Friday, 30 January 2009

Where are the Science Police when you need them?

I've got a feeling that I'm soon going to need a new battery for The Tractor. It's doing an unsettling sort of st-stu-stu-st-stuttering thing when I start the engine on cold mornings, and although it is only a shade over three years old, I have a suspicion that items like batteries, windscreen wipers and clutch pedal rubbers are where Land Rover do their cost reduction.
Anyway, I thought I'd have a quick look in my local branch of "a well known national motoring superstore", and see how much a new battery would cost. 
Very nearly a hundred quid, as it happens, but this was not what tripped me into rant mode.  
Take a look at this Specification:

Guarantee: 3 Years
Startup Power: 510 Amps
Type: Lead Acid
AH Value: 68
Bench Charge: 6.8 Amps
Dimensions (LxDxH): 187x127x227mm
Reserve capacity: 125
Weight (kg): 16.69

There are at least two things wrong with this apology for a specification. 
Firstly, it doesn’t tell you the voltage of the battery. OK, most car batteries are 12 volt, but to leave out the voltage is absurd. 
Then we come to the real crime.
“Startup Power: 510 Amps” What the . . . ?
Amps, are the unit of electrical current. If you want to describe power, you cannot use Amps. The unit of power is the Watt.
I’m sure that the value of 510 means something, but it cannot be ‘power’.
This is fundamental science, and there is simply no excuse for getting it so hopelessly wrong.

On a lighter note, I was tickled to see that there has been a natural history series on TV, called “The secret life of elephants”. Suggesting that something as blatantly obvious as an elephant, could do anything secretly, is just perfect.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

"My names are Legion . . ."

I’ve lost count of the names that I’ve had.

Of course, there aren’t too many people who get through their lives with just one name. You get the name on your birth certificate, and almost immediately your family will start using a variation of this. When you go to school you’ll probably get stuck with a nick-name or two; you may even like some of these. As a working adult, you can pick up new, exciting names. Again, some will be bearable (Guv’nor, Chef, M’lud etc.) but others won’t (Insert unpleasant rude name of your choice here). If you get married you may take a new name, your spouse may call you something special, and your children will call you something else as well. If you become an author you may take a nom de plume, and if you become an actor, stage names are the norm rather than the exception.

These days, it’s even easier to acquire aliases, especially if you have any kind of internet presence. Every new software registration, blog or forum seems to need a login name, and if you participate in on-line gaming, you have to come up with something appropriate and unique for every new character that you create.

Having alternative names is often useful, occasionally annoying and sometimes impossible to avoid.

So why do most people know me as Kim, whilst my newsagent calls me Chris?

When I was born, there was a lot of difficulty settling on a name. I was the third of three brothers, so my parents had already used up their top choices. My mother really liked ‘Kim’. I never found out why, but like to think it was after Kipling’s hero. To my mother’s dismay, there was resistance to this name from her family, so my parents decided that even if that name didn’t go on my birth certificate, it would be my name within the family. To justify this deceit, they hit on the plan of making my initials spell it. Our family name begins with ‘M’, so that was fine and everyone liked Ian as a middle name, so the ’I’ was sorted.

Then it all went wonky.

Nobody liked any of the other names beginning with ’K’.

In the 1950’s, the sources of inspiration were limited, so I don’t think they got much past Kenneth, Kevin and Keith before they started looking at names starting with ‘C’.

So that’s how I ended up being named ‘Christopher’. I suppose it would have been more honest to have named me ‘Compromise’, now I think about it.

Twenty odd years a go, I worked at a shop up the road from the newsagents. When I started work there, I failed to explain that I never normally answered to my official name, and so for the entire seven years that I worked there, I was called Chris by everyone at the shop, all our customers and anyone who we knew in the neighbourhood.

That’s why the newsagent calls me Chris.

A similar thing happened when I spent nine months on industrial placement at ICL, so when I started work at Jodrell Bank, I ensured that I was called Kim from my first day there and I’m very glad that I did.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the name ‘Chris’, it’s just that I never feel like it’s actually a part of me; it’s as if I’m wearing it, but it just doesn’t quite fit properly.

And if you want to know what I was known as at GKN, when I was driving a Transit van and delivering industrial fastenings for a living, please feel free to try and guess. You’ll have to ply me with copious amounts of strong drink before I’ll willingly reveal that one.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

. . . is the WRONG answer !

A few years ago, my local pub used to run a fortnightly pub-quiz on Sunday nights. Reallyfatbloke, Blight-of-my-life, Chemical Al and I were regular participants in this, with our team ' "B" Ark '.

When the long serving (and probably long suffering) landlord and lady retired, the pub underwent some radical, and unwelcome changes. The new tenants are perfectly charming, but the arrival of vast plasma screened TV's, wall-to-wall football memorabilia and the tendency for spillages, mashed crisps and other crap left on the tables by the lunch-time crowd still being there in the evening made the place very unappealing.
We stopped going to the quiz.

Finally, we found another local pub which has a quiz each month, so on Sunday evening, we all trekked off to"The Poachers". This is an excellent drinking establishment, with some fine brews on tap, and a decent menu of well cooked and tasty bar food. The folks who run it clearly enjoy what they do and have always made me feel at home. The only down-side is that of the 20 odd pubs in the town, it's the furthest from home. The walk is a good excuse to work up a thirst though.

The place was really busy, which is something of an achievement for a Sunday night at the tail end of January, but we found a table and prepared to demonstrate our ignorance.

Surprisingly, we did pretty well. Considering that there was a 'Sport' round, a 'People' round and a 'pictures-of-celebrities-to-identify' round, we didn't disgrace ourselves.
Our favourite question of the night was; In which sport do the two teams play into different sized goals? We 'ummed and erred' over this for quite a while, until an outbreak of lateral thinking gave us 'water polo', on the basis that there would be a deep end and a shallow end in the swimming pool, so different length goalposts. Result!!

Sadly, however, we didn't know that a carpophagous creature eats fruit, we failed to remember that Marilyn Monroe was the first Playboy centre-fold and we had no idea that the Assistant Commissioner of the United Provinces of India had a son who became better known as 'Biggles'.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Half a loft is better than no insulation at all

Had a bit of a setback on the loft insulation front today. Following abortive attempts to get some more rolls of the same type of 200mm thick rock wool from the 2 nearest branches of B&Q, I went to a third this afternoon, and discovered that the stuff I've been using had been on special offer and has now all gone. This is deeply annoying, as I'd just about finished all the fiddly stuff with joist risers and floor-boards for safely accessing all the wiring and plumbing and I'd finally figured out how much more insulation I needed to complete the job.

The day hasn't been a total washout though, as I listened to the final part of the radio adaptation of "A prayer for Owen Meany". This has been broadcast in 5 installments this week, in the 'Afternoon Play' spot on BBC Radio 4, and it has been excellent. I've never read any of John Irving's books, but I've seen the film of 'The Cider house rules' and thought it would be a worth a listen. After the first episode I was hooked to the extent that I even considered not listening to the rest of it, so that I could read the book without knowing the story.

I also managed to get to the mobile blood donation session at the Civic Centre and donate "very nearly an arm-full". There are so many reasons for people to be ineligible to give blood these days, that it seems really selfish not to do it if you can. 
The National Blood Service always needs gallons of the stuff, especially of the most common blood groups, so every drop is welcome. 

It doesn't hurt and you get tea and biscuits afterwards; what's not to like?

Apologies to xylophiles everywhere, but I've decided not to include any inflammatory images of power-tools today. Over-stimulation should be avoided whenever possible

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

"That's a good bit of wood, son"

So there I was, having a chat with my newsagent, when someone said, 
"Oh, Hi Kim". 
This confused him, as it's not his name and he wouldn't expect anyone to call me Kim, because he knows me as Chris.  .  .     
Anyway, I turned round and there was Reallyfatbloke's 'Wifey'. 
I realized that I'd been caught out, looking at the model railway magazines and floundered a bit, but fortunately I was saved from major embarrassment, when it turned out that she was buying a woodworking magazine. 
It appears that RFB, having started a woodwork evening class, is in danger of becoming a wood zealot (Xylophile?).
"I thought I'd get him some wood-porn", she said.
As a matter of fact, the woodwork magazines are on the top shelf, so this is not entirely ironic.
"And he's started talking about routers . . ." 

There's not much hope for him really.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Patrick McGoohan: 1928-2009

"Where am I?"

"In the Village."

"What do you want?"


"Whose side are you on?"

"That would be telling…. We want information. Information! INFORMATION!"

"You won't get it."

"By hook or by crook, we will."

"Who are you?"

"The new Number Two." 

"Who is Number One?"

"You are Number Six."

"I am not a number — I am a free man!"

From the opening sequence of most episodes of the cult TV series, “The Prisoner”. 

First broadcast in 1967, the series ran for 17 episodes and starred Patrick McGoohan as 'Number 6', a prisoner in The Village. This seemingly utopian setting concealed the sinister motives of an unspecified nation/organization as it set about breaking the spirit of No.6 and determining just why he had resigned. Who No.6 was, what he resigned from, where The Village was and who controlled it was never entirely clear to me, but when it was first shown on TV, it was compelling stuff. 

". . . be seeing you"

Friday, 16 January 2009

Experiments in mass appeal

I chuntered on about Prog Rock, a few posts ago. Most of the usual suspects got a mention, and you could have been forgiven for getting the idea that the term 'Progressive' was mere irony, so I thought that I'd draw your attention to some lovely fresh prog. (Yum)

I've been listening to 'Experiments in mass appeal', which is the new album from 'Frost*', and I'm delighted to report that it is splendid.
This is their second album, and I was pretty worried that it would be incapable of living up to the standard set by their debut, 'Milliontown'.
I needn't have worried. It's fair to say that Frost* has moved on and that the new material is not as instantly enjoyable as stuff on the first album, but it's becoming more so with each successive hearing andl it may be all the better for that.

If you are tempted to buy this album, make sure you get the special edition which includes a bonus DVD. The stuff on this DVD is fabulous; a compilation of the video diary of the writing, recording and production of the entire album, back-stage footage of the 2008 tour and instrumental versions of the songs from the album. The video diary alone is worth the price of admission. If you've ever wondered what was going on in the mind of the artist who created a piece of music, this is for you. It's also good fun too.

If you want to hear a track from 'Milliontown', nip over to, and listen to 'Black light machine'. There are also various chunks of video on YouTube, and at, the internet Prog Radio Station.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Say goodbye to Internet Explorer Misery

I had one of those problems that beset every computer user once in a while; the inexplicable and apparently unprovoked failure of software that was previously working properly.
I tried to launch Internet Explorer, my internet browser of choice, and "Boink!". . . it wouldn't work. After a couple of fruitless re-tries, I decided to check whether there were any Microsoft updates that I'd missed. Unfortunately, I couldn't get to the appropriate site, because my browser was broken.

"Damn. I know. I'll download 'Firefox' . . .", and, of course you've already realized the problem, I couldn't do that either because MY BROWSER WAS BROKEN.
Did I hear someone whisper "Catch 22"?

Happily, I remembered that whenever iTunes throws me a software update, it tries to give me its web-browser too, so I opened up iTunes and asked for an update. There it was, 'Safari'. The downloading didn't require any web-browser registration nonsense, and was completely painless. 

So now I'm using 'Safari'. It's supposed to be nearly twice as fast as 'Explorer' and more secure as well. It seems OK, and it has allowed me to download the 2 new updates from the Microsoft site that are to address urgent security issues with Internet Explorer. Hmmm! Could it be these 'issues' that were original cause of my problems?

Saturday, 10 January 2009

The thing in the attic

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in the loft recently.
We replaced our central heating boiler last year, and I decided it was time to upgrade the loft insulation; after all, the price of energy is rising all the time, so the cost-effectiveness of insulation continues to improve.

Simply whacking down an extra 200mm of rockwool across the entire loft space would have been a comparatively easy job, but inevitably it has become a much more complicated operation. I won’t burden you with the details, but if it’s finished by next winter I’ll be delighted.

While I was stumbling about in gloom, deciding which of the formerly valuable things really ought to be chucked out, I came across the beginnings of an N-Gauge model railway layout which I started a few years ago. It looked pretty sorry for itself, and although I couldn’t bear to consign it the scrapheap, I didn’t know whether the original plan would warrant the time and effort needed to complete it. I put it to one side for later consideration.

So it was a happy coincidence, when a mate of mine dropped in for a cuppa last Thursday and mentioned that someone had given him a model railway locomotive for Christmas. He was sounding dangerously keen on the model railway thing, and I’m afraid his enthusiasm may have been more infectious than I thought, because I started wondering whether to try to revive my moribund layout. Even more worrying; when I was at the newsagent today, I bought myself a copy of “Railway Modeller” magazine.

So thank you very, very much, Mr S.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Junk-mail: A coping strategy

I promised myself that I wouldn't use this blog as an arena for ranting, so I shall have to be a bit careful with this. Anytime someone mentions junk mail, you can almost hear the sound of someone's blood pressure going off the scale.
Luckily, this is a handy hint for anyone who wants to find a therapeutic way to deal with all that crap that lands on the doormat amongst the nice stuff (birthday cards, letters from mad relatives, tax rebates etc.)

I can't claim this idea as my own, but after hearing about it from a work colleague I was delighted to adopt it.
  1. Open the envelope.
  2. If the envelop has your address printed on it, tear off the address and shred it but hold onto the rest of the envelope. If it's a windowed envelope, just hold onto the envelope.
  3. Sort the contents of the envelope into (a)stuff that has got your name and/or address on it, and (b) all the other advertising literature.
  4. Shred all the stuff containing personal information.
  5. Recycle all the advertising guff, except the inevitable reply-paid envelope which the sender should have thoughtfully included to help you apply for whatever nonsense their pushing.
  6. Fold up the envelope all this garbage arrived in, and put inside the reply paid envelope. You can also enclose some of their own literature, or even better, something from another junk purveyor.
  7. Double check that there's nothing included that can identify you as the sender.
  8. Seal it up and post it back to the people who foisted it on you in the first place.

It doesn't clutter up your dustbin, it wastes their time when it arrives back at their offices and it provides work for the postal service.
How satisfying is that?

Monday, 5 January 2009

Scooby Don't has left the building

It's been a bit confusing, to be honest. What started out as a way to leave twice as many comments on Reallyfatbloke's blog, without making it look as if I had nothing better to do, has ended up with me veering dangerously close to the realms of multiple personality disorder.

When RFB began his blog, at the start of last year, I thought he was setting some pretty hard targets. The commitment to blog every day looked tough enough, let alone the whole weight-loss thing and the Great North Run, so I figured if more people were tracking his activities he'd have a greater incentive not to let us all down.
The regularity of his daily postings meant that it soon became routine to check on his activities, his diet and the Joke. (I would have added 'Training Regime', but that was a bit less than regular, so was harder to find)
Having left the odd comment under my real name, I had a bit of a dilemma; I wanted to make a couple of helpful suggestions (Well, I thought they were helpful) about diet, and felt that they were not really the sort of thing that would have any credibility coming from me.

"I know," I thought, "I'll pretend to be someone else."

So Scooby Don't was born.

I've enjoyed being Scooby. He has allowed the pedantic, nit-picking side of me complete freedom to roam, and also been the channel for the lamest humour that I could muster.
It was also particularly enjoyable when Scooby made the mistake of assuming that I was a woman, and watching the subsequent postings from RFB, as he set about explaining Scooby's gaffe, without offending him. Absolutely charming. I wouldn't normally have stooped to such tactics, but RFB had asked if I knew who Scooby was, and I needed to try and banish any possibility that he'd think it was me.

I had decided that if I didn't get rumbled sooner, I would own up to Scooby's true identity at the end of the year. The only thing left to figure out, was how to actually do the reveal. In the end, it was obvious; Scooby would set up his own blog, with a picture of me, mugging at the camera with some kind of "Aha! It was me all the time!" message.

So that's what I did.
Then the problems started . . .

Having set up Scooby's blog, it seemed a shame not to carry on blogging. But I'd already decided he'd done his job.

"I know, I ll start my own blog", I thought, "I'll call it 'Does it have oceans?'"

". . . Ah. . . But what should I call myself? I can't just use 'Kim' . . ."


Sunday, 4 January 2009

Prog Rock

Progressive rock music, or 'Prog' as it is sometimes known, has been a major part of my musical listening pleasure for many years. Although it was never a truly mainstream genre, a few of the founding fathers are still trundling on; 'Genesis' and 'Pink Floyd' have managed to become respectable and the likes of 'Rush', 'Jethro Tull' and 'King Crimson' refuse to retire from the fray. Even comparative late-comers 'It Bites' have re-formed and are touring with a new album.

So it was a particular delight to see that BBC3 were having a 'Prog Weekend', and showing a documentary from the 1970's, of Emerson Lake and Palmer's European tour. I could have done without seeing Greg Lake languishing in his bed with laryngitis, but it was great to see the way big gigs used to be done.
ELP were pioneers of the idea that it was easier to take your own stage with you, rather than try to fit into what was already at the venue. There was lots of footage of very hairy roadies clambering about on steel scaffolding trusses, while other bush-bearded and be-denimed blokes threaded cables into mixing desks. Teams of guys manhandled enormous flight-cases out of articulated trucks, as the rock stars strolled through the chaos in their loon pants and leather jackets.

I can remember watching this film when it was first broadcast. It had all seemed so glamorous; everything looked so modern. Thirty-odd years on, and it all looked a bit grimy and dangerous. The scaffolding and lights were being raised with a manual block and tackle; no sign of the electric winches used today. Everything was hand carried from the trucks to the stage; no forklift trucks.

There was one thing that hasn't changed over the years though.

Gaffer tape.