Sunday, 30 August 2009

We shouldn't need to be reminded about this

If you can drive, sooner or later you will find yourself involved in a road accident.
Anyone who has been in a car crash or been first at the scene will tell you that it is a confusing and scary place to be.

Most road accidents are the result of human failings. Poor perception, bad judgement, loss of concentration, criminal recklessness, lack of care and plain stupidity are just some of the causes and contributory factors that can lead to something that will change peoples lives for ever.

Now, read that list again:
"Poor perception, bad judgement, loss of concentration, criminal recklessness, lack of care and plain stupidity".

Are you a driver? Have you got a mobile 'phone?

Do us all a favour...

Turn it 'OFF'.

"COW" A film by Peter Watkins-Hughes, for Gwent Police

Friday, 21 August 2009

Competition Time : Spot the Difference

Springfield Nuclear Power Plant Control Room

Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope Control Room

The similarities are quite uncanny, so I may have got these pictures muddled up.

You decide.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

"I don't believe it..."

I'm still utterly amazed at the nonsense I was treated to when I tried to get a telephone fault sorted out yesterday. Call me naive, but I expected better service from BT.

I'd been helping Jan, a friend from work who keeps an eye on Bob, her 96 year old neighbour. His 'phone had been on the blink for a couple of days; outgoing calls were OK but it wouldn't take incoming calls. Jan had rung me to ask if I'd report the fault, as whenever she'd tried, the people at BT seemed to dismiss the problem, as she was calling them from the 'phone she claimed was 'faulty'.

"If you report it, from another 'phone, perhaps they'll take it more seriously", she said.

So I went through the usual rigmarole of calling the Fault Line and wading through various options until I eventually managed to speak to a human being. I answered all her questions. I told her my name, the number of the 'phone I was calling from, the number of the 'phone with the fault, the name of the householder who had the faulty 'phone. I even had to explain my relationship with the householder with the faulty 'phone, although I can't think why that should have any influence on a telephone fault. At some point in the interrogation, I may have been asked to explain what was wrong with the 'phone, but it's quite possible that I dreamed that.
Finally, she ran out of questions.
"Great!", I thought, "Now she'll tell me when someone can fix the problem"
Did I mention that I can be a bit naive sometimes?

"I must tell you," said the BT woman, "that if we send an engineer to check the fault and it isn't a fault in our equipment, we will have to charge you a hundred and twenty-five pounds for the call-out."
"Er, what? "
"The fault could be in the house and not on the BT line."
"So how do I work out whether it's a BT fault?"
"You can check at the socket"
"Do you mean the telephone socket?"
"Yes... but it must be the main one, not an extension."
"OK... How do I check the socket?"
"You take off the socket cover, an-"
"Wait... Hold on a minute. Are you telling me to explain to a ninety-six year old man that he has to dismantle his 'phone socket so that he can find out whether your engineers will come and fix his telephone without charging him over a hundred quid?"
I've heard a few lame ideas in my time, and I've come across some poor customer service, but this was a new definition of "abysmal".
Struggling to retain my self-control, I decided to find out exactly what her suggested diagnostic procedure entailed.
"All right. I may be able to get someone to check the socket, but you'd better explain exactly what to do. I'll write it down"
"OK", she said "take off the socket cover. Inside the socket you'll find another internal socket."
"What, just like the normal one?"
"Yes. Plug the 'phone into that and see if it works. If it still doesn't work, the line is faulty and we will repair it free of charge."
"Thank you. We'll give it a try."
It was a relief to hang up.
I simply couldn't believe that I was being advised to dismantle part of a telephone installation by someone who had no idea of the condition of the equipment, let alone my knowledge or competence to take it apart.
Add to this the whole concept of threatening to charge your customers for a service which they reasonably think they already pay for...
I think that it's just despicable.

A couple of hours later, Jan and I managed to get another of our colleagues to nip round and have a look at Bob's 'phone and investigate the internal mysteries of the socket, but in the end Jan decided to have another bash at getting a BT engineer to visit.

Jan is clearly better than me at this sort of thing, because by the end of the day, a charming young man from BT had been round, and Bob's telephone is now in full working order.

We still don't know whether they'll try to sting Bob for the call-out, but I get the distinct impression that Jan is already preparing to launch a retaliatory strike on them if they do, God help them.

Dali makes more sense than BT

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Now that's what I call... Er, something...

This post concerns a phenomenon for which I don't know the correct name. The sort of thing I'm thinking about, is when you get two different types of musician working together. I had been under the impression that the name for this was "crossover music", but it appears that this is something rather different.

So, whatever they are called, these hybrid musical projects can be a bit risky. It's always going to be a toss-up whether a collaboration between stylistically diverse musicians will produce an inspired synergy or a hideous cacophony.

One of the finest of these unlikely unions, was the Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield in 1987 with "What have I done to deserve this?", successfully blending white soul and electro-pop. Arguably less successful, was the 1969 album "Concerto for group and orchestra" which was a live concert featuring Deep Purple and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra playing at The Royal Albert Hall; they played the same piece, in the same place, at the same time and yet somehow they weren't playing together.

To these examples of musical alloy and the many others that are already out there, I'd like to add the fusion of Scottish pipe band and Cornish Samba band...

I know what you're thinking, but have a look at this. It's curiously uplifting.

(If you're wondering how I came across this, my eldest brother and his wife are in the samba band)

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Comfortably numb

It's often a pleasant surprise to hear versions of songs that you've known for years, performed by other artists, so I was intrigued to discover a video clip of Pink Floyd's 'Comfortably numb', that was posted earlier today by Wyrdwhorl on Wyrdsongs, her other blog.

This is a song that my band has been gigging for several years, and it invariably goes down well with just about any audience. Whenever we play it, there are usually men-of-a-certain-age, singing along and often some discrete air-guitarists attempting those enormous string bends that make this a Dave Gilmour signature piece.

If you want to see what the combined might of prog-rockers "Dream Theater" and metal-monsters "Queensryche" have done with this classic,
click this link to Wyrdsongs

Thank you, Wyrdwhorl.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

What we did on our holidays

Blimey! Where did that go?

I've just had two weeks off and it's back to work tomorrow. I've never been terribly good at holidays. I forget to arrange time off work and then when I realize that I'm in danger of losing my holiday allocation and book a couple of weeks off, unless I've got a clearly defined activity mapped out, I'll just tend to loaf about all day until suddenly I notice that it's time to go back to work.
Blight-of-my-life has always been much better at holidays as she has spent virtually her entire working life as a school-teacher. She has never had to decide when to have a holiday; they just crop up at regular intervals whether you like it or not.
This year, I opted for a fortnight break right at the start of the school summer holiday.

As is the custom here at "Cyber Mansions", after several days of me showing no signs of organising anything like a proper holiday, Blight couldn't stand it any longer and asked,
"Well, are we actually going to go anywhere this year?"
"Err, yeah, I suppose so..."
After a longish pause, she said,
"Have you had any thoughts about where you might like to go?"
"Umm, not really. How about you? Any ideas?"
"I was hoping that you'd think of something for a change."

"Uh-oh", I thought, "This is probably going to be our traditional argument about why I never organise the holiday and how it would be nice if I came up with a suggestion once in a while."

I was right.

Fortunately, once we'd got that particular bit of unpleasantness out of the way, we plumped for a few days in Oxfordshire.

A few highlights:-
  • Guided walk around Oxford:Without a guide you could wander around the centre of Oxford for hours and have no idea of the splendid stuff that's lurking behind the closed doors of the colleges. You'd just think it was another conglomeration of the usual shops but with some interesting architecture at roof level (Yeah, that'll be the dreaming spires). The official guide has access to some of the colleges, however, so you get to see some of the beautifully kept courtyards, wood-panelled dining halls and chapels, as well as learning about some of the history and traditions of the place.
  • Probably the finest fish pie I've ever eaten:This was at "The Fox Inn", Boars Hill. I don't normally get wildly excited by food, but this was a bit special. The rhubarb crumble was pretty good too.
  • Fire Fly: No, not "Firefly" the Sci-Fi TV series. This "Fire Fly" is a reconstruction of a broad gauge steam railway locomotive from the 19th century, which is kept at the Didcot Railway Centre. We were lucky enough to visit on a "steam day", when they have locomotives working, so we got the full experience and trundled up and down the short stretch of preserved line, breathing in coal smoke and nostalgia.
  • Bike ride: We took a chance that the rain, forecast for late on Tuesday, would hold off and did a (mostly) leisurely 20 miles exploring the bridleways, cycle trails and back roads around Thame. For once, we didn't end up slogging across fields, following bridleways that have been subtly concealed by brambles, farm buildings and quagmires, although to ensure that the ride didn't deviate too far from the norm, Blight did manage to fall off when her front wheel found a cunningly concealed pot-hole.
  • Fleur de Lys, Dorchester on Thames: This is an excellent B&B and one of the friendliest pubs I've stayed at. While we were having a swift half in the bar after we'd signed in, we got into a conversation with one of the locals about Madonna, of all people. Throughout the evening, everyone seemed to be treated in the same friendly manner, to the extent that it was quite difficult to distinguish between the regulars and the visitors. We had several more swift halves. Not a surprise, I guess.
  • New boy: The day after we dropped in to see one of my nephews and his wife, we got a text to say that their second baby had been born. Apparently, their first son was born the day after some relatives had been visiting, so maybe there's some kind of "family catalyst effect" at work. Be that as it may, it's great news and Danny, his Mum, Dad and big brother are all happy and well.
All in all, a very good holiday.