Saturday, 4 October 2008

For all those dog lovers out there :)

Bit of a retroactive entry this, should have been done on friday, but that's life :)

This is Chunky. Chunky is the slightly silly (make that sillier!) one of the two dogs my partner has.

The other, Achtung, is a tad camera-shy (can't say I blame her, really, lol). Chunky however has a habit of figuring out which night will be my last in the house for a while, and sleeps on the bed, normally trying to trap my feet under the covers (sneaky, that, she must've been planning it with Achtung!).

Anyhow, she missed again, getting my partners legs instead :) A few minutes later, and I happened to have my camera in my mitts as I was packing, and there was Chunky, still being lazy on the bed, so here she is, not even trying to bury her head under the duvet in embarrassment, hogging the warm spot where I was a little while earlier!

Oh, and yes, before you ask, those are NOT my normal colour for bed linen :) Remember, that photo was taken at my partners place ;) My duvet cover's a stereotypical blue ;)

Thursday, 18 September 2008

The Highway Code: Love it or loath it, you MUST pay attention to it!

Specifically, as a bus driver, I'll draw motorists attention, once again, to a simple fact of life: Buses are part of the mass transit system, and as such have a few rules devoted to them in the Highway Code. Now, while the Highway Code is not, in and of itself, law, many of its' rules have the backing of law, including the Road Traffic Act, the Construction And use regulations, and much more besides. Have an accident, and if you weren't obeying the letter of the Highway Code will, trust me, cost you dearly at court (I wasn't always a bus driver, and was trained in a previous occupation to a reasonable level in the upholding of Road Traffic Law).

So, why am I prattling on again about this topic? Easy. More and more I'm seeing completely muppit-like driving from motorists (note: NOT Drivers, who are by definition paid to drive for a living, mostly of very large vehicles, like buses, for example!) who, for reasons best known only to themselves, want to make sure they get in front, if only by 3 feet, of a bus.

Consider this. A bus is shifting up to 75 people to and from work, school, and so on. You, in your car, are shifting on average maybe two people (I'm being generous here) at any given time. Who has the greater claim to road space? In addition, buses run to a specific timetable. Delay us, and you delay up to 75 other folks already on that bus, and countless more down the route, because you decided in your own selfish way that the bus was an inferior class of life that deserved to be delayed.

Now here's the stick:

Highway Code Rule 223

Buses, coaches and trams. Give priority to these vehicles when you can do so safely, especially when they signal to pull away from stops. Look out for people getting off a bus or tram and crossing the road.


The operative phrase here is, of course, "Give priority to these vehicles when you can do so safely". This means that if you are able to stop without having to jam on the anchors full-strength, then you should.

The carrot? Most of us bus drivers will give you either a flash of the hazard lights, an alternate left-right-left-right of the indicators, or even merely stick out a meaty paw from the window, thumb pointing up, to say "thanks".

So, spare a thought, not just for the driver of the bus, but for his passengers (ahem. Sorry. "Customers"), and let the bus go first :)

I (and my colleagues) thank you!

Thursday, 4 September 2008

The daily Chicken Run and Quality of Life...

I got to work well early this morning. Just as well, really, as the run-out was messed up again.

On Tuesday, none of the buses were 'plated', or assigned; Plating refers to the practice of assigning a running number to a bus, thereby setting it's order in the morning runout from the depot, and it's order in the days schedule of a given bus route once out of the depot. In this case, it seems one of the garage inspectors called in sick, and no-one was available to do the job until the last minute. Sod's law, that. While it meant that buses were first come, first served for the first part of the runout, it did at least have a minimal confusion factor to it. Controlled chaos, if you like.

This morning (Wednesday), it appears that, while he correctly plated them first, the garage run-out inspector arbitrarily decided to re-arrange where, and in what order, each routes' buses would sit prior to being taken out on their first run...

Result? Unorganised Chaos, loosely disguised as Complete Pandemonium! No-one knew where their bus was going to be, or even how they were going to dig it out when they were due to leave first when their bus was at the back of the pile! I was one of the fortunate few who, having come in early, had time to amble round the yard, find my bus, and dig it out to the front in plenty of time, rather than run around in ever-decreasing circles, etc.

For some reason, this got me thinking about quality of life. Not standard of living, but quality of life: The two, while related, are different in scale by many orders of magnitude. We all seem to be conditioned into thinking that monetary income is the key to success. Bull. It's quality of life. You can be poor as a church mouse, and still have quality of life. Money is only part of the equation. It's mainly about, for want of a better phrase, not only smelling the roses, but having the time to smell them, and savour and enjoy the experience. This is what a lot of folks seem to be missing; we rush around like blue-backsided flies, forever chasing the dream, but never realising that it's there for the taking, if only we'd slow down and sniff it out. It's odd. In 26 years of adult life, I only just realised it. And now, I look back, and realise that I lost it, the moment I struck out on my own, and left my parents' home. Like I said, it's odd. Now add a mental shrug of the shoulders: What's done is, after al, done. No point worrying about it too much, after all.

So, how does this relate to buses? For once, I had time to actually do my morning routine at a manageable and easy pace, rather than the more normal running-around-like-a-headless-chicken pace, as is normally the case for pretty-much everyone at our depot in the morning. In a depot where there are some 150 drivers clocking on for work each morning, that's a shedload of headless chickens, as you can imagine.

Strangely, I find that once I've managed to exit London for good, I'm probably going to miss the daily chicken run at work!

Now is that QoL madness, or what?

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Suicide Jockies with and without umbrellas!

OK, today I was going to blather on about White Van Man and his lack of road manners, but he was pipped to the punch by a bunch of Suicide Jockies...

Suicide Jockies are pedal cyclists. they've earnet this nickname because of the blatendly suicidal way they go about getting from a to b to c and so on. They'll dive in and out of traffic without so much as a sideways, let alone backwards glance, and presumably trust in God to protect them from going under the wheels of whatever it is that they've just cut in front of. Like I said. Suicide Jockies.

The one this morning, however, was a cut (ahem. I mean Carve) above the average for suicidal intent. It's raining heavily, (I do mean heavily here, folks: It was heaving down cats, dogs, bannisters, the entire stairwell, and then some for the majority of the rush hour this morning), and there I am, on the bus stand at one end of the route, and this moron from hell on two wheels pedals up between two buses, one hand holding the grip of the left handlebar, the other holding a bleeding umbrella! I had to blink and look again to be certain that my eyes weren't deceiving me, I kid you not. He then does a weaving left turn onto the main road without even looking to see if there was anything coming - there was, and they all managed to avoid him, or he'd be a pavement burger.

Later on, there was a cyclist with a very basic bike - pedals, no gears, and no brakes fitted either - needless to say, she was smack dab in the centre (weaving away merrily left to right and back again) of the northbound A20 (Old Kent Road) when encountered, and could any of the five buses she was holding down to 10 miles per hour get past her? No chance.

So here's the argument point... Cyclists insist they have a right to use the road. We, the drivers, have to take a test to receive a licence to drive on the roads, and we do not have any right to use the road, as our licences can be taken off us by a court if we stuff things up. Cyclists, on the other hand, need no licence, and about the only thing they can be nicked for is "furious cycling", whatever the hell that is.

So here're the questions: WHY do cyclists NOT have to take a DVLA/DSA-approved test before being let loose on the roads, and why on earth can their cycles not require an annual MOT-approved test before they become so delapidated that they fall apart when in the rain (I've seen this happen!)? More to the point, when the hell will someone MAKE then wear some form of numberplate, so that Police can be involved when they cause a major shunt, and cycle off never to be seen again?

Anyone know?

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Move down inside and STAY THERE! (part two)

Cogidubnus commented on the last blant, and my reply is a tad long, so I decided to make it a fresh Blant entry :)

I'm well aware of the fact that some (not all by any stretch of the imagination) other drivers allow this to slide.

No offence, but that's their problem, not mine - I'm not a copper or a driving examiner, after all; if they want a DSA covert examiner to stop the bus, and revoke their licence on the spot for "Unsafe Driving Practices" (which HAS happened to a few bus drivers in the south east London area in the recent past), then that's their risk, and let's all hope that this happens sooner than later for the offending drivers involved - I say that in all sincerity: Dangerous driving is exactly that, and when one has upwards of 75 passengers' lives and well-being in your hands, lack of concentration on the job at hand does not bear thinking about.

Hell, I even tell folks to step back and wait until the next stop before they try to talk to me - especially when they insanely stick their faces against the assault screen and yell even louder than before I told them to wait! If I have to, I'll keep banging away about this until I'm blue of face, and others are blue of ear: It to do with safety, ride comfort, reduction of risk, and plain common sense, after all. You wouldn't, after all, allow someone in the front seat of your car to block your vision, would you? Of course not. You like your car the way it is, rather than resembling a metal concertina. At the very least, you MUST keep back so that the driver doesn't accidentally let the bus cross the kerb-line; at best, your ears'll get a hefty beating from the grinding sound the bus bottom makes as it scrapes the kerb stones, but at much much worse, the screams of the people at the bus stop he just ran over because you blocked his vision will stay with you for a considerably longer time.

This is the problem that passengers in the main don't think about when they want to know the following:


  • Does the bus call at (name a station)

  • Does the bus stop outside (name a landmark)

  • What time will we get there?

  • Are we there yet (NO! Not now, not the two hundred times they've already asked, and not until we bloody get there! It's rush hour traffic for pities sake!)

  • and so on...



Of course, there is always the one in a billion who actually waits until we got to the next stop before pestering us with questions better left to Priests and Police than lowly bus drivers, but hey, we gotta have some comic relief from time to time ("Fastest way to top yourself? Easy. Go to the cake shop, ask them to pour hundreds and thousands over you. Bingo. Topped" Cue instant nutter on the bus, of course - time for a fast Code Red radio call!)

Anyhow, now you see why it was a fresh Blant to reply to Cogidubnus

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Move down inside and STAY THERE!

OK, here's the latest bus-related rant; I drive (primarily) routes using single-deck 'dart' buses; the ones from my depot only have one set of doors, which are at the front, so they're rather unsurprisingly used by passengers to both get on and get off the bus.

Rant one: folks waiting to get on, not even waiting to let the aged and folks with baby buggies off first. Like pushing and shoving is going to let the bus get moving more quickly. This also applies most especially to youths in uniform, i.e. schoolbrats. Idiots, one and all, for the most part, for the aforementioned reason. I single those idiots out now, a few days before the new term begins, in the sincere and probably forlorn hope that one of their parents might be reading this, and may then seek to properly educate said idiot ;)

Next rant: Standing on the footplate. Please observe the photo, left. Clear as day, that.

When you stand on the footplate (the area between the drivers cab and the front doors), you block the drivers nearside view, with potentially catastrophic results. We look out that damn door to (1) judge where the kerb is, and (2) look for oncoming traffic at junctions. We also use it to (3) look into the nearside mirror, to ensure that some suicidal two-wheeled twit a.k.a. a pedal cyclist, isn't trying to undertake us as we turn left, or pull in, or some form of similar driver manoeuvre.

So, do us all a favour: Wait until everyone who wants to have alighted the bus before you try to get on, and once on, MOVE DOWN INSIDE, and STAY THERE! Do NOT under any except the most dire of emergencies, distract or block the view of the driver while the bus is in motion, or stand anywhere in the footplate area.

You only have yourself to blame if there's a few rude words planted six feet into your skull, should you NOT pay attention to those simple requirements!

Many thanks :)

Thursday, 21 August 2008

On roundabouts...

Y'know, it's rather amazing. Your average motorist does maybe 25 to 45 hours of training behind the wheel in the learner car, before being permitted to take and probably pass his or her driving test. He or she is then (with a few restrictions for new drivers) allowed to do pretty much any kind of driving they like, provided that it's within the rules and guidelines of the Highway Code, Road Traffic Act, and the Construction And Use Regulations, which,to be fair, are fairly relaxed.

Then they start to learn bad habits. Like ploughing through amber traffic lights (and lets' be honest, we've all done that from time to time), blocking yellow box junctions (I try not to do that, especially when driving a bus, as it's now expensive on the fines!), and so on.

However, my pet hate, at the moment (it'll change. Pet hates are like that!) are roundabouts. Specifically the hair brained gormless half wit muppits (and that's the polite version, folks!) who fail to recall that those to the RIGHT have priority to (1) enter the damn thing, and (2) go first in all cases. This is most noticeably the case at so-called mini-roundabouts, or as I have recently come to start calling them, targets.

Why targets? Think shooting. If you're really lucky, you'll get the car that just shoots on without even looking at about mid-way along he car with the front of your vehicle, nicely "T-Boning" it. Bingo, you and your hapless hamburger have just won a prize! In my case, while driving a bus, you're more than likely to be totally irrevocably and completely dead. I'm not joking. Buses will not stop on a dime: They weight upwards of seven and a half tons for the short single-decker darts, up to maybe 19 tons fully laden for a full-size double decker. And you wanna play chicken against all of that with your Nissan Micra? Good bleedin' luck. You're gonna need it.

Case in point. The road in question is a four and a half way target junction (four ways plus a fifth just off one of the junctions). I'm on the southern entrance, just entering it, having slowed to a crawl to check to my right that I'm not about to carve some poor sod up. Nope, road clear; I do a quick scan left right and ahead, all clear (darn well should be at one in the afternoon!), and begin to enter properly - and slam on the anchors. Every one of the aged passengers (it's a granny route) kiss the headrests, writ large. The 4x4 driver didn't even look, he just zoomed through, left to right. Hell, I never even had time to stick on the horn! Thank the stars for forward facing CCTV, or I'd probably be looking at a lost licence right now - two of the passengers were suffering some very painful facial injuries, no joke. Luckily, as I was doing maybe 5 mph, so no broken bones, but the bruising on one lady whose glasses had first impact with the seat back were not nice at all.

It's a hell of a shame that we never got the licence number of the 4x4. We got a lovely shot, I am told, of the driver though. Initially for the first half second, it shows him, in profile, apparently jabbering away on his phone travelling at near-relativistic speed left to right across the screen. This then changes as in the blink of an eye he's looking right at the bus (I never noticed this, I was concentrating too hard on landing ten tons of mass on the brake pedal at the time), eyes wide in fear, dropping his mobile phone (it's apparently blurred as it falls, but unmistakable according to the CCTV officer at my depot), and swerving slightly (seems he jerked the wheel as well).

So, there he is. Framed in glorious technicolour. Not that it'll do us any good. There's so many 4x4s driven on our roads that without the registration plate number, it's impossible to know who the half-wit is. So he's also the luckiest bloody 4x4 moron in London as well, dammit. Wish I'd been a bit faster on the pedal, to be brutally honest. I can sure-fire guarantee that an impact square onto the side of the bus WOULD have stopped him, no arguments.

So, in the hope that you're a driver, do us all a favour. Drive like you were taught. STOP before entering a roundabout (at the very least, slow to a dead crawl), and look before you do something that might result in a fatal collision. And finally, DON'T USE YOUR PHONE while driving!

Ahem :)

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Idiot Test...

A mate of mine just sent this via instant messenger...

Idiot Test

If you get higher than Average, drop me a comment :)

One idiot at a time, please...

I'm sure every bus driver get this on some routes; we get it on three out of my depot, and I work a rota that encompasses two of them. I must be stark raving bloody mad. Here's why...

On some routes, you have points where both directions are served by a single bus stop, or two located next to each other. For those who are common-sense-challenged (i.e. they can't be asked to read the information on the bus stop), it can be a confusing issue. For bus drivers who are the brunt of this confusion, it's not just annoying, it's downright infuriating!

Picture this; you are fifteen minutes late due to horrendous traffic and rain, your leader (the bus in front) has broken down, and as a result you now have a full bus, you're being stopped at every stop by passengers getting off and on, you've been denied a 'turn' (bus driver speak for cutting the service short to allow late buses to get back on time on the return leg) as your leader broke down (tell us something we don't already know!), you only have five minutes of stand time at the other end of the route (the time permitted on the bus stand at the either end of the route, during which time you have to change the settings on your ticket machine, change the destination blind display, enter your route timings on your Log Card, and oh yes, find yet more time to find a toilet as you're about ready to burst from all the coffee you had earlier that morning), when you stop at a bi-directional bus stop, and are confronted by a customer with a confused look on his/her/its face...

Customer: "Does this but go to X?"
Driver: "No, you want the other direction, it'll have 'X' on the front, not 'Y', like this one. We both serve this stop, so wait here, and it'll be along soon".
Customer: "So you don't go to 'X'?"
Driver: "No. We're going to 'Y'."
Customer: "So where do I catch the bus to 'X', then?"
Driver: "Here. Make sure it's showing 'X' on the front, though, as both directions serve this stop".
Customer: "But you've stopped here, aren't you going to "X"?"

Remembering that you're late, you aren't getting a turn, and that your bladder is about ready to burst through the front of your abdomen, do you:

A: Scream in frustration
B: Cross your legs, bounce on the seat, and patiently explain the situation again
C: Leap out of the cab, and perform a series of actions leading to the statement "And that, Your Honour, is when I ripped his arm out of its' socket and beat him about the head with the soggy end".

Ahem.

Oh well. One can hope and dream, can't one?

Monday, 4 August 2008

Coffee, Keyboard - SPRAY!

So, here it is, 4:25am, and I'm getting ready for work (life on the buses is REALLY unsociable, know what I mean?), and I've fired up my browser to check the news, etc, while I wake up, and open up firefox, the default page for which is my "igoogle" page. You can configure "igoogle" to display all manner of things. Mine includes a daily horoscope, mainly because I like a good laugh in the morning ;)

This morning is a damn fine example, given my trade...



Check the highlighted text!

Not so much time to bite my lip, more like bite my finger?!

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Cool sign time :)


OK, this made me laugh and spill coffee, so it must be good :)

It's on the back of a towed World War Two artillery Piece belonging to a military vehicle preservation group I know; I popped over to their display near Ringmer in Sussex the other weekend, and only just found the photo this evening :) Click on the photo above to get a larger version of it, so you can read the text on the sign more easily :)

Just don't be drinking (or eating) anything when you read it ;)

Retroactive post... erm... "Stick to the facts, Ma'am"!


OK, I'll admit I chuckled when I read this (I happen to like Sci-Fi), but after a while, I got thinking... not everyone likes science fiction, so sticking a blatantly Sci-Fi reference in an advertisement for a coach is a little silly, wouldn't you say? It may well turn off the punters you're looking to do business with in the first place. Far better, I suspect, to "Stick to the facts, Ma'am" ;)

oh, I wish, really, I WISH!


Nope. They aren't taking it down, dammit :(

They're doing planned maintenance instead, by "replacing the head unit".

But damn, I wish they'd taken the damn thing down: I'm sure they cause more problems than they allegedly solve - even Swindon council have finally said "No" to the Scameras!

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Back to London with a bump (NOT mine, I hasten to add!)

OK, it's a Saturday. It's been raining, and on my last round, someone decided to make my shift a wee bit longer, by demolishing a traffic light pillar!

To the left, the queue behind me as I realised that all was not exactly well with the traffic... so, since I hadn't been going anywhere for five minutes, the traffic was standing still, and a fair number of drivers were getting out of their cars, I decided to record the moment for the blant, by capturing the unhappy impromptu campers behind me in the queue, stuck behind several buses who in turn are stuck in the traffic :) No point in trying to photograph to the front: It's obscured by said buses!

And here's why... erm... can one say "OOPS!"?

In all fairness (thought I'm damned if I know why I'm doing this, lol) I should point out that the double decker from Arriva you see behind the wreck did NOT cause it by shunting into the gormeless muppit, although I'm sure he was severely tempted - shades of (insert broad saaaaarf London accent ;)) "Toldja you'd come a cropper playin' chikin wiv a Lunnun Bus!"

No, it's all a bit more mundane than that, I'm afraid. Apparently, said gormless muppit decided to do a Michael Schumacher round the wet corner, lost grip, and went head-first into the traffic light column, demolishing both it and his car. The fact that he wasn't in an F1 Racing car, in a flame-proof jumpsuit, wearing a full-face helmet with radio, water, and uncle Tom Cobbly as well, obviously never entered his mind. Rather expensive lesson that :)

And I still didn't win the bloody Euro Lottery last night, dammit :(

Still, one less muppit to worry about while I'm at work tomorrow, I suppose :)

Thursday, 31 July 2008

All correct, moving on...

OK, nothing to do with buses this time, just a general burble :)

It's my last day on holiday with my partner today; I drive back to London again tomorrow, to go back to work, suffer the London traffic and passengers, oh dammit I need another bloody holiday!

Oh, and the dogs have caught on. Two marvellous German Shepherds, whose names I will change to protect the completely insane ;)

'Achtung' is a reliable, friendly, very observant dog, whose claim to fame is leaping into the paddling pool in the garden last week, while everyone was outside enjoying the sunshine - before the microburst rain, more on this in a moment - and liberally applying massive splash value to all assembled. Including drinks, food, et al. Clever muppit that she is, she then exited stage left at lightspeed, having probably realised that the resulting screaming, shouting, yelling, and towel hunting, was because of her, lol!

'Chunky' (because she's a few chunks short of a tin of Winalot!) is a completely nutty dog; friendly, curious, loving, and a complete coward, she'll race under the table and protect the carpet. You all know the type :) Yep, she even scares herself while barking at her own shadow! When the microbursts hit earlier this week, she outdid herself: She bowled me over as she raced back inside! Comments of "What planet am I on?" were heard for around a minute after the impact!

Microbursts: One moment it's clammy, hot, sunny, and there's no wind, the next you've ducked due to a massive clap of thunder right above your head, and there's a lake outside the front door, and both dogs are peeking out from behind your heels asking "Boss, what just happened?, oh, and the doggy toilet's full again!"


Anyhow, this morning, both dogs sussed that I'm leaving tonight. Chunky slept at the foot of the bed last night (not something she normally does), and this morning, Achtung was patrolling the bedroom as I had a lie-in, glancing up to me to check I was still there, and that I hadn't surreptitiously packed up all my stuff in the night. Satisfied that all was correct, she would glance at me again, and I'm damn certain she gave a nod each time as if to say "All Correct, moving on" before nipping out, probably to update Chunky!

I don't have pets at home, as I live in a flat (it's cruel to both cats and dogs to keep them indoors all the time when you're at work, in my not so humble opinion), so when I go back home, I really miss those two nutters. I miss my partner too, but that's a different kind of 'miss'; My partner can happily hop a train or coach (no driving licence!) to come visit me - not so the two lovable muppits disguised as German Shepherds!

Oh well... winter break coming up in a few months, a few weekends until then, and oh yeah, I may even be moved out of London by then!

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Welcome to the Twilight Zone / Hotel California / Dimension Zod...

OK, I've just got back to my other half's place, after what was, until we went to come back, a very nice day out shopping and going to the cinema (Wall-E, go see it - it's hilarious! - here's a clip on IMDB for you to enjoy...), and now, thanks to Reading Councils apparently completely intransigent and arrogant Road Planning team, it's rant time...

Getting into Reading (the place, not the method of understanding the written word, although it's obviously related!) is a doddle; the signage is bang on, the SatNav makes it easy, and the parking is right on the shopping centres.

Just don't plan on leaving with ease, or at all.

Reading: Welcome to the Twilight Zone... or is that Hotel California? Or maybe the Dimension Zod?

OK, you park up at the Oracle Centre (for example). Four hours later, you pay he princly sum of five quid to free your car from their car pound - I mean car park, and then spend fifteen minutes queuing to get out of the damn place. And in doing so, you miss the ONE bloody sign showing you the way to leave town.

So, the Satnav bravely recalculates your new route to leave Reading by the town drain - I mean down train - and you wind up meeting every one-way street (head on), every changed priority road (SatNav: "Cross the traffic lights and go straight on" You: "I CAN'T YOU INFERNAL PILE OF ROBOTIC GARBAGE! FOR THE FIFTEEN BILLIONTH TIME, IT'S ****ING BLOCKED TO CARS!").

All this, until, finally, reduced to being a gibbering exhausted Human wreck in the driving seat of your car, a traffic warden notices you, takes pity on you, and taps on the window "Turn right over there, mate, and go straight on. Leads straight to the M4 at Junction eleven".

Cue a complete state of total utter and almost insane sobbing and screaming...

OK, I'm exaggerating a little. But not by much. It's enough to drive a man to drink, I kid you not.

It's like trying to navigate through West bloody Sussex. The road signs there are all screwed up to hell and back, and as informative as a hole in the head, too. I'm sure their civic planners of whatever they're bloody called went to the same school of DisInformation.

Reading, it's official. Your Council SUCKS.

One more place NEVER to move to!

Saturday, 19 July 2008

You couldn't make this **** up, I kid you not!

So, here I am, still spaced of mind and slacked of jaw.... and here's why...

I'm on a break from work, called Annual Holiday. So, I'm spending a goodly portion of it with my better half, who lives near Reading. Since I'm coming through Bracknell as usual, could, I was asked, I stop off at the KFC, and pick up a family bucket, please? Sure, no problem says I.

Wrong.

Everythings' fine and dandy, up to the point where I pull into the KFC. I ask for the 12.99 family bucket, only to be told in a vaguely French accent by the girl behind the counter: "Sorry, we 'ave no Chicken".

Blink.

"Sorry, what?"

"We 'ave no chicken. We 'ave everything else, but no chicken".

"Right. OK, lemme wrap my brain around that for a moment. This is a KFC, correct?"

"Yes"

"Kentucky Fried Chicken, emphasis on that last word, Chicken. And yet you have no chicken".

"Yes".

"Right. Fine. Bye."

And that was that. I wasn't going to get into a silly and fruitless argument or discussion regarding the merits or otherwise of remaining open when one doesn't have the core item for doing business. I'll leave that to the snottygram I'll be writing to KFC Head Office in the morning.

But Ye Bleeding Bloody Gods On Sticks! No Chicken? In a K bleedin' F Bleedin' C?!

Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesh!

You couldn't make this stuff up when drunk!

Friday, 18 July 2008

Same place, different day... muppit parking version #3...


OK, here we are again, this time someone else beat the 4x4 to the prize parking spot.

If the cars pictured belong to you, please, drop a comment explaining just why you parked in such a completely inconsiderate and muppit-like way. I'm sure we all want to know :)

The red car got away with it - this time. The 4x4 is parked up behind the red job, by the way. Sorry for the lack of additional photos, I was a little late on the schedule, only had time for one hurried photo :)

Thursday, 17 July 2008

More muppit-like parking.

OK, those who recognise the place in the photos now know who I work for. Tough. There's 400 plus in my depot - now figure out who I am ;)

Anyhow. The four-wheel-drive tank shown in the photos here is parked in the emergency bus stop section of this branch of Sainsburys. That's right. EMERGENCY bus stop. Buses in both directions of travel call at the same stop (to the right, off camera, in the second photo), and if one breaks down, to allow services to continue, we have an emergency stop. Sainsburys learned from the last time, before they rebuilt the stop. Unfortunately, their staff, and this is an assumption here, have not: I'm assuming its one of their staff, as I keep seeing the same damn car parked in the same damn place, day in, day out, wherever I drive this particular route.

You'd think that Euro Parking would have put a fine on this muppit already, woldn't you?

Nope.

It appears that if you work in this branch, you could probably park on the branch managers' foot, and get away with it.

Wonder how they'll react when a bus breaks down, and TfL uplift their cars for being illegally parked on a bus stop?

It happens, you know. Witness this photo!

Monday, 14 July 2008

Operation Get A Life is back on the cards...

OK, it's official: I've had it up to here with living in London; the original idea was to sell up, and with the profits of the home sale, find a better place to live without requiring a mortgage. This is now not an option; ten years ago, you could be reasonably assured that if you owned your place inside the M25, you could move out of London to almost anywhere in the UK, and move up a step in the property ranks without needing a mortgage, as the sale of your place in London would fund the new out-of-London place completely. This is not now the case, and hasn't been for "a number of years", and this was confirmed by the estate agent I spoke to over the weekend.

So, while I'm planning on getting out of London as rapidly as possible, buying a replacement home is now not a viable or realistic option. So, I'll be renting for a while, by the look of it. No problem, then: Thousands on thousands of folks do that each month, and while it is, yes, more expensive than a mortgage, it is, at least, available in the short-to-medium-term while I get my backside in gear, so to speak.

So.

Now I have to address storage options. Yes, storage. You think a rented place is going to be as large as my current place? think again. Storage. And this is where it's gonna get hellishly expensive, unless I get creative. Much of my stuff I'll likely get rid of, and start afresh in the new place (at that time); the rest I'll either leave behind (for the new home owner of my current home), or store.

The Times on Saturday 5th July 2008 in the "Money" section, page 8, had an interesting article "Box Clever or brace yourself for a hefty bill". The upshot is that renting storage is - or can be at least - as expensive, if you're not careful - as renting central London retail space. Not a heartening thought, that. So, time to be creative. I have a couple of options, one free (whoopee!), one not so.

Free option: use a friends' spare garage space. Pros: Free, available. Cons: Relies on goodwill of friend, and you must be ready to shift it somewhere else rapidly if the space is needed by the friend for any reason whatsoever - it's his or her property that you're using as storage space, after all; furthermore, if you use this option, you must, at the drop of a hat, be ready to lend any and all assistance to said friend - they're doing you a favour, so obviously the reverse must be true.

Paid-for option: use as little storage space as you can: Get rid of the large items before you move, and pack the stuff you retain in as small a physical space as humanly possible - likewise, you must shift it into storage yourself as well: This means renting a van, boxes, and so on, and getting a damn good padlock, storage insurance, and so on.

It is not going to be easy. Especially as I'm planning to get out of London as rapidly and as reasonably as I can.

But then, nothing worthwhile ever IS easy, is it?

Sunday, 6 July 2008

So much for my attention to detail - a cautionary Radio Ham tale...

Well, they say we learn by our mistakes, don't they?

Here's a silly an easily avoidable fubar you can all relate to (if you're a radio amateur, that is)...

So, here I am, at my partner's place for some desperately needed depressurisation time, and also having taken along my FT-817 (a very portable lightweight two-way radio, which is able to operate over many different radio frequency bands), with my partners' permision, began to set up a test station for an evenings low-power (or QRP as its' known) operating.

So, with my 'Miracle Ducker' antenna (an expensive but promising portable all-HF band antenna system consisting a quite good matching box and a long "random wire" cable) in hand, I looped the plug end of the cable on the spike of the upstairs bedroom window opener to secure it, and dropped the coiled cable out the window. No problems thus far, and all secure.

Realising that the cable was too short to reach the other end of the garden, I also brought some paracord (the green string that the army uses with wild abandon, and that you can get in your local Milletts shop); one end of this cord I tied to the free (non-plug) end of the antenna cable. I then proceeded to attach the other end of the paracord to a tree, and haul the combined and heavy (there was the first hint) cable to a horizontal and slightly less than drooping position.

There was a twich, and a faing pinging sound from the window at this point, which was the second hint that should have alerted me to the impending disaster that was coming, but since the only cables I'd used before for wire format antennas had been military issue stuff that's very tough (for those in the know: Clansman dipole wires), thought nothing more about it.

PING.

The cable unhooked from the window spike; I was looking the wrong way, and there was a little wind which was causing the odd twitch in the line, so didn't notice any tell-tale sags or twitches in the line. At this point, the 'BNC' plug on the end of the cable hung up on the window spike. Not good.

TING

The plug broke free from the cable, and the entire cable fell to the ground. This, I noticed, of course.

It was at this point I realised that I had a problem, but did not think I had much of one - attachment ideas often release when you don't want them to, after all. I just thought it was the embuggerance of having to reattach the cable to the window spike.

Wrong, of course.

When I walked back to the other end of the cable, what I saw caused the air to turn a wee bit blue (ok, a LOT blue). The centre pin of the plug, still soldered to the cable, was looking me square in the face. No sign, of course, of the rest of the plug. Wouldn't matter anyhow, as I had a busted plug on my hands, and no spares or even tool kit - the point of operating portable is that you shouldn't NEED a tool kit. So much for that idea, folks (and that's on the list now, too: Portable tool kit).

There was no bloody way I was going to be able to use the antenna cable this time over; it was well and truly buggered, busted, and fubared. Call it what you like: It was broken.

And I'd broken the damn thing.

Oh..... pooh.

NEXT time, folks, I'll use a slightly more robust antenna/cable set, that I'll construct beforehand. It'll be a random wire setup still, but with decently attached connectors and attachment hooks at each end. The only drawback? It won't be truly quick to set up. Ho hum.

Here's the moral: Trailing antenna cables are strong: Antenna connector plugs are most emphatically NOT. Next time, use either a proper fixing kit, or a dedicated outdoors antenna kit!

Here endeth the unfortunately rather annoying lesson!

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Knockback.

I half suspected this would happen, so I shouldn't have been too surprised.

Having come back to work on light duties, I was put on the customer services desk at our head office. And there I've worked, not missing one day off, working as best I could, dealing with the public. So much so, I was really beginning to enjoy the office, the job, and the possibility of working there permanently.

So, I applied for the post.

so did well over a hundred and eighty other folks. yeah. One eight zero.

I made the paper sifts through to the final twelve for interview, and this gave me a one-in-six chance of getting the job (they were recruiting two permanent staff to the job).

Needless to say, thanks to the points system they handicap the interview process with, I was stuffed from day one, and never knew it until AFTER the dust settled.

Since this damn company has rules regarding public comments on the company, I can't name it, but you can take this to the bank: Any loyalty that I had for them is now down the goddamn toilet, folks.

I have had enough. I've been knocked back by this damn firm three times in the last eighteen months, and I've finally had enough. I am now, officially, looking to get the hell out of London.

Congratulations, London: You succeeded. I know when I'm beaten, and I'm now trying as best as I can to find a way out of this bloody rat trap. You see, everything that I've tried to do to improve my life since leaving school, has come to naught. I got onto the property ladder when it dipped; my flat was worth 47500 then; it's worth a shedload more now, but then, one used to be able to have a London property and move up to an actual house if you moved out of London.

Not anymore: EVERYWHERE is as flaming expensive. I know this now: I looked online this evening.

In the fifteen years since I bought this place, and have worked on a shoestring set of wages, the rest of the blasted country has cottoned onto the way you can allegedly finance your life with your property.

I am, in other words, f***ed. Sorry, there's no other suitable way of putting it.

I'm 43.

I had a heart attack recently.

I've had enough of the capital.

I want quality of life.

I've no bloody chance.

Folks, I'm at my wits end here, and can't see a way out. I have naff-all in the way of qualifications, five O levels, a driving licence, know how to make a basic web page, can use fireworks and dreamweaver, along with Pagemaker and Photoshop, and I'm fairly computer-literate; only problem is that for none of those do I have paper qualifications. In addition, I'm qualified to drive buses (if the DVLA actually pulls their fingers out and conform that I can drive a bus again - they're dragging their heels again), and no bloody idea how to go about getting my life back on my terms.

I'm stuffed, in other words.

I'm throwing the floor open to ideas. Comment away. I'll read every comment, but I won't promise to reply.

Chances are that I'll be too busy being ground down by the system.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

On inconsiderate and muppit-like parking...

OK, it's a Sunday in not-so-sunny Basingstoke, and there I am, with my partner, going to see a movie at the Odeon at the Basingstoke Leisure Park, and most of the parking places are occupied. Including two spaces taken up by one extraordinarily selfish driver. I mean look at it. There is NO way on the planet anyone could possibly mistake this for careless parking, is there?

So, I photographed it. I also date-stamped and GPS co-ordinate tagged the photo. All the owner needs do, if terminally embarrassed, is write a polite comment here as to why he or she parked like Miss Piggy, and I'll be happy to obscure the numberplate.

In case you can't read the Tagging information, here it is:

[Image]
Model = hp iPAQ hw6900
Exif IFD Pointer = Offset: 65
GPS Info IFD Pointer = Offset: 163

[Camera]
Exif Version = Version 2.2
Date Time Original = 2008-05-25 14:01:07
Light Source = unknown
Flash = Off
Exif Image Width = 640
Exif Image Height = 480

[GPS]
GPS Latitude Ref = North latitude
GPS Latitude = 51°15'56"
GPS Longitude Ref = West longitude
GPS Longitude = 1°6'57"
GPS Altitude Ref = Sea level
GPS Altitude = 132m
GPS Time Stamp = 13:01:07 UTC
GPS Status = Measurement in progress
GPS Measure Mode = 3-dimensional measurement
GPS DOP = 0.5

And the location, to it's actual and exact position, is here.

Bear in mind that all GPS units have a tendancy to be a few metres off, so I corrected the location of the parking bay to the actual location on the map. Never the less, the photo is untouched!

Ball's in your court, have a nice day!

Thursday, 8 May 2008

err..... "Oops?"!

So, there I am, on the phone to someone in a well-known bus company's depot, looking to recover some lost property for a mate. I get the stock answers of "Hello, (Company Name), how can I help" and so on; this is roughly how the rest of it went...

"Yeah, I'm looking for a mobile phone that belongs to a mate of mine, it's an LG (details deleted), black in colour with a kind of dragon motif on the back below the camera, lost on a route (withheld for the privacy of my mate) bus last night, around 10 pm or so. Can you tell me if anything like that was logged in as lost property last night when the bus came back in the depot?"

"Sorry, sir, I can't check the register right now; can you call back later?"

"Not really, I'm at work"

"Well, I can call you back if you like?"

"Yeah, that'd be great, thanks; the number's (censored)"

"Oh, you work for (he actually knew the phone number of the bus company I work for)?"

"Yeah, I'm in Customer Services at the moment"

"OK, well, tell the truth, we've had a bit of a cock up. Some twit sent our lost property register along with the last batch of stuff we sent to London Buses Lost Property last week by mistake, and we're still waiting for it to be returned!"

Cue me falling off my chair laughing my backside off!

Saturday, 3 May 2008

What a way to start the Bank Holiday Weekend...

So. We've lost Ken, and gained Boris. Call me somewhat cynical, but even when the Tories have said that they're going to improve public transport, they've slashed it with wild abandon. Boris, old boy, be ye on notice: We workers on the buses are watching. That's not just from me: Everyone I've spoken to on the buses of late have been wondering just what changes (aside from your promising to get rid of the bendy buses) you're going to try to make, and what it's going to cost the industry.

Say what you like about Ken, he did OK by us.

I hope that we can say the same about you in four years time, but I have my doubts. You're a blue rosette bearer, after all, and that colour hasn't exactly got a good record when it comes to Public Services, has it?

Be honest now, 'cause we're watching!

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Spilt Coffee...

Cough - splutter - spray.

All over my keyboard, no less.

And I'm still laughing my backside off

What just happened?

I read an article on The Register. You have to laugh at the terms and expressions some folks come up with. In Gulf War one, it was General Normal Schwartzkopf's "Studies of Bovine Scatology".

Today's Register article stated that a major internet advertising company, BareFruit, when told how hackers could use a flaw in the way they delivered their advertising to their client's customers, "defecated masonry"

How colourful

Especially as I was chomping on toast and taking a swig of coffee at the time

I'll get you, my pretty - and your damn vulture too! (with apologies for the misquote )

Saturday, 19 April 2008

An interesting week...

Well, it's been interesting, and a little surprising, coming back from three months of 'being on the sick' to being a full-time wage slave again!

I've been seconded from my normal job of driving a bus to the Customer Services section of the firm at head office; revealing is not quite the right word for the job; it's mostly computer-based, handling complaints sent in to London Buses Limited, which are then re-directed down to us, the Bus operating Company. We then investigate, and report back to LBL, who pass on our comments (we have to be polite in our replies to LBL!) back to the customer, in most cases.

Then there's the internal aspect - folks from all over the company come to us in the first instance for information, phone numbers, and much more besides. To say that we're the central clearing house of information and complaints wouldn't be stretching things by much - and strangely, I'm finding it oddly satisfying; I'm able to get my head down and plough through the work (while learning the oddities of the computer system we have to use, of course); granted the phone will always ring just as I'm getting my head around another problem, but hell, that's life!

Interestingly, the company posted an internal vacancy advert about the same time as I arrived on secondment. Let's hope my having one foot under the table, on secondment, helps my chances of getting this job full time - it pays around five grand more than I'm getting as a driver as well!

Oh yeah - the best bit about the post?

The coffee's free!

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's Back To Work I Go!


Well, the sick leave is almost completely over; I go back to work on Tuesday

The sick note says: "Indoor duties for two weeks then to bus driving"

AT LAST!

I've been bloody climbing the walls with boredom this last while, I can tell you! The first month off was a bit of a novelty, aside from the shock of having had the bloody heart attack, of course; month number tow was settling into the daily routine.

Month number three (this last month)? Let me put it this way: I've been ready to try for low earth orbit on boredom power alone!

So, updates'll be a wee bit slower now, but at least I'll be back earning a half-decent wage again!

Enjoy your weekend! I know I will now

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

What next?

OK, for background on this, read the news, and come back...

How in the HELL can you copyright a street sign for pities sake?! Street signs display names, and are PUBLIC information. By copyrighting them, you are effectively prohibiting even map-makers from using the street names. Hell, someone writes an address on a letter, and bingo, copyright fees are incurred. The reason? If you copyright something, you MUST go after copyright violators, or lose the right to the copyright. It's a legal technicality thing, but trust me, it's true: Protect it or lose it.

Where the HELL do you draw the line?!

Easy. You TRADEMARK it, not copyright it.

Westminster Council went about this in entirely the wrong way - all they needed to do was TRADEMARK the DESIGN of the street signs, not copyright the content, to prevent unlicenced reproductions. Talk about local government stupidity.

It's also, and in my humble opinion, clearly a case of more Council officials seeing a potential money train, and going after it with little regard to the innocents who'll be caught in the middle. Say a tourist snaps a photo of the street sign. A council official notices, and gets a Copper to take their details, as they've obviously just committed copyright theft (image of copyrighted materials). Instant criminal, they just incurred a fine. See what I mean?

So, as I asked a moment or two ago:

WHERE do you draw the line?

By the way, fair use policy extends to all my blog articles - you MAY use text and images that I have produced, provided they are not used in any profit-making effort of any kind. For that, you'll need a licence from me ;) Third Party material may be subject to other copyright restrictions, so I wouldn't touch those if I were you ;) The T&C at the foot of the page will be amended before long :)

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Welcome to the Great British Summer!


Well, so much for nicely delineated seasons, I guess - this was the view out of the front of my flat this morning! A bigger photo can be found here This was the view out of the back...


At least one of my neighbours had some fun :)

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Whoops... IBM appears to be in the smelly stuff...

Just spotted this over on The Register...

It seems that IBM has been temporarily barred from bidding for new contracts with the US government. Now, the problem comes when you discover how they found out they were barred: Someone told them. Not someone from the USG. That'd be too easy.

Someone else who spotted the barring on the US Department of Justice website told 'em.

That's right. An ordinary Joe Public (a.k.a. "Third party") told Big Blue they were in Crapper Alley.

Here's my take on this...

OK, they're prohibited form making fresh tenders under this notice, and it's a federal notice to boot.

30 days to appeal such a prohibition is fine and dandy, but if you're NOT told you're under the hammer, you're royally screwed. IBM were damned lucky someone else spotted it, and told them.

So, the questions now become:
1. Why did the Feds not tell Big Blue that they were under a prohibition to tender?
2. Who profits from IBMs prohibition?

Answers on a postcard?

Friday, 28 March 2008

Wha-? Who turned out the lights?!

There I am, 23:40 or so, watching "Falling Down" on ITV4 (Freeview), and all of a sudden, everything goes dark. I also realise that everything's gone exceptionally quiet as well. No refrigerator chiller unit sounds, no mains-powered clock ticking. nothing. As quiet and dark as the grave. Great, thinks I. Sodding fusebox is on the blink.

Then it dawns on me that there's no light from the street lights coming in from the windows. Oops. Not good. First, find a torch. So, I slowly, carefully, made my way to the bedroom, and fumbled around for the torch I keep on my desk in the corner.

It went something like this... Fumble fumble juggle blindly - of course blindly, there ain't no bleedin' light to be had! - nearly dropped the sucker - ah, got it! Let there be light!

I have a rather decent SureFire Nitrolon G2. Great torch. Not so great if you aren't thinking when you turn the sucker on, of course. 65 Lumens of pure OUCH THAT HURT in the eyes. I wound up standing there for a full minute blinking rapidly, having been staring onto the business end when I turned the blasted thing on. D'OH.

Anyhow, to cut a long story short, I found EDFs number in the phone book, called them up (one of the few 0800 numbers left, I suspect, cheers guys :) Keep the number going!), got answered in nothing flat, told them where I was, and that we'd got a power cut, to be told the wonderful news that many tens of thousands of homes were without power across the borough. Oh 'eck.

Well, he'd been very helpful and efficient, had volunteered information rather than having to be squeezed like a stone for it, so I thanked the lad for the info, and before I could ask how long it'd be before we got power back, the lad on the other end told me they'd been relaxing watching the telly (I didn't ask if it was Falling Down he'd been watching!), when all hell cut lose on the phone - and I was the fiftieth one he'd answered from the same rough area, that they had their engineers trying to figure out what'd happened already, and that they'd get the power back on asap. All in one breath.

Fair enough, thought I, thanked the harried lad, and let him get on with the other several thousand calls on his board. Who the heck knew that a Michael Douglas movie was being watched by so many folks so late at night?!

Anyhow, I decided I needed to get out of the flat for a while, and dropped in on a mate who's another night owl like me (Since we're both radio hams, I called him on the radio first of course, I'm not a completely arrogant wotsit!), and when I got back, about four hours after the power cut, I found the power restored. Well done, EDF! Quick, effective, and little fuss :)

Now if only other firms could learn from that example!

EDIT: Seems the power cut made the news, at least locally... News Shopper

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Free Our Data: Make taxpayers' data available to them

A nice blant this time

The Guardian has had this campaign running for a while now, but not being one of their readership, I'd not noticed it, until I came across it by chance at a forum I'm a member of...

I think that this is one argument we can all agree on (unless you work for OSGB, or are a Government minister of the Exchequer, etc )

Boiled down, the idea is that all government data (not, I hasten to add, classified or sensitive data) should be free for any individual, rather then business, to obtain (by means of electronic download, I hope), to re-use as he or she see fit.

Excellent idea, given that in the main, we've already paid for it through our taxes!

Read the campaign material: It's interesting, and a surprisingly common sense idea for once - if it all comes off, it'll be handy to actually be able to use the stuff we've already paid for!

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

It seems Orange are as difficult to get rid of as flies around dog droppings.

It's official. When I'm furious, it takes more than fifteen drafts to get the steam out of my ears.

I've had myriad problems over the last eighteen plus months, with Orange Broadband, but also with their customer disservice people. Such is the extent and rudeness of those folks that I'm attempting to take my business elsewhere, as you probably noticed below. I've got a Broadband "migration activation code" I believe it stands for - coming in the post. THAT was the easy part, for once.

I've been attempting to get a PAC (I'm reliably informed that this stands for Porting Authority Code) for my phone, but they keep telling me I have two months to run on the contract, when I have documentary evidence (see the scan in the previous post on this topic, below) confirming IN WRITING that my contract expired three months ago. Frankly, I do not care for their bully-boy style sales tactics one jot, and the sooner I'm out of there, the happier I'll be. I will not, out of good manners, say what I truly think of them, but you can rest assured that this is one man who will never, ever, recommend their service, or even return to them, at all.

Frankly, they have one final chance to do the decent thing, and admit they're wrong and give me the MAC code, and that will be on Tuesday, since they're likely to be on holiday over this weekend, and I do not fancy raising my blood pressure over the holiday weekend in any case.

Come Tuesday, however, I plan to take the least possible amount of my time over them. Failure on their part means that I cease using their SIM card in my fully paid-for non-contract sim-free phone, go to another [provider (O2, most likely), get a SIM-only deal, and use that number from then on, rather then the mobile number that I've been using for the last ten years or so. Grossly inconvenient that'll be as well, as I'll then have to notify ALL my contacts (well over two hundred) of the change in phone number, and some are bound to be missed off somehow.

Orange will then get my final Direct Debit payment at the end of the month (and you can be certain I'll be checking with the bank that they took the same amount as they claim in the bill this month), for the completed month to the last statement date, whereupon I cancel the Direct Debit, check the billable charges to that point, and send them a cheque in full and final settlement to their Chairmen with a covering letter explaining why. They want any more from me, they can issue a summons, and to hell with them.

That's how steamingly angry I am with those morons at Orange.

Hope that makes things clear

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Writer Arthur C Clarke dies at 90

Arthur C. Clarke died, aged 90, today.

I'll make no bones about this: I'm a Science Fiction nut. I love the stuff. Today, however, is a sad day for the genre in general. One of the best-known authors of our time has passed on. Arthur C. Clarke (click here for a biography and bibliography) is probably best known as the author of the book "Sentinel", better known as "2001: A Space Odyssey". The success of the movie spurred three further books, as readers bought the first book, but only the second novel, without Clarkes' involvement, has been made into a further movie.

Clarkes' novel "Islands in the Sky" is the first Clarke novel I can recall reading. If I recall correctly, I read the book when I was eight or nine. Sci-Fi has always held a fascination for me ever since then. I should say well-written Sci-Fi, really. There's a lot of so-called Sci-Fi that should really be re-categorised as Science Fantasy, not Science Fiction, but Clarke never descended to that level. His novels, always thought provoking, impeccably and intelligently written, were a staple for me into my teens and beyond. With his contemporaries, Isaac Asimov (also sadly departed), Larry Niven (still with us), H. Beam Piper (sadly departed well before his time), and many others, came to epitomise the golden age of science fiction, which Clarke only entered late on in the period; his novel "The Sentinel" was, after all, written for the BBC in 1948 (and rejected, but that's the Beeb for you, nearly always getting it monstrously wrong!).

However late in entering the mainstream he was, enter he did, and with success. His is the British voice who brought us the geosynchronous communications satellite, the HAL-9000, and the Space Elevator - only one of those, in fact, is currently realised - the first. We're close to the second, and if material sciences and finances can meet the challenge, we may even see the third within the next hundred years - hopefully sooner!

Sir Arthur, you'll be missed. Godspeed, sir.

Monday, 17 March 2008

"Steeeeriiiike! Orange, You're outta here!"

For some time, I've been suffering at the hands of Orange Broadband. Their phone service has been marginally reliable, but nothing special, except expensive.

The Broadband service has been, shall we say, patchy at best (and that's being polite). Unplanned outages, yo-yo connections, slow connections, DNS databases woefully out of date (to the extent that I've had to reselect the OpenDNS system to get meaningful web usage), and a complete loss of service for days at a time, only for it to reappear for no apparent reason other than the day of the week may have a 'y' in it (and probably the same reason it went down in the first place, too.

So, I've patiently waited until I've safely been out of contract ties with them before proclaiming that I'll be jumping ship, and could they give me my MAC and PAC (or whatever they're bloody called) codes for the next supplier(s).

Well, first thing, they seem to think I've a 24 month contract with 2 months to go. WRONG. I've an 18 month contract, ran out three months ago, and I've proof. The scan to the left has been quite literally redacted to hide my personal details, EMEI numbers, etc, but you can clearly see that the sales girl at the Croydon Orange shop entered the contract as an 18-month contract, not 24 (excuse the lopped off top left corner. My till receipts and card receipt are stapled there, and there's no way on Gods' Green earth you're seeing those ). So yah-boo-sucks to them, count Number 1.

Next up, since last night, my net connection has been deader than a dodo. Imagine my lack of shock when I discover, the moment I get back from ripping a new rear end in Orange at their shop, that my connection back up and running. Interesting coincidence, that. Not gonna help 'em any, mind. I'm outta there asap anyhow. Yah-boo-sucks to them, count Number 2.

In addition, another Phone provider and ISP has better deals in the table than I'm paying right now; since I've got a perfectly good phone already, all I really need is a SIM Card deal. So, here's one: O2's Simplicity Online 15 plan, plus their web bolt on, and their broad band basic plan (an extra £7.50 per month if you're an O2 customer), which works out ten to twelve quid per month cheaper than what I'm currently paying Orange: This for a contract pay monthly with 30 days notice instead of 18 months minimum, 200 minutes, 400 texts (Orange only give me 200 texts), and unlimited web browsing from my phone via 3G/GPRS, etc. (Orange charge a fiver per megabyte or part thereof). Rude not to bin Orange, the above being the case. Yah-boo-sucks to them, count Number 3.

Three strikes, Orange - You're outta here!

Another site that fails to adhere to web standards and Browser Compatibility...

A freind of mine pointed me to www.wonderhowto.com the other day. I only just got around to having a look at it.

Certain categories of video there require you to verify your age. Not unreasonable, that (and no, it's not porn!). Unfortunately, their system is NOT Firefox compatible: I cannot reach the sign up page (called by a malformed JavaScript command), and I point blank refuse to fire up IE just so some lazy webmaster can say he's designed an uber site that all manner of folks visit and enjoy. Even I, when I've designed sites in the past, have included NON-JavaScript navigation alternatives for visitors. I have my principles (not many, I will admit), and I stick to them!

Therefore, I cannot see the videos I wanted to look at.

Thus, they've lost out on another potential premium customer.

Short-sighted, is what it is. Where's Browser Compatibility?

Come to that, where the hell is adherence to web standards?

Answers on a postcard, if you can be bothered to do so!

Don't get me wrong here, I know this is gonna be controversial.

I am not a Cleric - nor do I want to be. Here, however, is my less than holy sermon.

Clergyman in 'hate crime' attack

London bishop's horror at attack

Now, if it had been a 'minority' religion's cleric that had been attacked by white youths, there'd have been a riot by now, burning effigies, flags, and all manner of nastiness, most likely. We saw a similar thing happen in Bradford not so long ago, between what I probably incorrectly remember being two rival groups from different backgrounds, separated by religion.

Now that I've made half of you scream in anger and want to string me up for being another Enoch Powell, give me a little time to explain myself.

I'm far from being a perfect Christian: This I freely admit. I hardly ever turn the other cheek, I've probably committed my share (and then some) of the Mortal Sins, and so on... but I do believe in God.

I also believe that his representatives on this Earth, WHATEVER the religion or creed, are to remain inviolate - that is, untouchable, to be left strictly alone, not to be subjected to violence, and so on: You get the idea.

So. Given the lack of riots, other religions' holy places of worship not being ransacked, and so on infinitum, can we agree that somewhere along the line, certain elements within certain religions will use any excuse to rail against the country that took them, or their elders, in?

Where's the tolerance, folks? Where's the respect for ones' fellow man?

More to the point, even though there was no protest riot after the dastardly deed was done, are you going to shop the cowardly oiks that attacked a Christian cleric on holy ground, or are you going to keep being a small, but loud, bunch of small-minded Hypocrites, bending your religions Holy Words to your own twisted ends, or are you finally going to see that community spirit, the obeyance of English law, and the respect to others to continue to practice their own ways, like the vast majority of your fellow folks, is the way forward?

I would remind you of an oxymoron: "Shoot all Extremists".

Here endeth the Sermon. Go in peace. AFTER you've shopped the youths responsible for this outrage.

Thanks for listening.

Friday, 14 March 2008

*sigh*... Month number three on the inactivity listing for the sick :(


Ho-hum.

Renewal time for my sick note, it seems. There I was, ready for my quack - ahem, sorry, Doctor - to sign me back as ready for light duties, but no, he's still not happy with my blood pressure - despite it being a healthy 120/70 this time. So, he's raising one of my prescription doses, and signing me off for another month, with the comment "Let's see how we do in a fortnight".

What's with the "We" bit, Doc? Did you have this heart attack? nope, I did.

Are you the one going terminally insane from climbing the walls in boredom at home most of the time? No. I am.

Are you, perhaps, going terminally nucking futs from walking a mile a day or more to get my ticker in shape? No. I am, though. It's the same bloody scenery every day: Only the bleedin' weather changes.

Unlike a lot, it seems from the news, of those of us 'on the sick', I actually WANT to get back to earning a living, rather than collecting sick pay (although this might have more than a smidgen to do with company sick pay being, well, crap, in a word).

At least the Depot Inspector (Service Delivery Officer to give him his correct title!) was a bit more civilised that the Allocations guy last time (he's a good bloke, really!). While I was in the surgery getting the "Authority to continue to be a layabout" chit, he phoned me on my mobile. I'd naturally switched it off, as I was in a medical centre, and they frown on mobile phones being left on in places like that. Something about mobiles messing with medical equipment. I think it's probably more to do with horrifyingly banal and repetitive ring tones, but that's only my opinion, of course!

Cheerily, he left a message: "Coming back tomorrow, mate? Phone me on my mobile or at the depot, please!"

Less than cheerily, I phoned him back after getting out of the surgery. "I'm coming in to give you my latest chit. See you in a little while"

Didn't faze him a bit. Mind you, he did have a minor pop at me (he wouldn't be a Garage Inspector if he didn't take the opportunity!). "Gods, you've put on weight!"

Tell me sommat I didn't know, mate! It's the giving up smoking that did it. Next up: Crash diet (when the doc says it's OK to do so, that is. Don't want another bloody heart attack, do I?!)

So. here I am, later the same day. Writing my blant, and wondering just what the hell I'm gonna do for another month (maybe only a fortnight... yeah, right).

I'll write a fair few more blants, I guess.

I mean, what else am I apparently allowed to do? Answers on a postcard to the usual place, please!

Saturday, 8 March 2008

An Open Letter to the TomTom Board of Directors...


Dear TomTom Board of Directors,

Nice going, folks: Your execrable, scatologically-laden, intransigent, lacklustre, and frankly fluid-poor attitude to your customer base is even more arrogant than Microsoft, and that takes one hell of a of of work to achieve, as I'm sure you will readily agree. There ought to be an industry award for such an achievement.

In any event, I'm a man of my word. You have had eighteen months to fix your ways and actively support your last PPC/Smartphone product, as other GPS Navigation software producers have remarkably noticeably been doing for theirs. You did not.

I personally gave you, in this very place, until the end of CeBIT 2008 to make any form of statement regarding the PPC and/or Smartphone versions of your navigation software (at this time of writing, at version 6), and yet you continue to neglect to inform your customers why you were and continue to fail to support said product range.

18 months is long enough a piece of time-based rope with which to hang yourselves. As customer service and Press Relations exercises go, that's one monumentally massive failure to communicate, and that's putting things rather mildly.

As a result of your complete and utter failure in this regard, and as strongly pointed out in my earlier post in this very place, I will no longer purchase your products, and will, come the time to replace or upgrade my current satnav (TomTom version 6 for PPC), furnish one of TomTom's several competitors with my custom instead.

"No loss, there are plenty more suckers out there who'll part with their cash to us", you might say: I beg to differ. Word of mouth alone is a powerful marketing weapon. Rest sincerely and firmly assured: I will be using my mouth against your products to anyone who'll listen. That, by the way, stands to be quite a lot of people. I'm no slouch in the friends department. Viral negative marketing (of which this open letter is an example) is even more powerful. You'd be amazed at the numbers of people who read other people's blogs.

So, you have achieved something of note, after all. From being a loyal customer ready to plug your products to all and sundry, I am now diametrically positioned the other way: I will actively steer potential customers away from your products now, and for the foreseeable future.

Nice job, guys: It takes a really special talent to hack off a loyal customer like that.

Yours sincerely,

Roger [DELETED for privacy]
Formerly loyal TomTom customer.

PS: I doubt I'm the only former TomTom customer who feels this way. I am however, I suspect the first to put it into quite the scathing and sarcastic words that you see above. Look to your share price, ladies and gents. I suspect it might take a hit in a while from lack of sales.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Wake up and smell the coffee, TomTom - you're about to lose a customer.

CeBIT is the annual new tech show for all manner of consumer gadgets, including but not limited to computers, phones, and so on.

Now, for the last 18 months, I've been using a very good PPC - that's Pocket PC, which has the added advantage of being a phone and GPS as well. It's the iPAQ HP HW6915 Navigator. I've got lots of software on there, but the one I use the most in the car is the satnav, in the current case, TomTom version 6. And in the last 18 months, that's all I've been able to get for TomTom. No upgrades to 7, or 8 (the current personal Navigation Device standard for TomTom, by the way): Version 6 was the last version of TomTom for Pocket PCs and Smartphones in general.

Now, there have been rumours one way and the other regarding TomTom,and the features on the PNDs they have recently released are all well and good (such as Mapshare, providing the facility to automatically update maps from user uploaded reports, and so on), but nothing whatsoever in support of currently loyal customers, like me, who have TT v6 on their PPCs or Smartphones, and we are, it must be remembered, a reasonably large percentage of their customer base.

So, when I heard that TomTom had released a statement at the daily press conference at CeBIT (if you're there, you can harangue them at CeBIT Hall 15, Stand E14), I was all ears. Unfortunately, TomTom's response was basically "we've never left people in the cold for too long but there are no announcements regarding the navigator software today."

In the words of the person reporting this, they were saying STOP WORRYING.

Boiled down to "stop worrying" is it?

This after an utter age - 18 months or more - of literally zero comments regarding their either continuing support or lack of support for the PPC/PDA platforms. In the ever-so-slightly cleaned up vernacular, they're taking the bodily fluids with that one.

Now, a friend mentioned to me that it's probably cheaper for them to support their own PNDs than to support PPC/PDA software. This is NOT the issue. The issue at hand is whether they are going to continue, or not continue, to support what has, until now, been a very loyal customer base with PDAs and PPCs. The lack of information from one of the biggest companies in this market is frankly insulting to those of us with such equipment, and speaks highly of their complete and utter contempt for us - especially when you consider that we've spent a large sum of money with this company; TomTom v6 cost me close to a ton (£100) in the shops when I bought it, but that was 18 months ago, when TTv6 was the latest TomTom version out, and thus was more costly. Now it can be seen going for as little at sixty-odd quid in the on-line shops: That's purely due to TomTom Personal Navigation Devices (PNDs) having later versions (now at CeBIT, it's v8, it seems) of the software on board.

The tragic thing about all this, is that they've made an industry bench-mark product, used by tens of thousands of people around the world. To my mind, this means that they have a certain level of responsibility to continue to support their products. Sorry if this sounds silly to some, but I have really had enough of companies and their scatological levels, and attitudes of, and to, customer support. TomTom appears to be one such company, and I'm sure I'm not alone in my perception of this.

So, it's crunch time for me. Do I continue to have a slim to zero hope that this SatNav provider will continue to support my ageing software with new versions of it, or do I move to another, more visibly supportive supplier? The answer's quite obvious when you put it that way, isn't it?

My decision has been a while brewing (the last few months, in fact), and is therefore reasonably well thought out. For my part (I can't speak for you, of course), TT have until the end of CeBIT to announce one way or the other that they will continue to provide PPC/PDA software on general release - not just specific pre-loaded PPC/PDAs and phones - or I for one will be voting with my wallet, and looking to support a different satnav software provider when it comes time to renew my kit.

There y'go, TomTom. Forewarned is forearmed. Not that I expect to see any announcements for us TT v6 licence holders, but if you do, make the announcement a good one.

Friday, 29 February 2008

OK... some general comment regarding paperwork and Living History Group Re-Enactors, and a request...

In the Living History group that I'm a member of, I've been accused of being somewhat obsessed with paperwork. I admit it, I'm guilty as charged, etc etc etc Get over it

Seriously, there WILL be those, at some time or another, who will come up to us at an event, and ask us it we've got such-and-such a piece of documentation. Now, while it's not something that the run-of-the-mill members of the public will be likely to ask, it's eminently plausible and possible that former soldiers (indeed, currently serving as well!) might ask this; the Army didn't just march on its' stomach, it's kit, or even its' weapons: The Mickey Mouse Factor was always at work, and any good squaddie'll tell you that one appropriately presented and properly-completed form will solve a multitude problems (and insults) from an SNCO who likes nothing more than eating soldiers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Therein lies the problem for us Document Fabricators (as I like to call those of us who enjoy this aspect of the hobby - and please don't call me a dodgy f****** - I know I'm one of those already ). Not all the original documents are either easy to find, or even available; when new forms are published in the military, the old ones are normally scrapped by slinging them in the shredder, bin, or burn-bags. So. I have a simple request for all of you ex-military types out there: Go through your kit, and if you've any old Army forms from the 1970s and 1980s, hang onto them, and LET ME KNOW!

For my part, I'll undertake to, as soon as practicably, reproduce them in PDF format for general release, with a comment on the final repro copy as to the source of the original document - how's that?

Thanks in advance!