Friday, December 29, 2006

100 things you didn't know last year

OK - so I'm posting this a little bit early, but knowing that quite a few people are off work over the holidays and could do with some diverting reading, this is a great list of new, often trivial but always interesting facts that were learned in 2006 as compiled by the BBC Magazine. For example;

1. In a fight between a Polar Bear and a Lion - the Polar Bear would win
2. Goths are likely to become doctors, lawyers and architects
3. The age limit for marriage in France was 15 for girls, but 18 for boys
4. A domestic cat can frighten a black bear to climb a tree.
5. Forty-one percent of English women have punched their partners
6. Cows can have regional accents
7. One third of all the cod fished in the world is consumed in the UK.
8. The egg came first

The one that particularly caught my eye was "Pele has always hated his nickname", perhaps I like it because of this quote "Being referred to by a single name - even if it is a nickname - sets him apart," he says. "It is a unique, God-like name. It lifts him out of the ordinary and makes him a phenomenon rather than a person." Can't disagree with that :-)

Click Here for the full list of 100 new facts.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Fuel for Thought

It doesn't seem that long ago that Petrol (or Gas) was the dominant fuel for motor vehicles whilst Diesel was considered the inferior, dirtier and more importantly cheaper cousin. After all, Diesel is just distilled oil whilst Petrol is a much more complex chemical mix. But when I stopped to fill up the car yesterday I noticed that standard unleaded petrol is romping in at 92.4 pence per litre whilst diesel was 98.4p. What surprised me even more was that the 3rd pump which has traditionally been for Super Unleaded has now changed to Ultimate Diesel. I knew that sales of diesel vehicles has rocketed since changes in the UK Company Car taxation system and environmental concerns kicked in, I have been driving a diesel myself for the last few years and many of the old perceptions (slow, smelly, noisy) simply don't apply any more. So what I don't understand is why this increased popularity has resulted in an increase in price. Surely with a larger set of customers then competitive pressure should "drive" the price down? Can this really just be oil companies fleecing the public again?

Incidentally, any North Americans who are complaining about their gas price being an average of $2.34 per gallon might like to consider that converting 98.4p per litre into the dollar equivalent means we are paying $8.80 per gallon.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Wii are amused

The first computer game I ever got was an early version of Pong. The version I got on my 14th birthday featured both pong tennis and squash. Squash had smaller bats. I loved that game and me and my Dad whiled many an hour away pretending we were at Wimbledon. Sadly my appreciation of games went down from there. I had an Oric1 and an Oric Atmos but neither machine were particularly good for games. I saw friends get Commodore Amiga, Sinclair Spectrum and BBC Model B computers which were all better at games but I wasn't bothered.

By the time we had serious games for the PC and later the Playstation, Gamecube and Xbox I kind of saw gaming as a busman's holiday since I was sitting in front of a computer all day anyway. Later generations like the PS2, Xbox360 and PS3 have not changed my mind in any way since they just seem to be the same games with better graphics at the expense of involvement and playability. However, I am so tempted by the Nintendo Wii. Despite the well documented problems with the over ambitious use of the controllers I want one so bad. I think it might be because I get to play Tennis indoors again like I did 25 years ago.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

By George, It's the Beatles!

I'm down with the kids. I know what teenage language they use. "Ah rite. Dem is bangin' beats is it.. " etc. Some of the music these little tykes listen to now is pretty sweet. I love Kaiser Chiefs, Kasabian and the Arctic Monkeys. However, every now and then one has to go back to the originals and by that of course I mean The Beatles. A new album has just been released called Love. Initially it could be viewed as the sound track for a new Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas, but after a single listen you realise that it is far more than background music for the Canadian Trampoline Monkeys. It is "fifth Beatle" George Martin revisiting some of the fab fours greatest music. Across it's 26 tracks there is the occasional disappointment, why would you take the guitar solo off "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"? but mainly it is a revelation. With his son Giles, Beatles producer Martin using only the original recording has produced an astonishing reinterpretation of the originals. The guitar riff from "Blackbird" gets bolted onto the front of "Yesterday", "Within You Without You" get's mashed up with "Tomorrow Never Knows", "A Day In The Life" gets top and tailed by "I Am The Walrus". And so it goes on. It is stunning how well, after a bit of spit and polish (remastering), the original recording stand up forty years later. Oasis would be proud to release most of these tracks as single tomorrow. But this album also goes to show quite how significant George Martins contribution to The Beatles was. If you enjoy curling up with some croissants, a pot of coffee and the papers on a Sunday morning/afternoon then this is a perfect album to accompany it. And don't worry if some kids shout "take the shame" when you leave the record shop with this fine record/cd/download under your arm. We know that if it weren't for The Beatles the kids would still be listening to Cliff Richard and Buddy Holly.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Volume Control for Children?

Now that Ali and I are expecting our first child I have discovered an interest in babies that I never expected to have. Whilst I obviously found babies cute I was certainly not interested in talking about them. Yet this weekend Ali and I joined new parents Marcus and Ellen (Holly is on the right in the Pink) in a trip to Lincolnshire to see our mutual friends Wig and Damon who have also just had a new baby (Oliver on the left). Since both the babies are only just 3 months old they don't do much except for dribbling, eating, pooping, gurgling, burping and occasionally smiling. One little grin from these little fellas makes even the iciest heart melt. In fact the smiling makes it all worth while. Except for the noise. Sweet Jesus can they belt is out! For such a small package it is astounding how many decibels they can create. And just for good measure they sound like they are being murdered. It seems my life of quiet contemplation is going to change a bit when our nipper comes along.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Ooop Norff

Busy week. In the last 4 days I have had customer meetings in (in this order) Shrewsbury, London, Wakefield, Newcastle and Manchester. This required me driving about 1200 miles. In Australia they drive 1200 miles to get a pint of milk, but in the UK that is quite a lot., The last leg of the trip, driving from Manchester back to London, involved travelling on the M42 motorway (freeway). This was the first time that I had been on the M42 since they allowed motorists to drive on the hard shoulder when the road is congested. What a brilliant idea! The electronic signs make it very clear when you are allowed to use the shoulder and the addition of a fourth lane really mades a big difference. At 5pm the M42 is often a car park, but with the addition of the extra lane it was flowing smoothly. As I understand it, this is just an experiment to see if using the hard shoulder as an extra lane when the roads are congested is practical but based on my experience today it is a winner. I will be very interested to hear the results when the trial finishes. More detail here.

So what do I do to relax after this behemoth driving experience? Well this weekend I am driving Ali and my sister Pink back up to Leeds for our nephew Jonny's 14th Birthday. Maybe I should buy a cab ;-)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Microsoft Firefox

I love a well done spoof and here is a brilliant one for us geeky types. Someone has pretended that Microsoft have acquired Mozilla and have produced a brilliant web site at to explain it. The site is packed full of in jokes ("The removal of Microsoft Firefox from your system violates international copyright law. Therefore, you cannot legally uninstall Microsoft Firefox.") and is beautifully designed. If it weren't for the subject matter you could easily believe it had come from the MS themselves. In fact if you check whois, the perpetrator has even gone as far as to register the Domain as being from Bellevue - which is Microsoft's home turf in Seattle, WA. Nice but very cheeky touch. I suspect that this site will be removed quite soon so if this sort of thing amuses you, have a look soon.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Is this phoning over the Internet lark really any good?

Yes it is! And not only that but the video over the Internet (or more accurately over IP) also works a treat. I've never bothered looking into things like Skype before because I'm a typical man who uses phones to arrange where to meet people rather than as a meeting place in itself. It astounds me when I hear Ali on the phone for hours on end cackling with her friends about what is in Heat Magazine or what is happening in Desperate Housewives.

However, now we have a nipper on the way I though it might be a good idea to figure out how easy it was to communicate for free with friends and family around the country who may appreciate a squint at the little dude when it arrives. And I am very pleased to report that it is brilliant! Last night I was chatting with my mates Si and Sally in Lincolnshire and today I established my first video call with my mate Matt in Warrington. As you can see in the image where he appears to be pondering a a question of great significance. All for free. I don't think I will ever be the most chatty phone user whether it is on VOIP or the old land line but with the addition of video it certainly makes it a bit more interesting. Here is what Matt had to look at. MrPorts in full screen mode.
One thing you have to get used to with video on computers is that the camera is normally either above or to the side of the screen so that when you are looking at the screen (as you would to see your caller) you are looking away from your own camera.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Anyone living in the UK would have done really well to miss all the adverts for the BBC's new SciFi spectacular Torchwood. This is the post watershed spin off from the family oriented Doctor Who (Torchwood is an anagram of Doctor Who). So is it any good? Well the first episode was really establishing that the Torchwood organisation was a maverick group of investigators who covertly look out for aliens and their technology under the leadership of the enigmatic Captain Jack Harkness who is an immortal alien himself. In concept it has shades of Men in Black or even Buffy. Certainly there are a glut of references to Dr Who but any young fan of the good Doctor would have rather a shock if they were to watch this. It is on after the watershed for a reason. For example the second episode is about an alien that survives by taking over a female human host and shagging men until they disappear in an orgasmic cloud of gas, kind of like when the immortals kill each other in Highlander but with more carnal knowledge. Even two episodes into the series we get load of swearing, blood guts and gore, nudity, sexual innuendo (lots of innuendo), "self pleasuring" as well as a great thriller with SciFi overtones. I guess we will have to see how it evolves, it is a bit harsh to compare two episodes to a series like Dr Who that has been going for 40 years, but what is clear is that Torchwood is not a children's program. In terms of Russell T Davis's work this is closer to Queer as Folk or Casanova than Dr Who.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The evils of the modern world (part 3)

I'm seldom surprised by how stupid people can be. But it generally doesn't bother me too much. So what if people want to read The Sun, watch Strictly Come Dancing or dress in Burberry? However, what does drive me incandescent with rage is the muppet's who feel the need to turn on their emergency indicators when they park their vehicles at the side of the road. I don't have a problem if it is an ambulance or any other vehicle that is responding to an emergency but it drives me mad when it is just an ordinary car or truck. Why? Well as soon as another car comes and parks behind them and obscures the offside it just looks like they are indicating to say they want to leave their parking space. Being a polite sort of fella I often stop to allow people to rejoin the carriageway and it is really galling when they don't move because they are actually just parked but felt so self important that they left their indicators on. Often because they are parked illegally. Do they really think people won't notice a 2 ton car without flashing lights? See also people who leave their fog lights on all the time.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Song Remains the Same

Last night was my mate Neil's birthday bash and he arranged for about a dozen of us to go and see the Led Zeppelin tribute band Boot-Led-Leppelin. What a cracking evening! I spent much of my late teens sitting around earnestly listening to this ludicrous, pompous type of overblown nonsense - and I have missed it. I certainly never thought I would ever see the Zep live and while these impersonators weren't perfect, with a little suspension of disbelief they were pretty close. The singers jeans were so tight you could tell his religion and the guitarists twin necked Gibson SG was authentically silly. The songs were all in place; Kashmir, Trampled Underfoot, , Whole Lotta Love, No Quarter, Since I've been Loving You amongst many others. They even managed to pull off Stairway To Heaven with a straight face - which is no mean feat. I felt like I was 16 again. Highly recommended.

Friday, September 29, 2006

He shoots, he scores!

While I was all caught in in the joy of my new site logo, I forgot to mention, Ali and I are having a baby :-) As befits any spawn of mine, it is due on the 1st of April. Perfect. Ali and I are chuffed to bits. We have been thinking of names but it is a bit hard because we don't know what flavour it is yet. We are currently using Herbert. Here is a picture of the little fella. Just to show any of you comedians that he hasn't got a beard yet.

It's funny but the one thing that no one ever seems to complain about is the weeks when you know t'wife is "with child" but you can't tell anyone. More to the point you have to lie all the time to try and cover up. The rest of our Pub Quiz team thought that I had murdered Ali because of the increasingly lame excuses I was coming out with for her non appearance. And Ali's friends at her running club were getting increasingly concerned as she kept on feigning back ache to get out of exercises. What a relief it is now public!

New Logo

You may have spotted that I have been messing around with site logo and design for a bit. Well this was just killing time while I was working on the real thing. Smart eh? I bet no one will guess where I stole the idea from?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Just Fraking Google it!

Ever been asked a really stupid question which has prompted you to suggest that the questioner might like to consult the supplied documentation? Sometimes less politely referred to as RTFM. Well I have pretty much stolen this whole post from Julian Robichaux because I thought it was so fantastic.. In the new world of the web, stupid questions should be greeted by JFGI.

If you're interested, using Frak in place of the more robust alternative as in the title is stolen from the excellent new series of Battlestar Galactica

Cats really stink

I guess any one who knows Ali and I would realise how much we love our cats. Like most mogs they sometimes do naughty things which everyone would think are cute (e.g. chasing balls of wool or breaking wind (Barney is a real wind bag). However, cute and funny as Barney and Boo are they do have one major flaw. They shit on the carpet. I know - sounds a bit harsh and possibly a bit crude - but facts are facts. The dirty little boys seem to thing it is OK to hang their butt over the side of their litter tray and "fertilize the crops". Of couse we have no crops. Only a pongy carpet.

Having decided that the obvious solution was not viable (murdering cats can cause so much distress) we needed an alternative. Enter the Ferplast Magix litter tray. It is fully covered to prevent the hideous odours our furry friends are capable of producing and also has a front door to protect their privacy. Because it is their privacy that I'm worried about! Hopefully their smelly days are at an end (yeah right!). Incidentally - that is a stunt cat in the picture. Barney and Boo haven't figured the door out yet.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bing Bong

One of the things which is nice about getting a bit older is seeing some things getting a little bit better. For example guitar tuners used to be horrible fiddly things with needles that only ever worked in absolute silence, whilst now you can get a fine Boss TU-2 tuner effect pedal that allows you to tune up on stage whilst a full band is playing beside you. You see - just a bit better. Another example might be cars. They just work better and a bit more comfortably than they ever used to. I guess geeky gadgets also fall into this realm. I shudder to think of my first mobile phone compared to my current slinky number which would certainly not disappoint Captain Kirk (well, except when he tried to teleport somewhere).

But the thing that has had me glowing with unexpected pleasure this week is our new door bell. I kid you not. Our old door bell was so rubbish it is a bit of a mystery why we put up with it so long. You needed the ears of a hound dog to hear it any distance from the door and the battery would suddenly fail with absolutely no warning leaving fuming guests waiting outside in the rain while Ali and I would continue watching television unawares (a problem often resolved by mobile phones!).

The last time the batteries gave out I couldn't bring myself to change them. It just didn't deserve it. But I was worried about how to install a replacement. I had visions of wiring diagrams and drilling holes through the front door. Had I only heard of Friedland I would have done it years ago. In the box you get a door bell that attaches to the door using a supplied stick pad. No screws here. Then the main alarm is pushed into any spare power socket. No batteries to run out here. And there is an extra portable chime which you can put in the garden or upstairs. All connected via the power of wireless. And you know what - it just works. No faff, no fuss. Out of the box to installed and running in less than five minutes. That's better.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Beach of irregular bottoms

My sister Pink and hubby Stew are on holiday in Spain the lucky things. Down on the beach today they saw this amusing sign which they sent me using the miracle of MMS from their mobile phone which I was able to forward from my phone to my Google Mail account where I could attach it too this entry. Much better than waiting for them to get back and going round to their house for a slide show :-/

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The evils of the modern world (part 2)

I like a nice cup of Joe. I particularly like a nice cup of coffee when I'm on a long drive to visit a customer and I want to ensure that I'm as alert as possible since falling asleep at the week can cause all sorts of complications ranging from carnage to a long term in prison for dangerous driving. Clearly best avoided.

However, there is a catch. My car is magnificent in many respects but it does have a serious lack of cup holders. Specifically it doesn't have any. So when I get a cup of coffee from a Motorway service station I have to get a lid sealing in the contents so that it won't spill when I leverage the warp like acceleration. So good so far. Unfortunately I like my brew black so it doesn't benefit from the cooling power of milk. When such a super heated liquid is then placed in a partially sealed container, it maintains it's heat.

All of this leads to the actual problem. Take away cups are designed to feel cool so that we don't burn our fingers. This also means that it is imposible to judge the temparature of the coffee in the cup. So typically you will drive a couple of miles to allow the drink to cool down a bit. Then touch the cup to check it is a bit cooler. Then try and take a sip throught the little hole in the lid. And have a jet of scorching liquid sear through your skull like the burning fires of Hades.

Now drinks that need to be cool, for example Newcastle Brown have a sticker that turns blue when the drink is appropriatly cooled. Why oh why cannot coffee cups have a similar sticker to indicate when the contents have a half life of less than a thousand years?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The evils of the modern world (part 1)

As regular readers of this web log will realise, I'm quite an easy going chap. There aren't that many things that vex me. In fact foolish people have sometimes confused my near refusal to become annoyed with apathy. But read on in this occasianal new series of rants where I unleash the full power of my fury.

First up - hotel Toilet Paper. I stay in hotels all the time as I wander the globe telling people about IBM's brilliant software from Lotus. Sometimes they are simple Holiday Inn Express's like the one I stayed in last night in the Middlands, and sometimes they are dead posh like The Hotel Versailles that I stayed in a few years ago. But they all have one thing in common. Terrible toilet paper. It is normally so thin it is virtully transparent and as course as sand paper. You need half the roll per wipe to ensure *ahem* cleaning takes place. Then they have the nerve to fold the end of the roll into a point to show what a classy establishment you are staying in. Now when I am paying over a hundred pounds a night I would have thought that they could have invested in some nice quilted loo roll rather than the hessian sacking they always cheaply supply.

When I remember I pop a roll of Andrex Aloe Vera in my suitcase if I know I'm staying at a hotel since at my stage of life I think I deserve something a bit more comfortable on the ol' Botswana.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Record Store Cats

If funny pictures of cats in headphones amuse you then you will love this site.

Record Store Cats

I'm particularly tickled by Techno Tim and Hardcore Steve

Friday, August 18, 2006

Stone 'enge

Ali and I had been planning to visit Stonehenge this holiday but due to one thing and another, just didn't get round to it. So today was our last chance. As luck would have it Southern England was being drenched with monsoon like rain so it seemed like our visit was going to be a wash out. However, with stereotypical British optimism we decided to drive down to Wiltshire anyway and hope for the best. It rained hard all the way and by the time we were within a couple of miles of the Henge we were stuck in nose to tail traffic on the A303. Everything was beginning to look a bit bleak. However, just as we parked up the sun suddenly popped out!

As can be seen from the menacing dark cloud in this photo - we really were in a small window of dry snugly niceness amidst horrible weather. Stonehenge is spectacular and English Heritage have done a brilliant job of compromising access with preservation. I have read loads of whining monkeys complaining that you can't touch the stones any more but they should be glad that the site is in such good condition. The free audio tour is very informative and even entertaining. Excellent value for £5.60. And not only that - when you get out you can get a fine bacon baguette. Mmmm.

After spending a lovely couple of hours at the Henge we hit the road back to London and within 2 minutes of leaving the heavens opened again. The Gods/Druids/Spirits/Gaia/Earth Mother/Merlin/Tooth Fairy (delete as applicable) must have been looking down on us.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

BA Halts all flights from the UK

My frolleague Kieran sent this round. I don't normally repost jokes but I thought this was particularly well done.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

3rd or 10th Anniversary

Today is Ali and my 10th Anniversary of being together and 3rd Wedding Anniversary. I ain't no mug, I ensured we got married on the anniversary of us stepping out together so that I wouldn't have another date to remember. Ali got me a big book about Doctor Who. Not very romantic but waaay cool. It's called Doctor Who: The Legend Continues and covers all the Doctors and his assistants from William Hartnell to Christopher Eccelscake. Well played The Missus. For my part I'm taking her to a top Barnes restaurant for some top scoff and fine wines.

My Mum and Dad very generously sent us a card and attached a few pennies with the strict instructions that they were to be spent on a "Nice Plant". So still being on holiday today, we took a turn round the local garden centre. This is the fine article (together with pot) that we came up with. I've no idea what it is but it looks nice as instructed. Thanks Mum and Dad xx.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

English (United States)

Because I work for a software company and am a bit of a geek I install software programs a lot. In fact pretty much every day I will be installing a new build of Lotus Notes or trying out some obscure utility or program. However the arrival of my new Thinkpad has caused me to install or reinstall loads of stuff. Because we live in a world of many languages most software will give you the opportunity to specify which one you want to use. Brilliant. Sometimes they even go to the trouble of specifying different national variation in a language so for example you might be able to choose between French (Fr) for the French or French (Cn) for the French Canadians. Vive la Difference.

But what makes me incandescent with rage is when the default language specified is English (US) but there are no other English options. This occurs in way too many programs. The above example is from the evil iTunes. Now don't get me wrong, I have no objection to there being a US version of English. I have read Bill Bryson's excellent book Made in America which analyses the etymology of American English and also that it isn't just a poor mans version of English English but is a perfectly valid derivative. But the point remains, American English is not the only version of English. In fact there is a version from a quaint little country called England which has some claim to ownership prior to the States. Some Canadians just aboot speak English. Our criminal cousins in Australia also have a go as do those in New Zealand along with the Irish (to be sure). So why only offer English (US)? If you are just going to offer one version why no just call it English? It really winds me up having to state that I'm a Yank to install some software. The latest software to do this to me is the otherwise excellent Open Office which offers Welsh and Esperanto yet no English (UK)!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


So I got an eMail yesterday saying that my new Thinkpad was ready for collection. One of the nice things about working for IBM is that they keep us Techies on the latest versions of hardware. Of course I'm just starting a fortnights holiday so should have ignored the mail.

Yeah right! Knowing my excellent Thinkpad T40 was going to be augmented by a new T60p was too much for my geekyness to resist. My wife Ali would quite rightly have no truck with me spending a day of our holiday going to the IBM Warwick office to pick up my new hardware. But there is no way I could wait. So a cunning plan was required. How about a cultural visit to Warwick Castle. To be specific this is 1.3 miles away from the IBM offices. The perfect Geek crime :-)

Since I'm using the castle as subterfuge it make sense to take a nice photo of Ali next to a cool tower.

Here I am in the "Portscullis". Oh suit your self :-(

ROCK THE THINKPAD! Of course this is what it is all about. Watch that data move from my old Thinkpad to my new T60p. I guess it doesn't take a genius to realise that Ali wasn't fooled for a second but whilst a bit over commercialised and over priced (£18 per adult!) it was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon. If you do visit though - don't eat the fish and chips - they cost six quid each and are truly rank :-(

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Hasselback

Nope - I'm not talking about the guy from Baywatch who used to have a car called Kitt. The Hasselback is a way of preparing a potato. Witness the majesty. Until last weekend I hadn't even heard of this magnificent roast spud. My mate Si told me how to do it. Just to take you through the details, here we see the bottom, then the top and finally the a side view.

The secret of this top tuber is that the top is sliced through to about 2/3 of the depth of the potato. And that is pretty much it. Drizzle melted butter on them to ensure that they are crispy perfection after about 70 minutes at gas mark 7.

Why are they better than "ordinary" roasters? Firstly because they are much crunchier and yet still as creamy in the middle. And secondly because they are a little bit different. Some over the top chefs recommend that you should use Parmesan cheese for the last few minutes - but I think that is bonkers if you are having roast beef or chicken! Just slice and roast. Oh, and before you start asking which professional chef prepared the example in the photo's above - that was the last spare spud from our tea tonight. And I'll probably eat it cold later.

Easy Jensen

Whenever Ali is driving her red VW Polo too fast I cry "Easy Jensen!" to remind her that she isn't a Formula One driver and she isn't driving in a Grand Prix. Not very original or particularly funny but it makes me chuckle. However, unlike previous British F1 drivers like Lantern jawed David Coulthard and miserable excuse monkey Damon Hill, Jensen had never actually won a race.

I haven't been following F1 too closely this season because very often Ali and I are out on a Sunday, so I often just catch the highlights (with the obvious exception of my trip to the 2006 British Grand Prix). However, Yesterday Ali had popped over to see her Dad and I was at a bit of a lose end so I popped the TV on to find it was the beginning of the Hungarian GP. I had not heard any of the lead up so was very depressed to find out that Jensen was starting 14th after losing 10 places for changing his engine.

I almost turned off then thinking there wasn't much interest for me if Mr Button was starting so far back and with overtaking being so hard, but something made me keep on watching. You always know it is going to be interesting when the race starts out wet and then the track starts drying. But even without the Britons first win it was a great race. It's always a pleasure seeing Schmacher being overtaken and lapped. The fact that Jensen kept his nerve and made the win stick was magnificent and I was so happy to have seen it live.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Happy Birthday to Boo

Well actually - Happy Birthday to Barney and Boo. It really doesn't seem like 10 months since the little fellas joined our family. Today is their 1st birthday. The main change is that they are no longer little and cute like they were in October...

They are large and cute (and lazy)...

Over the last year Boo, despite being about half Barneys size, has shown himself to be top cat. He wears the furry trousers in that relationship. Boo is also by far the most adventurous. He is always the first one to climb a tree, catch an insect or jump on Ali or I for a cuddle. Barney just trundles on behind looking handsome. We have decided that Tabby is the precise cat equivalence to Blonde. Anyway - happy birthday boys. No more kitten food for you.

Monday, July 31, 2006

By Heck

Our top mates Si and Sally have moved from Boston to the little Lincolnshire village of Heckington. They have got a little cottage with a big garden for our God daughter Millie to play in. Ali and I popped up to see their new house this weekend and as luck would have it our visit coincided with the Heckington Agricultural Show which they claim is the largest village show in the country. It was like being in The Archers. Largest leek contests and displays of Falconry, sheep shearing demonstrations and the local farrier showing how to shoe a horse. Fascinating - especially for 5 year old Millie. Simon was more bothered about how good he looked.

After the copious tractors, tug of war, Sealed Knotters, show jumping and stalls the obviously centre piece of any agricultural show is a trip to the beer tent. Millie sat quietly on her Uncle Ports' lap and didn't draw attention to herself at all.

Later on, back at the ranch, Millie persuaded Sally that is was a good idea to have sparkly stickers on every nail and her cheeks. She looks very quiet and demure in this picture but as you can see above, that is the calm before the storm. Especially when she found out that her generous Aunty and Uncle had bought her a rather fab Tumble Time Tigger

Friday, July 28, 2006

Keep it simple stupid

Last week I met up with a whole group of frollegues at the annual IT Specialists Institute in Nottingham. It is a chance for a load of IBM propeller heads and geek types to come together and "network". The idea is to speak with folks who work outside your usual sphere of interest to broaden your horizons and expand your mind. As a result they employ every trick in the book to try and get people talking. This obviously starts with opening a bar to get the social barriers down and then following that with giant games like Jenga and Connect four. It isn't as lame as it sounds.

Anyone who has been on any kind of teaming event will recognise the next trick. After dinner, an envelope of "bits and pieces" was left on each of the 20 tables. Instruction on the envelope showed that the aim was for all the people on the table to work together to construct a self propelled floating vessel. Of course everyone on our table cynically mocked this task until it became apparent that other teams were really going for it. Unfortunately by the time we decided to take it seriously there were only four of us left. So our diminutive gang was Cali, who works with Content and Document Management systems (and who also knows every fact in the world), Stu who work with Portals for Banks, John who works with security and finally your humble correspondent. Not a lot of boat making experience here. Looking round the room it was apparent that most teams were attempting to use either balloon power or rubber band energy to power their craft. The problem was that their inventions didn't look very much like boats.

So we decided to keep it simple. We made the hull by cutting the envelope with the instructions in half (since it was already sealed at either end) and then put a mast into it with a piece of A4 cardboard for a main sail. A couple of corks taped either side and a plastic dinosaur attached to the mast and our mighty vessel was born. It had taken close to 10 minutes. We were far from confident that it would even float, never mind go anywhere.

Our propulsion system came from Stu and I waving a couple of laminated table labels. There were various whinging complaints from other teams because they claimed ship wasn't self propelled, but the judge quite rightly dismissed their pathetic moans. How can using wind not be self propelled? To our amazement HMS Dino actually worked and didn't sink. Each of the 20 tables had to see how far they could get their ship down the paddling pool. With herculean wafting with our place labels we managed to create enough wind to get Dino all the way down to the end which put us in a semi final sail off. We were stunned to win the semi and as you can see below, went on to win the final. Even though it was just a laugh, it felt really good to win and Stu, Cali and I were whooping and hollering like a flange of baboons.

The Spoils of War. We actually won two bottles of quite nice Champagne to share with the whole table. Of four people :-)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A sporty little number

Well after the problems of Wednesday when my car seemed very poorly, you can imagine how happy I was to be accelerating down the motorway back from Liverpool at 90 70 mph. No longer were hills causing the car to slow down to 45mph and all an sundry were passing in my wake like when the Millennium Falcon enters hyperdrive. The only problem was that I was in a Vauxhall Astra whilst my beloved BMW was sitting embarrassed on a tow truck being returned to Heathrow. My previous unmitigated praise for HR Owen might have been a little bit premature.

By the time I had got to the customers in Liverpool the Beemer was struggling to even manage 25mph. It was clearly on the way out. The AA man who turned up was very friendly but when he plugged his box of tricks into the car it reported that there were no faults. Clearly it was lying. So there was no option but to arrange a hire car to get me home. Given that the trip back from Liverpool is around 220 miles I was hoping for something equivalent to my current car - so my heart sank a little bit when this gaudy Astra coupe came round the corner.

Despite looking a bit boy racer the 1.8 16v SRi was certainly quite fast. Being about the size of a roller skate and a similar weight it sure does shift but it doesn't feel quite as sturdy and safe as the BM. Also it is missing some rather nice features like four doors, a sunroof, 6 gears, comfortable seats - not to mention the credibility afforded one travelling in a machine from the Bavarian Motor Works. On the other hand I shouldn't be ungrateful since it got me home in one piece and was a whole lot better than walking.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Need for Speed

Just lately my car has felt as bit under powered. It's very difficult to be sure though. It can still manage to cruse along the motorway at a bit over the speed limit so it clearly isn't a major problem, but I have found myself being out accelerated by cars which I would not expect my 2 litre turbo diesel to be left standing by. I'm talking Nissan Micra's and VW Polo's. Anyway, I wasn't too worried because the ol' jalopy was due for a 36,000 mile service and I hoped that this would sort out my embarrassing little problem.

I have been using the BMW Heathrow (HR Owen) for servicing for over 10 years and they absolutely rule. Not only have they never put a foot wrong in terms of the standard of their servicing but they also pick up the car from work and drop it back before the end of the day - so no queueing or waiting for me. They also wash the car AND valet the interior. If they would only put the car seat back in the position I left it before they took it then they would be perfect.

So today they came and picked up the car as courteous as normal. However, at about 4pm I got a call. "Hi it's Fred at BMW Heathrow, I'm glad to say that the oil change and break service has all gone fine. When we plugged in the diagnostic computer it reported that the air compressor do-jam-ma-flip* (*not the actual name of the part he mentioed - can't remember what it was) needs replacing. We think this is the cause of your performance problem and why people are laughing at you when you are left at the lights by Smart Cars* (*He may not have said the last bit). Unfortunately since replacing the new part your car won't start.". Gah! They have broken my pride and joy. Fred* (*not his real name) started explaining that I would not be left in the lurch and that they would make sure that I had a replacement vehicle if they couldn't fix it. Fred was doing a good job and I felt he was looking after me properly and he was only slightly undermined when I heard his technician in the background say "I don't know why the f*ckin thing won't start. Let's just reboot the f*ucker.". So they rebooted my car and I got a call from Fred 15 minutes later to say the car was now fine. It's just like I remember when I worked in support :-) Bring on the Smart cars!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Hot Jock

I have been up in Scotland this week spending a couple a days visiting some of our Lotus customers. I've been to Glasgow loads of times in the past and pretty much every time I have been their it has been drab, grey and washed in a miserable mist of drizzle. Because of this it has always impressed me how warm and friendly Glaswegian folks are in the face of such a cruel environment. Don't get me wrong, they are perfectly happy to have a pop at me for being a filthy sasanach but it is always with a wink and an offer for me to buy them a pint ;-)

So what a revelation this week has been! Along with the rest of Blighty the temperature has been a bit tasty but in Glasgow it was 29 degrees. To put that in perspective I'm told 30 degrees has never been recorded in Glasgow ever! So on Monday night my frollegue Simon, who has been on this Scottish tour together with me, and I were sitting out side in an Italian restaurant off Buchanan Street at 10:30pm in our T-shirts. In Glasgow! It could have been any cosmopolitan city in Europe. And the real revelation was that with a bit of sun on the case Glasgow is a really fine looking city. And it is really nice to seen all the people who are normally blue turning a bit more brown.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Welsh Wales

So I was visiting an IBM Lotus Domino customer in Wales today. I won't go into the details of how much they love Domino and consider the competition to be initially slick but lacking in real enterprize deliverables. Because what I wanted to comment on is actually about the return of my Tom Tom One Satalite Navigation system. My poor TomTom went wrong a couple of weeks ago and to put it mildly I have missed my little navigational friend whilst it was off being repaired. However, I didn't expect this journey to Wales to overly stressfull since the trip basically involved travelling down the M4 from London until just before Cardiff.

But a few miles into the journey the radio started reporting that the M4 was closed between Junction 18 and 19 because of a lorry fire. Doh! Obviously I'm going to be late for my meeting. Not at all - at junction 17 I told the TomTom that I wanted to avoid the M4 and low and behold it charted me a new route that missed all the trouble. Welcome home little TomTom. You have been missed.

The only way it could be improved is if it could find a route that doesn't involve being charged £4.90 to enter Wales whilst it is free to return to England. I can't help feeling that the Welsh did this to wind up the English.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Reoffenders

I've never seen the Reoffenders before but my friends Glastonbury Jon and Heather are the singers and they have modestly told me that they are very good. Glastonbury Jon and I used to work together about 15 years ago when we both lived in Hull and we used to write depressing folk songs and play them at The New Adelphi Club amongst other places. Jon used to tell me that he used to be a Punk and used to play in a punk band when he was younger. I never believed him. He programmed computers.

So I was totally surprised that at the tender age of forty something he has started a new punk band, but more specifically, that they are really great! Ali and I travelled down to Devon this weekend where Jon and Heather live for the gig (I must stop calling him Glastonbury Jon - it is heroically inaccurate these days). It was a great weekend with great weather, great company, lovely location (Topsham if you fancy a nice historic village), great beer and wine. On the downside - terribly un punk vegetarian food - bleugh ;-) Anyway, back to the music ...

Heather looks like a punk Dennis the Menace

Like so many other bands, they perform lively and accurate covers of punk songs old and new. However, the thing that sets the Reoffenders apart is that they don't just play the songs - they put on a show. They are a show band for Punk in the same way the Blues Brothers are a show band for blues and Bjorn Again are a show band for Abba. They are that good.

Obviously there is nothing more punk than playing a Children's Dining Area :-)

The musical selections are inspired. The Sex Pistols "Pretty Vacant" may be followed by The Bangles "Walk Like an Egyptian" - then Green Day may be followed by Brittany Spears "Toxic". For the purist, the band also features some more obscure numbers like "So What" by the Anti Nowhere League or "Dress" by PJ Harvey. I won't list any more because I hope you will be pleasantly surprised. You will certainly be entertained. Go and see them next time you are in Devon. They play loads of gigs - just look here

Friday, July 07, 2006

Yeah! Niki has spawned!

Fantastic news. My sister in law Niki has given birth to Nathan Hugh. He's a little boy. Obviously. Niki sent a camera phone picture of the liddle fella to Ali and this is more or less what he looks like. Like all little sprouts. Without the bow tie. Obviously.

For some reason it is the form to mention his weight, which was 8 pounds. Like wise, mentioning that mother and baby are doing well seems to be the done thing. They are back home now. Hurrah! So good luck little Nephew dude - over time you will realise how lucky you are to have such an excellent and cool Uncle. And your Aunty Ali is already plotting how to spoil you. Expect to be cuddled :-)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Commit the crime - do the time

Hey - I'm no hippy. If you commit a crime then you have to be prepared to do the time. So when I was photographed by a sneaky camera van on the M4 in Wales doing 93 miles per hour 3 years ago I didn't complain about it, I forked over the £60 and took the 3 points on my license. I was in the wrong and I admitted it. If anything I was fortunate because I subsequently learned that if you are caught doing over 95mph then it is an instant ban. Having those 3 points elapse off my license allowing it to return to its previously unblemished state was most gratifying a couple of months ago. So imagine my chagrin this morning when a new speeding fine presented itself in my post box!

Had I once more been hurtling along the Queens highway like Jenson Button? Had I been throwing caution to the wind and catapulting myself as if I had no fear? No. I was travelling at 53 miles per hour on a nearly empty M6. Now I know in America 55 mph is considered pretty racy, but here in Blighty that is virtually walking on a Motorway. And why am I being subjected to this ridiculous trumped up charge? Because apparently there were roadworks and the speed limit was reduced to 40mph. This reduction in speed being presumably to protect the traffic cones which are arranged neatly across the back of the hard shoulder. There were certainly no human beings performing any work or even in attendance. The supreme irony? I was on the M6 on the way to visit a northern police force :-(

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Barnes Grill Review

A little while ago I mentioned that AWT's Barnes Grill had opened and that we were going to try it out due to the inducement of a free glass of plonk each. Well last week Ali offered to take me there as a treat. To get the obvious over with, the food was superb. Ali braved steak tartar for her starter. She said it tasted a bit like pate. I had prawns which were very nice. Obviously since it was a grill restaurant it was steaks all round for the main course. Ali' s filet was so tender it was almost like slicing through butter and my sirloin was just as good. The main meals were very filling and neither of us finished the enormous side order of home made thick cut chips. Not being a pudding man I opted for an Irish Coffee whilst Ali opted for Creme Brule which turned out to be the only culinary disappointment. Whilst it tasted fine it did not have the crisp top which is clearly mandatory. Tsk Flump. Must try harder.

The said flump was not in attendance but had he bothered to turn up I would have complemented him on the excellent steaks and also the rather fine wine. The free glasses of House red were sufficiently nice that we ordered a bottle and it complemented the food superbly. However, where I would have to fault the little fella, it would be on the decor. The place is a mess. It has scatter cushions like a Moroccan banquet but then purple chandeliers that would get laughed off Antiques Roadshow and then the walls were covered with pictures of lions and tigers! It's like he asked Timmy Mallet to design it. So all in all a good place to go for a treat if you like good food and don't mind quirky stylings.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Table Tennis Tournament

So as promised a few posts ago, we held the first Barnes International Table Tournament yesterday to coincide with Ali's birthday. A few beers and a BBQ made sure that the atmosphere was spot on. Obviously the huge crowd of 12 people were waiting for the singles but we had the doubles first and Mr and Mrs Ports triumphed over a woefully poor Pink and Dawn. After some tight matches in the early rounds the final was set.

Marcus features a near oriental level of ping pong skill when it comes to fiendishly spinning of the ball but he hasn't really played seriously since leaving school so he needed to get his eye back in.

Ligntning Tom doesn't have Marcus' technique but certainly has youth on his side not to mention extra length gangly limbs that can almost reach the other side of the table.

But despite being as lithe as a gazelle, Lightning Tom was no match for Marcus' guile and spinning technique. So proud Marcus wins the prize which in this case is a couple of inflatables that Ali and I won for coming 3rd in a pub quiz last week.