« December 2005 | Main | February 2006 »

January 31, 2006

Unlimited Internet

What does unlimited mean?

To me it means, as much as you like/want, no limits. For internet access I'd expect to be able to turn my PC on, and start downloading at whatever speed I have paid for, and never stop.

To Vodafone it means 1Gb download per month on their mobile 3G network.

This really pisses me off. It's a stupidly small number these days, I could easily get through that in a day or two. Don't we have a Trades Descriptions Act or something to stop people selling services in a misleading fashion.

I had the same argument a couple of years back when I signed up with BT Anytime. I used it to dialup with my modem, and stay on all day long. That's what 'anytime' meant to me. They started sending me threatening emails saying it wasn't fair to other users. They introduced a limit of something like 6-8 hours a day, and so I cancelled my account with them, purchasing broadband instead and from a different supplier. I chose Nildram, who also advertised Unlimited Broadband, but recently I notice my Ts & Cs have been changed to include a NewSpeak 'Fair Use" clause. As soon as I get some nice round tuits, I'm switching again.

So, if you're not really going to sell unlimited internet, why are you allowed to advertise it!

Posted by se71 at 02:48 PM | Comments (1)

January 25, 2006

Freecycle


Image036
Originally uploaded by se71.
This is, quite literally, a free cycle.

I joined a local group in the http://www.freecycle.org community. I really needed a cheap bike for popping to the shops on after my mountain bike got stolen last year, and when one turned up on the list I grabbed it.

I drove over to Staines last Thursday night and picked up this free bicycle. Freecycle is like ebay but no money changes hands - it's a place to get rid of unwanted things - someone else always wants your old stuff. It's not just for bikes of course, anything goes pretty much.

My new bike was covered in dust and cobwebs, had a wonky saddle and flat tyres, but a wet rag, a wrench and a pump fixed all those problems in 5 minutes flat!

It's great, it has mudguards, a rack for bags or packages, a stand, and the breaks even work.

Excellent.

Update: Took my new bike to the local library for a trip, and also got a paper from the newsagents. Got there so quickly, I made a detour on the way back do I'd get a bit more pedalling time :-)

Posted by se71 at 01:49 PM | Comments (1)

January 24, 2006

Books not reviewed

I'm way behind on my book reviews. So I don't completely forget what I've read - here are the ones I remember, with a few brief notes that I hope to expand on.

Nicole Krauss - The History Of Love - Bad

This year's 'Shadow of the Wind', all about a book and the writer of the book. Far too much Polish/Yiddish stuff in here - do we really need another post holocaust lost love novel. I hated that some foreign words were included with no translations so I have no idea what they meant.

There are passages of the 'book within the book', and they are tediously awful. No one would want to read it, and interestingly in this novel, not many people do.

The best thing about this book is that it's short - and some pages only have a few words on them.


Alistair Reynolds - Century Rain - Good

Raynolds does it again, nice cold hard science fiction, with a detective novel sort of thrown in.

Terry Pratchett - Going Postal - Funny

Funny stuuff, on Discworld as usual. You either like these books or you don't, and I like 'em.


Alistair Macall Smith - The No 1. Ladies Detective Agency - Goodish

It's a short book that needs to be read slowly. This perhaps reflect the easy tropical pace of life in Botswana that our lady detective enjoys. Several short detecting cases are threaded together with an unlikely love story. I enjoyed it a bit, it's not bad, just not that good either.

Neal Stephenson - Quicksilver

Never finished - 100 pages in and I give up - if I wanted to read an encyclopedia then I'd buy one.


James Patterson - Sam's Letters for Jennifer - really terribly bad

Not sure why I picked this one up - probably morbid curiousity as I read a similar book by Patterson and wondered if he would have the temerity to do it again - he has!

Nick Hornby - Long Way Down - Crap

Four characters, all either boring or unlikable, want to commit suicide on New Years Eve and climb up onto a roof. They persuade each other to go on living - but I rather wish thay had just made the leap and spared me from this dross. Nick Hornby wrote 'About a Boy', and 'High Fidelity' - both absolute classics. How can he write such terrible stuff as this (actually, 'How to be Good' was just as bad, I should have know better.)

Iain M Banks - The Algebraist - Good

Huge scale space opera, totally confusing in the middle third where I nearly gave up, but ultimately worth it as I gradually pulled together the different threads to understanding.


Andrew Taylor - The American Boy

Persuaded by the Richard and Judy Book Club, and by my interest in Edgar Allen Poe, I dived into this historical novel. What a mistake. Despite him being a near namesake of mine, I really struggled to empathise with the lead character Thomas Shields. He was so much motivated by the civilities of the age, that you could see him easily willing to die rather than offend a person of higher class. Poe only makes brief unsatisfactory appearances, and never does anything intersting.

Posted by se71 at 05:42 PM | Comments (1)

Dean Koontz - Odd Thomas


Some authors spend a years, even decades writing a novel, and it gets loads of publicity and reviews in the press and everyone talks about it for a while, and they go off again and start working on another piece of worthy fiction.

You don't get that with Dean Koontz - like Terry Pratchett, he seems to have the ability to write books faster than a normal person can read them. They don't win any literary prizes, particularly as they fall into the horror genre, but they are excellent page turners.

I have a fifty minute train journey, and I like to count the pages of a novel that I get through during the ride. My average is about a page a minute, and this lets me get through the average 300-400 book in under a week. Odd Thomas was more in the 70-80 pages region. There are no hard sentences to try and fathom, nothing you really need to go back and reread. As an amateur writer myself I've been studying the prose and wondering just how it works. How do you write such readable pages? Does it just flow out of him, surely he doesn't have time to make detailed plans? Some years he manages three novels, sometimes he even wrote under different pseudonymns, as if his public couldn't possbily believe one person could produce so much fiction and so he had to hide some of the books.

And I also wonder, if he just slowed down and spent a year or two thinking about it, could he write a truely great story (apologies to Dean if this has already happened, I have many many more of your novels still to read).

Stephen King is a household name - how has he managed this when Dean Koontz hasn't. It's probably the great movie adaptations of the novels that did it. But also, King has managed to make a few of his stories less horror and more mainstream. "Stand By Me" and "The Shawshank Redemption" both have horrific elements, but the supernatural doesn't make an appearance. The latter I feel, which is normally voted by the public in the top five favourite films of all time, was what legitimised King's work in a way that has never happened with Koontz.

Anyway, back to the novel, Odd Thomas. The eponymous hero is a twenty year old man living in the fictional medium sized town of Pico Mundo in the desert somewhere in California. In an obvious gentle dig at "The Sixth Sense", he claims "I see dead people, but then, by God, I do something about it". Odd can see and communicate with people who have died, but not moved on to the next plane of existence. They cannot talk, but can gesture to him, and though they cannot hurt him, he can feel their touch. Sometimes they have been murdered, and they help Odd to solve the crime and bring the bad guys to justice. Sometimes Odd gets hurt, and though he is scared of physical danger, he is courageous. He is resigned to doing the right thing, knowing he couldn't live with himself if he didn't follow his self imposed rule of righting wrongs.

Along with this gift for seeing the dead, he also has a sixth sense for bad things about to happen. And if he knows the name or physical appearance of someone about to commit a heinous crime, he can walk or drive around the town randomly and this talent will soon bring him to the person. He uses this skill quite a lot.

He can also see black shadowy creatures he calls bodachs, which skulk around always preceeding a great disaster or atrocity.

The story is written as a first person narrative by Odd, and we know that something terrible will happen, but not exactly what or how bad it will be. We do know it will be pretty bad. Many bodachs are abroad, and shadowing a new stranger in town called Bob Robertson. One of Odd's friends has a dream in which she dies with a gunshot to the head. The future is a murky place, and Odd knows that it can be changed, but it is difficult to know exactly what to do. He follows Robetson and breaks into his house when it is empty. There, he finds a calendar with Wednesday February 15th ominously marked; this is only the following day. Odd know that there will be a terrible bloodbath unless he can stop it.

Odd is a very likeble character, who hates violence and guns, but because of his gift is forced to confront them. He is from a really dysfunctional family, but by keeping his life as simple as possible (no car, no bank account, job as a short order cook) he is getting by. His soulmate girlfriend Stormy isn't the only girl who likes him, though he is completely blind to their clumsy advances, and this complete lack of self interest and his self-effacing humour makes him a really down to earth and straightforward man despite his weird life.

As he goes about the day, visiting the Sheriff, and his girlfriend Stormy, and trying to work out what is about to happen, the novel reads much like a detective story. A 400 pound six fingered man is featured, as is a blind man who is a DJ playing plays jazz all night on the local radio station, and a woman who thinks she might wake up and be invisible. These and other colourful characters are reminiscent of the kind of people who show up in Elmore Leonard's books. Koontz could easily write a straight detective book, maybe he has (I notice from searching the web that he is credited with writing an episode of Chips, the motorbike cop show from the 1970s.)

The events of the next 24 hours do involve dead bodies, and culminate in a frenzy of explosives and machine guns. I'm not going to spoil the ending, though you know that Odd survives already, and even as I write this I discover that a sequel has been published less than two months ago. This novel must have been popular, Koontz hasn't written many sequels I think.

All in all, a diverting read, great for commuting or travelling, and a 400 page book you could probably devour in a single sitting if you had a mind to. You will like Odd himself a lot, and want to find out how he gets on after the end. I'm looking forward to reading "Forever Odd"


[Actually if you do want to know the ending, I think I'll create a spoiler page for it. Watch this space]

Posted by se71 at 08:31 AM | Comments (0)

January 20, 2006

Eleventh Hour

Eleventh Hour

Yet another TV review, and yet again I'm complaining.

To be honest I didn't watch the whole thing. I'm trying to waste less time watching rubbish and 25 minutes into this I just couldn't take any more.

Patrick Stewart was the reason I tuned in in the first place, but his character was too unsympathetic for me, too grim, no warmth or personailty to make him interesting. He plays a scientific investigator for the government. This first story concerned his hunt for a group of people performing illegal human cloning experiments across Europe. A cache of buried foetuses is found in a field in England, and he's on the case faster than you can say "Beam me up Scottie!" (err, I know, that was the other Star Trek, but anyway).

Cloning is a complex issue, but this was just "Cloning is Bad" propaganda. We had shadowy figures with dodgy codenames, paying dodgy doctors to impregnate gullable teenage girls. This scenario was too far fetched for a 'serious' show.

And Ashley Jenson as Stewart's tough bodyguard - don't make me laugh. Actually, she's funnier here than in Extras with Ricky Gervaise, but she's trying to be serious.

Maybe there was a point to it all. Maybe the grainy film and bad lighting were a good thing and not just a desperate attempt to give a weak story some character. But life's too short, I didn't stick around to find out.

Instead, I watched a show from earlier in the week that I'd recorded, part two of "Life on Mars". Click to see my review of that - once I write it of course.

Posted by se71 at 10:36 AM | Comments (0)

January 19, 2006

Ruth Kelly

This story really beggars belief.

Surely it is a self evident truth that any adult with a history of child sex abuse should be kept out of schools. Why do we even need this to be pointed out to the idiots in charge of these lists.

I'm speechless at the stupidity shown here by Ruth Kelly and her government.

Posted by se71 at 02:52 PM | Comments (0)

Desperate Housewives - Season Two

Maybe I'm not the target demographic for this show, but I did like the first series. A central mystery running through it made the weekly trip down Wisteria Lane something to look forward to, and the central characters performances were excellent.

Last night I watched the opener to Season Two, and was very disappointed. Nothing much has changed, and the cynic in me thinks they really should have stopped on a high. Instead they've introduced some token non-white characters to the neighbourhood, and tried to start up a new mystery. Unless they manage to tie this in with the original characters and storyline, the manufactured feel of this will make me care very little for the outcome. Of course, can you really sustain a secret for years on end? Desperate Houswives at least gave us a conclusion last time. (I think 'Lost' are going to try and keep their secrets for years, or at least until they can think of comething convincing).

Back to the episode then, and my main complaint, which was the sloppy, slapstick situations. How many times do we have to see a man in his boxer shorts being kicked out the front door of a house in broad daylight by a woman in a negligee. I'm pretty sure it doesn't happen much in my street, it's just a convenient cliche to let us see the stars in their underwear and to get a cheap laugh at the embarassment of the situation. But it's not even funny if there is no one there to witness it.

How many times do we have to see a woman forced to take her baby to a job interview, and then watch her get the job anyway while changing a nappy in middle of the office. And the biting insight that got her the job? She said that the company's website sucks. That's hardly a revelation in the corporate world, and she didn't even say why it was bad or offer suggestions to improve it. Sure, I'd defintiely give a job to someone smelling of babypoo who glibly tells me that the way my company does things is crap.

And in case we hadn't cringed enough at these antics, we also get the delight of a woman lifing up her husband's corpse at a funeral in front of hundreds of people in order to change his tie. Yes, after killing off a busybody mother-in-law last season, we now get a new one (or is it the same one in a different coat, can't be sure) to create a bit of family friction. She wants her son buried in his old school tie, and will risk everything to make it happen. Sure, I believe that. And she gives her dead son's dirty magazines to her grandson so that they can laugh together at them. Sorry, this isn't really working is it. Desperate Housewives! More like Desperate Scriptwriters.


(apolopgies for that last sentence, it's probably a very tired play on words, but I haven't the energy right now to think of anything more original!)

Posted by se71 at 10:47 AM | Comments (0)

January 09, 2006

Drink 8 glasses of Water a day - Urban Legend?

I’m giving up on this goal, after reading the Snopes article on it here:


http://www.snopes.com/medical/myths/8glasses.asp


I drink plenty of fluids, including caffeinated coffee, tea and colas. I eat a healthy diet which also contains water.


I’ll have some water when I’m thirsty, and after exercising, and forget this 8 glasses a day thing.

Update: The BBC have a new program called "The Truth About Food", and they have also debunked this theory.

Posted by se71 at 08:56 AM | Comments (1)

January 03, 2006

New Year Resolutions

It's great to have an aim I think. Something to work towards concentrates the mind and really does help you to achieve what you want to do.

Some resolutions are easy to make, but impossibly hard to maintain, and actually end up a bit counter productive. "Run 10 miles per week" or, "Write a blog entry every day for the whole year". These are possible, but make you more an addict to the letter of the resolution, rather than achieving the goals.

So you might have a cold, and really not feel like a three mile run in the middle of February, but go out anyway so as not to spoil your record. Then you make yourself really ill and are forced to break the resolution anyway. And you might post inane drivel to your blog, and in the process actually bore people away from reading it, just so that you can point to 365 entries at the end of the year.

That's why I try to make my resolutions a bit wishy-washy, a bit unfocussed. "exercise more", "eat better (but NOT less)", "write an interesting blog". These are better resolutions than the ones the anally retentive side of my personality would actually like me to make, and happily, I've missed two days blogging this year already.

Posted by se71 at 01:32 PM | Comments (0)