonably heavy rain that will keep coming until the front passes, probably in a couple of days.
The dense clouds brought dusk a full two hours early, but my riding conditions were less than optimal anyway.
Turtled-down into my high collar, partly to reduce the trickle down my neck, I couldn't hear well, couldn't adequately turn my head, and breathing was impaired for the more strenuous uphill sections. It also tipped my cycle helmet forwards, preventing my usual habit of looking over my rain-speckled (outside) and steamed-up (inside) glasses. Kind of dangerous, really. I think it's already time to break out the winter kit: a scarf wrapped around my face is far less limiting to hearing, neck-mobility and breathing). At least I'd thought to take waterproofs to work, so only my feet and hands are damp.
I suppose it all starts here: the need to keep two jackets available, one to be worn whilst the other remains at home to dry off. Battery charging will become an additional daily consideration, for bike lights. Bikey is largely maintenance-free in summer, but leaf mulch (and before long, road salt) are more of a mechanical problem, not to mention a road hazard. I nearly fell off yesterday: turning a 90° corner on wet leaves, my slick rear tyre lost traction and tried to overtake me. Scary.
Still, cycle parking on campus ought to improve if the fair-weather commuters switch to the bus.
12 October, 2004
Something not quite right...
It really isn't that difficult a routine: unlock and open the front door, go through it with my bike, close and lock the door, get on my bike, cycle to work.
This morning, I forgot the bike, and got to the end of the street, on foot, before thinking anything was odd.
11 October, 2004
Out of time
Ever had a day when it felt as if the rest of the word was moving that little bit too quickly?
10 October, 2004
What's in the box?
I've deliberately obscured the company logo at the lower right of the box top, but apart from one word in that tiny blue rectangle, there's nothing whatsoever on the top or sides of the box to give any clue about the nature of the contents. The product doesn't appear in the illustration, which bears no relevance to the contents.
Turn the box upside down, and it's revealed: a Nokia 1100 mobile phone. So why hide it? This seems to be rather poor, or at least odd, marketing.
It's interesting that when I pointed this out to my work colleague (and friend!) Laura, she identified the type of product immediately - the packaging seems typical of phone manufacturers. Perhaps this isn't such odd marketing for a potential customers already familar with the conventions of the market sector
Yes, I've finally bought my first mobile phone. More on that in a later entry.
7 October, 2004
Off to Edinburgh
As I mentioned quite a while ago, my sister has qualified as a surgical Registrar (I don't know the equivalent US title, but it means she's the lead surgeon in operations). She's since also qualified as a specialist Registrar in orthopedics, but tomorrow she formally loses her title 'Dr.' in exchange for 'Ms.' (or 'Miss', if she prefers!), in a ceremony at the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh. For reasons of historical professional rivalry, UK surgeons are distinct from medical doctors, so bear the different title.
This will also be an opportunity to explore a city I've never visited for more than an hour or so. I'm taking the camera!
See you on Sunday.
6 October, 2004
Mind on higher thing, honest
At work, Helena's desk is about two metres from mine. The kettle is on the floor in the gap. If I make a cup of tea, I boil the kettle, fill my cup, then put the kettle on Helena's desk.
The next time I attempt to make a cup of tea, I go round the desk to find the (cordless) kettle isn't in it's cradle. Of course it isn't; it's on Helena's desk. I put it there myself. Yet I'm puzzled every single time.
1 October, 2004
Happy birthday, blog!
The Ministry blog is a year old today.
I've enjoyed the first year, on the whole. Glancing back, je ne regret, er, much; most entries still stand up as okay.
I thought my written style might loosen up, but it's just as convoluted as always! I can certainly tell when I wasn't sleeping well, both in the topics I chose to mention, and the tone in which I did so. Still, I don't think there are many cases when I should have slept on an entry before posting, though there are a few for which I did exactly that!
Once or twice, it's been a little more time-consuming than I've really been comfortable with; the blog is supposed to be a commentary on daily life, not a central focus, but the effort to articulate thoughts and opinions has been interesting, rewarding and probably even healthy.
I'm surprised that I've developed the habit of posting every day so easily, though I have to confess to occasionally hold back a non-time-sensitive entry if I've already posted that day, to cover days when I don't have time to write. Conversely, it takes me a while to process photos, so I have been known to post those entries retrospectively. I have a photo backlog extending as far as cycle rides in May, so there'll be more such belated postings with 'faked' dates.
If anyone has views, let me have 'em! More personal stuff? More photos? Less? Any past posts I should expand on? Are the music reviews any use?
This is the 540th posting, and the 367th day, so that averages three postings every two days. There have been 154 comments, not counting the 500+ deleted for advertising online gambling, pharmaceuticals, Aviv Geffen, etc. A raw average doesn't mean much, but it works out at two comments for every seven entries.
It's difficult to quantify the effect of the blog on overall traffic; the Jethro Tull Tour History and Annotated Passion Play were already fairly successful departments, but in a period of decline for Jethro Tull and particularly Tull-related websites, Ministry traffic increased drastically. September 2004 saw 9,900 visitors (~310 per day) and 27,000 page impressions (~880/day). A year ago, about 6,000 visitors viewed ~20,000 pages. Glancing at a blog entry from 9 October, 2003, I see that the Ministry received its 100,000th visitor on 8 October; at the time of writing, that's almost doubled, to 192,734. Page views went from 352,421 then to 637,060 today.
26 September, 2004
The waking edge
Halfway between sleep and waking this morning, I knew how to levitate.
It's like voluntarily swallowing; one can't consciously instruct each specific muscle to act in sequence, but once the body knows the knack, it's perfectly straightforward and just happens. I knew, with absolute certainty, that if I stood up and shifted my balance in a certain way, I'd be able to hover. It was so obvious!
Then I opened my eyes, and it was gone.
14 September, 2004
I've had no reason to mention it here, but for the past few months I've been experiencing pain in my shoulder, probably work-related (working at a PC for 8½-10 hours per day, five days per week isn't healthy). This morning I saw a physiotherapist, who gave me acupuncture, which is the point of this posting (ignore that accidental pun; I'm trying to).
I don't like needles. Last year I underwent surgery to insert a metal plate into my hand, but was more uncomfortable about the thought of the anaesthetic needle than the operation itself. Hence, I was momentarily concerned about the idea of acupuncture, until the physiotherapist explained a few facts.
Self-evidently, a hypodermic syringe is hollow, in order to inject or remove fluid from the body. An acupuncture needle is solid and narrower, so penetrates the skin easier, so is felt less.
The sensation of a needle penetrating the skin is felt at or very near the surface, so a properly, i.e. quickly, inserted needle will barely be noticed.
If a needle intercepts a blood vessel, a sharp pain is experienced. Since injections aim for veins, by definition they're likely to hurt. If a needle is inserted into healthy, relaxed muscle, there is no sharp pain; none - I can testify that that's true. The physiotherapist accidentally caught a blood vessel once, and it felt like a standard injection, but the other ~10 insertions were entirely painless.
Insertion of a needle into damaged, tense muscle meets greater resistance, so there may be pain, but analogous to a bruise, not an injection. Since muscular problems were the reason for my visit, I did experience that pain, and as I was warned, it's still there now, four hours later, but to restate, it's a diffuse ache, and I literally couldn't feel the insertion of the individual needles after the first couple.
If anyone else had been deterred by the idea of multiple 'injections', which had indeed been my preconception, don't be.
8 September, 2004
The University's Spar supermarket is being refurbished this week. Today the chill cabinets are being done, so milk is unavailable. This means the only place on campus (and hence within ~2 miles (~3 km)) where one can buy milk is Robinsons newsagents.
Normal price of a pint of milk from Spar: 34p.
Today's (probably only today's) price at Robinsons: 52p.
3 September, 2004
Wild (but quiet) times
The University Library is currently experimenting with new technology allowing users to log books out of the building for themselves. As the sign says:
It's simple, fast and fun - why not check it out?
Oh, those hedonistic librarians. What more fun can there be than passing a book through a scanner? Apart from chuckling at the pun on the phrase "check out", of course.
25 August, 2004
Lancaster's evening deluge
At about 17:40 this evening, the sky was clear and I had my 'office' (back bedroom) curtains drawn to minimise direct sunlight on my PC's monitor. At 17:40:30 (approximately; you get the idea), rainfall was drowning out my music.
I've probably witnessed heavier rain in Lancaster, but never of this intensity sustained for so long. Large raindrops were bouncing 30-50 cm back up from the road and roofs until those surfaces became totally submerged by laminar flow. Gutters couldn't cope, neither those on houses, causing water to fall in sheets from some roofs, nor kerbside gutters, so within 3-4 minutes the entire road was under a couple of inches of water. My road is relatively flat, orientated across the top of the hill; I could only guess what the downhill roads and those near the bottom were like, so I got ready for a quick bike ride as soon as it stopped.
Yet it didn't. There was lightning, with thunder audible after a count of five or six (i.e. close but not immediately overhead), but somehow each flash was accompanied immediately by a redoubling of rainfall intensity. It went on and on for a further ten minutes or so, not even easing, until suddenly there was no more water falling onto the street from the sky, just the roofs. At the back of the house, it was still falling, which confused me for a moment; the edge of the rain must have taken a few seconds to pass.
I went out immediately, but the gutters were already recovering. However, at the bottom of the hill, where surface drainage from the Moorlands and Primrose estates merges and is supplemented by that from Scotch Quarry, the road was impassable to pedestrians and my bike. I took a couple of photos, and with hindsight should have quickly dodged around an alternative way to catch the flash flood elsewhere, but it was fascinating to just watch from where I was.
By the time I did move, almost all the flow was back underground, but I took a few more photos of the aftermath anyway.
This was nothing like the Boscastle flood last week, of course, but even such a brief episode of severe weather (by UK standards!) did have a worryingly appreciable effect.
20 August, 2004
When I went to bed last night, the sky outside was orange; sodium streetlights reflected off low clouds and drizzle. This morning, the rain was sufficient to wet the road, but little more, so this view at Hala Square was surprising: the tiny Burrow Beck was so full as to be just about overflowing its banks. There must have been heavy rain in the night, but this is still a good illustration of the effect of relatively brief rainfall on already saturated ground.
15 August, 2004
Last weekend, new laws came into force in the UK, supposedly to reduce the antisocial use of fireworks. It's now illegal to discharge fireworks between 23:00 and 07:00, except on designated special occasions such as 5 November, when the curfew begins at midnight, and New Year's Day & Chinese New Year, when the curfew begins at 01:00. Breaking that curfew carries a penalty of £5,000 ($9,200) or six months imprisonment.
It's also illegal for fireworks louder than 120 dB to be sold at all.
So that must have been gunfire I heard at ~00:30. Not fireworks. Oh, no. That's impossible.
[Apart from being a typically masterful example of sardonic wit (ahem), the title is in honour of a certain Doctor of Psychology who had reached her mid-thirties believing the phrase was 'damp squid'. Hi, L!]
11 August, 2004
When I bought my first computer in 1993, the purchase was a bit of a hassle. As a research student, I'd occupied five different addresses in as many years; my credit rating was non-existent. Hence, my mother provided bank details and I paid the installments into her account, which paid the company.
When I bought my second computer, I paid by debit card via the manufacturer's website; I didn't even need to speak to sales staff. It was a strange anticlimax after the considerable time and nervous energy expended on researching specifications, prices, etc.
A few minutes ago, I ordered a digital camera. Amazon already has my address and bank details, so a rather large, carefully-researched purchase came down to a single mouse click.
It was only afterwards that I felt a bit nervous ("What have I done? Was it the right choice?"), and oddly disappointed. It ought to be more momentous, somehow.
10 August, 2004
Folklore claims that if cows lie down, it's going to rain. As I left work this evening, I noticed that the Bailrigg cattle were all at the very top of their field.
When cows seek high ground, is it time to worry?
8 August, 2004
Happy anniversary, house?
That Helen needed to remind me is possibly some indication of how much I relish the fact, but today I have owned my house for a year. I collected the keys at 22:00 on 8 August, 2003 and unloaded my possessions from Sibsey Street, with the assistance of A. & A., then after a cup of tea at their house, drove to Wales (arriving 02:00) to collect furniture from my mother's house. Hence, the anniversary of occupancy is 10 August, but I won't be too pedantic (for once).
Since moving in, I have:
- Bought a bed and mattress, a washing machine, a vacuum cleaner, a TV, a DVD/VCR, two lamp shades, two rugs, cleaning materials, a desk chair, crockery, pans, and a shower head which fits over the bath taps. All other furniture, utensils, etc. were inherited from my grandmother, collected for my first home over several years by my mother, and salvaged from items my mother was discarding when refurnishing her home (so there's a reassuring continuity between my childhood home and this house), as were the sofa & armchair, donated by J & Fiona. Thanks to all!
- Thoroughly cleaned the whole house. I could do with making a concerted effort to repeat the exercise.
- Sanded the bathroom door to fit better and added a lock.
- Replaced all lightbulbs with the energy-efficient type.
- Removed the smelly carpet in the front room, though that was only done a fortnight ago, at A's instigation.
There were also several rather major tasks to be done, which I simply haven't:
- Decorate. The walls are the same ugly colours as when I moved in; the purple and gold ceiling roses remain. I've stopped noticing them.
- Buy new furniture. None of the existing items match. In particular, storage in the bedroom is under a weird curtained canopy rather than proper wardrobes, and needs to be replaced.
- Buy/build a bike shed. I barely started to price building work. Too much hassle.
- Remove 'porch'. The previous owner had fitted a flimsy dividing wall and archway by the front door. It's ugly, takes up space in an already small room, and obstructs access to the light switch - it has to go. I was going to wait until I'd fitted a bike shed and hence stopped storing Bikey in the front room, but I have no idea when that'd happen, so I might as well get on with it - some time....
- Fit a shower. Haven't got round to it; I still shower kneeling in the bath with a £5 hose and shower head jammed over the taps.
- Remove stairwell wall. A low-priority task which I still think would improve the lighting and appearence of the narrow stairs. I'd like it to be done, but not so much as to inspire me to get on with doing it!
- Host a 'house-warming' party. I just didn't see anything to celebrate.
In summary: things which to a 'home maker' would be essentials, but so far as I'm concerned, profoundly do not matter. A year on, I still don't want to be a home owner, responsible for maintenance and expected to want
to make improvements. The house keeps me (reasonably) warm and dry, and my front door can lock the world out, but anything beyond that is trivial.
NP: a screaming PC.
8 August, 2004
Should have known not to buy a British PC
Despite there being windows open at the front and back of the house, with a desk fan ensuring throughflow of air and the curtains being partially drawn to provide some shade, the ambient temperature here in my office/study/okay, back bedroom is 27°C.
All the computer's fans are fully functional but theoretically redundant, as I've taken the sides off the tower case.
Yet within ten minutes of my pressing the 'on' button, the PC is overheating and literally screaming at me (a temperature alarm?). The chip heatsink is hotter than I'd choose to touch, merely running Firefox. I'll have to switch off.
31 July, 2004
Jonnie is big on birthdays. Largely by failing to decide on one definitive event to mark the event, he manages to extend celebrations for up to a week. This year it was dinner on Wednesday, drinks at a pub last night, and we're going camping later today. Very cunning....
Given the good weather, we went to the Water Witch yesterday evening, to sit outside by the canal. The quickest route from home to the pub passes a historical part of 'industrial Lancaster', so I took a few (fairly inconsequential) photos on the way.
31 July, 2004
Monopoly broken up
Until earlier this month, the pale area in the accompanying photo (click to enlarge it) of Furness College quad was occupied by a 'Monopoly' board, which was a landmark for several generations of students. Unfortunately, it hasn't been maintained and was undeniably scruffy, so has been removed.
I have no idea whether the College was consulted; if this had been Bowland, I'm sure we would have mobilised the JCR to repaint it.
The College is about to undergo major modifications, with several accommodation blocks to be demolished and replaced (photos will follow), so if the board did have to go, this was an appropriate time to clean up the quad. Presumably the pale paving slabs will have evenly weathered to match their older neighbours before the end of the project.
29 July, 2004
I've just been challenged for cycling past someone a couple of weeks ago without acknowledging him.
Sorry Jim. I'd never knowingly blank someone, but it's certainly true that when I'm on the bike, I'm genuinely unaware of other road users as individuals, they're simply obstacles. I see a car but not the driver, or a bike but not the cyclist. A face is only relevant in judging the focus of a road user's attention and whether he/she is a hazard; I don't see the person. I doubt I could even comment on the colour of the car or bike as soon as it passes out of my field of view.
The psychological implications are... unflattering, but I'm just focused, honest!
29 July, 2004
I'm interviewing on Tuesday!
Terrific. It was only as an e-mail circulated, informing the interviewing panel that a candidate is dyslexic, that I found I'm on the panel!
If the candidate hadn't been dyslexic, I wouldn't have known, so would have come into work in, well, not a suit, and wouldn't have attended the interviews.
And I work in Communications and Marketing....
22 July, 2004
I've just bought a laptop/portable computer on behalf of my sister. I thought spending £1,000 of someone else's money would be more enjoyable....
Personally, I wouldn't choose a laptop, both for reasons of usability and value for money - a desktop PC of the same cost would have a rather better specification. Hence, I was researching the purchase pretty much from scratch; I have a reasonable knowledge of PCs, but laptops are new to me.
So far as I could tell, the best choice for K's needs is from Dell; a 2.6GHz Inspiron 1150. A slight complication is that K. has just moved house, so her credit card address won't match her home address yet; Dell won't deliver to her. Instead, our mother will be buying it, it will be sent to that address, and K. will collect it from there. Inconvenient but uncontroversial.
However, the order process includes this section:
Dell is a US corporation, and is therefore subject to all US Export Laws and Regulations. The export of any Dell products or software must be made in accordance with all applicable laws of the United States and local country regulations, including but not limited to, the US Export Administration Regulations. This may require that an export license be obtained, or that certain declarations be provided to US or local government regarding the products being exported.
1) How will these products be used? [Drop-down list ranging from 'Home' to 'Military' use, via 'Nuclear Industry']
2) Where will these products be used?
- These products will be used at the listed ship-to address
- These products will be used at an ultimate destination other than the listed ship-to address
If the ultimate end-user information is different from the listed Ship-To Name, please complete the information below: [name & postal address]
You WHAT!? I'd resent providing such details to the UK government, never mind a foreign regime which has no relevance in this situation. The computer will be built in Ireland and shipped to the UK; that the parent company of Dell UK happens to be a US corporation simply doesn't matter.
If I'd been buying for myself, that'd be it; I'd go elsewhere. As it is, I continued the order, but ensured my own details don't appear on it.
No offence to individual US citizens, but your government has a serious attitude problem. This isn't 'Planet USA'; the USA is only one country of over 260, and I owe no more allegiance to it than to Canada, Vanuatu or Morocco, to pick three at random. Why the US government feels able to impose its whims on foreign nationals who aren't even interested in the USA mystifies, and offends, me.
20 July, 2004
I suspect the phrase itself is unique to my father and I, but others must experience 'panic hunger' too.
Sometimes, particularly after a burst of activity, I become shaky and desperate to eat. Must. Eat. Now. Anything (though the craving tends to be for potato-based snacks I wouldn't ordinarily choose).
For example, this evening (~18:30) I cycled back from Sainsburys (about a mile, almost all uphill) a little too quickly for a hot, humid day, having not eaten since ~14:00. As soon as I closed the front door, the panic hunger hit.
I grabbed a bowl of cornflakes, followed by a jaffa cake before I swallowed the last mouthful, followed by a handful of peanuts; not exactly an elegant combination, but luckily it calmed the urge, as a cat in the yard was looking tasty.....
Alizon has (no doubt correctly) diagnosed it as a blood sugar crash, which makes perfect sense. I've occasionally experienced much the same effect a short while after drinking a ~440ml bottle of Lucozade (basically a strong sugar solution with caffeine), which must be somewhat analogous to the body's reaction to hyperglycaemia. I tend not to drink Lucozade, as that physical 'crisis' tends to be accompanied by an emotional crash.
Actually, as I write this I've just remembered that I had a can of Coke between returning from work and heading back out to Sainsburys. I must have used up that sugar 'hit', and suddenly had nothing left. Foolish.
18 July, 2004
In other financial news
A property advert in this week's Citizen (free local paper) features a house in my road. At least from the street and alley, it looks about the same size as mine, but possibly not of quite the same quality - for one thing, it has old single-glazed windows.
Yet the asking price is £25,000 more than I paid a year ago.
There's no way the current housing market can be sustainable. It's a bit scary, really.
12 July, 2004
What about us?
This is Graduation week at the University. An expected total of 4464 students are expected to graduate, graduands of both the University itself and of associated institutions whose degrees are validated by the University. Over the full week, there will be 17 Degree Congregations in the Great Hall. The Chancellor, HRH Princess Alexandra, will preside at the afternoon ceremonies Mon-Thursday for the final time, as Sir Chris Bonington takes over the role soon.
In addition to those receiving their first degrees (Bachelors-level degrees; higher degrees are awarded separately in December), Honorary Degrees are to be awarded to Dr Ahdaf Soueif, Sir Ian McKellen, Dr David Starkey and Professor Tim Berners-Lee (the last will be awarded in absentia as a HM beats a HRH - he's receiving a knighthood this week).
As always, we're broadcasting all ceremonies as live webcasts. We offer two formats, each in two resolutions (and hence bandwidths), and all four feeds are both embedded in standard pages for viewing in a web browser and are provided for use in standalone media players. Footage recorded by the University TV unit is being processed via brand new hardware and a remarkable codec provides a video stream so clear it's a little unflattering to some. Needless to say, last-minute refinements this morning were an inordinate hassle, but the results are a credit to the institution.
Which makes it all the more depressing that a mere pilot project by another University was a leading item on the BBC Wales News home page today. All credit to them for joining the bandwagon, but they're not exactly steering it.
Internal recriminations and e-mails to the BBC will ensue.
7 July, 2004
When I start hurling unopened cans of Coke across the yard for no better reason than exhausted petulance, the insomnia is getting pretty bad.
That's an extraordinarily uncharacteristic thing to do, and definitely not a source of pride.
So why write about it? Oh, I don't know.
29 June, 2004
The wrong trousers
I didn't mean to wear my combats today. Nothing in the pockets - no cash, no cashcard: no lunch.
And the office milk is off: no tea, either.
19 June, 2004
I've got Gmail
Many thanks, Anders!
18 June, 2004
We're locked in! All but one door to University House has been locked, and that remaining door is manned by a uniformed security officer checking IDs.
Posters all over campus this week have been promoting the 'Day of Rage', a day of student protests about college relocations, the closure of our highest-rated department, and the perception that the University's senior management have no interest in meaningful consultation. University House (central admin) would be a prime target for as-yet-undeclared stunts, so access has been cut off. Staff and visitors are being asked to identify themselves and their destinations before being allowed in. For once it'd be convenient if I'd dressed more formally.
10 June, 2004
On Saturday, I thought the Ministry Blog had died. The published site was still there, but I noticed that the comments were inaccessible, having been replaced by barely-comprehensible error messages. I tried to log into the blog admin section; same error message. Oh well, the server must have been having problems; I'd try again later.
On Sunday, still nothing, so I checked my web host's website for any scheduled maintenance. Ominously, they announced (after the event) that several changes had been made over the weekend, primarily upgrades to PHP and associated security settings, which drastically changed the functionality of customers' web space. Far from expressing regret, the blunt message was that anyone who needed the withdrawn services should get a dedicated server.
Of course, MT runs as a cgi script i.e. perl, so shouldn't have been affected by changes to PHP. Having consulted the excellent MT Support Forums, largely to have the error message translated, I was advised that there must have been an unannounced change to the server. A quick inventory of the available, required perl modules proved that this was correct: the DBD::mysql module (and DBI) was suddenly missing. This was a critical omission, which rendered the blog totally unusable.
I sent an e-mail to my host's tech support immediately. Within 24 hours, they sent me the exact text of the announcement already on their website. I repeated that I'd already seen that, and explained precisely what I needed (for the DBD::mysql module, which I'd already been using for seven months, to be restored). They responded that they couldn't make further changes, and that I should consider separate hosting i.e. my own server.
At that point I started shopping around for an alternative host (thanks for the advice, Neil!), but decided to have one more go at tech support - the earlier refusal seemed extraordinarily peremptory, and felt as if it had come from a customer support rep rather than a tech who understood what I was asking. The result of my verification enquiry:
We have requested the systems team to get this module replaced for you.
No apology, or indication of when
this would be done, but I was really pleased that I mightn't have to go through the hassle of transferring my entire site to a different host. I say 'mightn't', as it wasn't certain that this was even the source of the problem with the blog.
That was Tuesday, mid-afternoon. It wasn't until this morning, Thursday, that my interrogation of the server found that the module was back, and I was able to get back into the blog admin. So far as I can tell, everything is functional, with the exception of MT-Blacklist; I'll play with that when I have more time.
Since you're reading this, I'm apparently able to post messages again. As the dates of this item and the foregoing one indicate, it's been an enforced absence of five days, all due to an undocumented change to my web hosting arrangement, implemented with no prior warning. That's bad enough, but if I'd been less technically-proficient (not that I'm a techie, but perhaps a little more so than the average user, and I know more experienced people!) and less persistent, this could have totally killed the blog.
Extremely poor service. At a more convenient time, I might still change host, but I'm extremely pleased that I don't have to do so as an emergency measure.
I probably shouldn't have tempted fate by saying that....
[Update immediately after posting: I don't seem able to ping the usual blog directories.]
3 June, 2004
Never do too good a job
A couple of weeks ago, I threw together a mini-site promoting one of the University's courses, and was gratified to be praised for it.
Today the parent department tried to book my services to redesign their entire site, of 150+ static html pages. It'd take ages.... And no, a database-driven site isn't an option at present; I'd have to hand-code each static page one-by-one.
I hope they'll accept revision of the existing site, perhaps with a fresh page header tacked onto an updated stylesheet, plus extra images scattered amongst the existing pages, rather than a total overhaul and recoding.
3 June, 2004
D'you want to think about that?
The price of milk rose on campus recently, but the barcode readers in Spar have yet to be adjusted. If one buys a pint, the till says 34p, but the cashier knows to ask for 35p. If one buys a couple of items, the cashier doesn't think to add on the extra penny, so the old price stands.
Who's the fool: the Spar manager, who loses a penny on each transaction, or the customer who buys more that she would otherwise, just to feel smug about 'saving' an illicit penny?
Names omitted to protect the gullible.
31 May, 2004
Anyone lost a keyring?
This morning, I found a ring of keys on my doorstep. I didn't recognise any of them, nor the fobs. Someone must have dropped them; it's likely that they were a passer-by's rather than belonging to a near neighbour who would have missed them soon after they were mislaid. Following that reasoning, I thought it best to hand them in at the police headquarters, and did.
There were 5-6 keys on the ring, with two novelty fobs (a metal 'Scooby Doo' and a plastic smiley face), yet the desk officer at the police station logged them as two yale keys on a 'Scooby Doo' keyring, making no mention of the other 3-4 keys nor the second fob.
What use is that? If I was a person trying to claim lost property, I'd explain what I'd dropped, yet the police would have nothing on file matching that description. Apparently the police deliberately record the number of yale keys rather than the total number (why?), and only one distinguishing feature, presumably for brevity.
Do you know how many yale keys you carry, as opposed to the total number on the ring? I don't. Imagine you've been locked out of your house, office, and car. Could someone have stolen your keys? Have you mislaid them? You're stressed and upset. You go to the police. Do you really want to play unnecessary games, merely for bureaucratic convenience?
27 May, 2004
The guy in the bike shop has a tattoo on his forearm, prominently featuring his own name.
Does anyone else find that a bit odd?
27 May, 2004
Bikey's bearings broken
And other 'b' words (maybe not 'beluga'), some of them even publishable.
One minute I was hurtling up the A6 (I do like a good hurtle), overtaking all other cyclists, the next there was a grinding clunk (really) and the cranks were no longer moving properly. I'm pretty sure it's the bottom bracket bearings, so I'll have to visit the bike shop this evening.
At least everything still rotates, and I didn't hear the distinctive sound of a broken bearing cup etching the frame, so was able to proceed to work, albeit being overtaken by all other cyclists, even the one on the unnervingly wobbly folding bike.
26 May, 2004
All student rooms on campus have the facility to be connected to the internet. There's a fee, but the students get 'better-than-broadband' (T3?) connectivity.
Yesterday evening, the residence network failed in four buildings of one college.
The technicians have just announced, with considerable satisfaction, that it wasn't their fault: someone in the college had unplugged networking hardware in order to use an iron.
23 May, 2004
Better now, but puzzled
Yesterday, I was hung over.
Ho, ho, NRT's been a naughty boy. Must have been a wild night, eh? Cue rueful grin and considerable teasing.
On Friday night I consumed more alcohol than my body could handle; I poisoned myself. Simple as that.
On Saturday, I couldn't hold down even water until 15:00, nor could I face food until 20:00, 25 hours after my previous meal. Consequently I had a fierce dehydration headache, felt nauseous and lethargic through lack of food, and was depressed due to the after-effects of the alcohol and because I'd wasted an entire day. My face looked as if undercoated in grey then splattered with tiny flecks of red: vomiting had burst capillaries around my eyes. I felt shaky and cold, despite it being a sunny day.
What the **** is funny about that?
If I told someone I'd been ill for an entire day due to poisoning, I'd expect a sympathetic response. If I said I'd been hung over, the response would be amusement - which I'd be expected to share. Why?
To think less of someone who knowingly exceeds his/her alcohol tolerance is understandable and justifiable. To find that person's discomfort amusing is malicious. Yet it's a socially-accepted schadenfreude which (and this is the bit that confuses me) the sufferer is expected to share. It's as if a hangover is a badge of pride - "I spent my Saturday bent over the toilet or slumped on the sofa - hey, I'm a real man."
This presumes one did participate in some sort of hedonistic party, of course. If one has a hangover, it follows that one must have had a tremendous time, right? Wrong. It's quite possible to have a mind-numbingly bland evening, and still get a hangover.
In this case, my surroundings contributed to the speed and amount I drank. It was an evening out with the Bowland College senior members (i.e. staff, not students), so we went to soulless 'shirts' pubs I wouldn't ordinarily even consider, crowded by bald or shaven-headed men in their forties there to watch the barely-dressed teenage girls, a background cacophony of football on numerous TVs contesting with cynically-programmed 'happy' music preventing any attempt at conversation. Deeply depressing and not an aspect of society I choose to encounter.
22 May, 2004
Note to self: eat potatoes sooner.
21 May, 2004
Another clear, sunny morning, so I cycled to work via the park, and took a few photographs. I think I prefer the thumbnail of this one, as the lighting seems even more dramatic.
20 May, 2004
I cycled home from work the long way this evening, for a change, following the towpath of Lancaster canal rather than the usual roads. I'm glad I happened to be carrying the digital camera, as strong sunlight through the trees made this a colourful (well, green) trip.
20 May, 2004
Not a hope
I received a letter at work today; itself a rarity as my work-related communications are almost entirely by e-mail, so my pigeonhole rarely sees more than my payslip and dust.
This was impressive: three sheets of heavy, textured cream paper in a matching '100% cotton' envelope, itself lined with tissue. A semicircle had been cut out of the upper right of each page, an essentially pointless design feature repeated on the envelope's address label. The top third of the front page featured a primrose-yellow band, again repeated on the address label and, oddly, the staple holding the letter together.
All this for an item of unsolicited junk mail which hit the bin within seconds of being opened.
It was from a design company* (self-evidently) touting for work, but if they can afford to speculate with such an expensive mailshot, they're presumably charging too much.
*: which according to Google, has no website. A company proposing to undertake web design work, which doesn't have a website of its own. I don't think so.
18 May, 2004
Good weather, a digital camera, a cycle ride to work. Do I need a reason to take photographs? There's no particular theme to these images, they're just photogenic views I happened to pass.
11 May, 2004
A step too far?
I may have passed a critical threshold of reliance on the web. I've just used Google to find out what I'm having for lunch.
I bought a sandwich from the Spar shop on campus; a long white roll containing something chicken-based, the precise contents masked by lettuce (it annoys me that the staff make sandwiches by filling a roll with a pre-mixed, er, filling then place random greenery on top of the closed roll, rather than inside). It was labelled 'Chicken Maryland', which, though new to me, sounded innocuous (ignoring politics for a moment). However, when I opened the roll to insert the lettuce, I found greyish-brown... lumps mixed in amongst sweetcorn, diced bacon and chicken. As various sites found via Google told me, the mystery ingredient is indeed banana. Bizarre, but not too bad.
NP: Mike Oldfield 'The Songs Of Distant Earth'. Don't be tempted to use your player's 'random' function for this one; it's a real mess out of sequence!
9 May, 2004
this wouldn't work
Just in case it has escaped anyone else's attention, Movable Type code tags are case-sensitive.
Nearly broke my installation last night. It's a good thing I was in a bad mood, and didn't fancy going to the pub anyway....
30 April, 2004
According to Deutsche Welle, Poland's planned restriction on economic immigration from the current EU won't apply to nationals of Eire and the UK, countries which have not imposed barriers on the movement of workers from the new EU member states.
Which makes Helen's status as a Warszawa resident more secure. Good news.
29 April, 2004
The HMV website has a marvellous feature on its ordering pages: provide a postcode and house number, and it'll fill in the rest of the address.
It's great to be told that I live at 70 Teston Rd, Wateringbury, Maidstone, Kent, ME18 5BG. I don't, of course; that's 289 miles (465.1 km) from here, according to Multimap. The puzzling part is how it derived the house number and postcode wrongly when I'd already provided the correct ones.
Worse than useless. I wonder how many packages have been lost.
27 April, 2004
As I was parking my bike at work this morning, I noticed a drawing pin in the front tyre, right through the supposedly kevlar centre strip. The pin seemed to be maintaining a seal, so I left it in, vainly hoping it'd hold for a further eight hours and the ride home before I could repair the puncture. On the way into University House, I nearly trod on another drawing pin. At the weekly College Officers meeting, I found five drawing pins scattered around the floor. The Residences Officer, Jacqui, had stepped on one, but it had penetrated only the very edge of her shoe's sole; a very lucky miss.
Individually trivial, the coincidence of seven pins could inspire a conspiracy theory.
I checked the tyre again after the meeting; unsurprisingly flat. Oddly, it hadn't healed by the end of the day, so my usual trip of 3.55 miles in ~15 mins, averaging ~18 mph, became a walk of 3.31 miles in 49 mins, averaging ~4 mph (the missing quarter of a mile? On foot I can cut across a football pitch).
Oh, and today we had the first sustained rain in over a week.
20 April, 2004
I experienced a moment of fear this evening; the literally nauseating sense of having a serious problem and absolutely no idea of how to resolve it. As I was leaving for the cinema, my front door key broke off in the lock.
For a moment I just looked at the stub, willing it to simply not have happened. There had been no force behind my twisting motion, so I couldn't comprehend what had happened; I must have misunderstood, and in a moment I'd realise it was okay after all.
Nope. I can only presume the metal had become weak by day after day of slightly flexing in my pocket, plus whatever damage might have been caused by the previous owner of the house. It did break at a particularly deep notch in the shaft.
I was immensely lucky that it snapped as I was closing rather than opening the door, so I wasn't locked out of the house. I could get in, but with the broken shaft in the keyhole, the door couldn't be locked from the outside. The obvious plan was to use a spare key to force the broken one out from the other side, but the door is visibly thicker than two keys. The lock is an integral part of the door too, so couldn't be independently replaced.
There was another scary moment whilst it seemed the broken key was fouling the mechanism and the spare key wouldn't lock the door from inside either, but that was easily solved by realigning the slots. In doing so, I noticed that the broken key had been pushed out very slightly - the door must be a few millimetres thinner than I thought. Enough was projecting for a knife to lever it out further, then just enough for a pair of needle-nose pliers, and it was out. Trauma over.
A horrible incident, which is bound to worry me every time I use the door from now on. I'll need to have a couple of new keys cut asap, as I can't assume that the current spare key is less likely to snap, so I'll check whether a more resilient metal is available, and be far more cautious in future.
6 April, 2004
Since the Tull Tour History includes some 80 instances of the Jethro Tull song 'Pussy Willow', it's unsurprising that a few Google searches for porn appear in my referral logs, but when have I ever written about 'back-door doggie'? Ah; it's picked up the Tull songs 'Back-Door Angel' and 'How Much Is That Doggie...?', both part of the 1974 set. Maybe that's what the enquirer was looking for, or maybe it was a carpentry issue. Maybe.
28 March, 2004
Not the most productive of days. We switched from GMT to BST last night, so when I woke at the time my body thought was 08:00 as usual, the 'clock time' was already 09:00. The rest of the day felt as if I was constantly trying to catch up.
It's going to be a rough week. My current cycle of insomnia means I'm unable to sleep until around 02:00 (so that'll be 03:00 by the clock), and wake fairly easily at 08:00, but my body's 08:00 will obviously be the clock's 09:00, by which time I need to be already at work. Losing an hour at that end of the day always hits me hard.
18 March, 2004
I'm just back from the cinema, having seen 'Cold Mountain'. I haven't written a review of that (yet) [update: it's here], but wanted to comment on the experience itself.
The Dukes is Lancaster's arts cinema, and the best I've known. The screen is advertised as the largest north of Manchester. Realistically, that probably means west of the Pennines and south of the Scottish border - Newcastle, Edinburgh or Glasgow might have something larger. Maybe not, as the trend is for multiplexes with multiple (no, really?) smaller screens rather than one huge one, as at The Dukes. The auditorium is that of a theatre, and the screen fills the stage; whenever the main stage is in use for plays (I'd guess that's 6-8 weeks spread throughout the year) the screen has to be removed.
The atmosphere is good; professional but not 'slick', and very much that of a theatre rather than a cinema. Three minutes before the film begins, an announcement invites people in the foyer to go through to their seats.
Thankfully, typical cinema soft drinks, popcorn, ice cream or sweets are not offered for sale, but drinks from the foyer bar are welcome in the cinema itself, in plastic, er, glasses. There's never a problem of litter being left afterwards - the audience are trusted to behave reasonably, and that respect is returned.
When I first moved to Lancaster a decade ago, the cinema's programme warned viewers to dress warmly, as the auditorium wasn't heated. Funding later added heating, but I doubt that came from ticket sales - one of the best aspects is that one can occasionally watch a film on a huge screen with as few distractions as in a darkened living room, with under ten people in the auditorium.
In fact, it was rather surprising to find that about ¾ of the seats were filled for 'Cold Mountain'. From a quick glance around the room, I was a little dismayed to see that the vast majority were around 60 years old. That's not really ageism, merely an indication that this wasn't a typical Dukes audience, and was likely to be of a type I've occasionally encountered there before: very infrequent cinema goers, who simply don't know how to behave. Rustling sweet wrappers might be common in most cinemas, but are so rare at The Dukes as to be particularly noticeable. Full-volume conversations in the middle of a film wouldn't be acceptable in any cinema, but as I said, these are people unaccustomed to cinema etiquette.
Luckily, it was a false alarm, and the audience were unobtrusive throughout, only betraying their inexperience of Dukes custom by leaving the moment the credits began - the regulars stayed to the end of the credits, as usual ;)
4 March, 2004
Many congratulations, K!
I'm extremely pleased to tell the world that my sister is now qualified to become a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh (i.e. she's passed her Part 2 surgical exams but has yet to formally receive the title); in terms of the UK medical hierarchy, a Registrar. Oh, and she's 29 years old.
Fourteen years of standard school, and five years at medical school made her Dr. T. A further six years experience as a Junior and then Senior House Officer led her to a sequence of stunningly tough exams (costing £1,000 just to take, pass or fail). Once officially accepted into the Edinburgh College, she sheds the title 'Dr.', as UK surgeons are distinct from their medical colleagues - bizarrely, the lack of a 'Dr.' is a matter of prestige.
I don't even know her full list of titles, but at the least it'll be Ms. K. T., BSc (Hons.), BM, BS, MRCS (Ed).
1 March, 2004
Not an easy Monday, and I'm as drained as on a Thursday or Friday!
Tomorrow, the University will be running adverts in the national press, promoting the fact that we're offering fully-funded studentships to potential reseach students; 'Doctoral Fellowships', to use the slightly grand title. This is to celebrate the University's fortieth anniversary this year i.e. it's a one-off that other institutions aren't offering, so I expect we'll receive a good amount of interest.
The ads appear tomorrow, so the faculties* got round to preparing the relevant web pages and liaising with central web admin (in practice, me)... today. Planning? Forethought? Nah.
I won't go into detail, as it'd be rude and probably foolish to publicly criticise my colleagues and employers, but a lot of links have been amended today, a few rather important pages have had to be recoded from scratch, and a couple of people have required extended e-lectures on rather basic html.
Somehow I didn't find time for lunch, and drank rather too much tea (I drink it with one sugar and a little milk, and used a full pint of milk between 09:00 and 18:00); the sucrose and caffeine are suddenly wearing off.
*: Faculties are administrative groupings of academic departments e.g. Arts & Humanities, Applied Sciences, etc., not what Americans would understand as 'Faculty' i.e. 'the teaching staff'.
26 February, 2004
A spectacular sunset, seen as I was leaving work. Click on the image for an an enlargement.
24 February, 2004
Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?
I had major problems getting online this weekend.
On Friday evening, my phone line was a bit crackly, but its ability to carry digital data was far worse, the modem audibly struggling to connect to my ISP. Once online, data transfer was appallingly slow, and within a minute or so, I was disconnected. Checking e-mail was a challenge, uploading revised web pages or images a near-impossibility. I checked everything: modem, cable, junction boxes; I even inspected the cable linking my house to the telegraph pole, but found nothing. Connectivity to my backup ISP was no better, so I deduced that there was either a problem with the modem hardware or the local telephone exchange. I couldn't do anything about either once offices and shops closed on Saturday, so had to wait it out.
Internet access wasn't much better yesterday, so I was dreading working from home today, but it seems the problem was with the external phone network, and that it was fixed overnight, as everything has been fine today.
It's a little disturbing to note how much I missed it. If I'd been able, I probably wouldn't have wanted to go online, but the knowledge that I was unable to connect (or rather, I could, but uploading a 54kb file last night took over 40 minutes and 27 logins) was annoying.
Well. That was a fascinating narrative, wasn't it? Whatever; I think it's worth posting anyway, just in case anyone else experiences the same thing and wonders whether others have too.
24 February, 2004
Out of office
I'm working from home today and tomorrow. The trades union representing lecturers and computer-related technical staff, the Association of University Teachers (AUT), is striking over long-term pay deals, and campus will be picketed. The AUT is only one of several unions on campus, so all other staff are expected to attend work as normal, and I'd have no qualms about crossing a picket line, but my boss kindly gave me the option of working from home instead (she is doing so too).
"Lecturers and computer-related technical staff..."? Yes, that's me - the AUT is the union I'd be expected to join, if I was a member of any union, but I'm not.
On the whole, I don't particularly like working from home, with the dual problems of being too comfortable during the first half of the day (it would be easy to stay in bed that little longer, and be distracted by personal projects) and not having a distinct stopping point at the end of the day (in the past I've kept going, sometimes as late as 22:00 before realising I haven't eaten); I had far too much experience of that lifestyle during my PhD. Just for a couple of days, though, it's okay.
23 February, 2004
Y'know the wonderful waking moment of realisation that it's a Saturday, and hence not a work day? I had that this morning. Lovely.
But today is Monday. ARGH! That was a really horrible way to start the week.
20 February, 2004
A bit nippy
I don't mean it was cold this morning, though there was a frost. I mean that I cycled to work astonishingly quickly: 3.36 miles took 14 mins, which is 2-3 mins faster than usual over a distance 0.14 miles shorter than usual. The distance is easily explained as taking an abnormally tighter line, but it was the absolute speed that was surprising. I typically reach 27mph on one particular downhill section; I can't 'go for it' as it's also a curve, with a relatively major junction at the axis, so I need to take care. However, for once I accelerated after the hill, holding 30mph for a few hundred metres. Trivial for a car, of course, or even for a racing bike, but about as fast as I've ever done on this one (a hybrid mountain/road bike). It wasn't an effort, either - I stayed above 25 mph for the next couple of hundred metres, too (usually 20mph, max; 12-15 in a headwind).
I'll have to try that again, when I'm not watching for ice on the road!
Incidentally, I forgot to make a note of it on the anniversary, but I've been riding with a bike computer for over a year, and the current total is 1970 miles (3283 km) since 1 Feb. 2003, the vast majority of which was just commuting to work.
18 February, 2004
Just a pretty sunset, of no great significance.
Okay, here's something: this was the first evening this year on which I've been able to cycle home without lights at the normal 'home time'.
The photos are here; click on them to enlarge.
10 February, 2004
Today I am 400 days away from being 400 months old.
On 12 March, I will be 17 million minutes old.
5 February, 2004
Balconette on a bike
The fortnightly leaflet advertising bargains at Aldi has just come through the letterbox, stuffed inside the local free paper.
Predictably, it includes Valentine offers, including the usual tacky lingerie, champagne truffles (which sound foul), cheap rosé wine and skin-tight, all-in-one lycra cycling suits. Eh? Kinky, or just odd?
For those who regard Valentine's Day in much the same way as me (and, thankfully, Helen), the other side of the leaflet advertises angle grinders and orbital sanders....
Semi-random observation: my father, in Norway, has received junk mail leaflets like this from local shops for at least a decade, which I noticed because they were uncommon in my mail in the UK. However, over the last couple of years, the volume of this 'genre' of junk mail has increased; I think there's a correlation between that and the expansion of mainland European retailers in the UK - Aldi is German, to give one example.
4 February, 2004
Lots of weather
Last week we were threatened by severe winter weather (a threat which didn't materialise in Lancaster, but that's not the point). This week it's flooding, due to rainfall.
Heavy rain fell all day on Saturday; not heavy showers or sustained light rain, but sustained heavy rain. Not a problem for me; I just stayed in for 42 hours from Friday to Sunday. Sunday and Monday were okay, but the rain began again that evening and by yesterday the water table was at the surface, even on high ground, so further rain had nowhere to go. The storm water drain in my street was full, and this was at the top of Lancaster - I can only wonder what was happening in town.
Cycling to work, I saw sports fields under water, and the tiny Burrow Beck was in flood, about a metre (call it 3') above the normal level, five times its usual width, and with standing waves more usual on a major river. I was momentarily concerned to see it had already reached the top of two bridges, which could easily have become blocked forming unstable dams - when that happened on the (much larger) River Roeburn in 1967, a large proportion of Wray village was swept away, even stone-built terraced housing. I've been past again today, and there a couple of fresh gouges in the stonework of one and the council have installed a barrier deflecting floating debris away from the other, so it's in hand.
The rural section of the route to work was totally flooded, but only to a depth of 10cm (4"), which wasn't a problem.
So, fairly trivial for me, but my daily route largely follows a ridge of high ground, so I saw little of the impact elsewhere. Apparently the Lune was extremely high through Lancaster, and A. was sent home early from his work placement in Kendal, as the Kent was flooding over a large area of southern Cumbria. The national news reported major flooding, particularly in North Wales. Capel Curig, Gwynedd received 167mm (6.5") of rain within 24 hours - four times the average February rainfall in London. The Guardian adds a further statistic: that Capel Curig has received 426mm of rain since Saturday, equivalent to half of London's average annual rainfall. The day was also anomalously warm, with Hawarden, Clwyd (where I went to school) registering the second highest 3 Feb. temperature ever, 16.2°C (the highest ever 3 Feb. temperature was yesterday too, in Yorkshire).
More heavy rain this morning. My boots and waterproofs, already challenged yesterday, seem to have given way today, and I'm looking forward to 'home time', so I can get changed. However, if that's the worst I have to worry about, I'm better off than much of the country.
28 January, 2004
Bizarre spell checking
For no apparent reason, my spell checker wanted to change the phrase '... sky cleared...' in that last post to '... skyclad...'. It's not even as if 'sky' and 'cleared' were misspelled.
Bloody hippy coders....
28 January, 2004
After the anticipation I mentioned last night, it was probably inevitable that nothing would happen. An hour or so after I posted that entry, the sky cleared, and remained so until at least midnight. This morning, the ground was clear and there wasn't much of a wind. I thought last night's rain had frozen onto cars and the road, but no, it was liquid, so the cycle ride to work was entirely routine. I wasn't even cold.
Later this morning it was cold out, with a cutting wind, but there was still no snow until 13:00, when the real Arctic stuff started to fall - tiny, dry flakes totally unlike the typical large, damp clumps we usually see. The clumps tend to melt on contact with the ground, so it requires a sustained fall for surfaces to acquire a noticable covering. In contrast, the view out of my window was white-over within five minutes of the snow's onset today.
Then it stopped again, the skies cleared, and now, after four hours, the snow has almost all gone. I just hope the meltwater hasn't already refrozen; I'm leaving for home on time for once, just before dusk, to minimise the risks.
To give the forecasters credit, I think we've just been lucky in Lancaster; conditions elsewhere in the UK have been worse.
27 January, 2004
Something's on the move...
For the last six days, weather forecasters have been warning the UK to brace for severe winter weather, possibly the worst for years, as winds change to blow direct from the Arctic. Conditions are expected to switch from the unseasonably warm, wet January we've had to date, with daytime temperatures around 10°C, plummeting within a matter of hours to daytime temperatures of -1°C. With steady winds in excess of 35mph, wind chill is going to be severe. The first real snowfall of the season is anticipated, which has been refined in the last couple of hours to a forecast of snow, brief rain, severe cold, then more snow by the morning rush hour i.e. snow melted by road salt, which will be sufficiently diluted by rain to freeze, in time to accept the second snowfall, itself coinciding with the busiest period on the roads.
This is the first ever time I recall actually anticipating bad weather, and tracking it on successive forecasts; the first time I've glanced from a weather radar sequence on my PC monitor to a perfectly clear sky outside, knowing it's about to change drastically. I frequently time my departure from work to meet gaps shown in the rain radar, but this feels ominous; I'll even use the word 'portentious'.
Reader outside the UK mightn't understand the reaction to this shift in the weather; by global standards, these aren't extreme temperatures or wind speeds, and a few centimetres of snow might seem trivial. However, there are a few points to note.
Firstly, and maybe most trivially, the immediacy of the change is rather shocking. UK average temperatures rarely drop by ten degrees within a matter of hours. A gradual trend allows acclimatisation and might even go almost unnoticed, but a sudden drop *feels* even colder than the thermometer says!
Secondly, though the extremes aren't that extreme, the temperature shift passes through a critical range for the properties of water. At -2°C, the weight of a person walking on lying snow will melt it, wetting and severely chilling his/her feet, or refreezing and reducing safe traction (both on that individual's feet and on the pavement, affecting other pedestrians). At -20°C, lying snow is frozen, so is somewhat less hazardous. Similarly, relatively warm snow falling on a person walking (or cycling...) will melt, magnifying the effect of temperature and wind chill more than really cold snow bouncing off dry.
Thirdly, the UK simply copes very badly with even mild winter conditions. Buildings, and especially their water supplies, are inadequately insulated, so pipes burst and hundreds die of hypothermia in their own homes. British drivers tend to have neither the training nor experience to travel safely over ice or the thinnest coating of snow. Bizarrely, the nation reacts as if each winter is the first ever, and that it's inconceivable that frozen water might fall from the skies, so year after year, a single snowy morning brings road and rail networks to a halt.
In countries like Norway, real winter weather is to be expected, and lifestyles / social provision have evolved to accommodate it. Houses are well-insulated and often even triple-glazed (as I said earlier, this is the first house I've occupied since 1990 which has had double-glazing), and drivers proceed sensibly on totally snow-covered roads, at sensible speeds using studded winter tyres.
Uh oh. In the time I've taken to write this, the stars have vanished, the sky has acquired the uniform orange of street lights on low cloud, and the road is wet, though it's not raining or snowing right now. It's almost here...
26 January, 2004
The sun had risen only a few minutes earlier, illuminating the sky which in turn illuminated the ground, but direct sunlight had yet to reach the fields. Presumably combining the colours of the grass and sky, the heavy frost was a startling shade of turquoise for a short period; contrasted against the still-dark hedges and trees, it seemed to glow (click to enlarge the image).
25 January, 2004
Speaking of dieting
I had an interesting conversation with Andy last night, paradoxically over a rich meal at a restaurant.
To freely paraphrase Andy, and probably distort his meaning, he is annoyed by people who make a big deal of being on a diet, who pointedly stare wistfully at food whilst complaining their diet doesn't allow such 'naughty' lapses. As Andy says, if one misses cream cakes (or whatever) to that extent, one should acknowledge reality, eat the cream cakes, and accept the consequences; if denial is such a hardship, it isn't worthwhile.
I view the motivation differently: there is pleasure in denial. To exert self-control makes one feel good about ones self, rather more than the fleeting pleasure of surrendering to temptation, with subsequent self-loathing.
I agree that extending secret, personal satisfaction to vocal self-righteousness is annoying, but I can understand the (subconscious) reasoning.
As an observer, it would indeed be preferable for someone to practice self-denial without trying to transfer guilt onto others, with the unspoken messages "how can you eat that in front of me when you know I 'can't' have any?" and "I'm mentally strong and physically healthier for resisting, but you're weak and foolish for eating unhealthily."
However, I'm aware that some need the approval of others, so feel compelled to loudly point out their compliance with self-imposed restrictions. It's even simply social bonding, an opportunity to receive and give praise from/to friends. Only when explicitly analysed does it appear crass self-promotion; unacknowledged, it seems okay.
Undoubtedly this is only a partial view, by someone who has never experienced a weight-reduction diet; at 1.85m and 70-80kg, and male, I've never felt a need to diet. However, at certain times in my life I've needed such external markers to feel good about myself, and I know that 'worthy' denial can boost self image.
Incidentally, the restaurant, 'The Gatehouse', at White Cross, Lancaster, is normally excellent, but for once I was unimpressed. The batter on the chicken, apple and ginger fritters was undercooked, and the cod in mussel sauce was excessively salty; that might sound picky, but we split the bill as £25 each for two courses and rather ordinary wine, so one would expect better. A pity, as otherwise I'd recommend it.
Also incidentally, happy birthday Alizon!
21 January, 2004
Rock Buns, Mark III
After the disappointing first attempt and limited improvement of the second, I've just tried Harriet's rock bun recipe yet again. Exactly as planned, I increased the quantity of butter to 4 ounces (oz) (the recipe says 5 oz but that seemed too much in the first batch). This gave enough moisture to bind the mixture, so I didn't need to add milk. The big difference was that I made each ball of mixture, and hence bun, a little smaller than before, dividing the same total quantity into 17 buns rather than the ten I made last time.
After the first five minutes in the oven, I turned the tray, transferring those in apparently the best part of the oven to the worst, and vice versa. I did this again after 13 mins.
The result: 9 buns (53%) are pretty good. Though pale underneath, they are fully cooked, and pale is far better than the dark wetness of undercooked. A further three were marginally worse, but I'm being picky, so it'd be fair to claim a 70% success rate. The remaining five were still undercooked, two only slightly, three rather more, so I turned them over and returned them to the oven for a further five minutes, just to finish them. They're cooling now.
19 January, 2004
Something odd happened when I switched on my PC at work this morning. It booted okay, I logged in, it displayed the usual 'loading personal settings' message, then went blank, displaying the mouse pointer against a plain black background (that could have been my wallpaper, but I doubt it). I could move the mouse, but there was nothing on which to click. Ctrl/Alt/Del didn't work, I discovered that this new PC doesn't have a 'reset' button, the 'Off' button didn't respond, and there's no power switch on the base unit, so I had to reboot by unplugging at the wall - not ideal.
It wasn't a one-off bad boot, as the same happened again twice more. I rang Staff Help Desk, who'd received a report of exactly the same symptoms on a PC in the English department, two floors away but in a contiguous building. Nothing odd was showing in the network logs, so a tech would have to investigate.
Terrific. A week after receiving my new PC, and that after three month without a work computer of my own, the new one was out of action.
Rather than sit by the 'phone staring into space, I went to the library to check my e-mail at a public-access terminal. Having done that, I popped into ISS (tech support), since Staff Help Desk is based just by the public computers. Three more cases had been reported, spaced well across campus, with nothing obvious linking us.
Back in the office, I thoroughly cleaned my keyboard (I was bored, okay?), then went to lunch early. I ate at my desk as usual, in case the 'phone rang, but it didn't. I tried booting again anyway - and it worked.
Staff Help Desk later told me all cases had resolved themselves - the tech had found no faults. In one sense, that's great, but in another: what if it happens again tomorrow?
13 January, 2004
Rock Buns, Mark II
I had another go at Harriet's recipe this evening. Having learnt from the first attempt, I tried using only 60% of the butter (3 ounces (oz) rather than 5), and modified the cooking settings, giving them 15 mins at Gas 6 (200°C) rather than 12 at 7 (225°C). First time, I'd found the mix too sticky after adding the egg, but it was drastically too dry at that point of the repeat attempt, so I added a little extra butter (½ oz?) and a little milk to bind (as the recipe recommended - I certainly hadn't needed that last time). I might have overdone the milk very slightly, as the result was a little sticky.
After 15 mins I had a 40% success rate - four of the ten buns were about right, being browned on top and cooked through to the base. Unfortunately, the remaining six weren't cooked even nearly as well, and some hadn't even browned. The deciding factor seemed position on the tray. All were at the same height (same shelf of the oven), but those on the near left cooked drastically better than those on the rear right.
I removed the best four, then gave the rest a further five mins (without thinking to turn the tray, so the worst were still in the bad spot). After that, and a few mins cooling, I transferred them to a wire rack; the point at which I'd see whether the undersides had cooked. Not completely. They were far better than last week's batch, but still not quite right.
I'll have to judge after I've tried a few, but my first impression of the taste isn't quite as good as the fist attempt; next time I'll raise the butter quantity, probably to 80% of the listed amount, but not the full 100%.
13 January, 2004
One lump or two?
I don't have access to a fridge at work, so in order to drink tea, I have to buy milk a pint at a time, simply storing it on my desk. Ordinarily, I go through a pint every two days, so fresh milk tends to survive long enough at room temperature. If the shop's milk wasn't entirely fresh, though, it doesn't last so long, and each morning I check whether the milk on my desk is still usable.
This morning, it was fine, so I had a cup of tea at about 10:00. I had another at 11:30, which tasted odd. I checked the milk: it had very definitely 'turned'. It's a surprisingly quick process.
11 January, 2004
Rock Buns, Mark I
One of my christmas presents was Harriet's recipe for rock buns, plus a mixing bowl. I'd finally bought eggs (I don't ordinarily eat them), so gave the recipe a try this afternoon.
All went well until they went in the oven. I was supposed to cook them for 12 mins at gas mark 7 (225ºC). After five minutes they settled and flowed from little spheres into thick pancakes, which didn't seem quite right. After 12 mins, the tops were nicely browned, but heavily cracked, and, like a lava flow, liquid material was visible in the gaps.
As instructed, I waited a minute, then removed them from the oven and transferred them to a wire rack to cool - or tried. That's when I discovered that they were properly cooked on the upper surface and sides, but virtually raw underneath. If I'd left them longer, the tops would have blackened. They'd simply cooked too quickly, and the heat hadn't penetrated.
I wasn't sure what to do, so I let them cool for a while on the baking try (I couldn't transfer them), but they only solidified slightly as the temperature dropped. I flipped them over, and it was even more obvious that they were undercooked, as the inner material was much darker than the cooked edges, and shiny, i.e. still wet . Finally, I put them back in a hot oven for another 5-7 mins, upside-down, so more cooked and they were at least rendered safe to eat, if a little moist and chewy.
Having spoken to a couple of people, two faults may have been significant. Firstly, Harriet may have advised the use of too much butter; 5oz (ounces; 1oz = 28g) together with 8oz flour, 5 oz sugar, 5 oz dried fruit and an egg seems rather a lot, and that might have caused them to flow and flatten to the extent they did. Secondly, the combination of temperature and time mightn't have been quite right for my oven.
So, not perfect, but a useful exercise, and the results certainly taste good. I'll try the recipe again in the week, once I've eaten the first batch, and I think I'll experiment.
11 January, 2004
I crashed my bike last night. Swerving to avoid a small dog in the road, I skidded on the wet surface. I stayed upright, but recovery left me heading directly towards a wall, travelling fairly quickly. I only had time to straighten the handlebars before hitting, head on. I don't remember the following couple of seconds, but I wasn't hurt; I have a bruise on my right thigh that I didn't notice at the time, and the sides of my left knee were tender this morning from being squeezed between the frame and forks. There was lime dust on my left foot and knee, and bizarrely the back of my right shoulder, from hitting the wall, but the bike took vitually all of the impact. I lost my hat, then found it perched on top of the 2m wall.
The bike is absolutely fine - almost. The chain came off, but everything is aligned correctly and it went straight back on. The wheels are fine, without even a bent spoke. The curved bar ends of the handlebars obviously hit the wall (lime dust and scuffs), but their shape seems to have allowed them to flex.
A similar curve, in the front forks, is also what seems to have accepted the full force of the crash - the front forks are bent back, so severely that the paint has split. This puts the front wheel almost in contact with the frame (the mudguard held it away slightly), and the wheel fouls the pedals when the handlebars are turned; the bike is unrideable, as it's severely unstable and can't turn corners.
I was stunningly lucky; I was unhurt, and the bike merely needs new forks. I could so easily have hit my head. I always wear a helmet for commuting to work in traffic, but heading across town to watch a DVD with J & Fi, I hadn't bothered. Something of a wake-up call.
8 January, 2004
A couple of months ago, when water started pouring through my office light fitting from a punctured water main upstairs, the occupants of a nearby office were somewhat amused. Imagine the level of my sympathy when the same thing happened to them this morning....
Someone in the Estates Office is going to have to face tough questions. Evidently there are undocumented mains buried in the concrete between the floors, which might be forgivable in an old, heavily-modified building, but not one built only forty years ago.
7 January, 2004
I did get more comments spam, so as anticipated, I've installed some protection, the highly-respected MT-Blacklist. Installation and configuration couldn't have been easier, a large user base seems to keep the master blacklist extremely up-to-date, and today's spam was seamlessly eliminated, so I'm really happy with it up to now. Recommended for all Movable Type users.
6 January, 2004
Here comes the flood...
The blog received its first comments spam this morning. Three comments on the same entry, pleasant but generic ("Hi.", "Nice site", etc.), all from the same IP address, but from three different anonymous e-mail addresses (yahoo!, msn, etc.) and citing three different commercial URLs.
Presumably I was expected to leave the URLs on the page, for search engines to register on their next trawl, thereby logging and boosting the link popularity of those sites. That's not going to happen; the comments are gone.
I'll have to monitor things for now; at present I can catch everything within a few hours of it being posted, but if I become a permanent target for comments spam or the volume increases, I'll need to install a filter.
5 January, 2004
Bike okay - luckily
For various reasons, my bike (bicycle) is currently stored in my living room, and until today hadn't been used since 23 December. I must have passed it a dozen times in the three full days since I returned to Lancaster, ample opportunities to check it over and ensure it was roadworthy for the first trip to work this year, yet I left it until 08:25 this morning, minutes before leaving. The tyres were a bit soft, and once I was on the road I found that the gears had stiffened (okay, jammed), but it was basically okay. If there had been something more serious, I'd have been very late for work, avoidably. Why did I leave it until the last minute? What does that say about my mind set?
It could be interpreted as laziness, but it's not that I prevaricated, it simply hadn't occurred to me before. Perhaps it says more about an obsessive streak; I was thinking of other things, to the exclusion of all else.
It's never exactly fun to return to an empty house and self-sufficiency after time spent living with loved ones, but I'm not usually that impractical.
2 January, 2004
And back again (Brrr! Pt.3)
I arrived back in Lancaster last night after a week away. I'd left the boiler on to heat the house for half an hour twice each day, but the 'office' (back bedroom) had dropped to 10°C. I put the heating on continuously for four hours last night, and it's been on again for three hours today, yet the temperature is stubbornly remaining below 14°C. Perhaps the warmth needs to penetrate the furniture, etc. before there's 'spare heat' for the air. I've become accustomed to temperatures of at least 20°C indoors over the last week, particularly in bed - last night was quite a shock.
28 December, 2003
Despite some misgivings, I was persuaded to buy a broad-brimmed, Australian bush-style hat in the sales yesterday. I like it, and I'm told it looks good, but I'm a little uncertain how often I'll wear it. Certainly for camping and walking, but I'd like to wear it more often, in town.
I think it's about fifty years since it was fashionable to routinely wear a broad-brimmed hat. Close-fitting woollen hats and baseball caps are common, but more formal brimmed hats just aren't worn, at least by those under seventy. I'm not a person who particularly cares about fashion, but some styles undeniably make certain statements, which one has to acknowledge. Socks with sandals, white socks with black shoes and trousers, and shell-suits are simply to be avoided at all costs; brimmed hats occupy a grey area on the edge of unacceptability, which I'm nervous to explore.
There's a man I occasionally see around Lancaster, perhaps in his late twenties and a total stranger to me but distinctive in that he wears a brimmed hat. In a way I'd like to do the same, but I'm very aware that irrespective of whether it suits him, it makes him look eccentric, and not endearingly so.
[Update 18/02/08: fifty months later, I can report that I've worn the hat less than ten times.]
26 December, 2003
Despite light rain, my mother an I went for a brief Boxing Day walk this afternoon; she took a few photos.
Northop Hall (in Welsh, Pentre Môch) is pretty small, a mile-long main street and adjoining estates housing 1,665 (2001 census), one shop, two pubs, a church, two chapels, a village hall and a primary school. The nearest railway station is three miles away; buses are infrequent. My secondary school (founded by William Gladstone, I think) is three miles away, but the nearest real town is four miles away. The footballer Michael Owen attended the same secondary school (later), and has a house two miles away.
My parents moved to the village in the late 1960s. My father followed work to Norway in 1975 and again in 1978, after which he never returned for more than brief visits, but my mother is still in the same house. I was brought here from the maternity ward, and apart from a year in Stavanger, lived in the village until going to University. Some of the accompanying pictures mightn't have any significance to others, but at least they give a flavour of the place where I grew up.
24 December, 2003
To Wales today, to spend a few days with my mother. The trip was straightforward: 15 mins walk to the railway station, Virgin InterCity to Warrington, on to Shotton by a commuter train, 10 mins walk until my mother met me by car, then 5 mins to my childhood home; 100 miles (~165km) and 2.5 hours in all.
The photo (click to enlarge) is Warrington Bank Quay station. Left to right are Platforms one to four; the two outer lines are Manchester-Wales, whilst the inner lines are the West Coast main line from Glasgow to London. The yellow lines are painted a door's width in from the edge of the platform, but the risk isn't of being hit by an open door, as nowadays interlocking mechanisms prevent doors opening unless a train is stationary; rather it's the risk of being sucked off the platform by trains passing at full speed!
Over the past decade, I've spent a lot of time at this station, arriving from Lancaster at Platform 2, waiting up to 90 mins for a connecting train to Wales at Platform 1, then reversing the process a couple of days later, arriving at Platform 4 and onwards to Lancaster from 3. I've been very bored here, very cold, and, on occasion, profoundly unhappy. During the worst period of my PhD in the mid-nineties, I'd escape Lancaster for a weekend, then change train at Warrington on the dreaded trip back on a Monday morning. Often I'd be sitting at Platform 3, watching a train back to Wales pull into, then leave Platform 1. To my credit, I never boarded it.
22 December, 2003
I went to work via the park this morning, as I happened to have a digital camera with me and the weather was pretty good. Today is the shortest day of the year and technically the first of winter. It's appropriate, then, to see the first snow of the season, not actually in Lancaster (though it is forecast for tomorrow) but at least in sight, on the horizon.
20 December, 2003
I don't know how far the temperature dropped in my house after the heating went off last night, but I had to get up at 03:30 to put more clothes on!
I really need to replace the back door. Though secure enough, it's slightly warped, and is a poor fit in the frame. I left a thermometer in the 'lobby' a couple of days ago, and noticed that when my heated office (back bedroom) upstairs is a comfortable 15 degrees (Celsius, obviously), the lobby is only 7-8 degrees. Unfortunately, it's right by the bathroom, making that room cold too - I've been taking very quick showers recently!
19 December, 2003
Who nicked Bowland Tower?
Today was extraordinarily foggy here in Lancaster. We occasionally see foggy mornings or evenings (or rather, don't, because of the fog...), but it's rare for it to last all day. Cycling to work, I met light mist as I entered the Uni. grounds, though town itself had been clear. Unusually, the mist thickened during the morning, despite the sky directly above being cloudless. By 13:00 it was as dense as I remember seeing on campus, so I pointed a digital camera out of the window (click to enlarge the image).
The density varied all afternoon; campus must have been at the very top of the fog bank. I really wish I'd thought to go up the Tower, as the view from the top must have been wonderful at times, projecting above the cloud.
18 December, 2003
Okay, this isn't funny any more
I need sleep. Now, please.
I'm not at all drowsy, or even tired, but there's just a subconscious dullness; I'm not functioning properly. Since I got in from work this evening, I've washed the dishes and dug out the leftover christmas cards from last year.
And that's it.
Not much to show for four hours, and I simply can't account for the rest of the time. I haven't wasted time watching TV, nor read anything, but it's gone. Now I need to cook and eat my meal, and I still won't have written cards for the people I mightn't see after tomorrow (Friday, when some finish until new year).
18 December, 2003
Yay! I finished my christmas shopping this morning. I finished most of it over a fortnight ago, but a couple of people proved awkward....
I'm very glad to be in a job where I can pop into town before work, buy from virtually empty (of customers) shops, then arrive on campus ~20 mins later than usual, time easily made up at the other end of the day. Far better than braving the city centre on a Saturday or this evening's late-night shopping.
Not that I've bought much from high street shops this year; at least 80% of my purchases have been online.
16 December, 2003
I'm not going to rant about extraneous packaging of groceries (not right now, anyway...) but it does irritate me when checkout staff put my purchases into a bag without asking whether I want one. I tend to visit Sainsburys (supermarket) by bike, carrying everything in a 40-litre rucksack. Is it really that likely that I'd want a carrier bag too? If there's doubt, why not ask?
I tend to buy meat 'off-the-shelf' i.e. vacuum packed, not over the meat/fish counter. The meat is hence sealed in plastic, on a polystyrene tray. Why, then, do the checkout staff attempt to place it in a second plastic bag, itself to go in the rucksack (or carrier bag)?
Just now, I popped out to the shop on campus, for some late lunch. I bought a sandwich, in a rigid plastic pack, and a bag of crisps, in a, er, bag. Yet the checkout person automatically dropped these two small, sealed items into a carrier bag. Why?
15 December, 2003
McAfee's routine periodic check found the 'JS/NoClose' virus/Trojan in my TemporaryInternetFiles. No big deal; cleaned immediately, but noteworthy as my first infection in a very long time, thankfully.
15 December, 2003
First day of the vacation
By which I mean the first working day after the end of the Michaelmas term - I'm not on holiday until the end of 23 December, but the students have gone, so campus was really quiet. It may be a coincidence, but traffic into town at ~17:45 was rather light, too.
Campus is quite a pleasant place without students around; pity we can't operate this way all year!
13 December, 2003
Good start to a family's christmas
Yesterday afternoon my friend A (initial changed) attended her young daughter's school nativity play. Also present were her ex-husband (B), his new partner - and their baby. Bringing the baby was kind of a ****y thing to do, not only hurting A but also (successfully) giving an impression of B as a great father, a paragon of family life.
The daughter (call her C) was due to go home with her father, but as they were leaving, C ran back to her mother; she didn't want to go with B. The shared custody situation, and poor relationship between the parents, meant it just wasn't an option for C to stay with A.
This is so tragic. As A was telling me a couple of hours later, I couldn't think of anything meaningful to say, beyond platitudes. What can one say? No, at the age of 4-5, C won't understand the restrictions placed on the parents. Yes, she will blame A for 'rejecting' her. Yes, there is a good chance that such instances will be remembered in some way, and affect their future relationship.
11 December, 2003
I've got new boots, I've got new boots!
A late birthday present, these arrived yesterday. I'd have had them sooner, but H. didn't know the correct size, not least because I didn't either and had to visit a shoe shop to be measured ;)
9 December, 2003
Did you see that?
I've just reached the hallucination stage of insomnia. It's a good sign, really - it tends to correspond with the onset of better sleeping after a bad patch.
It's difficult to rationalise, but essentially means that though I see perfectly ordinary things, I interpret them wrongly - I don't see things that just aren't there!
An example: this morning I thought my nose was a cat. I saw a cat under my feet and sidestepped to avoid it, then realised it was just the light catching my nose.
Later, cycling to work, I was following a signwriter's van, with the company name across the back, 'Ensign Design". I registered that, and was considering whether the name is justified (Is signwriting a branch of 'design'? It can be.), when I noticed that the word 'design' didn't appear anywhere on the van - it was "Ensign.uk.com" - I'd just extrapolated a similar sounding word into a block of letters of about the right length.
I suppose it happens all the time, but insomnia elevates it from the subliminal.
8 December, 2003
Blog migrated successfully - at last
I didn't want to announce it until I knew it was working, but I've spent far too much time over the past fortnight setting up a blog here at the Ministry domain itself, replacing the remotely-hosted Blogger/Blog*Spot one.
The choice of Movable Type software was straightforward; it's a market-leader with excellent features, user support and a fine logo ;)
Digression: yes, the logo matters - when browsing through the various blogging packages on the web, the Movable Type logo stood out and immediately predisposed me to favour that publishing system.
I knew almost nothing about perl and MySql when I started (and still know little), but the documentation included in the MT download allowed me to follow line-by-line instructions. The instructions did seem to be written for someone with a little more experience, and I struggled in some places, but the problems were almost all with the specific settings of my server space rather than MT itself, which the MT instructions can't realistically be expected to have covered.
I was doing rather well initially; I downloaded MT on Friday evening, 21 November, configured and uploaded it to the server space, then tried to run the installation script. Nothing happened, apart from error messages claiming I was using the wrong password for my MySql database, though the ISP's website (no, I'm not going to promote them with a link) claimed the MySQL password was the same as my usual server login password - I was successfully accessing the server space, so the password was obviously correct. I couldn't see the problem, so contacted the ISP's tech support. The reply was prompt (within 24 hours), but seemed to totally miss the point. Several e-mail exchanges (with a 24 hour delay each time) involved my telling the anonymous support person my login password (very reluctantly - one should never have to reveal a password), to be told they couldn't tell me my password. Eh? I didn't request that - he/she had asked me for it. Confusion ensued, and I finally had to reveal my password again. I was told it was correct - which I'd known from the start - and tech support stopped answering my e-mails. Very poor.
Meanwhile, I'd scoured the MT support fora and studied the documentation, then started to just experiment - it was looking like I'd be unable to use MT unless I changed ISP, so I wasn't too worried about ruining the installation. Luckily, I found that the MySql database was on a different server than my ordinary web space, so I'd been using the wrong address. Okay, an experienced user might have realised that earlier, and would be able to guess the alternative address, but it still should have been documented somewhere.
Once that was sorted, everything else was straightforward - I ran the installation script on 29 Nov (i.e. Day 9 of the process!) and spent much of that weekend configuring the blog settings and CSS/html page templates. Migration of the content from Blogger to MT took a couple of evenings in the week, and I've been tweaking details since then. I still need to learn and implement a few features - pinging blog directories still somewhat evades me as I don't fully understand how it works, nor the specific server addresses I need to ping.
Any thoughts/suggestions about work to date?
28 November, 2003
I've decided: I don't like DreamWeaver. It doesn't have anything like the type and level of functionality that I appreciate in HomeSite. DW is particularly bad (slow) at accessing files across the campus network, and it's not good enough for editing html directly in code view. Maybe it's better in WYSIWYG format, but I don't care; I don't work that way. Hence I'll be dumping DW asap and returning to HomeSite.
26 November, 2003
Follow up: Socialise, or...
In case anyone's been waiting with bated breath, the missing student has been found, at his parents' home. He's been struggling with his course, and plainly isn't getting the vaguest support from his flatmates, so ran away from it all. It doesn't look like he's returning, or if he does it's rather too late to change degree course, so he might need to take a year out and start something new next year.
I believe this is something on which the UK and US higher education system differs. In the UK, a potential student applies to study a specific subject, such as Physical Geography. If accepted, in his/her first year the workload is usually divided equally three ways, between his/her admitting subject and two others; the student gets to choose the secondary subjects (within slight limitations), but the course units in all three subjects are compulsory. Hence, someone registered to study Physical Geography, and also taking Part One Human Geography and Geology, can't take a course unit in, say, Fine Arts.
In Part Two (years two and three), the student drops two subjects (one of which could conceivably be the admitting subject) and studies one as Major. He/she chooses from a range of course units - but within the Major subject alone.
Some courses are more restricted; Medicine, for example, demands 100% of a student's workload in Part One, so there are no Minor subjects. Other Majors only permit relevant Minors.
The negative side of all this is that sometimes a student finds a subject just isn't for him/her, but can't readily switch. As I understand it, the US system is based on credits, whereby the student chooses individual course units, and builds a degree from credits attained by passing those courses. If a student finds a course unit isn't in a subject he/she wants to pursue, it only affects that unit, and the student needn't take any more in that topic area. Not so in the UK - undergraduates have to specialise.
So, the student is alive and well, if stressed and unhappy. That doesn't diminish my concern at his flatmates' attitude - he's okay, but he mightn't have been. Students do go missing; within the last couple of years a very similar situation concluded with the body of a missing student being found in a ditch, and the two suicides on campus within the last year are just those I know about.
To put it in formal terms, the University, and College, has a duty of care to its students, but the students also have a duty of care to one another.
25 November, 2003
I work at a collegiate university; for accommodation, social and welfare purposes, all students are members of a college, independent of whatever academic departments they are registered with. All staff are also members of the colleges, and in addition to my primary job based in central admin, I'm a senior officer of a college.
Whilst I was in the College office this afternoon, a couple of students came in to see the secretary. One of their flatmates hasn't been seen for almost a fortnight, so could one of them have his room? No, they didn't know his name, as he doesn't go out to the bar with them, and just sits in his room, working.
This is someone they've lived with, sharing a kitchen and bathroom, for a minimum of eight weeks, and they didn't have the vaguest apparent interest in his welfare. They knew he had a good frying pan, as they'd repeatedly borrowed it without his knowledge, but beyond that his absence was merely an opportunity for a bigger room.
Maybe I'm misjudging them; maybe this was a way of alerting the College authorities to a potential problem without compromising their laid-back, laddish images. Maybe they're really trying to do the right thing without wishing to seem nosy or worried. Maybe it just seemed appallingly self-centred and juvenile.
24 November, 2003
It's here! Sort of...
When he visited last week, technician Rob suggested I should book my new PC in with ISS (tech support) for it's initial configuration, even though it was still on order, so that by the time it arrived I'd be some way along the queue. Well, I'll still be close to the foot of the waiting list after only six days, but it's arrived!
There's no real point in opening the packaging yet - a beige box is a beige box, to me, so it's not exactly like a second birthday. At least in sealed packaging it'll be reasonably safe, which is important because I'll have to store it under my desk until needed, and I've no doubt it will receive a few accidental kicks.
23 November, 2003
Yay! I overtook the dishes!
I cook. It creates dirty pans and utensils. I eat. It leaves dirty plates and cutlery. I leave the dishes to soak, so washing up is much easier later.
Next meal. I wash the pans & utensils I need, and start cooking. While I'm waiting, I wash the rest of the dishes.
I finish cooking, eat, and leave everything to soak.
This means there's rarely more than 1-2 meals of dishes either in the washing bowl or on the draining rack, but there are always dishes either in the washing bowl or on the draining rack.
But not today. Somehow I broke the cycle - washed everything last night, and put everything away this morning.
Trivial? Totally. Oddly satisfying? Yep.
Incidentally, I don't dry dishes. Others have pet irritations about leaving the toilet lid up, or leaving the lid off the toothpaste. Whatever. Mine is tea towels, which merely remove anything accidentally missed by the washing process, and smear it over all the other dishes, whilst themselves becoming damp growth media for household germs. Worse than pointless.
NP: Pineapple Thief: 'Keep Dreaming' (still the .mp3 sample, whilst I'm waiting for the albums to arrive)
20 November, 2003
At a conservative estimate, I've written somewhere in excess of 15,000 words this week, in various online fora, at the Ministry's website and in e-mails, both work-related and personal. The challenge would be to focus that effort, which I barely notice at the time, in one coherent direction....
19 November, 2003
Nearly there... but not quite
When I came in this morning, my (temporary) PC was off. I'd no idea whether it was a power-saving automatic shutdown, or a 'helpful' porter, but it means last night's hard drive transfer failed.
Having just looked, it seems the PC was set to power down after an hour of inactivity - I'm surprised the transfer process didn't count as 'activity', but I've changed the setting anyway, to 'never off'.
I've spoken to Vince again, and he's going to sent the files again this evening.
18 November, 2003
Nearly back in business
Just spoken to Vince, and he's going to send all my data and config directories (i.e. all but OS & program directories) from the copy of my old hard drive to this one, overnight.
Tomorrow will be my first 'normal' working day in almost three weeks. Three weeks without a computer, for the person most directly responsible for maintaining the University's web presence. Considered that way, it's appalling.
18 November, 2003
A working PC, on my own desk!
Luckily, my day wasn't as pointless as I'd expected. At about 10:30, a technician called in to configure 'my' (L's old) PC, so by early afternoon I was making progress, installing Photoshop, DreamWeaver, etc. (and happily crippling M$ Office). I should be more-or-less fully operational again tomorrow. I'll need another technician to transfer at least some of the contents of my old hard drive to this temporary one, but I should be able to deal with the backlog of routine web editing, if not the ongoing projects.
17 November, 2003
Bugger. Just checked my University e-mail (via the web, as I'm at home), and received a stern e-mail from L. for working off-campus without explicit permission. I thought it was understood that I'd work from home whilst I didn't have access to the computer in the office, but seemingly not.
H. also seems to have inadvertently dropped me in it, too - unluckily, there have been more 'phone calls than usual, and rather than sending me e-mails (which I thought she knew I'd see), she's been leaving post-it notes on my desk. L. had visited the office, seen the notes, dealt with my tasks herself, then sent me the e-mail.
I sent an abject response, and will have to go in tomorrow. I won't have a PC i.e. the means to do anything meaningful, but at least I'll be physically present....
12 November, 2003
A few years ago, it was usual to go to a pub at least four night per week; not drinking heavily, but it was just the way to spend time, socialising with same group of 8-10. It's difficult to pin down exactly, but perhaps around the time most of these friends turned thirty (when I was about 26), that practice tailed-off; it rapidly dwindled to just Fridays, and occasion Saturdays, and more recently it's not even every week, very rarely with more than 4 other people.
The reasons aren't clear - certain people went traveling for periods of six months or so and never got back into the pub routine, or couples broke up and the new partners weren't pub people; whatever, I'd thought the underlying cause was age and attitudes evolving in a more domestic direction. The pub group certainly seemed to fragment into subgroups who spent the same time in each others' homes.
Maybe I was right - now I'm just about to hit 32 this weekend, I'm certainly not the person I was at 26, and don't feel much inclination to celebrate it in a pub with a large group of people. True but sad.
9 November, 2003
Bonfire Night was last night. Or rather, it was 5 Nov. (Wednesday), but Lancaster City Council always saves its big firework display until the nearest Saturday evening.
Castle Hill was as crowded as always, but we found a good spot amongst the graves (it was better than that sounds), able to see a large patch of sky between the trees. I often wonder whether it's better to watch from the castle, with the fireworks going off almost directly above and filling the sky, or from the park almost a mile away and somewhat higher, to get some perspective against the skyline. Last year I did go to the park, but in heavy rain, so that wasn't a fair test. A locally renowned photographer, Jon Sparks, has certainly captured some excellent images from there. I noticed that 3-4 people around us at the castle were pointing compact digital cameras at the sky, but I really doubt they would have caught much of the spectacle, with coloured explosions filling the whole sky, not just the area of a viewfinder. I'd have thought it better to forget the camera and capture the memories.
I successfully managed to blot out the noise of the crowd - in the past there have been annoying loud conversations and people pushing past, but this time there was just the bangs of the fireworks, half-drowning the jingoistic music from the council's PA's - mainly Elgar, it seemed. The fireworks themselves were excellent, particularly those that went up, burst, then burst again as the individual sparks fell. I was slightly disappointed that there were fewer really big rockets than in past years, at least at the start of the display - I love to hear the deeper thud of their launch, and watch the faint, fast-moving glow as each ascends far above the main explosions, then the perfectly spherical explosion of brilliant colour or pure white, sometimes changing colour as it fades. All week the weather had been very windy, so perhaps the display team had withdrawn anything that could have been blown significantly out of the controlled area. Saturday evening itself was relatively still, so it seems a few of the biggest rockets were reinstated towards the end, and the finale was no disappointment. An excellent 20 mins.
I'd been in something of an antisocial mood all week, and could quite happily have gone for a quiet drink in a pub afterwards or even just gone home, but it was decided we'd go to Vicarage Fields where as usual a large bonfire had been lit. Almost everyone I've known socially in the last half dozen or so years seems to turn up there each year, and that's not to say I relish seeing many of them.... Another negative point is that it means about 100 people try to get served at the same small quayside pub at once, which isn't a pleasant experience. To their credit, the owners had taken the excellent initiative of erecting a beer tent at the back of the pub, by the fire, so the crush to get served was almost negated. I didn't fancy a drink - it was still only 20:30 and I wasn't in the mood anyway, but we walked round the fire, the others stopping to talk to various people. As the fireworks had started at 20:00, I'd noticed the fire really catching, and flames reaching high above the trees. By the time we got to it, it had died back drastically, but the colour of the flames indicated that it was still remarkably hot - though the tips of the flames were yellow-white in the cold night air, the base of the flames and the overall impression of the fire was transparent blue - quite a bit hotter than the average domestic fire!
As it happens, there weren't many people we knew at the fire, and none we'd choose to spend the rest of the evening with, so we did go to a pub. The first choice, the Three Mariners (one of the oldest pubs in Britain, apparently, and currently failing because the building site next door is driving custom away) seemed full, unless people were voluntarily drinking outside in a builders' yard, so we went a bit further, to The Bobbin, a gothy pub I rather like. From there to The Whittle (which has been The Golden Lion for about as long as I've known it, about eight years, but it's not easy to change a pub's traditional name!) as there was a guitarist playing (okay, but I didn't find her material compelling), then to The Gregson because its on the way home and open until midnight. I don't think we stayed until closing, but it was straight home from there.
6 November, 2003
On to Plan 'C', it seems
When L. received a new office PC, she kept the old one, to work from home (probably true!). Since I don't have an office PC at all at present, she brought her old one back to campus for a while. Unfortunately, the network configuration wasn't quite as she'd thought, and I can't log in as myself. This prevents access to files in my network space and top-level server admin directories that aren't even visible to other users, and understandably L. doesn't want me logging in as her, with access to her e-mail, etc.
I've spoken to ISS, and they'll send a technician whenever possible, but until then (could be several days), I still have no PC at work, a full week after the flood. I've had limited access to e-mail via public-access terminals in the library and the ancient 486/early Pentium in the College back office, which has also given me access to Notepad and Word, but the tasks on which I've been able to work have mostly been of low-priority, and my 'real' work has been at a total standstill.
5 November, 2003
Nope, it's dead. I've just spoken to Vince about my PC, and it's beyond hope. The hard drive works okay, just so long as it remains in a bucket of dry ice. At room temperature, nothing. This is compounded by a major fault on the motherboard, which renders the whole thing too expensive to justify repairing.
Vince is going to copy the entire contents of my hard drive to some network space, where it can remain until I obtain a new PC, so I haven't lost anything, which is some compensation.
It seems I'll be spending the rest of the day researching and ordering a new PC. Some in my sort of job would enjoy customising a new computer to their personal requirements, but I'm not that type of computer user; I don't care what's inside the beige box, so long as it does what I need. Luckily, the University only buys from a limited range of suppliers, and they offer guidance on specific hardware packages, so I'm not totally lost. One thing even I appreciate is that the existing monitor, keyboard and mouse are fine, so I can spend that extra money on higher-spec components in the base unit itself.
3 November, 2003
I thought the problems with my office PC had been resolved, but according to technician Vince, it's still throwing up (error messages) and he's still working on it. He says he'll let me know when it's repaired (neatly pre-empting my e-mails for progress reports...), but at least that implies it is repairable.
2 November, 2003
Private world public - and always was
I don't think I'd heard of loganberries until I was in my twenties. In case you still haven't, they're almost identical to raspberries, only longer and less sweet. I first heard of them when my father started to grow them in his garden a few years ago, as his grandfather had done. I presume his mother, a keen gardener, did so too, but I was too young to register them being other than raspberries. My point is that until today I thought loganberries were unusual and little known.
I've just eaten a Sainsbury's low-fat fruit yoghurt, presumably produced in the tens of thousands and supporting a significant proportion of the British fruit growing industry. The flavour of this pot? Loganberry.
31 October, 2003
Home early from work today. Merrily working away at ~13:30, trying to ignore the sound of drilling upstairs, I was surprised to hear running water. This took a few seconds to locate - one doesn't usually expect a cascade of water from the lights. Coincidentally, the drilling had stopped abruptly.
Having turned the PCs off, cleared Helena's desk and shoved a bin under the waterfall, I went to find a builder. Strangely enough, they were in the adjoining office, staring at a drip from the ceiling. They seemed excited to see me....
It took a while to turn the water off, so they found various large buckets to cover the floor, and I switched off the PCs - there was no urgent risk to their power point, across the room, but splashes wouldn't be healthy. It seems a builder had drilled through the concrete floor above, hitting an undocumented hot water supply. That hole was 4-5m away, but the nearest route through was my light fitting. The water pressure seemed to increase for a while, and even shut off, the waterfall took almost an hour to diminish to a trickle, and was still steadily dripping at 15:30. Beyond shutting off the water and cleaning up Helena's desk and the floor, the builders couldn't do much, though they returned after an hour to puncture suspicious bulges in the ceiling.
Luckily, Helena had still been at lunch when it first happened, as she would have been soaked instantly. Her side of the room was unusable, so I sent her home, but it seems I was expected to turn my PC back on and continue as normal! However, it wouldn't boot - no response from the hard drive. I couldn't find a problem, so called a tech; he took it away for diagnosis, and NRT left the building.
Monday could be boring, or brief, if I don't have a PC....
29 October, 2003
It's only 16:15, but it's been a long day, starting with a puncture, my first for at least three months. Note to the military: kevlar, as used in bullet-proof vests and 'thorn-proof' bike tyres, doesn't stop drawing pins.
The repair made me late for a meeting, leaving just enough time to reach campus, buy milk and make a cup of tea but not drink it before having to leave for another, two-hour meeting, then a further hour-long debriefing/discussion session. Only then did I have an opportunity for my first drink in 12 hours or so, followed by my first food in at least 16 hours. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the day has been a bit of a struggle.
NP:Staind, '14 Shades Of Grey'. S'okay; nothing special.
23 October, 2003
It seems I've just exceeded my allocation of 400 tracks played via LAUNCHcast this month, so I get them at low bandwidth, in mono, without the ability to skip those I dislike, until the end of the month. The playlist seems to have shrunk, too, unless it's just coincidence that 3 of the last 5 tracks have been from the same album (Jethro Tull, 'Roots to Branches'), and the remaining two were from the same album (Pink Floyd, 'PULSE').
The alternative would be sign up to the subscription service - high bandwidth, no repetitive ads (which are all US anyway, so utterly pointless in the UK) and unlimited skipping.
But the 'service' isn't available outside the USA, at any price. Thanks, Yahoo!
That said, I still quite like LAUNCHcast. My one criticism is that I suspect there's some editorial bias, with certain, more commercial, artists being 'pushed' more than I'd expect from the preference profile I've established, and non-multinational-label bands being played less than I'd expect if my stated preferences were the sole playlist criterion.
NP: Jethro Tull 'Beside Myself', on LAUNCHcast - lucky I like the song!
22 October, 2003
That's Latin, that is. Means 'buyer beware', and would be advice for those using Amazon UK's 'Marketplace' facility.
In principle, it's a good system, whereby an item's page on the Amazon site offers the new item direct from Amazon at one price, plus an opportunity to buy it from other Amazon users instead, typically second-hand and hence cheaper. The transaction is covered by Amazon's usual terms and secure payment software, and the independent sellers are supposed to offer the same standard of service as Amazon itself; the item should be dispatched within 1-2 days. The main attraction for me is that sometimes a third party seller immediately has an item that Amazon might take 4-6 weeks to find, if ever.
However... the standard of service doesn't always match that ideal. In the last month, one of my purchases was a fortnight late when I sent a reminder e-mail, then took a further week to arrive in poor packaging. Another purchase is a week late, and counting.
The point of this post is that the Amazon pages display feedback from past customers; if I'd realised and read the feedback before buying, I'd have known that both sellers have 'poor/awful' ratings, mainly for delayed dispatching. So, if you're tempted, check the feedback first!
Why Amazon continues to associate itself with such blatantly unreliable sellers is another question....
NP: Jethro Tull, 'This Free Will' (on LAUNCHcast, not the 'Roots To Branches' album)
20 October, 2003
Though bright & sunny, it's a cold day in Lancaster. I think today's was the first (visible) frost of the season, but I hadn't noticed until I'd already left the house, in fairly lightweight clothing. A disadvantage of double-glazing is its selling point; that one is isolated from the outdoor environment. I grew up in a double-glazed house, but everywhere I've lived since I was 18 has been single-glazed, so I'm used to feeling the outside temperature inside, or seeing condensation on the windows. I suppose I'll experience a few inappropriately-dressed days before I get used to different cues.
16 October, 2003
Am I being obscure?
I was asked to add a link to the Uni. homepage, entitled
"University seals deal for accommodation"
To which I responded:
Seals can play cards? Should we be promoting gambling?
No-one understood. Seems perfectly clear to me....
14 October, 2003
Caring for Your Introvert
If you want to know me better, try this remarkably accurate article. It's one of those profound pieces that seem obvious afterwards.
9 October, 2003
By the numbers
I was stuck behind a National Express coach on my way home from work a few minutes ago; slow traffic provided plenty of time to study the company's new (to me, anyway) logo, a prime example of corporate blandness.
A red circle overlapping a larger blue circle on a white background, with a curved 'freehand' white arrow linking the circles. The tail of the arrow makes the red circle 'smile', whilst the upward curve of the arrow is a similar cliche indicating positivity. The arrow links the smaller red circle (you are here) to the larger blue circle (the world), indicating "we'll take you places". The red, white & blue colour scheme reinforces the 'national' element of the UK company.
All very inoffensive, as design-by-committee tends to be, but hardly inspiringly creative.
The typography is quite good on the website (though not 'in the field', on the coach itself), with the word 'National' being as long as the graphic element is wide, and the larger 'Express' off to the side in a welcome break from the obvious.
NP: Sigur Rós, Boston, USA, 15/03/03
7 October, 2003
Limited release for 'Underworld'?
Has anyone in the UK seen this vampires 'n' werewolves film?
Don't get me wrong; I've yet to hear a favourable review of it, and probably wouldn't go to see it (though Kate Beckinsale in latex has an undeniable attraction...). It's just that I haven't seen the slightest hint of it having released in the Lancaster/Morecambe area. It seems 'Calendar Girls' is doing well, and is being given extended runs at local cinemas, but in the age of multiplexes I'm surprised films get totally displaced from the schedules.
NP: Opeth, Washington DC, 21/07/03
6 October, 2003
Back to school
Ten minutes after waking this morning, I opened the curtains. Dull, drizzly. Ugh. By the time I'd had a drink and checked my e-mail, the rain had stopped. Yay! If I'd left the house then, I'd still be dry. Not dressed, but dry.
As I was about to leave the house, the drizzle returned. By the end of the street, it was heavy. By the top of the hill (0.3 miles/0.5km), it was extraordinarily heavy; the sort that saturates everything, instantly. Lancaster rarely receives rain that heavy, and I should know, having (automatically) logged rainfall every 15 mins for five years during my PhD research, supported by a further 40 years of daily rainfall records. It's not that the drains couldn't cope, but the water wasn't running off the surface fast enough, so the whole thing was submerged.
Did I mention that I cycle to work? About 90% of a typical month's travel is either within cycling distance (~5 miles/8km) or within walking distance of a railway station, so I don't have my own car. I have a licence, of course, so could hire a van or car if I really needed.
Needless to say, the 3.5 mile/5.8km ride wasn't fun.
6 October, 2003
Just occasionally, a weekend does its job, and I wake refreshed and ready for the working week. This was one. Not a bad morning - for the first ten minutes.
5 October, 2003
Cold morning, here; the first cold one of the year, at least so far as I've noticed. Apparently September was the warmest on record i.e. since 17-something, though admittedly that's in London, which doesn't have quite the same climate as N.W. England anyway. Point is, we went from an extremely hot summer to a warm onset of autumn, then normality has just reasserted itself!
The boiler is on, the pipes are creaking, so the chill should recede soon. I suppose I'd better wait it out back in bed ;)