Friday, 31 October 2014

Socially irresponsible

We're doing the tourist thing for a few days in the heart of England. 

Yesterday was torture at Alton Towers and today we're halfway through a day of industrial heritage. 

If I owned Alton Towers I'd want to maximise the social sharing being done by guests. It's a theme park where experience is what it's all about.  I'd want pictures of people pumped with adrenaline and videos of people trying to walk in a straight line after their inner ear balance control had become confused by a disorienting ride. I'd want Twitter and Facebook to be stuffed with images of people winning things, eating candy floss and conquering terrifying rides. 

People obviously need access to the internet to make this possible. We found that the 3G signal was very poor, perhaps due to the sheer volume of people. Alton Towers think they've overcome this by providing WiFi via The Cloud. What they don't realise is how shockingly bad this WiFi provision is. I'm an oversharer and I spent most of my day frustrated with lack of internet connection. I'd be flipping between a failure to connect via 3G and a failure to connect to the WiFi. 

I struggle to understand why the Alton Towers team haven't fixed this connection issue because social sharing is fantastic low cost advertising. 

The picture service they offer delivers your purchased image to a website. There is promotional material everywhere for this feature. It's just a shame they didn't think to invest in the infrastructure to support this functionality.

Today, by contrast, we've been in a museum which has zero 3G signal but free, good WiFi with no sign in required.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014


Today was Bring Your Child To Work Day.

I imagine that there are some companies where that could be quite a dull affair.  This is where working for an automotive giant has it's advantages.

Now if Hannah had shadowed Dave or me I'm pretty sure she would have found it rather boring but fortunately the Educational Outreach team organised a brilliant day.

Hannah's day included clay modelling vehicles in the Design showroom; a tour of the anechoic chamber (I'll let you look that up); checking out the NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) labs; the hot and cold testing rooms (including consumption of an ice lolly); something to do with one of the largest 3D printers in the world (who knew); a plastic moulding thingamabob; a canteen lunch including spotted dick and custard; a hot chocolate in Costa (my treat); checking out cobbles on the test track in a Transit; and what Hannah assures me was the best bit - zooming around the track in a Focus RS.

Hannah has now seen more of Ford Motor Company than I have.  I'm officially jealous.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Tesco troubles

Tonight I was doing an online shop to arrive for later in the week.

The Tesco website kept crashing and throwing error pages at me left, right and centre.

I always, foolishly, assume that problems like that are my fault.  I mean how can a major operator like Tesco who rely so heavily on the online shopper possibly have website issues?

I was blaming the Wifi, Apple, user error, in fact anything except Tesco.  It took so much longer to do the shop than normal and was incredibly frustrating.

A conversation later with hubby meant I needed to change the time of the delivery.

Back onto the hideous website and I must have tried 50 times before quitting.  The page I needed just would not load.

I cracked and called Tesco who took far longer than normal to answer the phone.  I explained what I needed help with and they coughed to "systems problems" which were so bad that they couldn't help me and they suggested I try fixing things later.  The IT team were "on it" and a resolution in an hour was likely.

I suggested that to avoid frustrating customers it might be a nice touch to for their IT team to pop a message on the website letting people know there are issues and recommending people come back later.

I got told that it wasn't the IT team that "put stuff on the website".  So I told my obstreperous Tesco employee that I understood how web authoring worked and perhaps it would be an idea to get someone from the authoring team on the case.

I then said my goodbyes and noticed that the Grocer had awarded Tesco "Onine Supermarket of the Year".  I took to Twitter and tweeted the Grocer's editor, Julia Glotz, and The Grocer's main account suggesting the award be rescinded.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Cutting the cost of motoring

So the Government wanted to cut the cost of motoring for the young.  It's a noble aim and one that I should be behind 100% because it helps to keep me in a job.
There are many ways that this could have been tackled:
  • Scrap VAT on cars
  • Remove VAT from fuel.
  • Reduce fuel duty.
  • Waive the VAT for driving lessons.
All of these would have a significant impact but none of these were the chosen policy.  The Tories have chosen to reduce the cost of a provisional licence from £50 to £34, a whole £16 back in the pockets of young people who are learning to drive.
This saving is less than the cost of a driving lesson, estimated by the in 2013 to be £24.
It's less than the cost of a tank of fuel.
I'm not convinced the Government was that serious about helping young people with the cost of motoring.  If they were, they'd have tried a bit harder.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Christmas present idea

I have a suggestion if you are stuck for a present idea for your little, or even your big, darling.
The Sphero is a unique toy that children and adults will enjoy.  It costs about £80 and you'll probably want to buy a "nubby" to protect it costing (an over-priced) £16 ish.
The recipient will need access to an iPod, smartphone or tablet to be able to operate it.
I'll leave you to Google it and find out more (try  Purchases can be made in many places, but Amazon and Firebox probably deserve a mention.
You'd get more of a sales pitch if I was on commission.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Always read the small print

Apparently the EU wants quite a bit of money from us, and they wan't it quite soon.
It's our fault.  It was in the terms and conditions, we just didn't realise.  Well we did have a clue and never questioned the situation when it was advantageous for us, but now it's less advantageous we're having second thoughts.
Many of us get ourselves into financial arrangements and we all know it's important to check the terms and conditions.
I struggle a little with the fact that this situation has come as a big surprise to David Cameron. But it's OK because he got angry and said he wasn't going to pay by the December 1st deadline.
So, given that the Prime Minister can see fit to renege on an agreement and pretend he didn't understand the terms and conditions he was signing up to, does that mean we can all do that?
Can I turn around to my mortgage company and say "Naff off"?
No, I can't.
Cameron should set a good example.  I'm appalled by his childish strop.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Early onset stupidity

So the Government have set aside £5million to spend on rewarding doctors for diagnosing dementia patients.  For the next six months doctors will receive £55 for every dementia patient they diagnose.
Well the Government believe this incentive will increase the number of dementia patients who get a diagnosis.
Really?  Does that mean that doctors aren't very good at their jobs?
That's a good question.  I think it means the Government don't think doctors do a good job which isn't exactly the same thing as saying that doctors aren't very good at their jobs.
So, does the Government think that doctors don't know how to diagnose dementia?
Well if the Government thought that then one imagines the £5million budget reserved for this would be spent on training.
Good point.  So does the Government think that doctors are just lazy and can't be bothered to diagnose dementia?
Difficult to say really what the Government thinks because this policy make no sense at all unless one assumes that doctors are so lazy that they need a £55 incentive to do their job.
OK, do we think doctors will fiddle the books and diagnose dementia amongst patients who don't have dementia?
Well I have a better opinion of doctors than that and I think they will just continue to do their jobs in the same way as the were in the last six months but with more money in their pay packets.
So you think this is just a waste of money?

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Daily Fail

This appeared in the Daily Mail in 1969 (credit to The Media Blog on Twitter).

Some things don't seem to change.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Anarchy in the UK

I was listening to the radio, I think it was the Museum of Curiosities or something equally middle class and from the  Radio 4 stable. 

I recall hating the radio that my parents chose and yet I have fallen into half of their listening, the Radio 4 half. I console myself with the thought that at least I don't listen to Radio 3. 

As I listened to the programme I thought I heard the name of a history professor: Anna Key. I thought that was the perfect name for a history professor in the UK. If my surname was Key and I needed a name for a daughter then Anna would be that name. No middle name required.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Scientific madness

Looking around schools to choose the perfect school for one's child leads one to conjure tricky questions for the poor teachers having to be salespeople for the day/evening.

I don't think it's a stretch to ask teachers to sell.  I think that's effectively their job; they need to sell children an education and more than a passing interest in the subject they are being taught. 

But on open days I've taken to asking questions about science, and what I've learned is frankly shocking. Excuse me while I launch into "In my day...", but, when I was a lass if you had an aptitude for science then you chose which of the science subjects that appealed and those were the exams you took. 

I was a geek and choose Physics, Chemistry and Biology.  If I had been interested in just Biology then I could take just Biology. If I was more of a humanities or languages specialist then I could choose to study General Science which was one subject studied at a low level but providing a taste of Science. 

By the time children are choosing their subjects they will have tasted the sciences as separate subjects and they will know what they like and what they're good at. Most schools today offer compulsory Double Science. This is rather like the old-fashioned General Science subject but to a higher level and is counted as two GCSEs. Some schools may make an option for a less involved exam that is slightly less involved, just core Science, and counts as one exam. If a child shows an aptitude for science then most schools will force then into choosing Triple Science comprising Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Whist this is studied as one exam choice it actually provides three grades in the individual sciences. The bizarre thing is though that it seems that the sub-subjects are joined and cannot be split. 

Triple Science is the subjects bundled together. At many schools it seems impossible to choose just Physics or just Biology and Chemistry. This seems to me to be madness. 

I have a daughter who loves Physics, likes Chemistry but hates Biology. Most schools would force her to take Triple Science but she would want to study Physics and Chemistry.

Why are we forcing our more able students to be generalists? Why are we forcing children to take subjects they don't want to study? If someone has an aptitude for Geography and History we don't force them to study Religious Studies. It's madness.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Free e-magazines

It's taken me a while to figure this out, which is why I'm sharing with you.

If you are a member of Essex libraries (and probably other library services) you can get free access to tons of magazines.

The first thing to do is go to the library website.  For Essex it's here:

Click on the magazines link, browse and log in - this is the bit where you need a library account.  If your forgotten your password it's usually set as your six digit birthdate.

You then need a Zinio account which you create by clicking the Create Account button.

To read your magazines you'll need the Zinio app or you can read in the browser.  Getting the app is easy on iPad and Android tablet but takes a bit more effort on a Kindle.  You can view in browser on a laptop or desktop but a tablet is more magaziney.

On the Kindle you need to visit this url:

Click to download and then you'll need to install it.  To find the file you've downloaded you need to open a browser.  On the left at the top of the screen there will be three horizontal bars.  If you click on this you'll have the option to view downloads.  Choose the zinio download and click it and choose install.  Once installed you'll see it in the choices from your apps menu.

Once you have the app installed you can log in and access hundreds of magazines.

It's brilliant and it's free. 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Sloe gin

Made a bit of sloe gin today. Here's how.

You'll need sloes. This is what they look like. Rather like blueberries but on trees. They do not taste like blueberries!

Wash, dry and use or wash, dry and freeze to use later. Before using the sloes they need defrosting. It's important the skin of the sloes is broken. Freezing and defrosting can help this but you can also use a needle to puncture the skin.

My defrosting sloes:

You'll need gin, any gin is fine.

You'll need sterilized jars or bottles. I used gin bottles and Kilner type jars. I discovered that putting Kilner jars in the oven can cause them to crack so I recommended the dishwasher sterilisation method. Top shelf without any detergent should sterilise jars and seals. 

I use jars or bottles with a 1.5 liter capacity. In these jars put:

1 litre of gin
450g sloes
350g sugar

Put the lid on and turn it a few times.

Put in a dark place and turn every day for the first week. For each following week just turn once a week.

After eight weeks strain the gin through a muslin into sterilized bottles. Screw top or flip top bottles are fine.

Then leave it. The longer you leave it the better.

I'm at the jar in dark cupboard stage.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Cracking school day

Hannah had something called an enrichment day today at school.  This, for the uninitiated, seems to be a jolly good excuse for larking around doing something other than a regular school day.
Today was all about cryptography and required Pringles tubes.  Pringles tubes we can do.  Cryptography content was provided by the educational outreach chap from Bletchley Park, Tom, and an "old girl" in more than one sense.  Mary used to go to Hannah's school but was also one of the amazing Bletchley Park team during the war.
My school days were never this exciting.  Hannah says that not all of her school friends were as enthusiastic as she was but Hannah had a great time.
Hannah started by cracking codes but she also made an Enigma machine using paper and a Pringles tube, and she got to use a real Enigma machine.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the day though was listening to Mary talking about her recruitment from Oxford and the way she signed up to take part without having a clue what she was agreeing to.  She even signed the Official Secrets Act before the nature of the work was disclosed to her.
I'd have liked school to be like this every day.  It certainly beats cross country running across  footpaths of Devon clay and History lessons with the bearded teacher with rancid body odour.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Privacy policy

I have a Flickr account.  I use it as a backup in case the Mac, external drive and NAS drive fail, basically in case the house burns down.  I've uploaded historical family photos and more recent holiday photos - over 7,000 images.
I've previously set the privacy settings on these photos to be public.  There's nothing I've uploaded that I'm not happy with anyone seeing.
Dave has recently started scanning photos from our pre-digital albums and I've been storing these on Flickr too.
There was some pictures of us at the beach from 20 years ago so I just checked with Dave that he was happy with the public privacy setting.  He wasn't.  In fact he wasn't happy with any photos I'd uploaded being publicly available.
I checked this statement.  Even landscapes and pictures of buildings?  Yes, even those.
These are our photos, they aren't mine or his.  So I've felt that I've had to change the access to these photos; all of them.
I'm not happy.  I think it's an overreaction. But I can't think of a way around it that keeps us both happy.