Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Usual Muppets...


I've observed a lot of driving over Christmas, and in the run-up to the New Year; Most of this has been after the sun has gone down, while I'm at work, driving a bus, of course.
There are a few of things I've noticed; note that this is just the tip of the iceberg... brief mentions for these Darwin Award contenders include:

  • The growing number of people who seem to think that they have the ability to drive with their lights off, during the hours of darkness... What, are they wearing night-vision goggles or something?
    People, WAKE UP! The reason you can see everyone else, is because they DO have their lights on - the rule of thumb here is that if the street lights are on, then your lights should be on, too!
  • Next up is the number of people who appear to have graduated from the school of telepathic signalling.
    For the rest of us mere mortals, these are folks who fail to visually indicate what bone-headed manoeuvre they're about to pull, while at the same time stamping on the anchors, forcing you to either swerve to avoid colliding with them, stamp on your brakes for the same reason (thus causing a ripple effect for motorists behind you), or being unlucky enough to actually collide with the would-be space cadet in front of you - if not all three in the same instant.
  • The increasing number of cyberpeople using their hand-held mobile phones while driving... folks, it's illegal for a damned good reason. How far do you travel in one second at thirty miles per hour? Any idea?
    Hint: It's in the Highway Code.
    And while you're jabbering away, your phone is hiding what's happening to one side of you, and CRUNCH, you just wiped out an elderly lady pushing her trolley across the junction as you turned in without either looking, indicating, or, well, you get the idea. bad move. Don't do it, please get off that phone NOW!
  • The crash test dummies who fail to leave a suitable gap between their car and the one in front, and CRUNCH.
    Yep, they didn't see the traffic building up ahead of the car in front of them, and couldn't react in time to stop safely... There's your insurance premium going up again, folks.
I'm sure you've seen even more bone-headed, irrational, insane, and frankly muppet-like driving over the Silly Season; here's hoping you don't suffer the effects of it - drive safe in 2014, and Happy New Year!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Sometimes, you get the bear. More often than not around here, the bear gets you...


*sigh*

Well, that was a colossal waste of my time, just now. I went into Bromley to hit the Maplin store there, for some nut and bolt sets (I'm putting some fittings into my Series 3 ex-military Land Rover, so need a fair few nuts and bolts, and washers of many descriptions). No joy. Apparently, their Bromley store is not a large enough store to stock those things, and I wanted to work on the wagon today, rather than order online and wait. So much for the Maplin catalogue, then.

Since I'd left the Rover at home, (Bromley's multi-story car parks being very unfriendly for taller wagons) and as Halfords in Bromley is more like Halfords in Bromley Common, it would have been another two bus rides there and back, and over an hour, given that it was now the start of the evening rush hour, with road works all over the place, that was a definite non-starter. So, last job of the day, check in with the Three shop, regarding changing mobile telecomms provider later this month. Aaaand you guessed it, no joy. The three store was closed for renovations, and due open next month (October)

So, needn't have bothered getting out of bed so early on a day off.

Instead, I aim to get the washing done, hit the Halfords in Shirley (in my Rover), and get an early night, writing today off as a Bad Deal (tm)


I really should have checked the Numerology forecast (always good for a giggle) before I left home, I guess (highlighted in red)...

Thursday, October 10, 2013: Distractions at home or work will capture your attention. It's important to have patience today, a day when contemplation and meditation are important for your psychological well-being. Avoid confrontations with others

Sometimes, you get the bear. More often than not around here, the bear gets you *mutter mutter wibble*...

Aside from that, at least it ain't snowing (always a silver lining, lol) ;-)

Well... not yet anyhow (said he, glancing up at the full coverage of rather dark clouds in the sky)...

Friday, 30 August 2013

On mobile comms service, contracts, and landlines...


Over the last few years, the mobile internet, that is, 2G, 2.5G, 3G, and now, 4G, coupled with the changes in capabilities of mobile phones - almost invariably people are using a a smartphone these days - have tended to outstrip the service providers ability to provide a decent service in both the areas that they operate: Telephone comms and data comms. Before the mobile internet, it was a fairly easy thing to decide which provider you'd want to use, based on coverage: You had Cellnet (now o2), Vodafone (yep, still they're still here), and then one2one (then it was sold to become T-Mobile, and is now part of EverythingEverywhere), and then along came Orange (now part of EverythingEverywhere, or EE).

Those were the days, close to two decades ago, when life was a lot simpler and easier to understand. Of course, life has sped up by many orders of magnitude since then, as has the capabilities of information technology.

Now, there's a veritable smorgasbord of providers, many reselling the major players' services, with a re-branding and a few tweaks of what you get if you sign up to their services. Now, for a while, I've been considering which provider I wish to migrate to for a few reasons (noted below), and all of a horrifying sudden, it became massively personal to me when Dad died earlier this year, as I couldn't get a signal on Vodafone from outside the hospital.

This was the last straw for Vodafone and me, as far as I was concerned. One of the main reasons for possessing a mobile phone, is to have mobile telephony when you need it. In this, they failed massively. There was no point, at all, in complaining to them about this: It was far, far, far too late for that. Dad was gone. I'd had to use a hospital landline to call my immediate relatives. Vodafone's own coverage maps, however, showed that they had coverage at the hospital. You might infer from this that I'm still, some six months later, still very bitter about it. You'd be damned bloody right on the money.

This isn't the only time that a providers coverage maps have been - to be charitable here - misleading or erroneous; I've suffered this problem with most of the major providers over the last couple of decades (not Cellnet/O2... well, not yet, anyhow). And now, I'm also using the mobile internet. And I'm using that a hell of a lot more than I'd ever expected to, to the point where it's eventually going to be consuming vast amounts of data.

Add to this, and coupled with and related to the above, my reception at home with Vodafone is - at best - 2 bars, and is normally none, means that Vodafone is getting the push come October.

So, who to replace them with?

I had hitherto been considering the 3 network; they offer "All You Can Eat" ("AYCE") data plans, which includes 'tethering' (where you can hook up your mobile phone to your computer, thus removing the need for a landline broadband connection). However, having spoken to relatives and friends who use or have used their services, I have found that their telephony suffers as a result. I've researched this online, and it appears to be something to do with the way they manage their data-prioritised network: This network was built from the ground up to primarily support data communications, with voice communications being something they then tacked on, to make sure it was recognised as a telecomms (combined voice and data), rather than datacomms, network.

I was also told that the 3 customer services - again to be charitable here - sucked massively. I can't say the same, personally, although I've only ever had one - and only one - problem with 3, which was with my 3G computer dongle, which petulantly would not recharge it's Pay As You Go data over the air. On visiting a 3 shop that afternoon (not half an hour before they were due to close on a Saturday, even), I was informed by a reasonably pleasant  twenty-something lad, that this was a corrupted SIM card problem (he'd seen this before, apparently); given that it was out of warranty, and the cost of replacing the SIM card was exactly the same as recharging one with a gig of data, I replaced it - and have had no further problems with 3 services since then. Very much a "Job done", with no problems or hassle; my experience of Customer Services may have been unique, or not; I only know that my experience was neither positive or negative, and that I'm still a fairly happy 3 Customer for their PAYG data, which for a three-year customer is fairly good going.

I was recommended by the same relatives to try Virgin, but unfortunately, they no longer offer tethering, which I now consider to be a deal breaker, so it was back to 3 again; then, a brainwave. Get a contract with three for the AYCE data. And get a bog standard mobile phone, a cheap one, for telephony, on a different network/provider. This would be a pay as you go phone, for those times when I want to make a telephone call, and 3 isn't able to put the call through, for whatever reason.

Now, you could say that I could do that anyhow, and stay with Vodafone. Yeah, I could, but I'd be stuck with no decent mobile broadband plan, and crap coverage at home. So it's going to be 3 for the data, and someone else for the telephone; I'll also then be able to bin my landline at home, and kill close to 40 quid of combined telephony and (unlimited) broadband bills a month, there and then, as well as becoming truly comms-portable (in other words, not having to reply on a fixed landline to remain in touch). I don't have cable telly at home, instead, when I do watch the telly, I use Freeview (slightly less channels than cable, and still nothing on them!), so no worries or cost there.

Really and truly, at the end of the day, it's all about the money, I guess.

But, every so often, you can also get some small satisfaction at removing your custom from a provider who really doesn't measure up, and who hasn't got the gumption - or common decency - to admit that fact.

So, come October, it's going to be "Goodbye, Vodafone. Hello, 3"!

Frankly, it couldn't come fast enough.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Justice must sent the correct message, or there is no deterrence value.


Over the last day or so, I've been chatting with friends over a recent court case, which followed a horrendous road traffic collision between a motorist and a pedal cyclist in Berkshire last year, in which the cyclist was killed.

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/cyclesafety/article3823515.ece

In the final analysis, all vehicle drivers on the roads - private and professional alike - are required to meet certain standards during both theoretical and practical driving tests, before they may be issued a licence to drive a road-going vehicle on their own: This is called competency. It exists whether you drive to earn a living, or drive merely to get to work, or to the shops.

Such competency must continue to exist, and be exercised when behind the wheel of a road-going vehicle, from that point onwards, for the rest of the time you retain your driving licence.

Over the years, the government, police, motoring organisations, and even the popular media, have made a point to emphasise that you should not be messing with anything, be it a map, drink, cigarette, cheeseburger, or electronic device (hand held or otherwise), that takes your attention away from the road when you are behind the wheel. I think it's fair to say that this message has been acknowledged by most sensible people, and is therefore one of the foundation stones of driving competency, and thus a cornerstone of careful driving. As professional drivers, I and my colleagues on the buses and coaches, and those in the haulage and goods vehicle industry, as well as Taxi and Private Hire businesses, are more aware of this than most amateur road users, because we see the results of all manner of driving on the roads, both competent and not so competent.

My friends - and a few others over the internet - have made comments as to whether or not Mrs McClure, who was found guilty of the collision at trial, should be jailed at all; comments to the effect "but she's a woman", "The jails are so full", and "It's only a motoring offence, fine her", were amongst some of what I feel are somewhat misguided comments.

Let us not forget that a human being lost their life in an entirely preventable road traffic collision, which was the direct fault of another persons entirely reckless act. There is no reason for taking your eyes off the road whilst your vehicle is in motion, for more than is needed to scan your dials (speed, fuel, engine temperature), or glance at the mirrors. A vehicle is akin to a guided bullet: It's heavy, it's moving at speed, it's steered by a human, and when it hits another human, there's no contest: Flesh and bone will lose, every time. Thus, when you get behind the wheel, the lives of others around you are, quite literally, in your hands. Any road-going vehicle must therefore be actively controlled with competence by its driver at all times.

Now, the law regarding the offence of Careless Driving is quite clear, and the Crown Prosecution Service guidelines on this are equally clear; to quote:


The offence of driving without due care and attention (careless driving) under section 3 of the RTA 1988 is committed when the defendants driving falls below the standard expected of a competent and careful driver - section 3ZA(2) of the RTA 1988.

The maximum penalty is a level 5 fine. The court must also either endorse the drivers licence with between 3 and 9 penalty points (unless there are "special reasons" not to do so), or impose disqualification for a fixed period and/or until a driving test has been passed.

Reference:
http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/p_to_r/road_traffic_offences_guidance_on_prosecuting_cases_of_bad_driving/#a30

Most serious of course, is Causing Death By Dangerous Driving:

The offence of causing death by dangerous driving is committed under section 1 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (RTA 1988) when the suspects driving is a cause or factor in the death of another person and the driving was dangerous. By "dangerous" we mean within the meaning of section 2A of the RTA 1988 i.e. the standard of driving falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver and it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.
The examples given in relation to dangerous driving also apply to this offence. See examples listed under the Dangerous Driving section.

It is an offence triable only on indictment and carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment, by virtue of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, and/or an unlimited fine.

The court must disqualify the driver from driving for at least 2 years, unless special reasons are found for not disqualifying (in which case it must endorse the drivers licence with 3-11 penalty points, again, unless there are special reasons not to do so). An extended retest is also mandatory.


Reference:
http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/p_to_r/road_traffic_offences_guidance_on_prosecuting_cases_of_bad_driving/#a23

In both offences, note the phrase describing competency of the driver: "it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous."

A specific example of dangerous driving in the examples they make reference to, includes this entry:

  • driving whilst avoidably and dangerously distracted such as whilst reading a newspaper/map, talking to and looking at a passenger, selecting and lighting a cigarette or by adjusting the controls of electronic equipment such as a radio, hands-free mobile phone or satellite navigation equipment

These two items are the key items that must be proven in both offences; it follows that if a death occurs from such appalling driving, a charge under s1 RTA'88 should be levelled. This was done, and the case has now been heard at a jury trial in front of a very experienced judge, with the jury unanimously deciding that she was guilty of causing the death of a person, as a direct result of her dangerous driving.

It's up to Circuit Court Judge, His Honour Nicolas Wood, to decide her fate now. There will be pleas of mitigation, especially if she has kids of school age; there will be the victim impact statement to be made by Mr Hilson's widow and family, court reports on Mrs. McClure, to amongst other things, determine her physical and mental state, and so on, but at the end of the day, the entire process, and sentence, has to stand for something and have meaning - and deterrence value - to others.

But it's a statement by a cycling organisation, the Cyclists' Touring Club (CTC) that's got me amazed. You would think that they'd be baying for blood over the death of a cyclist at the hands of a motorist, but not so in this case. Here's their sound-bite on the case:

"McClure will now almost certainly face a custodial sentence.  However, we think it much more important that she faces a long driving ban. Only then can we be confident that drivers like her won’t kill again.”
- Rhia Weston, Road safety campaigner, CTC.

Their full report on the case and it's verdict, is on their website, here:
http://www.ctc.org.uk/news/driver-who-killed-anthony-hilson-convicted-of-causing-his-death-dangerous-driving

I very much doubt that Mr Hilson's family would agree with that remarkably lenient sentiment at this trying time.

While Mrs. McClure has yet to be formally sentenced by the Judge, and has been handed an interim driving ban until that time, I'm rather concerned about the opinion expressed by CTC on sentencing in cases like this.

Over the last few years, it's become overwhelmingly apparent that long-term driving bans are being overturned, on appeal, with disappointing regularity - you just need to look over the news to see another example, practically every month, somewhere across the country. Granted, most of those do not involve collisions causing injuries or deaths, but the reason and principle of a long-term driving ban is being weakened all the time.

And thus we come to the sentence of jail; jail time has a couple of main intentions:

Firstly, it provides punishment (of a form) by placing severe restrictions on the freedom and liberty of the guilty, and allows society the chance to assist the guilty in reforming the way they behave (if, of course, such retraining and/or counselling is actually available inside prisons; can you say "funding cuts in a recession"?).

Secondly, it provides a limited form of closure (the "they got what was coming to them" effect) for the relatives of those killed by the actions of the guilty.

So, by all means, Your Honour, give Mrs. McClure a lengthy driving ban, and require her to have to retake an extended retest driving examination, before her licence can be restored to her. But please, back it up with some jail time, if for only one simple reason: A Human Life was taken. By failing to jail those who cause the reckless death of another human we, as a society, send a mixed message, along the lines of "what you did was bang out of order, but it really only warrants a slap on the wrist".

And that's just plain wrong, any way you shake it.

Update, 1st September, 2013.

I don't know if His Honour Nicolas Wood, the Circuit Court Judge in this case, read this blog or not (probably not, on a split seconds' thought into the matter), but I think he got it right. You can read the BBC report here.

In sentencing Victoria McClure, he awarded her a two-and-a-half year driving ban, which requires that she sit an extended test to re-acquire a licence after the ban is completed, and jailed her for eighteen months. She'll be out in nine months or so, which is normal for sentences with a duration of under 36 months (three years).

The longer term consequences of her conviction will be there for her, for the next ten years, care of the Rehabilitation Of Offenders Act 1974. Amongst the conditions imposed on her, at her release from prison, will be:
  • First and foremost, she'll be assigned a Probation Officer, who she will be required to meet with at set appointments for a specific period, to oversee her release and reintegration to life on the outside of prison, and to assist her in preventing her from offending again - frankly, I suspect that this shouldn't be a problem for a few years yet.
  • She'll have to disclose this conviction to any prospective employer for those ten years.
  • Although not required by the Act, many countries restrict who may visit their countries: The USA has strict rules regarding former convicted persons; other countries have similar rules that they impose on visitors, and she'll be required to disclose it to many of those countries that are outside the EU, if she wishes to visit those countries on holiday, once her complete 18-month sentence has been served.
  • She'll be flagged up on any jobs requiring a Criminal Record Background check, via the Disclosure and Barring Service (which replaced the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) in 2012).
  • Further, her car insurance, when she's legally able to drive again, will be hiked up massively due to her conviction, which may even render it prohibitively expensive for her to drive again.


There is another reason for this sentence: For justice to work, it has to be publicly seen to work. And thus, in this case, it has. I just hope that other motorists get wind of this, and stop the potentially lethal habit of mucking about with their electronic devices when behind the wheel.

I suppose there's about as much chance of this happening rapidly as there are chances of my winning the Euro Lottery in the next ten minutes, but one lives in hope.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

I believe I hate Microsoft.


Not a unique feeling, I somehow suspect.

Here's why...

I have a new notebook, an early birthday present from my better half (fed up, I suspect, with my frustration with my old Windows 7 machine's inability to my much else than fall over and crash regularly); so, here I am getting to grips with Windows 8, and I find that to read my kindle books on it, I need the new windows 8 version of the Amazon Kindle reader. Not a problem, thinks I, and following the instruction from Amazon, trundle off to the MS 'app store', all innocent-like, to download said thing.

And then, the infernal and almost terminally homicidal rage-inducing logic loops began.

It seemed that I already had a Microsoft account. God knows when this was created, but there it was. So, not knowing the password, I had to try the recovery process. The moment I plugged in my name and post code to recover the password, it locked onto my name and postcode, and asked me a security question. The answer hasn't changed in over seventy years (related to my Mum), and the system - wow, what a surprise, rejected it.

After filling in a form to try to wrest control back, the system told me not five minutes later, by email, there was insufficient information, and locked my more than six years-old dormant account.

So, I tried talking to a human (not on the phone, it's apparently too old fashioned for Microsoft, as it could have solved the problem in about ten seconds flat) on their 'help chat' thingamabob, and got nowhere. It's probably an Artificial Intelligence, it was certainly doing similar logic loops.

Now, bear in mind: I have a birth certificate, a driving licence, I pay my income tax, national insurance, council tax, and various bills every month; I hold a driving licence and Certificate of Professional Competence to drive big vehicles on British roads, and thus my identity is government-sanctioned and approved in big red letters, which were stamped upon my forehead with a nice environmentally-friendly synthetic rubber stamp when I was born nearly forty-nine years ago.

Yet, here I am, with a nice shiny new computer, unable to download even FREE software from Microsoft, because they retain data way past its shelf life, and BLOCK real people, because we cannot give them our electronic inside leg measurement to the nine millionth decimal place.

To say that I'm almost terminally frustrated with this gargantuan bunch of electronic jobsworths is putting it mildly. They are NOT a government, yet they behave like they own the planet. Hell, if you believe the press, they don't even pay their decent slice of taxes. And oh, by the way, what the hell are they doing, retaining data that's over six years old, which has never been accessed in all that time and is clearly expired? Aren't there laws about that sort of thing?

Oh yeah, forgot. They own the sodding planet.

God, I am so bloody angry right now, it's amazing I haven't popped a blood vessel.

If anyone has a way of fixing this huge pile of poo, I'm all ears.

Really.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

I'm a Hoopy Frood!


What? Have I lost my marbles? Has a Vogon read me poetry?

Nope. Not even close.

I, like many thousands of others, enjoy the works of the late Douglas Adams, the author of, amongst other things, "The Hitchhikers' Guide To The Galaxy".




So, International Towel Day is in celebration of That Guy. yeah, the one with the outrageous idea that launched a pair of petunias from Orbit. And a Whale; the ground was NOT its' friend, of course. Splat.

Ahem. ITD. Right.

So, on this day, fans of his work (Adams, not the whale, may it rest in messy pieces) grab their towels (or at least know where their towels are located), and make sure that all and sundry know that they're Hoopy Froods.

It's celebrated world-wide, naturally. Dunno about galaxy-wide though, the local Galactic Express news office is over on Alpha Centauri, and some silly bugger here forgot to invent a way to get around the light speed barrier, but that's another story altogether (wrong script, sorry!).

Here, though, you can have a look over at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Towel_Day, or even better, at http://towelday.org/.

Enjoy!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Back on home broadband again...


You'll recall from the previous Blant that my broadband went ***s-up the other day, when the wall-plug  power supply unit (PSU) to my TalkTalk-supplied Huawei HG521 modem/router failed.

Now, the part in question that failed was a mass-produced power supply unit that probably cost less than two quid to mass produce, and which took the mains-supplied 240 Volts Alternating Current at 13 Amps, and sent it through a built-in step-down transformer in the plug, down to the required output of 5 Volts Direct Current at 1 Amp, with voltage and current regulation built into it. Variations of these units, differing only in output voltage/amperage, are bog-standard mass-produced bits of kit that, these days, come with most modern personal electronics devices you buy in the shops (such as mobile (cellular) phones, cordless phones, and so on). So, you'd think that suppliers would carry spare or replacement units, given that unit longevity appears to be a tad lacking.

Not so.

Following the circular illogic of talking over the phone to their 'customer care' person the other night, I found the @talktalkcare twitter feed, and complained there instead, then having to fill in a form to get them to be able to email me directly (ye gods, so much for existing customer databases!), I finally got hold of someone who actually followed what I was trying to get them to understand. However, even though they now understood the problem, they wouldn't help. "Unfortunately your router is now out of warranty. We are unable to place orders for power supplies independently of a router. If you require a replacement router they can be purchased from..." was the reply.

You'll note that there was no form of empathy, no apology, not even sympathy for the problem I was experiencing, just a words equivalent to a flat "it's out of warranty and we can't help you. We can sell you a new modem, though". Now, I will freely grant that companies exist to make money, but bloody hell, this was taking the bodily fluids. By now, spitting nine-inch nails through the walls, and turning the air a vivid shade of electric blue as a habit, rather than a hobby, I was beginning to understand what all the ire about their lack of customer service was all about.

Previously, when dealing with other companies customer service departments, the response has usually been something like "OK, sorry to hear that, but that unit is no longer supplied by us, and is, at two and a half years old, no longer in warranty; we can supply a new PSU, but it'll cost £xx". This, I would have swallowed without fuss had TalkTalk offered it up, as the unit, being two and a half years old at the time of installation, was well and truly out of warranty. Never the less, given that this was needed to access their services, one could have been forgiven for thinking that they'd keep a few spares lying about their warehouse, in case of failures. Guess not. Silly me (add more nail purchases and a new can of vivid electric blue air paint)...

However, given that the output voltage is a common one (5 Volts is, by the by, the same voltage supplied by the USB sockets on your computer to to devices you plug into it, although they only give half an amp to those per socket), and that the manufacturer, Huawei, still use the same PSUs on other devices they currently manufacture, I find it a bit bloody rich that TalkTalk cannot get hold of spares for the damn thing. Frankly, it's beyond ludicrous, and well into the scale of Victor Meldrew-isms.

As a result, and given that they weren't about to help, I had to get a new router or PSU. Huawei don't, from what I could find out, sell replacement PSUs to the public, instead preferring to push mobile phones to their customers over here, so that meant finding an alternate PSU.

Before I did that, however, I decided to check that the router still worked. Using my variable output PSU (most hobby electronics buffs will have something like this, and - like me - most radio amateurs likewise), I supplied the unit with 5VDC, variable draw current. Nothing. It failed to power up. Typically, this meant one thing: When the PSU had died, it sent a surge of unregulated power to the router, and fried its circuitry somehow. It was now just a paperweight (and a light one at that).

So, I needed a new broadband modem/router. I wasn't about to reward TalkTalk for their complete lack of help, humanity, or empathy, so decided to get a new one from anyone other than TalkTalk.

In the mean time, I was accessing the net from home using my 3G mobile dongle from 3, which, while being effective (full strength signal at home, unlike Vodafone on my mobile - and guess who's getting my business come the current mobile phone contract expiry?), was a tad costly in the long run, compared to home landline broadband costs.

This wasn't an acceptable long-term solution, so I started in on my homework, and researched routers. I'll spare you the details of the saearch, but the short version is that I settled on a Netgear N300 N300 Wireless ADSL2 + Modem/Router, specific Netgear model number DGN2200. I found, exceptionally, that instead of it being cheaper from online sources such as Amazon.co.uk, that it was cheaper, when you factored in shipping costs, and the fact that there is a store on my route to work, to buy it in person from PC World - by a tenner!

So, Off I trundled to PC World, bought it, and installed it that evening (after a long eleven and a bit hours long shift at work) - it was a doddle to set up, with the manual being clear, simple, and straight-forward to follow, to the point that within ten minutes of unboxing and laying out the router, stand, filter, PSU, and two cables (phone and ethernet), I was again surfing the internet!

This was practically a first for me - most times with a new bit of electronic kit, I find that I'm buying stocks of nails and air paint, but not this time, so kudos to Netgear! Whoopee!

I chose, by the way, the Netgear DGN2200 for a couple of reasons; first, as a well known and respected brand, Netgear has a reputation for making good quality equipment, and for having excellent customer service; second, the reviews of this model mentioned that due to the chipset used in this model, it had good resilience with higher than average signal-to-noise ratios on telephone line copper-based broadband (as opposed to fibre-optic broadband, or cable); high signal-to-noise ratios tend to happen when you're a fair distance from the telephone exchange (as is the case with my phone line: I'm close to the maximum ADSL range from the exchange); it's to do with the way that the signal over a copper phone line degrades over distance; this doesn't affect speech to badly, but digital signals are very susceptible to this degradation over distance, which is why fibre-optic cables are all the rage - and why those fibres can increase the speed of your broadband tenfold or better over copper.

Since I'm on a copper wire telephone-based broadband connection, the signal-to-noise ratio is somewhat important, and the DGN2200 has good reviews on that score - they weren't wrong. I wasn't expecting miracles, but checking my broadband speed today showed that my throughput had increased slightly, from around 5.2 Mbps to around 5.85 Mbps, over the failed Huawei RG521 - this during the daytime on a weekend, when most hardcore network gamers are online - at the times I'll normally access the net (when I get home in the well small hours, after a shift at work), I'd imagine the speeds will be even better, so colour me reasonably pleased and impressed!

My Broadband Speed Test

Job done!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Days off are supposed to be relaxing...


...not vein-poppingly aggravating. At least, that was what I thought, until I got home this morning.

IT has taken a couple of hits over the last couple of days, and since bad luck comes in threes, here we go...

Gmail suffered a series of outages over the last couple of days, which they have now, it seems, fixed for the most part. Nice job working on it, guys; I didn't notice until today, when I got a 502 error for all of five minutes; there's a note on this on their status page, by the way.

Then, my home broadband decided to go and fall over; seems the wall wart (a step-down transformer and voltage/current regulator with a moulded three-pin mains plug on the back) died. I haven't a clue if fried the router as well, since I can't get power to the router. So, I tried called TalkTalk customer services. No joy. the woman there, who didn't speak English as a first language (in yet another outsourced foreign call centre, I suppose), got locked in a loop of trying to test my broadband connection. Well duh, I have no broadband connection because the router has no power, as the wall wart is dead. "I'm going to test your connection again" God, it's enough to make you beat your head on the desk.

So I hung up, and sent a frustrated - but printable, thankfully - plea for help to the @talktalkcare help desk. They've asked what kind of router I use, and at the time of writing this Blant entry, they have not provided any other response.

And I'm still without home broadband, so to get online, I'm having to use my emergency 3G dongle from "three" to get online. And that works out bloody expensive, compared to home broadband.

And then, later this afternoon, while I was in a Skype conversation to my better half, bemoaning this TTU (that's electronic engineering shorthand for "Technical T*ts-Up"), the PC at the other end borks, requiring my other half to reboot it. Joy. "IT problems untie the world", or something. So, while awaiting my better half's return to the ether of the internot (well, that's what I'm beginning to call the world-wide web, anyhow), I decided to update my Gmail contacts lists in Skype.

Imagine my irritation when I discovered that Skype have removed that facility. Completely.

After damn near popping yet another vein whilst turning the air in my flat a vivid shade of electric blue, I will freely admit that I'm not at all impressed with their decision to stop allowing Gmail contact imports; it smacks of senseless and meaningless obstacle emplacement, with only one end result: Annoying your existing customer base.

Granted, Google are touting their own VOIP solution (Google Chat, part of their raft of "Google+" offerings), but for pities sake, for Skype to react by throwing their toys out of the pram, and launching their dummy (US Translation: pacifier) into low earth orbit is not the way to endear themselves to their existing customers. It's more like a challenge to those customers to tell Skype to (for lack of a more suitable and industrial set of words) bog off, and use the self-same Google Chat service that Skype are whining about instead.

Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face!

The most intelligent thing that Skype could do, right now, would be to get over their over-inflated ego problem, and restore the Gmail contact import wizard.

You KNOW it makes sense.

I'm bloody glad bad luck only comes in threes. Any higher quantity, and I'd be about ready to do a Freddy Kruger!

Monday, 6 May 2013

Engineering just too a backward step...


A self-styled Crypto-anarchist (what the hell is that? In English, please?) has just proved that he can produce and successfully fire a handgun, through the medium of 3D printing.

Click for article on the BBC.
Click for article on Forbes.com.

Yes, it's a huge advance for 3D printing and the uses it can be put to, but for pities sake, why the hell did this person of questionable common sense have to print a sodding gun? And then make the 3-D template plans for it freely available online?!

Granted, you need the use of what is currently an expensive 3D printer, and ammunition that is more (I damn well hope) conventionally produced, but for a one-shot weapon, that you can then replace the barrel (3D printed) and shoot again, this is quite honestly a bloody bad move. Think about the funds that your average drug dealer has at their disposal in places where firearms controls actually seem to work reasonably well (such our fair shores), and then think of what they could do with those funds (over and above what they already do, that is). Frankly, the possibilities are quite horrifying.

There are those who scream "plastic gun" at the top of their lungs. Fine, it is, indeed, a plastic gun. But it's still detectable by conventional airport X-Ray machines - and if those can see a plastic childs toy gun (made of considerably thinner plastic, I might add), then they can see this thing, obviously.

However, such x-ray machinery cannot be used to scan people (it's unsafe through excessive x-ray dosage, remember); so, I guess we can look forward to a reintroduction of those pervert-view Airport body scanner machines again, thanks to this apparently socially short-sighted and quite probably self-centred (I want to use stronger language, but don't want to get sued, obviously) person.

Now, it's all well and good you saying that he wouldn't have been the only one to try to make a gun using a 3D printer. I quite easily agree the point. But not only is he is the one who designed one, and then printed it, he's the only one who then stated that he'd make the template available to anyone who wanted it through the mechanism of the internet. In my view, that's irresponsible at best, and quite probably criminally reckless at worst.

It's highly probable therefore, that until firmware systems can be put in place to prevent a 3D printer for making a firearm or its parts (a bloody unlikely prospect, given the Artificial Intelligence in computing that would be needed in such a stand-alone system), that it's only a matter of time before 3D printers are added to the list of export control restricted items (can you say "End User Certificate"), thus putting the kybosh on the legitimate world-wide uses that 3D printers were originally intended for, such as allowing small firms to make out-of-production spare parts for such things as home domestic machinery, such as old washing machines etcetera, or even small-run production of items such as bicycles, cars and their 'pattern parts', and so on.

At the very least, Mr Cody Wilson has a hell of a lot to answer for. To say that he's set a lot of peoples' tempers on a setting of 'Fusion Reaction' (mine included), is likely as not the understatement of the damn century: he's quite probably buggered up a huge advance in small-scale engineering manufacturing.

He's done the world a massive disservice, and no amount of excuses or fringe political clap-trap can forgive his colossal misjudgement.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

After the bustling... the silence.


"Funerals are big business, everyone's dying to have them". It's a morbidly amusing, if true, statement, even if in somewhat poor taste. Never the less, it's true.

Dad's funeral cost a packet; and some of you reading this know just how expensive sending a loved one on their final journey can be.

But there's also a hidden expense. Your time. The effort involved in sending your loved one on that journey is not just measured in pounds, shillings, and pence; it's measured in those metaphorical pounds of flesh as well.

There's the time involved in organising the funeral; contracting the Funeral Directors, the place where the funeral will be held (in Dad's case, a crematorium, per his final wishes), getting the orders of service printed, making arrangements for all manner of other things, like a place for the wake, and so on. In all of this, if you've a small family, you have to try to fit your work around the myriad details - oh, and you have to let people know where and when the funeral is to take place as well. Our family were lucky: We rallied round, the tasks were parcelled out (I was remarkably lucky, I had very little to do, really), and then we were off to the races to get it all done in time.

In this regard, undertakers, to use a more traditional name for them, are rather good at taking up the reins of this administrative loading, of course - they're not called Funeral Directors these days for nothing, after all; they see this day in, day out, and take a considerable weight off the shoulders of the bereaved, in getting the minutia of sending your loved one on their final journey down to a few key decisions that you have to make, and organising it on your behalf. This leaves the after-funeral details to be organised by the family; either a small(ish) gathering at your home for the wake, when you have to organise food (snacks) and drinks (invariably by the boat load) all by yourself, or, in our case, contracting somewhere to hold a somewhat larger three-ringed circus of mourners for a more organised wake, where the catering and victualling is taken care of by the venue staff.

I wound up waking early yesterday. It was a nice, warm, sunny morning, and the forecast was for a bright summery day. It didn't feel right, somehow: Funerals are supposed to be cold, wet, and miserable days, suitable for nothing less than a full-on mood of sadness and sorrow. Not this one, but then Dad had wanted his funeral to be a celebration of his life, not misery at its' passing, so the weather was there to fulfil one of his final wishes. A rather nice touch by the weather, when you think about it.

I hadn't got that good a nights sleep, truth be told. Not really surprising, all things considered. I had, thankfully, taken the time, yesterday, to do a final check on my suit (clean and still sharply pressed out of it's wrapping), shoes (highly polished, close to the military standard that I learned over two decades ago in the T.A.), shirt clean and pressed, tie likewise, and so on; I even printed off two copies of the Eulogy I'd written for Dad onto cue cards (the second copy for a friend who had agreed to be my 'back up' if I found myself unable to deliver it myself at the service), figuring it would be easier to use those, than a sheet of A4.

Even so, I skipped breakfast, as I wanted to make sure I got to Mum before everything went into overdrive - frankly, while I'd been to funerals before, I'd never been so closely involved in getting one done, and didn't know what to expect; I've heard every possible story from amazingly easy to downright horror-like in description, and wanted the load on Mum to be as light as possible.So, when I mentioned that I'd skipped breakfast to get there on time, what did she do? She sat me down, and, brooking no argument, gave me a coffee and some toast and home-made marmalade. Mums are wonderful; they always look out for you, no matter what!

Anyhow, I shouldn't have worried. Everything went smoothly: As I mentioned, Funeral Directors are good at this: It's their profession, after all. The hearse, bearing Dad in his coffin, and the limousine (to cart us along to the service) arrived bang on time, and we trooped out to take our seats in the limo, via a brief stop at the back of the hearse to examine the flowers that lay by Dad's coffin.

We'd chosen to have everyone else meet us at the crematorium, so as to avoid a massive funeral cort├Ęge (convoy). In hindsight, this was a very wise move. Our route took us past the local high street, and we received what I can truly describe as the one mark of respect of the day from a passer-by that a stranger can bestow. He lowered his head, and drew the sign of the cross over his chest, as Dad's hearse and we passed by.

In not so distant times past, it used to be that most people would stop, remove head wear (known as 'doffing your cap'), nod their heads, and stand in silence as a hearse passed by; I'm old fashioned - I still do this: I consider such respect for the passing dead as an obligation to those who go on before us. In Dad's case, it was just the one person who performed this mark of respect for Dad, and I'd shake his hand for it, if I knew who he was.

The rest of the journey was smooth, slow, and amazingly, ten minutes early at the crematorium. I guess were were lucky with the traffic, which had been remarkably light, all things considered. And at that time I began to understand just how popular my old man was to a lot of people - there were cars parked all over the place, with some people hurrying up the road to the crematorium to get to the service on time, they having had to park several hundreds of metres away, due to the overcrowding of the parking on-site.

Arriving there, we had to wait for the previous service to finish and clear, before we could proceed. I took a quick and rough estimate of how many mourners were present for Dad, and counted well over a hundred - I though it was more, but it was difficult to get an accurate count, as they were all milling about, of course. Once inside the crematorium, it was standing room only for a great many of them, there being something like a hundred and fifty mourners present (we counted it out later) when they closed the doors and began the service. There were two Eulogies; one from his friends, extolling his virtues in his many hobbies and pastimes, and then I was up, with the family Eulogy.

I fluffed reading aloud what I'd written for the Eulogy in only two places (both of which I caught and corrected, thankfully), and managed to get myself seated again afterwards, without completely messing it up or loosing it, and then it was over, and we were outside, examining the flowers, and exchanging greetings with some close friends, before being driven in the limo to a local outdoor sports centre's club house and bar, for the wake.

It was a free bar, with snacks. I managed to secure a pint of Bombardier - a decent bitter, if not my preferred tipple of either Oxford Gold or Spitfire, and I mingled. I was greeted by more people than I can even remember - I'm normally good with faces, and lousy with names, but this time I was pretty much lousy with both. Big surprise. Anyhow, they all seemed to blend into a common form of "Hi, sorry for your loss, I'm (name), well done on the Eulogy", and I'd hand back a "Thanks, and thanks for coming" in return. A few that I'd met previously, or knew of through Dad or Mum, I'd talk to for longer, but this was not a time for me to stay in one place; at such a wake, I was very much expected to meet and greet all and sundry, so this I did: It helped take the pressure off Mum , who could then spend time with people she knew and wanted to talk to. In short, I ran a kind of interference for her to do what she needed to.

So, by the way, did my Sister and, as a result, we both wound up missing out of the snacks. Drinks, no: We both had those, but snacks? It was as if a plague of locusts had descended on the three tables-worth of bite-sized edibles, and whoosh, one moment they were there, and when we turned around again, all that there were was crumbs. Humph. And other, less printable, comments. Lesson learned: At my wake, there's likely to be a burger stand instead. Locust swarm that, if you can!

Towards the end of the wake, I found myself talking to some of my own close friends who'd known Dad, mentioning, in passing, my dark epithets about the plague of locusts - sorry, guests and the food - to quickly brushed-off crumbs off their own clothes and fairly amused expressions of sympathy on this sad lack of grub, and then, as the venue staff laid out the tea and coffee, I got my first decent laugh of the event, when one of my friends pulled the most remarkably comical face as she tried the coffee. Knowing her as I do, I was amazed she didn't do something more drastic - or messy - but merely commented, after a really memorable and hilarious expression of disgust crossed her face, that "This is NOT coffee. I don't know what it is, but it's NOT coffee!" Knowing her tastes on coffee to be similar to my own (OK, I'm a snob when it comes to coffee!), I decided to stick to the beer. Incidentally, the bar tab was, we discovered afterwards, over five hundred quid. Ouch.

Retiring to the family home after the wake, we were scheduled to be having a small gathering of relatives and a couple of our closer neighbours gather there for supper, before we all buggered off to our own homes again. I actually managed to snare a sandwich off Mum - didn't I say Mums are marvellous earlier? - and grabbed a much-needed hour or so's kip, before they decended for the meal.

It was a success, of course; everyone loves free grub, after all; but a family gathering, with a couple of close friends, after such an emotionally-charged day, was just the wind-down we all needed.

And today, after close to a month of running around like lunatics, playing catch-up with my Dad's life to write the Eulogy and do the man proiper justice, without seeming to rush it or leave out important details, I have a weekend to relax. To do my own thing. To get on with what I need to get on with.

And yet, I suddenly find that it's a strangely empty day.

I go back to work next Tuesday (the day after the May Bank Holiday), after a week of leave that was already booked before Dad passed away; I was intending to join a 4x4 weekend over at Salisbury Plains this weekend. That got the kybosh as events unfolded, of course. One of those things, regrettably. There'll be other 4x4 weekends, though. That week of leave was, instead, spent helping my better half move home, then coming back here to get the final details of Dad's funeral arrangements - like getting a new suit - in place, and making sure the Eulogy was just right.

So, I've not really had time to just stop, and relax. And now, when I can do my own thing, when I have no demands on my time, I find that I'm actually bored out of my tiny mind: I have no challenges to overcome, no tasks to accomplish, no-one I really need to go and see (that all having been done yesterday or in the last week, of course), absolutely nothing at all to do.

On reflection, I guess this is where the real battle begins: Life after Dad.

In many ways, this loss has brought us all closer together, but at the expense of a truly close loved one. Tragedies work like that, of course, but life must, after all is said and done, go on. Sad, but true, and one day at a time.

But first, I gotta find something to do, before I go completely bananas.

Oh yeah. I'm doing that right now, as I write another Blant entry!

SO... *looks around the living room for inspiration*... what next...?

So, here's day one.

Let's make it a good one.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

In a holding pattern...


I'm not in a very charitable mood today, as it's my Dad's funeral tomorrow.

I've gone out and bought a new suit (I haven't needed a suit for decades until now, so didn't have one), I've got a decent shirt, I found my old regimental tie (buried at the back of the sock drawer, of all places: how the hell it got there I'll never figure out), I've polished my shoes to the highest shine they've had in years, and now I'm sitting around with naff all to do except wait.

So, I hit the news feeds.

And found that Friends Of The Earth were at it again the other day.

Now, don't get me wrong: They can do wonderful and much needed things, but they do tend to bleat on about a hell of a lot of things that they've a snowballs chance in hell of doing anything about, either by choosing the wrong target, or by choosing the wrong audience. Or both.

Take their latest "campaign". It's about the tin used in  - amongst other things - mobile phones. Apparently, they were in Croydon last Saturday, getting in the way of Joe Subject on this. Thank the stars I was in the West Country, depressurising with my other half or, with me in the upset mood that I was in earlier this week, there may have been a protester with a clip board stuffed sideways up his backside. Messy would not have been the word to use, trust me.

Here's the link to the story in the Croydon Guardian newspaper:
'Your mobiles are destroying lives': Croydon phone shops told by Friends of the Earth campaigners

These days, with everyone and their dog having a phone (or two, or three), and with them being used all the time for both work and leisure, and in a recession as well, where jobs are well and truly on the line, Friends Of The Earth trying to bang on at the ordinary Joe Subject in the street is a sucker move, writ large. Frankly, they're so way off target it's amazing they even thought it possible to have a chance at making a change.

Let's look at a few things. Gold, Silver, Lead, Aluminium, Nickel, Chromium, Carbon, Copper, Gallium Arsenide, Mylar, Silicon, Polystyrene, Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), Polyvinylchlorate (PVC), Antimony, Bismuth, Cobalt, Fluorite, Garnet, and Magnesium, are just a general selection of typical materials used in modern consumer electronics, not just mobile telephones. And Friends Of The Earth're going after tin? I would have thought the Chinese open-cast mines would be a better target for their ire, but hey, tin's an easier target, I guess. Less chance of being arrested by over-zealous Chinese Ministry of State Security goons with sticks as well, as well, come to that.

Here's the thing: Tin is used (most often in combination with lead) in something called solder, which once heated and applied, then allowed to cool and solidify in place, holds the components in a both solid physical and electrically-conductive join on the circuit-boards of pretty-much ALL consumer electronics, not just phones. Try getting the vast membership of the population of this country to stop using their kettles, Fridge/Freezers, and microwave ovens for example: you've got no chance.

So, until Friends Of The Earth - or, perhaps, a scientist would be a better choice in this endeavour - can come up with a viable, cost-effective, and ecologically-friendly alternative to tin/lead solder, I suggest Friends Of The Earth stop their ranting at ordinary people, and redirect their verbal bleeding to the people failing to finance the primary research into suitable alternatives.

That'd be the politicians, by the way.

Who, in a double-dip recession, aren't likely to say anything favourable - or charitable - to FOtE, in all likelihood.

Which is probably why they were bleating on at the poor sods in Croydon, as they knew that they were s*** out of luck with anyone else.

And I'm still sitting here, waiting for one of the worst months in my life to be over.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The waiting game...

It's been a hard week for us, following Dad's death.

Life was practically on hold for all of us; I was able to get a couple of days off work (Bereavement Leave), but really and truly, they aren't enough. There just isn't enough time to figure out solutions to all the problems, when your mind is travelling at a million miles an hour in all directions at once, you're in shock and grief, and trying to figure out something becomes a gazillion times more difficult. How the hell do they expect people to cope with it all in a few short days?

The family has, of course, rallied round to support Mum (we're a fairly close family, thankfully), and try to figure out how to proceed; the guide that the A&E department gave us was helpful as far as it went, but it's become horribly apparent that it's woefully out of date in several key places; likewise, the list the funeral directors gave us for venues was unfortunately slightly misleading - not their fault - as one venue that I will not name at this time flat-out refused to accept bookings unless you worked in a specific profession, despite that fact that it was advertising itself as a conference and event venue.

Things like that really don't help when you're experiencing severe grief, and I'm glad it was my sister to discover this on the phone to them, rather than me, as I suspect - hell, I know - that my temper would have snapped. I strongly suspect we'll be following this up with certain people after the funeral, when calmer heads will be in place, but it's still got me - and many family members - extremely incensed.

The meeting with the parish priest went well, at any rate, and we've got the order of service for Dad's cremation organised, with a couple of small details to finalise (music, in the main). The job I dreaded, but feel I need to do, delivering the Eulogy, has been split in two, thankfully; there'll be two, the first from a member of one of his main pastime groups, which will take that pressure off me to do those justice, given that I was never involved in those - my pastimes are substantially different than Dad's were.

This will leave me free to deliver the second eulogy, which will be the family side of things; it wasn't easy to write, and anyone who tells you writing their father's eulogy is easy didn't do him justice at all. It took more rewrites than I care to number, but I came up with one that both my Mum and Sister, and I, come to that, are all agreed on; you obviously can't be happy with a eulogy, but it does the job of expressing what we want to express, while giving Dad a fitting tribute that everyone else can understand and follow.

A couple of hints to others reading this, who will eventually write a family eulogy for their loved one - give yourself a lot of places to pause and breath; you'll need them. And practice reading it aloud as you write it. You'll need the time and practice, trust me.

Anyhow, we've got the first available slot at the crematorium booked, and now it's a waiting game, and that's going to wind up being more wearing as the days march on - it's not for a fortnight.

Dad had more friends than you could shake a stick at, and the funeral is likely to be a ten-ring circus, standing in the isles in scale. Not withstanding the disgusting response from that venue mentioned above that we approached, finding a venue for the wake was a trial, but has also finally been accomplished, and booked.

The paperwork search goes on apace; my brother-in-law - he's rather good at this sort of thing - managed to find a lot of the required paperwork, insurance, assurance, utilities, and so on, but several things still elude us, and it's a nightmarish lesson for me; for all the organisation that Dad had, his filing system is really testing us, it's so totally counter-intuitive that it almost beggars belief. Still, it worked for Dad, so we have to dig in and try to get to the bottom of it. I'm reorganising my paperwork so that anyone picking up the pieces after my own passing won't have quite so trying a time in putting it all together.

My sister has an appointment with the Registry Office people today, and she'll collect the Death Certificates - ten of them - to pass to the various agencies and companies that'll need them; it seems the Registry Office can deal with a lot of these for us - it's a service that they offer, which take a large weight off the family's shoulders, but there are some, such as the bank, funeral directors, insurance and assurance companies, and so on, that we still have to notify and provide with a certificate; my sister, a book keeper by trade, is dealing with those - she speaks the language they understand.

And then there's me. I'm on hold until the funeral.

I find that I'm going to work, coming home, and brooding; I'm remembering times we had together, things we enjoyed, holidays, and. brutally, realising that there was so damned much that I should have said, that I thought we had oceans of time for, that I can never now say or discuss with him, both serious and light; it's a hell of a kick in the guts when such realisation sinks in. I know it's a process of grief, but that doesn't make it any easier to suffer.

Writing about it all, as I'm doing now, helps, but there's still that gaping void in all our lives where he once stood, that we have to get used to, and that's not going to be easy.

But then, it's not supposed to be easy, is it?

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Devastated.


This is a bloody nightmare. We expected it, of course, but not for a fair few years yet; at least, I thought that was the case; not so my Mum or Sister, who apparently knew better than I did.

On Thursday, 11th April 2013, my father died.

I was just about to hit the sack at around 6am, when I got a call from my brother-in-law. "It's not good news. It's your Dad." Mum had tried to call me, but had called my mobile, and the signal here sucks massively; I'm binning my current provider when the contract expires, but that's not for something like six months yet. And Mum hit the wrong button on the speed dial, or something, so her next call was to my sister, some ten miles away from her; I'm three miles distant.

We both arrived at the same time; I'd have got there sooner if I didn't drive a land rover: They're not built for speed, and my sister pulled out all the stops - literally, by the look of it, as she seemed to have driven in a manner most unlike her normal sedate driving habit. Amazing the things you notice when tragedy strikes. We found the ambulance crews (one Paramedic fast responder, and a crew of two from an ambulance), bringing him out of the house, with CPR still ongoing, and our mum in utter shock, as you'd expect. Never being one to like hurrying up and waiting, I got my sister to help mum get ready to come out to the hospital (she actually had her head on a damn sight better than I did, and had mum grab some food and her daily meds), while I leapt back into my Landie and shot off to the hospital, to meet the ambulance when I arrived. I didn't want him to not have anyone waiting for him, odd as that might sound.

I beat the ambulance there by a couple of minutes, and legged it through the minor injuries reception to A&E, to find them still performing CPR as he was wheeled into the Resuscitation Unit. A couple of minutes later, one of the ambulance crew came out, wheeling the stretcher back to the ambulance, and I introduced myself, and asked what the situation was.

Over the last couple of years, Dad had suffered from a really painful leg problem, which occasionally woke him at odd hours. This appears to have been one such occurrence. It seemed that dad had tried to stand up, and then pitched forwards and landed heavily. My mum found him like that seconds after he'd landed, not breathing or having a pulse. This was sounding horribly familiar: My uncle had passed in a similar manner almost twenty years previously. Mum called the ambulance service, and to instructions provided to her, over the phone by ambulance control room staff, had performed CPR until the ambulance crews had arrived, who then took over, intubating dad, hooking him up to the ECG monitor, and doing their level best to resuscitate him. They'd then taken him to the hospital, still performing CPR in the back of the ambulance, where we now were. I thanked the man (I think his name is Dave), and the rest is a bit of a blur, but half an hour later, I was given the bad news by the A&E doctor.

Dad was gone. And for me, in that horrible instant, time briefly stood still. When everything started up again for me, I was sitting in the small family room, clutching a blue-roll tissue, with the Doctor waiting outside for me to pull myself together.

One of the things they don't show you in all those hospital dramas is what happens next. The hospital staff expect this, of course, but not the dramas. They remove all the medical paraphernalia they've used from the person they've tried to save, and ask you, if you don't ask first, if you'd like to say goodbye. I beat them to this question, which I think was a bit of a relief to them, as some people have a fear of seeing dead people. I'm not about to describe what I saw. It's personal to us, and will stay with us until we, too, pass on. Suffice to say, dad was finally out of pain, at peace, and gone. I said my goodbye, and checked to see where my mum and sister were; turned out they'd only just arrived at the main entrance to the hospital. I made my way to them, and brought them to A&E to allow them to say their goodbyes too.

I also took the time to thank the Ambulance crews for their help and professionalism, even though the efforts were in ultimately vain. I'll have to write a letter to them before long, but the important and immediate thanks were given, and that's important.

I also thanked the hospital staff. They see this every day; the rest of us are in blissful ignorance, of course, until the worst happens. It's so routine to them - as it should, I suppose, be - that they've quite literally got everything down on paper. There's even a booklet, "Information for bereaved family and friends" that they give you, when someone close to you passes away in the A&E department. It's a useful reference for what comes next, telling you what to expect, what you should be doing next, and so on.

As dad died in A&E, the coroner would have to be informed, and he or she would then decide whether a post mortem was required, or if a notification of death form could be signed by the hospital and so on; we were to call them and make contact.

I did this just after they opened for business - ye gods, "Business?!" I guess that's what it is, but bloody hell! - and was told that the coroner had ordered a post mortem, due to dad's medical history. Fair enough, I suppose, and it'd give us a proper reason, and thus closure. I asked when this would be, guessing that it's take a few days, at least, to get organised, but was surprised to find that it'd take place on Friday, and that we'd had a summary of the findings on Friday afternoon.

The rest of the day was, understandably, somewhat disjointed for us; Mum, wanting to be alone to pull herself together - our family is made of tough stuff at times, what can I say - managed to shove us out the door, so my sister hauled me off to grab breakfast, call my works, and start making notifications to the rest of the family and friends.

Time passed, a not very restful nights sleep, and it was Friday. And I got a call from the coroner at around half past ten that morning, informing me of the results of the post mortem - incredibly fast, that, for which I was grateful, I, like my dad before me, hate waiting.

It transpires that dad had a truly massive heart failure due to something called Ischaemic Heart Disease. He would, likely as not, have been gone before he hit the floor, for which we are all grateful: It was mercifully fast. There were other non-direct, but contributory causes as well, but the important reason was known. We'd been wondering if it was a stroke, or his ticker.

Closure is variably rated by most everyone I talk to about the topic; some think it's not necessary, others believe it to be a vitally required thing. But however you look at it, it has its uses; for us, it answered the most important question of all: Did he suffer? The answer was, thankfully, no, not much at all, if he even could feel anything at all, in his last few moments.

This now opened the way forward for us.


We knew that dad had written a note to us, which was in his study, describing how he wanted his passing to be run, what his funeral arrangements were to be, and so on.

Could we find this damn thing? Could we bleep. For such an organised man, his filing system was, to put it charitably, unique. My brother in law's over there today, trying to make sense of it all, as I type this before I go to work.

Thankfully, dad had told us all, at various times over the last few years, how he wanted things to go, so most of it we already know, and the funeral directors have been appraised.

Dad was a popular man; he had more friends than I can shake a stick at, many of whom I'll be meeting at the wake; the funeral will be for family and close friends, as per Dad's wishes; he wanted us to celebrate his life, not be dismal about his passing; it's an oddly refreshing view from a man who was in many ways, very traditional and old-school in his thinking on so many different topics (and you didn't want to push his button on trains; By God, he could lecture on that for bloody weeks at a time!).

It'll be a good way to send him on his way to eternity, whatever your views on God (Yes, I'm a believer) and Organised Religion (and I have a fair few opinions on that, which I tend, for the most part, to keep to myself as well), it all has a place in our lives. It had a major place in my Dad's life as well, and I like to think that Dad's now looking down at us from above the clouds, having a laugh at the antics we're up to, and pointing to the place in his study that none of us have even thought of looking, yelling "It's in there, you idiots!"

However. all levity and other stuff aside, at the end of all of this, despite all the agreements, disagreements, discussions, arguments, laughs, and all the other moments and things and stuff that Sons and Fathers share, there is one, inescapable, irrevocable, unshakable truth that I know:

I'll miss my dad.

Rest in peace, mate, and put a beer on that heavenly bar for when I eventually get up there to join you.