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Quiet
Friday 3 January, 2020

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and their New Year started well and looks to be heading along the same lines!

A quiet Christmas and New Year was intended. The Christmas went as planned and we were poised to raise our glasses as the clock ticked over midnight and heralded the New Year. As we did so, fireworks went off in the neighbourhood.

I spent the next fifteen minutes on a sofa with a small dog nestled under my arm.

Okay, so things were as they were. I’m not complaining. However, the knob who decided to let loose with their fireworks at quarter past one in the morning wasn’t doing anything but demonstrating that the clocks in their house were rather inaccurate, or they were not in possession of enough brain cells to cope with breathing and thinking.

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Husky
Monday 6 January, 2020

My dog is multi-talented.

When out walking, his nose goes down to the ground and he follows whatever scent he believes exists expressly for the purpose of having him haul my arms off.

If walking over the fields, once he gets more than 30 metres away from me, he ignores me unless I shout very loudly and repeatedly.

He is a beagle. However, he can pull like a husky and I end up sounding husky after we’ve been out together. Maybe I have the name of his breed wrong?

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The Flash
Thursday 9 January, 2020

This morning was exceptional in that I was out in my car! Not only that, but I was driving through town right at the peak of the log jam that is commonly, and mistakenly, referred to as traffic.

When I look up the definition of the word, I read, vehicles moving on a public highway. For much of the time I witnessed little by way of movement.

Mind you, on my way home after attending to the life-or-death event (my daughter wanted a lift), a road sweeping lorry pulled out on me at a roundabout. So sudden was his move that I didn’t get a chance to express my displeasure by sounding my horn. No, all my efforts went into braking and swerving.

Such is the intelligence of those who planned the road layout in my little market town, each major junction and roundabout features a pedestrian crossing on their exits. So when it is busy, someone correctly crossing the road will bring all the roads in the immediate area to a standstill as they become blocked at the same time.

Well my chum, having caused me to consider the choice between wrecking my car against the side of their lorry and wrecking it against anything coming from the road he was turning into, then tried to run down the woman pedestrian nearly halfway over one of those cleverly placed zebra crossings. In the same way that he had failed to cause an accident with me, he also missed the female pedestrian as they jumped out of the way.

At this point, my car was pointing in the correct direction and stationary, allowing me to watch the woman. As quick as a flash she whipped out her mobile phone and took a photo of the back of the lorry – presumably to record the vehicle’s registration number.

The view in my mirror behind me as I left the scene was of the woman appearing to be speaking to someone on her mobile phone as she looked up the road in the direction that the dozy/ignorant lorry driver had headed.

I smiled. Not the normal reaction after being faced with a moron driving a lorry, but my day had been made, none-the-less.

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Wet or Dry?
Saturday 11 January, 2020

There was a mishap with one of the dog beds. The result was that I dropped it out into the garden on the patio. My intention was for it to be rained on and ‘aired’ before returning it to its rightful place.

What actually happened was that the weather was never dry for more than a single day, so the wet dog bed never even got as far as drip-dry before the next downpour.

However, a recent break in the weather allowed me to hang it on the washing line and from there it became dry enough for me to throw into the garage to be again hang on the washing line during the next dry spell.

All was good, except...

...the smell that greeted me the next day was awful when I went into the garage looking for something. The word rank seemed hardly expressive enough to describe the effect of being wet after being slept on by a dog. The bin seemed destined to receive further landfill.

I briefly considered removing the dog hairs with the garage vacuum cleaner then stuffing it in an old pillowcase and thrusting it in the washing machine, but given the weight when soaked (I didn’t feel confident about hanging it on the washing line when soaking wet), I wrote off the idea. It languished while I agonised over the waste of an otherwise good dog bed. Then I decided to try and better understand what washing machine manufacturers mean when they rate their products.

The big white box in my kitchen has a sticker on it proclaiming a rating of seven kilograms. The manual states it can take a seven kilogram wash load. As an engineering-minded chap, and knowing how much heavier some clothing can become when sodden, it caused me to ask myself whether that was the weight of a wet or dry load.

Did the manufacturer’s website answer my question? No, that would have been too simple. So I tried a variety of such sources only to discover that the answer seems to be one that manufacturers feel isn’t worthy of answering! That had me digging deeper.

Logically the wash load rating ought to be the dry weight. After all, clothes tend to go in dry then become wet as the machine runs through its cycle. Unfortunately various materials hold water in differing ways due to their construction, fibre content and material. This means that two jumpers of the same weight when dry may become very different when soaked. A load of seven kilograms can become 14 kilograms or 11 kilograms depending on what was being washed – hence my uncertainty.

Eventually I managed to frame my question in a manner that returned the answer I was looking for: multiple sources told me the rating referred to dry weight. Machines are built to handle much more than the figures stated. That said, their washing ability varies depending on how that loading is managed. Many articles of clothing, leading to a full drum but markedly below the wash load capacity by weight, leads to the inability of the machine to correctly agitate the load in order to separate out the dirt. The result can be: dirty clothes in, dirty clothes out.

Over all it is a complex matter. However, I now felt I better understood what my washing machine could manage so as to avoid having it marching across the kitchen floor as it bounced about trying to handle a load that was overwhelming it.

Then I set about weighing the dog bed to see how close it came to the seven kilogram limit. I weighed it a few times to be sure, such was my surprise. It was one single kilogram. The most water absorbent articles of clothing have been known to double in weight, but those that do so are not common. Generally the weight gain is under that. Even if I have a freaky material making the dog bed and it quadruples in weight upon becoming soaked, it won’t exceed four kilograms.

If I had weighed the thing in the first place then I’d have had no need to worry about it, but then I’d not have learnt so much.

Wet or dry? This washing machine owner no longer cares...

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Friday the Thirteenth
Monday 13 January, 2020

Saved by three days!

If today was last Friday, we would be doomed. Imagine if instead of today being a Monday, it was a Friday? Planes would be falling out of the sky; cars would be crashing at random; herds of stampeding elephants would flatten schools, killing dozens of children, if not hundreds; and buttered toast would always fall butter-side down.

Like it does every Friday the thirteenth.

It’s a good job it is so rare.

Luckily there are only two this year instead of the three that occurred during 2017 – and we all know what a disaster of a year that was!

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Timing is Everything
Thursday 16 January, 2020

You know those times when approaching one of those tiny roundabouts and the car approaching from the far side cuts across instead of trying to go around it so as to assert themselves and make you give way, even though you thought you had more than enough time to drive straight over?

Like the driver who cuts the corner of junctions to cut 0.09 microseconds off their journey time.

I was following a small car which turned right across a mini-roundabout ahead of me. Partway across it took a very odd path – suggestive of having to take avoiding action to miss another vehicle that the corner had obscured. I even commented to my passenger at the time how they had taken an odd-looking line through the junction.

Twenty seconds later I could see the reason for the curious manoeuvre when I reached the roundabout and prepared to drive straight on. They had indeed cut across the roundabout, as well as a vehicle approaching from the right. Unfortunately for the person driving, the muscular effort saved was wasted by having to stop and explain their saving to the occupants of the police car they had almost hit.

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Pain
Monday 20 January, 2020

I wanted to attach a 4TB hard drive, via USB, to my iMac, and then share it to the rest of the devices in my household. These days my iMac is just used as a TV and I wished to have it double up as a NAS device.

The drive is formatted under NTFS. The iMac can read but not write to an NTFS volume without third-party help, but I did not want to add any such utilities to my iMac.

I have a spare empty 4TB USB hard drive already formatted to exFAT. The iMac can read and write to an exFAT volume. The plan was to hook both drives to my iMac and transfer the data over before reformatting the NTFS hard drive as exFAT. Then I would transfer the data back to the now freshly formatted hard drive. I favoured exFAT over the native iMac format as it allows me total access in case of hardware failure.

Problems started when my iMac wouldn’t mount the NTFS hard drive. It was visible to the hard disk utilities which could tell me lots about the drive, but it simply refused to mount it for me to access the contents. My laptop would have worked fine, but as there is somewhere in the region of 3TB of data on the hard drive, I did not wish to commit my writing tool to such a brainless activity that hinders my ability to use it for work.

My data recovery PC in the garage!

I rushed out to garage with both hard drives and powered up the PC. The fans span for a second before everything died. A little fiddling followed but there was nothing. No life. Nothing. Not a peep. I left it working the other day so I figured it was just one of the many devices hanging off it that confused the poor mite.

Rather that mess about with it and turn the Five-minute-hook-up-drives-to-transfer-data job into a tech-fest, I dug out my second machine. It didn’t have a hard drive installed and wouldn’t boot properly from the one I removed from the original PC, so I figured on quickly installing Windows offline in order to do a quick(?) and dirty files transfer. Unfortunately I couldn’t get it to boot from DVD. A quick look through the BIOS told me it just needed drives properly identifying, but that meant more fiddling, so out came PC number three.

This machine also lacked a hard drive so I installed the one from the ‘dead’ PC and fired it up. It complained a bit but otherwise ran well. The only issue was that it couldn’t access the Internet to source a suitable Ethernet driver (d'oh!), but given that I didn’t intent to let it connect even to my network, that wasn’t a problem. After the faffing about that I had been through so far, I was pleasantly surprised that it even allowed me to set the correct screen resolution and it emitted sound!

I connected both external hard drives and started the process of transferring files. As the ports used are USB 2.0 (the drives are both USB 3.0) the data copy was slated to take almost 8 hours. Am I bothered? No, I'll wander out there this evening and see how it is doing. And because I didn't want to waste more time making it secure (or find that elusive Ethernet driver) I decided from the outset to run it offline, but the downside is that I didn't leave myself the option of using RDC (remote access) from the warmth of the house.

A five minute job that became a harried forty-five minute rush: I'm beginning to wonder whether a third-party app to allow my iMac to read and write to NTFS in the first place might not have been the better solution – and I ultimately still have to determine why the first PC appeared to die.

When I worked in IT, techies were never properly appreciated, but so much hard work goes on behind the scenes. This household cannot lose data, but the messing about to achieve it is a right pain!

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Learning
Thursday 23 January, 2020

Ah, my favourite pastime: walking to my local post office!

One of the joys of walking instead of driving is that once I arrive at my destination I am not forced to hunt for somewhere to park the mixture of metal, rubber and plastic that passes as my car. I don’t have to decide between blocking or impeding traffic by parking on the road, or blocking and impeding pedestrians instead by parking on the pavement.

Walking means not having to make such decisions.

It also means being able to hear the world. They may not be overly vocal at this time of year but I still get to hear the birds. On the downside, if one takes it into their mind to have a ‘movement’ while passing overhead, I am not protected by the thin metal skin of a car roof, but someone once told me it is a sign of good luck. Hmm.

There was the sound of a vehicle approaching behind me. A loud clicking accompanying it suggested it had a stone, or some such object, wedged in the tread of one of its tyres. That said, it was obviously travelling slowly (I was not yet by the main road), so it could have been a flat tyre, perhaps? I turned and looked.

It didn’t appear to be a puncture. Now facing the source of the noise I saw a modern car approaching a speed hump carefully and the sound became easier to identify as very probably being what it was I first suspected.

As it passed and made its way along the road, I saw the manufacturer’s badge on the rear and recognised the car. It was a Tesla. For those who don’t know, a Tesla is an electric car. It isn’t a hybrid. It is a car that uses electric motors to provide its motion. It has no internal combustion engine. The Tesla represents the type of car that many decry as being the ‘silent killers’ on the streets of tomorrow as they take out pedestrians who don’t hear them approaching.

My ears are nothing special, but I’ll tell you now – even without something seemingly stuck to the tyre of that vehicle, I’d have been hard pushed to have not heard it coming my way. The sound the tyres made on the tarmac alone was enough to alert me to the fact that something was coming. With the speed bump I estimate the car was doing no more than 15mph as it reached me, and if I hadn’t been able to hear it then I’d not have heard a 737 airliner if it crashed in the garden beside me either.

On my way back home, I saw an old man limping along a little way ahead of me and there was something odd about him. He crossed the road and his route was going to hide him from my view, but I hadn’t yet worked out what it was about his appearance that troubled me and I found myself desperately trying to fathom what it was before he vanished down a side road. Then it struck me:

Old man. Limping. Carrying a pair of crutches. Carrying, not using.

I learnt two things today: electric cars are not silent, and there’s nowt so queer as folk!

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Germans
Thursday 30 January, 2020

I was out in my car because I had errands to run in town after my trip to my local post office. Having parked around the corner and off the main road I set out for town and stopped at a mini-roundabout. My view along the road to the right was limited by a bend in the road, but even if a vehicle came into sight once entering the junction, gentle acceleration is enough to get up to a speed to avoid causing any other road user to be held up.

As I prepared to make a left turn a BMW shot across the roundabout. I estimated its speed to be in excess of 60mph. After he flashed past I turned out and down the road which he hurtled. I saw the smiley/sad face speed sign flash wildly as he tripped it and I watched as he applied his brakes when he had nowhere to go when faced with a car stopped at the next roundabout further down the road. You know how a car ‘squirms’ as it squats when braking at the absolute max? Well, that was him, so he may well have been travelling a fair bit faster by that point than when he almost took the nose off my car previously.

The word ‘moron’ came to my mind.

Further into town, a different BMW cut me off at speed by going straight at traffic lights from a right-turn lane. In order to do so he had gunned his car, cut across me, then had to slam on his brakes to avoid ramming the car I was following.

By this time I was formulating thoughts on the parentage of German car drivers.

A little further up the road he suddenly braked hard and stopped. I was puzzled, unless he was a mind reader. There had been zero reaction from me. I checked my mirror to see whether there was space to reverse should he get out and prove beyond doubt that he was more than just missing a brain, when he just as suddenly turned right into a private driveway.

No indicators. A typical German car driver.

I drove on and conducted my business. Once finished I was faced with needing to make a right turn out onto a major road serving the local bypass. Whenever there was a break in the stream of traffic coming from my right, there was steady flow approaching from my left. I was stranded.

Then a car from my left indicated that they wished to turn into the road from which I was trying to exit. They stopped short and flashed their lights and waved me out.

The car was a GERMAN Mercedes.

My drive home was free of stereotypical thoughts on German car drivers.

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Performance
Monday 3 February, 2020

I had just safely made my way across the main road having finished my business at my local post office today when the sound of a performance car seemingly accelerating hard caused me to look again.

From the roundabout a little way up the road from me hurtled a silver car. The driver was ‘giving it some beans,’ as those in the ‘know’ tend to say. Consequently the only details I managed to garner regarding the vehicle was the colour.

And the face of the driver as he held a mobile phone to his ear.

And the face of the young blonde woman sat next to him.

While he looked to be in his forties, she seemed barely old enough to have left school.

While he seemed intent on making his car accelerate as quickly as possible, her face said that she was seriously impressed by the power.

While his concentration was on his telephone call, her smile suggested that she felt comfortable being the older man’s ‘bit of fluff.’

Meanwhile, I contented myself with thinking that he might have been the moron who nearly took the nose off my car last week at the same spot as I watched him pick up speed and disappear down the narrowing road into town. Within seconds he had vanished. With no sounds of tyre squeal or breaking glass and plastic, I supposed that he had managed to make the bend after the next roundabout without hitting anyone or anything.

Maybe I was being uncharitable. Perhaps the young blonde was his daughter? Maybe the ‘mobile phone’ was merely a large hearing aid? It could be that the throttle was snagged by his laces and he was trying to slow down.

I must learn to stop making snap judgements.

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Time Portal
Wednesday 5 February, 2020

My walk to my local post office is about 15 minutes each way if I am not in a hurry. Currently I have a bug. I figured that such a walk – even in the cold, but well wrapped up – would be a good thing.

Those who know me will be aware that I rarely take my car out if I can help it. Doing battle with long queues of very slow moving traffic threading through the town in which I live really doesn’t do anything for me. At certain times in the day it is quicker for me to walk over a mile into town than it is to drive.

Back to my desire for some fresh air.

I intended to run an errand in the evening that would require a 30 minute walk each way. My wife said I was mad. My cold screamed at me that a warm coat and fresh air would clear my head. So I was determined. The post office trip earlier in the day would be a nice ‘taster’ and would prepare me for the longer trip later.

On the way back from the post office, those 15 minutes felt like 15 hours. When I got into my house I was good for nothing. No, I lie, I was the perfect cushion for the small white dog that believes it is my job to provide him with somewhere comfy to sleep and rest.

You know the expression, like death warmed up? Well, I felt like death before being warmed up.

If anything interesting happened during my walk there and back I probably missed it as I gradually turned into a zombie, placing one foot in front of the other, over and over.

A zombie? Maybe not that energetic...

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Verification
Saturday 8 February, 2020

My brief: to identify a device suitable for an older person to access their bank and Facebook safely. Video messaging would be a bonus.

Their current method was via an old laptop running Windows 7 which attracted apologies from the user every time they started it:

Sorry it’s so slow, or It’s getting there, I promise! or I swear It’s getting slower, sorry!

Add the lack of security and my inability to tie it down, security-wise, without it requiring a Masters Degree in computing on the part of the user to just navigate a webpage, and you might see how it was not really a case of fiddling with it and, Hey presto!

Although I’m a PC person, and I am not a fan of Apple products or their ethos, in this particular case it seemed to me that rather than setting up a new Windows PC or laptop and becoming the IT support line, a locked-down Apple device was the way forward. And so an iPad was acquired.

All that remained was for me to set it up so I was free to run away! The iPad’s new owner powered it up and we followed the instructions. An Apple ID was created. Then hoops and hurdles never experienced in the world of PCs threw themselves in my way. I ended up having to input verification numbers received by SMS and by email. Every time I wished to access something to configure the iPad for the user it demanded further security credentials.

The user was becoming concerned. Will I have to keep on doing all that? they asked.

No, this particular iPad features fingerprint unlocking (known by Apple as TouchID). Once sorted all it needed was the user’s thumb. Even using the banking app to access their money just required their thumb to be attached to their hand.

Finally, as I prepared to leave, after a successful and fruitful afternoon of setting it up, I was asked what if they inadvertently tinkered with something and messed things up? I reminded them of all the ‘messing about’ I had been through to set the device up ready for them and I told them that if they ever managed to get somewhere that could result in a system-wide change, then they would be subject to the same rigmarole as I had endured, so it was basically impossible for them to ‘break’ anything by accident.

Nearly twenty-four hours have passed and there has been no telephone call. The verification madness seems to have paid off.

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Body Roll
Monday 10 February, 2020

We live in a time of CCTV everywhere. The ‘favourite’ of the car driver is the ‘speed camera’ (sorry – safety camera – as many are quick to point out).

I was out in my car yesterday and a village with a 40mph limit through it was on my route. However, the road through it the whole length was subject to roadworks and so traffic lights were in operation at both ends of the village.

As I approached, the traffic management lights turned red and the car ahead of me slowly came to a halt. I pulled up gently behind them. I looked into my rear view mirror and watched a huge black SUV bearing down on me seemingly not intending to stop. There really wasn’t much else for me to do but brace for impact.

There was no need. I had surmised correctly: they had no intention of stopping. Instead they veered around me and the car in front and steamed through the red light at about 60mph. If not enough, they accelerated up the hill and away through the other end of the village.

Such was their speed as they ignored the traffic lights and the two cars obediently sat waiting, they had been forced to squeeze their vehicle in between traffic cones and barriers resulting in a tremendous degree of body roll. When they first shot past me I didn’t think they were going to make it much further without either rolling or crashing through the barrier and across the grass opposite the road works.

But they made it and scared the living daylights out of the old dear driving the car about to head down the road head-on towards them.

I’ll remember that incident the next time someone tells me a speed camera ‘caught them’ because they strayed 2mph over the limit while otherwise driving sensibly. Unfortunately the moron in the large SUV probably has all sorts of gadgets on their dashboard to warn them of traffic cameras and they won’t be that person caught.

A pity.

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Look Out!
Thursday 13 February, 2020

It is rare, as I approach my local post office, not to witness someone in a car reversing away from the shop, out onto what is a busy road. I once asked someone why they parked ‘nose in’ and they told me it was too difficult to reverse into the parking area.

But apparently not too difficult to reverse out into moving traffic.

It is so common, it tends not to bother me. I just make sure not to be too close to anyone edging out into the road in case they are struck and end up being bounced into me on the pavement.

However, I did draw the line with the driver who thinks it okay to reverse out onto the main road when I’m walking towards the shop front door and they clonk me because they didn’t bother looking properly.

I walked around to the driver’s side and spoke to the chap who did that to me during the week. My only words and actions were to remove my glasses, point to them, and utter the words: Try Specsavers before getting behind the wheel in future.

So much more satisfying than yelling and shouting.

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Twitch
Monday 17 February, 2020

Last week I was reading over something that I had written and a twitch manifested itself under my left eye. It was close enough to the lower lid that it caused my eyeball to judder. The result was that while it took place, it was impossible to read anything without keeping a finger pressed against the skin just below my eye.

I went to a school play during the week and partway through it the twitch returned. Again, to stop the world from appearing to shudder and jump about, I pressed a finger firmly against my cheek near my eye. A comment was made that the play wasn’t that moving, but I refrained from explaining the reason for my action.

The twitch seems malevolent. Whenever I settle down to read a book or watch a film, it returns and I end up with a finger tucked under my eye so as to stop whatever I am looking at from seemingly trying to shake apart.

Over the week, it hasn’t been constant, but yesterday I noted with relief that it was abating. The instances of disturbed vision were reducing and I gave a mental sigh of relief.

Until this morning.

While it is true that it has become a rare occurrence, my right eye has now been afflicted by the exact same nerve twitch in the lower lid. The only difference apparent to those seeing me taking action against the annoyance is a switch from left to right.

For instance, I have to type this Blog entry with one hand because the other is engaged in applying pressure to my cheek so as to allow me to see what I am writing.

I no longer need to wonder about the exact definition of the word infuriating.

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Just Me
Thursday 20 February, 2020

It was gone eight in the evening. I popped into a Big Name supermarket to buy some doughnuts. A search of the shelves revealed a poor selection – given the time it was no surprise – but I found what I wanted and headed to the tills.

None were manned. Instead, the only tills open were the public automated things. There was a single young chap overseeing eight self-service tills. I asked him if any other tills were due to be opened and he told me that the shop closed them all at eight o’clock every evening and required customers to self-checkout.

I told him that I will never buy or process purchases through such devices and placed my chosen doughnuts on an empty checkout position and walked out. It looks like one of the other local major supermarkets will be getting all my custom from now on.

Petty? Possibly, but in my head I justify it by considering the fact that the retail outlets that install such electronic checkouts are doing so in order to reduce their staff levels and increase their profits rather than doing favours to customers or contributing to Society by providing employment.

ONE employee overseeing/manning EIGHT checkouts? Does anyone else find their use in shops morally dubious?

No? Just me then...

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Campanology
Sunday 23 February, 2020

Campanology, the art of bell ringing.

It was performed on me last night, but without bells.

I’m at an age when sitting down to listen to live music is preferred, and it is nearly always too loud. However, last night there was nowhere to sit, and the band was bloody loud.

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Invisible Lines
Tuesday 25 February, 2020

On my walk to my local post office, it never ceases to amaze me how some of the road junctions attract yellow lines through them. Nobody would be so foolish as to park on a road junction, surely?

Yes, I know many joke about how there are some who really shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel of a vehicle, but actually choosing to park at the point where road meet is just silliness on the part of those of us who are detractors, rather than serious criticism.

You’d think.

Imagine my surprise when I saw a line of cars parked along a road leading to a mini-roundabout. Such a sight isn’t unusual at that spot, but no one parks nearer to the painted white blob than the point at which the yellow lines start.

Except today.

Yes, some bright spark decided that vehicles wanting to negotiate the roundabout would be able to squeeze past their car without any trouble. Pedestrians trying to cross, or buses attempting to access the road, would have no problem as they could take to the air and fly across their constriction known as inconsiderate parking.

The logic of yellow lines once used to be that it gave police officers the ability to report those who ignored the rules (not the guidelines) within the Highway Code without being engaged in a discussion over whether any particular act of parking needed a tape measure to check adherence, or otherwise, to said rules.

These days, yellow lines are redundant in many areas as, in these enlightened times of police cutbacks, drivers can pretty well park where they like – lines or no lines – and there isn’t going to be anyone to report them.

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OCD Failure
Friday 28 February, 2020

Although it wasn’t snowing today, it was bitterly cold. When I was confronted by an unexpected queue for the counter at my local post office, I was glad to have an opportunity to warm up before walking back home.

As the clerk dealt with parcels and letters, I stood and considered aspects of Life, the Universe and Everything (not the book, but now it comes to mind, I think I will read it once again).

I was happy in my thoughts.

Then there was a sound as if something had hit the floor. I looked behind me and a tube of glue in packaging was on the ground, having been knocked off a display unit by the woman queuing behind me. My assumption was that she was going to pick it up, but she made no move to do so. Consequently I very nearly picked it up for her – in the same way I might pick up something anyone had dropped and hand it to them, but I didn’t as I was aware that it could have been viewed in so many different ways. So I left it.

I was facing the front and knowing the item was on the floor drove me crazy. There had been no indication that the extravagantly-coated woman had picked it up. The very bulk of her coat had been the cause of knocking the shop goods to the floor in the first place, and it made a noise if she even raised her hand to scratch her noise. Therefore I figured that a cacophony would result if she deigned to bend down and pick up what she had originally disturbed, and she was hardly making a sound.

There was a clatter and I couldn’t help but look behind me. The tube of glue had now been joined by another now stationary stationery item. It had been clipped by her voluminous coat when she had adjusted her grip on her small parcel.

I turned back to the counter for it was now my turn. As my letters and small parcels were being processed I glanced back to see the two victims of the woman’s coat still there on the floor. The clerk asked me something and I turned to face her and there was another clunk behind me. A quick look revealed three objects now stranded on the floor.

I couldn’t bear it any longer. Once I had paid for the postage, I rushed out of the shop and back to the embrace of the arctic cold weather as if it were an old friend.

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The Blob
Sunday 1 March, 2020

I asked my daughter for a title for a piece I had to write for a local magazine. She said it and I went with it.

Any complaints – it’s not my fault!

- o - O - o -

In 1958, US audiences were terrified by the film, The Blob.

Well, they were taken aback.

The film was notable for a few things. First it was the last time Steve McQueen was billed as Steven McQueen, and it was his first ever film in a leading role.

Another point was the film’s production budget. The producer claimed that the film cost $240,000 to make. Some years later the director said the actual cost was only $120,000. McQueen was offered $2,500 or 10% of the film’s profit. Those figures on the payment to the leading actor suggest the lower figure to be more accurate.

Poor McQueen took the $2,500 fee as he figured the film wasn’t going to be a big earner (he was more interested in paying his rent at the time), but it went on to make around $4million which in the 1960s would have been a tidy sum. Worse, to date the film has made around $40million, but McQueen died in late 1980, almost 40 years ago.

Eight years after McQueen’s passing, a remake of The Blob hit cinema screens. This time it cost in the region of $19m but only grossed a little over $8m. Had he been part of the 1988 version with a 10% interest in it, then he would have lost more than a million Dollars!

But that’s what life is all about; making decisions with which one has to live, no matter what. If we all took the view of committing to nothing until we get to see how things turn out, then we’d either be dead, poor, or rich but too old to enjoy our wealth. The world would stagnate, with societies across the planet falling into moribund states in which no one would need a timepiece.

But that is just my personal view. Maybe a little procrastination might help, after all. Instead of quick choices leading to a faster pace of life; a more sedate tempo might result in better decisions and outcomes for individuals and others. In such a world, the peoples of the planet would all grow together and both experience and generate a single society in which no wealth or possessions are sought nor wanted, and we all have common goals.

Hang on, that’s the premise behind Star Trek! I’ve veered off on a science-fiction movie track; to boldly go where no writer has gone before (although I’m willing to bet, at least not without correcting the occasional split infinitive).

Readers of Pulse could be witnessing the genesis of the next sci-fi blockbuster movie as a plot is born within these pages! The Blob meets Star Trek, with just a little something thrown in from Star Wars, for good measure.

I see it now – the principle character could be a seven-foot, hairy blob that grunts as it beams about a small American town. Throw in a princess, some small cute furry critters, some pointy ears (perhaps on a puppy) and we may be looking at a winner!

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Anything but Easy
Friday 6 March, 2020

It started simply but it escalated. Or rather I tried but the company won’t allow it.

I shall explain.

My domain registrar auto-renewed a domain that I had intended to let lapse. With no further need for it I saw no point in paying to keep it. To that end I set it accordingly when I accessed the online configuration portal. Thankfully I made that point in emails prior to the expiry date.

After an ‘upgrade’ rolled out across all customer accounts, the level of service and technical competence went down quite markedly. Every once and awhile I would find email aliases had vanished or permissions to my webspace had been altered without any input from me. Many times things had to be ‘reset’ (their words).

It seems that one of these ‘resets’ was responsible for all my domains reverting to ‘Auto-renew’ despite my customising theme. Consequently they renewed the domain I no longer wanted without my instruction and I only discovered this when they later wrote asking me to confirm my contact/ownership details.

After multiple periods of no response from them, requiring me to chase the matter, I requested a name and address in order to send a WRITTEN formal complaint. Over a period of weeks I made that request, very clearly, five times. Each time resulted in an apology, no fix (clarification that I am not liable for renewal fees), and no name/address. In fact the penultimate reply asked me to phone their support line and the last one asked me to supply a number for them to call me!

Obviously no one there understands the concept of WRITING.

Given the catalogue of mistakes, configuration errors, failure to respond appropriately, you might see why verbal communication isn’t sought as I don’t want to be arguing over stuff ‘intoned’ by either side.

Forgive the quick tangent...

Many years ago I bought a new build house. For months after moving in I had to chase and harry the site manager to have a simple gutter problem rectified. Whenever it rained, water would cascade down the back of the house on to a paved surface below my bedroom window. It woke me regularly and I would be unable to sleep because of the noise.

Then, through being sneaky, I managed to get hold of the home number of the site manager who had promised me for weeks that he’d have someone fix it (I’ll have someone sort it this afternoon, Mr XXXX). In the early hours of a Sunday morning a heavy rainstorm woke me. I rang the site manager on his home number. Once he had recovered from being woken by a phone call in the wee hours, I introduced myself and told him I would ring him every time I was woken by the leaky gutter.

It was raining when I returned home from work on Monday and the gutter had been fixed.

Within a few weeks the building firm responsible for the development on which my house resided had gone bust. It transpired that the reason the site manager hadn’t made good on his promises was because he was unable to engage workers as the firm was close to going under and those in the business knew that, so it wasn’t that simple to secure someone to go up a ladder and fix the gutter.

And back to my current beef.

I intended to cc my next email to as many directors of the company as I could find, and so I jumped on the Internet and searched. What I found shocked me, but I’m grateful to have uncovered what I did.

The rating of the company in question has plummeted since before their ‘upgrade’ and many customers have left them. In fact, my issue over the auto-renewal seems to have cost a great many others who had elected to store their bank card details online with them. Oops.

More worryingly, Easily UK seems to have lost a huge amount of their customer base and the figures suggest they are headed the same way as that building firm.

Rather than making that complaint, I think I will just take my domains, hosted site, and email elsewhere before I find myself mired in a nightmare involving the Receivers.

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Laser!
Monday 9 March, 2020

It was another normal day at my local post office. Various small packages to send – all requiring signatures and thereby needing barcode labels attaching that identify it along its journey. However, what I send has no identity within the postal system until that barcode is scanned and the appropriate details are entered at source.

Today, for the first time in the years I have been attending this branch, the handheld laser generating barcode scanning device was placed down after use, laser-emitting face down!

Given that it has one of those yellow notices on the base warning that it a Class 1 laser device, you might expect it to be one of those things that ought to be used as designed (it features a ‘foot’ that enabled it to be place on the counter, laser-emitting side down).

However, Class 1 is the weaker of the two classes available in a public-facing environment and even for the more powerful Class 2, ‘Momentary exposure to a Class 2 laser is not known to be harmful’ – so, nothing to see here, folks!

FOOTNOTE
Yes, that was intended to be a ‘funny’...

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Anything but Easy 2
Wednesday 11 March, 2020

You have to laugh. After the breakdown in relations between Easily UK and myself, I secured a new registrar and moved all my domains, hosting and email provision out.

All seems to be working fine and I’m happy.

Imagine my reaction to an email from the Easily UK ‘Management Team’ apologising and supplying me an address to which I can write (although they still omitted a name, but hey!) after I have done the deed.

Talk about bolting the stable door after the horse has run off!

I fear that with customer retention services like that, it won’t be long before I find myself reading about the demise of my previous registrar.

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Crestavirus!
Friday 13 March, 2020

Scientists have announced a new, deadly threat to the world: crestavirus!

Apparently it has lain dormant since around 2007 and has been reintroduced to the population upon the digging up of the remains of a polar bear wearing shades.

Pathogens escaped from the laboratory when inadequate precautions were being taken during the procedure to determine the polar bear’s cause of death.

We are told there is no cure. Instead, everyone must panic and buy toothpaste by the carton load. Canned asparagus, if kept in batches  of 48, will offer extra protection as the tins can be thrown at marauding crestavirus survivors looking for toothpaste.

Everyone has been asked to take care. The symptoms are easy to spot and citizens are asked to call 999 to report observed instances, or neighbours talking too loudly after 7:30 p.m. If you witness, or experience, frothing at the mouth, and begin to talk like a hippy, then it is probably too late!

Pass this on. Be alert. Britain needs lerts.

Remember that symptom: It’s frothy, man.

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A Twenty for 2020
Sunday 15 March, 2020

Yesterday, 14 days into the new vehicle registration period, I saw my first ‘20’ on the road.

Well, I say, on the road, it was actually on the back of a recovery lorry. The front was a mess as if someone had tried to drive it through a pile of bricks.

The rest of the car looked nice and shiny though, so that’s good.

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Panic!
Thursday 19 March, 2020

Something for my local paper next week...

- o - O - o -

Leighton Buzzard is not alone! Many have joined in with the mindless panic that has set in and been witnessed about the rest of the world.

Level-headed statements are coming out of supermarkets about there being no need to panic-buy, but there are those who feel they know better. That leaves the rest of us, with a much more sensible outlook on life, to cope with not being able to obtain fairly basic goods. Unfortunately, panic begets panic-like reactions. If a person can’t obtain ‘Item A’ but spots it afar, they buy one, and a second, because they know that back home, those with more money and fear than commonsense will have bought up all the stock available. Hang on, while at it, they will probably buy a third as who knows how long the foolishness will go on back home.

And so we have panic-buyers causing the more sensible in the population to add to the messed up retail market that has come into existence.

It’s all quite annoying, but as we don’t live in a Stalin-like state, the Free Market will continue to allow those with panic in their hearts to dictate availability of some quite otherwise mundane goods.

I note with great interest that many of the big supermarkets are all saying the same thing: We have good supply lines and receive daily deliveries, so there is no fear that items will become unobtainable.

However, wouldn’t the mad rush to part with money through over purchasing stuff from the big players cause them to enjoy a fiscal glut and bigger profits? So why would they seek to try and dissuade customers from throwing money at them? Answer: cash flow.

Imagine the effect of the drop in sales when those who bought up masses of stock just live off their hoards. Such people will have no need to add to the incomes of the supermarkets as they have their own version in their garages or sheds. Consequently, takings for the Big Boys will dip, and anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with an accountant will know that profit isn’t the be-all and end-all of business, but cash flow most certainly is a big thing.

Panic-buying denies the rest of us a chance to try and lead normal lives. At the same time it leads to tiresome future news stories of retailers struggling to manage the reduction in turnover. When their shares collapse, the result will be those same panic-buyers complaining that the Stock Market has a lot to answer for...

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Mistaken ID
Saturday 21 March, 2020

I like my walks to the post office. The air is generally good, and I head there with parcels and return home devoid of things to carry, physically and mentally.

During my walk, I have time to think and explore ideas.

The parcels carry a small mark telling me which level of postage is to be used for each item. Therefore I only need to keep part of my mind on events once I am there – just enough to maintain a civility and politeness that, sadly, is missing from so many these days.

I am in danger of digressing...

I inserted my card into the reader and keyed in my PIN. Instead of it telling me, PIN OK it said, PIN incorrect. Thinking I had mistyped the thing, I tried again, slowly. This time I was very deliberate, knowing it was the correct PIN.

However, it again told me the PIN was wrong. So I took the card out and wiped the chip, thinking it would somehow change the reader’s opinion when I made my third attempt. Once re-inserted, I again very carefully entered the PIN I had used successfully the day before. Once again, the reader said, PIN incorrect but this time a message on the screen said I was to hand the card to the retailer.

Well, that wasn’t going to happen, so it went into my wallet and I steeled myself for a phone call back home to the issuer during which I was going to have to try very hard not to ‘vent.’

Of course, I still had to pay for the packages that had been processed, so I tried to dig out a different card, only to discover that somehow I had my wife’s card as well as my own! Our cards are identical except for the first name. Naturally, the PINs are different, and so having inserted her card, the reader quite correctly told me the PIN entered for that card was wrong.

A bit of egg on face, but eventually I paid with the correct card. However, the walk home wasn’t quite as relaxed as normal as I still had to face my wife and tell her that I had effectively managed to cancel her card...

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Pariahs
Monday 23 March, 2020

The sign on the estate agent board read:

Hoarder lives here.
Garage and garden shed well stocked!

The house was what a storyteller would say was nondescript. It was just an ordinary house with three bedrooms, three windows facing the street, a front door hiding in its recessed porch way, and it sat behind a well-kept front garden on a rather generic housing development full of similar-looking buildings.

The occupant took exception to the notice, but not as much as the same having been painted on their garden gate, nor the similar sign that had been pasted to their car parked on their drive:

This car is owned by a provisions hoarding household.
All booty is kept in the garage and garden shed.

And it included the address should anyone seeing the car away from home be inclined to investigate.

The police had been contacted. The householder didn't invite the local paper to come and have a look, but the interest locally meant that there were plenty who did on their behalf. It was then that it became apparent that it wasn't a one-off and that someone was targeting people who seemed hell bent on denying the basics for life from the rest of society.

When the local paper went to press, they carried a story that described how thirteen individual dwellings had been labelled thusly. As always happens, the journalist sought to augment their salary by passing the story to a national newspaper.

And so the tale came to the attention of the country as it was picked up by all the other media outlets.

Then a strange thing happened. Instead of tapping into Public fear by promoting the dangers of the virus without context, the media then realised that a much more powerful way of getting into the minds of their readership was to hammer those who look set to become social pariahs.

Instead of supporting those who warbled on about being victims of vigilantism, they vilified them. The Public came on board in a way that no newspaper had experienced in recent times. They found they had a topic that couldn't fail to endear them to their followers.

And so we ended up just having to deal with the pain of the deaths through Coronavirus rather than the old starving alone in their homes, or children becoming malnourished and being left with health issues that would take years to get over.

For once the newspapers got it right.

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Duped
Wednesday 25 March, 2020

An email came in from an online directory. I received it at an address I use for my photography hobby. The sender told me that I had been added to a directory, along with my name and address, so that prospective clients could find me and use my services.

Anyone with an even vaguely business presence online will have received such rubbish at some time, but as I first read it on my phone, I acted before thinking.

One of the things NOT to do when receiving unsolicited emails is to click on a link. It's a pretty simple rule. Hard to ignore when one’s background is IT and IT security, but I had just woken up. Besides, I was using an Android phone and I'd see any payload with the way I have it locked down. And so I clicked the link to their directory to see just how much of my personal and private data they had posted up there.

Once at their site I tried looking for the ‘company’ name I own, but the site was not working. I put it down to them not authoring it in a manner that allowed it to be viewed on a smartphone. I gave up and decided to check on a computer so as to be able to properly determine what was going on.

It was then that I realised how big a mistake I had made as I examined the link in detail. I had validated the address used by the spammer! Damn!

This is how it works:
You send out spam emails to a huge group of addresses, the quality or which is unknown. Are they real, dead, or unused? A link is contained in EACH email and contains a seemingly random sequence individual to that ONE email address.

By following the link it reports back that a particular email address returned a response and said email address goes up in value and now has a worth as part of a spammer’s list. This means it can be sold on as part of a list of KNOWN GOOD email addresses.

But I realised what had happened, too late.

D’oh!

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Battery Blues
Friday 27 March, 2020

My wife's powered wheelchair hadn't been well of late. The battery life had plummeted and the range had become measurable in yards rather than miles. Something had to be done. New batteries were purchased and when they arrived I set about taking the old ones out and installing the fresh life that promised miles and miles of fun.

The chair utilises two 12 volt batteries. Each is heavy. They need to be replaced as a pair. Fortunately, once the seat was hinged back and the top cover over the battery compartment was removed, I could see that each battery had a synthetic fabric strap affair providing handles so as to heave them out of the base. That was good news because the replacements had taught me that they were extremely heavy.

I decided to change them one at a time so as to not confuse myself regarding which connector plugged where. That meant disconnecting the old battery from the main harness before hoisting it out. Next was the removal of the battery terminal connectors. Then the strap assembly had to be transferred to the new battery before the terminal connectors were attached and the whole thing then lowered back into the base of the chair.

The first battery was a right pain, but finally it was replaced. Then out came the second and I set about removing the bits and pieces as it sat on my garage floor. By the time I had the strap and connectors stripped from it, my back was crying, “Foul!”

I stood and did nothing for a while in order to allow my back to rest. Sitting down wasn't an option. Not only was the garage floor cold, I seriously doubted that I would be able to get up as needed to finish the job. Then I had a brainwave that made me feel two things: first, “Clever me!” as I realised that my workbench would be idea to strip the ancillaries and switch them over to the new item, and second, “Stupid me!” as it dawned on me that I needn’t have suffered the pain of the first battery had I done what should have been obvious at the start – use the workbench!

Still, at least once the second battery had been installed, everything worked and nothing went, “Bang!”

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Sound of the New World
Sunday 29 March, 2020

It's a New World. Well, certainly a different one.

When I wake in the morning, I lie in bed with my eyes and ears open and can't help but listen to the world outside as it gathers pace in its seemingly manic rush towards full bustle-mode.

At least, that's how it was.

These days my eyes still note the light entering the bedroom and my mind tries to deduce the current weather from its intensity and colour. However, my ears are being starved.

There is no general hubbub of activity as neighbours prepare their vehicles and head out and up the road to work. No distant hum from the bypass about a mile away. And most noticeably, no airliners passing overhead – usually as many as half-a-dozen before I finally throw off the duvet and welcome the day.

You see, I live a few miles from an international airport, and directly under the flight path. Admittedly, by the time they pass above my house, they have gained quite a bit of height, so they are easy to tune out and ignore. However, it is their absence that now disturbs me.

Even on a Sunday there are huge passenger jets passing overhead. Normally. But not these days.

Wait! There's one! I hear it coming from afar, such is the quietness outside.

No, my mistake. It was the central heating firing up…

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Mobiles and Privacy
Tuesday 31 March, 2020

On my way to the post office in the glorious sunshine, I passed a house with a middle-aged woman sitting and basking in the radiated warmth. She was puffing away on a ciggie, but doing so out the front of her house as opposed to her rear garden in the cold shade. And why not?

On my walk home from having sent off my parcels, I passed the same house. The same woman was sitting on her doorstep, but this time she was not holding a slow burning stick in her hand. No, now it was a mobile phone.

Normally, when within earshot of someone speaking nearby on a mobile, only one half of the conversation is heard. Not this time. Despite having free hands, she had it switched to ‘speakerphone’ mode, and it was loud. MUCH louder than my own can manage.

So loud was it that I had become aware of the conversation well before she had once again come into my sight. And her friend’s voice remained with me long after I had left the Doorstep Lady behind me.

Not a huge issue. The walk had been, perhaps, eerily too quiet. However, what I did consider an issue was that the remote voice being blasted from her mobile was in possession of some quite fruity turns of phrase. I've a pal I regularly speak to via mobile and he has a similar vocabulary, but as a good chap he is very capable of moderating his language in company. I am always quick to let him know if I need to put him on speakerphone so as to let him adjust accordingly.

But I guess some don't get the opportunity...

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The Lonely Helicopter
Wednesday 1 April, 2020

My regular walk to my local post office has become a rather quiet affair of late. No airliners from the nearby international airport passing overhead at 5-10 minute intervals; fewer cars using the main road on which my destination is located, and only those with essential business out walking.

All very quiet.

Then I heard a sound that had escaped the attention of my list: a helicopter was flying overhead.

I'd forgotten about the helicopters. How I could forget the flying machines that buzz the town by flying over built-up areas as low as the law permits? Apparently the minimum legal height is low enough for the rotor wash to cause the windows and doors in my house to rattle.

Ah, how I have missed that.

On my way back home the same helicopter flew overhead again. A double dose!

As far as fixes go, that was a doozy!

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HGV Nightmare
Thursday 2 April, 2020

I had just reached the end of my road on my daily trip to the post office and my ears were assaulted by the sound of a large diesel engine. As I rounded the corner I was faced by a 44 tonne articulated HGV.

The roads through the development on which I live are deliberately twee and twisty, expressly so as to inhibit free flow of large vehicles. So the sight of a huge lorry trapped by a combination of tight bend and parked cars was unexpected.

Despite the isolation measures that have led to quiet streets of late, householders had flooded out to gawp at the hapless vehicle.

The driver couldn't reverse. It couldn't move forward. He was stranded and probably cursing his SatNav, although I couldn't be sure as he was Hungarian.

The moving of a couple of cars meant the lorry could advance, but it was only deeper into the maze of little residential roads that made up the area. It was pointless trying to direct the driver out of the estate as no one spoke Hungarian and his English was rather rudimentary. So one of the householders got out their bicycle and instructed the driver to follow him out of the estate.

Such was the teensy-wincey nature of the roundabouts and corners; the lorry was forced to go around them the wrong way so as to make the turns. However, eventually he was led out and back to the main road.

The odd thing is that the development has just the single way in and out. There is no way anyone can reach anywhere else by going through.

My theory is that he didn't know left from right, and if I'm correct, he was probably supposed to be in Turkey…

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The Day of the
Triffids-cum-Coronavirus
Friday 3 April, 2020

I went shopping yesterday. Usually it is delivered, but panic-buyers, who believe everything the papers say, have hogged all the available slots.

Everything on my list was available. I even stood in the relevant aisle and deliberated over which brand of toilet roll to purchase.

However, such is the stupidity and selfishness exhibited by many, the half-dozen two litre bottles of fizzy drink couldn't be purchased. As the limit was three, then three it had to be. The fact that there were pallets and pallets of the stuff meant nothing.

Rules is rules…

So I cycled out to the store this morning to pick up an additional three bottles. Nothing else wanted – just those three bottles that I had been denied yesterday, but what a trip!

My first observation was on how few vehicles there were on the roads. Sure, I had noticed this on my walks to the local post office, but I hadn't fully appreciated just how quiet the roads really were.

Then I realised that with fewer vehicles, came fewer brain cells. Those cars on the road didn't give way at junctions, nor refrain from pulling out on me. I put it down to drivers not being bothered to give way to cyclists because no one was going to be around to report them…

That also seemed to be the reason for many cars heading down the main road at speeds far in excess of the 30mph limit. I stopped to watch the smiley/frowny face speed indicator a while. Every car that passed did so at a speed that triggered it; many at speeds that warranted disqualification.

Cycling through the town centre was an eye-opener. Those establishments still operating had queues outside. Stores and banks were operating a policy of limited customers inside at any one time. It reminded me of the need to queue for bread when I lived in Poland.

The other thing of note was the number of empty parking bays. They were not entirely deserted, but one particular type was conspicuously 100% free: the disabled bays. That was eerie.

I carried on through town and reached the supermarket. Given that all I wanted was those bottles of pop, I didn't figure on experiencing any problems. However, as I approached the road leading to the car park area, I came to realise that the ignorance displayed by those few drivers on the road towards me on a bicycle was actually just poor and arrogant driving aimed at everyone.

One car nearly took the nose off another at a roundabout because they failed to give way. Another, that had assumed a right of way that road craft, line markings, and the Highway Code all refuted, narrowly missed a bus. And areas of black and white stripes were ignored at all times – no matter who was walking across (some seemed keener to aim at buggies than others).

Oddly, I felt a little better for that, now realising that it wasn't just because I was on a bicycle – no, they were just being moronic towards everyone in equal measure.

Then I closed in on my target and was horrified. As I looked for where to chain up my bicycle I saw a queue that stretched from the entrance and down the side of the store. Waiting twenty or more minutes in a line just to buy stuff I already knew was freely available wasn't something I was prepared to do – especially given the colour of the clouds in the sky. So headed back home, deciding to take in a smaller supermarket by way of a minor detour as I did so.

Again I witnessed a truly dreadful standard of driving during my journey, but his time I was consoled knowing it was idiots who were applying their idiocy to all. However, this time, because I had approached from an unusual direction, I had to travel through an entire car park. I was aghast at how vehicles were parked. Thinking about it, the word ‘parked’ seems inappropriate and perhaps ‘dumped’ is better.

About 10% of the cars would have attracted those yellow Police aware stickers if they had been anywhere else. Stolen and dumped, almost certainly, were it not for the fact that scaremongering by newspapers and news outlets; having successfully driven the majority into panic, was to blame.

Of the rest, only half seemed to have been parked by drivers who knew what the round thing inside the car did.

No matter, all I needed was somewhere secure to lock my bike, then head inside for those three bottles of soft drink. Then I saw the queue. It was far longer than that at the bigger supermarket from where I had just come.

For a moment the whole experience reminded me of the 1963 film, Day of the Triffids, barring crashed and overturned cars.

I gave up and cycled home, careful to avoid the roads and sticking to the footpaths. After all, why respect the law or common sense when it has plainly been ignored by the rest?

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Missing Sirens
Sunday 5 April, 2020

One of the signs of normality is emergency vehicle sirens. I know that seems a back-to-front statement, so let me explain…

I live in a nice market town. It received its market charter sometime around when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, or thereabouts. Whenever, it was a very long time before the invention of the horseless carriage.

Consequently the roads in, out and through the town are not capable of supporting the numbers that now belch toxins into the air. Instead, we have a nice slow carnival-like processional affair that some claim is 'traffic' and others liken to a mobile car park.

However one thinks of it, the impenetrability requires the copious use of very loud sirens affixed to vehicles wishing to reach emergencies. With the reduction of others driving through town, the air is cleaner, the roads are safer, and no one has a need to blast other road users with audible warnings. These days no one needs to move out of the way by mounting kerbs or willing themselves to be smaller.

Hence it is the lack of sirens that highlights the abnormality of today.

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Webstats
Friday 10 April, 2020

Statistics, everyone’s friend. They say so much, and never lie. You only have to look at the stats on how many people believe them to realise that they never mislead or are untrustworthy.

I was studying my webstats the other week. It seemed a good idea to look and try to understand how this blog, and the other web space sitting alongside it, was being accessed.

Well, maybe it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea; however, figures suggest that tea is more popular among people in society than it is to caterpillars or elephants.

Rather than my having unrestricted access to the server logs, the data was presented to me in pretty colours and graphs. It was all easy on my eye and the figures made sense. Or at least they seemed to, until I tried to interpret what they meant.

According to what they stated, I have somewhere in the region of 14,500 unique visitors to this website per year. Given that my idea of coding never progressed further than writing HTML in Notepad when I was required to maintain a website while attending university, it might now be more obvious why it isn’t very pretty.

So if I can attract that many people to my website as it is, then surely, with a bit of tweaking and making it prettier, along with targeting of search engines, that number could only increase? If that were the case, then I could monetise it and realise a very decent income from advertising. I’d become rich! Well, if not rich, then marginally better off.

My heart was racing. Could I really be looking at a means to make my living? The excitement was there, but my head lagged behind as it sought to determine how those figures had been generated.

My first step was to work out how they were translated from bare log files. The dream died the second that I discovered that the total of 14,500 was calculated from simply totalling up the number of unique visitors per day. Simple maths meant multiplying it by 365 (366 if for the current leap year). Unfortunately, each day’s total is disregarded upon the commencement of logging the following day’s access. Any unique visitor on one day would be regarded as such again if they visited the website the next day, or any day afterwards.

What?

Hang on, that would mean that if John Smith read my blog once every day over a year he would register in the presented webstats as 365 unique visitors?

Yep, that’s it!

Major deflation followed as I worked out that the 14,500 possibly meant an average of just under 40 unique visitors per day (14,500 divided by 365).

It was a salutary lesson in not taking statistics at ‘face value’ and acting upon them. A bit like not reading newspapers without questioning what the figures they quote for things really mean.

You are obviously not reading the words of a person who is rich off the back of those who read these words.

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The Device
Monday 13 April, 2020

Imagine having written 110k words. Now, read through them and tidy things up. It drops to 90k.

All is good. However, you wish to tweak it through altering pronoun use and switching to greater use of direct speech. The target is to have it ready for a third party to read by the time the end is reached.

So the final edit is chapter by chapter – each is read and reread until moving onto the next. It becomes refinement and removal of the odd typo. Progress suggests the total will be close to 100k by the time it is finished. Until…

Partway through, reference to an object is spotted. However, it assumes it to be somewhere it can't be, according to the opening third of the book. It is merely a single line, but the whole chapter makes no sense if that one line is removed.

“What we have here is a failure to [properly] communicate,” a line lifted and adapted from the 1967 film, Cool Hand Luke.

Instead of being able to whizz through the manuscript, ironing out incidents of ‘fat fingers,’ I spent much of the holidays rewriting a whole chapter; and all so the contents of a coat pocket could be on a coffee table, where it was supposed to be.

Easter means different things to different people...

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Forbidden
Wednesday 15 April, 2020

I recently watched a programme about the making of a particular 1990 blockbuster film. At the time a disused Illinois school had been taken over and used for sound sets, locations and production offices.

A pair of the principle movers behind the film’s production showed the documentary team about the now reopened school and its grounds, highlighting what areas had been used for the various parts of the film. As the pair entered through a main door a ‘forbidden’ sign featuring a red circle and a diagonal line was plainly visible. The item in its centre was a hand gun.

A school having to erect a notice on the main door to forbid the taking in of hand guns?

Imagine the reporting if a school in the UK mounted such a sign on a door into their reception!

Things change, and it looks like the Americans have just accepted that there is a reason to post such prohibitions. Likewise, I wonder how many of the things currently part of our society here in the UK will become just another one of those things once Covid-19 becomes a footnote in the history books of tomorrow.

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The Knock
Saturday 18 April, 2020

There was a knock at the door. The dogs barked and I remembered why I had never wasted any effort in fitting a doorbell.

Once the crazed hounds had been secured I went into the hallway. There was no sign of anyone through the glazed top panel of the front door but I opened it anyway. There was a huge box on the doormat.

Across the road the driver of the delivery van made a thumbs up gesture and I acknowledged him.

It wasn't a one-off. This is how parcels have been received for the last few weeks and it has become the norm.

Once I took it in, the dogs insisted upon making a thorough inspection of the box.

It's good to see some things never change.

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Oh, the Irony!
Monday 20 April, 2020

Coronavirus, Covid-19, originated in China. That's nothing contentious; it's just an undisputed fact.

How it came about is something which has been debated. Some say it was engineered in a lab and released upon China's enemies. Others claim it crossed from bats to humans through unprotected sex.

Or something like that, a-hem!

However, that it first reared its viral head in China is true.

As part of a vaccine-free strategy to stem its spread, nations around the world have introduced measures.

One such is the shutdown of society. This means a number of things, but it benefits takeaway outlets as sit-in establishments have all been forcibly shut.

Takeaways restaurants have seen takings go through their roofs (the fallout is slate tiles).

My household helped with the provision of such rain from the skies in that we have ordered a takeaway. Yes, we ordered a ‘Chinese’ over the weekend...

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Stuck at Home
Wednesday 22 April, 2020

The last few weeks, as I’ve made my customary walk to my local post office, the weather has been glorious. Usually, with sunshine at this time of year comes the occasional sound of lawnmowers making the first cut of the year.

There has been no ‘occasional’ about it this year. My nose has been subjected to the smell of fresh cut grass almost consistently this month. But it isn’t just the sound of lawnmowers that has filled the air.

I never knew that so many people owned pressure washers! I have seen so many on my daily walks of late that it appears I am missing out and should buy one (online, of course). The drives of my hometown have never been cleaner and more devoid of moss and weeds than at any other time since I have lived here.

There is also the sound of vacuum cleaners. My guess is that the interior of cars will be at their cleanest since the day they were first registered for the road.

On the flipside, there are no aircraft in the sky, so the sounds that attend being stuck at home and hunting about for things to do, are not in competition with airliners, helicopters, or joyriding light aeroplanes.

Now, what brand of pressure washer should I buy?

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Coronavirus! The Truth!
Saturday 25 April, 2020

There are many claims surrounding the origins of the Coronavirus that causes Covid-19. Of those that exist, many have subtle variances that add to the number overall.

For instance, the story that the Chinese were responsible for releasing it on the world has a number of variations: germ warfare, lab incompetence, food hygiene inadequacies, and Chinese terrorist actions, and even then they are further divisible according to how one wishes to emphasis whatever narrative or agenda is being pushed.

The one that makes me smile the most at the moment is the ‘link’ between 5G and Coronavirus. Some of the videos and articles were seen and read by me when they were about mobile phone signals, 2G, 3G and 4G rollouts. Naturally all have been re-edited to suit the current hoaxes, but they top my list of ‘funnies’ that make me giggle.

Well, maybe the ‘How to Dry an iPhone After Being Dropped in Water’ advice comes close. What's that one? Oh, that is the wonderful word on fishing it out quickly and giving it a minute in your microwave to get rid of the water…

Hang on, no, both have been replaced by the latest wise words on Coronavirus, and I feel I may take this one a little more seriously.

Coronavirus is being transmitted through aliens not adequately sterilising their probes in between abductions.

You read it here first, folks!

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Antisocial Distancing
Wednesday 6 May, 2020

Combining exercise with shopping for essentials has to be a good thing, right?

In my case, pop out for bread and cycle like fury and (hopefully) burn more calories than I end up eating.

Ah, sweet dreams!

Traffic has picked up along the road I use. Alongside it runs a footpath that is about eight feet wide. Imagine my thoughts yesterday when a chap walking with his back to the traffic shouts after me that I should have moved out into the road instead of passing so close to him!

He was walking adjacent to the road with a remaining seven feet of footpath to his side, and I wasn’t about to jink to my right and into the path of whatever was approaching from my rear.

I didn’t say anything as he was drunk, stupid, or delirious after living off a diet of toilet rolls for the last six weeks after filling overfilling his garage with ‘essential’ panic buying.

Society is very obviously doomed when people like that exist.

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Flying
Tuesday 12 May, 2020

When the coronavirus measures came in commercial flights over my house ceased.

For a while I wondered whether the nearby airport had closed, but it seemed not. However, nothing roared overhead.

Someone helpfully pointed me at a wonderful online tool that allowed me to track aeroplanes around the world. It told me their location, speed and height. I found it amazing.

When I read that a particular airline were starting up flights out of the local airport, I immediately set about tracking them so as to determine just how low they fly over my garden. Until now I only had my eyes and guesswork to say, and if I managed to obtain a figure I could then apply it to the really interesting things that fly overhead, like Spitfires, Hurricanes and so like.

It appears that the flight paths in and out of the airport were set to change at the time that the measures were put in place. The silence I experienced was more down to that than the number of airliners using the place. Now the numbers have increased there are still none to be seen over Zakspade Towers.

Brilliant online tool – just unfortunate timing.

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