Thursday 29 November 2012

Freetards reprieve?

Remember my comments earlier about photo hosting and photobucket? Well, it seems a number of other people are also finding the 'free' service less impressive these days, and one of them posted a link to this article comparing hosts.

So I shall be exploring, but either Minus or Abload look like good alternatives to PB.

Grateful for not insignificant mercies.

Like our fridge.

We've been married 31 years, and in that time have had just 3 fridges. Our first was a princely £5 from a friend at work, and lasted (if I remember correctly) about 6 years and 2 house moves. The next I have no specific memory of - it's just a fridge, you know? It died a few years after moving up to Oxfordshire, when we bought our present Electrolux.

So Tuesday night I got home from shopping, bunged the cold stuff away in there and then realised it wasn't doing anything. This is significant because it's tended to keep running all the time, rather than stopping, and occasionally freezes food because it gets too cold, even on the most minimal setting. Items in the fridge itself were cool still, and after fiddling about with the temperature switch I just packed it, closed the door and went internet-searching for a replacement.


Perfect timing before Christmas. Thanks Father - you know what we need.

But next morning our fridge was cold and apparently working fine. It's scruffy but working, and for that I'm grateful. Hey, that sounds a bit like me!

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Facebook and Google+

Are starting to find a place in the on-line conversational ecosystem.

Facebook is where you stay connected with people (mostly) talking rubbish.

Google+ is where you talk to people who are interested and interesting about theology or guitars or how oil refineries mess up the environment.

I can see this is going the way of newspapers, where a small number will read the Times, Torygraph or even (spit) the Grauniad, while millions buy the sun and mirror.

How can God possibly be at work in that?

Do you ever look at the politics, the wrangling, harsh and frequently bitter words spoken by those who have dug deep trenches in the their battles against those they disagree with, portraying their enemies as unscrupulous, wicked, or even worse, liberal or conservative, and wonder how God could possibly be at work in that?

So it seems that the CofE has once again stepped back from appointing women as bishops, at least some bits of it. Ironic then that the first woman bishop has already been appointed in Africa, with the church there well known for its stand again immorality.

Ho hum.

But I do genuinely wonder if this rejection isn't the dying final thrust of a hardline group of anglo-catholic conservatives, but a little more of the grace of God for His church, so desperately running after a credibility that the world will never give it. Could He be saying "come back and believe me - in what I've said and what I've had written for you. Your credibility is in me, rather than from a world that you can never hope to satisfy and whose demands to you will endlessly grow".

It's hard to see God at work in the church, but now and again, I think there are signs.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Is there light at the end of the tunnel for freetards?

I guess some people would classify me as a leech.

I happily use all the 'free' services available on the internet for my own pleasure and entertainment, picking and choosing without guilt those that work best for me. And most of the time this approach has been completely fine.

The above image is the 1001st I have uploaded to photobucket.

When I first started using the service sometime in 2005 or '6 they offered a 'free' starter account with various levels of paid account that had increased functionality. Prior to that my images had been on who compressed the life out as part of the upload process (unless you had a paid account) and would not allow direct linking (unless you had a paid account). About 3 years ago they finally went bust after other freetards moved en masse to image hosts like photobucket, Flikr, Picasa etc. That's business and all that, sad, but how it is in the fast-movng world of t'intarweb.

Since clocking over the 1000 images level - probably the equivalent of half a gigabyte of images - Photobucket has been misbehaving and only accepting a single image at a time. Now it might be purely coincidental, especially as someone independently mentioned that it was misbehaving for them too, but I wondered if I'd passed the 'enough is enough' barrier and it was time to start paying for use, but further investigation seems to show that there is no longer a subscription model available for photobucket, and they've become a completely 'free' host, supported by advertising. And all those millions of Fox news subscribers (Fox own Photobucket) of course.


OK, so what alternatives are there?

Well, I'd consider not leeching free services any more, but for Smugmug the lowest rate is still $40 a year, and that's a bit more than I want to spend as a purely casual image poster. 500px already has me as a member, but there were restrictions (forget what they were now) on the account and I find the linking system there a complete faff.

So I dunno now.

Suggestions for an alternative host are welcome, though I reserve the right not to act on them for purely arbitrary reasons or just plain laziness. A key part is that I retain control of the images (so Facebook, Picasa, Flikr are out) and that the service is fast, easy, convenient and not too expensive (say $20 PA tops, prefer free).

And this also begs the question; what about blogs?

Google appears to have the free blogging market sewn up with blogger, though there are other players too. Right now I'm happy with TBOTAM and hope this appearance (and address) will continue functioning for another 9 years if required, though I'd prefer if the template would re-size to match the browser window, like the old one did, instead of being fixed width. 

Friday 16 November 2012

Would you take your own advice?

I had a 35-40 min conversation with an ex-colleague and friend earlier today, and among the many things we discussed was smartphones and replacement computers.

Well wash my mouth out - I may have just recommended someone get an iPhone and a Mac.

My friend is smart, clever (not always the same thing) and an experienced manager and scientist, yet at the same he's not a computer nerd and sometimes struggles with changes in technology. He's been using the same Dell laptop and Nokia candybar for the last 4 years, and they're both getting pretty tired, to the point where they are starting to look a bit 'unprofessional'. He also travels with his computer, and the Dell is a big lump to lug with its extended battery pack.

So we discussed options.

The very worst is the present one I have: Android phone and Apple computer. The lack of compatibility and synchronisation is terrible, and I've still not spent the hours necessary to remove the many hundreds of duplicated contacts created by the Macbook when it tried to sync between entourage & contacts, then contacts and the phone.

So we talked about phones first. The thing is, he wants a small phone with a large screen. He wants a phone that's small and light enough to carry comfortably in a trouser or shirt pocket with a screen that's large enough to read emails, web pages and articles on. If possible it would be big enough to take around instead of a computer. His wife has an Android phone, but he's stayed well clear until now.

In the end I suggested either an ultrabook (lightweight windows based laptop that's somewhere between an ordinary laptop and a Macbook air for those who don't know) or a Macbook like mine, plus either an Android/WinPho to go with the windows machine or an iPhone for the Macbook. To be honest I think my friend is a natural candidate for Apple, as he's a man who needs to do without wanting to worry about how it's done. But he's also not rolling in cash, and apple solutions do require an excess of green stuff to be thrown at the various toys and accessories that make life 'easy'. I could well imagine this little lot costing £2000 if bought outright.

But even so, wash my mouth out!

It may also be a sign that making the jump to Snow Leopard and an SSD was a good thing. Somehow the little changes that have been made between 10.5 and 10.8 have made it less intrusive and plain annoying, and as such much more bearable. I STILL wonder if I could actually work using a Linux install running Office under WINE, except that wouldn't solve the phone issues. My present contract expires at the end of the year and I'm also going to have to make some similar decisions, considering that the Macbook is 4 years old too.

We'll see.

Less bad this morning

I had anticipated an easy day yesterday, having completed a data set for a customer the day before.

Then we started email tennis.

And then I ended up with another 2 1/2 days of work needed to be completed urgently. Starting lunchtime on Thursday.

By the end of the afternoon, despite having taken 'max strength cold & flu remedy' I was shivering in a lab at 24'C, fingers literally numb with cold, joints really sore, stomach smouldering away like it's not happy. Finally crawled out at 6pm, dropped in on Chris running her polling station and then went home to make dinner, arrange for someone else to lead last night's meeting and light the fire. Fire could not be lit due to down-draught in chimney that would not reverse - it seems the new register plate arrangement is highly susceptible to down draught and will need changing pronto. Bums.

Another dose of meds and I was less shivery.

Found it hard to get to sleep, but once there managed a few hours before waking around 4.30ish. Then Ben got up. Got up at 5.30 for Ibuprofen and went back to bed, chilled/sweated & drifted a little until 7. 

So here I am at work. Wee samples thawing ready for extraction, posting stupid stuff on the blog and hoping I can hold it together for the next few hours.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Hello manflu my old friend

You've come to groan with me again.

Chris was up at 5am this morning (30min after Ben!) so she could set up the polling booth for Somerton for the Police and Crime commissioner election. I stumbled out of bed at 6.05, legs and ankles barely working, to find that she was already in the car and leaving. Bluergh.

Got to the polling station on my way to work at 8am, and was the first to vote. She seemed quite chirpy, although it's going to be a long day for just over 200 adults to come in and vote.

So here I am in the office.

Not sure how long I'll be here, since I managed to complete the data required for a customer yesterday, and have tidied the lab so it's spick & span. Just the usual writing up to do, plus a quote for someone that's a little complex and will be expensive if I get it wrong.

Thank goodness for cold & flu remedies.

One thing I'd be interested to know is if those who are musicians that read this blog find their musicality affected by colds. I find it kills my sense of timing and melody. I've been wanting to record over a particular backing track for the last few days and also to start recording some of my own work, but have really struggled to produce any sense of music from my hands. Or maybe that's an excuse for being a lousy guitarist who doesn't practice or play enough any more to maintain the illusion of ability.

Anyway, up and at 'em.

Monday 12 November 2012

A new garden visitor

We've never seen a nuthatch before, but had one come around the peanuts yesterday afternoon.

Sunday 11 November 2012

Recipes from Amie.

Ever get inspired by something someone else has come up with but thought to yourself "what a load of hassle"?

A while back Chris borrowed the Jamie Oliver 30 minute cookbook; all recipes designed to be cooked in 30min by someone moving as fast as humanly possible and supported by a team who continually provide prepared ingredients and clear everything up. She once followed one of these recipes which took around 2 1/2 hours to prepare, while struggling to get some of the ingredients. It was delicious, but a huge faff and quite expensive too.

To me, anything that is to be cooked in a pan should take no more than 40min tops, genuinely, from start to finish, and maybe a bit more if you want to plan in jacket potatoes or similar needing a long time in the oven. The essence of pan cooking is to be tasty, exciting and quick. So here's a recipe from Amie - just a bit less effort than Jamie.

Amie's stuffed chicken breasts.

Buy whole chicken breasts, 1 per person, skin on or off (you'll remove it anyway) that look decent and suitable to present for a nice meal.
Greek feta cheese or similar - feta is nice, but expensive, and I used Tesco Greek 'style' salad cheese for my first go at 75p a pack (not so good, but acceptable).
Green pesto.
Green olives - a small pack from someone like Crespo, with herbs rather than chilli, although you could use garlic stuffed too.

Remove all fat and manky bits from the chicken - veins, connective tissue etc, leaving a whole attractive breast. Slit it open to make a pocket that can be easily held closed during cooking.
Slice the Feta into slices around 2-3mm thick.
Open up the breast pocket and add a good teaspoon full of green pesto - NOTE if working from the jar, don't put the same spoon back in that has touched the chicken breast - use a fresh spoon for each time you take pesto.
Coat the inside of the pocket with the pesto, then add a layer of feta, filling out the pocket. Seal the pocket up and hold closed with cocktail sticks.
Cook in a pan lightly greased with olive oil, on a low-middle heat (I use 2 out of 5 on my hob) for about 15-20 min, turning twice, until you're sure the chicken is cooked all the way through. Keep the pan covered to keep the heat in.
After turning the chicken for the first time slice the olives lengthwise and add to the pan so they cook alongside.They will add tangy saltiness to the chicken on the outside while the feta does the same on the inside.

If I'd not been so bushed from log stacking then I'd have done dauphinoise potatoes: par boiled potatoes in thin slices, layered in an oven dish, covered with cream and baked until golden on top. As it was Tesco had some sliced potatoes that could be just cooked direct in the oven to come out like nicely sauteed potatoes, and they worked really well too, but you could also serve this with jacket potatoes, spiced rice or green lentils. To accompany I'd also suggest fine green beans or carrots (sometime I'll describe carrots a la Tamoiselle that would go well too).

The chicken and the olives generated a bit of juice, so to serve the cocktail sticks were removed and the juice poured over the breasts, leaving some olive slices on top.

I'm sorry there are no pictures - we ate it too quickly!

Saturday 10 November 2012

And 3 more....

Anyone for autumn pictures?

If anyone is interested I might start making some wallpapers.

Well that was hard work

We now have a shed that's stacked with wood.

And we now have aching hands, legs and bodies.

Hopefully it will last a fair while, since although we bought less than last year we also had it delivered 2 months later than last year.

Good tip from the delivery man, suggesting putting the load onto a tarpaulin first, so catching all the fragments instead of them getting mashed into the gravel. Chris loaded up the barrow and I stacked in the shed (stacking is like dry-stone walling, needing both careful fitting and continual reaching and lifting. This was also from a different supplier than usual, and many of the logs were too big to fit our stove, so I ended up doing a lot of splitting at the end.

I doubt I'll be up for playing guitar much for a couple of days.

Friday 9 November 2012

After a slightly disturbed night

I seem better today.

That's the second migraine I think I've had in the last couple of weeks, though the last one didn't come out as a sharply painful headache, I did have the visual disturbances (even more severe) and bumbly imprecision that made me feel slightly drunk. Wonder if there's a trigger or something else at work.

I did take one of Chris's migraine medications last night, and that seemed to back it off, just leaving me tired and woolly headed. Hopefully that's it now, and life will go back to normal. We should be having some firewood delivered tomorrow afternoon, and that will need lots of energy for stacking away. Let's hope for a dry Saturday.

Thursday 8 November 2012

Today I have a headache and visual aberrations again

Bluegh, really.

And it feels like a temperature now too (that's why my face was hot in the car this morning).


Today's task is preparing a few dozen urine samples (again) with all the stinkiness one might expect from that.

And I thought the article below deserved a double facepalm?

Double facepalm

We are quite seriously considering trying to visit friends in an African country next year. Not a trivial undertaking, but not too bad either, and with flights available from Birmingham (1 change in Amsterdam) the journey should not be too arduous.

And then I started search for information on visas.

Now, we're not entering this blind in that we understand the country is not run like a European country, but searching for visa information, and particularly landing on what appeared to be an official site, resulted in the above image seeming entirely appropriate.

I'm normally pretty good when it comes to sifting truth from lie and spammer from government web site, but on this occasion I'm going to have to speak to people, I think, to be sure of what's fact and what's fiction. The site that *appeared* to be the official embassy visa page is full of spam, and trying to follow a link to specific information takes one through to an endless stream of adverts. Now if this were a different nation I'd just assume that I'd found a spam link and move on, but other sites seemed to be pointing toward this place and then there's the stories one hears of corruption and greed.....

I have very mixed feelings.

It would be good to see our friends, but I have very little desire to see Africa - possibly even less than I have to see the United States again. That may be unfair of me, but a country and a culture are intimately linked, and everything I see of African culture (and the imported European culture too) makes me want to run a mile.

But I loved India, regardless of the utter poverty, the squalour, the smells, un-varying food, the need to watch where you put your feet, and I would go back - not in a heartbeat, because it would need planning - very readily. So maybe I'll come home after Africa and already find myself wishing to return, instead of breathing a sigh of relief that we're still in one piece and have retained most of our property.

I love to travel, and to a degree I feel we should do this for our friends as much as anything. But the picture that has been painted for me is pretty darn ugly, and no amount of wildlife, sunshine and lakes can plaster over the cracks.


I'm still trying to understand what it is that has produced such a strong antipathy in me toward Africa. Several things are at work, not least of which was me feeling pressured and unwell at the same time. Some also is that I have listened to how the Africans I know have talked about their own country, and some of their feelings have come out of fear, hurt, loss and anger. Words we speak have power, including the ability to affect others quite deeply, possibly subconsciously. 

And there's a small matter of obedience too.

Monday 5 November 2012

Bought W8 Pro upgrade at the W/E

£25 as a download - I wonder if Microsoft are catching on with Apple a little?

It will initially download a small application that checks whether you are running Windows, whether your hardware is suitable and compatibility of your applications. A list is produced telling you what can and cannot be migrated (office 2003 professional is NOT W8 compatible!) and offers you the chance to upgrade over the top or create a completely new installation. If you select the latter then you can download W8 as a complete .iso file for burning to a DVD. I have been *told* that this file will install W8 on a virgin HDD, and does not require a pre-installed copy of windows to be present - I'll confirm later.

The idea of microsoft catching up with apple is not entirely tongue in cheek.

Apple's business model was that they were a hardware company who sold (highly restricted) software to promote their hardware business, hence the relatively low cost of OSX upgrades, iWork (not that it offered microsoft any real competition) etc. Their hardware was always well styled, even if they sometimes engineered the internals badly, and their software came with deliberate built-in obsolescence of hardware.

Microsoft have always tried to be as platform-agnostic as possible, running on everything, being compatible with (almost) everything or making versions that would work cross platform and supporting legacy hardware and operating systems for as long as feasible. In contrast their hardware was often forward-thinking (they had the first tablet computer) and worked well (various MP3 players had a reputation for sound quality) but their styling and user interface was pretty much a disaster.

And now they seem to have started modelling themselves on Apple.

At least, a bit.

They haven't quite shrugged off their microsoftishness completely, but they are working hand in glove with Nokia to create phones that reflect the microsoft phone they would like to have. The new surface tablet is reputed to be good, and that IS their own hardware.

Just a feeling, but I wonder if they've looked across the gulf, seen a small struggling competitor grow into a muscle-bound and aggressive behemoth and thought how they'd like a piece of that action too.

It's also interesting that Windows 8 and Windows RT/phone interfaces are genuinely novel (at least recently - subject to a lawsuit from someone who designed a tile-based interface about 10 years ago) in the way they interact, while OSX and W7 are effectively similar to what has been down for the last 15 years.

It will be interesting to see if Microsoft have finally discovered a way to design hardware that looks good and works well, along with a better way of interacting with the user.

Or maybe this will just be another Microsoft venture, doomed to eventual failure either through lousy final design, or through a market that doesn't want 'new and better' but instead 'old and comfortable'. Wouldn't be the first time.

Saturday 3 November 2012

Well at least today was productive.

Cleared the shed ready for a firewood delivery next week, fitted the register plate for the stove in the chimney and cut the flue to fit. Shopping done, further pedalboard fettling and been out to some fireworks tonight as well.

Time for bed I think.

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