Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Curious news

Nah. Not about me, I'm talking about news stories I've been spotting :-)

British Gas have drawn public ire again by declaring bigger profits than expected. The theme at the moment is that the companies we're forced to buy things from, like the petrol, energy and utilities people want to fleece us for as much as they can take us. Energy bills have been ramping up, petrol prices are still rocketing and the profits go up quicker.

It's where competition doesn't really work sometimes. Where my parents live are a series of petrol stations which cost around 3-4p more than 20 miles away in Lincoln or Newark. There's no good justification for the prices being higher but they continue being higher because the competition doesn't undercut them. It's the same in the energy utility industry, there's no competitive undercutting going on to aggressively get customers switching. So we pay more on average.

Smartphone app to test urine. I'm sorry but there is no way in hell that I'm going to pee on my shiny new iPhone. It would make the screen all sticky and nasty.

Not gonna happen.

(It's actually an interesting theory on the app but there's all sorts of potential for error. Like the lighting conditions under which the picture is taken)

The myth of working at home. Ok, I didn't read all of this one because I went zzzzzzz in the middle. I've been doing the occasional work at home day, in the hope of making it easier on my ailing skin. The healing gets interfered with by needing to wear sleeves and trousers.

I have a laptop which can get access to almost all of the work sites that I need to access. My mobile can pick up the calls from my works number. The laptop lets me chat online via Communicator. I don't waste a couple of hours waiting for the bus. Win win situation, although I do miss the general office gossip. Offices can tend to stovepipe info, where one person doesn't think to involve another in what they're doing even when they Need to know. We're not so bad with the stovepiping (in fact one of my prior roles was to be a busybody breaking down the stovepipes) but I've seen it where it gets bad.

Point is, when I work from home I'm doing Stuff and I'm contactable. It shocked me last year when I realised that a colleague didn't even fire up his laptop when working from home. I'd sent a "you need to see this" type email which didn't get seen because ... I dunno what he was doing but it didn't involve being contactable via the works network. Wasn't reachable by phone either. (He's not with us any more)

The upshot of that working from home story is that Yahoo have banned it now because they think they lose too much productivity. I think they have a point because I know too many supposed professionals take the mick out of the privilege, which leaves more work for people like me and my colleagues and friends to pick up. It is great to have the option though.

Mission to Mars wants older people. Forget them, let me go !

Pretty Contractor Lady leaves the project. (Ok, it's not a BBC news story but it's big news for me). She's been massive for us over the past few years, shepherding very complicated acceptance through the works which involves persuading some quite contrary characters to sign their names to things that say Job Done. I've always had huge respect for her, she'll leave a massive hole when she moves on.

Does being lonely make you ill ?

They're linking loneliness to physical health as well as mental wellbeing. I suspect the link is more metaphysical there. I've always been a great believer that how you believe you're doing mentally has a big impact on how you cope with things physically. I've believed for a while that my skin's been getting better slowly and steadily, whereas honestly it's still barklike in places and fragile. I'm still my own worst enemy there, causing self inflicted damage that sets back the healing.

The loneliness link is to chronic inflammation with the theory being that lonely people release more cortisol, a hormone associated with being stressed. Yeah, that's a given, if we don't have people to talk problems through with, that problem festers and infects the mind.

It's one reason why I blog, to think through and release thoughts that otherwise rattle round in my head when I'm trying to get to sleep.

Think that's enough news for now :-)

Saturday, February 23, 2013


(Skin stuff today but there's a couple of extras at the bottom !)

I seem to have that typical Sleepypete thing going again ...

Still battling that skin condition. But. I'm steadily getting more and more useful data. And it seems to be improving too as I get that data.

The overriding theme seems to be that everything that is good for me, isn't. The original problem was an infection in my legs which didn't get cleared out fully. And then when I decided to try and be a bit healthier to give my body more of a chance, I appear to have picked stuff that I react to.

The most spectacular of that seems to be the orange juice and white bread. I've always had a Don't Care attitude to white bread, although I know that brown is healthier. Brown bread is the more pure form, white bread is effectively bleached brown bread. You don't need the extra processing that turns brown bread into white. Anyway, since ditching the orange juice I've only had one minor mouth ulcer (bit myself - ouch) and I've not had a late night "I gotta go to hospital - can't breathe" incident.

So that's a positive.

What I have to do is be a bit more gentle with myself, this weekend will help a lot with that as I intend to chill out to cricket and rugby all day today. It means I can sit on the floor and not wear much (so I don't expose sensitive skin to roughness). Work is ok, it's not that bad under a full sleeve shirt - but being able to chill out is good.

I've had to stop using the moisturizer too. I don't think it was doing me much good. Since I decreased the use of that, my legs have got a lot better. Not perfect, but better. My arms are the nasty looking bit now with very dry skin that's easily damaged.

I have a new plan though ...

Water, water everywhere and I'm drinking a lot of it. Theory - moisturize from the inside instead of the outside. And that seems to be doing some good. In fact, it's another facet where I'm going back to how I used to live.

Another thing I'm suspicious of now is vitamin tablets. They'd been a constant since my skin erupted last year. I've seen steady improvement since stopping them. The suspicion has been kinda confirmed today too with me thinking : "Ok, vitamin tablets = bad, let's go back to milkshakes". Before, I'd have milkshakes using powder laden with vitamin supplements. Theory, if the tablets are bad then let's get the vitamins from the milkshakes. And .... today has been the first time the condition has gone backwards for a while. There must be something in those vitamins that I'm reacting to.

Ah well. Steps forward, steps back. But learning all the time.

Yeah. I think I'm improving, it's definitely more manageable than a few months go. And I have a better idea of what to avoid and what to use. The night moisturizer I have still seems to work too, I just have to be miserly with it.

We'll see how it goes.

Other stuff ?

My likely next car is officially Coming Soon. I love my current Lexus CT. It's a very comfortable cocoon, laden with toys and incredibly smooth and easy to drive. I think it's helping my sore left hamstring to recover. It's economical and has just enough power to keep me happy. But ... I have my eye on the next generation Lexus IS. There's a hybrid version of that which is looking to have just a much MPG but a lot more speed. No sign of a soft top version though and I think I may wait for that.

Check it out : Lexus IS300h.

And talking of cars ... it's insurance renewal time. Admiral have quoted me £350. The meerkats tell me I could get insurance for £200. I wonder if Admiral will try to convince me to stay again like last year ?

Monday, February 18, 2013


And a little bit of new stuff.

It's been a weird week. I can't honestly remember much of what I've been getting up to, although I have had lots of popcorn while watching stuff. So much popcorn that my next shopping trip needs to be to Tescos because they have the better popcorn.

(oops - incoming minirant)

If not the better rest of the foodstuff. I get my apples from Sainsburys cos they're bigger and usually taste better. Seriously, what's going on with the places we get our food from these days ? It's not a mistake to have beefburgers with more horse in than beef. That's pure unadulterated fraud. And it hasn't been an isolated incident. It's also not in the ultra low cost processed food either, every week we hear a new story continuing to show that what we come out of the shop with is not what we thought we were buying.

I wonder if it's to discourage us from asking questions. If we have to ask, do we want to know the answer ?

We've already had the stories about pork in halal meat breaking that taboo. How long before we hear something worse like animal contamination in vegetarian foods ? It's one where you don't want the suspicion confirmed but you know it's coming. We have that little faith in corporate entities these days, they're out for the fast self serving buck instead of being customer focused.

Erm - where was I ? Deep breath ;-)

Popcorn !

What's the popcorn been accompanying ?

Cricket - I've been taking more time at home lately because of this annoying skin thing. Some of it is working at home, Friday was annual leave so I could watch a bit of cricket and let my skin have a day off. No popcorn with the cricket, it's on a bit early.

Hunger Games - I remember coming out of this in the cinema with a sense of being underwhelmed. The set up takes a long time ... When it gets going, it's an excellent movie albeit with a hefty sense of deja vu for anyone who's watched Battle Royale. I enjoyed it more on blu-ray, perhaps because I knew there was a treat coming after the preamble.

Battlestar Galactica - I'm rewatching this after picking up the first season on bluray in a sale. This is another series that left me irritated and frustrated by the end. I suspect that's a testament to the quality of the first series. It's stellar. Series one keeps the action level high and the tension level through the roof. It's intelligent scifi. I guess I got frustrated because the intelligence got mired in the silly mysticism that infected the storyline. Saying that though, there's bits of that mysticism introduced quite early.

I'm watching box sets of dvds again, now that there's less recorded stuff to plough through on the box. Perhaps the original series of Battlestar will get a rewatching ?

Band of Brothers - oh this series was amazing. The action is all there. It's World War 2 with no holds barred on the violence level. As it should be. When it comes to the "censor it or show it" argument with video violence, I'm definitely on the side of "show it". Not because I want to see it but because I believe showing it warns people about the consequences. And this series shows a group of great characters having the horrors of total war thrust upon them. It's ordinary men being affected by their situation, you feel for them. And it's compelling viewing.

If you haven't seen Band of Brothers yet, please do. It's worth watching for so many reasons : historical, action but most of all the characters. It's one of those rare series which doesn't outstay its welcome. It runs for 10 episodes and could easily run for more. However, you don't want to see those characters suffer more so you're relieved for them that it's over.

Band of Brothers is the one I'm in at the moment. I may well watch From The Earth To The Moon next. It's from the same production group but is about the moon landings. Also compelling viewing, an adjective I wouldn't attach to The Pacific which was billed as Band Of Brothers - Pacific. The Pacific was a bit nasty. The action was all there but you couldn't identify with the characters. Perhaps that's how their situation shaped them ?

I'm also intending to watch through the Dungeons & Dragons animated series :-) That's one from my childhood. As is Ulysses 31, which I still haven't managed to watch through yet. Same with my Dogtanian dvds.

So many series, so little time to watch them in.

There's new stuff on as well, although I have to admit I'm only half watching it most of the time. What's keeping my attention is the real life stuff, like Ice Pilots and the other things from that stable (Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers). I dunno - perhaps real stuff has more meaning.

Not gaming as much, I still have all the "new" ones from Xmas to try out. Borderlands 2 has been good. Given up on Skyrim, which is a case of a game being so big it has outstayed its welcome. A poor combat system is bad enough but when the game grinds your nose through 100+ hours for a playthrough, you ain't gonna finish it. Borderlands 2 is the opposite there, it seems to have removed a lot of the grind from the first game.

Music's getting there too - I've almost got the unlistened tracks down to 500. That's about a day of music that I haven't listened to yet. It's getting there :-)

And I'm wall of texting again ...

May what you eat be what you intended to eat !

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Toy and Story

Had a day away from the office yesterday.

I think I got a lot out of it too, as I've learned enough now to look in the right places to pick up design traits and I've gained enough experience to say whether those traits are good or bad. I've been used to a project designing in the technological age, this was something with bits conceived in the 1950s.

Old tech can be the best tech. What you really want from machines and devices is for them to work. You want them to be fit for purpose and to perform that purpose every time without error. Talking cars, my current car is phenomenally complex compared to my first. Which is the more reliable ? My current car by a long way. The systems built into a modern car make it work every time and consistently. My Fiesta had a carburettor at the heart of its engine which, while it was too simple to go wrong, depended on fine settings which would drift over time. It works - but not perfectly.

Ok, that's "bad" old tech. "Bad" new tech is things like my last phone which starts with a simple idea (be a phone) and adds stuff to that, losing reliability along the way. Whereas the old car would always run (given a bit of coaching for conditions sometimes!), the Android phone was unreliable. I gave up on it because it was causing me to miss phone calls.

And that's another lesson from yesterday. Yes, some of it may belong in a museum but it works, it's reliable and in its own way it is perfect for the purpose whereas the modern tech of my last project can just get in the way because it throws in so many Good Ideas that it doesn't have the capacity to perform its primary purpose.

(Don't get me wrong - the last project produced awesome kit but some of it could have been ... Better)

I've digressed there more than I wanted to ...

I can't say much about what I was up to yesterday but I can tease by saying it involved danger, wonder, curiosity, awe, stimulation, learning and all sorts of other stuff. We had great hosts who took us into their world for a day and allowed us to see things not very many people do. But I can't tell you here what those were :-).

Toy ?

Been enjoying the new iPhone more :-) The Android phone was crippled for battery life and I struggled to add content to it like music. iTunes is a fantastic interface for getting content on to a device. Apps were ok through the Android store but the tiny screen size worked against it.

The iPhone isn't perfect but so far, it's a revelation compared to that crude early model Android phone. (I'm sure they've improved since mine but I had one that was locked into fairly early, bad, software). I left my iPod Nano at home yesterday but was still able to listen to a few albums on the coach. I had a book with me but I've missed out on so much sleep lately that I just wanted to close eyes & listen.

You'll hear all sorts of things from Apple evangelists about how iPhones are great. The functionality is incredible and the user interface is decent ... but there are flaws. Apple's UI has always been legendary but they're also developing very poor software quality. And quality is king.

Issues ?
iTunes 11 losing functionality - glad I could go back to an earlier version. Apple will force you to upgrade software in order to keep connectivity. I was on iTunes 10.5 before changing, which was too old, iTunes 10.7 or later was needed.
Lack of a "be quiet" button - maybe I've not found it yet but it is a vital feature to be able to go into a meeting and quickly and quietly put the phone to silent or vibrate only. I've not found that yet.
Reliability - the phone seems fine but sync is an issue. I got home yesterday and my laptop refused to see the phone and wouldn't sync anything to it. Dunno the cause but it needed a factory restore of the phone to sort it out.

That factory restore is a Good & Bad. I wouldn't expect to use that feature but the backup system made it seamless. I didn't have to do anything to the phone to get settings back. Being able to use the phone for the day with no battery life issues is a Good Thing and I've forgotten what that was like - the Android phone was very heavy on its battery.

Yep - I have a few niggles.

But that isn't going to stop me heading back to the shop on Friday (maybe - time permitting!), telling them that I'm happy with it. I feel some accessorising coming on ... :-)

PS And a bit of hunting for more clothes. I'm shivering ! And I'm wearing multiple layers in a house that should be warm ...

Friday, February 08, 2013

New toy !

Ok, so I didn't finish work as early as I could have today (see below for grr ...) but I still managed to make it into town for a long delayed phone shopping run.

Grr ? I'd finished what I needed to get done today but knew full well that a colleague would be looking for some stuff for a meeting on Tuesday. I'm not in the office on Monday, so that means it had to get done today. Trouble is, he hadn't asked for anything to be done ... until 5 minutes before I'm looking to head out the door today. Good thing I can do that particular task in about 15 minutes where it would take ages to teach someone else to do it and then half a day to do it.

There's a few things wrong with what he's asked there :
Prep stuff for a meeting should be done well ahead of time. It means the attendees get a chance to read the info.
Last minute requests is Bad. Fella was lucky that I hadn't gone home at half time, as is tradition on a Friday (I work longer in the week to make a 4.5 day week). He caught me by literally 5 minutes.

But that's enough anti-colleague muttering. Things got done and he got his stuff for Tuesday.

What did I buy ?

I have a shiny new iPhone 5. And it is quite shiny indeed. To be honest, the flashy features are window dressing. A phone needs to reliably take and give calls and my Android phone was a distinct Fail at that. It had its (more than) occasional garbled call and yesterday it sent two calls straight to voicemail even though it was in a good signal area with plenty of battery.

That said, I'm not one to say no to toys and the iPhone definitely seems to have lots of those. It's a v5 with 16GB, I didn't think it was worth spending another £160 to get the 64GB version. In fact, due to procrastination and the unwillingness of the Mall 3 shop to do business, I've gotten it on the day that a £50 price cut happened. Yey me, yey for procrastination.

If you're in the market for a smartphone and live near Bristol, there's a darn cute little lady called Hannah who works in the 3 shop in Cabot Circus who saw me to my new toy. She gave me her name & number in the shop in case I needed help*, so I can't have scared her too much.

*(I was tempted to ask her help in deciding what we'd have for lunch but I don't think she'd have been able to escape work ...)

How'd the upgrade experience go ?

Itunes 11 is horrific. I'll just put that right out there. I heavily use a feature called iTunes DJ to randomize what I listen to, that feature is totally gone in iTunes 11, to be replaced by "Up Next", which is garbage. So off I go back to iTunes 10.7. You need iTunes to run an iPhone. Thankfully, my library was still present in a pre-trashing backup.

The changeover from Android to iPhone is fairly easy, although I think that's helped by the various service providers making all your data visible over the internet. Things like Google for contacts. I still don't trust cloud stuff though and I definitely won't be enabling iTunes Match. Once your stuff is Out There, you lose all control over it. What's to say Apple won't forage in your iTunes Match/Cloud for stuff they don't have and sell what's in there ?

Pretty happy with the new phone - I'm hoping for :

Easier to read - check : it's a massive screen compared to the postage stamp sized one I had before.
Reliability - the increasing tendency to miss or break calls was why I decided to change
Resilience - the Android phone was horrible for crashing
Speed - everything newer is quicker

Apart from that ... how's Sleepy ?

Still a little numb, being balanced by my skin feeling a little less on fire. You know, I think I may have cracked it by being suspicious of the vitamin tablets. I'm seeing slow but steady improvement now, although there's still lots of rough and tender areas. Back of my left knee is still horrible and I have to be very careful of a few other remaining bad bits.

But it does seem to be improving and I'm getting better at the discipline of leaving it alone to heal. Having the occasional work at home day like yesterday definitely helps as instead of scratchy-scratchy, I can attack the irritated bits with moisturizer.

Yeah - hopeful that it'll continue to improve. My bum hasn't felt this smooth for months :-) I'm not in a fit state to consider cricket yet but if it continues to improve ? Maybe :-)

By the way - fit state for cricket means being able to wear the kit. Which means helmet and knee supports. At the moment, my knees aren't in a fit state to wear those knee supports and I need those because my legs have more power than my knees can handle. Plus I have a nasty habit of stopping cricket balls with the part of my body that gets there first. Ball + Knee = Pain.

I'll leave it there :-)

PS One novelty - I can send music from the phone to my hifi via the Airplay protocol. Neat :-)

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Struggling with losses

Experiencing a bereavement can be very strange.

My nan died earlier in the week. Before you go "Awww Pete", remember that it's not me who's died, it's my nan. I know I'll feel the loss at some point (I am already) but I'll remember :

The old lady who'd get stuff for the grandkids, even though she couldn't really afford it
How she was a couple of months ago
That the decline was very sudden
And that she'd had a long full 94 years

Any of us will be lucky to see even 90 years. She was tough as old boots my nan. We knew it was coming though, at Xmas I realised that 2012 was probably the last Xmas my nan would see. There's a couple of things I wouldn't wish on anybody :

Sudden loss. I have a very dear colleague who lost her dad in January, suddenly. And that was complicated by the weather conditions. So - sudden loss combined with not being able to close.
Long painful decline. I live with a certain amount of pain but it's controllable. I have my mind still. What I wouldn't wish on anyone is a long slow lingering decline. Better to bow out quickly but quietly.

We saw my nan again last weekend and there wasn't much left there. Recognition that was before instant, would take many seconds and then blink away halfway through the "oh - that's Pete" motion. And that's when she'd recognise us.

The loss is affecting me - not in tears (I don't cry much) but in a feeling of numbness. I'm trying to remember the good and attempting to shut out the bad. I'm picturing the lady who lived rather than the one who died. It's about what we do along the way, not so much what happens at the end.

That said though, I'll be quieter than usual for a little bit.

How about me ?

Oh boy - struggling again. I have a couple of things ganging up on me right now :

Muscle/skeleton stiffness. I almost gave up driving duties on the weekend because my neck decided it hated me. Could barely turn my head to the left. And that's spread into my upper body. Ouch but manageable.

Skin. I think it is improving since I ditched the vitamin pills but that's very slight and very slow and very prone to me damaging it. I'll try getting back in to see the doctor soon for it. There's areas of my skin which are now very sensitive, quite sore but also rather thin. If I poke the soreness, then I damage weak top layers. It's not as bad as 3 months ago though ...

Things are fairly tough at the moment for us living. There's me with my skin, my dad has some internal medical issues that they're figuring out and then there's my mum ... My mum needs an operation soon plus she's also badly broken her elbow. She's getting on with things but it's a handicap. Hopefully she'll get full use of the arm back.

Hopefully I'll get the hardiness of my skin back before the summer.

Yep. Things are tough right now but - life goes on. We'll remember those we lose as how we knew them best. That's what I intend to do :-)