Saturday, February 28, 2009

A few random thoughts ...

... Mainly sparked off by what I've been watching lately !

First up - a mini-rant :-) Citroen have an advert on at the moment that's probably looking to take advantage of the snowy period we had here a few weeks ago. It's about a traction control feature called Snow-motion. Interesting idea ... But a bit wasted on us over here as a "Snow"-motion feature would only be useful for a week or two every year. And even in those periods, non-essential trips should be a minimum anyway. So a selling feature that's utterly irrelevant to most of its audience. Nice try Citroen ! More research required.

Adverts again - I don't pay too much attention to adverts but the latest Daily Telegraph one on fashion made me laugh earlier. It has girl trying on clothes against a mirror and the two of them singing a version of "I can do anything better than you" to each other. Made me laugh :-) It's not going to make me buy the paper but it'll make me remember it :-)

Internet vs Telly - There's 2 sporting events on today, both of which I'd normally be glued to. However, they clash. So what's the solution ? Well - we have cricket from West Indies on the telly via Sky Sports. And then there's 6 Nations Rugby on the laptop via BBC's iPlayer. How does it work ? The 17" laptop screen on my lap actually gives about the same view size as my 28" telly from across the room. But whereas the telly picture is as sharp as normal definition can be, the iPlayer live picture suffers from lots of compression artifacts. It's trying hard but an average of 1Mbit/s isn't quite enough to get live pictures across as sharp as telly.

But :-) It's better than watching the cricket via Cricinfo :-) And iPlayer and Skyplayer give pin-sharp images on programmes that aren't live.

It's a "Man's" Game - or maybe not. Sky are currently putting the trailers in for the Women's Twenty20 World Cup cricket. Could be an interesting tournament this one. Women aren't usually equipped with the kind of physique an Andrew Flintoff enjoys or the 6 foot 4 height of a Steven Harmison. So as they can't go for the bully-boy tactics that the men can employ, which means playing the game a little differently. Instead of power and extreme pace, the women go for guile, subtlety and skill.

You can always learn something from watching from how other people go about their business, especially if your own physique shares more with smaller, slimmer women than the huge & burly blokes. While I could bowl fairly quick, I never possessed a bouncer that would scare anyone. My batting was solid enough but I never had the strength to be a destructive hitter. So by watching the girls play the game, maybe there's some good tips to come out of the matches that would help my own game.

Rugby memories - An apt bridge from the last thought this one. Rugby teams are made up of Forwards and Backs. The Forwards are the concrete core of a team and are the bigger, stronger players. They attempt to make holes in the line of opposing players to create gaps for other players to run through. The Backs are the lighter, faster, slippery players who aim to go through those gaps, with the Wingers being the fastest players in the team.

I have played in a few games of rugby, while I was at school. I'd be put on the wing because I wasn't exactly the most solid person on the field. But I was Fast. It was good fun while it lasted, although it wasn't really my game. Too much slimy mud :-) It did give a great feeling being able to pin back the ears and breeze past people, although that ended up in my first long-term injury. I have weak ligaments in my knees, caused by almost getting away from someone. They caught my right foot, twisted and that's made a few long lasting problems. The knees still bug me occasionally but that injury encouraged me to find more efficient ways of running and walking, which made me Go Fasta :-)

Nature of Pain - While away doing testing, I watched a documentary about 4 sportsmen who went in for a challenge which would culminate in them competing in the British Bobsleigh championships. It was a great show to watch, lots of determination on show here. Unfortunately though, for one of the boys it turned into an exercise in dealing with pain. While most people will keep a natural shape, the muscles inside that shape need a lot of preparation before they're really ready. With me, the bowling and running muscles will remember what they have to do but aren't ready for action until they've set themselves up properly again. What that means is that after the first practice session of the year, I'd have about 3 days of pain before I'd get my muscles back ! After a few sessions, I'd be able to play day after day.

As the muscles rearrange themselves for the job intended, they'd feel like someone had replaced the blood with liquid fire at the same time as giving them a concrete overcoat. For one of the boys in the Bobsleigh, his cycling muscles had to adjust to a very different action, that of running. At the start, he had the pain from his muscles I've described above but later on, he had the psychological pain from being frustrated. While the muscles are in concrete mode, you can force them into running or jumping but that extends the time before they relax again. What makes it worse for the cyclist is that as part of a two man team, he'd not have wanted to let his mate down. Physical pain from the legs, psychological pain from not being able to support his mate.

I felt for the guy all the way through the programme, he'd gone from being a top cyclist to doing heavy sprinting and his legs couldn't support the change in action. There's a lesson there too, if I have any pretension to being a cricketer this season, I really needed to start preparing weeks ago. The shoulder injury means I won't be able to build fitness by bowling like I used to, however I don't need the shoulder to build fitness by running around.

Right - anthems are on at the moment in the Ireland vs England rugby, so it's time to hit "publish post" and watch Rugby and Cricket simultaneously :-)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Time moves on, so do the people

Although I have a few favourite people at work who I occasionally mention here, I don't often mark people moving on to other things. However, I'm making an exception this time for a very special person so I can mark my memories before they fade.

When I look at a person, I tend to look behind the surface to pick up what you could call their "aura". It's to do with their general attitude, demeanour, how they move and most importantly, how they treat other people. The respect I'll give a person increases if I detect intelligence, curiosity and above all else, empathy and compassion. If a person answers a grin with a smile or grin, then that makes it feel as if they're alive.

If I get the sense that someone really believes "people love me because I look great", then I tend to think of them as just a bit shallow, with a corresponding reduction in how interested I am in knowing them. They may have worked hard to get their figure but that just points me towards thinking that they're interested only in self, not in others. And one of my key characteristics is that I help other people out before dealing with my own problems. There's also the idea that flaws make people interesting, when you eliminate all of the flaws what is left that is distinctive about yourself ? Better to be comfortable with the person you are than fashion yourself into someone you're not.

Anyway, who is this person who is moving on ?

She's not been with us for that long, coming in to shadow one of our contractor people. That means doing decent work while attempting to learn as much as possible in the time available by keeping an eye on how other people go about their business. And this young lady appears to be a very curious person, eyes always bright with trying to collect in as much information as possible.

I tend to be very jumpy, with that combining with excellent peripheral vision to get me looking around if I detect movement. And quite often, those skittish eyes of mine would spot a very pretty pair of eyes popping up above the little wall/fences that separate desks in our open plan office. This lady's desk was at least 30 metres from mine though, so I don't think it counts as an "Eyes meet across the room" thing !

I always notice how people move too. Even the best looking person can let themselves down if they have unattractive body language. A bouncy, relaxed step is far easier on the eye than the Clomp-Clomp-Clomp or shuffle favoured by a few people I know. Gait and poise signal a lot about how people feel about themselves, whether it is showing confidence or comfort. And Miss AB's step gives a glimpse of both being very comfortable in who she is, plus confidence. There's also a ready smile too as she attempts to divine what's occurring behind the eyes of the person dazzled by the angel before him.

I've had the good fortune to get the excuse to talk to this particular angel and been the disbelieving beneficiary of a couple of quiet "Hello Pete"'s too. I don't have the greatest self confidence, so I have trouble believing it when I hear people saying things that mean they're taking an interest. And for a person who needs to know that other people are interested in what he does or says, those moments when someone says hello with a quiet word or a wave count for a lot. Acting amused at the jokes helps too :-)

Taking the time on the way out of the door to draw my attention with a gentle hand to my arm to let me know that she was moving to a different project is something I'll remember for quite a long time.

What I will also hopefully remember is what Miss AB looks like, as the curiosity, empathy and intelligence I've mentioned above is wrapped up in a package that would not be out of place if her portrait were placed with those from one of those glamourous parties that inevitably end up in magazines like Hello. Except a frozen portrait never really does justice to grace and elegance of movement.

And what would that portrait look like ? About my height (5 foot 9 ish!), bright inquisitive eyes in an always smiling face framed by a cloud of auburn hair. Style never in question, a youthful figure framed by outfits that match the elegance, most definitely catching the eye. I think my (partially) photographic memory is already burning in two images, firstly the pair of eyes peering above the parapet to see what's going on and secondly the smile that would accompany the "Hello Pete"

I'll definitely miss this special person, although the two images above will hopefully mean I don't miss the chance to return those treasured "Hello Pete's" with a "Hello AB :-)" if I happen to be in the vicinity again :-)

PS I was kinda angling this post to have a little poetry in it ! But that seems to have kinda ... not happened :-) Think my prose style is a little too long winded to "do poetry" ...
PS2 This lady was previously known by a couple of different names here, I thought the Bright Young Thing one was particularly apt :-) BYT being something about 1920s fashion from my History GCSE that popped into my mind at an opportune moment. Not sure if the 1920s link is appropriate but Bright and Young definitely are !

PS3 This post defines why I blog - it allows me to actually say things I don't have the confidence to in person !

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An Illusion of Choice ?

The biggest problem I get when looking to buy stuff is finding the answer to the question : "Which One ?"

It's actually another one of the contrasts that are built into my personality. On the one hand, I have the most boring inertia, going for chicken fried rice from the Chinese, sausage & chips from the Chippie or meat feast pizzas from Pizza Hut. What can I say, I like 'em :-) The contrast comes from where a place does stuff where it's not an obvious choice, I'll try and avoid having the same thing twice.

One remark I came out with over the weekend (was up seeing mum & dad) was that all the morons who gave BMW drivers a bad name seem to have bought Audi's ... The Audi drivers seem intent on earning their reputation. I've got nothing against the cars, Audi make a fine automobile. However, their drivers seem to trade in their good sense with their last car.

So where does "illusion of choice" come in then ?

On Sunday, we got rocketed past by a Passat driver ... On the kind of tight single carriageway road that links the A roads in Lincolnshire up. Cue remark of "Ahh - that's a poor man's Audi".

What's the difference between a lot of what we buy anyway ? There's not actually that much. The "poor man's Audi" has a lot more truth in it than the motor people would like us to think. A Puma is a modified Fiesta and the Vectra chassis is also the basis for the Croma, 159, Signum and a Saab. Peugeot diesel engines made their way into quite a few cars in their time. The core of this HP laptop is shared by most of the other laptops out there made at the same time. Is that phone a Nokia or a rebadge ? Is that monitor made by Dell or is it actually a Samsung ?

Sometimes we think we're buying one thing when we're actually buying another. Or there's 3 supposedly different products on the shelf but they're the same thing under the skin. So how do we negotiate that "illusion of choice" ? I reckon it's a matter of keeping an eye on things like price, extras and possibly even build quality. So for those Vectras, Cromas, 159s, Signums and Saabs, it's which manufacturer has gotten the most out of the basic shell.

My advice ? If you're buying something, attempt to make the best of the information available, to try and see through the various illusions out there. Things like investigating the less obvious, the features that don't make it to the spec sheet. Like which side of the laptop is the power connector and whether you need iPodFM to listen to your music or will it be easier to plug it in somewhere.

There's always a choice, although the answer could well be "I ain't buying" :-)

PS Had an excellent morning today. If I get a hello from one pretty lady, that's enough to bring out the grin. I had hello's from 3 pretty ladies today !

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Nuts and Bolts

I'm settling down at the moment after a couple of days away ...

Two part post here :-) First bit is about the latest wonderful Pixar film, Bolt. Second bit is what I've been up to for the past few days ...

Testing finished a little earlier than it may have, so I was able to sneak back for Pizza & Film :-) The entertainment was Bolt, the story of a puppy with superpowers. Amazing film, will definitely be wearing out the dvd of this one :-) It's not often a film brings out a tear or two and this one came extremely close several times. As a dog person, they do a fantastic job of getting the character Bolt on screen.

Lots of laughs here too amongst the story. Well worth watching.

Film also means pizza :-) Was wondering for a while as to whether our waitress used the pen that she had wedged into the hairband that was keeping her hair in a ponytail. Rather imaginative place to keep a pen, although I dread to think how many penmarks she has on the back of a very pretty head.

Part 2 !

My work occasionally involves witnessing requirements testing. We do that at our contractors' sites, as it doesn't make much sense to bring the equipment to the witnesses when the witnesses can go to the equipment. What it means is a trip up and down the M4 and a day or two in a hotel room. I'm fairly used to knowing what to expect now, so I arrange things to keep the boredom away. It's a bit of a disconnected experience, as I'm not too interested in spending £10 on wifi access for a day or £20 for a week. Maybe if I was away for a week but not for a couple of days :-)

What do these sessions usually involve ?

I like to keep the variables down to a minimum, which means not depending on the train (counter intuitive that isn't it ?) and using my own car instead of hire cars. There's a couple of problems with hire cars with work, one is the insurance conditions and the other comes through the whole hire thing ... One colleague this week arrived late due to a problem with his hire car, the other had to find it ... as it hadn't been dropped off at his house. So taking my own car means cutting out a big variable. I'm not the best Morning Person, so I try to arrange things so I don't have to think when going out the door. If I pack on the morning, I'll forget something critical - guaranteed :-)

Why do I dislike trains ? Cost for one, reliability is another ... The trip there and back by car will cost my employer about £65, going by train would at least triple that, plus taxi fares for hotel<->office. Plus there's usually about 3 changes needed with the associated chance of missing one and getting stranded. The train companies could do with looking at themselves and thinking why people ignore them. (However, I would use the Underground in London!) Oh - Car also means IpodFM :-)

The testing itself involves sitting in a lab with lots of computer equipment, watching the testers run through a script that is intended to test the functionality of the software. It's pretty painstaking stuff and the tests are pretty detailed. Things like a test that is scheduled to take 6 hours to check whether a system can display a map properly or seeing if all the options on your word processor work properly.

That's kinda what we do in this testing, making sure the software "Works As Intended". That's an absolutely magic phrase I've nabbed from World of Warcraft, which gets used to describe all those little bugs where things don't work quite like the user wanted but it is working as written in the system. Computers are very literal beasties, they have no self-determination, so every one of those bugs/features that crop up have been put in by a programmer.

It can get a bit boring though, so to stay focused we do a few things to keep the brain working. One I do is to check off all the requirement statements as we go, which is going beyond what I really need to do. These events aren't really presenting the kit to my organisation, it's a relationship of Customer -> Contractor -> Subcontractor. I'm representing the end customer but the real acceptance is Contractor accepting from Subcontractor, so I'm one step above that. Which means I only sign off a subset of the total requirements being tested.

That's one of the methods ... The other is :

Biscuits & Coffee !

Of the strong black variety. And chocolate on the biscuits if you get into the selection box early enough. (There's a few notorious chocolate biscuit fiends involved :-)

Evenings can be a little strange. I tend to avoid dinner in the hotel as I object to paying too much for food. Even though I'd get it back on expenses, I still get the objection to being ripped off. I'm chubby enough to be able to miss a dinner or two, plus the cookies I raided helped :-) But I was glad to have the pizza earlier. My evenings were chilled out with the cricket on the telly, plus about 250 pages of Matter by Iain M Banks. Bit of a struggle that one as there's not as much of The Culture as in most of his Culture novels.

So now I'm back and it's time for the detox ... 3 days worth of strong coffee plus horribly unbalanced diet means dehydration and unbalanced metabolism, so I'm now trying to still the shaking hands (kidding!) and chilling out to iTunes music. Plus a bit of Blog too :-)

Early night probably tonight - haven't turned my main PC back on yet so I doubt whether I'll be exploring any more of the story of Commander Shepherd in the game Mass Effect.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine in the Vendee

One of the things I've been following over the past few months has been the Vendee Globe around the world single handed yacht race.

30 sailors started and the first 3 are now back in. They're not quite beating Jules Verne's time of 80 days, the winner Michel Desjoyeaux achieved a record time of 84 days, 3 hours, 9 minutes travelling a total of 28303.2 nautical miles.

Valentines day yesterday was special in particular for one of the people involved in this race - our girl Sam Davies finished at 41 minutes past midnight on the 14th. Sam's been the sailor I've been most interested in seeing info from over the past 3 months of the race, there's always heaps of personality bursting through the news coming from the pink Roxy boat. Lots of grins, laughs and inspiration from how Sam's tackled the special challenges of this race.

Not quite sure if Sam will get a 3rd place, as there's still a little bit of time left for Marc Guillemot to maybe sneak in ahead. When Yann Eliès broke his leg on Generali in the Southern Ocean, Sam Davies and Marc Guillemot both received some credit time for going to the aid of the stricken sailor. Sam got 50 hours less credit (went less out of the way), so there's still chance for Marc Guillemot to finish ahead.

It's been an eventful race, with a lot of the boats suffering dismasting and other critical damage. Three boats lost their keels (the heavy thing sticking out the bottom that balances the mast to keep them upright). One of those capsized, with the rescue leading to another boat retiring due to losing its mast. The second retired at the Azores (so close to finishing!) The third boat to lose its keel is Marc Guillemot's Safran and it's a huge credit to his skill as a sailor that he's been able to nurse his boat home with that loss of stability.

The other Brit skippers are coming in hard too - Dee Caffari's had a tough race as well, as she's had to take great care with the mainsail on her boat.

I'm going to miss keeping up with the Vendee Globe, looking forward to the next one coming around in 4 years so I can follow the adventures of my (second? ;-) favourite British sailor :-)

Here's a link to the page where you can read more about this great race.

Currently watching the West Indies vs England Test Match coming from the old Antigua Recreation Ground. The original 2nd Test got cancelled due to the ground not being up to the job. They moved it to the old international ground in Antigua and it's looking like a good decision so far. Even with an almost total lack of prepartion, it's looking like a very good pitch. England are batting and doing extremely well, looking to put a huge total on the board. There's been a few signs of the pitch misbehaving so far (odd balls keeping low) but it's promising to be a decent game.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Was going to watch cricket ...

Bit of a farce today ...

I started this morning looking to get the Task Of The Day for work done as rapidly as I could get away with doing it so I'd be clear for going home early enough to let me watch the cricket all afternoon. Good plan ... Part A got done handily, even with a few distractions coming in. And working flexible hours will allow me to catch up through next week.

Part B is a different story. 10 years ago, Test Cricket saw its shortest game get called off after just 10 overs and 1 ball, after England batsmen got hit 7 times on a dangerous pitch. What can happen is that the strip of ground that a game is played on becomes unstable, with the bounce either going low or high. Low bounce isn't so much an issue, high bounce isn't that great an issue if it's consistent and predictable. It becomes dangerous when balls of a length where you'd expect the bounce to go hip high, these go over your head (if you're lucky!) That's what cricketers call Variable bounce and without the protective gear, it can be lethal. And even with the protective gear, it leads to broken bones.

That's what happened 10 years ago, today is a little different. On this day, the English and West Indian teams have arrived to find a ground that is totally unfit for games of any kind. The problem is the footing ... So much sand in the pitch to attempt to get decent drainage that when the bowlers run up to bowl, their feet slip out from under them. Holes being dug as they go. Potential for ankles to get twisted and ligaments to get snapped. Memories of the English bowler Simon Jones who suffered a horrific knee injury in conditions like this in Brisbane 3 years ago, an injury he has not fully recovered from yet.

I've played in conditions like this ! It's not fun. And you breathe a hefty sigh of relief when the game ends and you're physically intact. There's a ground I started refusing to play on because the square just wasn't up to it. Instead of sand, this place suffered from ground which turned quagmire. Almost every game I played there usually had me getting a leg muscle explode on me. That's from my legs over adjusting from the little slips and slides caused by poor footing ... and this is with spiked shoes on. It's also the ground where I broke my nose, although that was utterly my fault, not the pitches :-)

So what's happening over in Antigua now ? No play today, so I've been having the talking head coverage on in the background while trying to slog more through Matter by Iain M Banks. (It's his new Culture novel and sadly, I'm finding it hard work - glacial pace compared to his usual). No more play today and I don't think there will be any play at this ground for months (it's that bad).

I don't think cricket will be distracting me away from the 6 Nations Rugby this weekend. A shame, I'd have liked to see England get back on terms.

More here on the Cricinfo site :

PS Looking on the bright side, this is a game that won't be ruined by the antics of one of the umpires ... Cricket is currently suffering from a clutch of very poor umpires at international level and the worst of them is due to perform in this game.

Addon - extra bit for CQ who is probably wondering what I mean about a lady singing for Mercy :-) Here we go : Youtube link. Lots of potential with this particular one.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Living in a Democracy ?

Or have we moved away from that ...

I've been watching with concern some of the news stories about a certain Crazy Person who's been trying to spread his own brand of religious hatred. I usually stay away from talking about politics and religion but I'm making an exception here.

The issue is one Geert Wilders, who has attempted to enter the UK today because of his anti-Islamist views. The link above is to the BBC News story about his being refused entry.

I'm finding this a little scary because :

It shows that we have a few people who make up their own rules on laws in this country. Geert Wilders is a European citizen, which means he should have access to all European countries. I'm not altogether clear how legal it was to exclude him. What laws are going to be ignored next ? And my long memory is remembering a certain Deputy PM who was not charged with assault after striking someone who threw an egg at him.

It exposes even more naivety on the part of the people who are supposed to be running the country. How to get a hateful person with an evil message more attention ? Ban him from talking ! Or issue a decree attempting to silence him. I'm not sure how much of the world would have heard of Salman Rushdie or Dan Brown if they hadn't had measures taken by various parties to attempt to stop them talking. The usual effect of silencing a message is typically an amplification of that message.

As a "democracy", we're supposed to allow free speech. Allowing people to talk doesn't mean we have to listen. Same as putting violent images on the telly doesn't mean we have to watch them and I didn't rush out to buy the Manhunt game because of the notoriety induced by its ultraviolent* nature. I think the various groups who like to ban everything, apparently for our protection, whether we like it or not. I've got a message of my own for those people - "I want to make my own mind up."

*(I don't shy away from violence or death in games - I've been known to Death Star inhabited planets regularly in Moo2. But if ultra violence is a game's only selling point, sorry - not interested here)

I don't think the people interfering with freedom of speech or freedom of expression are too interested in allowing other people to make their own minds up about what they want to be exposed to. I'd rather check something out for myself than go by what someone else tries to tell me what to think. Maybe they don't want us to actually think.

So what should have happened today, instead of the media circus generated by excluding this fellow ?

Let him in. Allow him to present his message ... to an empty room. And when asked by the media about it, tell them that we were aware of the individual but only wished to give him as much attention as his credibility deserved. Which would be none. That kind of statement would quite happily show a distancing from the message.

I wonder if the next step is to ban soapboxes from Hyde Park ?

PS Time to scrub my hands ... talking about politics makes me feel unclean ! :-)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Old vs New

I have a little more testing to do ...

The old laptop got opened up today, for what must be the first time since I got everything copied across to the new one. I'm actually quite shocked by the difference between the two. You only really appreciate improvements in technology levels when you go back to old stuff after getting used to the new toys. Where my last laptop really suffers now is in the memory department ... 448Mb (512 total, 64 of that taken by graphics) isn't really enough for Windows XP, especially when you have 6 or 7 utility applications that insist on updating themselves as soon as you turn the machine on.

There's more changes too that I've gotten used to. The bigger size is a pain in terms of getting a bag but now that I'm used to it, I don't think the 4:3 screen in the last one would work for me. I get very used to spreading windows out all over the place, having them overlapping. It lets me keep an eye on things like which box of my email the message came into, whether to anticipate something in the MSN conversation and at the same time, I can keep an eye on the bar saying how much of the iTunes track is left.

Anyway - where's the testing ... I've tried the iTunes to Airport link over 3 machines now and haven't been able to reproduce that stuttering playback thing. I suspect I know why :-) But when I go back to my mum's & dad's place I'll have a little tinker at that.

Bit more old vs new :-) I've been buying things again ... Nooo - nothing really expensive, just cd's.

One of them involves an artist I grew up with :-) When I was a teenager, I listened to a lot of All About Eve. I also read a lot of Anne McCaffrey's Dragon books set on the world of Pern. They're a good read to go with excellent music, although they're both let down a little by how they evolved. The Dragon books ran out of steam after a bit of revisionism crept in and AAE's Ultraviolet album was just plain horrible. Either that or I acquired a copy that was distorted and unlistenable.

Heh heh heh - I'm digressing again :-) I tend to associate what I'm listening to with what I'm doing. Somehow the game HalfLife has got associated with Alisha's Attic music (probably because the latter half of their Alisha Rules The World album has similar music) but the big association is Julianne Regan with the character Menolly. When reading the songs by the character Menolly, I'm hearing Julianne Regan's voice singing those words. I guess that's the way my mind works when reading :-)

That's the first of the albums I've bought most recently, a collaboration between Julianne Regan and Mice. They only got one album out but it's a decent one. Combines Julianne Regan's voice with some very quirky backing. I think I'll be enjoying that one a fair bit in the future. Here's a Youtube link to Blue Sonic Boy, which is one of my favourites for the album.

What else ? Evanescence's The Open Door is a good one, although the band make up changed a little. There's still Amy Lee's vocals on show here and it tends to be the vocals which really determines a bands character. From Tori Amos's primal nature, to Arctic Monkey's CheekyTeenager to the dirge of a Knopfler (I like him, honest!) and finally to the range on show in a Kate Bush album.

Not sure if I'll be going for more from Gabriella Cilmi. I bought her album on the strength of Sweet About Me but to be painfully honest, her voice doesn't do that much for me. People who were near a telly through the Xmas period may recognise Warm This Winter, which got adopted for an advert ... I recognised the song but couldn't remember what it was for :-)

Avril Lavigne's Under My Skin is the last one - lots of angst on show. I've got two Avril Lavigne albums now and I get the feeling more will be on the way ;-)

PS Ow.
PS2 Must figure out permanent fix to chair that doesn't involve hitting it with a hammer every couple of days.
PS3 Picture of offending article coming later in the week.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Something a little different ...

Little bit bored of snow now, it's been having an effect on what I want to do.

What's up with England at the moment ? We have our recession at the moment, being caused by the consumption society turning into a No Spend society. With all those headlines about fields of cars lying unsold, high street shops gradually disappearing and some nebulous thing called "Confidence" making the Stock Market go BOOM. All leading to the banks not wanting to lend anyone money (although they are still begging me to in loan letters), which furthers that stall in the consumption economy.

Nervous times at the moment, especially when an otherwise healthy organisation can fold due to being the latest scapegoat of the individuals who lurk in the stock market buildings. I'm deliberately choosing some of those words because I don't have a particularly high opinion of economists, I prefer giving respect to Hard Work.

I'm probably on a bit of a downer because I've had the misfortune to watch two England sports teams pretend to play their chosen sports today ... Firstly the rugby team in the Six Nations opener. Ok, they ran in more tries than they have done in recent years but they should have scored rather more than the 36 points they got. Italy really were that bad in the first half. No invention from England, no inspiration, no real quality and no inkling of how to take advantage of an Italy side crippled by injuries to key players.

And then there's the cricketers ... Oh dear. When I started playing cricket, I had a few times when I was itching to get out to where the international team was because I knew I could play better. They actually managed to beat that standard again today, very nearly breaking the record for the lowest England total ever. Pretty abject ... and it'll continue until the management break up the closed shop that is currently England cricket.

We have a few players in the side who don't appear to believe in improving their skills in the game. If you're not improving, you're going backwards and are very quickly neutralised by opposition players who rapidly learn how to counter what you could do. The best players are always tinkering with their game, learning new things but Never Standing Still.

So we have :
The spinner who hasn't learned an Arm Ball (one that goes straight - a good variation if you're always turning the ball)
An opening bat who plays like the proverbial millionaire - except he won't be unless he tightens up his game
A number 3 who has had plenty of chances to entrench his place but continues to dig his grave
A shaggy haired bowler who needs to get angry with himself rather than his team mates
Another bowler who hasn't learned the old one : "Practice makes perfect"

England do have some generally excellent players but they are let down by believing they can win games without truly putting the effort in to earn that win. Huge amount of talent but not enough application.

I hate to finish on a downer, so it's time for a closing note on the other bit of sport I watched today : Ireland vs France in their Six Nations rugby game. The two protagonists in this one are both amazing teams to watch. Ireland are mercurial geniuses who can beat anyone on their day but really do frustrate their fans sometimes by rolling out second in games they should have won. France are an awesome rugby side, they play the game it should be played. (Yes - this is sticking in my craw a bit!) The French always come out with power and passion and the pace of their runners never fails to scare the hell out of fans of the opposition team.

Fantastic game between Ireland and France tonight. If you catch highlights, you'll see why rugby can be one of the most exciting sports on telly. Between two equally matched teams like these, you never really know who's going to win until the final whistle. Scoring comes often so you have to keep an eye on the game. (unlike cricket where you can read a book while it's on :-)

Hopefully things will improve from here, in the economy as well as in sport. I like wandering around shops hoping I'll be buying something, it's less fun doing that if they're all been shut due to economists having no confidence in them !

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Bambi impressions

Firstly, a shameless plug for the Techie blog :-) Talking about anti-virus products this time. If you're in the market for AV, take a peek - it'll guide you to a site that's comparing the various AV products that are out there.

This piccy is from last night :-) Had to take this one as the snow was absolutely perfect. Unsullied by boot and untouched by car tyre. The advantage to living on a cul-de-sac :-) Enough for a covering last night but it was about 2 inches deep on the car this morning.

Pizza Hut got raided yesterday, before the snow started coming down. Paths were still not great but footing was far better than Monday night ... Bit different this morning though. We only had about 1/3 of our normal complement at work today because the roads were fairly hairy. However, we still had morons in BMW X3's (insert generic 4x4 name there!) doing 60mph on a slushy 40mph road.

It wasn't too bad, after getting off the cul-de-sac I live on. However, I wouldn't have been wanting to do much more than the 5 miles it is to get into work. It's not so much trepidation at the road conditions, more like extreme wariness at what the other idiots on the roads are going to do ... I think I've learned to handle a car pretty well now in adverse grip and the car has toys that help out there too but I'm not convinced about the other people out there.

Oh - I was highly amused to see groups of people at work today who were using their lunch break to build snow men :-)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Don't worry ...

A wise man once said (and put to music), "Don't worry, be ..."

Courtesy of my neighbour CK ! :-) Had lots of laughs from this one at work today.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Had to be done

What's wrong with kids nowadays ?

One whiff of snow and they should be out making snowmen ! This one :

is the only one I can see from outside my front door ! There should be loads of them :-)

Ok - you can probably tell from Junior's size that there isn't actually that much snow here. He's supposed to have a stone nose as well but that must have fallen off between me putting on the nose and fetching the camera.

Haven't made a snowman since university and although he's just a runt, it's just got to be done. Wonder how long he'll last.

Next-day update - Junior is a bit melty now ... he's one ball short of the snowman he was.

PS For much better snow scenes, peek here :
The Jaws one is guaranteed to crack me up. Lol, who am I kidding - all of them crack me up. Genius at work.

Better part of Valour ?

Or just good sense :-)

Think it's the streetlights making it look jaundiced - and British number plates really are as white and clear as the ones above, it helps to avoid getting caught by speed cameras ! honest ... Heh heh heh - kidding, those aren't my cars so I've blanked their plates.

That's the scene from outside my upstairs front window about 15 minutes ago. Usually on a Monday night, I'll head down the motorway to get a gaming session in. The rest are going but they have a much shorter trip than me. I'll be looking to hibernate tonight cos while I would drive short distances in the conditions in the picture, heading down the motorway for what really is a not absolutely essential trip is a wee bit loonie. Especially when the way back will be twice as treacherous !

I'll get the mickey taken in next week's session but at least I'll have an intact car next week, not one that's in the shop getting ice induced dents taken out of it ...

Tonight's trip home was possibly one of the quietest I've had for a while - everyone must have either not turned up for work or gone home early to avoid attempting icey roads in rush hour conditions. People seemed to be giving the roads some respect, although there were the usual tailgaters this morning. I'll be going in again tomorrow, once I'm past the road I live on conditions are usually ok. However turning up for work counts as a lot more Essential than heading out to a gaming session !

Who knows ? Maybe I'm starting to show some good sense in my old age ? Nah :-) Time to put the coffee on while I fetch my pipe and slippers.

(that's actually the other reason - my "pipe and slippers" are as fictional as the cold weather gear I have stowed here ... if I did get stranded, I really don't have the gear to keep me warm)

Sunday, February 01, 2009

A little time for Beauty

Just had a 5 minute spell where for a change, the sun came out ... Lovely warm glow coming through the window. That's been a bit lacking lately because Britain has gone back to traditional wet and grim, with more to come over the next couple of days as some really cold stuff comes in from Eastern Europe.

The clouds have come back over now but that 5 minutes of sunshine (and warm toes) is just one example of beauty that should be treasured. There's a little bit of beauty in everything although sometimes you need to go looking for it. There's different kinds of beauty too, I'm very curious to take a peek at finding out just how many different words for beauty there are in English, although I get the feeling I may need to look into a more sensual language than the workmanlike English :-)

So many different types of beauty, but not just on the surface. Some people's beauty isn't in what they look like, it's in how they act, what they do and how they interact with others. For music it can be in the perfection of John Williams music, the emotion in Amy Lee's voice (My Immortal just came over Party Shuffle!) or how it all comes together for Tori Amos. (Link to Youtube vid there for I Can't See New York)

One reason why I keep bouncing back into WoWarcraft is the people, although that's really just one special person at the moment. I first encountered Sandra while I was playing a character called Iceangel and it quickly became apparent that maybe the other person should have had the "Angel" in their name :-). I've never actually met Sandra but on much chatting over WoW and MSN, there's a quality of spirit there that is guaranteed to get me following along wherever she leads. And that's happened a few times too ... A call of "Ice - we need you for an instance ?" would be followed by Me - "where to ?" as I chuck out the plans I previously had in order to be in the presence of this angel, even if just virtually.

We have a few people like that at work too, although their beauty lies in other facets. There is the person who's compassion allows her to be someone who anyone on the team can talk to about anything. And although busy herself, she will always be able to make the time to help someone through what they need to talk through. We have the dazzlingly cute (ouch!) one who has the brains, energy and persistence to match. As well as lots of patience to deal with daft questions that would drive me insane.

There's the two people who I'm sure have been dance trained at some point in their lives, as they move with such smoothness and balance that every movement flows into the next. Even when they're stopped, their poise is such that when they start to move again, it looks like a natural continuation. Compared to them, everyone else looks gawky and awkward. I've not spotted one of these two people for a while now, she worked in the building that we moved away from. Oh - the one we still have with us has the "Sandra-touch" that means she'll never be short a volunteer if she needs help with something.

A smile helps an awful lot too. One thing I dislike about the supermodels on their catwalks is how they walk up and down with expressions of utter disdain. No smiling allowed and definitely no concessions to what they view as Mere Mortals. Yep - that's one thing I dislike about the supermodels, as well as my instinct to shout "Eat Something!" at them when their skeletal frames come into view. That's not really their fault though, as they will have been trained to be clothes horses for the designers instead of stunning creatures in their own right. However, their image does an immense amount of psychological damage to the ladies who think they need to emulate them. There is such a thing as "too perfect".

We have a few people around who will share a big grin in passing. It doesn't take much, just a couple of muscles and it's making use of a mouth that probably wasn't usually doing anything anyway :-) But that big grin shared will usually cheer up both people.

Smile wherever you can, it'll make the day brighter and your worries easier.

There's quite a few more people who have their own unique touch of beauty. One of our people might be slightly bigger than she'd probably like to be but the way she dresses, that doesn't matter. Unlike one of our younger people, who was a big girl wearing little girl outfits, the style this person favours makes her look amazing. It also helps that she has a huge sense of Fun that follows her around.

I think that's another aspect of beauty - how comfortable people are with themselves. If they're happy with how they are, then that helps them relax which brings out the confidence. And with confidence, their inner beauty shows itself. Confidence also comes with the inner fire that people have. I know one person who when she does leave us (may that be very many years from now!), there will be a bunch of Klingons gathering around to scream a warning to the creatures in the Afterlife that a Klingon is coming to get them.

Hmm. I've missed a few people out which will probably save me a couple of thumps :-) Nothing here about Miss L, who helped me through an extremely rough patch after my last relationship broke up simply by being the confident athlete that she is. (No - I didn't get anywhere there ! but her inner confidence gave me a benchmark that let me reset how I was feeling showing me the way to get back on my feet) I still get a wave and a smile from Miss L when we spot each other.

Also nothing (so far :-) about the person who's face is responsible for me not getting as much sleep as I might be getting at the moment. I'll be nodding off and all unbidden, her face will pop up in my mind and I'll wake up again. That's one of the perils of a semi-photographic memory.

Oh - in case people were wondering, I don't look at pretty girls all day when I'm at work. I'd be fired ! Literally. We have quite a few rules about Equality & Diversity where I work, so wolfwhistling the natives would be a quick way to be removed from the location where all the pretty girls are. Similarly, watching the girls instead of the screen would get me in trouble due to there not being enough work done. So there's a line between being professional and being interested in what's happening around me. I like to think I stay on the politically correct side of that line, although I may struggle to resist having a bit of fun with it occasionally. But what I always try to remember is that fun should be amusing to both people, what's hysterical to one person can be deeply hurtful to another.

Ahhh ! Sun's come out again :-) Time to get my toes in a position where they can soak up some of those golden rays. There's currently another example of Beauty coming over iTunes, where I have All About Eve's Scarlet and Other Stories album playing through. But to close, I have a few quotes from Robert Heinlein's Time Enough For Love which illustrates more opinions on Beauty :

"A man does not insist on physical beauty in a woman who builds up his morale. After a while, he realises that she is beautiful, he just hadn't noticed it at first."
"I came, I saw, she conquered (The original Latin seems to have been garbled)"
"What a wonderful world it is that has girls in it !"

Everyone has their own beauty, although some of the thugs in this world try to convince us otherwise. Always remember, there is something that makes you special. Whether it's the keen intellect hiding behind a shy exterior, a healthy dose of compassion and empathy or an inner fire that would melt the heart of any unsuspecting person.

And to really close, here's another Heinlein quote I've used before : "Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of - but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards." Which will tell you what I'm about to do :-)