Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Climate conference/disaster/damp squib (COP15)

Well the Copenhagen Climate Conference is over with nothing achieved. Lots of people attended and all that was achieved was a substantial contribution to 'global warming' in the form of jet fuel wasted by 150 planes travelling there from all over the world and a probably equal quantity of 'hot air' spouted by media, activists and politicians who obviously didn't know what they were talking about. So here is my summary of the event, trivia and all. If you want more, I've put it in detail here.

First of all you have to admire the timing of holding a conference on global warming during a time when people were freezing to death during the coldest snap Europe has experienced for several years. That really makes people begin to think 'Maybe a little warming wouldn't be such a bad idea'. Obviously the organisers need to take lessons from the organisers of the first international conference on global warming who held their conference during a heat wave in August 2001.

I was impressed by the impassioned plea of Leah Wickham, a Fijian who tearfully told the conference 'Fifty years from now, my children will be raising their own families. It is my hope that they will still be able to call our beautiful islands home.' I don't doubt her sincerity but since the oceans are rising at 1.8mm per year (as they have been doing for the last 12,000 years) and Fiji is a mountainous set of islands with peaks of 1,300 metres I calculate she won't need to worry for at least 70,000 years - assuming an unlimited supply of polar ice to melt. She may find it a little cramped though if all the world's ice were to melt (around 3,500 years in the future at the current rate) and the sea level rises by 70 metres. There's a web page at which will allow you to see how any area in the world would be affected.

It's estimated the conference caused an additional 40,000 tonnes of carbon (146,000 tonnes of CO2) released by the 13,000 visitors many of whom were delivered in a fleet of 1,200 gas guzzling limos. Just 5 of the limos were hybrids.

Does that 146,000 tonne figure include the carbon cost of the 40 ministers who met in Copenhagen November 16-17; the 12 who met in the Maldives 9-10 November; the 19 who met in Singapore 14-15 November; the leaders who met in Singapore on 19 Nov. or the British Commonwealth leaders who met in Trinidad with the UN Secretary-General, French and Danish presidents, to discuss the climate conference?
Rumour has it that there were plans for President Obama to ride a bicycle to the conference but that idea was squashed due to the fleet of extra cars which would be needed to surround him. They would have used even more carbon (and maybe due to the cold).

Full marks have to go to University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) for supposedly sending emails suggesting conflicting data should be suppressed and then having that email released to the media just before the conference. If ever an action could be taken to throw doubt about the IPCC and it's data sources then that was it. Of course reading the emails is one thing but understanding the context in which they were written is another. It certainly seems to me that climate scientists need to be more careful when writing emails. Funny how the investigation of this has gone quiet now.

The conference seems to have been taken seriously - at least that's the impression you would get from looking at the conference photographs. Everyone has a straight face apart from President Obama and a few others. (The last picture of smiling media services excluded)

All that effort and what did they achieve? Nothing!

Now don't get the idea that I'm a climate sceptic who thinks we can freely continue to burn fossil fuels. My personal belief is that we should take every step possible to minimise our use of fossil fuels. However I don't hold that opinion because of 'global warming'; I hold that opinion because these are precious and finite resources which we will need as chemical feedstock later rather than burning them now. As to 'Climate Warming' - well it's been going on for 12,000 years and there's not a lot we can do about it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Toshiba Nano Mouse

I just bought a new wireless mouse for my son's computer, a Toshiba Nano Wireless Laser mouse. I chose it because of the tiny USB dongle it comes with and because I didn't want it to interfere with my wife's Logitech wireless mouse.

It's 25 miles to my nearest computer store so we went while shopping for other items.

My son thought it was cool at first but had problems installing the software and configuring the buttons.

After just four days it stopped working. I took a look and installed the software properly. No effect. I changed the battery, no effect. I reset the connection (not explained in the manual), no effect. I could right click and left click but no matter what I did the pointer wouldn't move.

"Maybe I'm doing something wrong" I thought and went to the Toshiba website to check. I wish I had gone there first because eventually I found 12 customer reviews on the US site all telling the same story. It works at first but stops working within 5 months. Examining the 'Full specification' I found:
Cordless YES
Opitical NO
Laser NO Huh! It says a laser mouse on the box
Scroll button YES
Ergonomic NO
Interchangeable Cover NO
Mac Compatible NO
USB Connection YES These cameras plug directly into a port on your PC with an appropriate USB cable Huh! Its a mouse not a camera!
Shortcut button NO

Seems Toshiba doesn't know their own product and PC World & other stores copy this blindly.

So I'm going to have to make a 50 mile round trip to PC World to take it back. I went on New Year's Eve after first making sure the store was open. I got there 21 minutes before the store's closing time only to find that they had closed early due to the bad weather (See Driving in snow and ice). Great - another 50 mile trip!

So that makes me award the Toshina Nano Mouse my award for being the biggest load of c*#p ever sold for £19.99!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Remembering the Winter of 1963

Looking outside (in-between downpours) I can't help noticing that this year we have had a bumper crop of berries, a greater fall of pine needles than usual and we had lots of morning fog in August. According to tradition these are all signs of a bad winter to come.

I'm not convinced of any of the 'Lore', it reminds me of the story of Indians who rang up the weather service to find out about the coming winter and were told it would be cold so they started gathering wood. When they checked again later they were told it would be very cold so they gathered more wood. Later still they were told it would be extremely cold so they gathered yet more wood. When they checked next they were told it would be the worst winter for years. 'How do you know?' they asked and got the reply 'Well the Indians are gathering wood like crazy.'

I do however remember an extremely bad winter. That of 1963. It was bitterly cold, the coldest on record, and it snowed in a big way!

That year I was living on a hill farm in the North Pennines. The first I remember of that winter was when my father opened the front door and was met by a solid wall of snow. The previous five winters at the farm had taught us to keep a shovel inside the house so a few minutes digging got us outside. There had been a heavy snowfall but the howling wind had picked up most of the snow on the fells above us and blown it all into drifts in the valley where we lived, one of them burying our front door and the window of our sitting room. The picture shows our family standing outside that door and window later that summer.

We had to dig our way across the farmyard to the cow byre to feed the cows and while we were doing that the postman arrived. He had made it as far as our lane but had then given up. He left the mail for the village of Carrshield at the Chapel below our house saying 'If anyone gets here from there or goes there - ask them to take it'. Carrshield was a mere 2 miles from our house, further up the valley so to a 14 year old boy that was a challenge. I got prepared. By then we had learnt to wear two pairs of jeans, one inside our wellingtons and one outside. Not only did that keep out the bitter wind but it also prevented snow from getting inside wellingtons. I put on a thick pullover, mits, Woolen hat and two jackets, one with a hood. Looking like the Michelin man I made my way down the lane to the chapel, struggled to put the post bag over my shoulder and marched off into the blizzard.

About 200 yards further the road went through a series of bends, through a small wood and over a small stream. It was there I met one of our neighbours, Roland Johnson, trying to dig out his Landrover which had got stuck in the snow. I gave him a hand and he turned back towards his home. I continued up the road - or at least what I thought was the road since the snow had completely covered it, the wall at the left and the fence at my right. It was hard going since the snow was soft and deep. I sank up to my thighs in it and began to think plans for making a set of snow shoes out of old tennis rackets.

About another 20 yards and I got tangled up in something buried in the snow. Fence wires? Nope it was telephone wires still attached and normally 20 feet in the air. That's when I gave up! Carrshield's mail could wait.

The snow there turned out to be 22 feet deep after it had packed down and dug out. One of the pictures I have of it shows my brother-in-law, Colin Graham, standing on the shoulders of a friend, Brian Myers, next to the drift. As you can see the snow still towers above them.

It took gangs of men three weeks to dig their way to Carrshield. Even then there was one road which remained closed even longer where it went through a cutting which had been completely filled with a 44 foot deep snow drift.

As to that 44 foot drift; 1963 was the first year the council tried out snow blowers. They imported one from Switzerland, brought it by low loader to Hexham then drove it from there towards that drift. About 200 yards from it it broke down and the drift had to be cut out by men with shovels and mechanical diggers.

It took a long time for the snow to melt that year. In June, when I came home at half tern for a holiday there was still snow in places.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

UK Education?

Today the BBC news wrote that truancy in UK schools was at a record high, 1.03% of school sessions being missed without permission.

"Missing school for no good reason is totally unacceptable," Schools Minister Vernon Coaker commented.

A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesperson commented "The rise in unauthorised absence is not what we want to see, but as schools are cracking down on absence it's inevitable that they will be stricter about authorising it - meaning that unauthorised absence will rise,".

Who are they trying to kid? These children are absent from school because they don't like the courses which have been forced upon them! Parents too often fail to see the point of a child following a particular course.

The trouble is that those in parliament and government don't live in the real world. Their social circle does not include those of average or below average ability and by definition that makes up 50% of the population. As someone who was at the sharp end of education for 35 years I was constantly frustrated by governments who decided they knew best and would 'improve' education.

First as a chemistry teacher I was dismayed when the then government said 'We're not producing enough scientists - solution - make all children take a GCE (now GCSE) in science. Unfortunately they failed to realise that 'Scientists' are bred from the top 5-10% of the ability range and no amount of science courses will ever produce more 'scientists' from the remaining 90%. In the past most of the bottom 50% dropped science courses allowing the remaining 50% to have more time and money spent on them. That bottom 50% broke most of the equipment too!

By all means provide the lower ability groups with a science course. Give them a general awareness course which should be fun and interesting but not too demanding and not requiring pupils to learn about things totally beyond them. Let me ask Mps this:
"How many of you understand why relativity says you can't travel beyond the speed of light? How many of you understand about adenosine triphosphate's role in providing energy? Can you explain why the outer electron shell makes the chemistry of sodium similar to the chemistry of potassium?"
If you don't know the answers then you have no right to expect the majority of the population to know it either!

For years too, all pupils must follow a 'religious education' course in UK schools and each school must have a regular collective Christian worship. I always found 80% of pupils hated this as a total waste of time. Now I can see why it's still in the curriculum. Our MPs are afraid that saying they don't personally believe it has relevance in today's society will cost them votes. I found it interesting that, when MPs were recently asked if they believed in 'God', each paused awkwardly before saying 'yes'.

PHSE (Personal, Social and Health Education) This was a course introduced a few years ago. In some schools it's taught by a specialist teacher but in the majority it's taught, often poorly, by non-specialists. In schools where PSHE is taught by non-specialists on a particular day the absence rate is higher on that day. Now I can see the point of having this subject but if schools want it to be taken seriously then get a specialist teacher to teach it properly and concentrate the maths, science and other specialists on teaching the subject they know best. I would suggest merging it with the RE program too.

OFSTED - Few people know that this stands for 'Office for Standards in Education'. Its function seems to be to terrorise teachers and make them jump through hoops. Does it really do anything useful? How much does it cost?

SATs (Subject Attainment Tests) A great idea in theory - or are they? Do we really need to make our children jump through hoops several times in the course of their education? Remember the 11+ examination which regularly sent 40% of pupils to the wrong school? Do SATs allow us to tell which schools are best? Does knowing that 'information' help or does it mean that everyone tries to get into 'the best' school and the majority then arrive at a lesser school already disaffected because they didn't get into the oversubscribed school of their choice. Do the SATs results tell the teachers anything they don't already know?

So if I were the Schools Minister what would I do?

  • Scrap the SATs - a waste of time and money.

  • Scrap OFSTED - I can find a better use for £200 million and getting rid of it will reduce stress absence in schools which costs even more.

  • Forget compulsory science GCSEs. Instead introduce a science appreciation course for those who don't opt to follow sciences at GCSE level. Let's face it an average GCSE grade in science is a grade F which as far as employers are concerned is a certificate proving the person is incompetent at science. Certainly steer that top ability group towards the sciences though and concentrate the expensive resources on those with the ability to use them.

  • Merge the RE and PHSE courses. Make them non-examinable (although with the option of opting for a GCSE RE subject for those who want it) and have it taught by specialist teachers. Do away with the dictate that each school should have a compulsory Christian collective worship. Keep assemblies though.

  • See my job as being to provide schools with the funding they need to maintain and create new buildings, purchase resources, reduce class sizes and NOT to interfere.

Original cartoon Matt of the Daily Telegraph

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Choosing Genealogy Software

For the past few months I've been trying out genealogy software to see how they compare against each other.

According to some sources tracing your family history is now the third most popular hobby in the US. Something you've possibly noticed if you count the number of magazines devoted to the subject. I got bitten by the genealogy bug back in my early 20s (a long time ago) and if anything, my interest has increased.

In the past I've kept records:
  • on separate cards - which constantly get out of order

  • in loose leaf folders - a disaster once you drop it once

  • in hard backed notebooks - which drop to bits over time and need re-transcribing

...but then along came computers and Internet offering a much easier (and possibly safer) method of storing information.

For a while I experimented with creating my own database program but it quickly became apparent to me that I was attempting to re-invent the wheel. There are lots of pre-made genealogy programs out there, some of which, e.g.Personal Ancestral File. are excellent and FREE!

I used Personal Ancestral File (PAF) for years but began to wonder if I was perhaps missing out on something. Could it be that there were much better programs available which might suit me better - even if I did have to pay for them?

Of course if you read the reviews of software you'll get as many different 'best buy's as there are reviews. Family history magazines tend to promote the one they offer for sale or are supported by and computer magazines tend not to be written by genealogists (Computer Shopper has reviewed genealogy programs twice in the last 8 years and made glaring omissions). There was only one thing for it. I got hold of each of the programs and tried them out myself.

The full results can be seen on my Genlinks website but here's a short summary of what I found:

  • The most expensive programs are NOT the best programs

  • All of them are rubbish at producing websites

  • The use of information from Internet has increased the number of errors in family trees. Lots of software packages allow you to make errors such as a 69 year old woman having children two years after her death

  • You'll need to read manuals to get the best out of most of the software and sometimes there's an extra charge for that. Something I find objectionable - (Legacy please note!)

  • None of the programs integrate with e-mail clients - a surprising omission since much information will come via that route

  • Few of the programs allow you to add clickable web page links. Presumably the software publishers will say 'Web pages may disappear' (obviously never having heard of the Internet Archive)

  • A surprising number of the programs offer few facilities for keeping contact information

  • Adding map information is a great idea but few software programs do it well and none of them offer old maps

  • DNA information has left most of the programs far behind

  • Some programs are excellent if you want to write a book about your family. Others are useless at this because you can't edit the result

  • Most of the programs will run with Windows 7 but some may have slight problems if text and icons are set at 125% or more scale on a large high resolution display. One expensive program does not use standard file windows.

So which one would I choose?
  • I'm going to keep PAF because despite being the oldest and free program it's the best at providing the text for my website.

  • I'm going to buy RootsMagic 4 because with a score of 158 points it's the outright winner. It's just a shame that it's so rubbish at making web pages and warning you about errors.

  • I'm probably going to buy Legacy 7 since I like it's warnings and can read and interpret manuals. I may eventually understand it's awful merge individuals feature. I look forward to Legacy 8

So I'll be using not one but three programs - and that will be a real pain!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I'm never going to win the lottery...

Don't get me wrong. I never really expected to win because I only buy one ticket for each of the Saturday and Wednesday draws so my odds of winning are not very high. In fact I look on it as more of a charitable donation. It does allow me one thing though - hope.

Hope that against all odds, my numbers come up and I'll suddenly be rich!

I buy my tickets online since I hate standing in queues and there isn't a shop selling the tickets within three miles. Usually I pay in £10 and that covers me for the next five weeks. (As you can see, I'm not exactly addicted to gambling) The trouble is that every now and then I forget to buy my tickets (despite the reminder the lottery sends me).

Eleven weeks ago I forgot and missed a Saturday draw. Three numbers came up and I missed out on £10. Oh well that's unfortunate but I wouldn't miss it. Five weeks later I forgot again and last Saturday, didn't have a ticket. Four of my numbers came up.

Ahgggh! That not won £87 would have paid for almost a years worth of new tickets! I've had three number £10 wins before (not very often) but never a four number win.

I bought a fresh 5 week supply and yesterday - as usual not a single number. I guess fate is telling me I'm never going to get those six numbers.

Monday, September 21, 2009

If I were 'Jaydax Almighty' I would... laptop manufacturers who continue to design laptops that can't easily be used on your lap! Your personal laptop would redesign itself so that everything, keyboard, sockets and screen was all on the front edge of the laptop.
Let me give you a hint guys - buttons, optical drives and headphone sockets should NEVER be placed on the front edge of a laptop because they cause problems when it is used on your lap or - heaven forbid - in bed.
My Dell Inspiron 1720 is an example. If it's used on raised knees (in bed) then the front edge presses into you and several buttons are pressed which plays havoc with the sound system and for some reason stops some of the keyboard from working. The buttons Dell tells me are positioned there so I can play sound files with the laptop lid closed. Hey guys, if I want to listen to music I use an mp3 player or my mobile phone. I don't lug a laptop around!
HP Pavillion laptops have headphone sockets on the front edge which mean a jack plug sticks into you and which can give you a mild stinging shock if they touch bare skin.
Front opening optical drives? You have to move the laptop before you can change a disk. While I'm on the subject of computer design i WOULD CONSIGN TO AN ASSYLUM THE IDIOT WHO FIRST PUT 'cAPS lOCK' NEXT TO 'sHIFT'

...Spray paint silver those who design paint on laptop palmrests. Don't worry about the paint on you guys - it will wear off just as it does when you use a laptop enough. It wears away even faster if you use a mouse on the palmrest. On my Dell the plastic under the paint is grey so it just looks scruffy when the silver paint covering it wears away but my HP has black plastic under it's silver paint scheme and looks awful after just a year's heavy use.

...give a permanent thirst and only £1.00 to soft drink manufacturers who think its OK to charge £1.65 ($2.67) for a bottle of Coca-Cola! You must be kidding. I stop buying the stuff at my local supermarket when its price goes above £1.00 per 2 litre bottle and that price I consider too high considering I can buy 'Cola' for less than 40p. How about a 1 litre bottle of water for 90p ($1.46)? I have a tap at home and water from it which has stood in the fridge overnight tastes just as good.

...fill the cars of people who litter roads with 100 times the amount of rubbish they dump. I live in the country on a main road which passes through a beautiful area of Northumberland. Each day I clean up rubbish thrown out of cars. Plastic bottles, fast food wrappers, beer cans, newspapers, plastic bags, used nappies (diapers) and cigarette packets all get dumped outside my house. Oh how 'Jaydax Almighty' would enjoy watching them try to dump their rubbish a second time.

...consign those who shrink wrap their products to an environment where everything was shrink wrapped and there wasn't a sharp object or fingernail in sight. I'm sick of plastic wrapping around DVDs. The stuff you spend ten minutes trying to get into. There already is a better alternative to preventing people removing the disks, those red tabs which are removed at the checkout.

... at night I would enter the houses of supermarket managers and move everything in the house to a different location while they slept in revenge for them moving everything in the stores to a new location. I know why they do it - it's so that you have to look for it and hopefully you will see something else to buy as you do so ...but it's SO annoying! Lets see how they would like hunting for their car keys relocated to the bottom of the freezer, a shoe in the oven, the alarm clock in the garage and all their clothes in the front porch.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Advice to spammers and scammers

No - I'm not going to tell you to see if you can head butt a 5 ton truck travelling at 70mph; (well you can if you want); this blog is about spams and scams which won't work on me!

  1. - I turn on the 'To' field in my e-mail program so that I can see who the e-mail is being sent to. I won't read or even bother looking at the subject of any e-mail which:

    • does not have a completed 'to' field
    • is apparently sent from my e-mail address to me
    • is sent to an e-mail address I do not recognise
    • is sent to any of my 'spam trap' e-mail addresses (for information dummy they are all anagrams of 'you are a fool' e.g. louafeaoroy@...)
    • is sent to 'undisclosed recipients'

  2. I examine the 'From' field and don't bother with:
    • any e-mail with a blank 'from' field
    • from anyone with an e-mail address with a random combination of letters e.g. I will accept as possibly genuine david4387@... but not jwp5tzphw@...
    • anyone with pharmacy, casino or a drug name or company in the e-mail address

  3. After all of the above are automatically permanently deleted by my e-mail filters they then examine the subject field:
    • No subject - deleted unless the sender is on my contact list
    • If the subject is 'Hi', 'Hello', 'Urgent', 'ATTENTION!' or any other meaningless phrase - deleted unless the sender is in my contact list.
    • I get offended by swearwords and vulgarity so my filters will permanently delete any e-mails which contain either. I will never see them
    • there are keywords my filters look for. If these are found in a subject then the e-mail is permanently deleted unless the sender is in my contact list. I will never see e-mails about fake watches, drugs, dieting, banks I don't belong to, parcel services I don't use, lotteries, corporate offers or anything mentioning 'girlfriend', 'sweetheart', 'her', 'super' etc.
    • If your spam refers to any body part in any way I won't ever see it unless you are on my contact list.

  4. I will look at the subjects of what is left:

    • if it's not in my language - I delete it
    • if the subject contains words which contain spaces - V I A G R A or numbers/symbols replacing letters - Cia1;s then you know I don't want to receive it so why bother sending it?
    • I will NEVER follow a link in an e-mail from a bank
    • While the tax authorities may owe me money I know they never contact people by e-mail to tell them about it. Neither do they e-mail messages to say you owe money, and they certainly don't have a domain such as
    • Only a fool would buy a watch from a spammer without being able to see it - it's merely a good way to receive nothing and lose your credit card details - so I won't read it.
    • The same is true for drugs or anything taken by mouth
    • No matter how embarrassed a person is they would have to be a complete moron to trust any part of their anatomy to a surgeon promoted by spam. Good candidates for Darwin awards.
    • Someone I don't know sends me details of a stock which is going to make my fortune? Yeah. Right - of course I believe it and will invest heavily
    • Someone offers me a job working for 'just a few hours each day' - bin it
    • Is there really anyone left on Internet who will fall for the Nigerian style money transfer scam? No I'm not going to give any stranger, no matter what he/she promises, my bank details and then wire funds which haven't cleared anywhere.
    • Begging letters? No - I'm too mean to respond to genuine ones and too wise to fall for the sob stories
    • Online casino promoted by spam? Of course I believe they will pay out and not steal my credit card details if I'm daft enough to bet any of my own money - deleted!

  5. Now what about the rest?
    • If a subject seems genuine my e-mail filters will still scan the content and delete any which contain content which had it appeared in the subject line, would have been deleted
    • If something seems too good to be true I naturally suspect it isn't and delete it
    • If the content is a graphic attachment only - deleted
    • If the content contains a 'nasty' - My anti-malware program will get rid of it
    • If the content contains lots of downloadable graphics, my e-mail program won't download them - and neither will I

  6. I will open the rest of my e-mail BUT if I find a content unrelated to the subject I will:
    • add the sender to spam blacklists
    • complain to the ISP of the sender about spam and I will use the IP address of the sender, not the forged e-mail address. If that means complaining about someone who has unwittingly become part of a botnet - tough. Tearn to protect your computer with anti-malware software and stop inflicting pain on the rest of us.
    • add the domain of any web host who fails to respond to my complaint about spam to blacklists
    • complain to the web host of any URL promoted about the site being promoted by spam

    • If you use a spambot to search my website for e-mail addresses it will find LOADS of totally useless e-mail addresses, links to spam blacklists and a very useful link to a site called WPOISON which will provide more useless dummy e-mail addresses to fill up your spam lists.

As you can see I have a thing about spam so my final bit of advise is:

Don't send it to me!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Maybe NPower does listen - eventually!

If you've followed this blog you might have seen my post 'NPower doesn't listen' in which I related the tale of how Npower had been sending me bills for someone else since April 2008. I had returned bills marked 'Not known at this address' only to have them come straight back to me. I phoned them many times but still the bills kept coming.

Things came to a head when I got 'Disconnection Notices' which threatened to break in, disconnect me for a bill I didn't own and then lock me out of my own house by replacing the locks making me travel 60 miles and pay £150 to collect keys.

More phone calls, letters and complaints to NPower's Retail CEO had no effect. The bills kept coming and when I accidentally opened one in June 2009 I found they had risen to £1,476.86.

When NPower reduced my monthly direct debit payments, despite my objections, causing me to go £400 in debit on my real electricity account that was enough for me and I switched electricity suppliers to EDF and wrote a note to NPower explaining my reasons for doing so.

Finally, too late for them, Npower got their act in gear and wrote to me apologising and telling me they had finally corrected the address of the unfortunate individual with the £1,476.86 bill and I would no longer be sent his letters. As compensation for my trouble, today a £100.00 cheque arrived! They also knocked £100 off the final bill I got (Now £600).

Now I wonder how they plan to treat the other NPower customer - the one who's had free electricity for 18 months and now finds himself with a huge bill?

Friday, July 03, 2009

Totally forgettable restaurants

There are lots of good restaurants out there and some which have even poisoned their clients but I've also come across some where the food didn't poison me but was totally flavourless and the service lacking. So this is my list of restaurants which are totally unremarkable and which I won't be going back to unless I'm really hungry and don't have the means to go elsewhere. Of course these are just my opinion, you might like it there.

Please feel free to add your own ideas for totally forgettable places to eat.

Orleans Thurrock - A restaurant which looks like a paddle steamer. We went there because my wife is from Louisiana and wanted some catfish. Not quite sure how they managed to make what is normally a delicious dish taste - well of nothing!

The Chattery, Freeman Hospital, Newcastle - We had chicken pie which somewhere had lost all flavour. They obviously haven't heard of using any kind of herb or spice and the chicken? Was it boiled for 10 hours before being put in the pie? Their apple crumble was flavourless too. Next time they do it I suggest they use cooking apples, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla in the custard

The Honeypot Keswick - So slow and boring - enough said.

Sainsburys Thurrock - Tasteless and overcooked food. Could be cleaner too.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Whae nettled the teacher?

My father met Dick Phillipson in a pub and persuaded him to help us out on our small hill farm. He was already in his 60s but he had a tractor and we didn't. Over the years he was a regular visitor and I learnt a lot about hill farming from him.

Dick seemed to have lead an interesting life, a local historian's dream since he had been one of the last of the lead miners working in the Cumbria and Northumberland lead mines. He was the only person I knew who habitually wore wooden clogs rather than the all pervasive wellie. At lunchtime we would retire inside our ancient farmhouse (It's now a Buddhist monastery) and Dick was always good for a story.

    When I was a lad and gannin ter school I wer alus in trouble and often used ter get the belt or the cane from the teacher. I think I got it most days and was quite used ter it. There was one day he give it to me real bad though an it hurt fer once so I decided ter get me own back.

    At playtime the teacher used ter alus gan ter the nettie. We didn't have these flush toilets, ours wer the ald earth closets, like the one ye have here. Well I waited until I heared him gruntin then quietly moved the stone away and tickled his arse wi' a geet bunch of nettles and ran. I remember ter this day the yell he lit oot!

    I would ha got away wi' it but yin of the girls saw me and teld him whae nettled him. He laid into me real bad that time an said he would speak ter me father.

    Aal the way home I was afeard aboot that an when I saw him drivin past with a geet smirk on his face I knew he had done it. I was alus more afeard of whit me dad would dee than of the teacher's cane. I divn't think I ever took longer te get home than I did that day.

    When I got in the yard me dad was waitin of me wi his belt in his hand. "Dick" he yells "Git theeself in here sharpish"

    I was afeered I were really for it but when I got in he jest said "Now then lad. Whae nettled the teachers arse then?" and burst out laughing.

Of course that gave me the idea and my elder sister became the nettle's next victim while I became the only 9 year old at school with a bald patch - but that's another story.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What a Con!+

Con 1 - The BNP Doctor

It's election time for the EEC parliament and today I got a mailshot promoting the British National Party. On it there's a picture of a doctor with the following quite next to it:
    "I'm voting BNP because I see what immigration has done to the NHS. As a Doctor I want to see an end to 'health tourists' and to make sure British nurses are employed and paid fairly."

"I'm sure Ive seen that doctor before," I thought and looked up 'doctor' in Google Images. Sure enough there he was as the second picture found. Now it's just vaguely possible that this doctor in the picture supports the BNP but if so why is he also a member of the New Hampshire Prostate Cancer Coalition on the other side of the Atlantic?

The BNP have used a stock image from on their leaflet. The cynic in me believes they probably couldn't find a doctor willing to make such a stupid quote since the UK National Health Service would collapse if it were not for all the immigrant doctors and nurses it employs. If they could find a doctor to support them then I could understand his/her reluctance to allow their picture to be used on a BNP promotion - it would be career suicide!

Now maybe it's naive of me to expect honesty and openness from a politician but this sort of thing on a leaflet isn't likely to get my vote. One last word of advice for the BNP - learn the rules of grammar regarding capitalisation of words such as 'Doctor'. It's not a name or in this case a title or sentence beginning.

Con 2 - Sky Satellite Box 'Protection' deal

Every couple of weeks I get a phone call or mailshot from Sky telling me that the Sky satellite box I have is now out of warranty and that I can take out a protection plan for just £6.45 per month or £77.50 per year. A good deal? Maybe not!

In the UK we have a little thing called 'The sale & Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002' which states we have the right to choose repair, replacement, partial or full refund, or compensation if a fault appears within 6 years (5 years+ in Scotland)and it is reasonable for goods to last that long. That 1 year warranty that 'has expired' has no legal standing! I find a Sky box will fail in it's first 2-3 months or will just keep on working.

Of course the Sky Protection policy does cover your box against accidental damage - but doesn't household contents insurance cover that too? All in all, Sky just seem to want us to pay an extra £77.50 for nothing at all and that makes it Con 2 in my list.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

How to get your web pages noticed

Many brilliant web pages go unnoticed because search engines simply have not 'discovered them' or your page is listed hopelessly far down the search results. So what can you do about it? Here's my recommendations.

First the content - Obviously it has to be something other people want to read! Once you've produced it however; rather than a huge single page you need to break your content down into at least 4 pages produced using a template so that they have a similar appearance and common links to each other. Promote each page as follows:
  • Make sure each page has a suitable descriptive title which a user might search for - NOT 'Home page', 'Welcome' or the like. For example in my tutorial about creating a Java animated waterfall I produced pages titled 'Creating a Java animated Waterfall (Lake Applet)', 'Getting waterfall speed and source image right', 'Putting the Java Waterfall together' and 'A Java Animated Waterfall'
  • Give each page headings and sub headings using the <h1>,<h2> or <h3> tags. If the <h1> tag isn't the correct style for your page remember you can change it locally using CSS.
    (e.g. instead of using <h1>[Your Page Title]</h1> you can use <h1 style="font-family:Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;font-size:28px">[Your Page Title]</h1>
  • Meta tags, in the header of your page, are not as important as they used to be but are still worth adding.
    You need a <meta name="description" content="[Put a short description of the page here]"> Make sure the description includes any keywords a user might search for.
    You need a <meta name="keywords" content="[Put a comma separated list of keywords on the page here]"> Make sure your page mentions each keyword used at least twice. More is better but avoid meaningless repetition which might get your pages blocked!
  • Install Google Analytics on your site.
  • Create and submit an xml sitemap to Google Webmaster Central. There's a shareware download available for a program which will do this all for you - 'A1 Sitemap generator' at Use it to generate an xml sitemap and “robots.txt” file. Upload these and 'ping' Google and other search engines to tell them about it. You can use A1 Sitemap Generator free for 30 days without restrictions. ($49 if you wish to continue using it)
  • Link to the site from any other websites you own.
  • Get someone to visit the site and tag it with Stumble Upon / Digg and other such social bookmarking sites. Since this will probably be a 'new discovery' they should add a comment on it. If you can't get a friend to do this then visit it yourself - preferably NOT from your own computer - try one at a local library.
  • Find a forum relevant to your site and post there, put the URL in a link. Submit the page to Stumble Upon / Digg etc.
  • Set up an account with Blogspot (owned by Google). Make a post about your site's content and include a link to your site. Yes - you're right - I just did it and here's another link to a free genealogy HTML pedigree template page I produced also.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Electric Blanket Safety - Morphy Richards Winterwarm

I'm making this post because of a disturbing safety issue which I feel there should be a record on the Web about. It could have killed us!

A few days ago, just after the alarm went off to wake us up, my wife leapt up in bed, pulled the sheet off the mattress and frantically reached for the power switch to switch off our double size, Morphy Richards Winterwarm electric underblanket. At the same time there was the unmistakable smell of burning.

She'd turned over in bed and seen a red glow through the sheet and heard sizzling.

Here's what we found on turning over the blanket corner:

This electric blanket has a removable plug which allows the blanket to be washed. Just where the cable enters the plug it had burnt through and was busy burning a hole in the blanket itself and, given time, would have set fire to the sheet and mattress.

I did a little research and discovered in the UK alone in 2008 there were 1,000 housefires attributed to faulty electric blankets. 20 people were killed and 250 were injured. Checking further revealed that 99% of these fires were caused by blankets over ten years old.

This electric blanket was just 9 months old! It had never been washed, had not been moved and the cable was in a position where it was not subject to any movement or stress. The fuse fitted to the blanket did not burn out.

I notified the manufacturer of the problem - and got an apparently 'concerned' reply but which ended 'We regret that we are unable to be of any further assistance with your enquiry and assure you of our best attention at all times.'

Argos, the supplier took my concern more seriously. They sent it away for tests and invited me to claim compensation for any damage caused.

In this case we were lucky, apart from a tiny scorch mark to mattress and sheet there was no injury or damage. We were awake when it happened; but what would have happened if it had failed at 3:00am when we were fast asleep? This has shaken my confidence in electric blankets and no matter what Morphy Richards say - I won't sleep with one switched on again.

In all fairness to Morphy Richards I have to report that they contacted me again after apparently reading this blog. It seems that the Winterwarm range is exclusively supplied through Argos on the understanding that Argos deal with all following consumer contact. This was not made clear in Morphy Richards first e-mail. Morphy Richards are now apparently trying to locate the blanket for detailed assessment.
I bought two of these blankets though and as far as the second one is concerned - I can detect no sign of the same problem but have warned my son not to leave it on at night.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Danone - Should it be Damn One?

You must have seen the adverts for Danone products Activia Yogurt.

We buy the fig and date versions and decided to try the peach and vanilla versions also. What we didn't notice was the small text on the wrapper saying 'fat free yogurt with fruit, sugar and sweeteners'

Sweeteners in a so called 'healthy' product? Getting out a magnifying glass to read the 4 point text on the carton I checked to see just what sweetener was being used. In the Peach I found Aspartame and Acesulfame.

Now the Acesulfame is bad enough - it's only suspected of having 'significant doubt' as to its safety but what sort of idiot manufacturing a 'healthy food' includes Aspartame? There are an unbelievable number of complaints that this stuff is suspected of (See

Now if Damnone (oops sorry - Danone) can make such a blunder what about their other claims?

'Did you know 56% of healthy women report that they experience digestive discomfort from time to time?' - What an astonishing statistic. I wonder where they got it from. I suspect probably out of the air since I'm pretty certain that 100% of people - male or female, would admit to having digestive discomfort at some time in their life.

'Contains the unique live culture BIFIDUS ACTIREGULARIS®' - Now just what does that mean? First 'unique' is defined as being 'the only one of its kind'. Danone - I've news for you - it's a bacteria and there are billions of them! Maybe Danone have a unique strain of this bacteria? Nope - it seems to be Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. animalis, strain DN-173 010 That's a bacteria commonly found in animal bowels and by no means unique. Danone have given it a new (and unofficial) name, BIFIDUS ACTIREGULARIS® and trade marked it. Hey - what a brilliant idea. If we all do that no one will know that this common bacteria is in no way special.

'82% of people with digestive discomfort said they felt better after eating ACTIVIA' - Err - How long after? Would they have felt better after a few hours anyway? Did they attribute feeling better to eating ACTIVIA - you didn't say!

'It tastes fantastic too' - Nope - it used to taste OK but you ruined it by putting artificial sweeteners in, giving it a lingering after taste.

So why did they add this rubbish? Maybe it's one of these reasons:
  • Artificial sweeteners are cheaper than sugar so you can make more profit. In fact Aspartame seems to work out as being 1/2000th the cost of the sugar required for equal sweetness
  • You can claim it's less fattening.
  • Less sugar means less tooth decay (We'll just choose to ignore the tooth eating acid in the yogurt and fruit)
  • This paticular sweetner has a reputation of producing a craving for more. That means that instead of eating one pot you might eat two. That of course would increase the product's sales. Danone wouldn't do that... would they?

Guess what? Danone just lost another customer for this product.


Now for the positive side of Danone's yoghurt. In December my family adopted a kitten found abandoned on a farm. He was such a sweet thing and so friendly we couldn't understand why anyone would abandon him at about 7 weeks old. When we got him home we discovered his awful secret. To put it bluntly his farts smelt awful and he did lots of them!

We wormed him and gave him a kitten diet of 'Science Plan'. No improvement. Then I had an idea and gave him about a teaspoon of Danone 'Bifidus Actiregularis®' yoghurt. Displaying a good deal more sense than many humans he wouldn't touch the Aspartame sweetened version but really enjoyed the other versions. His smelly farts quickly disappeared.

So if you have a problem with smelly farts from your pet (or maybe yourself) just add Danone yoghurt to your diet for a while.

Friday, March 13, 2009

BT's Important Messages

A couple of days ago I got a letter from BT marked 'Important documents inside - Not a circular.'
"Must be a bill" I thought and opened it. Sure enough it was a bill from BT Mobile. I looked at the amount due - £0.00
"Wow - that is important" I thought "Better send them a cheque and ask for a receipt."
Just as I was about to write a cheque for 'Zero pounds and no pence,' I saw the bit at the bottom which told me I need take no action since the amount would be collected by direct debit. What a shame - I was really looking forward to getting that receipt.

I didn't think BT could top that 'Important letter' but today I got another one!
This time the 'Important documents inside' told me that I need do nothing to continue to have unlimited evening and weekend calls at no extra cost BUT if I was not happy with this I could cancel the offer by calling 0800 345 7309 and then pay at the normal price of £2.65 per month for my unlimited evening and weekend calls.

Huh! I bet that number gets inundated with people calling to pay extra for those free calls!

Well Mr Nigel Stagg, Managing Director of BT's Customer Service, I bet you win the prize for the year's most pointless letter - Unless my readers out there know of a worse 'Important documents inside' letter.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Aaagh! Spam!

Just 27 minutes into 2009 I got sent my first spam e-mail of the year - from someone signing herself as Beverly and who suggested I go to her website for 'all kinds of medicines'.
It was quickly followed by more and by the end of the day I had 131 spam e-mails in my 'Junk' folder. Now that's a record! Not because of what you think - it's a record because that was the fewest spam e-mails I've had for a very long time! On average I get just under 500 spam e-mails a day.

Now at this point I have to point out that my e-mail filters will automatically delete any message which comes from someone I don't know and which contains certain words such as Viagra, tobacco, degree, bank, 'you have won', or which claim to have been sent from me to myself. The spam mail I'm talking about slipped through the filters.

Looking back at the January 1st spams I find:
40 spams offering me medications - mostly Viagra or slimming pills
29 offering to enlarge my penis
22 offering to sell me a (mostly fake) watch
14 offering me a (fake) degree or diploma
6 offering software
5 inviting me to gamble
4 invitations to online dating services
2 messages attempting to get me to check my password details at a bank account
1 each of messages offering clothes, mobile phone games and fake jobs
1 lottery winner prize
1 invitation to sponsor the next international tennis match
1 botnet test
1 offer to increase my breast size (and it was addressed to 'John'!)
and a spam from Sony about Playstation games (I distinctly remember un-ticking that box 'Do you want to receive...')

Now let's take a closer look at these:

First there must be a great many STUPID people out there on Internet! Now I know from my own experience that there are really two species of 'man' on this planet. Homo Sapiens (That's Latin for thinking or wise man) and just 'Homo'; but really! You have to be a total moron to believe that you can get a better deal buying prescription medicines from a spammer than through your doctor and a pharmacy. Haven't the people who fall for this heard of fake, dangerous drugs and credit card fraud?

How about the 'penile enlargement' ones? Would you honestly trust your member to a doctor promoted by spam? How about trusting it to someone who is not a doctor? Get real folks and for your information after a great deal of research I can tell you that the average size of a fully erect penis is 5¼ inches.(about 40% are now saying 'Phew'; 20% are going for a tape measure; 5% are thinking 'I'm deformed' and those suffering from a diphallic condition - go look it up - are wondering 'which one').

How about those watches? Yeah right - you expect to buy a Rolex for $5.00 or a Cartier for $6.00. IT'S FAKE! Not only that but it looks fake! If you want one - buy it at your local street market where you can see what you are buying and... offer less. It often works (which is more than can be guaranteed by the one you buy through spam).

Fake degrees. Do they actually work? Is any employer really daft enough to employ someone on the basis of a certificate from a university they have never heard about? If you really want a fancy bit of paper - design and print it yourself - that's even cheaper.

How about that software? If you want a full copy of MS Office for $12 and expect to buy it on-line I've got news for you - It's a pirate! If you're going to get a pirate copy of software you might as well go the full hog and get it free from Internet instead. If piracy worries you - it should - then get Open Office from which is MS Office compatible and free!

Dating sites? There are lots of chat sites on the net which are free, so why bother to pay for the ones that are not free?

Gambling? You really want to trust a site promoted by spam with your credit card numbers? You really think you will honestly win?

As for anyone who falls for the bank phishing scams - well someone so stupid does not deserve to have money! Just remember - Banks NEVER ask you to check your details online. They ALLWAYS suggest you type in their URL rather than follow a link and GOOD up-to-date browsers will warn you if that link is bogus.

Mr 'buy my games/ringtones' obviously hopes you are not aware of all the free games available or the free software (audacity) which allows you to make your own ringtones. He hopes you'll give him that crucial credit card number so he can take regular small amounts from it before you remember to cancel it or even worse - educate you about identity theft the hard way.

As for the rest - I buy my clothes where I can try them on; have lost faith in the $200 for 3 hours work a week; don't mind if the guy who tells me to claim my lottery win keeps it himself; find tennis boring and definitely don't want bigger breasts!

I'm not going to fall for any of these but it just takes one in a million to buy from a spammer to make it worth his/her while and as a result I get about 175,000 spam e-mails in my inbox each year. Now at say half a second to check each that means I spend a full day of my time deleting the stuff each year. Since I value my time as wasted if I don't make £27 per hour that means spam is currently costing me £648 per year! I OBJECT!

The first spam e-mail was sent on 2nd May 1978 by a guy called Gary Thuerk working for DEC. It was sent to 393 users of Arpanet (the forerunner of Internet). Since then spam has grown a little. more than 90% of all e-mail traffic is spam! It uses our bandwidth, slowing down our connection and costs us all money.

Now as of June 2008 there were 1.46 billion Internet users in the world and if just one in a thousand has the same level of spam and charges a tenth of my price for their time then that means spammers are stealing £94,000,000 ($138,000,000 US) from us per year! This is a MAJOR crime!

So what happens when a spammer is caught? Well here in the UK you could be fined £5,000 but the greatest fine so far has been nowhere near that!

Now what sort of punishment would be sensible for stealing £94 million and annoying 1.46 billion people? How about we bring back hanging for it?