Wednesday, 28 June 2017

A Call To Action

So, I'm working on a book at the moment.  It's all at very early stages, and comes with a hefty proviso of "may never see the light of day" but at this time it's all very exciting, particularly how it gives me another reason to avoid doing unimportant things like doing the washing up or getting a shave.

I need your help.

Except you, Dr Dawg.

Specifically with blog subscriptions!  I will be approaching writing agents in the not too far distant future and part of my sales pitch will be talking about my blog.  I'm aware that there are a committed number of people (thank you, each and every one of you) who do stop by regularly to check out my blog, most people don't currently subscribe, which is absolutely fine of course, nevertheless I'd like just to flag up that if you would like to subscribe you'd be very welcome :) I don't tend to post that frequently so hopefully it shouldn't result in a sea of notifications for you.

If you would like to subscribe then on the right hand side of the page (if you're viewing this on a proper desktop computer that is) there should be options to subscribe by email or to subscribe using an RSS reader, if you use one of these. If you're viewing this blog on a phone or tablet, as about half of people do, if you scroll right down to the bottom of the page there should be an option to "View Web Version" - if you could just do this this one time then the links will be available on the right hand side for you to subscribe.

If, by chance, you've stumbled across this blog and this is your first time, here's a post for you to check out, you'll get an idea of my typical nonsense.

Many thanks to all that do indeed subscribe :)

Now, back to thinking up insults relating to that Ohioan master of blogging, Tim Clark. He's a great man but his dog...

Well to be quite frank, I think his dog is a little out of control.  It's awarded itself a doctorate, tried to become President, I think it's suffering from delusions of grandeur. I think Tim needs to take Dr Dawg to the vet for some sort of procedure, perhaps to be neutered. I don't know if it would make any difference but, for the sake of humanity, it's worth a try.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Doughnuts not donuts

I'm disappointed to see that Mr Clark of Life, Explained has disparaged this fine blog, suggesting that it is only fit for use as fish and chip wrapping, whilst the shortcomings of his American blog are obvious.  Allow me to illuminate you.

For example, in his latest blog he uses the word "airplane", which as we all know should be "aeroplane".  Worst of course is the use of "donut" as opposed to "doughnut" - the item is made out of dough, hence doughnut. Donut sounds like an instruction to be violent.

Nevertheless, I'm sure that Tim's blog would be good enough - just about - to wrap a hot dog in, with sauce and onions of course.

I can only summarise that Tim is sadly suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect.  Thoughts are with you, Tim.



Thursday, 22 June 2017

Reasons why the UK is better than Ohio


Well, I just felt like listing a few of the things that make the UK better than Ohio.


  • The UK is twice as big as Ohio (242,900 sq.km versus 116,096 sq.km)
  • The UK has far more population (65 million versus 11 million) making us far more productive
  • The UK's GDP is far more ($2.79T versus $0.53T)
  • We don't have dogs that pretend to be doctors
  • Our workforces don't run on doughnuts
  • We don't dip our fries in slushies
  • Home Depot, Target, Kroger, and Walmart sound like esoteric destinations to us
  • We don't wear buckeye necklaces
  • We have proper pies, gravy, and sausage rolls



Consider this an opening salvo Tim.  I look forward to your response, I imagine it will be freshly composed using your new iPad Pro.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Silence...

...for far too long.

Almost 2 weeks since I blogged!  The simple reason for this hideously long absence is that for at least half that time we haven't had a computer up and running.

We've been very home-improvement focused this last couple of weeks, my wife took on the challenge of redecorating our sons bedroom ahead of getting a new carpet installed in the room, meanwhile our living room ceiling, which had been looking a bit dodgy, finally got some TLC.

Doesn't look too bad, does it?

Yeah... how about now

Some time ago we had a leak from our bathroom which loosened the plaster in the ceiling, and we knew it needed looking at, it turns out that basically the plaster was being held together by a bit of paper, and when we got a plasterer to start taking it down, it came down in one massive go!  Despite this, the ceiling has been replastered and we're now getting round to repainting the living room, a task which hadn't been planned.              

A side effect of all this is that when I haven't been too busy to blog because of moving things in and out of my sons bedroom, we've not been able to use our computers because they've been unplugged and in my sons playroom instead of the living room where they rightfully belong.  But at last, one of the computers has been temporarily set up so I'm taking advantage of it being Fathers Day to have justification to blog a bit rather than tackle any of the many chores I ought to be doing right now!

The other week it was our wedding anniversary, being our second one and the traditional gift being cotton my wife creatively camp up with the below sock bouquet gift for me!

 
I managed to forget that I bought her a present, so panicked the day before and bought her another gift! Such is life.

It's an absolutely glorious Sunday here, hot and sunny, which means I'm going to sit still and complain about the weather all day, being terribly English.  I hope wherever you are you're having a good weekend, and hopefully it'll not be quite so many weeks until the next blog!


Monday, 5 June 2017

Shaving


For too long I've been managing without the correct equipment.

Before this devolves into innuendo, I'm referring to shaving.  I typically use an electric shaver with a built in beard trimmer, so I can chop away the long stuff with the beard trimmer, go on to have a proper shave with the normal shavey bit, and then if I'm going all out I'll use a Mach 3 manual razor to get any rogue hairs that have escaped the first two attacks.  After this there will be one single hair somewhere of about two inches in length that has managed to evade all attempts to cut it, and I'll pluck the thing.

However, the beard trimmer has failed on the razor, after several years of use.  I've tried to manage without, because I like my old Braun 370 razor.  It's got some interesting features, such as the charging point - it has the usual two pin charging for a razor, but the port is shaped in such a fashion that a general charging cable almost fits (but won't), forcing you to order a bespoke cable online.

Enough is enough, and it's time to go and get a new razor.  Going onto the Argos website, I went into the Men's Shavers section.



Interestingly, by default the list is sorted by "Relevance" - surely everything in the "Men's Shavers" section is relevant?

Anyway, after a bit of a trawl, I decided to go for one that roughly looks equivalent to my existing one, and it is the Braun 3040s Wet & Dry Men's Electric Shaver, which is complete with MicroComb and SensoFoil. Sadly, this stuff does actually work on me, I'd be even more impressed if the packaging told me that the shaver came with a PowerCharger and an ergonomic Han-Dle.

And look at all that blue colouring. Couldn't we say something like the shaver has been designed to absorb six-sevenths of the visible light spectrum, minimising light pollution?

No purchase would be complete without a glance through the manual for interesting statements, and the Braun 3040s is no exception. Apparently:

"In order to maintain the optimum capacity of the rechargeable batteries, the shaver has to be fully discharged by shaving every 6 months"

No wonder my shavers fail, hardly a week goes by without me recklessly using them to shave my face.

Anyway, the moment of truth has come...

Before


During, taking advantage of temporary ability to offer my services as a Mario look-a-like

Gone!

I'm pleased to report that the new shaver works, and it still manages to miss one rogue hair that somehow survives everything I throw at it.  Life is back to normal.



Monday, 29 May 2017

Nine Steps to Using a Paddling Pool


Sometimes, you just gotta cool down.

These last few days it's been really quite warm, so we've had the paddling pool out for my son to play in.  It's fascinating how he doesn't appear to have any reaction to the coolness of the pool water versus the general temperature, whilst both myself and my wife, when tempted to the water, find it unacceptably cold.  I've theorised that the body acclimatises to the water in a number of steps, as follows:

Step 1: Touching the water with your toe, you say something along the lines of "OH MY GOD THAT'S TOO COLD!!!" and, resistant to your childs' commands, you decide to next to the paddling pool and read a book.

Step 2: Sat next to the pool, you think about just how hot it is, and summarise that it might actually be quite nice to have a paddle.

Step 3: You stand in the pool.  After a few seconds you become used to the water and find that paddling is relatively pleasant, but when you get accidentally splashed up to the knee you flee the pool squealing "It's SO COLD!!!""

Step 4: You reluctantly return to the pool, cautious of splashes.

Step 5: After persistent requests from your child, you kneel down in the pool.  That's cold.

Step 6: Then you sit in the pool. Now THAT'S cold.

Step 7: Your child finds a jug from somewhere, and chucks an entire jug of icy water at you. Blinded and shaking from the freezing water working its way down your torso, you sit in the pool clutching your face, hoping to be able to open your eyes sometime the next day.

Step 8: Your child takes advantage of your inability to see by pouring what seems to be the contents of the Arctic Sea on the back of your head.

Step 9: Congratulations, you are now acclimatised to the water!



Today the weather is far worse, and I look forward to a day determinedly inside :)

Monday, 22 May 2017

Register to Vote


Time's against us, so I'll be brief.  If you want to vote in the UK general election, but haven't registered to vote, you've got today to do it.  Don't leave it till the last minute - remember last time when the website went down because everyone tried to register?  Go to https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote and register.

I do believe that voting is important, regardless of whether you vote for someone or if you turn up and deliberately spoil your ballot paper as a protest, because we are very fortunate to live in a place and time where citizens have the ability to vote.  There are still countries in the world where voting isn't possible, voting is restricted to certain people, or where the voting process is rigged.

Plus as one of the people will be sat in a polling station all day on election day helping voters, it makes my day go a lot quicker if people show up!

Don't forget also if you've moved house that you need to sort out your vote with the local council, otherwise you might be eligible to vote somewhere across the country.

For more about the rare breed that sits in polling stations, check out my 5 things you might not know about working in a polling station post :)

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Product Testing


As a guy, I find that the bathroom products I own do not relate to what I use.

You see, a safe gift for a man, for birthdays or Christmas (or indeed any other festival which involves giving presents) is "The Shower Gel Box Set".

The Shower Gel Box Set, which for me is often from Lynx, will include shower gel, a can of deodorant, but then often one other item, like shaving gel or after shave balm (never both - I presume they think that I'm either happy to use shaving gel and not both with after shave, or shave my bare dry rough face and use after shave balm to reduce the resulting redness).

Now my shaving regime, which is haphazard at best, generally involves a dry face, an electric razor, and then finishing up with a manual razor to pick off any stray hairs that the electric razor missed.  This is complemented by the occasional use of tweezers, because whilst the two razors do keep on top of 29,999 of the 30,000 hairs on my face, there will be one that somehow evades both trimmers, and in a matter of hours grows to about four inches long.  I sometimes wonder if my chin, becoming bored with the traditional beard, puts all of its effort into just one hair.

So as a result I tend to use up shower gel a lot quicker than I use shaving gels.  I decided to do some research, by been undertaking a number of tests of various bathroom products.

I decided to try showering and using the various products below instead of shower gel.  Mainly I chose to do this because I had run out of shower gel, but I felt that the research would be worthwhile regardless.


Test one - shampoo.  Well, of course shampoo was fine.  Anyone who uses the little shampoo/conditioners and shower gels in hotels know that they can quite happily swap one for the other and see no difference whatsoever.


Test two - Johnson's Top to Toe Baby Bath.  Basically bubble bath, but can be rubbed on children also.  Again, absolutely fine, you wouldn't notice any difference from normal shower gel except it doesn't contain lavender or volcanic rocks.


Test three - Facial Wash.  Again, absolutely fine.  We're essentially talking about shower gel for your face after all, which the last time I checked was made out of skin, just like the rest of the stuff covering your body.

Now it gets slightly more interesting...


Test four - shaving gel.  Absolutely fine!  Yes, shaving gel, perfectly fine for showering with.  Slightly thicker than shower gel, but nothing shocking.



Test five - after shave balm.  Again, absolutely fine, very similar to the shaving gel, slightly thicker than shower gel but no problem.


Test six - hair gel.  I was expecting this one to be dreadful - it was okay!  And the traces left in my hair helped to make it look slightly more exciting than usual.


Test seven - hand cream (not the Norwegian one in the photo, I should say) - this was the only one that wasn't ideal.  It stuck to my skin, moisturising it by creating a barrier between my skin and the shower (which to be quite honest I always thought could perhaps help with moisture deprivation) and took a bit of effort to get rid of.

So in summary, almost anything in your bathroom cabinet you can shower with.

Although perhaps not mouthwash.

New video is out - if you want to watch my forehead while I cook a meal, go and watch :)

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Tomorrow


The life of a writer carries with it a heady mixture of stress and guilt.  Are you creating right now? Why not? Why are you wasting time not creating? Will you ever create again? Will you ever reach that place (fame, money, satisfaction, whatever it is that you want one day to be yours) that you tell yourself one day you'll get to?

If you are writing, what are you writing? Are you enjoying it? Are you writing something from your soul, or writing something to keep the wolves at bay?

If you have written, is it actually any good or are you just churning out some meaningless drivel that doesn't deserve the time it'll take someone to read it?

Tomorrow.  There's always tomorrow. Tomorrow will be the day that you write it. The piece of work that will elevate you, set you on your path to greatness. Everyone will say how you were discovered because of it. You got that writing job because of it. You're at one of those terribly middle-class evenings, chatting with your other writing acquaintances, supping on vintage wine (as though you'd know the difference) and commenting on the vol-au-vents, blissfully unaware of the other people lurking around the room that would desperately love to talk to you, just for a moment of your time, but your reputation precedes you and they can't even begin to build up the nerve.

Because of it.

So you place all your hopes on tomorrow.  But hope is dangerous, because without a plan, without action, hope is nothing more than a wish.  Hope is buying a lottery ticket. Hope is closing your eyes and running across a busy road as fast as you can.

Meanwhile you're watching repeats of an old TV show you used to like, telling yourself that it's because you need to watch and read to give yourself something to write about, but really it's just because the remote control is at the far end of the sofa.

You tell yourself, you're not going to write today, because you wrote yesterday, or earlier this week, or you are absolutely definitely going to write, but not right now, because you need to do that email, or buy those shoes on Amazon, or just finish just one more level on Candy Crush.


Yet day by day, those tomorrows are running out.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Friendly Advice


So, the other day we went to the mail sorting office in Hull.

This wasn't a day trip, allow me to elucidate, rather it was a journey in order to obtain one of the many parcels that my wife orders, probably of materials needed as part of her burgeoning Etsy shop (www.denkaidesigns.com).  All of the parcels seem to have one thing in common, that being that none of them fit through a letter box, and as the postman carefully times his deliveries to coincide with when no one is in the house, they end up back at the sorting office for me to collect.

Opposite the sorting office is some metal railings, from which you can look down into a muddy bit of the River Hull - back in the day it was probably some form of boat dock, but now it's just a load of mud.  My son decided to have a look through the railings at the muddy water for a minute, and not being in a particular rush, I joined him.

After a couple of seconds of looking at trolleys stuck in the mud (the nearest supermarket must be at least half a mile away - someone must have gone to a lot of effort to dump a trolley here) a helpful voice from behind us broke the silence.

"Excuse me - it's not very clean over there!"

I turned to see a chap addressing us.  I thanked him for his advice, and turned back to my son to tell him that it was about time to go to the sorting office.

The helpful voice sounded again.

"Yeah, I'm talking Weil's disease."

I turned around, surprised that he hadn't walked on, and once again I thanked him for his advice, although it did cross my mind that from the first piece of advice it hadn't been a massive leap of imagination to conjure up the possibility that he had been talking about some sort of infection, so the second piece was, to my mind, superfluous.  Again, I turned back to my son to ask him to come to the sorting office.

And yet, there was more to come.

"I would get his hands washed sharpish if I were you!"

Of course, I'm certain that the fellow was only giving advice in order to protect my son.  A nice gesture.  A helpful human being, by any account.

As a result I didn't even get my son to rub his hands on him, obviously with the man being so concerned with his well being I can only assume he'd be more than happy to have any germs removed by liberally scrubbing my sons hands on his face.  Always think twice before acting, that's what I say.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

My activities


Hello!

I've been somewhat quiet recently, mainly due to my wife being halfway across the world and as a result me having a sudden need to do things like household chores and cooking.  Generally things have gone okay, although I have noticed that I've had a tendency to carry out some rather silly actions.  I've summarised them as follows:

Wednesday 26th April - left hob on for several hours, only realising when I went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea and feeling heat from the hob/oven area.

Thursday 27th April - left my keys in the outside of the door for about six hours, only discovering their location when I was locking up for the night.

Friday 28th - stabbed myself in the hand.

Saturday 29th - stabbed myself in the hand again (different knife though).

Sunday 30th - kneed my son in the face (accidentally)

Monday 1st - got hit in the face by my son, cutting my lip.

Tuesday 2nd - managed to open my car door on the back of my foot, knocking my shoe off.

Wednesday 3rd - burnt my hand on a hot pan, and later that day broke the door frame to the attic door, shoulder barging it open while forgetting that it was bolted shut.


So far since Wednesday I've managed not to do anything stupid, but watch this space...

What I have also been doing however is making a video for my wife's flosstube channel, including my first bit of cross stitch!  Feel free to check it out :)





Monday, 1 May 2017

TableTop Day 2017

TableTop Day 2017 was marked here by a good evening of games, food, and drink, playing some Exploding Kittens followed by 221B Baker Street, the Sherlock Holmes detective game!  Just wanted to post a few pictures:

Me interrogating a manual

Fuelled by beer, the detective sleuths down clues...

Obligatory board shot

Exploding Kittens!

Hopefully I'm trying out some D&D in the not too far distant future, which is something I've always fancied but never actually tried.

While I'm blogging, I'll just mention my wife's Etsy shop, www.denkaidesigns.com - although she's currently away in Australia, I'm keeping things going wrapping and posting orders for her, including these awesome cow freebies with every order :)


Friday, 28 April 2017

5 NASA Inventions That Are Now Everyday Household Items

Today on the blog we're featuring a guest post kindly provided by James Hall.  James is a cracking UK writer who is a home appliance enthusiast - take it away James!


5 NASA Inventions That Are Now Everyday Household Items

Ever since I first watched Star Trek as a child, I’ve always been interested in space-age technology. Ideas such as faster-than-light travel or realistic virtual realities still fascinate me – even though I understand little of the science behind them!

In comparison to sci-fi technology, it’s sometimes easy to forget how astonishing “everyday” items actually are. Society has developed so rapidly over the last 100-150 years that we quickly become indifferent to technological breakthroughs – even when they come as a direct result of space research.
With that in mind, here are five everyday items that were first developed by NASA.




 1. Scratch-Proof Glasses

As you can imagine, it’s important for an astronaut’s visor not to get scratched. That’s why NASA scientists in the 1970s put a lot of time into developing strong plastics coated with a thin film to prevent scratching. The result was visors that were up to ten times less likely to scratch than previous versions.

Fast forward a decade, and sunglass manufacturer Foster-Grant realised the same technology could be used on their products. The company was the first to licence it from NASA, although today most plastic lenses have a similar coating.




2. Memory Foam Mattresses

Walk into any mattress shop and you’ll almost certainly be greeted be a sales person extolling the virtues of memory foam. This type of foam, which contours to your body to provide extra support while sleeping, has become popular in recent years.

What many people don’t know is that memory foam was first developed by NASA as a way to protect passengers during a crash. It’s still used for that today, but is also found in pillows, mattresses and even roller coasters due to its ability to absorb energy.



3. Water Filters

One of the challenges of long-term space missions, such as establishing a base on the Moon, is producing clean water. That’s why NASA has been collaborating with a number of companies to develop water filtration systems. The first filters were designed in the 1970s and could handle basic cleaning. In recent years, new filters are being created to convert water with greater contamination – including human urine – into a drinkable form.

While this technology might not be found in the average western home, it has the potential to make a big difference in poorer countries where clean water is scarce.





4. Handheld Cordless Vacuums

An example of a more mundane NASA technology is the humble handheld vacuum. Before the Apollo mission, NASA commissioned Black & Decker to produce a drill to collect samples from the moon. This needed a highly optimised motor and tiny power consumption, as energy would be at a premium during the mission.

Later on, the same technology would be used to create the Dustbuster range of vacuums. Black & Decker still produce Dustbusters today, although handheld vacuums are now built by a wide range of companies.




5. Cochlear Implants

In the 1970s, analog hearing aids simply magnified sound. This meant any noise or imperfections would also be amplified.

At the time, NASA was putting a lot of research time into sound and electronic sensing. An engineer named Adam Kissiah, who also had hearing difficulties, realised this technology could be used to produce an implant that would transmit sound digitally.

He founded a private company to develop a working prototype of the cochlear implant. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have had their hearing restored – including people who have been deaf since birth.


James Hall is a home technology writer from the UK. Aside from writing, he enjoys hiking, cycling and spending time with his family. He's always had an interest in space-age technology and has high hopes for the next-generation of virtual reality devices. He's currently writing for Spotless Vacuum and you can also find him on Twitter.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Rants of Spring



We are determinedly in the middle of spring, and it should make me happy.  That's the deal, right? At last the icy chills of winter are fading away, new growth, sunny days, all that sort of thing.

Well, I'm determined to put an alternative point of view forward.

Firstly, you have to start cutting the grass.  The grass hasn't been cut for six months, and so has taken on sufficient water to be shipped off to a drought-ridden country to supply a small family with water for a month, meaning that the lawn mower can't chop the grass, and merely chews it a bit, like a cow with Attention Deficit Disorder (as an aside, I wonder if anyone ever uses the word "deficit" in topics other than attention disorders and budgets).

Added to the challenge of cutting the grass is that randomly throughout the exercise of grass mastication your mower will encounter one of the various plastic toys abandoned in the garden in autumn the previous year, either forcing the mower blades to wail as they try to slice a mouldy water pistol into plastic salami, or, if you hit the toy just right, the blades and wheels combine to propel it flying frantically into the air, to be stopped heroically by your face.

And of course, everything is growing, not just the grass.  Suddenly every damn weed and bush in the garden decides that this is the moment to grow as quick and fast as they can, so suddenly spiky growths dart across paths to stab you in the ankle as you try to get a pair of secateurs to deal with them.

Then there's hayfever.  I fortunately don't suffer with hayfever, but my wife does, and it's not pleasant for me to endure her sneezing and running eyes.  I dare say that she's not overkeen on it either.

Insects are next - after a few pleasant months of insects either being dead or asleep, now they are taking once again to the air, ready to fly in my ears or walk all over my cheesecake.

The sun in the spring is a particularly curious beast, I find.  It's low enough in the sky that it blinds you when driving to work, and is extremely bright indeed, yet apparently gives no heat whatsoever, forcing a recovery of those winter sweaters that you had decisively put away.

At least we've now got past the week or so when you wake up "late" because of daylight saving time (British Summer Time in my country) and you're consistently late for work for a week because you're waking up at the time you've been waking up at for the last six months.

Nevertheless, I'll be complaining even more about summer.  Being English, complaining about the weather is an essential activity for myself, and I look forward to complaining about it being too hot briefly rather than the rest of the year, when it's too cold.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Day Zero

Today, dear readers, is day zero.  It is the last day before the counting commences.

It is the last day... that my wife is here.

To halt the dramatics, allow me to explain that she's off to Australia for three weeks to visit her sister and her partner - my sister-in-law has just given birth to a beautiful baby girl, and my wife will be starting her journey to Melbourne tomorrow morning to help out for a few weeks.  As I write this bags are being packed.

As a result, me and our son will be fending for ourselves.  We broke the news to him yesterday, but he seems more put out by the fact that he's going back to school after two weeks off than his mum not being around (this will change the first time he has an accident or I annoy him or something!)

In preparation for taking over the cooking duties, I made a huge vat of anonymous mash vegetables for freezing.


I had the bright idea, you see, that I could make a load of mashed potatoes, and mix in it some other vegetables, to get some nutrition into mine and my sons diets, to try to start off on the right foot and not be resorting to takeaways every night.

However, it's pretty obvious in the picture above that it isn't pure top-quality mashed potato, and I suspect I'm going to be eating most of that myself.  I did add some bacon into the vegetables when they were boiling to add flavour, interestingly while they didn't add any flavour to the vegetables the process did succeed in sucking all of the tasty bacon flavour from the bacon itself.  Eating flavourless bacon is odd, trust me.

So cross your fingers for these next twenty six or so days of freedom.  Perhaps by the end of it I'll have learned to cook!

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

A Day Out


I wasn't actually particularly planning on having a day out today.  Sure, I expected to leave the house sometime (the reason why will become shortly), but I didn't expect the day to turn out quite as it did.

So, my wife was at work today (which is particularly bad planning on her part bearing in mind that it's her birthday) and as our son is off school this week I had the day off to entertain him.

Now, one recent change to our lives is that we now have a regular house cleaner.  Once a week, on Tuesdays, we leave the house its usual state (that is to say, not quite bad enough for the Disasters Emergency Committee to begin running commercials asking for donations, but not far off) and we return to a beautiful and sparkling clean home.  I find this somewhat unsettling, and end up frantically tidying and wiping counters before the cleaners arrive, so that they can spend their time doing the more in depth cleaning that I am able to ignore, like cleaning under the sink or sandblasting the external brickwork.

Usually we're all out of the house by 8am so we don't ever see the cleaner, but with school being off, we found the day didn't start quite as quickly as the norm, and in summary the cleaners found me asleep in bed at 11 in the morning, my son laid next to me watching the childhood tale "The Gingerbread Man" for the fifteenth time, in what I assume is an effort by him to watch all of the different animations of this story that can be found on YouTube.

Allow me to assure readers that I had indeed awoken some hours before, but my son had had a minor accident and was somewhat upset, so had retired to my bed for a brief "chill out" session, and I joined him to make sure that he was okay.  Once in bed of course I noticed a Bill Bryson book that I hadn't read for at least three weeks and started flicking through it, before succumbing to the temptations of an illicit midmorning nap.

Anyway, once awoken by the cleaners coming up the stairs, we quickly left the house without a clear plan of where to go or what to do - at least I didn't have a clear plan, my son probably did, but as it would probably involve running at moving cars whilst eating chocolate I wasn't convinced that he would have the best idea of how to spend the time.

So, we found ourselves at the Humber Bridge Country Park.  The country park is sited in an old chalk mine on the bank of the River Humber, and when I was young I remember visiting the park any number of times to prick myself with a nettle or fall down a steep wall or something.  I'm pleased to report that my son promptly climbed up a massive and steep face, and then commanded me to join him.  He didn't fall down anything either, which was an added bonus.

I do like the Humber Bridge Country Park, even though at the entrance it has a box full of leaflets that you can take to learn more about the park, and the park administrators have felt the need to put instructions on the box explaining how a leaflet can be safely obtained.  At the time of our visit, some local do-gooder group (The Holderness Annoying Young Persons Society, perhaps) had brought a dozen death-seeking children of indeterminate ages to the country park, all of which immediately launched themselves at every hazard they could find, hanging off railings, dangling legs off the tops of bridges, and bouncing inanely on play equipment.  My son didn't hesitate to join them, leaving me to chase ineffectually after them, and between periods of heavy breathing occasionally mustering just enough energy to shout at him to stop touching whatever he was touching or to not jump from whatever dangerous place he was onto the row of metal spikes directly underneath him.

We ended up staying at the park a good four hours or so, by which time we were both exhausted from a very enjoyable time running around.  In fact we were there so long, that by the time we got back home, I decided to invent a new meal - Tunch.

Aficionados of Brunch will recognise Tunch as a new fusion meal, where we take the "snacky" aspect of lunch (sandwich, crisps, yoghurt, perhaps a piece of fruit) and give it the "quantity" element of Tea.  Tunch for my son was essentially all the items mentioned, plus another yoghurt, and some sort of biscuit on a stick that he coerced me into buying at the supermarket after the country park (four hours of running around a park will weaken your defenses somewhat).

I attempted to apply the other aspect of Brunch, that is that by having Brunch you don't get to eat Lunch, so I did my best to take Tunch sufficiently staunch as to avoid the need for a separate tea meal.  This didn't work of course, my son seems to be able to eat constantly, except when asleep (and if he slept in a food preparation area I think he could continue eating even then) so the idea of skipping a meal just because he'd had a separate meal an hour beforehand was obviously unreasonable.

All in all an excellent day.  Now please excuse me while I sort out some supper.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Surprise - Election!


Abandoning the post I was writing (don't worry, it'll appear soon enough) I shamelessly leap onto a topic that is currently trending on Twitter.

The UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, has stated her intention to hold a general election in early June, in an effort to increase her parties majority as they start the Brexit negotiations.  I've always made an effort to be non-political in this blog and to not favour any particular party, so I'm certainly not going to comment on who should get your (or my) vote.

But it's excellent timing.  May has suffered from the accusation of being made prime minister without the public voting for her.  The main opposition party, Labour, appear to be in disarray.  The Liberal Democrats have not recovered from their time as the Conservatives junior partner in government.  Reasons for voting UKIP are fading as their main drive - to leave the EU - is already being delivered by the Conservatives.  And the SNP are as big a force in Westminster as they can ever hope to be, the best they can manage is to maintain their current numbers.

That said, it's still going to be eight busy weeks until the election (assuming that the House of Commons votes for the early election).  Jeremy Corbyn seems to garner a significant amount of support from segments of the public, at odds with much of the Labour MPs at Westminster. And this is a significant U-turn from May, away from her past statements that there wouldn't be an election until 2020.

Nevertheless, the latest polls indicate a huge swathe of Labour seats potentially changing hands and going to the Conservative party in June, giving May the majority she wants to have the freedom to push hard on Brexit.

All of which brings me to thinking that it's a good time to mention this blog post about 5 things you might not know about working at polling stations, and this video about news on polling day :)



Sunday, 16 April 2017

Easter Weekend


Hi and welcome to this special Easter blog!  We've just got in from a couple of days away staying with family, and I wanted to write about the safari park, and in particular one certain exhibit.

We went to Knowsley Safari Park on Saturday.  We visited the same park last year (which was covered in this blog, read if you wish), and it's a really good wildlife park, I'd recommend visiting it if you can.

Now, one of the main attractions is a "Safari Drive", where you drive slowly around the park, seeing all kinds of different animals.  Quite often you would come to a standstill as a car in front would stop, and bring out a camera to take photos of the rhino, or springbok, or whatever was in the vicinity.  It's all very good, although when you're stuck behind a car because they're spending five minutes looking at an ostrich, and you've already seen half a dozen, it's a little tiresome.

Anyway, on the Safari Drive one exhibit of particular note is the baboon enclosure.  You are given two routes to drive on the Safari Drive, one outside the baboon enclosure (also known as "THE SAFE ROUTE") and one where you actually drive inside the enclosure.

Everyone picks the latter, although I suspect, this is without the complete and unreserved agreement of the owner of the car, who will have read the sign that says "Warning - The Baboons WILL damage YOUR car!!" and is thinking to themselves that maybe, just once, the safe route might be a wiser choice.

So, you go into the enclosure, and baboons climb on your car, and jump from car to car, and they're great fun.

And, as has happened to my car both times I've been there, they try to rip bits off your car.

Sometimes they go for rubber door seals, sometimes it's windscreen wipers.  On my car they particularly like the windscreen sprayers, they like to gnaw them off and then sit there chewing them, as though they're trying an unusual branding of chewing tobacco.  Now, I've been very fortunate that on both occasions I've got the sprayers back and been able to fit them back on my car, but I can understand that some drivers might get a certain amount of joy at the sight when they leave the enclosure.

Because when you leave the enclosure, there are two park keepers stood at the exit, entrusted with the important job of ensuring that the baboons don't escape.

And they each have equipment to help them with this endeavour - equipment, which can be best described, as long hefty sticks, ideal for sweeping baboons off car roofs.

Certainly the first time I drove round the exhibit, and I had three baboons on my car, who were doing their best to not only eat my windscreen sprayers but also yank out the rubber pipe that delivers water to the sprayer, the arrival of the two guys with clubs was enough to make the baboons drop the bits of my car they were eating and run away, no doubt anticipating a swing of a heavy stick in their direction.

I'm curious to imagine the job advert for the baboon enclosure.  It would go something like this, I like to imagine:

Wanted: Safari Park Warden Level 1 (Baboon Enclosure).  We are looking for people enthusiastic and knowledgeable about wildlife. Successful applicants must have good front line customer service skills, and be at all times friendly and presentable.  Applications from baseball players are particularly welcomed.

Alternatively, perhaps they just send someone down to the car park looking for people nursing baboon-damaged cars fresh from the Safari Drive experience, and ask if they fancy volunteering for an hour or so.  I imagine that they'd have some takers.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Probing Space


I've always been fascinated by space, when I was a kid I used to pore over astronomy books, reading about the findings of probes such as Viking 1 and 2.  I remember that I was really excited about the finding that the Mars atmosphere contained 1% oxygen (which apparently is wrong, I'm led to understand that it's actually 0.13%) because at the time I thought that it meant that, with some sort of oxygen extraction device, it could increase the feasibility of a Mars base.

Now, recently NASA reported that there appears to be quantities of hydrogen gas on Saturn's moon Enceladus, created by significant hydrothermal activity on its sea floor, as well as observing plumes of what appears to be water on Jupiter's moon Europa.

However, there's one thing when it comes to space exploration that puzzles me - why do space mission people feel the need to end their spacecraft?

The twin GRAIL lunar research spacecraft were smashed into the Moon into two impact sites named Ebb and Flow. The European Space Agencies' Rosetta spacecraft was slammed into a comet.  The Messenger spacecraft crashed into Mercury. And the Cassini spacecraft is shortly due to begin a final series of complex maneuvers before being sunk into the depths of Saturn, to be crushed by the heavy atmospheric pressures of the gas giant.

Illustration of Cassini Spacecraft's Grand Finale Dive
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

To be fair, the Cassini probe is hoped to carry out some unique research on its final descent into the planet.  And the Messenger one ran out of fuel.  But I'm not convinced that for at least some of these spacecraft the main intent of a crash landing isn't just to give an opportunity for one last press release, one high profile end to a long long story.  To give the mission team some closure.  And to be fair they probably deserve it after working on a mission for so many years.

But how much do these probes cost?  The Rosetta mission, for example, cost 1.4 billion Euros, while Cassini cost well over $3bn.  Seems like a lot of money spent on something if we ultimately wreck it - although, to be honest, I don't have a big issue with the cost, for me space travel is potentially one of the most important pieces of research that we can do, and as long as it completes its mission, I do think it's money well spent.

But what is more important to me is that I believe, in a few hundred years time, assuming that:
  • Humans don't destroy themselves and the planet
  • We actually manage to overcome our difficulties, and;
  • We expand our civilisation into space
I suspect that we might actually like to recover some of these ancient artifacts of what will be primitive space travel.  We'll consider the casual destruction of these probes as historical crimes, and historians will spend a great deal of time and effort deciphering designs and textbooks to recreate impressions of spacecraft lost to time.  That is assuming that we have records of these spacecraft at all.

Think of the Early Middle Ages in Europe, how it is often referred to as the "Dark Ages", because we have so little surviving documentation that tells us what happened.  Or more recently, thousands of TV and radio shows have been lost because until the 1970s it was quite common to record over old tapes, or not record them in the first place.  I know the BBC have put great effort into recreating episodes of classics such as Hancock's Half Hour and Doctor Who, of which original recordings have been lost.

It's not too hard to imagine someone, several centuries from now, spending decades carefully analysing a modern day space probe - perhaps one of the Mars Rovers - desperately trying to obtain clues about our existence from the probes we sent out into space. Basic stuff - what did we eat? Who were our leaders? And what is a "selfie"?!?

Curiosity Self-Portrait at Martian Sand Dune
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

So my view is that rather than giving these craft a glorious but brief end, we should instead stick a M-Disc full of information in it (along with a DVD drive to read it), and when a probe has finished its expensive mission our mission controllers should allow it to rest safely, enabling future discovery.

Extra reading:

https://www.nature.com/news/saturn-spacecraft-begins-science-swan-song-1.21813 

https://www.wired.com/2016/09/ode-rosetta-spacecraft-going-die-comet/ 

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/apr/29/nasas-messenger-spacecraft-to-crash-into-mercury-ending-mission 

https://www.universetoday.com/99035/end-of-mission-grail-spacecraft-impact-a-mountain-on-the-moon/ 

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Sunday

As previously mentioned, I've recently ordered some fabric samples online.  

A LOT of samples online.

I'm thinking of sewing them together into a little blanket or some such thing.  One thing I didn't realise is the extra freebies you get with them - alongside all the fabric samples I've also got a little pencil, two tea bags, a hot chocolate sachet, and one of those Lotus caramelised biscuits you sometimes get with coffees in bars (which I love - you can even get a Lotus biscuit spread in some of the supermarkets which is way over the top, but amazing in small doses).  If you ever want some mail to open which isn't the usual bills, order some free fabric samples.

I've got a pretty good Sunday ahead of me today, I'm taking my dad out for a few beers around Beverley (market town to the north of Hull), there's a few decent pubs (and a micropub) there so that should be a fun afternoon.  This morning will be taken up probably with a few chores, I have a huge pile of washed clothes to put away - which is actually sort of relaxing, I'll put something good to listen to on my phone and just steadily work my way through it all.

Hope everyone has a good Sunday!

Friday, 7 April 2017

Mousey Satisfaction


Today I'm writing about mice, the sort that you control your computer from.  It's a solidly geeky post, so if you don't want to read about mouse, here's a story about cats.

For many years, I used a Logitech G5 mouse.  The best mouse I ever used, it was hard wearing, a pleasure to use, accurate, looked reasonably cool (cooler than a standard office mouse yet not over the top with millions of buttons like some gaming mice)

The Logitech G5 mouse, beloved.  Image attribution: Cncplyr at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I think I got the G5 originally at a LAN party years back, and it didn't disappoint.  But sadly, eventually after many years of use (and I mean many - it lasted a lot longer than the Logitech G15 keyboard I bought around the same time, for three times the money!), it became less responsive and a replacement was in order.  I turned to a Microsoft Wheel Mouse.


Microsoft mice aren't something you'd immediately think of as a gaming mouse, but they're decent quality, reliable mice.  I did work experience for a few months at Hull College as a student, and at the time a Microsoft IntelliMouse was a good piece of kit to get your hands on.  Having an optical sensor rather than a ball made the mouse more accurate, not prone to jamming up with dirt, and couldn't be sabotaged by one of your college mates taking the ball out.

I had a Microsoft mouse in my box of computer bits, so it was put to work, and again was fine to work with for a while, until it too started to play up.

Then, like a fool, I thought "Hey, that Logitech G5 was amazing, another Logitech must be great!"

Not this one.

The Logitech M100.  It's evil, it clicks, and it's nasty.

Now before you think all Logitech mice are rubbish, this is one of their cheapest (if not the cheapest) one that Logitech offers.  Having a quick look at their shop, I see some REALLY nice mice.  But this isn't one - it's light, it's a little too small, it scrapes over the desk, and the scroll mouse making a really noisy clicking sound when in use, like a row of cockroaches being stood on.



I'm now using a Cyborg RAT 5 mouse which I got with my current computer, I wasn't overwhelmed by the shape of it when I first saw one of these (at another LAN party) but now I'm using one I have to admit it's pretty nice, it's solid and comfortable, and even has a nice little shelf to rest your thumb on in between clicks.  I'm finding it occasionally a little unresponsive but I'm not sure if that's down to the mouse or something computer-related.

One day, however, I will buy myself a really good Logitech mouse again.  One day.
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