Monday, 30 May 2016

"Free" Software

Just got about ready to start writing a blog tonight when...

I use AVG because it's one of the best free anti-virus available, but the downside of using free software is that AVG does its best to sell services to me.  Most days it'll ask me if I want to upgrade to a "Plus" version which is apparently infinitely better, doing things like actively tracking down hackers who write malware and giving them a hefty whack over the head with a camping mallet.

Of course it isn't just AVG, it's unfair of me to focus just on them.  CCleaner, which is one of my favourite pieces of software, also regularly suggests upgrading.  The trouble is, certainly for both AVG and Ccleaner, is that they already do the thing that I want them to do (remove viruses and clean up my PC respectively), I don't need to pay for a stack of extra features that I'll never use.  If I upgrade AVG, I'll get an enhanced firewall (not needed, my router comes with a fairly decent firewall), anti-spam (can't see that working with my gmail account), Data Safe (no idea but I assume it's a sort of cloud backup, which I already get with Google and Microsoft), and some other features, which can't be that fantastic, otherwise they'd mention them.

Like a fool, I've just activated a 30 day trial of AVG Internet Security, which is AVG plus all the above stuff.  I'll see in 29 days if I'm paying for a permanent version, or if I'm going back to the normal.

One last thing with AVG - when it updates, it insists on the computer being restarted specifically for the update, I can't just restart it later, it's really annoying...

What's your bugbear with software?  Go on, stick it in the comments, you know you want to :)

Before I go, more new videos are up on my YouTube channel - latest one is episode 3 in my series Minecrafting About, where I go to get some sheep.  Baa.

If you'd rather watch me rant, try my struggles of the middle class series - I'm currently up to part 4, part 1 was reasonably popular, and no one has watched the rest :D

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Cortana is spot on

I was playing with Cortana tonight, when it tagged onto the end of one of its answers "Why not ask me where to go on holiday"

So I did.  We went through various questions - did I want a city break, should it be lively or chilled out, a long distance or close to home, and so on - and I got the below.

Yep Dublin - which is impressive because I love Dublin (especially the Guinness!), and am planning to go later in the year with my dad (once he's survived the interrogation of the UK Passport Service - only kidding, I'm sure it'll be fine!), so full marks to Cortana on this one!

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Follow the Government of Japan

Why do I keep getting promoted tweets from the Government of Japan?  Been getting them for about a week now, and it feels like they're advertising something that doesn't really need advertising...

I remember when I was a kid there used to be loads of TV adverts for things that it seemed pointless to advertise.  For example, energy companies like British Gas - I can understand the reason for doing it now, because there is a choice of companies to buy your gas from, but way back then your choice was either to have gas, or not, and if you had it, it came from British Gas.  I imagined someone sat in their house shivering for hours, then watching the British Gas advert and thinking "Hey! I could put the gas central heating on!"

And so for the Government of Japan.  Although I would love to visit Japan...

Speaking of travelling, I've just finished "Cycling Back to Happiness: Adventure on the North Sea Cycle Route" by Bernie French, It's a tale of an everyday guy, not a super cycling enthusiast, taking on the adventure of the North Sea Cycle Route, and as you might imagine, he encounters all kinds of people and experiences on the route.  I've been getting into my travel books lately (which are always a bad idea because it makes me want to go travelling) and this book looked worth a try.  It is definitely well worth a read if you like Bill Bryson or Michael Palin, I found it particularly interesting because of the route taken Bernie goes through a lot of small villages and other settlements that you wouldn't probably visit on a typical holiday.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Be A Millionaire Day - May 20th

The 20th of May is apparently "Be a Millionaire Day", a day to honour the desire for freedom and power that comes from being loaded.

Here I am, in my weekend chill out clothes, supping on a spot of morning prosecco whilst laughing at the more unfortunate.  Poor fools.

I'm sure most of us (if not all of us) would love to be millionaires, and even if we are millionaires then even a bit more cash still wouldn't go amiss.  It's very true that however much you have, or however much you earn, a little bit more would be ideal.  For example:

If I had a bit more cash (say another £200) I'd:

  1. Save towards a holiday / Pay off some debts a bit quicker

If I had a fair bit more cash (say £3,000) I'd:

  1. Book a holiday
  2. Pay off debts even quicker
  3. Buy a new suit

If I got a big wedge of cash (say £50k+) I'd:

  1. Book a cruise
  2. Clear some debts
  3. Save some money
  4. Buy a new suit, and a new car

If I got a massive amount of money (Talking millions here) I'd:

  1. Book a world cruise / go travelling
  2. Clear all my debts
  3. Save some money, and give some away
  4. Buy a new suit, new cars, new computers, and hire a cleaner and a personal trainer

But the odds are that none of the above will happen, and we'll manage fine.  And even if the last one happened, I'd still be complaining that I didn't have a helicopter, or that my personal trainer made me work too hard, or whatever people worry about.

If you got a million pounds (or dollars) what would you do?  Is your list similar to mine, or do you have other priorities?  Sounds like something to put in the comments :)

By the way - a new middle class struggles video is up, we're up to part 3 :)

Monday, 16 May 2016

Virtually Sorted

Ever find yourself in the need of some additional support, but not to the degree where you want to formally employ an assistant?

Virtually Sorted provide Virtual Assistants, who can answer phones, organise social media, handle typing up documents, and assist with sales and marketing.  They recently had an offer on the popular news website where they offered a free blog audit, and being one for a bit of a freebie, I thought I'd give it a shot.

Now, I'll be totally honest, I expected to receive some generic text that could apply to any website with a standard "to do list" with items such as "Spend money on advertising" or "Hire an expert to write blog posts for you", and it would come with a call to spend money for a personalised report – which for me, like many fellow bloggers, is not an option, blogging is just a hobby, and not one that I’m willing to put money into (if it was a job I’d be well below the UK minimum wage!)

So, I gave them pretty much the bare minimum information that I could be bothered to give - my blog address, some limited other information, but otherwise I left it a blank canvas to see what they'd make of it.  I think I gave something particularly helpful like "here's my website address - go audit it"

Well, I have to say that my expectations were completely and very pleasingly wrong!  I got the following:
  • SEO Audit
  • Blogging Prompts specific to the Blog of Thog
  • Social media strategy document for tracking progress
  • Blogspiration calendar for marking out my blogging year
  • Goals document for adding tasks to

The report and documentation that they provided me was very detailed, specific to my blog, and there were areas where they had gone above and beyond, by going onto my YouTube channel and recommending ways how they should be linked together.  The expert who had worked on the report had spent a good amount of time reading my blog (I'm very sorry for them), working out what it was all about, doing a good amount of technical website checking, and even came up with suggestions for future blog topics, and as any blogger knows, we all run short of ideas for topics sometimes.

Don't let the Apple Mac put you off.

In fact, I was so impressed that I emailed the founder of Virtually Sorted, Caroline Wylie, a few questions for this blog, which she kindly replied to:

Q: How long has Virtually Sorted been running?
A: We've been in existence since 2004, since before the dawn of VOIP or cloud computing... Or at least widely available services!

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Virtually Sorted? 
A: A family member was thinking of setting up an internet cafe, and I said that since so many more people were getting the internet at home it wouldn't work - but what would work was having assistants who could do the computer work for the technophobes or the people who were simply too busy to get it done.  The seed of an idea refused to go away... And I increasingly hated my suit - I now wear jeans to the office every day.

Q: What are the advantages of using Virtual Assistants? 
A: Lots!  But mainly we save clients time and money - we have clients who've spent 2 hours battling with PowerPoint presentations and been able to fix them in a couple of minutes. We've helped grow businesses from one-man-bands into international businesses with offices and staff all over the world.  And we also help people who find it impossible to keep staff in tricky locations - being virtual you don't have to have someone sat in a grimy London office or the top of a mountain in Wales (well not unless they want to be there anyway!).  You tend to find that VAs are more skilled than the equivalent temp staff you could get - and they have the advantage of continuity too.

Disclaimer: Employing a VA does not guarantee that you'll win at Jenga. Unless I guess if you employ them specifically for you to beat them.

Thanks to Caroline for her time answering my questions, I've found the concept of virtual assistants really interesting and full of possibilities, and the work that Virtually Sorted did for me in auditing my blog was certainly very impressive - I shall be looking to carry out their recommendations in the near future!

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Eurovision 2016

I've just watched all of the twenty six entries of this years Eurovision Song Contest, and we're just now in the break, waiting for the results.

For myself, I particularly like Hungary and their drumming monk, not to mention to three whistlers, but Russia was also pretty good by climbing up a wall whilst singing.  Looking at tweets I wonder if Spain and the epic knee dancing is going to win it, but we'll see.

I must admit the greatest fun has just been to tweet along to it, and communicating with other tweeters, it's been a great time, especially as I've been working on a bottle of rose wine to myself as I do :)

It was a particularly confusing point when Australia took part, but hey, why not :)

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Not Quite First Class

The other weekend I travelled to Manchester for the day for an event - I'd planned it for a while, and as I was taking the train (so I could have a beer if the fancy took me) I decided to treat myself to first class on the way home.  I do like going first class on a train, especially on a journey home - I find that on the way to a place there's often a vague frisson of excitement that you're going somewhere, which helps you overlook being jammed in a seat with a hundred other people, trying to avoid having your feet run over by a snack trolley, whilst on the way home you're flagging somewhat and tempers can be frayed so a little bit of comfort can be very welcome.

That was possibly the best pork pie I've ever eaten - top marks to Beehive Food for making it, and to Piccadilly Tap for stocking it.

So I got to Manchester rail station after a couple of pints (and an absolutely amazing pork pie, as shown above), and decided to check out the first class lounge for a complimentary coffee and perhaps a decent biscuit. (As an aside, if you happen to have a train change at Doncaster, they sometimes leave the first class lounge unattended, so even if you haven't got a ticket, you can get in and raid the posh biscuits, to snack on when on the train, or even to save as impromptu gifts for friends and family)

 However, after exploring Manchester rail station twice to find the first class lounge, when I finally did discover it, it turns out that in Manchester rail station the first class lounge is apparently for Virgin Trains customers only, and I wasn't on a Virgin train.  So nothing complimentary there.

Still, I boarded the train at last, and looked forward to a couple of hours of stewards regularly approaching me with food and a selection of delicious drinks.  In the past I've found that, given a sufficiently long train journey, that you can more or less make your money back by just eating and drinking everything they offer you.

It was a good thirty minutes when I discovered (thanks Google) that apparently the train in question didn't offer refreshments.  So essentially I'd paid for first class to get a slightly nicer seat.

And a desk lamp.  With an on/off switch, no less.
So all in all, although it's a bit middle-class to complain about it, I was disappointed in the lack of provision offered for first class. It's entirely down to my fault for not checking the website to see exactly what "first class" meant for my particular train, and I'll make sure to do that in future.

I'm not really sure why I took this picture, except that the disembodied hand reaching for the baby seems large.
Speaking of which, part 2 of my middle class struggles (aka #FirstWorldProblems) is online, why not watch it (and even part 1 as well if you really feel like it...)

Monday, 9 May 2016

Cross Stitch

My wife is a keen cross stitcher.  Anyway, the other day I noticed one of her craft boxes with her DMC cotton in, and felt the need to annotate.

Saturday, 7 May 2016


How to get me to run as fast as I can.

Empty?!? There's 2% left. Should easy be enough for another few minutes.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Lynx in the wild

I was very lucky to see a rare sight today - a lynx in the wild. Click on the pic below to expand, see if you can spot it.

Yeah, I went there. Come back soon for more craziness.

If you liked this, maybe you'll like a video of middle class whinges, kind of like #FirstWorldProblems but I didn't call it that because there's already loads of #FirstWorldProblems videos out there, but don't look at them, look at mine.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

The Farmers Market

Near us, a Farmers Market takes place once a month, selling all kinds of fruit, vegetables, exotic meats (ostrich, anyone), cake, low fat sausages and so on.  After popping in to see my parents (who are busy bottling home made alcohol - see my mum's blog), I decided to swing by the market to see if it was still on - I knew that it was due to finish early afternoon, but thought I might pick up a bargain going towards the end of the day.

No such luck.

Turning up at 1pm (and the market was due to last until 1pm) half of the stalls were already packed up whilst the other half, in the drizzle, desperately loaded vans and lorries as quickly as they could, seemingly to allow them to get the vehicle started and run over any remaining potential customers before they too left.

To make the visit worthwhile, I went to the toilet at the site, and then went and got a cheeseburger (yes, I washed my hands between the two events).  I looked around for sauce to put on the cheeseburger, I couldn't see any but did notice a table behind two bikers that were stood next to the stand.

Making my way around the bikers (who almost seemed to be deliberately adjusting their standing positions to extend the amount of distance I would have to traverse to make it to the sauce), I picked up the mustard.  The mustard bottle at first refused to dispense anything, but then reluctantly squeezed out a farting noise akin to a elderly Yorkshire Terrier that had eaten sprouts.  Eventually it dribbled a stain of mustard onto the burger, and I accepted that this was as good as it was going to get, and retired to my car to escape the light rain and demolish the burger.

In other news, I've been playing with GIFs.

GIFs allow you to put up little animations (like the above), and are really useful to include in tweets to engage viewers, I got the idea from a recent "HootChat" run by Hootsuite - Hootsuite provide a really useful website where you can schedule tweets and the like, which I use because it means that I can promote my stuff when I'm at work etc, but they also do a great deal for helping people promote their stuff, through blog posts and HootChats on Twitter.  The last one was on the use of video (and a lot around GIFs like the above, but also full videos) and was really interesting.  Anyway, check out , it lets you make GIFs.

Finally, I made a new video today.  It's some middle class whinges about life, essentially first world problems.  I hope to raise a smile or two :)

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