Keep taking the tablets

Know the game “Fortunately Unfortunately”? Here’s a quick example:

Fortunately my wife and I are relatively healthy people who don’t get ill often.  Unfortunately Ellie and Samuel both got colds a few weeks back.  Fortunately I didn’t get it.  Unfortunately I got one a week later.  Fortunately Ellie and Samuel both made steady recovery.  Unfortunately I didn’t.  Fortunately I work from home and run my own business, so I didn’t have to use up any sick leave.  Unfortunately I still had to take a couple of days off work because the cold was that bad.  Fortunately I tend to recover from colds fairly quickly, and without the aid of medication.  Unfortunately on this occasion I was forced to take a barrage of pills to try to combat the symptoms.  Fortunately they have been working and my cold is now nearly gone.  Unfortunately I am still left with a bit of a sniffle and a rather heavy cough.

There, that was fun.

So yes, the cold is now thankfully on its way out, which is good because I really don’t like being ill.  I’m not the sort of person to admit defeat, and I definitely don’t accept the concept of the so-called “Man Flu”.  Still, the pills have been useful, if only to help me sleep.  In fact, during a phone call home my mum recommended that I take some multivitamins, just in case that helped.  So we went to Tesco and had a look at the range.  I was quite surprised at what I found on the shelf.

How the Lib-Dems broke the Election

Now, I’m not normally one to talk about politics.  I usually have absolutely no interest in such things, and I tend to be of the opinion that life will continue regardless of which party is elected.  Strange, then, that this year should feel so different.  Politics has been ‘the thing’ to talk about – on the train, in the car, round the dinner table, on the internet, no doubt even at the bottom of the sea.  I’ve taken more of an interest in the elections this year than any other year.  And all because of the Lib-Dems.

Our current election process works on the basis of a ‘first past the post’ process of vote counting, which works best when there are two main parties to choose between.  In the past, it’s been a two-party system, with Labour and Conservative battling against each other for people’s attention.  Sure, there have been other parties in there too, but they’ve gone mostly unnoticed.  Until this year, when Britain took the decision to host distinctly American-style Prime Ministerial Debates, and invited Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg to join in the foray.  Suddenly the Lib-Dems rose to prominence, got people’s attention, and made it look like all three parties were level-pegging.

At that point, a hung parliament was almost guaranteed.  With three parties equally popular, no one party can have a majority, and the ‘first past the post’ election system fails.

Growing up is overrated

Life is full of stages.  History, experience, science and society have, through their own varied means and with very little co-operation, dictated to us how our lives should develop and when each milestone should be reached.  In the case of babies, these stages are closely packed, and a by-the-book baby can be expected to learn new things and reach new levels of ability according to a tried and tested timetable.  Throughout childhood, those milestones get further apart, but they’re still there, telling us how intelligent we should be, how our maturity should show itself, and so on.  The preset stages don’t finish at the dawn of adulthood, of course – we have achievements to attain here too, like owning a car, buying insurance, taking out a mortgage, attending jury duty, voting in the elections, paying into a pension, even retiring.  All these things are expected of us, not necessarily in a particular order, especially later in life, but we are each of us judged by what everyone else reckons we “ought to be doing by now”.

And then there are those of us who tear the rule books into pieces and feed the bits to the next door neighbour’s dog.

Beware of exclamation marks

motorola_l6My friend Phill recently bought a new mobile phone.  Apparently it’s shiny.  Last Christmas I bought my wife a new mobile phone.  It too is shiny.  My own mobile phone, on the other hand, was shiny and new in 2005, and is now considerably less shiny than it used to be thanks to my keys rubbing a lot of the silver off the bottom of the casing.  No wonder, then, that I felt a few pangs of jealousy this week.

Unfortunately I just can’t justify buying myself a new phone, since my Motorola L6 does actually work fine.  So rather than get depressed about the situation I decided to have another go at revitalising my phone and getting the most out of it.  A little research got me Opera Mini 4.2, which is a sleek and feature-filled web browser for my phone.  Not only is it infinitely nicer to look at and use than the built-in one, it’s also miles faster thanks to a proxy compression that Opera provides – basically every web page my phone requests is sent via the Opear server, compressed until it’s tiny and then sent to my phone, which speeds up download times considerably.  The result is that my phone is now capable of checking e-mails and looking at web pages without a century passing between pages.

Then I started downloading yet more stuff.  

The American Elections: why Americans vote and Brits don’t

Even if you’ve caught only a few minutes of news on TV today it will have been pretty much impossible to miss today’s big news.  America elected Barack Obama as their next President, beating John McCain by a significant margin.  In fact, so big is this news that it dominates the headlines here in the UK too.  It’s as if the American President is our America President too.

I have been interested to note a certain level of bias in our news.  Now, I know politically-minded critics will say that no media is totally unbiased, but some are more likely to express opinions than others.  For instance, I am not at all surprised when Channel 4 or even ITV shows a report that is clearly in favour of one candidate over the other, but I was more surprised when the mighty BBC fell into the same trap.  I’m not at all interested in politics, and yet the media reports were such that I know plenty about Obama and next to nothing about McCain.  It’s as if this country has been told that Obama was the right person to win, and we’ve all just accepted it without realising it.  Everyone’s really pleased that Obama won, implying that we wouldn’t have been quite so overjoyed with the alternative outcome.

But what has intrigued me most is the different approach the Americans have in their elections.

Making sense of the fuel crisis

Running on emptyToday was a first for me. I spent more than £20 on a tank of petrol. For most people I suspect £20 is hardly anything, but my little Mini has a tiny tank and a range of only about 200 miles. But so far I’ve been looking at an average of £15-18 to fill up. Today the price of petrol was £1.14 a litre. I can remember when it was half that.

It’s a sobering thought that all the environmentalists’ warnings are finally coming true. I remember being told in a Biology lesson once that we would run out of fossil fuels by 2040, and I can remember thinking “ah well, that’s years off, someone will find a solution by then.” So far, no one has. If things progress in the same direction, we’re in for a tough time of it over the next few years. Oil is becoming increasingly hard to find, putting prices up both for businesses and individuals. 2040 may seem like a long way off, but the effects of the fuel crisis are beginning to be felt now.

Comparing services

I’ve just received a bill from British Gas.  We’re on paperless billing, so it’s all done online.  I logged into their web site, checked the bill, and noticed that the bill was based on an estimate rather than a direct meter reading.  So I took a reading from our meter, fed it into their web site, and the web site told me that because the reading I had given was lower than their estimate I would have to phone them to confirm it.  At this point I began to wonder whether I was going to have the same problems I’d had with BT.

After a few minutes in the queue (incidentally, I was impressed to note that they told me how long I was likely to be in the queue) I was put through to an operator, who was British, and who dealt with the information swiftly and effectively, updating the information on my account there and then.  I then had the option of either paying the bill on the phone, or doing it online immediately.  I chose to pay on the phone, and all was perfectly straightforward.  After the phone call I checked online, and the details had already been updated.

Manningtree Vehicle Show

CMC club standSunday it was supposed to rain.  At least, that’s what the weather report said on Thursday.  By the time it got to Sunday morning the MET office had revised its decision and said that it wasn’t going to rain.  But it was going to be grey and misty and cloudy and miserable.  And it was.  In the morning.  By the afternoon we were enjoying glorious sunshine.

And it was on this day that I went with Colchester Mini Club to the Manningtree High School Classic Vehicle Show.  Not restricted to just Minis, there were cars of all sorts in attendance, all (or at least most) shined up and tidied to be on show.  Photos of the event are in my new Picasa album.

Where did ‘one’ go?

Yesterday, without warning, ‘one’ railways suddenly ceased to exist. In its place are platforms decked out with “National Express East Anglia” logos and posters, and trains in a new livery. Overnight, it seems, the company was taken over, everything changed, and no one seems to know what’s going on. In fact, so new is this news that I’ve only been able to find one article telling me about the takeover. One’s web site no longer exists, but redirects to one of the many* National Express web sites.

This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, and I don’t expect much to change other than the words on the signage. After all, when ‘one’ took over from Great Eastern very little actually happened – the livery changed on the outside, but the trains were exactly the same on the inside. I think the only thing ‘one’ actually did was put prices up and convince us all that having their trains go slower would speed things up (the idea does work in theory, in that less time is spent sitting in stations, but it does seem a little backwards). However, I think the most frustrating thing about ‘one’ was the name – it’s so pretentious and odd-sounding. “One welcomes you to this train”. Why thank you, good train driver, one is most grateful for the welcome.

Not good, BT, not good at all

Back in December I picked up the telephone to call someone, only to find that we had been disconnected.  The cause, apparently, was that there was an outstanding balance on our account, and the line had been cut off because of it.  We could receive calls and use the internet, but not dial out.  This all stemmed from an issue we had had paying our previous bill, which we ended up paying in two lots because they wouldn’t let us set up a direct debit.  The BT system clearly got confused, seeing two payments, and refunded the second one.  There was no indication that this was a problem, and I presumed from that that I would be able to pay the remainder with the next bill.  I was wrong.

There was nothing on the BT web site when I logged in saying that the line had been stopped, nor that the outstanding balance was a problem.  I nevertheless paid the outstanding £22 immediately, and expected to be reconnected within 24 hours, as per the recorded message we get directed to when trying to dial out.  No such luck.  It’s now the second week in January, and we’re still not connected.  The money has been paid, it’s on my bank statement, and it registers on my BT account too that there is no outstanding balance.  But the line is still blocked.  A strongly worded letter was sent back in December, on the day we were cut off, but I have yet to receive any correspondence from them in return.