Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Battle of the Generations

I've always considered myself relatively good with computers.  I've completed a degree in Computer Information Systems.  I use computers every day, and have a tablet and a smartphone which I regularly use as well.

Yet my son, who isn't four yet, can already teach me stuff on computers.  He's far more comfortable working with the tablet than I was at first - all I can think is that I am used to working computers a certain way (e.g. with a mouse and keyboard) and he doesn't have any preconceived ideas as to how it 'should' work.  The other day he tried to hack a neighbours wi-fi - didn't manage it, but full marks for effort. (I jest of course, he stumbled on the menu by mistake, but he still had a great time typing away into the password box)

I was watching this video from Sky Sunrise about tech savvy kids, and I do agree that parents do need to be concerned about how many hours their children spend using technology.  My son probably uses a tablet at most perhaps half an hour a day, to watch a cartoon or play a number of educational games I've installed for him.

The makers of the games, as an aside, are very cunning, because the free versions of the games are packed with adverts and of course these adverts behave differently to everything else in the game - for example, you might press on a picture of an apple, and the game speaks "Apple.", but if you press the advert next to the picture of an apple, the game closes and the tablet takes you to the website selling the thing on the advert.  This frustrates my son so as a result I'm looking at buying full versions of the games he finds most popular (which to be fair isn't a bad thing - it supports the makers of the games and the full versions generally have more features anyway)

I'd be interested to hear your views.  Should kids be kept away from technology? Or should they learn to engage with it from an early age?

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Coping with the clock change

Clocks go back tonight!

No idea how this affects other counties, but in the UK at 1am Sunday morning the clocks will go back one hour, going from British Summer Time to Greenwich Mean Time.  Basically, it means mornings will be lighter, but it'll get dark earlier.

A commonly held opinion is that it also gives us an extra hour in bed on the Sunday.  This would be true, except for the fact that my three-year-old son is going to get up at his usual time, like it or not.

So I've tried to mitigate this.

Today he's been out this morning, been to the park this afternoon, had no afternoon nap, and I've kept him up until half 8 (his usual bedtime is half 7) in the hope that tomorrow morning he isn't going to awaken sometime around 5am expecting to get up.

We'll see tomorrow what happens.

In other news, A Girl Named Michael (a blog by a girl named Michael - when I first attempted to type her blogs name I misspelled it, coming up with "A Gril Named Michael" which I assume would be a blog about a rappers mouth furniture that for some inconceivable reason they decided to name after an Archangel) asked me to answer three questions.  I'm little worried how random my answers were compared to other people.  Check the questions and answers out at http://agirlnamedmichael-mj.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/3-very-random-questions.html

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Is it difficult to identify prostitutes?

Allow me to clarify this slightly concerning title by confirming that I have never requested the services, or indeed provided the services, that a sunset operative is best known for providing.

But how do you know, if you are attempting to procure this form of support, how do you know that the person is actually a prostitute?

I travelled to London last week and as a result was driving around Hull at 5am, a time of day that reaffirms the fact that Hull is a city that sleeps. It might be all fine for somewhere like New York to "never sleep", but in Old Hull we are so busy that we just need to nap from time to time.

Whilst driving to the train station, I passed  a female, perhaps in her mid-twenties, wearing dark trousers, and a padded blue jacket. Now she was stood down a street waiting for something. But I've no idea if she was a gigolo or not. She wasn't wearing a leather mini skirt or basque (is that the right word - apologies if I have offended any folk of the ethnic grouping located in Spain and France by suggesting that workers of ill repute may wear you) but then it is 5am in mid-October, slightly misty and definitely not weather that you would want to be out in without some good quality garments.

But what if she was just going to work somewhere that was a long distance away and she was waiting for a pre-arranged lift? As a man who, on a good day can vaguely resemble an out-of-shape lumberjack, I am aware of my potential to worry vulnerable females - little do they know that all they need to do in my case is brandish a mouldy peach and I will scream like a little girl - and, if I were attempting to hire a night person, what if I approached her with an offer to purchase her and she wasn't one? It could be a very uncomfortable conversation...
 "Hello there!" I would cheerfully announce.
 "Um, hello?" she might respond.
 I could attempt to identify her by asking "Are you working?"
 "Well, I will be when I get to work."
 "Work eh? A nod's as good as a wink to a blind horse! In you get.  I'll take you to work! Rowr!"
 "Are you a kerb crawler?!? I'm calling the police!"

And vice versa - what if I stopped, offered her a lift to the station, thinking her not to be a prostitute, but she actually is, so she gets in the car and is very displeased when I actually drive to the train station, and politely indicate that she leaves the car while I get a parking ticket? She might follow me onto the train thinking it some kind of bizarre role play, only to kick up quite a fuss when I refuse to pay for her ticket and the conductor throws her off at the next stop.

Maybe I shouldn't be up this early.

If you're still reading, I urge you to check out the video below, of one of the epic fight scenes from The Matrix series being re-enacted in Macy's.  It's great!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Travelling on trains

I travelled on a train last week.

The train journey from London to Hull is always a little uncomfortable if you're heading out of London around 5pm, when what seems to be the worlds population leaves the capital to return to their homes.

I love that you can book seats on a train.  I love getting in my booked seat.

I hate it when someone sits in my booked seat, because I never kick them out, but instead lurk nearby, frowning for several hours.  And it gives me a headache.

The other thing I hate is when you're on a long journey, and someone sits next to you.

I don't mean to be anti-social (well, maybe I do) but I like my leg room, and usually the only way to get sufficient leg room is to sit at an angle, with your legs over in the legroom of the adjacent seat.

After about two hours on a train, with my legs crammed into an insufficient space because of an inconsiderate soul boarding the train at Peterborough and sitting in the seat next to me (just because he'd reserved it too), my thoughts went as follows:

  1. My legs ache.
  2. Maybe I could pretend to go to the toilet, just so that I can walk up and down the carriage and stretch my legs.
  3. Damn, the toilet engaged sign is lit.  I can't do that because I'd have to wait outside the toilet for whoever is in there, then pretend to go to the toilet, and it'd just take too long.
  4. My legs ache.
  5. Where are we anyway?
  6. Please say that the next station is Doncaster, although I know it's going to be bloody Grantham, it's okay, I can wait, it's not a problem, I can manage-
  8. Get up, person in the seat next to me.  That seat is only reserved until Doncaster.  You need to get up now.
  9. Get up.
  10. Up.
  11. GET UP.
  12. Yes! He's up I'll stand up too AHHH cramp!

One last comment - the train that I was on, which I believe was the East Coast Main Line, had a door which you had to open by pushing open the window, leaning out, and turning the handle on the outside.  Why? The vast majority of train doors have a nice little button you press to activate.  Even my fairly basic Vauxhall Agila has doors with handles on the inside.  I'm fairly certain that a door of this complexity would defeat me, and I'd either miss my stop or fall out of the window.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

What are these "Human Rights" things anyway? #BAD2013, #OCT16, #Humanrights, #BlogActionDay

This post is a bit outside of my normal arena, but it's part of Blog Action Day 2013, where over a thousand blogs across the globe are all talking about "Human Rights"

We hear a lot about human rights, generally not positive stuff.  News stories about people that, after committing major fraud, get to avoid jail because they have a pet goldfish which would suffer by being parted from their owner, that sort of thing.

And I don't know about anyone else, but in some ways for me it sounded like a bit of a new thing.

And I'm obviously wrong.

Below is a plain language version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, from http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus/humanrights/resources/plain.asp.  This Declaration was adopted in 1948 in Paris, after the bloodshed and atrocities of the Second World War.  I'm reluctant to copy and paste text in this manner - but I am not capable of writing the below words any better than in the format they already exist.

1 When children are born, they are free and each should be treated in the same way. They have reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a friendly manner.

2 Everyone can claim the following rights, despite
- a different sex
- a different skin colour
- speaking a different language
- thinking different things
- believing in another religion
- owning more or less
- being born in another social group
- coming from another country
It also makes no difference whether the country you live in is independent or not.

3 You have the right to live, and to live in freedom and safety.

4 Nobody has the right to treat you as his or her slave and you should not make anyone your slave.

5 Nobody has the right to torture you.

6 You should be legally protected in the same way everywhere, and like everyone else.

7 The law is the same for everyone; it should be applied in the same way to all.

8 You should be able to ask for legal help when the rights your country grants you are not respected.

9 Nobody has the right to put you in prison, to keep you there, or to send you away from your country unjustly, or without good reason.

10 If you go on trial this should be done in public. The people who try you should not let themselves be influenced by others.

11 You should be considered innocent until it can be proved that you are guilty. If you are accused of a crime, you should always have the right to defend yourself. Nobody has the right to condemn you and punish you for something you have not done.

12 You have the right to ask to be protected if someone tries to harm your good name, enter your house, open your letters, or bother you or your family without a good reason.

13 You have the right to come and go as you wish within your country. You have the right to leave your country to go to another one; and you should be able to return to your country if you want.

14 If someone hurts you, you have the right to go to another country and ask it to protect you. You lose this right if you have killed someone and if you, yourself, do not respect what is written here.

15 You have the right to belong to a country and nobody can prevent you, without a good reason, from belonging to a country if you wish.

16 As soon as a person is legally entitled, he or she has the right to marry and have a family. In doing this, neither the colour of your skin, the country you come from nor your religion should be impediments. Men and women have the same rights when they are married and also when they are separated.
Nobody should force a person to marry.
The government of your country should protect you and the members of your family.

17 You have the right to own things and nobody has the right to take these from you without a good reason.

18 You have the right to profess your religion freely, to change it, and to practise it either on your own or with other people.

19 You have the right to think what you want, to say what you like, and nobody should forbid you from doing so. You should be able to share your ideas also—with people from any other country.

20 You have the right to organize peaceful meetings or to take part in meetings in a peaceful way. It is wrong to force someone to belong to a group.

21 You have the right to take part in your country's political affairs either by belonging to the government yourself or by choosing politicians who have the same ideas as you. Governments should be voted for regularly and voting should be secret. You should get a vote and all votes should be equal. You also have the same right to join the public service as anyone else.

22 The society in which you live should help you to develop and to make the most of all the advantages (culture, work, social welfare) which are offered to you and to all the men and women in your country.

23 You have the right to work, to be free to choose your work, to get a salary which allows you to support your family. If a man and a woman do the same work, they should get the same pay. All people who work have the right to join together to defend their interests.

24 Each work day should not be too long, since everyone has the right to rest and should be able to take regular paid holidays.

25 You have the right to have whatever you need so that you and your family: do not fall ill or go hungry; have clothes and a house; and are helped if you are out of work, if you are ill, if you are old, if your wife or husband is dead, or if you do not earn a living for any other reason you cannot help. Mothers and their children are entitled to special care. All children have the same rights to be protected, whether or not their mother was married when they were born.

26 You have the right to go to school and everyone should go to school. Primary schooling should be free. You should be able to learn a profession or continue your studies as far as wish. At school, you should be able to develop all your talents and you should be taught to get on with others, whatever their race, religion or the country they come from. Your parents have the right to choose how and what you will be taught at school.

27 You have the right to share in your community's arts and sciences, and any good they do. Your works as an artist, writer, or a scientist should be protected, and you should be able to benefit from them.

28 So that your rights will be respected, there must be an 'order' which can protect them. This ‘order’ should be local and worldwide.

29 You have duties towards the community within which your personality can only fully develop. The law should guarantee human rights. It should allow everyone to respect others and to be respected.

30 In all parts of the world, no society, no human being, should take it upon her or himself to act in such a way as to destroy the rights which you have just been reading about.

So these words (albeit in a more formal format, that can be seen here) have been around for over sixty years.  And I strongly believe that they still fully apply to the world today.  Pieces of the Magna Carta can even be seen in the above, despite it being almost 900 years old.

I'm not going to talk about human rights abuses, in this country or abroad.  Why?  Because I do not know enough about them.  All I ask is that you read the above text in bold, and ask yourself one question.

Do you abide by these words in your own life?

Thank you.

If you're interested in finding out more, head on over to Blog Action Day 2013.

Join me and take part in Blog Action Day Oct 16 2013
Courtesy of: http://www.blogactionday.org

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The joy of dealing with customer services

If you ever have to deal with a large organisation, you will be familiar with customer services.

This is the professionally trained people there to handle your queries.

And they are great.  Don't get me wrong, I think customer service is massively important, and a very difficult job - having to deal with annoyed and possibly unusual-thinking people all day long (check out http://notalwaysright.com/ for examples of these), often not for a huge amount of recompense.

But here's what happened to me the other day.

I had to cancel not one, but two services, from two different companies.  One was our Internet service, and one was the internet sim in my tablet.  Reasons for these are:

  • Internet service - we have internet set up with an alternative provider, so we may as well cancel the old provider so we're not paying two firms for internet.
  • Internet sim - I set up a contract to get 3G internet access for my tablet when I first got it.  However, the reality is that the tablet spends 99% of its time at home, connected to my wi-fi, particularly since I got my smartphone, I have very little reason to take it out anywhere.

So firstly, I rang up to cancel our home internet. I rang Kingston Telecommunications, and the call was perfect.  Over and done with in three minutes, so issue with them at all, and they were very friendly and helpful throughout.

Secondly, I rang three to cancel the internet sim for my tablet.  Now I should say that all the way throughout the call the advisor I spoke to remained (for the most part - we'll come on to that) pleasant.  But this is how it went.

  1. I rang three.  I worked my through several different automated menus, trying to work out which option I should choose (e.g. do I want to cancel "Option 1: my iPad" or "Option 2: my Mobile Broadband?"  It's a tablet but not an iPad? Which one should I choose?
  2. In the end got through to an advisor.
  3. Explained that I wanted to cancel my sim due to lack of use and that my tablet basically lived on my home wifi.
  4. She said that she would reduce my package cost from £16 a month to £8 a month.
  5. Said no thanks.
  6. She then said that she would reduce my package cost £5 a month.
  7. Still not interested, but thank you.
  8. She then questioned me on what electronic devices I have at home.  I felt this was a little probing, but I don't have anything particular to hide - at home I have a desktop PC, my tablet, and my smartphone.
  9. She then asked "But how will you access the internet when you are away from home?!?" in a sort of amazed tone that clearly I would wither away and die if I didn't have immediate Internet access at all times.
  10. I explained that I had my smartphone.
  11. She then said "But isn't it easier to use a tablet, if you're having to write notes or letters or emails?"
  12. I went on to say that my smartphone is actually faster than my tablet, so I'd probably use my smartphone anyway.
  13. She grabbed hold of the opportunity here! "Ah well, then what I could do for you is offer you the new Galaxy Note 8.0, which has these features..." and went on to tell me all the features that the tablet has.
  14. I asked "and how much will that be?"
  15. She said "Just seven pounds a month more than you're currently paying"
  16. Okay, so £23 a month.  This isn't actually a bad deal, it would be £29 a month if I bought this normally from 3, but I am trying here to reduce my monthly outgoings.  I thanked her for the offer, but explained that I still wanted to cancel.

Now, at this point I did something apparently wrong.

I complimented her on her sales technique.  I said that she was very good at her job, and made a very tempting offer, but that I still wanted to cancel.

She seemed to take offense that I had suggested that she was attempting to sell me something, and explained that she was just doing her best to point out the options that I had available to me, because I hadn't fully used my various allowances with the current contract.  It did slightly feel that though she was attempting to make me feel guilty for suggesting that she was attempting to sell me something when all she wanted to do was help me.

Now this winds me up.  If you work for a commercial organisation, be it a phone company, or a supermarket, or insurance firm, whatever, even if you are not on the front line (and I would definitely say customer services staff are on the front line), you must, at the very least, be aware of the fortunes of that company. And if you can help that company make money, in turn, you help yourself.  Because a company that does not have a regular flow of income is not going to be able to pay you to work there.

So let's be honest.  If you're trying to keep a customer, or make a sale, that's okay!  That's part of your job if you work for a commercial organisation.  Don't pretend that you're turning up to work there out of the goodness of your heart.

At this point I asserted my decision to cancel the contract, confirming that I didn't even want to just pay £5 a month to keep it as a backup, and we got the call over with relatively quickly.

For all that this call only took thirteen minutes, it seemed like an age.

I should assert that this was just my personal experience, I am sure that there are many happy three customers, their prices are generally competitive and for no reason should you take the above as a reason not to give them money in return for stuff.  But when you have a customer that wants to cancel their service, whatever it is, sure, try to make them a better deal to keep them there.  But if they really want to go, let them.  Don't make them feel bad for not wanting to give you money any more.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

A Mug of Coffee that is called A Mug of Coffee

Do you ever feel like winding up the staff in Costa Coffee by going in and asking for a Venti?  (or asking for a Medio in Starbucks?)

On the one hand, it does make the coffee sound posher by giving the sizes fancy names.  And that's important - if you're going to spend the best part of four quid on a coffee (when you can buy a big jar of the good stuff for six pounds, I'm talking about Douwe Egberts, yeah baby) you need to feel as though it's something special.  That's why they go on about how drinking coffee in a shop, forced to share a table with strangers, is more sustainable than drinking it at home while sitting on furniture you like.

In your pyjamas. (sorry, I should keep up with the lingo - "onesie")

But there is a lot to be said for having words that I know what they mean.  Tall, Grande, Venti - to me, of these three words, the two that sound bigger are "Tall", and "Grande".  I have no idea what Venti means.  Apparently it means twenty, to reflect the fact that a Venti drink is twenty fluid ounces.

I have a confession to make.

I have no idea how big a fluid ounce is.

Ounces to me mean weight.  There's sixteen ounces to a pound, two point two pounds to a kilogramme, and lots of kilos in a tonne.  I don't get the fluid ounce thing, and I'm sure it's really simple.

I would guess a fluid ounce is roughly a sup.  Not a sip - a sup, as in a sup of beer (NOT "suff", as some people say. Sup.).  Somewhere between a sip and a swig, enough so that you know you've drunk something, but not so much that you're halted from talking for more than a moment.

So twenty sups of beer doesn't sound a lot.  So Venti now doesn't sound big.

Except it is.  It's massive.

And while I'm on the subject, let's look at the term "Regular".  Regular, many many food outlets have decided, means small.

No it doesn't.  Regular means average.  And Average means medium.

Small, medium and large, that's all you need.  Or if you want a really big drink, massive.

Now I'm off for a Quinquinty Visto.

Or is that a computer program?


PS I have to say that the Chocolate Tiffin Triangles at Costa are bloody amazing though.  I'd have a Venti one of them any day.

If you like coffee, why not check out these awesome mug designs, personally I really like the "Go Away" mug :)

Monday, 7 October 2013

I'm eating Pocky

As I type this, I'm eating a Pocky.

What's a Pocky?

pocky 1
it comes in a box.

It's a banana chocolate piece of confectionery that I bought from the Chinese supermarket today (if someone is reading this that has a question about me going to the Chinese supermarket - yes I did).  It's nice, if slightly unusual.

pocky in mouth
I say boy, I'ma gonna get me some vittles, hell yeah

It's (probably) the same as Mikado if you remember them (see website comparing the two).  But I don't remember Mikado coming in so many flavours - Pocky comes in chocolate, choco banana (the one I chose - very strong smell of chocolate banana when you opened the pack, but not so strong taste), strawberry, milk, and some others too I think.

In other food news, Starbucks are releasing a new item to its range of foods, the Duffin - a muffin with jam in the middle and coated in sugar.  Whilst I'm not convinced of the name it's probably better than any other combination of the words muffin and doughnut - doughfin, moughnut, or muffnut anyone?

Saturday, 5 October 2013

What have you made out of cardboard?

Two blog posts on the same day?!?  Less than an hour apart?  That's crazy Mike.

I totally forgot to write about Global Cardboard Challenge Day 2013.

It's an annual day for kids to make cool stuff out of cardboard, which I'm all in favour of.  I remember when I was a kid my mum collecting absolutely tons of things for me to play and make with - egg box cartons, cardboard boxes, gravy tubs, all sorts of stuff.  I absolutely loved a box that I just barely fit in, pretending that was a makeshift castle.

Anyway, today being Global Cardboard Challenge Day, we did the obligatory child in a box:

Look out for the letter-destroying box child.

My son did, at first, enjoy sitting in the box, but I didn't get a photo of that (fail) so I resorted to putting it on his head.

And then my head.  It's quite tricky to crawl around the house with your head covered in box, but I managed to make it to the kitchen where it was forcibly removed thanks to my other half hitting it with something.

But I was having difficulty with how to be creative with the box, until I came across the extremely good blog, A Beer for the Shower - where advice on how to drink beer whilst showering is provided, including a cardboard beer stand.

With this in mind, I created the following CARDBOARD SPIRITS STAND:

I was going to have more bottles on the stand - but somehow one felt dangerous enough.

"But how is it so stable Mike?"  I hear you cry.  Well, here's my secret:

A toilet roll in the second box stabilises it on the edge of the bath, allowing it to take the weight of a nearly empty bottle of Schnapps without collapsing.

Or I could always just use the window sill.

Anyhow, it was fun.  Do let me know what you have made out of cardboard!

Thursday, 3 October 2013

In the news

In the news:

A mum-of-three has shed a staggering 10 stone - by using her house as her own personal GYM.

Absolutely well done to the lady in question, but why capitalise the word "GYM"? Is it so unthinkable that someone could EXERCISE in their own HOUSE?!? What, you mean they moved around - without having to endure loud dance music pumped at them and groups of unfeasibly buff and muscly people walking past? Wow! That's amazing!

What's next - someone managing to eat food at home - by using their kitchen to COOK FOOD?

I've been answering questions on Yahoo Answers today - here is the sum of my wisdom that I have imparted to the world:

  • GCSEs aren't essential to get a job, but will help.
  • Don't be creepy.
  • Don't stalk.
  • Don't stalk.
  • Don't be stalkery creepy.
  • Don't stalk.
  • If you need medical help, some kind of doctor is advised.
  • If you're paying to drive for an hour, then drive for an hour.
  • If you're bad at something, practice to get better.  If you're really bad and can't get better, get help.
  • I like the name Jennifer over at least one other name.
  • Don't be afraid to be embarrassed.

Good eh?

Wednesday, 2 October 2013


Now, I'm not saying that I don't like football.  I do.

If England are playing there's a reasonable likelihood, especially if it's a big tournament, that I'll be watching the game.

And I support not just one, but two football teams, Newcastle United and Hull City.  But when I say "support", what I mean to say is that I quite like to hear that they've won.  I've no idea who is playing for either team, when their next game is, whereabouts they are in the league, anything like that.  I support Hull City because I live there, and Newcastle because when I was at college you either supported Leeds or Newcastle, and there were more Newcastle supporters than Leeds so I decided to try to average the numbers out.

I'm aware that people that enjoy football will be saying that I have no right to call myself a supporter - yes, you're correct.  But it's easier to say that you support a football team than "you are mildly interested in a football team"

However, for people like myself, there is a life lesson to learn.  You will encounter, particularly in pubs, but also in the office and even in taxis, real fans of football.

These souls will discuss how amazing it is that Smithy has bought the two Argentinians for a song and a supper, and that they are being played in a Quadruple Counterback position, when they should be a Swingside Forward Winger, and that Forgii shouldn’t be playing the full ninety minutes because he broke seven legs last game and one of them was his own. They will laugh, and their eye will twinkle in a way that indicates that you should be joining in.  It is essential for any man to learn to recognise this copy and know how to copy it, so that you can appear knowledgeable about football when all you know is that the round thing needs in go into the stringy thing and you wish they wouldn’t switch ends at half time because it means for the first ten minutes of the second half you are cheering every time the other side scores a goal.
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