Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Christmas Tag

I saw this tag blog on Styleaked (great blog Charlotte) and thought it was a great idea so while it's still the Christmas period I decided to have a go.

1. What is your favourite Christmas film?

I'd have to say Scrooge with Alastair Sim - it's something of a tradition that sometime at Christmas I watch this film (I think this year is the first I can remember when I haven't seen it), Alastair Sim does a great job at being Scrooge.  The one with Patrick Stewart is very good too but I have to say that I've not seen this one bettered.

2. Have you ever had a white Christmas?

Not as far as I can remember although it's probably happened, I do remember one winter in the 1980s (1986/7 maybe) when we had loads of snow and it hung around for ages but I've no idea if it was Christmas or not.  Snow seems to come more in January/February nowadays (climate change I guess...)

3. Where do you usually spend your holiday?

Christmas morning is spent seeing family, and then back home for the afternoon for dinner (and a beer!)

4. What is your favourite Christmas song?

The one that comes to mind is "Driving Home for Christmas" by Chris Rea.  I remember in particular listening to that one Christmas Eve, driving along Clive Sullivan Way back home after work.

5. Do you open any presents on Christmas Eve?

No!  I'm quite a stickler for presents being opened on Christmas Day, not before.

6. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer?

Um - Rudolph, Blitzen, Flitzen, Lightning, Bing, Zipper, Dancer, Prancer?

No, I can't.

7. What holiday traditions are you looking forward to most this year?

Just having some time to watch TV, read books, play games and stuff.  It's always nice to have some downtime.

8. Is your tree real or fake?


9. Be honest. Do you prefer giving or receiving gifts?

I don't think that I could enjoy receiving gifts at Christmas if I hadn't been generous giving them also, so I can't really choose.  Sorry!

10. What would be your dream place to visit in the festive season?

That's tough - I always want to be close to home with my family, but there are places that I'd like to visit.  The German Christmas Markets have always sounded appealing, and I'd be really interested once to see what Christmas is like in Australia, when it's really hot and sunny instead of freezing cold!

11. Do you make New Years Resolutions and do you stick to them?

Not as a rule (although I have this year - see my video!) and the reason that I don't normally is because I don't stick to them.  I seem to recall reading somewhere that you're less likely to actually do something if you write it down, or tell people that you're going to do it, because in your mind these actions kind of feel like you've started doing the thing, and so can put it off.  I'd rather secretly achieve the thing that I want to do, and then announce it as a fait accompli.

That was good fun!  Anyone reading this is free to have a go at the Christmas tag, if you do let me know in the comments that you've done it and where!

Before I go - as I say, I have a new video about my new years resolution (spoiler - it's not to learn how to swim.  Or cycle.), feel free to check it out!  If I don't blog tomorrow happy new year!

Monday, 28 December 2015

Happy holidays!


Well wherever you are in the world, I hope you had a good Christmas / holiday period.  It's been fairly quiet at mine with lots of unhealthy food, movies, and the odd nap.  I am working my way through Bill Bryson's latest book (The Road to Little Dribbling) and I have to say that I'm really enjoying it, I'm going to be sad when I finish it and I won't have any more of his travel books to read for the first time.  I think Bryson's appeal is in that he is so easy to relate to - I can quite imagine having similar challenges and misadventures if I had the opportunity to travel to new places under my own steam without my wife's steer or the enforced sensibilities of travelling with a family.  (That gives me an idea for a future blog, actually)

I'm very pleased to have done a little bit of DIY to my Sennheiser PC 350 headset that I won several years ago (for the story - and video - click here) - the ear cushions, over the years, have become flatter and flatter until they don't really resemble padding any more and rather just appear to be two plastic ovals with a bit of black fabric hanging off them.

I was expecting them to require superglue or at the very least a screwdriver with an unusual head (to make it more difficult) so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they snap out of place and then the replacements snap into place, and voila, the headset now has lovely thick cushions to envelop my ears during those long gaming sessions.

Today I think it's going to be a slightly busier day as I really need to get some washing done (with the aid of my evil tumble dryer - do anticipate a future blog post on this subject) and perhaps even think about vacuuming.

How has your Christmas been?  Are you still off or back at work?  Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015


I don't enter a huge amount of competitions but one that I noticed that raised my curiosity was one for winning a cake that you received in the mail.  This seemed like a somewhat bizarre idea, yet the BakerDays Letterbox Cakes look great, are customisable, and (apparently) can survive the Royal Mail.  So when I saw the blog about them on Chapters of Kat I didn't hesitate to enter the competition.

And I won!  This was ideal as one of the things that my son had asked was at Christmas "Can we have cake?" and he doesn't mean a traditional Christmas cake, he just wants a slice of vanilla sponge (chocolate would also be acceptable, I suspect).

The cake was duly ordered and within a few days I was washing up at home when a box came through the letterbox and toppled onto the laminate floor, upside side, with a heavy thud.

That'll be the cake ruined, I thought to myself, but I'm pleased to say that it wasn't the case - the cake came in a metal tin just its size, along with a Christmas cracker and a couple of sheets of information about the company.

Obviously the cake hasn't been sampled yet but with any luck it'll be a great surprise Christmas present!

A very anonymous box...


Cake customised as requested!

For more info about these cakes go to

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Now then, Cortana!

I was informed today that Cortana, the Windows 10 personal assistant, is available for me to use.  The grey search box that I use to find various programs and things on my PC now says "I'm Cortana. Ask me anything."

Now, many Windows 10 users will have to trying out Cortana for months now, but I've just received access to it, I think because I'm in the UK and we have a different language set to the US (no problem there, I have been and continue to be surprised by the differences between British English and American English).  I'm vaguely aware of Cortana being something that you can ask questions of, ask it to do things, all kinds of usefulness, a bit like Siri on the iPhone, I assume.

I will say that I came with a certain amount of scepticism as my past experience of speech recognition generally ends up with me yelling at the computer "DEAR - MISTER - SMITH.   NO, DELETE SCYTHE, I DON'T WANT TO WRITE SCYTHE. OH GOD, DELETE "I DON'T WANT TO WRITE SCYTHE OH GOD". SMITH. DELETE SMURF. WHY WOULD I WRITE A LETTER TO MISTER SMURF? STOP IT! CANCEL STOP ARGH" and so forth.  That said, I have been pleasantly surprised by the performance of speech recognition on my phone, and so held out greater hopes for Cortana.

It didn't go too well when, attempting to configure my headset, Windows informed me that the microphone on my headset wasn't good enough and although I could still try configuring it, hinted that really I've just not been buying good enough gear to speak to the high and mighty Cortana.

After that hiccup, however, I actually found Cortana quite good fun.

Here's some of the things I asked Cortana, and her responses.

"Hey Cortana, what do you look like?" - a seamless string of binary numbers.

"Hey Cortana, tell me a joke." - What has one horn and gives milk? A milk truck.

"Hey Cortana, do you like me?" - I do.

"Hey Cortana, will you marry me?" - I'm not one to throw a spanner in the works but as an AI I can't do that yet.

"Hey Cortana, do you like cheese?" - It really ties a pizza together.

"Hey Cortana, how are you?" I am tip top today.  How are you?

"Hey Cortana, do you believe in Santa?" - I do. I'll be keeping an eye out for him.

You can also play rock paper scissors with Cortana, she'll sing for you, and do "impressions" which for me was a Buzz Lightyear impression so bad it made me laugh. So far Cortana's pretty good fun.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015


I don't like mice.

Actually, that's not true.  I'm perfectly happy with mice, depending on the situation.  In a field?  Fine.  I'd fully expect to see a mouse in a field, or peeping around a tree in a forest.  Basically, in a natural environment, I expect to see small furry things. I am down with that.

And, I'm also okay with mice as pets.  You have a cute pet mouse in a cage or some such thing?  No problem at all, sonny Jim!  I bet that they're quite cute things to stroke and pet and stuff,

What I'm not okay with is the wild variety of mice, inside my house.

Mice are a common issue where we live, we're close enough to a railway line and a good chunk of grass (this would be a "footgolf" course aka a mashup of football and golf, quite good fun actually) for mice to thrive, and periodically they venture into the houses nearby, for food, shelter, and to terrify humans.

And I really don't like them.  It's ridiculous - there is pretty much nothing that a mouse can do to me.  I certainly don't want them in the house (spreading bugs and stuff), but all it takes is for me to hear one of them scratching around, or - even worse - see one dash across from one side of the room to the other, for me to jump around shouting at them, as though the sheer power of shouting will make every mouse in a five mile radius say "Hey, you know what?  That field was a far better place to live than the dry, warm building full of food. Let's go!"

In other news, I've won a cake (more details likely to follow in a future blog), and I've made a video giving 5 tips for guys (entirely applicable to females also) ahead of Christmas.  It's getting close now and if you haven't done the things in the video yet then I'd recommend cracking on.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Google News

Sometimes I struggle for something to blog about.  Sometimes (like the last few weeks) I've been busy/not had the motivation/been lazy/just been playing Assassins Creed too much to blog.

And sometimes life makes it really really easy to write.

Google News is a news aggregator, that pulls together various news reports and puts them in one place for easy reading.  And I use it all the time, at least once a day I'll be on there seeing what's happening in the world.

I'm just interested in what are the "top stories" at the moment.

Number one - delays on the UK Government decision to build an expansion to an airport - well, I wholly understand that being a top news story, my understanding is that the UK is apparently very restricted on the number of air journeys it can handle (at least around London) and needs more capacity - but of course that causes a great deal of environmental damage, costs a lot of money, causes disruption and so on, so it's something a lot of people have strong opinions on.

Number two is an article about the ethics of banning Donald Trump from your country.  As I write this on the UK Government Petitions website there is a petition, signed by very nearly half a million people (and I wouldn't be surprised if by the time I post this the petitioned had passed that mark), to ban Donald Trump from entering the UK.  So yes, it's certainly current news.

Number three is a live blog revealing the primary school league tables for East Lancashire.  Apparently Turton Belmont Primary School are named as the top school in Blackburn with Darwen.  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm sure if you live in East Lancashire and you've got pre-school children this news may well be important, but I'm just the slightest bit surprised that it ranked above the war in Syria, the refugee crisis (no sign of it in top news), or the UN climate change conference in Paris (which didn't appear anywhere in my news list, even though it's moving into the last day of talks, a new draft proposal came out two hours ago which apparently is getting less disagreement, and it is hoped that an agreement will  be reached tomorrow)

I guess while Google News makes it easy to get updates, it isn't quite the sole source of news information we should all rely upon just yet.

Sunday, 6 December 2015


I haven't blogged for a few days (in fact more than a few days), mainly because I've been busy playing Assassins Creed 4: Black Flag

Now, I'm aware that it's not a new game, but I've only recently got it and it's really good.  If you haven't encountered the Assassins Creed games before, basically you get to play some sort of sneaky chap that runs around, stabbing people.  There's a lot of intricacies, like the ability of your fellow to climb virtually anything (except rocks - he's rubbish at rocks.  I mean, give him a brick wall with a tiny ledge or a broken twig and he can clamber up that just fine, but a load of rocks blows his mind), in fact he's addicted to climbing and leaping off things - accidentally run too close to a wall and you'll find him leaping up and over it like a gymnast.

There's a back story where there's some sort of way of going back in time via DNA, and you're actually a geek in the present using a machine to record stuff that happened in the past, but the stuff in the present (at least so far) is pretty boring, as in the present you're a guy in an office with a tablet, and in the past you're a pirate with a pirate ship, guns, swords, bombs, and poison darts (my favourite being berserk darts - shoot someone with one of these and they'll run around killing anyone else nearby, before keeling over dead themselves)

There are some bits which are "convenient", shall we say.  For example, guards seem to be amazingly laid back about their friends, only metres away, being dragged into bushes gurgling.  If I was one of those guards I'd be thinking "Where's Terry?  Steve?  Bob? Andrea?  They all went off to look at that bush because they thought they heard something, and then they made a choking noise and stumbled into the bush.  Perhaps it might be worth shooting the hell out of the undergrowth before the same thing happens to me!" but of course that's just me.

There's a lot of commanding your ship too, and that's good fun - you get to attack and board other ships, building up your own fleet.

As an aside, I should say that all of the screenshots I took didn't come out well - I must have had my settings wrong, as they're all quite pixelated.  Just trust the captions.

Here I am, tipping someone overboard after stabbing them a lot.  This always feels really cool.
Building a fleet sounds like fun, it does result in being able to send your ships off on quests to get more loot, but it also has a terminally dull sub game where you make to make ship routes safe by attacking the routes again and again in an endless cycle of repair ships - attack the route - repair your ships - attack the route again which gets boring pretty quickly.  Most annoying of all is that the routes get dangerous again far too quickly. 

Here I am, in the sub game, with three of my ships kicking the hell out of a little gunboat.
That aside, it's a fun game with a really open feel to it.  If you fancy sailing around for a bit, that's fine.  If you find an island that looks a bit interesting, there's nothing stopping you from dropping anchor, and jumping off the side to go check it out.  I must admit that I'm not a huge fan of stealth - I much prefer to run at an enemy from behind and skewer him - but it is essential at some points.

And at the end of the day, you can sail off into the sunset.
For me though, the ability to do cool looking stuff quite easily is nice.  I remember when I was really early on in the game - it's essentially an area to "practice being stealthy" by walking through bushes, and whistling at guards until they would come and investigate (resulting in me dragging them into the bushes for an unhappy end), until all the guards were dealt with and there was just some sort of boss bad guy with a pair of bodyguards immediately in front of him.  I decided to stuff being stealthy and run at him full pelt, expecting to get into some sort of big sword fight.  Instead, my character pushed the bodyguards out of the way and impaled the boss without any sort of resistance.  It brings back memories of Path of Neo, where you could do some amazingly impressive moves by frantically hitting all of the control keys as quickly as possible.

In summary it's a big game, lots of opportunities to explore, with a good storyline.  It's well worth a play,

Finally, on Tuesday it's pretend to be a time traveller day, so I'm wheeling out my video from last year where a man from the past tries to find food.

And yes, I did really eat shower gel in it.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Guest Post - New Boots

Today's guest post from my dad talks about his discoveries whilst purchasing footgear.


Thanks to LJ- for the image


It was as documents go, small, restrained, brief even, not a 36 page instruction manual embracing 999 thousand words and in all honesty I really can't complain, such was its brevity.

A bare two A4 sides of instructions, an utterly trivial 1,562 words explaining the instructions, regulation, care, maintenance and use of 'A PAIR OF BOOTS!'

Now I hate to blow my own trumpet but I really thought that I had mastered 'How to wear a pair of boots' long, long ago, I seem to think them go on your feet?

Ah not so easy, it is assumed in this day and age that anyone buying a pair of boots may possess minus 'infinity intelligence', and all you would ever need to know about boots, and a lot more besides, would have to be spelt out to you, in great detail. What follows is but a taster.

To be honest, 'they' did assume that you knew how to put boots on your feet, so what else did you need to know? Well for a start, you MUST NOT clean the boots with Caustic Soda! (who in their right mind would ever ..... ?)

Indeed, when the boots are dirty, they insist that you must clean them (without Caustic!), allow them to dry naturally - forced drying is forbidden and you must store them in a cool, dry area when not in use, and most certainly not expose them to impacts exceeding 200 Joules or compression greater than 15,000 Newtons.

Perhaps unlike the average passerby in the street I do happen to understand a smattering of scientific type weird shit (aka jargon) having worked in a laboratory for twenty years, but precisely what in everyday terms a compression of 15,000 Newtons relates to is quite beyond me.

A falling brick? And from what height?

Oh no, I'm confusing Compression and Impact, bother!

Other fascinating information tells me that the upper leather and rubber sole are guaranteed for 10 years!

And that the 'manufacture' of the boots themselves is guaranteed for 3 years!?

(Deep breath) The safety footwear (boots) comply with the EC Directive of personal Protective Equipment (Directive 89/686/EEC) and meets the EU standard EN ISO 20345:2011. It features Metatarsal protection - no, I'm not making this up - Resistance to fuel oil and Resistance to inimical environments! (What?)

So if you find yourself in an Inimical environment, you had better know where your Protective Equipment (Directive 89/686/EEC)/EU standard EN ISO 20345:2011. boots are!

Oh and you have to wear a sock - one sock per boot! I kid thee not .... the boots aren't guaranteed if you don't wear socks!

Head over to for my parents mail order business offering all kinds of new age and weird and wonderful magical goodies!  But, unfortunately, not boots.
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