Tuesday, 30 December 2014

2015 is coming...

So you read this, 2014 is either about to end, or has ended. (that pretty much covers everyone, except possibly for Doctor Who)

How's your year been?  Apparently this year I was going to lose weight and hit the gym, which didn't really happen (give or take maybe half a dozen pounds).  So, I've got a bit of a list for the next year:

  • Lose weight - I'm aiming to get down to 15 stone, through those wonderful things, diet and exercise.
  • Play more tabletop games - I want to try to organise to at least play board or card games once a month, I love playing tabletop games, it's an inexpensive way to have fun with friends and family, so I'm going to try to sort this out.
  • Increase views of my blog and videos - I did set myself a challenge of 600k blog views by the end of the month (looks like it'll be about 573k) and 14k video views (and I'm on 13,415) so they haven't quite got there.  I'm struggling, as I suspect many people do, with engaging readers.  By all means, if people have any suggestions as to blogs or videos that they'd like to see, or maybe they'd like to do a guest blog/vlog, let me know.

Longer term I also have the following ambitions:
  • Learn to swim - no, I can't swim.  Neither can I ride a bike, but I have a car so I don't see that being a big issue. However there is a possibility that I could drown, and a car would be particularly unhelpful in a drowning situation.
  • Study at Oxford or Cambridge (preferably Cambridge).  I'm not talking actually going there, as much as I'd love to, but perhaps a distance learning or online course, or even a short residential course (they do concentrated weekend courses on subjects).  I am a bit of a snob perhaps, a lot of people that I admire studied at those universities and whilst I can't see myself being able to get there to study a full degree or anything, some sort of study programme at one of the two would be great.
  • Visit the USA and Canada.  Over the last few months I've been doing a lot of reading about these countries, and I would love to visit them, perhaps on some sort of long holiday (2-3 weeks maybe).  There's so many places in both countries that I'd like to visit that I can't see us doing everywhere in one trip, but perhaps we could break it down over a number of years.

Do you have any plans for 2015 or new years resolutions?  Drop me a comment and let me know.

I should say that I will be doing my 2015 predictions video imminently (possibly tomorrow morning if I get chance, otherwise it'll be New Years Day), so if you do have a question about your 2015 that you want including on the video, do let me know asap, get it in the comments.

And before I finish, New Years Eve is coming!  I've done a video of advice, covering phones, taxis, and even signing Auld Langs Syne.  Be warned - if you listen carefully near the end you can hear a child counting monsters.

Happy new year!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Adventures in Wesnoth

Recently I've been hideously addicted to an open source adventure game, Battle for Wesnoth.

Here's my team exploring some caves.  Tip for you - elves are rubbish in caves.  Which is a shame because they own pretty much anywhere else.
Battle for Wesnoth is an open source, turn based strategy game, which plays as a RPG/adventure.  I've been working my way through the first campaign, Heir to the Throne, where I'm trying to take the throne of Wesnoth which is rightfully mine.  The campaign is made up of a huge amount of individual scenarios that you have to get through, but they aren't all just "fight the enemy and win", many are searching for a particular thing (an item, an exit etc) and just trying to survive until you find it.
The great thing about the game is that if you can keep your troops alive, you can take them from battle to battle, gaining experience and better abilities over time.  As I've played I've learned to put my best troops in the second wave, with the first wave just there to explore and to soften up the enemy - and to take attacks, while the experienced guys hide at the back, waiting for their moment to strike.  It's not particularly honourable but who cares!

There's a lot of map screens like this.  Inevitably they mean that there's some bad guys to pound.
The game comes with fifteen campaigns of varying sizes, but you can also download more campaigns, maps, and other addons for free.  There is also an ability to play the game multiplayer, but I've not tried that yet so can't comment.

I've found the Sceptre of Fire.  This means nothing to you but I've been looking for this thing for about a week.

In short it's a good game, with loads of content, and it is definitely well worth a look.  Find out more at http://www.wesnoth.org/

Friday, 26 December 2014


You know how you end up eating so much chocolate at Christmas that it makes you feel sick?

Well, this year has been no exception.

A bit of my video stuff was kindly included in TeaMakerJason's brilliant "A Game of Subs" video that's just gone up - do check it out:

And if you want to see my stuff (a bit of it is in Jason's video at 10 minutes, 20 seconds in) then you can watch my full entry here - the sound quality is a bit shocking though.  Wonder if I should have asked Santa for a new microphone.

While I remember, time is running out for you to get a question answered in my fortune telling video that I'm doing at the end of the year - if you have a burning question about your future that you'd like answering, then let me know (drop me a comment or something of the sort) as I'll be recording the video in the few days.  It's only a bit of light relief - and depends on me actually leaving the house to buy some fortune cookies - but should be fun.)

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas is around the corner

Christmas is just around the corner, as I write this there is less than four hours before Christmas Day begins here in the UK. We've bought, wrapped, and decorated, and pretty much failed to write any cards whatsoever (very sorry if you've sent us one - thank you for it - we've just had various unplanned things happen this year that have just really slowed us down).

I'm really very tired, and I have been for the last few days.  I guess that I'm ready for some downtime.  And for me that's what the Christmas break is all about, it's about spending time with the ones that you love, taking time out, relaxing and recovering for a few days.  How about you?

I'd also like to flag up that find.com have kindly published another of my blogs, this one is about accepting geekness.  Feel free to read if you're a geek - perhaps struggling with being a geek even.

Wherever you are in the world, and whatever your beliefs, I hope you have some time to yourself, to do what you want, and to be happy.  All the best.

Happy holidays!

Saturday, 20 December 2014

3 days to an asteroid impact - time to tweet!

The European Space Agency has been busy this year.  Not content with managing to land a fridge on a comet, they've now worked out that about three days before an asteroid hits the Earth, they would have worked out where it's going to hit.

Armed with this information however, what would you do?

Well, today we're here to provide you with a foolproof guide to help you.

Should a huge asteroid be predicted to hit the Earth in the next three days, DON'T PANIC.

Firstly, travel to your nearest supermarket and buy emergency phone chargers - you know the sort, the ones which are some sort of external battery pack for your phone.  These are absolutely critical because you will get no end of opportunities to tweet exciting news in the next few days, e.g.:

This guy doesn't even realise the difference between an asteroid and a comet.

Next, this is absolutely the time to start up your own YouTube channel.  Everyone in the world is going to want to hear just what is happening where you live.  You don't need to worry about the quality of your videos, everyone will be desperate to find out any information there is about the asteroid.  Make sure you make up information to include in your videos so ensure that people watch them.  Perhaps, from the precise angle that you're viewing the asteroid from, it looks like Angelina Jolie's left ankle?

Finally, and most importantly, you have to bear in mind your own protection.  This is a time to look after yourself.

We're talking skincare.

We have no idea what kind of radiation that bad boy is going to emit on its way down into the atmosphere, so it's definitely time for a good quality barrier cream, maybe even some of that ultra-thick Norwegian formula stuff.  Essentials include rubber gloves, a hat with a wide brim, and make sure that you only use pH balanced soap.

We hope that this has been useful for you, and remember... don't have nightmares.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Anti hacking jeans and more brilliant writing

Well, time is counting down to Christmas, in one weeks time it will be Christmas Day, we still have quite a few presents to wrap (and a couple of buy) but we're not too far away from being ready.

If you're yet to finish your shopping, how about some anti-hack clothing?

Betabrand have worked with computer security firm Norton to create RFID blocking jeans (and a blazer, if that wasn't enough) to protect your credit cards from being attacked.  With the establishment of contactless payments, cards are becoming increasingly easy to access remotely, and I wouldn't be surprised if features like this become commonplace in clothing.

Today I have been listening to the classic Llama Song.  Yes, it's annoying.

And awesome.

I've also been reading through my stories of the spaceship Explorer and its crew in their struggle to save the United Systems of Earth from the Belan Empire (see my previous post for more details and examples of exceptionally bad writing).  I've come across the following gem, written by myself (aged 16ish)...

"Follow me!" Hardy ordered, and the escapees began to run. Gold led the way with Hardy, as several sets of legs came around a corner.  - I hope that the legs were attached to bodies, otherwise it's a bit gruesome.

The other day I did a shout out video the other day about my favourite five YouTubers.  Do check them out if you haven't already, and if there's a YouTuber that you love, let me know!

Finally, time is counting down if you'd like a question about your future answered by the pyramid of mystery - if you've got a question pop it in the comments!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

I made a quiz!

You know all of those brilliant quizzes people take?  For example:
Who is your celebrity arch nemesis? (mine is Justin Bieber)
Video Game Character Quiz - Apparently I'm Master Chief, I'm stoic and proud, I work well with a team, but am better on my own.  I love technology and exotic locales, but am often left to my own devices.  And I look cooler if I keep my helmet on.
Which Christina Aguilera Are You?  (I'm burlesque)

Well, you can make your own ones pretty easily too, so I've tried making one - it's only short, but wouldn't you like to know What Awesome Thing Are You?

Take the quiz here: http://www.onlineassessmenttool.com/what-awesome-thing-are-you/assessment-14927

Do let me know in the comments which answer you got, and if you agree with it!

Also, I'm doing 2015 fortunes over Christmas (click this link for more information from me whilst wearing shorts) - if you'd like your fortune telling (maybe you have a specific question you'd like answered) then drop me a comment with your question!  It can be silly - I'm going to answer them using fortune cookies, so it's not overly serious - but do enjoy!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Do you want to know your future?

It has returned, from another dimension...

Or maybe from a shelf.

It's the Pyramid of Mystery!

Last year, with the aid of the Pyramid of Mystery and a load of fortune cookies, I did some light hearted predictions for 2014 for a bunch of people.  Well, it's nearly 2015 and I'm going to do the same!

So, what I need from you is a question about your future that you'd like the pyramid of mystery to answer!  Drop me your question with your name in the comments below, or email me at mike.raven@gmail.com and I will endeavour to answer as many questions as possible in my video!

I made a video essentially saying what I've written above.

While I'm writing, thanks for all the positivity regarding my "pretend to be a time traveller" video!  Eating coconut shower gel isn't easy - and isn't recommended!  Kids... don't do this at home.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Happy Pretend To Be A Time Traveller Day!

It's December the 8th, and that obviously means one thing - it's "Pretend To Be A Time Traveller Day"!

Today is a day to dress up as a time traveller, either from the distant past or the distant future, and be amazed by the world today.

I was extremely lazy in my video supporting the day, but at least I made one (it's been long enough!) and I did go through artistic hardship.

Warning: Do not watch if you are offended by expectoration (i.e. spitting).

I'm hoping that this video helps me on my challenges to hit 600k blog views by the end of the year, and 14k video views.  As things stand I'm just over 91,000 views away on my blog, and about 800 views away on my videos, so we'll how how things go - it's all good fun anyway!

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Stop the sun!

This morning my other half wanted to show me her favourite song at the moment, Avicii's "Addicted To You", but it hard was to see the screen with the sunlight shining.

Hence this photo:

I've just given a website, http://analyzewords.com/, a try.  This website analyses your tweets and gives you feedback on your personality from that. Using mine (@ravenswingthog) I got the following results:

Make of the results what you will, to be fair it probably has a hard time with my tweets because a lot of them are promoting either a blog post or a video, but it's a bit of fun.

Monday, 1 December 2014

I have a working PC! (just)

I have a working PC!

My longtime PC died a few weeks ago, when the motherboard suffered a lethal injection of electricity in the wrong place, so I've bought a refurbished ex-office PC and I'm currently using that.  I did attempt to merge it with the gaming parts of my old PC, but due to issues with cases (the office PC bits won't fit in the gaming PC case and the gaming PC bits won't fit in the office PC case) I've basically dismantled the office PC, damaged it, and reassembled it so that it works, but the case won't actually fully close.  Hopefully I won't spill a drink on it because it'll go straight in.

Nevertheless, it's great to be able to use it, and also to take this opportunity to copy everything off it - I do have files going back quite a few years on it.  The oldest files I can find are some science fiction stories I wrote in 1999, about Commander William Thrax and the crew of the K2a-class starship "Explorer", one of the Solfleet vessels defending against the aggressive "Belan" alien race.

The technical designs for the K2 and K2a.  I'm happy to report that my graphical capabilities are as good as they were 15 years ago.

Particular highlights from the stories (which generally involve the Explorer fighting off waves of Belan spaceships) include:

The force stayed in a lump as it closed on the battle around Sirius base - because all good generals keep their task forces in "lumps".

Suddenly from out of nowhere, a Belan fighter burst through the ranks of the human fleet, firing point blank range into everything there - everything there?!?

The rotatating lasers on the sides of the human cruiser emptied several crippling busts into the passing fighters. - I never knew that if you made lasers "rotatate" that they could fire busts.

I hope Natasha is behaving herself on the flagship of the fleet. Her and sensor equipment - if you're not careful the computer storage could fill with intense data of an asteroid if she's interested in it. - It's been fifteen years and I still can't imagine why I ever wrote "intense data".  Or even imagine what intense data is for that matter.

A third ship, a hunter-killer, appeared. They blasted the side of the Explorer. "Shields shaky!" someone shouted. - possibly the best status update ever given on the bridge of a starship.

Did you enjoy this blog post?  Drop us a comment!  And if you'd like to read a bad story, why not check out the six questing mugs of Cupland!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

National Days and... The December Challenge!

Firstly, today is St Andrews Day, the Scottish national day.  St Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, was a Galilean fisherman who is also apparently the saint of fishmongers, gout, and sore throats.  Google celebrated St Andrews Day by linking to various brilliant views of Scotland - I particularly like the image of Threave Castle.

All this made me think of national days.

England (the part of the UK where I live - yes, the UK is made up of different countries) has its own national day, St George's Day, but we barely seem to recognise it.  We don't get the day off work and its generally (always?  I'm not sure how they work out what day it falls on) during the week.

Anyway, St George's Day is next on Thursday the 23rd of April 2015, and I'm going to do something English to celebrate.  I don't know yet (probably queue and complain about the weather) but this time I'll mark the day.  I'd welcome ideas in the comments for things to do!

Moving on - December is coming, and with it the end of 2014.

So, I've decided to set myself a couple of challenges.

On my blog I want to hit 600,000 views by the end of the year - I'm currently on about 474 thousand (this is according to Blogger statistics - Google Analytics stats are rather  lower), and on my YouTube channel I'm going to aim for 14,000 views - I'm currently at 13,133.

Blogger stats.  Exciting wiggles.

YouTube stats.  Less exciting wiggles (but exciting green triangles)

So, what would you like to see on my blog and on my YouTube channel?  Again, any ideas let me know in the comments.

Enjoyed this? Want to watch a video?  Try "Northerner eating on t'cheap".  Or if you prefer blogs, check out "My Internet Connection Is Unstable"

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Shopping on Black Friday

Friday morning I was out getting a few bits and pieces - we wanted a new kettle and iron, some household staples (aka milk and yoghurt - although I don't actually have any staples in the house) plus a couple of things for my other half who was helping at a Christmas fair in the afternoon.

Now, Black Friday is a phenomenon popular in the USA, being on the day after Thanksgiving, but as we don't as a rule celebrate Thanksgiving in the UK I didn't really think about it.

Well, I went to Asda (large UK supermarket, owned by Walmart) for some of the things on my list, which is normally open 24 hours a day, and was very excited to see people queueing to get in.  Without any prompting I happily joined the end of the queue - about sixtieth, I worked out - to get in.  I think there is some about British people and queueing, when we're not under any immediate time pressures to be anywhere else, we do like a good queue.  There's any number of great things about a queue:

  • It's a social situation where we're allowed to communicate with strangers (about queue-related topics) - whilst we normally steer well clear of any kind of social contact with those folk that we are yet to be formally introduced, the novelty of an unexpected queue can stir us into discussion;
  • We can assess just how far back we are in the queue, and try to estimate how long it will take us to get to the front;
  • You can squint at the sky (grey) and extract a hand from its protective pocket / glove to see if the sky is releasing rain - if so, you are free to frown, and;
  • You can telephone friends and family members to complain about the queue (as the fellow behind me in the queue seemed to manage to do for about 15 minutes straight, over 3 or 4 separate telephone conversations)

You also get to tweet and Facebook about the queue in question:

I feel rather guilty about this because I didn't actually have a value breakfast, I was just making a joke, but I didn't want to disappoint Beth - sorry Beth. This was possibly the first time I pretended that I did have a fried breakfast rather than pretending that I haven't. 

We even had two Police Community Support Officers turn up to backup the security guard on duty, who appeared to be held up by an older gentleman who was certainly talking to him for the full twenty minutes that I was queueing, and quite possibly longer.

In the end I didn't actually buy anything from the Black Friday offers, but I still got to queue up and it was fun (but don't tell anyone I admitted to that!)

Did you go shopping on Black Friday?  Let me know in the comments.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today it's Thanksgiving and I'd like to cheer on all my American friends who are hopefully eating a huge dinner of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, vegetables, followed with some sort of dessert (apparently the White House's menu includes a huge variety of pies), and the day topped off with watching a parade, or some american football.

President Obama is pardoning some turkeys, and tons of people are travelling all over the place to be with family.

One year I'd like to take part in Thanksgiving, ideally being over in the States, having a great big meal (because I love great big meals), and watching the game over a beer or two.  It sounds quite like Christmas is here (with possibly less presents and more football) which is always my favourite time of year - the one time of year when I have days where I do nothing except watch TV, snack, and hang out with friends and family.

Wherever you are in the world, have a great day this Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Princess Daddy

This morning I asked my son to tell me a story.

With a little prompting from my other half, we got the following out of him:

Once upon a time, there was a princess.  And the princess was called Princess Daddy.

Princess Daddy wore a white and pink dressing gown with little hearts on.

Yes, he does.  In my defense... actually,scratch that. I have no defense.

Princess Daddy likes eating peas.

Princess Daddy went on a blue and white boat, and sailed through the clouds to the sky!

Then he had a wee.

The End.

He's got a bright future as an awesome storyteller ahead of him.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

24 hours is a long time...

Yesterday I wrote a post saying that I wasn't sure if I would buy a Raspberry Pi or not.  I couldn't really think of what I would do with one.

Today I bidded on one on eBay.

I don't believe that the nice worktop was included, however.

I didn't win the auction, but I've bidded on another and I'm also looking at the prices for a new Raspberry Pi B+ (the cheapest I can find start about £25 including P&P).  It's intriguing how it captures the imagination - could I use it to make a robot that travels around the house, with sensors detecting things?  Yes. Could I use it to act as a retro games console? Sure. Could I use it to stream video to my TV? Absolutely.

When it comes to computing, I've never particularly been a hardware guy.  I can, just about, build a PC, but anything that smacks of proper electronics, I've steered away from.  But there's something about the Raspberry Pi that makes me want to try.

I might even get a soldering iron!

Once I have got one, I hope I can find a local group of Raspberry Pi enthusiasts - there doesn't seem to be much in the way of groups in Yorkshire, which is a shame.

In the meantime though, I'd love to hear from people who have a Pi and hear what they've done with it.  Drop me a line in the comments!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

I like Raspberry Jam

I don't mean the stuff you put on your toast.

Today I was at the Hull Raspberry Jam in (unsurprisingly) Hull.  Raspberry Jams, thought up by Alan O'Donohoe, a teacher of Computing working at a school in Preston, are groups where people get together, learn how to use Raspberry Pi computers, and share ideas of what to use the Raspberry Pi for.

If you're not familiar with what a Raspberry Pi is, basically it's a computer on a single chipboard,very small and inexpensive, ideal for educational applications and for electronics hobbyists.  Examples of projects that involved a Raspberry Pi include a theremin, recording and tracking unmanned balloon flights, home media hubs, a time-lapse camera, a robot... the list goes on and on and is only limited by your imagination.

I haven't coded for far too many years which is a shame because as a kid I used to program quite a lot and made quite a few games in Basic.  So it was good to get into some geekyness today.

Alan O'Donohoe kicks the event off.

There were a number of workshops and talks that we could sign up for, and I signed up for the first two workshops, which was basically learning how to connect up a Raspberry Pi, and then learning to make a game on it using Scratch, a programming language provided by MIT free of charge.

At the end of the first workshop we got a few minutes to hack Wormy, a snake-type game, by editing the Python code.

I took the opportunity to deliver my hallmark coding amendment - I added in random colours, making the apple go from a boring red colour to a constantly changing delight of colour.  In my programming class at college I endeavoured to apply this every week to whatever assignment we had, which eventually led to my tutor including in his assignment notes one week the sentence "remember Chad hates flashing colours".

It didn't stop me doing it.

This doesn't look like much, but my old programmng tutor would have hated it.

And I even got a few seconds of video of the hacked game in action.  Note the flashing square on the left - that's all my work!

For anyone interested in coding or electronics, Raspberry Jam events are great and I'd definitely recommend going to one.  Find out more at http://www.raspberrypi.org/jam/ - I can't guarantee however that yours will be as exciting as mine (at lunch I ordered a toasted teacake and nearly set fire to the canteen)

Will I buy a Raspberry Pi? I don't know right at this moment - they're very impressive, and today has reawakened my enthusiasm for coding and computing - I'm going to be building myself a new PC next week, and because of today I've decided that I'm going to make it dual-boot Windows and Linux, and I definitely want to do some programming too, but I haven't ordered a Raspberry Pi for myself yet - the issue is that I don't have anything that I can really think of that I want one for, but I don't know if I ought to wait until I have an idea, or whether to get one now and then think about what it could do.  But for those wanting to experiment they're an excellent choice.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Are you ready for Christmas?

Time is ticking away, for in five weeks it shall be Christmas Eve.  Have you got your presents bought yet?  The shops are full of seasonal wares, the television is filling up with Christmas adverts, and a niggling ache is growing in the back of peoples heads as they begin to wonder if they ought to start thinking about getting presents.

I have been putting odd presents away haphazardly over the last couple of months, but now it's time for me to get organised, get a detailed list of presents for friends and family together, lose the list, and then buy what I can think of for people.  What typically happens is one of two things:
1) I end up with too many presents, and end up having to keep three Toblerones for myself, or...
2) I miss out someone's present and end up having to send them something slightly odd like a bag of Haribo.

Last year I had a little problem in that I sent some packs of shower gels and deodorants through the post as presents, and they were intercepted as possible bombs.  They did in the end make it to their destination, but was about a month late, which was a shame.

How are you preparing for Christmas?  Have you started yet?  Or do you leave till the last minute?

Those lovely folk at find.com have published an app review of mine, a review of Relax Melodies: Sleep & Yoga.  Do go take a look.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

I am a caring wife

I took an online test this morning, and apparently I'm a caring wife.

That's probably the reason why, when I had to plug my laptop in to charge this morning, I chose to unplug the recliner on the sofa rather than the pump aerating the fish tank.

Damn my caring nature.  True, I prevented fish genocide, but my feet would have loved to be elevated.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

In the world of soccer...

So, I'm playing FIFA 12 a lot.  I'm aware that any soccer enthusiast will now be calling me all kinds of names because I'm playing a game which is an entire 3 years old, but it was £2, so there.

For much of my spare time over the last week I've been managing Bradford City and helping them to work their way up the leagues, win cups, that sort of thing.

And I thought that I'd share a few of the action packed moments with you?

Here we are facing the deadly Swindon Town.  They apparently have an OVR of 59.  I'm not entirely sure what OVR stands for, but the higher the number is, the tougher they are to beat.


The team from Swindon was seriously hampered when they chose to play eleven coloured dots instead of actual people.

I would note that the game attempts to sabotage my team by rearranging my players periodically, generally putting my best players in reserve and instead equipping my team with a variety of cleaners and lollipop men.

Here's all the action going on.  I have many many pictures that look like this, and they're all just as informative.

And because I'm such an ace player (aka I have it on "easy"), I score goals, and the below happens a lot.

That is to say, things get physical.
Time for another game!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

A fridge lands on a comet

In less than 12 hours, a fridge called Phil will be touching down on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

Of course that's nonsense, but in less than 12 hours, a fridge sized lander called Philae will be landing on the aforementioned comet as part of the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission. The mission will analyse the comet and do all kinds of interesting stuff.

Find out all the latest, including watching the mission control room, at http://rosetta.esa.int/ - to be honest it's not that exciting, but I think everyone's been clearly briefed about the webcam - everyone looks busy (although you can't see their screens so they could be playing Solitaire) and they do seem to surreptitiously glance at the webcam when passing near it. And there appears to be music playing, I don't know if the music is actually playing in the control room or if its to replace whatever noise there is in the room, I assume that it's much like any other workplace and there's the danger of someone within the range of the webcam complaining about a co-worker, eating a bacon sandwich, or swearing when they realise that they forgot to charge their smartphone, so not transmitting sound is probably a good idea.

Nevertheless, I'm doing my best to piece together what's going on. There's a guy in a suit who walks around - I think that he's a boss of some sort, perhaps making sure that the mission will achieve its agreed objective of landing on a chunk of ice.

Then there are some guys with shaved heads with headsets on. I think that these are possibly telesales operatives selling secondhand fridges, as I presume prior to launching the mission they probably used a lot of fridges to see how to crash one into a comet without breaking it - they're probably a lot cheaper to damage than a space science probe.

There are also some other guys also wearing headsets but with hair. I think that these are IT technicians because I've seen them at least once get under a desk, which in my experience means that they are computer techies fixing the network or plugging in a USB cable or some such thing.

Finally there is one other quite young guy with hair, glasses, and no headset. He's clearly a trainee who perhaps is on day release from the local college, and I'm surprised that I haven't seen him bringing anyone coffee yet.

So do head over to the website at about 8.30am GMT when I expect the room will be a lot fuller as they do the rather challenging task of landing a fridge probe onto a speeding chunk of ice by remote. Seriously though, all the best to the ESA with this incredible mission!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Garage doors, Downton Abbey and FIFA

I'm typing this having just come inside from the garage, where I've been power tooling.

This would be a picture of a power tool.

Over the last few months, we've been having a battle with thieves attempting to get into our garage for nefarious purposes (I assume that it is for nefarious purposes, if it is a holy order attempting to find the secret of life and they believe that it is located within the concrete and metal construction at the bottom of the garden, then they're welcome to explore for it,as long as they leave it tidy. (or at least tidier than it is at the moment).

They broke in one of the doors - we've secured it. So now they've broken in the other door, so it's now been secured too.  I hope that this will be the end of it, but for some reason I suspect not.

Next - Downton Abbey Series 5 has just finished!  I won't spoil it for anyone that hasn't seen it yet, but it's all very good.  I just always gets disappointed because I've just got into the habit of spending Sunday evening watching Downton Abbey with a coffee and a yoghurt or something, and now I have to think of something else to do.

Which I may have, actually - I got Fifa 12 (yes it's old, but it was only £2) for the Wii at the weekend, and am thoroughly addicted.  So far I've got Bradford City promoted and won a cup with them, that said the game is on easy so I'm thinking that I might restart and try on Medium.

Or the other hand,beating Hull City 6-1 was quite fun.  Maybe I'll stay on Easy a little longer.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Woe is me...

I have to report a loss in our household.

My PC is dead.

Last week it refused to turn on, so after replacing the power supply with no success, I gave in and sent it to the repair shop, and they've told me that the motherboard is fried.

So, until I get a new motherboard/CPU/memory combo (which isn't something I budgeted for right at this moment), I'm on the laptop.

But there is something different on the horizon - this weekend, I have the house to myself while my partner and my son are away.  Don't get me wrong, I love them both very much and I'm sure by Sunday afternoon I'll be waiting for them to come back, but the novelty of this weekend is still something that I'm looking forward to right now.

I've been working up a list of everything that's happening in Hull this weekend so I can go out and make the most of the time.  As things stand possible activities include:

  • Remembrance Weekend at the Streetlife Museum
  • Going to the gym
  • Buying and wrapping Christmas presents
  • Clearing out the garage
  • Going to a lecture at Hull Uni about "northerness"
  • A poetry reading at Central Library
  • A matinee showing at Hull Truck Theatre
  • The Freedom Festivals "Freedom to Tell Tales" storytelling project
  • Sunday jazz at Pave Bar
  • Blogging / making videos
  • Going out Saturday evening (actually that one isn't optional, it's the reason I'm at home)

Or of course I might end up spending all weekend playing on my partners PC, with a bag of snacks and beer within reach.

What are you up to this weekend - and which of the above do you think I should do?  Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Thank you

Firstly, thanks to everyone that took part in #HOTDRINKDAY on Sunday, regardless of whether you supported tea or coffee, it's much appreciated, it was great fun to do and I hope to take part in more debates of equal seriousness in the future.

And most importantly tea won.  http://poll.pollcode.com/16115227_result?v

I'm continuing to struggle on without a computer as mine is under repair - I'm very much hoping to hear something in the next day or two about what the problem is, in the meantime I'm using my partners PC while she's at a school meeting, typing as quickly as I can to attempt to finish this post before our temporary cat stands on the keybardso;dfjpwaejiof.,vdv;


Fingers crossed I'll be back in a day or two - with a working computer!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

#HOTDRINKDAY - Why Tea is better than Coffee

Today's the day that we've all been waiting for.


For the last week broadsides have been fired across the Atlantic Ocean as we try to settle, once and for all, which is the better drink - tea, or coffee.

Here, we are defending tea - after you've read this post, if you're still unsure in your mind, then go visit Life, Explained for the home of coffee supporters.

Let us begin.

Why tea is better than coffee

So, Tim Clark challenged me to defend tea against the accusation that coffee is the better drink, which I strongly deny.

I could talk about the history of tea, how it has been consumed for thousands of years (possibly as far back as around 2900BC?), and certainly for a much longer time than the relative newcomer, coffee.

But instead I'm going to bring it to a much more personal level.

I'm going to talk about how tea makes me feel.

Now, don't get me wrong, I like a posh coffee from Starbucks or Costa, and it is nice to enjoy a coffee now and again, with cream and a couple of lumps of sugar, perhaps a biscotti too.

But the fact is that you basically add all these things to hide the taste of coffee, not to enhance it. Can you really taste that shot of espresso mixed in your pint of frothy flavoured milk, topped with cream and a dusting of chocolate?

Of course not.

Tea, in comparison, is a lot simpler. A bag of best tea in some hot water, perhaps with a dash of milk to bring the flavour out, is all that's needed.

Or you can make a drink of tea much more civilised. Afternoon tea with buttered hot scones, jam and would not be complete without a pot of tea, some fine China cups and a jug of milk.

Not to mention a teapot and a tea strainer.
You can't make coffee more civilised - you can make it trendy, but not civilised.

Coffee is a quick fix.  Something to kick your system into action and to wake you up.  But let me ask you this - do you start your car with your accelerator pressed to the floor, getting up to speed as fast as you can?

Of course not.  You start it, and ease it into movement, gently and carefully.

If you take this level of care with a lump of metal, surely you should do the same for your body?

Tea is the best hot drink, and I've been pleased to see many people around the world supporting this view.

Thanks for reading.  Now, if you haven't voted already, vote now.  We'll see tomorrow who is the ultimate winner (though tea is looking good as I type this)

I'd love to hear about any other blogs and their views about the best hot drink too.  Now go and check out Tim's blog, and see if he can convince you of coffee's superiority.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

The calm before the storm - 1 day to go!

I've been quiet on the blog for a few days, mainly due to the fact that my computer is currently out of action - Tuesday night it refused to power up, and even after fitting a new power supply it refuses to show any sign of life, so it's been taken to a repair shop - fingers crossed it'll be back up and running sometime next week.  In the meantime I'm on the laptop.

The other reason that I haven't been doing my social media thing on an evening is that we now (temporarily) have a cat in the house.

Action shot of James in motion.

We're looking after James at the moment, and to try to ease him into his stay with us I've been staying downstairs watching TV to give him some company.  It's a hard life.

Nevertheless, it is about 25 hours away from the great TEA VS COFFEE debate going live - if you've not been following what's been happening, all this week we've been leading up to two epic blog posts, one of which will be going up right here on the Blog of Thog (in support of tea) and one supporting coffee, on Life, Explained.  The posts will be live 3pm UK time, or 10am Ohio time (or different times in you aren't in either of those time zones), so make sure you visit us tomorrow and say hi, show your support for your favoured hot drink.

And that isn't all you can do.  Do you have a view on which hot drink you prefer?  Do you prefer a different hot drink to tea or coffee?  Do you not like any?  Well, make sure you do a blogpost or a video about it tomorrow, do let us know (and use the hashtag #HOTDRINKDAY ), we'd love to hear from you.

If you don't fancy blogging or doing anything that active, do at the very least vote here for your favourite drink, at the moment tea is absolutely thrashing coffee but there's plenty of time for that to be turned around (or even for coffee to be overtaken by hot chocolate, now that would be very amusing indeed!)

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The kettle is going on - but what is everyone drinking?

We head unstoppably towards the battle royale, tea versus coffee, all lined up for Sunday the 2nd of November.  More broadsides have been issued from both sides as companies across the globe declare their loyalty to one side or another.

DAVIDsTEA of Montreal appears to be undecided, stating that they obviously love tea, but that they are partial to coffee - I must admit that their Jumpy Monkey blend did turn my head for a moment, but I shall be strong.

Kicking Horse Coffee of Invermere, BC unsurprisingly voted for COFFEE! #FueledbytheHorse

Ritual Coffee of San Francisco has risen above the arguments with a quote from Mark Twain - Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference. I say that they have risen above the argument, they may actually just be calling me thick, which is probably quite true.

And Coffee Planet NL of the Netherlands has unfortunately plumped for the dark side.

Today Mr Clark of Life, Explained warns of a tea drinking army preparing to mobilise. Well, let our army rise up - and make a cuppa.  I am typing this blog using my partners laptop as the power supply in my PC has died suspiciously just as we gear up for this epic battle.  I'm not saying that Tim did it, but...

Voting-wise tea has taken a comfortable lead over coffee, with hot chocolate rearing its head too.  Make sure that you vote for your favourite hot drink at http://vote.pollcode.com/16115227 and do promote the contest anyway you can, using the hashtag #HOTDRINKDAY

Monday, 27 October 2014

Tea vs Coffee - tensions are heating up...

By Petr Kratochvil (cup-of-tea-isolated) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

If you're not aware, Sunday 2nd November 2014 is #HOTDRINKDAY with a global showdown between The Blog of Thog and Life, Explained as to which drink is better, tea or coffee.  And I've been getting some contact from a variety of firms willing to weigh in on the debate.

For example, PGTips volunteered the following to my call for help:

And Devonshire Tea, Steepster, Tea Totaller, and The Cup of Life all showing their support too.

I've also had a number of emails about the debate.  Nestle got in touch saying:

As you will appreciate we have to remain impartial and obviously couldn't possibly take sides in your debate due to the fact we don't produce tea. #NESCAFÉ

The Kent & Sussex Tea & Coffee Co said that they'll be promoting the event, but didn't commit as to which side they'll be supporting (cough - tea guys, support tea!)
Also Has Bean Coffee wishes all the best for the debate - but not for me! :)

Seriously though, thanks to all the companies that have got in touch, regardless of what side you support.  I'm keen to hear from other hot drink makers too - are we short sighted in saying that it's tea vs coffee?  Where's the hot chocolate and marmite (think I need a comma in there somewhere) supporters?  Whatever your preference, get voting and make sure to show your support, either on my blog (for the righteous tea lovers of the world) or Tim's blog (for the evil drink also known as coffee), on Sunday for your favourite drink - and tweet the debate up using #HOTDRINKDAY

Before you escape, www.find.com have published my latest of a series of slimming blogs on their website, this time talking about how to get back into slimming when you hit a problem and put weight on one week.  Do go check it out!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Nursing Home

I'll start this post off by saying that I apologise if it is not up to my usual mediocre standards, however British Summer Time ended last night, which meant that a huge amount of people got an extra hour in bed today, whilst another grouping of people (which happens to include me) has a small child that has no concept of British Summer Time and woke up at ten past four expecting CBeebies, jam-covered toast and a glass of smoothie.

Long-term readers may remember these posts about taking my gran shopping and having lunch with her in Waitrose, however things have moved on.  Several months back she had a couple of falls and eventually it was agreed that the best thing for her was to go into a nursing home.

Ever a creature of habit, my gran has wasted no time in settling in a new routine, as follows:

  1. In the morning she wakes up and gets a bowl of sweetened porridge for breakfast.  She doesn't like sweetened porridge but because she doesn't like to complain about it (and I suspect that she's the only person in the home that wants it unsweetened) she has it sweetened.
  2. After that she'll be got out of bed, dressed, and sat in her chair.  Here she stays for the morning, talking to her room mate, until lunchtime.
  3. Lunch typically consists of three courses - soup, of which she has one spoon full and then leaves it on the side, a main course which she devours, and a pudding, which she waits for her roommate to eat hers and then gets the roommate to swap the plates.
  4. After lunch she'll be put into her nightgown and returned to bed, as her back is playing up.
  5. And at teatime, again she will eat the main course and then swap the pudding plates with her roommate to allow her to again get two portions.

That's not to say that there isn't excitement.  There was the time when my gran slipped out of her chair, and ended up sitting on the floor.  When the staff came to see what had happened, and asked her "What are you doing?", she responded, not unreasonably with "Nothing - I'm just sitting on the floor!"

I generally visit her once a week, bringing a number of the following items:

  • Walnut whips - she doesn't actually eat these, but when I visit we share them - that is, I eat the chocolate with the whip inside, and she has the walnut.  I recall the time that she asked me what nut was on top of a walnut whip.  I told her to think about what she'd asked me.
  • Marshmallows - these are for her roommate.  When the coast is clear and no staff are around, my gran wraps up half a dozen marshmallows in a piece of tissue and beckons her roommate over to take them.
  • Toffees and assorted bags of sweets - similarly to the marshmallows, these are actually for the roommate, and will be mixed with wild abandon to give the roommate a selection of treats.
  • Cartons of apple juice - these aren't needed very often, as it's rare that my gran actually drinks one, but she does like to keep a supply of twenty or so handy in her wardrobe.

Today she was telling me that there is no difference between men and women, except that men have a thingy.  And, apparently, it's a good job that they have a thingy, because otherwise they wouldn't be able to wee.

I can't finish the post without reminding all about the run up to #HOTDRINKDAY on Sunday the 2nd of November.  If you're a tea fan, you're in the right place, because The Blog of Thog is the home of all tea drinkers - read my announcement here.  If, on the other hand, you're a coffee aficionado, well Mr Clark at Life, Explained is there for you, and you can read his announcement here.  We need all you social media folk to be prepared next Sunday to put forward your views - what drink do you prefer?

And don't forget to vote!

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Tea versus Coffee - get involved!

In just over a week the latest in our series of transatlantic debates will be taking place as The Blog of Thog takes on Life, Explained in the war to end all wars.

Which is better: Tea or Coffee?

By Paul Downey from Berkhamsted, UK (Morning Tea  Uploaded by McGeddon) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Now, obviously the answer is tea, but a certain young whippersnapper from the US of A doesn't seem to agree.  So, we're going to be gearing up for a good old blog debate on Sunday the 2nd of November 2014, and I'm encouraging other Internet folk to get involved.

Do you blog?  Make videos?  Podcasts? Or other internetty content stuff?  Well, upload something on your own blog/YouTube channel/Podcast site/other place defending either tea or coffee (or even go a separate way, state a different preference - hot chocolate perhaps!) and make it live on Sunday 2nd November - make sure to let us know here and at Life, Explained so we can link to it!  If you promote it anywhere use the hashtag #HOTDRINKDAY and I'll be checking the tag during the day to see what's kicking off.  Our posts should be going live about 3pm UK time (10am Ohio time) so don't worry, you don't need to get up early to catch our posts (although obviously you're very welcome to!)

If you're not one of the above, don't worry, you can still get involved in lots of ways, including:

  • Commenting on our blogs to tell us which one you prefer
  • Sharing our posts on Twitter/Facebook/Reddit/Google+ etc to promote the debate!
  • Voting in the poll below!

Yes, right below is a poll for what is the best hot drink!  Take part now!

Thanks for reading and get ready for the 2nd of November - HOT DRINK DAY!!!

What is the best hot drink?
pollcode.com free polls

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Does Gmail secretly like Spam?!? (the junk email, not the meat)

I use Gmail as my main personal email facility - it works fine, I can use it anywhere, all that kind of stuff, but there's one thing that I've noticed.

If you get an email that you want to delete, what you do is you tick the box next to the email to select, and then a "Delete" button pops up.  And you click Delete and boom, the email is gone.

However, sometimes Gmail moves emails into a Spam folder, and occasionally I go in to clear it out.  The Spam folder is always full of spam comments on this blog, offers of Viagra, and coupons for Pizza Express - I'm not sure what Pizza Express has done to deserve the designation "spam", but to be fair I don't go there very often so perhaps Google has picked up on this and decided that I don't want their offers.

To delete the emails in the Spam folder however, you tick them, and then you hit the box marked...


Which just gives it a little bit more emphasis, as though Google is saying "I think that these are spam emails so you probably don't want them, but I could be wrong so do have a good look through first - wait!  Wait!  You've not looked thoroughly at the emails!  There could be something really important that I've marked as spam by mistake!  Dear me, no don't - agh!  You've deleted them FOREVER!!! Don't you realise how much space I have on my servers?  I could have easily looked after half a dozen emails offering you 40% off a main meal at Pizza Express, you didn't need to just go and get rid of them!"

Perhaps I'm reading a little too much into it.

If you got all the way to the end of this post, well done!  If you like stuff about the internet, maybe this vaguely philosophical piece about spending time chilling out on the Internet might be to your liking.  On the other hand if you're looking for something funny, perhaps I HATE NAPPIES is more to your liking.

Or if you've had enough of this blog, go see Tim over at Life, Explained.  His are very good.  Some people said better than mine.  But I found them and they don't say that any more.

This end bit has gone a bit dark now.

Saturday, 18 October 2014


Never let it be said that on the Blog of Thog we don't tackle the hard hitting issues.

We're going to talk politics.

We're going to talk financial news.

Because President Barack Obama, went to dinner the other night... and had his credit card declined.

Debit and credit cards have made buying goods massively simpler.  Rather than carrying around a wodge of cash, or a hefty chequebook and pen, you can now simply wave a piece of plastic at a machine, and type in a few digits (I haven't tried contactless yet), and the purchase is complete.

But I do always have the tiny fear everytime that I use a card that this time will be the time that my card is declined.

It's easy with cash.  It's either in your wallet, or it isn't.  With a card however you have to try to remember not only how much money is in your bank account, but also what bills are likely to come out before pay day.

So the next time that you're trying to buy your shopping, your card is declined, and you're scrabbling in your wallet for the joint account card, feel a little better that it doesn't just happen to you - the leader of the free world has to use his wife's credit card on occasion too.

My latest vlogtober video is up and required me to run - for no other reason than that, please watch.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Blog Action Day 2014 - Inequality

Today I'm taking part in Blog Action Day 2014, a day where bloggers and content creators around the world unite to talk about a common subject - this year we're focusing on inequality.

Inequality is everywhere, and it goes from the most powerful/rich people in the world, down to ordinary people like you and me.  I'll start by sharing a story which doesn't paint me in a good light.

I was on a train recently, and in the next row of seats was two teenage girls, who basically seemed to spend the journey talking about drinking, fit boys, family members of theirs being arrested, getting benefits from the government (one of the girls was on disability living allowance, so I'm led to understand) and various other topics which did include some talk about drugs.  I never saw the girls during the journey as they were in the row in front of me, but everything that they were talking about, and their accents, led me to think "there's a couple of chavs".

I automatically wrote them off as human beings with any possibility of having any kind of potential in life.  Yet, when the guy in the business suit at the other side of the carriage got up to leave the train and left his umbrella behind, immediately one of the girls called over to him and asked him if he'd forgotten it.

In my judging of these two girls I had assumed that they would have stolen it, or certainly let him get off the train without taking it.  And it made me realise that my judgements had been wrong.  Later in the journey they talked about how they wanted to get on and get their driving licenses, and go to college.

I'm not pleased by my thoughts about these two girls but it makes me think just how easy it is to judge people without knowing their situation.  And this is something that I do believe the vast majority of us do.

There is a limit to what that the majority of us can do about the big issues of inequality - for example, the fact that if you combined what the 3.5 billion poorest people in the world owned, it would equate to about the same as the 66 richest people owned.  That doesn't mean that we shouldn't try - you can contact your governmental representative (MPs, senators, whatever they're called in your country) to ask what they are doing about inequality, and to highlight any particular issues close to your heart.

You can join a campaign group - whatever subject it is that is close to your heart, there is probably a campaign group for it, which may well be able to advise on how to take action and make a difference.

We can read about it, and the Blog Action Day website is a great place to start, as it coordinates the hundreds of blogs coming out today about inequality.  If you blog yourself, you can promote the topic yourself.

But what we can also do is fight inequality where we see it, in our lives.  Challenge yourself to be less judgmental.  Remember that whatever decision someone takes, whatever thing it is that they say, whatever they look like, or what job they do, they have had a lifetime of experiences and influences that has led them to make that choice, to say that thing, to do that job.  And recognise that while you may not agree with what they do or say, or sound like, that it may be valid for them to be the way that they are.

With that in mind, I'm going to write briefly about ulcerative colitis.

I have ulcerative colitis.  It's essentially an inflammatory bowel disease (a gut condition) that typically has some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Cramping pain in the abdomen
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss (not in my case, I hasten to add!)
  • Tiredness and fatigue

The cause of it isn't clear.  The theory is that it is caused by a combination of a number of factors - genetics, an abnormal reaction of the body's immune system, and something in the environment as a catalyst - which could be something you eat, viruses, bacteria, smoking, stress... but these aren't clear, and they aren't universal - one person may be able to eat whatever they like, while others (like me) have to avoid certain types of vegetable.

For those that know me personally, don't worry - my condition is currently in remission, it doesn't really have any effect on my day to day life right now.  It may flare up in the future, or it may not - I try to look after myself to ensure that it doesn't.  But conditions like mine can be difficult to talk about, and isn't helped by being misreported in the press as something that happens to people that eat junk food.  If you want to find out more, I recommend the Crohn's and Colitis UK website, and in particular their guide on understanding IBD.

The point of the above is not for me to get sympathy (right now I'm absolutely fine - no sympathy required!) but to raise awareness of the condition.  Many people - indeed, I'd suggest most people - suffer with one or more mild or severe health conditions of some sort, whether it's a severe disability or just a knee that won't bend as well as it used to.  Understanding that may help you to give people a little bit more leeway if they don't move quite as fast as you expect them to, or take a moment longer to react to something.

Thanks for reading.  Head over to http://blogactionday.org/ for more information


Wednesday, 15 October 2014


I'm tired.  I should be making a video for vlogtober, but I'm just too tired.  Fortunately I uploaded a Hearthstone video last night, so here it is!

My Teddy Bear Appeal video has also been getting a lot of views, do check it out if you haven't already.

And find.com have kindly published a blog of mine about foods to avoid to speed up weight loss.

So it's all good, but I feel really tired right now, and I think I need some relaxation right now.

Fingers crossed I'll be back tomorrow!

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