Monday, June 30, 2008

Tennis and July and Strawberries and Suchlike...

Okay, so it's a nice summer evening outside, Andy Murray's doing a convincing job of beating that Richard Gasquet bloke on the TV, and apart from my dental pain (which for the first time today, due to my super-strength ibuprofen wearing off, is shooting up the side of my jaw and into my ear/temples) I'm in a pretty good mood :).

I've had a nice productive summer day, I've fixed the bike's electrics and booked the mot for thursday. I've done some more work on a couple of 3D projects, have been to the park with my nephew and generally had a nice time chilling out on my day off.

Well, looks like the two blokes have equalised, and it's a nice quiet day outside (apart from one bloke randomly letting a firework off), it's not broad daylight out, more narrow daylight, but still there are plenty of people about :).

So, what have I been up to? well, I went shopping yesterday so I could spend some money. Despite work underpaying me by about £60 because they can't decide whether I should be paid or not for my day in hospital, I still have some pennies to spend so I went and got a nice new bracelet and a couple of new t shirts. When we got back, my presence was er, requested, so my sister, nephew and I went strawberry picking at the local field, which was a lot more local than I thought it would be. I'm having some later - nothing like food you've picked yourself.

So yeah, not much to report, I'm still waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in, but I've had a pretty cool weekend, nice and laid back, which was good :). Let's see how the tennis goes.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

You think Anbesol's good? Try IV Sedatives!

08:29 Okay so that title's a bit optimistic, considering it's a whole new experience that i'm not particularly looking forward to, no. Today is the day.
I'm sat here waiting for my mum/lift to finish her social visit to her old workplace, it's looking like its going to be a nice day, but I'm kinda worried that I'm not going to have the ability/opportunity to enjoy it. I've finally got to go into the dental hospital in about 90 minutes, to have the remainder of that troublesome tooth removed, and based on past experience, I'll be happy when its over.

The sun's beaming in, too much in fact, the radio's on with some police bloke explaining how shootings in the city are up but we're still all safe because the police work really hard to protect us, the car's getting uncomfortably hot and i'm trying to get this down while struggling to concentrate against the radio and the screaming schoolkids walking past, and the cars rumbling past etc, admittedly there's not really a lot to say at the moment. I've taken the usual anti-dentist precautions, my chain, my watch etc (read my older blogs if you don't know what I'm on about hehe), but I'm still not relishing the idea of coming out of the hospital all woozy and disoriented and high and stoned.

So what have I got planned for the rest of the day? Nothing much, go to hospital, get operated on, get injected with lots of drugs and stuff and then go home and sort of pass out in my bedroom, possibly on the floor. While I've still got my faculties though, I'd like to talk about something else that's kinda caught my eye.

I've noticed that any interaction between a human customer/client/self important twit and a company/provider/whatever, has turned from a simple "i want xyz product please" "that'll be xyz price, thanks". to a ridulously "customer service" based saga of "customer satisfaction" calls, buzzwords, artificial professionalism, simpering and patronising letters that don't really do much except annoy the customer, and offer them opportunities to contact the company by phoning other people who are paid - as much as they hate having to do it - to be patronising and positively dribbling with artificial enthusiasm, and I, if no one else, am sick of it.
I'm sick of "experience enrichment" and "customer satisfaction" and "service questionnaires", nuisance phone calls by my finance company every 2 months to ask me if i'm still okay because I haven't missed any payments yet.
From the other side, I'm sick of asking callers if we're allowed to ask them if they enjoyed dealing with us, despite the fact that we don't provide a service to those people. I'm sick, in short, of this "the customer is always right" crap.

And so I am proposing a new web campaign that I shall probably get someone else to consider and then forget as soon as I realise I have better things to do:
http://www.iamnotacustomeriamahumanbeing.org
Okay so the URL is a bit on the long side, but by itself it kinda explains where I stand on the issue.

Most importantly though what I want is to be treated like a person and not some kind of omniscient demigod by the poor guy in the shirt and tie who is paid to fall over himself everytime some idiot walks within a couple of aisles of him. For me, just because I'm in his store, just based on the possibility that I might buy something, that poor kid is handed targets and given training classes and taught how to behave to "maximise satisfaction". He expresses concern that this behaviour is unnatural and abnormal, "no, it's customer satisfaction" leer his bosses.
So in the name of "customer service", in the name of someone i've never met or spoken to going out of his way to check that he's met all his vigorously enforced targets at my - and his - expense, every single time I go to any shop, I've got to deal with some poor kid who's being turned into a customer service zombie, against his will, his head filled with buzzwords and Key Performance Indicators, and if i complain then a different set of protocols kick in and this poor kid and I again have to go through the same macabre ridiculous dance - if I'm reasonable, he suddenly goes into customer service overdrive "oh my god how cruel of us to expect you to pay, how can we apologise to you?". If I'm unreasonable, he goes into suicidal mode, against all common sense, against all expectations of what would constitute "normal behaviour" he starts "Objection handling".
Objection Handling, to give it two capital letters it really doesn't deserve, is management's way of pissing off the troublesome customers while simultaneously keeping them away from the people that actually make the rules, by handling such duties to the younger more inexperienced members of staff - kind of like throwing a person in front of a lion to make sure you get away unmolested. If the younguns don't like this? Tough, you're management, you pay them, they're under your heel and you can crush them with all manner of "factfinding meetings" if they object to being abused for a living.

09:05 Well, my mum's back now, so we're one step closer to going into the torture chamber.
Still, hopefully these drugs will be nice and I won't feel a thing, but I doubt it. I have to admit, writing a blog on the move is a novel experience, even if due to Sheffield's famous pothole system, i'm struggling to get everything down properly. Oh well, my typing's probably still better now than i will be after I get out after being pumped full of stuff, (bloody hell there are so many speed humps about here!!!) so I might as well get as much down as possible.

Returning back to this horrible customer service debacle though, I can't help but feel that the notion of being seen to do your job properly, of making sure your customer is happy, has become an end to itself that in some cases actually takes precedence over actually doing your job properly. The best kind of professionalism comes from having confidence in your ability to do the job properly. The worst kind is completely unconnected with ability at best, and at worst is detrimental to the same. I don't want some company's customer service policy force, say, the camera store's sales guys to be so far up my arse that they can't get on with selling cameras to other people.

Well, I spose I'll piece this together later because I'm not really making sense.

09:14 and we're at the computer store, gonna hover round there for a while until the time comes to go to the hospital. Later.

09:31 Well, now we're scouting round for a parking place. Predictably, there's nowhere to park so around we go, again and again. I have to admit, while "scared" is the wrong word, I am now getting distinctly nervous about the whole thing, and despite assurances that I'll be too busy being drugged up to be in any kind of distress, I'm not looking forward to this at all. And I'm pretty hungry too. MAybe I can get something to munch after I come out, depending on the procedure. Besides the literature about being sedated says "do not make any important decisions". How then, can I decide what KFC I want? ;)

Well, it looks like we've found somewhere to park, nothing to do but wait and worry I spose. And wait while we keep going forwards, backwards, forwards, backwards, trying to crab our way sideways into this teeny tiny parking place. We've been at it about five minutes now.

09:38, well, time to get out and go into the hospital. I would say "wish me luck" but by the time you read this i'll have finished it off. So I'll wish me luck instead. Good luck, me :).
I'll be a happier person when I get back to you, though probably somewhat stoned too :p.

11:33 I'm somewhat stoned. Not a huge amount, I still know right from wrong, I still prefer KFC to McDonalds, but, as I was advised I would, I am slurring my words, pausing halfway through my sentences when I forget what I'm talking about. My coordination is a little impared, so I'm tripping over the odd thing, ya know.

So I got into the hospital, up to where we were, and to give the place the kudos it deserves, the crappy waiting area is gone, replaced with a two room gleaming shiny waiting area, still troublingly filled with that... clinical smell that afflicts all medical practices and hospitals I sat down and watched the occasional person walk past with the same tight "i am not worried" expression on their face. I was quickly called in and asked how I felt, which i answered: "Halfway between nervous and scared".

I sat down, answered a few questionsm signed a form saying "I agree etc etc" and it started. I had a blood pressure check,
Then out came a needle "you may feel a little scratch, like a cat scratch". It went in, and then it went in some more. "Yes,
I can feel that cat scratching right there" I said as the anesthetist kaughed.Ultimately though, it was only a few seconds before i felt my mind closing in. Not a loss of concentration as such but the thoughts themselves seemed "heavier", sluggish, like it was hard to hold a thought into my head long enough to articulate it. And though it may come as a disapointment for those of you who like all the gory details, I don't actually remember much of the operation. Thanks to the sedative, I hardly remember a thing - it's like being half asleep you don't really realise what's going on, which is cool :).

11:49, now I'm at the co op so it's time to get out and spend money on scrumptious yummy thingies.

And that's all that happened today. Now I have a mouthful of medical thread, I've already had the residual bleeding and the substantial soreness, but other than that I've spent most of today relaxing, watching wimbledon, eating ice cream etc, it's

been a nice chilled out afternoon. And now I've finally got this sorted, I'm off to bed :).

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Technological Woes...

After getting pissed off with my stuttering and failing Geforce 7900GT that finally gave up the ghost after two years of overheating, I surfed overclockers for a new card.

Now Nvidia seem to have this bizarre numbering thing going on when it comes to their cards - I'd always assumed that the higher the number, the better the card. So with that in mind,

8500GT with 512mb Ram > 7900GT with 256mb Ram.
Right?
Wrong.

Unfortunately, the only reason I know it's wrong is because I fitted the 8500GT and went back to playing my favourite games. Or tried to go back to playing them, because to be frank, the 8500GT is so slow, it's not even worth buying it for running 3d studio max on - that's right, a 3d modelling program requires more performance than this thing can give.
So who does buy a 3d graphics card with 512mb of ram, geforce no less, and doesn't want to play games on it? Quite a few people apparently because there are even worse cards like the 8400 for sale, which seems to be just powerful enough for word processing.

Admittedly, there's nothing wrong with the card, it does the job it says it does on the box - which is not the same as the job it says it does at overclockers: "smooth gaming with the future DirectX 10 games". You have got to be absolutely kidding me. This thing won't even run Star Trek Legacy without fitting and starting like an epileptic at a disco (find that comment offensive? Good, if you're the sort of person who finds stuff like that offensive then you deserve to be offended), and that's about as graphically intensive as Unreal Tournament 3's USER MENU!
"Unbeatable Performance" How the hell do they put that on the box with a straight face, knowing that the card is not as good as one that went out of date over three years ago??.

I'll tell you - on further inspection, the only place on this box that says "8500GT" is the sticker that's been slapped on the front. Looking online, it looks like they use the same boxes for all their cards, and the only thing that changes is the stickers, so essentially, not only have overclockers regurgitated the same crap they use to sell all their cards - good AND bad - but this box is just repeating the lies. "Double Your Performance With SLI" SLI MY CARD?! Jesus Mary and Joseph on a pogo stick, who the hell would buy two of these wastes-of-a-pci-slot to SLI them together and still get less power out of the pair than out of a 3 year old £25 Geforce 7900GT?! Am I missing something here?! That's like fitting two 1.1 litre engines in a car, when you could get a 6 litre v8 for a quarter of the price!! Geez, are people that stupid? Er, I cut it close by buying this damn thing, but I would never buy TWO of them, good god!

I'm going to have a quick look round, seeing if there are any settings i need to enable to get the card to do the job I bought it for but I think it's gonna be an ebay jobbie. It had been in my computer for less than an hour and a half before I decided that it needs to be replaced. So if you're looking round for a graphics card to grace your computer, a card that looks good but doesn't actually require you to buy any games to take care of any of its processing power, the 8500 is the one for you, and I have one for sale right here, at cost, £46.99, many thanks.

Oh, Its not all bad luck with technology by the way, I took my clothes out of the drier one morning this week to get ready for work, inside the pocket of one i found a little cf card pouch with "sandisk" on the side.
"oops" I thought, opening it to find my 4gb 60x lexar card in there. That thing had been through a 75 minute 40 degree C wash cycle, and then through a 2 hour cycle in the drier at about 50C.
I stuck it in my camera out of sheer optimism, and snapped a few photos. Did it work? Ha.
Well, yes it did actually, it worked fine. So I'll put that one down to luck :).

Have fun, I'll be in touch.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Shopping - can I call it that?

Well, I'm here in my nice warm room, my new if searingly bright 22 watt flouro light is busy burning the paint off everything, crumpling papers, evaporating my drinks, melting anthing made of plastic, and generally doing what any object brighter than the sun does to spend its free time.

So what did I did this afternoon? Who gives a stuff? let's skip that.
I got home from work and ended up being taken to Meadowhall with my sis, ostensibly to get a father's day present (more on this later). After a while it ended up being a general shopping trip, so I ended up getting a cool new things.

Course, first place, I went to was the O2 shop to check out the Iphones there. Rumour has it that they're gonna be PAYG in the UK before long, though the cost is something that still seems to be hotly disputed on various sites, with one side arguing that the new model is miles better value, and are provided as part of a much more flexible more versatile service (PAYG instead of contract), while the other side argue that "they're apple, they've got 'I' in the name, they're gonna be twice as expensive as they should be".

I spose time will tell which reality comes true, though the quick release of the Iphone Mk 2, the what, "3G Iphone" or something like that, has come hot on the heels of the original and is filling a seat that is not so much still warm, as still occupied. The novelty of the iPhone has only barely begun to wear off, and already Apple are pushing newer models down our throats. The optimist in me says "hey this's progress, better technology, cheaper prices", the cynic says "they want their money twice, the cheaper it is the more they sell". Either way, the owners who clamoured to be the first to get their hands on the hot new iphone are now left in the cold with something that is being deliberately called out of date and inferior.

Still, happened to me with my camera, tis just the price of being in the technology race i spose. After visiting the O2 shop, one of the places I went to was along to the local camera store (despite swearing I'd never set foot in there again - they seem to have had a change of staff) and ended up staring lovingly at the lonely Nikon D3 - my gaze following its countours while my fingers lovingly traced its outline on the glass that kept it safe from my prying attention... Ahem.
Not quite, but still, it's a sexy piece of kit, but sleek, it is not.
The D3, on first inspection looks like a complete and absolute whale of a camera, huge, overweight, overpriced, incredibly complex, it's everything that you don't think of when you decide to buy a camera. It's not slick, it's not cool, it's not sleek or sexy, in fact i'd go so far as to call it ugly. bulbous, ugly, prodigious, the D3 is a workhorse, without ornamentation, without any fancy acronyms, without any superfluous features or acoutrements, the D3 is a workhorse in the same way that a volvo tractor cab is a workhorse - expensive, powerful, ugly, does the job again and again and again, keeps going and going and going and going...

But man, that thing was so damn huge, I'm amazed anyone can carry it around their neck all day! That said though, the D3 is a beast, absolute incredible beast, you won't get much better, and if a camera needs to do it, the D3 probably does it. Bloody hell, it makes my £1000+ of D200 feel cheap and plasticky by comparison!
But then it would do that, being nearly £2500.

I still want one though, but I spose like any tool, there are times when you're doing a job that you don't need to use it, and I spose the D200 fills the gap the D3 leaves open. I spose I'm in two minds about the D3. It looks like the fat ugly unwanted cousin of the D200, it looks like those self obsessed bodybuilders that spend so much time on looking like they've had a foot pump shoved up their arses, that they've forgot that there's nothing inside (used solely as an example, a mate of mine is a bodybuilder, and I only take the piss out of him occasionally). But despite its ugliness, I want the D3 for what it can do, I spose the intricacies of its performance are lost on any non-photographer, but it is one hell of an advanced piece of kit. The d3 is proof positive that cameras these days are as much about electronics and computer code as they are about mirrors and glass.

I did kinda lead myself away from the whole O2 thing with this self indulgent textual orgasm about the D3 though, the one thing I forgot to mention is that my favourite youtube guy, Armake21 (no link as you won't find anything), a guy whos job was to review shitty games, lose his temper with them, generally raise a laugh and criticise things, has (after being deleted by Youtube) reappeared in the guise of "Nicotinealien". And it was one of his very very random videos - this one in fact - that I left playing on a couple of the iphones as I walked out of the 02 store, admittedly to a disappointingly delayed bemused reaction from the staff. So yeah, glad he's back.

I went to a health store who advised that if i MUST drink 2 litres of coca cola a day (diet coke - normal coke is about 800 calories per 2 litres or something) then I should probably have calcium supplements to offset the phosphoric acid eating me to bits :). Well, along those lines.
Also topped up on my creatine and protein supplements.

Where else did I go? Well, to Game, my friendly local games supplier, where I bought a couple of bits of software just to stop me getting bored (1) (the second was some kinda (actually fairly decent) train simulator). Yes I was that bored. I suppose its a lads thing, wanting to drive big heavy powerful bits of machinery.

Now my parents have been having a more than a few domestics recently, in fact to me it seems that they're increasing in magnitude and in severity. I used to think I was imagining it but now I'm honestly not sure. Now my parents are deciding to cancel the 2 week holiday in venice that they've both been looking forward to for ages, because they can't stand the sight of each other, which is why they've been married for 30 years.
So for this father's day, I decided to force the issue somewhat, with my dad's fathers day gift.
A 200 odd page guide to the city of Venice.

A push in the right direction I feel.

One place I went before we disappeared was to the local toy store, and I saw something that I fancied getting for my nephew. They call em hoverdisks.
Imagine a foil balloon 36 inches across and shaped like a flying saucer, you're along the right lines. The only real difference is that these balloons have rigid edges (provided by internal poles) that ensure the balloon bounces - instead of crumpling - off hard objects, walls, rocks, etc.
There's only so many words with which I can describe what is essentially a variation on a balloon.
These things used to be something ridiculous like £10 a piece, now they're £1.50 a piece. They're amazing, they're filled with air, and weigh next to nothing. You can balance the things on a finger and my nephew? he loves em!

So, what did I buy? Well, if you didn't read above, a picture is provided below, where you can see everything :). I do include them as links too but I like to have the odd photo visible on my blog page as it breaks the text up.

One thing I didn't mention is the music and beer.
I'm currently sat here listening to my very very cool new album which I thought I'd get because I'm random like that, there are a lot of good tunes on it including one, La Nina Mecanica that completely took me by surprise. Why?Because for some random reason it has a 20 second sample of Rammstein's "Morgenstern" in it (specifically 3:14 to about 4:00 -will be different on the album version) . I spose that's kinda like George Orwell's 1984 including some of the lyrics of "God Save The Queen", and I'm referring to the talentless tuneless shit version, not the national anthem. Completely different types of work by completely different artists, still manage to find their way into the weirdest places.

The last thing I did today was to get some beer, noticeably some guinness, on account of the Irish decision to stick two fingers up at the EU. In this country, we were denied a referendum on something that became deeply unpopular with us as a result, and to see the Irish band together by choice and refute and refuse this "lisbon treaty" both for themselves and on our behalf, is cause for celebration, I feel.

So now I'm off to enjoy my beer, listen to tunes and relax. I've been doing a lot of reading recently, maybe I'll catch up on that.

Oh yeah, here's the picture - my shopping :)

Monday, June 02, 2008

Bees don't taste of anything (except fur!)

Okay, so, I've had a fairly sedate day. The hard drive for my laptop arrived yesterday and I've just been spending the time since, getting the laptop up and running. Time consuming and tedious, but not taxing, and now I've got the laptop back up to full functionality, yay go me, ready for more photo trips. Just a case of replacing the hard drive and getting the software whacked back on there.

So I've been spending time at the gym, that is taxing, but it's fun as well, and it's kinda rewarding and relaxing at the same time to get myself all worn out by bettering myself, getting fitter and stronger with each visit. I've been running a lot recently as well, and last nights run was fantastic. I don't know why, I just seemed stronger this time round, I was definitely faster. It was like I got tired later, was able to surge forwards faster, I remember being surprised at just how fast I could move, and how long I could keep it up.

I had a little excitement on the way back from the gym though, I wander down to the park on the way home and start running. I get maybe 30 meters passing the bees and birds and other euphemistic combinations of animals, when the latest in maybe a dozen buzzy type creatures spots me.
It heads on a fast curve that must have put its head out through its arse, and with the evident urge to kiss me (that's what must have caused it!) it flew straight smack into my mouth - which was partially open at the time, what with me running and everything.
I felt the smack, I heard the bang, and then felt the damn thing buzzing around, followed quickly by a - did it? - yes, the damn thing stung me.

I physically spat the poor creature out, and watched it spiral down to the floor in a "wtf just happened?" type way. I didn't chek whether the thing was okay, as I felt something vaguely like the sting still stuck in my lip (it wasn't).

So for those of you who wondered why people ate insects, as the title suggests, bees don't taste of anything, except fur. And stingyness. Hope it was okay anyway, cool little industrious creatures, bees.

So there you go, in several hundred words "I've been to the gym and then ate a bee".
I've never been one for brevity.

But hey, i'm kinda getting tired now, but I'm busy watching FBI files so I figure I'll watch this, go to bed, or something like that.

Have fun :).