Friday, July 14, 2006


Right, according to the time, I'm on holiday. Consequently, I won't be posting anything here for two weeks, after which I will return with a blow-by-blow account of my holiday and all the tennis it involved, a complete set of all the pictures I took with my phone, and lots of other exciting features.

Until then, feel free to leave comments. I will probably just ignore them.

Stephen's Guide to Surviving the Long Journey

Most of my life is run according to a bunch of rules I've developed over time. These rules tend to be an accumulated set of "simple tricks and nonsense" that happen to work. That being the case, I shall now provide you with my guide to surviving a long journey.

Firstly, one must ask what exactly constitutes a long journey? After all, some of these rules are quite limiting, so you don't really want to apply them when driving to the local shop. In my opinion, a long journey is any journey that takes more than half a working day to complete, end to end. So, anything more than four hours. Time spent waiting in the airport counts towards this total, so most air journeys are long almost by definition (though if you can circumvent the 2 hour check-in times, they need not be).

Anyway, as with everything else, a successful long journey requires action before, during and after the journey (but Stephen, you ask, how can events after the journey ends have a bearing on the success of the journey? Isn't that just daft? Read on...)

Before the journey, what is required is methodical preparation. To ease the journey, you should always pack beforehand. Packing is best done by first gathering all the things that you need to a central location (I use my bed), then placing them methodically into the bags or cases to be used. Since packing is generally best done the night before the journey, there will be some few things that cannot be packed initially. These should be left close to the packed case, and then added in the morning once they are all no longer required. Do not pack the last few things one at a time - that just slows the whole process.

In general, packing is done starting with the biggest and most awkward things, and progressing to the smaller and softer items. Underwear, in particular, should be packed last as it can be used as 'padding' for the rest. You should always pack one or two empty carrier bags for general use at your destination.

To ensure you pack everything you need, you should go through each room in your home in turn, and check if there's anything you need. Don't miss rooms, and don't revisit rooms until they're all done. Once you've finished packing, do another sweep. Anything you miss on the second sweep you'll just have to manage without. (There are actually surprisingly few things that are absolutely needed on any trip. In general, most things are nice to have, but can be replaced in extremis.)

Once the things you need are gathered, they must be checked to fall into categories: things you need (passport, tickets), things you probably won't use but absolutely have to have just in case (insurance documents), things you don't need but will definately use (book), things you don't need but really want with you (camera), and things you definately won't use (knitting). Ditch anything in the last category. Then, ditch anything in the don't need categories until you're within the limits of what you can take.

If you're taking more than one bag, split the items into piles for each bag before putting anything into any bag. Then pack the bags seperately. This is the quickest and most efficient way to proceed. If your journey includes an overnight stay, ensure everything you need for that stay is in one, small bag. That way, you don't need to open any other bag in the middle of the journey.

If using a car, several smaller bags are better than one big bag. If flying, you have to stick to the limits allowed by the airline. However, remember that you can carry additional things onto the plane in the pockets of your jacket.

Immediately before you depart the house, have a shower and change your clothes. And wear something that's loose enough, and no warmer than is actually required. Bear in mind that most journeys become hotter and more stuffy as they go. You don't want to be too cold, but otherwise you want to be as cool as possible. Wearing layers is a good idea, as it allows you to gradually peel as you go.

If flying, carry a packet of mints. If using a car, car sweets are one of the few delights of the long journey. Either helps. (One of the big problems of the long journey is dehydration. However, you don't want to drink a lot, as airplane toilets aren't exactly pleasant, and every stop in a car just makes the journey longer.)

During the journey, the key is comfort. Finding comfort depends a great deal on the method of travel.

When travelling by car, one of the key issues is space. For a long journey, a normal car can carry no more than three adults - a driver, a passenger, and someone sitting behind the passenger. The driver cannot have someone sitting behind them, as they require the freedom to move their seat freely, which might make the person behind unable to become comfortable.
Pack the car carefully, such that the only luggage that is in the compartment with the passengers are the overnight bags, or are pillows. If absolutely necessary, this rule can be ignored, but then that's true of all these rules.

Take jackets off before getting into the car. And, unless you're driving immediately loosen (but don't remove) footwear (yet another advantage of changing your socks before leaving the house, you'll notice).

And you're off. Drive as fast as road conditions allow, and stop as infrequently as you can. The journey won't really be pleasant, no matter what you do, so make it as short as you can. Choice of music needs to be in the hands of the driver, and should ideally be something that they can sing along to. For fast driving, a nice strong beat is generally best, although when you hit traffic jams you should switch to something relaxing.

On a plane, you're a bit more constrained. Where possible, you should seek a seat near an emergency exit, as these have the most legroom. Otherwise, there's a tradeoff between the aisle (with more legroom) and the window (with natural light). On a plane it is especially important to loosen your shoes, and here it's actually best to remove them if your feet don't smell. Feet expand at altitude, so you really don't want tight shoes on.

Due to the risk of sitting still for too long, especially at altitude, it is important on a plane to get up and move around on a roughly hourly basis. If for no other reason, an aisle seat is probably preferable on long journeys. However, those who are scared of flying will probably be more comfortable by the window.

If you can sleep during your journey, do so. Personally, I find it impossible to fall asleep when the sun's in the sky, and I find it nigh-on impossible to sleep while in transit.

Now, after the journey...

After a long journey, you should really spend a few minutes stretching, to get all the stiffness out. You should take off your shoes and socks, ball up your toes, and walk on a carpet, and you should take things easy for a couple of hours to release the tension of the journey.

Finally, change your clothes again, but keep those clothes seperate from your other dirty washing. When the return journey comes (if there is one), wear those same clothes again. Don't wear them at other times in between. That way, those clothes are psychologically associated with the journeys, and the rest of the clothes you packed are psychologically 'clean'.

And there it is, Stephen's Guide to Surviving the Long Journey.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

One day on...

In my post "On the Up", I commented that my PC was now working again, and the Sky guy was coming to fix my system. Last night, I was putting these to the test...

The first thing that happened was I tried to burn a CD using my PC. The burner software (which is rather better than the default Windows tool) decided it couldn't find a CD-RW drive. This wasn't too surprising - the Microsoft guy warned me that this might happen, and how to fix it.

So, I uninstalled the software, and made ready to re-install it (this, 'restart your PC' and 'format & reinstall' represent the fixes to 95% of all PC problems). However, once the software was removed, my PC started acting up again. This time it decided it wouldn't read from either CD drive!


Anyway, I engaged in the #2 fix for PC problems, and restarted the machine. At this point the CD drives woke up, and I was able to reinstall the software. Sadly, doing this took long enough that I didn't actually get around to burning the files to CD. I'll try that again tonight.

While this was going on, I was lamenting that there was nothing on TV. So, although my shiny new digibox can get all the channels, it was proving less of a boon than might be expected. However, I did find "The 100 Greatest Power Ballads", which had reached the top 10. (It was a travesty, too, as "Total Eclipse of the Heart" was #1, when that's not even Bonnie Tyler's best work. The #1 should have been either "Bat Out of Hell" or "Don't Wanna Miss a Thing".)

Anyway, at one point there were adverts, at which stage I wondered what else might be on ('cos sometimes channels have different programmes at different times in the evening). So, I duly pressed the button to bring up the Sky Guide and... nothing happened! (However, the remote still worked those TV controls it was programmed to handle - more on this later.)

Now, to be fair, it wasn't the worst channel to be stuck on, what with all the Power Ballad-iness of it all, but, as indicated, sometimes channels change what they're showing. So, I felt this really needed resolved.

So, I got the user manual, which I had chosen not to read as I'm generally aware of how to use a digibox - they're all much of a muchness. I flicked to the troubleshooting section, and looked up "My remote control doesn't work with my digibox".

The advice was "maybe your remote is in TV-mode. Press the SKY button to put it into SKY mode". "Is there something between the remote and the digibox? Make sure there is a clear line between the remote and the digibox". "Are the batteries dead? Try replacing the batteries."

Not being a complete moron, I had actually tried all these things previously, so I looked for "if this fails", to find the contact number for Sky. Of course, that wasn't in the user guide, but instructions for finding it were - "Press the SERVICES key, and then..." Not too much use if the remote doesn't work, is it?

Of course, the number is available online. Fantastic! Except... no internet connection!

Anyway, in the interim, I looked up the remote programming code for my TV manufacturer, and tuned my Sky remote to control the mute button (a vital function, as I mostly use my surround-sound speakers for TV, and they require that the TV be on mute to sound right).

At some later point, I decided to switch of the Sky box by hand. This naturally required walking across the room, itself an ordeal, but I duly pressed the 'Off' button and... nothing happened!

Aha! I thought.

It turned out there was nothing wrong with the remote control at all - the Sky box had just crashed. (Yes, it's now not just PCs that crash. Other devices make use of Microsoft operating systems, in this case Windows CE, and so are prone to random and frustrating crashes.)

So, I used the #2 solution to PC problems, pulled the power cable, waited a bit, returned power, and waited for the system to boot up. And, lo and behold, the system worked again!

Just to ensure that behind every silver lining there's a cloud, though, there still wasn't anything worth watching on.

Don't email me!

As I may have mentioned here, my ISP have gone out of business. On Friday, the plug is going to be pulled on my email address. As I'm also going on holiday on Friday, it will be at least two weeks before I start to set up with a new email address.

If you know my hotmail address, you can contact me on that. If not, don't bother emailing me - I won't get the message, and won't even know it was sent.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Some enchanted evening...

It occurs to me that, statistically speaking, for every coincidence that happens there must be dozens, nay hundreds, of coincidences that don't happen. For every person who buys a lottery ticket on a whim and scoops the jackpot, there must be many many people who just happen to not win.

Consequently, I thought perhaps I would regale my loyal readers with the delightful story of how I didn't quite meet the girl of my dreams, because my car just happened to not break down, or because our eyes were meant to meet across a crowded room at a party I wasn't invited to, or something.

But I decided that the whole thing would just come off as bitter ranting. So instead, in light of yesterday's post about meta-blogging, I have decided to post about not posting about something that didn't happen to me.

Well, I thought it was funny.

On the up

When I got in touch with Sky last week, they said they'd need to send an engineer out. Needless to say, this prospect filled me with dread - did that mean I would need to wait six weeks for the engineer to actually come out this time? Fortunately, the answer is "no". The engineer called this morning, and by the time I get home from work I should have hundreds of channels of rubbish to watch again, instead of just dozens!

I have also fixed my computer, largely by opening the case, removing the dead CD drive, inserting a new drive in its place, and closing the case again. I even managed to copy those offending songs to MP3 format. I just hope the 'fixes' suggested by Microsoft haven't wrecked the install of my CD burner software, although if they have I can just reinstall.

Apparently, the wholesalers for my ISP are going to cease the line on the 14th. There will then follow 10 working days of waiting for an engineer to go out and disconnect the line, and then I'll be able to reorder. Then, there will be 10 working days of waiting for the same engineer to go back to the same exchange and reconnect the same cables, and then I'll be back online. Despite the daftness of the mechanisms, things are now starting to look up on this front.

I've managed to actually get some work done over the last few weeks. In fact, I even have a schedule to work to, and am reasonably close to where I should be according to the schedule. Now, if I can just figure out how to fix the problems that have just cropped up...

I actually had a conversation with a woman to whom I am not related (or about to be related) on Sunday! Granted, my contribution to this conversation amounted to 21 words, but they were quite good words, and it still stands as the longest such conversation since I discussed ways to abuse the "I'm studying for my exams" excuse with Hazel some two months ago.

And, I'm off on holiday in three days. In fact, in exactly 50 hours, I will be finished work for two whole weeks, and then it's off to Superman Returns, a quick trip to McDonalds, and then sunny France. Huzzah!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

"So, you called to tell me you're not going to tell me anything?"

I got a call from a person at Ofcom yesterday about the whole useless-ISP thing. We talked for a bit, and then ended the conversation.

It wasn't until after the conversation ended that I realised that she hadn't actually given me any new information. In fact, she had called specifically to tell me that she wasn't going to give me any new information. I'm not sure whether this counts as a win or not.

In other news, I was listening to the radio the other day. There came on an advert that I believe was placed by Kia. However, they were not advertising their cars. Oh, no, that would be too simple. Instead, their advert told us, the listening public, that they specifically weren't going to advertise their car on the radio, and instead they advertised their website, where they advertise their cars. This may be the first piece of meta-advertising I've seen (usually, at least they have a proper advert and then say "and see our website for more information). I'm not sure about this trend.

I have decided that the best thing to do in response to this is to stop blogging about things that happen in my life, and instead blog about things that I have read about in other people's blogs. Frankly, that's probably more interesting anyway.

Monday, July 10, 2006


I went to see "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" on Thursday, and ended up with a new tennis racket.

I'm sure this must be symbolic of the oddness of my life currently.

On the plus side, it is a nice tennis racket.

"At least things can't get any worse..."

In advance of going on holiday, I need to burn a couple of CDs of music for the car, to play in the spiffy CD/MP3 player I have. However, before doing this, I need to get some new music to play, as I'm getting bored with the same old stuff all the time.

So, over the last couple of weeks I have bought a number of CDs and, as is my wont, I immediately transferred the data to MP3 format, for general convenience.

On Saturday, just to prove that things can always get worse, my PC decided to crash while doing the conversion. And, when it recovered, the disk drive that was doing the conversion stopped recognising disks. There are two drives on my PC - my CD recorder, and a DVD reader. Which one do you think died - the one I could manage without, or the one that I really have to make use of before Friday?

I hope you're having fun up there, big guy, cause it's a laugh-riot where I am.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Oh come on!

Yesterday, I finally found a bit of legislation that might help in my internet struggles (The Competition Act of 1998 specifically forbids the sorts of shenanigans currently being promulgated, with a maximum penalty of 10% of the annual worldwide turnover of the offending companies). I'm not sure quite how to use that information, since it's unlikely to get a result before this all gets sorted out anyway, and I only really want to walk away (although I am considering going for the jugular anyway, both out of a desire for revenge and a sense of justice).

So, I was feeling a bit better about myself, despite my sore neck.

Then my Sky channels started acting up. I think this may be a result of the heavy rain we had yesterday afternoon, but about a third of my channels are now gone! (Not many of the ones I actually watch are gone, but that's hardly the point, is it?)

The most frustrating thing about all this is that when I moved in there were certain tasks that I needed to sort out before I felt I could get back to living my life, which included sorting out Sky and getting internet access. And it's started to seem that those are impossible tasks, despite their seeming simplicity.

There are two morals of this story:

1) Clearly, I need to marry a lawyer. Although doing so specifically to seek revenge on some disreputably companies may not be the best of all motives.

2) I've long suspected that God is having great fun at my expense. I hope He's amused by this latest development. I know I'm not.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Sore Neck

The right side of my neck has been stiff and sore for some time, probably due to improper posture. So, I duly got some exercises, worked on posture, and generally recovered, mostly.

This morning, I woke up with the left side of my neck in agony so intense I want to scream. To be fair, it doesn't hurt all the time - only when I look up, down, left, right or straight ahead.

What's worse, in order to relieve the pressure on one side of my neck, I have my head tilted slightly to one side, which is now causing all the muscles on the other side to cramp up!

Needless to say, I'm not in the best of moods.

I need a name...

The latest development in my internet struggles suggest that to escape I may need to fake my own death. Consequently, I will need a name for my new identity.

Any suggestions?

Monday, July 03, 2006


As I've mentioned before, I've been having problems with my broadband provider since I moved into my appartment two months ago. Those problems seem to be nearing an end, but are also getting more intense with each passing moment. The time has come to name and shame the parties responsible.

I moved in on the 2nd of May. I ordered a line relocation at that time. Ten days later, BT activated the line, as evidenced by my broadband router sprining to life. However, I had no connection due to some unknown fault.

I sent an email to tech support on that day. I got an automated response saying someone was looking into it, and please don't contact them again as that would just move me back to the end of the queue. Silly me, I believed them.

A week later, three weeks after the move-in, I gave up on waiting, and started calling. Now, my ISP had a premium-rate phone line for tech support, at £1 a minute. That was my first port of call. However, that line said they were experiencing a very high volume of calls, and I'd be going into a queue. At £1 a minute, that wasn't happening. (Had I been certain one call there would fix the problem, I would have paid the money and had done with it, but I had no such assurance.)

So I called customer services, fully expecting to be told that they couldn't help me on that number, and kinda hoping they would so I had an excuse to blow my top at them. (This was also when Sky were messing me around, so I was spoiling for a fight.) However, that didn't happen - the customer services agent seemed quite helpful, and had me trying a few things. It emerged that my username had been changed without them telling me, but my initial hope that that would fix the issue was dashed. The end result was that the guy said he would raise a line fault with BT, and call be back on the next working day with an update.

The following Friday, I called again (I could only call on Fridays, as they were only open during office hours, and I work for a living. I get to leave early on Fridays.). I spoke to another person, who had me try a few more things, to no avail, and then promised to speak to the first agent, and call me back on the next working day with an update.

The following week I called again, incensed at having had the promise broken twice. This time, I was told that BT had marked the fault closed, but they'd reopen it, and call me back on the Monday with an update.

And so it went on. All these calls featured long times on hold, at a cost of 7.5 pence per minute. I dread to think what my next phone bill is going to be like.

The week before last, I had Thursday off, so I called again. This time, I spoke to someone who claimed to be the engineer dealing with the problem. He said that BT had been letting them down, that they'd just started reporting faults differently, and that he'd open the fault again and, you guessed it, call me back with an update. He even started the conversation with, "you'll never believe me, but I was going to call you tomorrow with an update." Yep, he was right about that. Anyway, I was finally in a position to tell them that if there wasn't any progress in the next seven days, and if he didn't call with the promised update, then when I called back on Friday it would be to demand an exit code and a refund. (I had previously sent emails and left answering machine messages to that effect, but I'm very certain no-one at that excuse for a company ever looked at such things.)

On Friday I was on hold for 23 minutes waiting to speak to someone before I was mysteriously cut off. Thereafter, the line remained permanently busy. My dial-up connection, which I'd been using as a back-up, was also dead. I had no internet connection at all over the weekend.

Yesterday, en route to church, I dropped in at home and checked the status of the ISP I'm with, only to discover that they're out of business. Which I'm frankly glad of - I'm willing to lose out on the refund that I should be getting just to get shot of these cowboys. Another company have started advertising on their webpage, offering to pick up the baton for customers of this lot. Frankly, there's no way in hell I'm going down that route - henceforth I'm dealing only with the big reliable companies, and never mind the cost.

Anyway, the first step in getting a new ISP is to have my line released. So, I this morning I started on that path. Step 1: I called BT and asked them what the options were. The answer: none. They simply refused to even consider removing the tag. I needed to speak to my ISP. But what if they don't exist any more? Speak to Ofcom. But what if the previous resident (who died) had had access - how would I get that removed? Again, speak to Ofcom.

Step 2: Call Ofcom. This resulted in being placed in a queue. On my mobile phone, that's not an option.

Step 3: Have someone else call Ofcom. The result was an automated message that they're aware of the problem and currently looking into it. Which is utterly useless.

Step 4: Back to the same forum where I learned about the demise of my ISP. Finally, some information! The previous ISP is gone, totally and utterly - forget about getting a MAC code from them (or a refund). The wholesaler have denied all responsibility. The company who are picking up the pieces can;t help - they don't have direct access to the database, so can't give out MAC codes. The only way forward is to sign up for their contract of services. The phrase "no way in hell" springs to mind.

So, what happens if I don't sign up? Well, apparently the tag will be removed on the 14th. Why then? Dunno. (And, incidentally, there's currently no guarantee that it actually will be removed on that date.) Once the tag is removed, assuming that actually happens, there will then be up to ten days waiting for a new tag to be placed by a new broadband provider.

The eventual result of all of this is that I will now have absolutely no internet connection from home for at least three weeks (actually, considerably longer). Even when I finally do get something sorted out, there's still probably the issue I was having before this fiasco started, which means a further delay. To say I'm furious would be a massive understatement.

I said it was time to name and shame the people responsible. The ISP I was with, who so badly dropped the ball on this connection thing, were e7even. They're now dead and gone, and good riddance. The wholesaler from whom they got access are Tiscali. This is the company I now hold responsible for freeing my line, as they are the only ones who can do so, or so it would seem. That they have not done so, and that they are trying to deny all responsibility, adds them to the list of companies I won't ever do business with again (the previous entrant on that list was Safeway - and notice that they no longer exist by that name!). The company who are trying to hoover up e7even's customers are EzeeDSL. I won't ever be doing business with them, either.
So, I'm looking for a good ISP. I don't really want any fancy bells and whistles - I'll handle my own anti-virus protection, and don't need parental controls (even if I had kids, I don't believe in them). I just want a good, reliable connection, at the fastest available speed. Obviously, a cheaper connection would be good, but I'd rather pay more for quality than be burned again. Oh, and I'd rather have an unmetered connection, but failing that need a fairly hefty monthly allowance. Any suggestions?

(Actually, I'm thinking of just going with BT, on the grounds that they also control the physical line, which has to be an advantage. Plus, if there is a fault on the line, it's only one company to deal with rather than two.)