Sunday, 26 December 2010

Festive malarkey

So how was your Christmas...? Oh good. How lovely.

My Christmas has been pretty good too, as it happens.

On Christmas Eve, while Blight-of-my-life was out making sure that the horses weren't getting too excitable in the snow, I (finally) put up the Christmas cards.
The "Top Card" award this year was shared by my eldest brother, whose card was a print of one of his own paintings, and my erstwhile work colleague from sunny Devon, who had ensured that his card would be the first we got by sending it in January... and then sent another one that also arrived before all the other cards

Later that evening, my band played at a local pub.
I wasn't too keen on the idea of playing on Christmas Eve, as I thought it might be a bit like being Santa's support act; but it was actually really good fun. Inevitably we were duty bound to include something festive, so "Santa Claus is coming to town" was added to the setlist. We'd also been asked to play Blondie's "One Way or Another" especially for the landlady and it went surprisingly well, considering the minimal rehearsal that we'd given it.

Perhaps the best bit of the gig was an appearance by our special guest vocalist.
Our Lady of The Keyboards had put an armlock on her son Josh and he'd agreed to join us for the last two songs of the first set. As he's a professional performer (World tour with "Mama Mia" and more recently touring in "Dreamboats and Petticoats"), this was a bit of a treat.
It also knocked about ten years off the average age of the band.

Christmas Day itself was very uneventful.
Even though Blight had to see to the horses, I decided that I deserved a lie-in after my night of rock and roll excess and didn't surface until gone ten. At lunchtime, we ambled along to "The Crown" to meet Chemical Al and The One Wise Woman for our customary Christmas drink and then it was a brisk walk home for Christmas Lunch.

This year we had scrambled egg and beans on toast and shortly after that, I went to work.

And if you think that working on Christmas Day isn't much fun, then take a look at this.
This video was shot a few days ago, by Scubamanders, as I decanted the accumulated snow from the bowl. It isn't wildly dramatic, but it isn't something you see every day.

I've been doing this job for nearly ten years, but it was the first time I've done this particular operation.


Thursday, 16 December 2010

Great News...!

I know that you've all been on the edge of your seats, waiting for the news about "The Other" speaking clock.

Well, I am overjoyed to inform you that I've just 'phoned it and the time is now correct, so "Thus Communications" have fixed the problem.

My work here is done; another triumph for the Grumpy Old Men, I'd say.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Apologies to BT: The Speaking Clock is Correct

I'm starting to realise what it's like to be Boris Johnson. This is the second time I've had to publicly apologise in a month.

My previous post, stating that the Speaking Clock was four seconds fast, was not entirely correct. It appears that although the speaking clock messages that I was getting on our telephone system at work have been incorrect, the BT Speaking Clock service is running perfectly.
The most likely culprit for this peculiar problem probably resides somewhere in the telephone system of a third party communications supplier.

Some very helpful comments from one of my long-suffering followers, drew my attention to the fact that our telephone network is no longer a strictly BT operation, so it was quite likely that some third party complication could have nadgered the normally reliable service.
I also had a chat with a chap from The Greenwich Observatory. Although he explained that they are no longer "The Keepers of Time" at Greenwich, his assessment of the problem was in line with Jon's explanation.

Apparently you can effectively buy a speaking clock device for your telephone network. This uses a radio timing signal, broadcast from Anthorn in Cumbria, to keep it locked to the correct time. Unfortunately, if your speaking clock box loses the timing signal, it continues to operate but uses its own internal quartz crystal oscillator to keep on time. If this oscillator isn't running at the right rate, the thing will gradually drift off.

It's plausible that this is what's happened to the rogue speaking clock which I was using.

If it does get sorted out, I'll let you know, but until then,
"At the third stroke, it will be time to make a grovelling apology to BT... PIP...PIP...PIP"

The Speaking Clock is 4 seconds fast

Yesterday I discovered that the BT Speaking Clock was approximately four seconds fast.
But before you rush to your 'phone to check, remember that it is not a free service. I don't want to encourage anyone to increase the income of BT whilst proving the inadequacy of their service.

I spent a fairly frustrating time trying to report the fault, but as anyone who has tried to report a problem using an automated, multiple choice 'phone reporting system will appreciate, as soon as you have a problem that falls outside the normal options, you are snookered.
Eventually, I managed to negotiate my way through the various layers of, "Press one for Billing, press two for Broadband, Press three if you are losing the will to live...", until I was speaking to a human being.
I knew that she was almost certainly not the right person to deal with this particular issue, but I hoped that she might be able to contact the appropriate department.

It did not go terribly well.

Although she was not actually rude, her reaction when I tried to report the problem was somewhat terse. I explained that I realized it was not really the sort of fault that she would normally be resposible for dealing with, but as there appeared to be no other way of getting in contact with the service provider, I was hoping she could either pass the message on herself or refer me to a more appropriate department.
Her response was, "What business is it of yours to tell us that the Speaking Clock is wrong?"
"Well, it is a service that I'm paying for, and it's supposed to be reliable... and not four seconds fast."
"How do you know it's wrong?"
At this point, I decided to keep it simple.
I could have explained that as I was in the Control Room at Jodrell Bank, I had access to two independant Global Positioning Satellite Clocks and our own on-site Atomic Clock, all of which were telling me that the Speaking Clock was wrong.
Instead, I just said, "I checked it against the Greenwich Time signal "pips" at 9 o'clock, broadcast by the BBC. And before you ask, that was the analogue service, not digital."

Now I have no idea whether this has been passed on to anyone in BT who is interested or capable enough to sort it out, but at 7:45 this morning it was still wrong.

I'll let you know when it's been corrected.

The "Station Clock" at Jodrell Bank

Friday, 3 December 2010

Thin ice

We are looking after our neighbour's dog Kiera, for a couple of days, so taking her out for walks has meant that I've been getting rather more excercise than is normal for me.

As if the novelty of being dragged about by an enthusiastic springer spaniel wasn't enough, the fact that we've had a pretty good covering of snow has made it even more entertaining. For a dog, even the most boring looking bit of hedgerow seems to take on added sniff-worthiness when it's smothered in snow, giving all the regular routes added value.

Most of our walks include bits of canal towpath, but as we've been having temperatures of ten below zero whole sections of the canal are frozen over. Narrow boats are ice-locked at their moorings and the ducks are skating about on the surface as they compete for scraps of bread. The only place where the water remains unfrozen is beneath the bridges and this where most of the ducks congregate when they've had enough of people laughing at them as they slither helplessly about on the treacherous surface of the ice.

Spaniels are typically keen to involve themselves with water, not to mention ducks, and Kiera is no exception to this rule, but there is no way that I'm going to allow her off the lead in these conditions. If you think that this is a bit unsporting, consider this.

A few years ago, a friend of ours was walking his dog along the towpath in similar icy conditions to those that we have at the moment. His dog was off the lead and had run onto the ice to harass the ducks. The ducks took a dim view of this and headed for the open patch of water near a bridge, so the dog followed. When the dog neared the clear patch of water, the progressively thinning ice broke under his weight.
The dog was unable to clamber up through the hole and vanished beneath the frozen surface.
Our friend tried to rescue the dog by breaking the ice, but by the time he had waded into the canal, located the unlucky creature and pulled him from the water, the dog was dead.

I was considering this unhappy tale as we strolled along the path, because on the loose snow lying on the ice covered canal were footprints where people had been walking.

The footprints were of an adult and a small child...