Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The party's now private: Three UK ends all-you-can-eat uncapped data for new contracts.

Well, I suppose the party had to end sometime. Three UK are not offering unlimited - excuse me, all-inclusive  - uncapped mobile data any more.

I went to their service for two reasons: Better overall coverage in the places I generally frequent, and All-You-Can-eat data, which was not capped in any way shape or form, so as to cut my comms costs in half, as per this blant entry.

Well, it's too late for you if you haven't jumped on that band wagon. They've quietly changed the bundles they offer. Now, if you want to tether your machine to your phone, there will be a 2Gb cap on the monthly amount of data that it consumes. As they say in their brochure on the topic:

Your data allowance can be used as a personal hotspot (we used to call this tethering) – if  you choose a plan with all-you-can-eat data, you can use up to 2GB of this allowance each month as a personal hotspot.

Note that they make no difference between the types of Wi-Fi or hard-wired tethering - excuse me, personal hotspot - or how they will determine this is occurring; presumably some form of monitoring software that you can't remove will be installed before you receive your new phone, as I cannot figure out, without some form of packet sniffing (where the content of what you are viewing is monitored in real time) occurring. As for sim-only contracts, who knows how they'll determine if you're tethered to a PC or not.

So, the party just turned private. If you're in, you've got it. If not, you missed out: You cannot get the One Plan-style uncapped contracts any more.

But here's the thing. If you're on one of the new sim-only contracts, and instead of putting the SIM card in a phone, you opt to leave it in a 3G or 4G-capable tablet or notebook, how the heck will they know it's not a phone? And will they cap you at 2Gigs?

I sure hope they got this thought all the way through, because somewhere down the road, they may well pee off someone with a law degree and a Bar certification, and as a result could easily wind up defending themselves for breach of contract.

It'll be interesting to see how this progresses.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

A replacement for the Land Rover Defender...

As some may know, the Land Rover that a lot of us all know and love will be no more, come next year; in its infinite wisdom, the EU has decided that it's not pedestrian-friendly enough (it's too square, apparently) for when certain idiots on two plates of meat decide to walk into the road without looking.

A Land Rover, not a Freelander, Discovery, or Range Rover, is a square utilitarian box on four wheels, meant to be a powerful, rugged, heavy-hauling, four-wheel-drive go-almost-anywhere small truck. It is not intended to be pretty (although there is a certain bulldog-like elegance to it), nor is it intended to be all that environmentally friendly either. It must be able to withstand all manner of hard terrain, hard driving, and punishment that would put a similar class of vehicle out of play in five seconds flat. And that's where it's strengths, and the loyalty of its owners, lie.

But reality is, as one wag put it, a bitch. The EU has declared, and that's that. So the basic Land Rover, in it's fourth major version, the Defender, is soon to be no more. A replacement must be found.

So, Jaguar Land Rover (JRL) came along with the Defender Concept 100, or DC100 (Wikipedia entry here). They unveiled it at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2011, and quite horrid it is too. Rightly, it attracted much commentary, mostly apparently rather negative. I tend to agree. The basic offering is, I suppose, fair enough, but the "sport" version is a complete abomination, in my view.

Here are the strengths of the current civilian Land Rover Defender:

  • Simple aluminium bodywork
  • Relatively easy to work on / repair
  • Strong - you CAN walk on the bodywork at a push, to get to the roof.
  • Easily customisable both internally and externally.
  • Takes a massive load in the back in the cargo configuration.
  • Comes in two main body lengths: Short and Long (90 & 110)

You can also add for the military versions of the Defender that it can be converted between a soft top and hard top with ease, very quickly with only basic hand tools.

So, any replacement should, indeed MUST, have these features.

The Wikipedia article references an Australian press article from 2012, in "Go Auto" (article here), where "Land Rover design director Gerry McGovern has revealed the next-generation Defender will bear little resemblance to the DC100 concept that emerged at the Frankfurt motor show (in 2011)".

That's something of a relief, but one must hope that the end result will be as attractive to current owners seeking an upgrade, as it may be to prospective new owners seeking a Defender-like machine.

In addition, the markets that JRL are seeking to placate and serve must also be addressed, not least of which includes the Americans, whose automotive import control regulations border on the insane, in terms of the requirements that they set, both mechanically and environmentally (not least in regard to recyclable parts percentages and emission controls); Then there's the EU mania about pedestrians trying to commit suicide by not looking where they're going, which was the start of this particular problem, to consider.

Well, here are a couple of thoughts, not that I'm likely to be the first to have thought of them... If the car must be more pedestrian friendly, consider plastics or polycarbonates in the bodywork. How about an extended crush-capable wrap-around front bumper in the visual style of the existing bodywork? There are a vast number of other possible solutions that can be thought of, I'm sure.

But at the end of the day, the final result MUST look visually appealing to existing and prospective owners alike, and MUST meet or even exceed all the hallmarks of strength, ruggedness, utility, and ability, that the current Defender possesses.

It's not going to be an easy task, and I don't envy them the challenge, but in order to maintain their reputation and brand loyalty, they must meet this challenge, run with it, and succeed, or a major lynch-pin of Land Rover will forever die.

And that is simply not palatable, nor acceptable.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

BBC Magazine article: "Which should come first - cheese or pudding?"... a considered response...!

Every so often, the Beeb tends to publish somewhat thought-provoking and even contentious articles, designed to incite debate. At least, that's their stated intent. This time however, I'm not at all sure if their tongues were either well inside their cheeks, or intent on setting others tongues (mostly those belonging to members of the middle and upper class) wagging vociferously.

In a formal and traditional middle and upper class setting, when someone says that something is Just Not Done, attention should be immediately be paid in full to what it is that they're talking about. Now, someone saying that something "Just isn't Cricket, Old Boy", is saying that something isn't fair, or has been deliberately improperly performed - not adhering to the rules of the game, so to speak.

But "Not Done"? Wow. This is the sort of comment that results in cups of tea being spilled. They see transgressions of established tradition as being the cornerstone of the Fall Of Empire, or some similar level of horror. You get the idea: Indignation unbounded by reason.

And in this case, it's all about the format of the formal dinner setting...

Here's the thing. It seems that a certain food writer, who appears on the face of things to be something of a progressive in these things, and who appeared on a BBC 2 programme last night, has said something so shocking, so subversive, that society as a whole could be set on the verge, nay the cusp, of complete and utter social disarray...

So, what was the comment that set right-minded civilisation on the edge of annihilation?

That the dessert course should be the last course in a formal dinner, not the cheese course.

"I'm sorry. She said WHAT?!"

For those who have never even heard of the formal dinner format, here's a couple of points to note. Formal gatherings of people of note - normally royalty, politicians, high society, and similar - have evolved over the centuries, and came to the peak of their development in the Victorian Era. They've pretty-much stayed in the same general format ever since; this format is known the world over, and despite regional variations, is fairly similar wherever you go, these days.

A formal dinner was the pinnacle of this high social one-upmanship "my brass thing's better than your brass thing" system, and while the reasons for the meals may have gone from childish faux Public School-like shoe-size mentality bragging, to more mature themes, the events themselves are no less special.

These days, a formal dinner is a structured meal, normally held to honour a distinguished guest, or to celebrate a special event, or what have you, where all the participants are on their best behaviour, and dressed to the nines in high formal wear.

So, if you've seen any period dramas on the television, such as "Upstairs Downstairs", or "Downton Abbey", or watched high society documentaries and such like, they've featured in those a fair bit, so you should have a fair idea of the format involved.

I've been to a few, mostly when I was a Territorial Army soldier, which were either the Company Annual Camp Dinner (not too formal, but where smart wear, such as a decent suit, is required), or the Regimental Christmas Dinner, where the appropriate formal uniform was generally required (somewhat appropriately, it's called "Mess Dress").

I've also been to a couple of civilian formal dinners over the years, most recently my Company's Annual Awards Dinner (where I rather proudly received my 10-years long service award. Good God. I've been on the buses for TEN YEARS?! Wow. Ahem. Moving back on topic again, now...).

The - ahem - HESH-tab-eh-lished format...

So, what goes into a formal dinner? Well, it depends on the length of the meal, or in how many courses - parts - the meal is to be served. The average number is five, but your meals may vary upon the event and the organiser(s) involved.

Here's a fairly typical five course format in the civilian mode, Regimental ones being ever-so-slightly more involved and formal (understatement) occasions...

  • Starter
    A small dish, to get the appetite moving. Normally a consommé (a clear, light soup), or maybe a pâté of some type on some form of crisp bread or toast.
  • Fish
    As it says: This is a small serving of fish, normally with a few appropriate vegetables.
  • Main
    This is (pun intended) the meat of the meal. Red or White meat, with the appropriate vegetables and sauces, if required.
  • Pudding
    The sweet, or dessert, course.
  • Cheese
    A selection of cheeses, served with water or dry biscuits. Coffee will normally be served at the same time, as well.
There are also conventions - accepted rules - on what kinds of wines to serve with certain courses - fowl and fish, for example, are almost always accompanied by white wine, with beef, gammon, and other red meats being accompanied by red wines.

Port, a fortified wine, is normally served after the cheese course in more formal dinner settings (there are clear, if slightly strange, traditional rules regarding how it is handled once at the table, the origins for these rules having being lost in the mists of time).

The rocking of the boat...

So when Mrs. Berry made her comment, traditionalists were aghast. The monocles of many of those dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists probably rocketed almost explosively out of their sockets at the speed of sound. Cups of tea were certainly spilled in utter shock and horror!

They think the idea of serving the cheese before the dessert - or "Pudding" - course, is akin to passing the Port to the right at a Regimental Dinner - One just Does Not Rock The Boat of tradition in that manner, in those social circles - it's Just Not Done (spot the capitals and italicisation there).

On a more practical note...

There's also, I suspect, a more reasoned cause for the dropped optical aids at work here. In traditional formal dinners, the cheese course is accompanied, as mentioned above, by the Port. It is at this time that various brief speeches and toasts are given to the assembled high muck-a-mucks. It is far easier - and eminently more practical - to pause chomping in a cheese course, than it is in a pudding course. Cheese is already cold - certain desserts - puddings - are not. All things considered, probably the last thing you want is for a properly cooked and delivered dessert to be ruined half-way-through devouring it, because you had to stand during, for example, the Loyal Toast. Cheeses are much more forgiving, in those circumstances, after all.

So, for my money, Pudding Before Cheese. Always.

And to hell with the Progressives!


Wednesday, 5 March 2014

I'm often asked...

"Why do you drive that prehistoric lump?"

They're referring to my ex-MoD (Army) Series 3 109" Land Rover (Military specification). It was built in 1983, and spent ten years with the Territorial Army, before being 'cast off', and eventually sent for disposal at auction. I'm it's fourth civilian owner.

Why do I own it?

  • It's a bit of history - I drove one when I was in the T.A. back in the 90's.
  • It may not be fast (even going downhill with a tail wind), but it's a fun thing to drive, being a go-almost-anywhere vehicle.
  • It's easy to find in car parks - it's camouflaged, not shiny, and therefore stands out... well, that and being a bit taller than you're average seventy-thousand quid footballers SUV plastic toy  
  • I use it for my Living History hobby, not just because it can carry all the I use over the course of a weekend at one of those events, but as part of the display stand as well;
  • It's because there's a fellowship of sorts between Land Rover owners, as we tend to wave to each other on the roads (it tends to be Series and Defenders who are this friendly, in the main, although Discovery and Freelander owners get the occasional look-in as well), go to specialist events (the much-attended Newbury "Sort Out", as it's known to many, comes immediately to mind), and run clubs for each other of many flavours (there are generic Landie clubs, Series Landie clubs, Ex-Military Landie clubs, Lightweight Landie clubs, and so on and so forth);
  • and oh yes, the insurance tends to be cheaper for older vehicles as well.

But most of all?

It's relatively cheap - and easy - to maintain yourself; you don't need a degree in computer engineering, or any overly expensive or complex tools, to perform routine maintenance on it. Just a willing pair of hands, a little knowledge (Haynes car maintenance manuals and other similar publications), and maybe the help of a willing friend or three every so often, and that's that - job done.

There's a saying in Land Rover owner circles: "The Job's NEVER done!" What do we mean? It's simple: Once you've cracked it, and got one maintenance task done, another rears it's sarcastic head, and beckons you forth to smack it on the head with a deadfall hammer. Or a breaker bar. Or both. Simultaneously (that's called two-fisted engineering, by the way).

So having owned this wagon for the best part of a year and a half now, what have I fixed, or had help with fixing?

  • Exhaust manifold replaced (cracked and then some).
  • Carburettor replaced (leaking float and gaskets).
  • Sump gasket replaced (leaking).
  • Rocker cover gasket replaced (leaking).
  • Oil changed.
  • Oil filter changed.
  • Replaced broken speedo cable.
  • Offside door top replaced (rusted to and then some).
  • Added cigarette lighter socket (to power my phone and other electrically powered accessories).
  • Replaced faulty indicator switch.
  • Replaced over-powered halogen headlights with more normal specification-compliant 7" sealed units, the halogens having created the problem with the indicator switch in the first place, by drawing too much power through it and causing the plastic frame of the switch assembly to warp as a by-product of the heat through the electric contacts of the headlight/beam switch (it's a weird lighting circuit path in a Landie).
  • Removed spare tyre from top of hard top roof, where it was bending the metal of the roof and rendering it somewhat less than waterproof at the joints.

The list of lesser problems and pending fixes goes on a fair bit, but the above are what I, or my mates and I, have dealt with thus far. And since no good deed ever goes unpunished, as soon as we fix one problem, as mentioned above, another crops up - the latest is a serious one: The water pump is about ready to fall over .

This last one is going to take at least a day to fix, as the radiator really has to come out first, before you can get to the water pump, which is behind the radiator fan, alternator, and associated gear at the front of the engine. And oh yeah, you have to completely drain all the coolant out first, which cannot be poured down a drain as it's toxic, so has to go to a specialist dump. Wonderful.

Remind me.

WHY do I drive this prehistoric lump?

Oh yeah.

Because it's fun.

I must be bloody mad!

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Are Liberty goping after the WRONG targets (again)...?

I saw this on Twitter today, and it rang a bell.

I see protects civil liberties and promotes human rights for everyone... unless you're a officer.

Sadly, I can see what he's driving at. Liberty was created to ensure that all people on this small planet of ours receive the same Human Rights and treatment from their respective governments, authorities, organisations, and fellow Human Beings. However, over the meany years since it was created, Liberty has made announcements and policy decisions from the sensible through to the (to me) utterly bazaar.

Now, personally, I find it rather strange that over the last few years, the only times I've ever heard anything either about or from Liberty (mostly via the popular press, admittedly), is when they've been doing something or other in places where the chances were better than even that the local (most likely) despotically lunatic regime isn't about to grab 'em by the scruff of the neck, and sans a fair trial, tie a blindfold over their heads, line 'em up against a convenient wall, and summarily shoot them in the back of the head for "subversive actions against the state". Odd, that. Understandable, in that they, like the rest of us, don't want to see the back of their collective heads part company with the rest of their skulls, but still a bit odd, given Liberty's original intent to spread the word of Human Rights.

After all, you'd be forgiven for thinking that their much-publicised efforts would be needed the most in places like those, not back here in Great Britain, where democracy - despite it's many fully acknowledged faults - already works, where our rights are already enshrined in law and regulations, and where, despite the financial burden on plaintiffs, recourse to inhuman treatment, and (for sake of example) recourse to libel and slander is available to all who can afford it through the courts system.

With the above in mind, don't they think their efforts and monies (gleaned by donations from the public, who DO want to see a better world for everyone) would be better spent on, for wild example, halting the ultra-right-wing efforts of certain persons and organs of the state in Russia, from tramping down the rights of certain sections of their own citizenry, instead? Oh yeah. It's probably because that same former communist state'd probably arrange for them to receive a kick in the groin, then several savage stamps on their heads, with steel-capped combat boots. Naturally, said treatment would not come from official sources. It'd be blamed on over-enthusiastic minorities. Who'd never see the inside of a courtroom for their actions.

Just saying, of course.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Hmm. Public versus private blogging...

Well now, isn't this interesting; being so busy tends to interfere with your reading habits from time to time. Here's a case in point...

It's been a couple of months since I looked at a couple of blogs that I marked to be followed on Blogger, and one of them appears to have become private to invited readers only in that space of time. Needless to say, I wasn't invited.

Fair enough, you might say, it's his blog, and he can do with it whatever he wishes. You're absolutely correct, and since I don't actually know the guy personally, not receiving an invitation to read it is not the end of the world. It's irritating, but that's all. It's nothing to get het up over, or scream about from the rooftops (better not do that, they're well slippery this time of year, and the fall's got a real nasty sudden stop at the bottom).

However, this all said, there's a problem. Since it's become a private blog, and I'm not on his white list to read it, I can't reset the administrative feed instruction within my Blogger 'control panel' to unfollow the damn thing. It's a design flaw within Blogger, of course.

So it's sitting there, irritatingly taking up a slot on my 'followed' list, and I can't read whatever he may be writing. It's a shame, really. I'll miss his use of the language, as it was absolutely magnificent: He had a way of being able to capture a moment in time practically poetically, and in such a way as to cause you to empathise with his world view. There aren't many people who can do that, so it's all the more unfortunate that he's restricted access to his blog.

However, think I have a fairly good idea as to why he made his blog private, and it relates to the last entry I was able to read, before he made it private. I won't comment in any detail at all about the subject matter, but I will say that it was unfortunately open to excessive misinterpretation, which for someone with such a good command of the English language was a shame. The upshot though, is that in these Politically Correct (or is that Politically Charged? I think the latter, in this case) times, it only takes one misstep, misspeak, or a poorly-worded publicly-spoken opinion, and the world and it's pet of choice comes along to crush you down to microscopic dust. And I think that's what may have happened here.

So, he's taken what is most likely the most prudent course, that of keeping what he has to say to a rather exclusive audience from that point on. Fair enough, it's his right, and who am I to challenge it, given that it's a right to privacy?

But it does, however, leave that irritating entry on the 'Followed' list that I cannot remove.

And that IS worth running around in ever-decreasing circles and shouting - or in this case writing - about.

Every so often, a nice day comes along!

This will sound like a sponsored advert, but it's not - I'm genuinely enthusiastic about the place I'm about to tell you about!

With that caveat out of the way, onto the meat of today's entry!

Being a late shift bus driver tends to mean that most of my free time is to be had when most sensible people are either at work, or asleep in bed. This kind of puts the kybosh on having a vibrant and active social life, but we have to find a way to pay the bills somehow, after all.

However, once in a blue moon, I actually like to be able to get off my backside and do things, like braving central London to buy certain stuff (in today's case, a new backpack for the Living History hobby I enjoy), or hit a pub with friends, or whatever. Generally, this'll happen when I get a pair of rest days back to back, and get to reset my body clock to daylight hours. I'll then have time to do things while there's a smattering of daylight to be had on the second day.

Such a day was today, and for once, everything seemed to gel together nicely. The buses arrived just after I got to the stops, so no waiting in the cold was suffered; I didn't miss the trains (again, no waiting in the cold was suffered), and the shops had what I wanted - and I also got to do something I've been meaning to do for some time, which was visit a certain style of fast food shop...

Probably the best fast food shop in London!

"Herman Ze German" is a newish fast food business. It's the German equivalent of a fish and chip shop, but instead of fish, it serves up German Sausages and Chips; I was lucky enough to sample this form of Schnelleimbiss (literally, "Fast Snack"), as I was told it's called in Germany, back in 1993, when I was over there for a shooting competition on the Territorial Army's time and expense; I acquired, at a shop in Hamburg, in one marvellous mouthful, a taste for Brockwurst (yes, that's the spelling I used - apparently there are arguments over whether it's spelled "Brockwurst" or "Bockwurst". Go figure!), which is smoked and slightly spiced pork sausage. The closest we come to over here is Cumberland sausage, and really, that isn't even in the same class as a proper Brockwurst.

So, when I learned a couple of years ago, that a Schellimbiss shop had opened up in London, I made a note to visit it the next time I was nearby. Well, it took a while, but it was worth the wait!

There are two Herman Ze German branches at the time of writing this; the first is on Villiers Stret, opposite the eastern stairs exit to Charing Cross railway station, the other, more recent addition to the firm, is their branch on Old Compton Street in Soho.

I visited the Villiers Street shop shop just after the lunch time rush was over, at around 2pm or so; the shop was still doing a regular trade, with people popping in and out while I was there. The staff, two pleasant young ladies, were friendly, professional, and seemed to be genuinely happy in their work - that's a rare and pleasant thing to see in a fast food shop these days!

I'm sorry to say that I didn't take photos of the food, as I was too busy scoffing it down my throat (it almost failed to hit the sides!), but wow, it tasted good; the sausage was the right temperature, consistency and taste. The fries, or "Pommes Frites", were incredibly crisp, and hadn't got a trace of the sliminess that so often curses our own chips that we get from fish 'n' chip shops, and with mustard on the sausage, and mayo on the chips (Europeans tend to put mayo on chips, not salt and vinegar, that's a British perversion!) things could only get better - which they did!

To add to the excellence, the coffee, a 'Plain Flat' (British style white coffee) was absolutely bang on - right colour, temperature and flavour, and with just a hint of the bitterness that all good coffees should have (if you aren't having a snack, at least go for the coffee - it's that good!)

It all combined to bring back some very good memories from days when I was much younger, lighter, and fitter! Needless to say, I'll be calling in there again, the next time I'm near Charing Cross!

Herman Ze German has a web presence at, so you can find out more about the menu and the firm; personally, I'd highly recommend a visit - your stomach will thank you!


(OK, sorry, but I couldn't resist!)