Sunday, April 26, 2009

Waiting For a Star To Fall

EPISODE ONE:

Yes folks, this is perhaps the first entry where I write while drunk, without apologising for it.

I have had an absolutely fantastic day. The day turned out a little suspect as I woke early in the morning, only to go back to sleep. I'd heard rumours in my Gmail account that I was due to get a parcel, but I didn't believe it.

A while ago, I won a lens on Ebay. Nothing special, it was your basic 18-105mm VR Kit lens. But it was brand new, and modern, not like the plasticky pringles tins I'd been using previously.

Once upon a time, a guy near Whitchurch in Shropshire, decided he fancied a new camera. No one will sell the D90 without the kit lens. In this case, the 18-105. This guy presumably has his own lenses, cos he really didn't want the 18-105 to stain his pockets.
So he ordered the kit, and straightaway put the lens up for sale on ebay.

And I snapped it up.
there were a couple of hiccups, not the least of which was the email from Amazon that told him the kit he'd ordered (and sold me) was out of stock...
Emails flew back and forth, and I agreed, "Money is just numbers. Keep the money, send me my kit. Hell if you don't, I can always sue you". Am I naive? Or do I just not care? Easy come, easy go.

Eventually though, I woke up one morning to the super-loud incredibly earth-shaking new doorbell my dad has fitted went off.

No sooner had I leapt out of bed and grabbed my dressing gown, wrapping it inexpertly around myself upside-down (you know what it's like in those first few minutes after waking) had I wandered downstairs to find my dad exchanging farewell pleasantries with the local postie, who had finally brought my parcel, my lens, my 18-105, the lens thatmakes everything near to me look far away, the lens that, to paraphrase Ken Rockwell, "Gets it all in".

And it's an awesome little kit. Don't get me wrong, the 70-300 is a work of art. But it won't let you shoot anything that is less than about 50 miles away (well about 7 feet).

the 18-105 lets me take photos of things on my desk, while I'm sat at my desk. It sees wider than my eyes.

EPISODE TWO

After a while of playing with the new lens, it was eventually time to go to work. After an entire day of struggling to decide whether to be cloudy or overcast, the Sun eventually overruled all objections and came out from hiding.

In a sheer fit of money-inspired (pay day today!) motivation, I packed everything that wasn't attached to me into my shoulder bag, and ran the entire distance to work. Through the park, over the hill to the next estate, over the hill into the next town. Sounds easier when it's put in writing :P.

I got to work and the weather was absolutely beautiful. The sun shone down, the order screen was empty (everyone out having barbacues I guess) and we were all chilling out. Nothing to do, no one to serve, it was great.
Even when the odd order did come through, it was T-shirt on, jacket on, helmet on, shades on, and I'd ride to their house looking like a bug eyed american sniper with my kickass shades.


EPISODE TWO POINT FIVE

Last Night, was a bad night. I ended up down on my float - the guys give you some money out of the till so when you deliver to someone's door you have change to give them.
It seems in retrospect, I came back to the shop with the money, I handed the cash in, and the dozy ass behind the counter gave me my money MINUS a five pound note back.

So I spent the rest of the night stressing and gave in all my tips to the shop to cover my ("my"?) shortfall.

Today, I turned up, and what had turned up in the till? Well, a five pound note! Well then!
My tips last night totalled £3. My "loss" last night equalled £5.

Today I was given £5, which left me £2 on top.

My god, someone sweep me away to Dubai right now, I'm ready to buy a hotel!

Whatever, it felt good to make some money for nothing, and I figured after a night of stressing, £2 maybe would just about set it about right.

So I came home today with £8 I didn't have yesterday. In addition to my wages.

But hey. Back to the run.


EPISODE TWO AGAIN

I was in a very happy mood when I got to work, the weather was awesome and I had a few days off. So I went to buy some beer. And I pushed my luck and got some extra special beer. Polish, no less. ┼╗ywiec, accompanied by some Dutch Oranjeboom.

What followed was an absolutely awesome shift. I got paid, by the hour, to ride, visor up, shades on, the cool air blowing through my jacket, through the local streets, breathing the smoke from the barbecues, hearing the music of the garden parties as I passed, feeling the sunshine, hearing the giggles and laughs from the odd garden as England began to celebrate Spring, and I was out in the thick of it.

Who cared that I was "at work" ? Not me. I was getting paid for turning up to garden parties, I was getting paid for riding in the beautiful sun, I was getting paid to listen to the tunes from the car next to me at the junction.
Even as the sun went down, I was paid to witness the beautiful orange sunset, even as the sun disappeared below the horizon and the sky turned a crisp steel blue, I was being paid to ride, in the cool air...

No quality teams, no doubletalk, no upselling, no political correctness, no involuntary advertising, no mission statements, no press releases.
I was getting paid to do nothing more than get my cargo from A to B.

Every other part of the night was mine.

I got home, in an awesome mood, and it's here that I've been ever since. Happy, genuinely happy.
It might not last. But hey, last week I was financially fcuked.
So let's see how we go, eh?



Monday, April 20, 2009

Homecoming Parade!

Yay!

Well, the weather has been absolutely fantastic for the past few days. It's sunburn weather outside, and everyone has been taking advantage of it. People are flying kites, walking dogs, cycling round, playing with water guns and everything.

Since I spend a lot of time outdoors in my job, the good weather has meant that work has been pretty enjoyable. Out (of the jacket, not out of storage) comes the heavy winter liner, up goes the visor, and on go the shades.

So as terminally underfunded as I may be at the minute, at least I can just get on with enjoying work.

I went out today with the camera looking for some ducks again, as I have done a couple of times over the last two weeks, seeing if I can repeat my success with them, in this lovely sunny time of year.

Of course, there were maybe five (normally there are about 30) ducks there, and they weren't remotely interested in any bread I had to throw at them. So nothing whatsoever.

However, I'm sat watching TV (on a lovely day like today? Why?! Because there's nothing to do outside - there's no wind so I can't even fly my kite) and the new improved extra loud doorbell goes. Turns out it's the guy from next door but one, who has brought something for me:

Back in march, I took my ickle tiny helicopter for its first test flight. Of course, it sodded off over the roof and disappeared from my life as quickly and abruptly as it had entered it.

Today, our neighbour had decided to do his garden, sorting stuff out and suchlike.
And he found it, nestled in between two garages. For five weeks, the little helicopter has been tucked away no more than 30 meters from where I'm sitting.

So yeah, I gave it a quick charge, and it still works! Woo!

Oh well, I'm off now, have fun :).

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bank holidays are just that!

"Slide the numbers backwards and forwards, slide the dates, change the dates until everything fits".
- Me, on finances.


Yikes!

I've been able to purchase the second of the two lenses which I was after, which has cheered me up hugely.
Not only that, but after I made the payment to the guy, I checked my balance which still showed me well in credit - yay!

I've since been looking for some more sparkly camera gear, and found a few items I wanted to buy.
So there I am clicking away, thinking "I'm substantially in credit, I'll have this, this and this".

I come to order, enter loads and loads of details etc etc, and my transaction comes up as "DECLINED".

Not to worry, I was substantially in credit and I've not spent that much money, let's see if I can find out what's gone wrong. I run up to the local shop to check my balance (I don't have internet banking for some reason) and after a few seconds, the magic numbers come up. "Current balance, £-18.55"

Ooopsie, where the hell did 200 quid go then?

I run back and phone the local bank, and guess what...

The payment (for my new lens - some £170) which I made on paypal on the 13th, wasn't taken from my account until the 16th.
Of course I checked my balance on the 14th and thought "hey there's loads of money in there, let's spend spend spend".

Ho hum.

Thankfully, my (tiny) overdraft has allowed me to buy another sparkly bit of kit from ebay, and the tips I've made from my job will cover the shortfall in my finances. This week's wages will come on friday, and if all goes well, I can buy the sparkly secret bit of kit on friday, instead of today.

Ebay want to hit me with a load of charges for things that I haven't sold or whatever, but they can wait for another 30 days. So hey, I'm philosophical and easy going about it :).
And since I've already got all the choccy bikkies and crisps and stuff for my next trip to Manchester, I won't even have to go hungry :).

I'm quite philospophical about it, money is just numbers at the end of the day, and if they don't reach a certain total at the end of one week, they will at the end of the next :). I don't have to give anything back and I've got two extra gubbins (things/gadgets) on the way so I'm cheerful about it. I've had to cope with much worse, financially :).

Those tips that I've made - some £50 in total (in the past couple of weeks!) are the crucial £££ that have restored me to solvency, and turned a moderately major issue into a small ickle one that I can smile about (because it's small and ickle). So it is directly down to the generosity of people I don't know, that I'm able to proceed with my plans for acquiring gadgets and the suchlike, with only a minor hitch.

So yay, go humanity :).

Have fun!

My (second) new lens :).

Friday, April 10, 2009

Happy Easter...

It's about time I think, I forget. Haven't had any easter eggs this year so I wouldn't know.

Right, I've been putting off writing on account of my preference for being a lazy sod. As a result, the amount of stuff I've wanted to write about has gone up and up, leading to me wanting to put this off even more.

But hey.

Chapter one: The Mystical Wizard's Garden

Okay, so my nephew's been spending a lot of time up here recently. On one such occasion, we took him to a local garden center in Wentworth.
The management of this place have long ago figured that if you give people ideas about what to do with the stuff you're selling, they're more likely to want to buy it. That, and the fact that some of the center seems to have been built onto/into a local stately home's estate, has resulted in something that is far more than just a place to buy trees and stuff. Wentworth garden center has some very very attractive and well maintained gardens, featuring everything from topiary mazes, duck ponds and old statues, to fountains, a field of deer and a secret grotto type thing, the original purpose of which escapes me completely.
We took the opportunity to engage my ickle nephew's interest though, by telling him it was a secret mystical wizard's garden. So we spent a couple of hours in the fantastic sunshine walking round this place, which by its own standards was packed with people.

Was a nice way to spend a warm spring day, I think :-).

Chapter Two: Oblivion

One mistake which I've made recently was to install "The Elder Scrolls 4 - Oblivion" on my system. Though I say it was a mistake to install it, that's not because it's a bad game. In fact, it was a mistake because the opposite is true.
I have found Oblivion to be an extremely playable and addictive game, and within 48 hours of installing it, I had advanced to Grand Champion in the arena, and Archmage of the Mage's guild.
Oddly, Archmage or not, the other mages still told me that "I'm too busy to talk, apprentices don't teach themselves" whenever I went near them. A bit irreverent perhaps!

Ahem. Anyway, my nephew found me playing oblivion, and with horses, swords, castles, wolves and magic spells, he's taken to it immediately, and insists I play it whenever he's over here. Obviously because of his age, I've avoided any sojourn through the planes of Oblivion (featuring lakes of lava, burning and mutilated corpses suspended from massive gallows, hellishly twisted and deformed architecture, and an array of cruel and malevolent creatures) itself, keeping us to the relatively green forests filled with deer and the odd wolf.
He does keep coming out with strange requests, like "shoot an arrow at that person" (one of the local watchmen), "jump off this mountain", or "cast a spell at that wizard" (one of my subordinate mages). I can't decide whether this comes from his childish curiosity (and an urge to play with something hard enough to see just what it takes to break it) or whether he just wants me to get my ass kicked by the entire city watch. Who knows.

Later on he decided to build a sword out of lego, but it kept breaking. To keep him happy, I spent a while constructing the most beautifully strong and realistic sword possible. He wanted one of his own, so I ended up making two. Both of which he insists are now "his". Fine. I want these anyway.

Chapter Three: The Royal Armouries

I was woken yesterday, benefitting from a measly 4 hours sleep and a stinking hangover, to go with my mum and nephew to some secret destination. After a short trip, we arrived at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. I didn't know it was free to get into this place - it is. Anyway, there's not much to say. We wandered around for a couple of hours looking at swords and bows and suchlike, trying to engage my nephew's interest with heavily armoured horses and things.
Eventually though, we went to the tiltyard for a demonstration of falconry.

The first bird on show, Bungle IIRC, was a beautiful, huge, and very hydrophobic Eurasian Eagle Owl. I wasn't aware that birds didn't like rain, but apparently they don't. Especially this one.
He came out of his enclosure reluctantly, perched on the fence looking soggy and bored, and when requested by his keeper to fly to the glove, gave him a "you must be joking" look that I thought only a cat could give.
Eventually, after lots of cajoling, the owl noncommittally jumped onto the floor, walked over to the handler, flew to the glove for long enough to collect his treat, then jumped back down to the floor and walked back to his spot on the fence.
We saw the owl later in his enclosure, and he gave us an "I'm not hungry and you're not interesting" look. You'd think someone had transplanted the psyche of your antisocial housecat into this bird.

The next one was a Harris Hawk who's name I've forgotten. A much smaller bird, but much less afraid of the water. He gave us a good practical demonstration of how Falconers use their birds to catch prey.

The third one was a beautiful girl, a cross between a Merlin, and a Peregrine Falcon. I can't remember her name either, but god, was she fast. Apparently this individual was capable of flying up to 150mph (241kph), and seeing her scream from one end of the tiltyard to the other, I could believe it.

At one point she was chasing food on the end of a bit of cord (I'm sure there's a technical term for it) and she kept swooping, making a pass, swooping again and making another pass. At one point, the keeper swung the cord into the air, and the bird went inverted, doing a loop, going right over the top and down the other way - to the delight of the crowd, myself included. What a flier.

Later on, after buying (amongst other things) a plastic sword/shield and Knight's helmet for my nephew, we we back out in the Tiltyard watching a display of skill (skill at arms I think it was), from some very talented riders and their beautiful horses. Challenges included cutting vegetables in half with a sword while racing past on a horse, and collecting rings with a lance while racing past. I'm sure you get the idea.

All in all, a very good day out. Even if the first thing I did as soon as we got home was to leap into bed (actually i just kinda wearily crept in) and fall asleep in about 5 minutes.

Chapter Four: New Lens

Bloody hell, what a drama.

I started by putting up some stuff on ebay so I could raise money for the new lens. The auctions were pretty worryingly low at one point, but all met their reserve in the end, and everything sold for a decent amount. I shipped everything the day after, next day, and two days after the auctions closed, everyone had confirmed receipt of the items.

Shortly after, two guys write to tell me that their lenses were not working with their cameras.
Well they bloody worked with mine. Anyway, I sent out an email to each of the two guys trying to find out what the problem was.
One guy wrote back to describe the problem, and eventually after a few emails back and forth and us trying different things, we conluded that the lens really didn't work, so I fired back a refund because I'm nice like that.

The other guy hasn't emailed me back, and has since left me positive feedback. So I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that he has now got the lens working.

All that over, I've been searching the itnernet for a place that won't completely rip me off. Nikon as I've said had officially raised their 70-300 from £390 to £450ish.
Most of the places were charging £450ish, this place was charging a rather worrying £493.
Argos had been advertising the lens at a much lower price, £392 if I remember correctly, and as a result, they were completely out of stock all across the board. Not a lens anywhere in sight.

Thankfully, my brother managed to find one that had been hidden in plain sight, in the next town, at Argos's standard price. So as fast as I could, I reserved it, and today, I got a lift into town to buy it.

I'm so happy with it I even took some photos of it to show people how awesome it is :-).

But anyway, I've got work in an hour, so I'm going to chill out and drink coffee and suchlike.

Here are lots of photos in the vague order in which they were taken :-).

Thursday, April 02, 2009

People used to complain about the thin end of the wedge...

..."Big brother", "Surveillance Society", people have come up with a wide variety of terms for describing what they see as the creepy hand of government, moving to observe and control their lives. Whether that aim is (as Pat Condell believes) to enforce a politically corect nightmare of enforced equality, where some are more equal than others, or as others believe, to create a completely capitalist society where corporations and private security firms rule the roost, controlling the economy and the media, people have always complained that their rights to privacy and freedom are being violated.

Through the years, we've heard of all sorts of outlandish tecniques allegedly used by the governments of the world to control people, whether it's miocrowave satellite rays, secret nerve gas, men in black, computers implanted in the brain, or all sorts of other outlandish rubbish. We've heard it all before.

Why would I say it's rubbish?

Ask yourself, how likely is it that the governments of the world would only ever show an interest in monitoring the paranoid schitzophrenics of the world, and no one else.

That said though, it is true, at least here in the UK, that the surveillance society everyone feared, is creeping forwards towards us, inexorably and imperceptibly. It is widely accepted that we now have more CCTV cameras per person than anywhere else in the world, and ministries and public figures, even within the sphere of our own government, have started to sound warnings, criticising the way we are monitored and observed. Even with ID cards thoroughly discredited, the government tries its best to bring them in, via the back door, under the front door, through the front door in an envelope marked "to whom it may concern, free privacy invasion, look inside!"

After the CCTV and ID card drama, RFID - Radio Frequency Identification - tags came to the fore. Tiny little tags capable of storing and transmitting information about the product they're attached to, used for stock-keeping purposes, location of stock, and other sundry functions. Fantastic, these things make warehousing more efficient right? Well, yes, but it's alleged they don't stop transmitting once the product has been purchased and taken home. Pro freedom campaigners cried foul, "People can read what products we have in our homes" and other arguments. I have to admit I never followed the RFID issue closely, because I haven't really been that paranoid.
If someone wants to know that I thought Crysis was good enough to spend money on, they don't need to scan my house for an RFID tag, they can just come on here and read a detailed synopsis.

But, suffice it to say that with the events of the past 8 years, with terrorism on the rise thanks to our most welcome and equal (or else) bunch of mouth breathing religious zealots, there has been something of a tug of war going on between:

People who want to be protected at all costs, who want their cowardly and miserable existences protected regardless of whether the method of such protection forces a change in the fabric of our society...

and

People who want freedom from monitoring, from tracking and from government interference, who want freedom so much that they are willing to trade security and safety for it.

Angry shouts come from both camps, as freedom lovers express disbelief and disgust that some people actually want to live in a state where everyone is watched all the time, like some freakish analogue of the truman show or Ed TV, and people who well, want personal safety at any and all costs, who seem to scratch their heads, thinking "why wouldn't you want to be safe? You're not a criminal are you?"

Where am I going with this?

Even as pro freedom campaigners, politicians and public figures around the globe have been loudly opposing steps taken by various states to curtail the freedom of their citizens, safety lovers, the weak hearts, and childish minds of society, have actually been encouraging more and more intrusive methods for monitoring and controlling everyone - whether they feel they would benefit from the added "safety" or not - for their own personal benefit, whether they like it, or not.

This week's shot across the bows of freedom comes from a Facebook group entitled "Campaign to have satelite tracking chip inserted in all Paedophiles".

"A great idea" you might think, "It would keep our kids safe, and if they've nothing to hide, they've nothing to fear".

And broadly speaking, I agree, at least in principle. Except for one or two minor points.
I'm fully in favour - within reason - of new methods and tecniques that can keep children safe from the attentions of these sexual predators. It's common knowledge what can happen and indeed what does happen, if they're allowed to commit these crimes, and it stands to reason that any way we can stop paedophiles from attacking children, would probably, quite literally, be a lifesaver.

And yet.

Companies are already finishing up studies and tests on already complete and functioning "satellite tracking chips", it is true. The terrifying implications of this technology notwithstanding, these people, the facebook group that is, 8,207 (at this time) people that have chosen to say "my safety is more important than your freedom" are actually in favour of enforced and mandatory satellite tracking of other people.

"Let's get the technology in now"
"Let's get monitoring now!"
"Let's ensure our safety, now!"

Let's track paedophiles, the dirty twisted evil bastards that they are, let's keep our children safe.
2009's campaign, you heard it here first.
And in the first half of 2010?
Let's track rapists, the dirty twisted evil bastards that they are, let's keep people safe!
The second half?
Let's track shoplifters, the dirty evil non-paying bastards that they are! Let's protect our property!
Then what? Will all drivers have to have compulsory microchips "Let's monitor every single driver and road user so we can see who was near the scene of an accident".

This sort of thinking will precipitate a terrible new way of solving crimes, that is, everyone is presumed guilty (until they are eliminated from the enquiry) simply by virtue of their proximity to an offence.

And that's assuming that this technology is restricted solely to police use. Now let me draw a distinction between "active tracking chips" that exist to highlight a person's location, and "passive" non-powered chips that provide more security in bank transactions, access control, etc.

I have no problem with the latter, a technology that is not self powered, that needs to come into contact with the appropriate device to work, and which doesn't actively transmit information about the "host".

But the second technology fills me with revulsion and horror. Let me spell it out to you pro-safety campaigners out there, in black (off black) and white (grey).

Our - yours and mine - freedom is more important than our safety - yours and mine. People have died to defend and protect your freedom, many people in many wars. And you, you absolutely sickening cowards, are willing to throw everything they fought for away, in the face of their heroism and their memory, for the sake of your personal safety. You are willing to change the fabric of this society to suit yourselves, you are willing to advance the interests of governments and corporations at the expense of "the person in the street", to suit yourselves. No goal - even one this laudable - is worth the hastening destruction of the society that I have grown up in, that you have helped create, and that you are now helping to destroy.

Monitoring and tracking are not substitutes for common sense, and with regard to this facebook group, they are not substitutes for adequate parental supervision, either.
Thankfully, these people, with their noble, yet very blinkered world views, represent only some 0.004% of facebook's total user base, and with our government merrily ignoring petitions with many tens of thousands of signiatures, I'm confident that this one won't even reach the front door of number 10.

But never let it be said that the enemies of freedom march in the streets of other countries, or work in darkened offices high above our streets.

The enemies of freedom, of our society, are in this case nothing more sinister than those who should simply be careful what they wish for.

Let's hope that this group, and other groups that favour safety over freedom, fade into obscurity.
And let's also hope that we manage to keep our children, people, goods and property safe, without these very very dangerous technologies which they cry out for.

Stay safe.
But not at any cost.