Friday, 28 April 2017

5 NASA Inventions That Are Now Everyday Household Items

Today on the blog we're featuring a guest post kindly provided by James Hall.  James is a cracking UK writer who is a home appliance enthusiast - take it away James!


5 NASA Inventions That Are Now Everyday Household Items

Ever since I first watched Star Trek as a child, I’ve always been interested in space-age technology. Ideas such as faster-than-light travel or realistic virtual realities still fascinate me – even though I understand little of the science behind them!

In comparison to sci-fi technology, it’s sometimes easy to forget how astonishing “everyday” items actually are. Society has developed so rapidly over the last 100-150 years that we quickly become indifferent to technological breakthroughs – even when they come as a direct result of space research.
With that in mind, here are five everyday items that were first developed by NASA.




 1. Scratch-Proof Glasses

As you can imagine, it’s important for an astronaut’s visor not to get scratched. That’s why NASA scientists in the 1970s put a lot of time into developing strong plastics coated with a thin film to prevent scratching. The result was visors that were up to ten times less likely to scratch than previous versions.

Fast forward a decade, and sunglass manufacturer Foster-Grant realised the same technology could be used on their products. The company was the first to licence it from NASA, although today most plastic lenses have a similar coating.




2. Memory Foam Mattresses

Walk into any mattress shop and you’ll almost certainly be greeted be a sales person extolling the virtues of memory foam. This type of foam, which contours to your body to provide extra support while sleeping, has become popular in recent years.

What many people don’t know is that memory foam was first developed by NASA as a way to protect passengers during a crash. It’s still used for that today, but is also found in pillows, mattresses and even roller coasters due to its ability to absorb energy.



3. Water Filters

One of the challenges of long-term space missions, such as establishing a base on the Moon, is producing clean water. That’s why NASA has been collaborating with a number of companies to develop water filtration systems. The first filters were designed in the 1970s and could handle basic cleaning. In recent years, new filters are being created to convert water with greater contamination – including human urine – into a drinkable form.

While this technology might not be found in the average western home, it has the potential to make a big difference in poorer countries where clean water is scarce.





4. Handheld Cordless Vacuums

An example of a more mundane NASA technology is the humble handheld vacuum. Before the Apollo mission, NASA commissioned Black & Decker to produce a drill to collect samples from the moon. This needed a highly optimised motor and tiny power consumption, as energy would be at a premium during the mission.

Later on, the same technology would be used to create the Dustbuster range of vacuums. Black & Decker still produce Dustbusters today, although handheld vacuums are now built by a wide range of companies.




5. Cochlear Implants

In the 1970s, analog hearing aids simply magnified sound. This meant any noise or imperfections would also be amplified.

At the time, NASA was putting a lot of research time into sound and electronic sensing. An engineer named Adam Kissiah, who also had hearing difficulties, realised this technology could be used to produce an implant that would transmit sound digitally.

He founded a private company to develop a working prototype of the cochlear implant. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have had their hearing restored – including people who have been deaf since birth.


James Hall is a home technology writer from the UK. Aside from writing, he enjoys hiking, cycling and spending time with his family. He's always had an interest in space-age technology and has high hopes for the next-generation of virtual reality devices. He's currently writing for Spotless Vacuum and you can also find him on Twitter.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Rants of Spring



We are determinedly in the middle of spring, and it should make me happy.  That's the deal, right? At last the icy chills of winter are fading away, new growth, sunny days, all that sort of thing.

Well, I'm determined to put an alternative point of view forward.

Firstly, you have to start cutting the grass.  The grass hasn't been cut for six months, and so has taken on sufficient water to be shipped off to a drought-ridden country to supply a small family with water for a month, meaning that the lawn mower can't chop the grass, and merely chews it a bit, like a cow with Attention Deficit Disorder (as an aside, I wonder if anyone ever uses the word "deficit" in topics other than attention disorders and budgets).

Added to the challenge of cutting the grass is that randomly throughout the exercise of grass mastication your mower will encounter one of the various plastic toys abandoned in the garden in autumn the previous year, either forcing the mower blades to wail as they try to slice a mouldy water pistol into plastic salami, or, if you hit the toy just right, the blades and wheels combine to propel it flying frantically into the air, to be stopped heroically by your face.

And of course, everything is growing, not just the grass.  Suddenly every damn weed and bush in the garden decides that this is the moment to grow as quick and fast as they can, so suddenly spiky growths dart across paths to stab you in the ankle as you try to get a pair of secateurs to deal with them.

Then there's hayfever.  I fortunately don't suffer with hayfever, but my wife does, and it's not pleasant for me to endure her sneezing and running eyes.  I dare say that she's not overkeen on it either.

Insects are next - after a few pleasant months of insects either being dead or asleep, now they are taking once again to the air, ready to fly in my ears or walk all over my cheesecake.

The sun in the spring is a particularly curious beast, I find.  It's low enough in the sky that it blinds you when driving to work, and is extremely bright indeed, yet apparently gives no heat whatsoever, forcing a recovery of those winter sweaters that you had decisively put away.

At least we've now got past the week or so when you wake up "late" because of daylight saving time (British Summer Time in my country) and you're consistently late for work for a week because you're waking up at the time you've been waking up at for the last six months.

Nevertheless, I'll be complaining even more about summer.  Being English, complaining about the weather is an essential activity for myself, and I look forward to complaining about it being too hot briefly rather than the rest of the year, when it's too cold.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Day Zero

Today, dear readers, is day zero.  It is the last day before the counting commences.

It is the last day... that my wife is here.

To halt the dramatics, allow me to explain that she's off to Australia for three weeks to visit her sister and her partner - my sister-in-law has just given birth to a beautiful baby girl, and my wife will be starting her journey to Melbourne tomorrow morning to help out for a few weeks.  As I write this bags are being packed.

As a result, me and our son will be fending for ourselves.  We broke the news to him yesterday, but he seems more put out by the fact that he's going back to school after two weeks off than his mum not being around (this will change the first time he has an accident or I annoy him or something!)

In preparation for taking over the cooking duties, I made a huge vat of anonymous mash vegetables for freezing.


I had the bright idea, you see, that I could make a load of mashed potatoes, and mix in it some other vegetables, to get some nutrition into mine and my sons diets, to try to start off on the right foot and not be resorting to takeaways every night.

However, it's pretty obvious in the picture above that it isn't pure top-quality mashed potato, and I suspect I'm going to be eating most of that myself.  I did add some bacon into the vegetables when they were boiling to add flavour, interestingly while they didn't add any flavour to the vegetables the process did succeed in sucking all of the tasty bacon flavour from the bacon itself.  Eating flavourless bacon is odd, trust me.

So cross your fingers for these next twenty six or so days of freedom.  Perhaps by the end of it I'll have learned to cook!

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

A Day Out


I wasn't actually particularly planning on having a day out today.  Sure, I expected to leave the house sometime (the reason why will become shortly), but I didn't expect the day to turn out quite as it did.

So, my wife was at work today (which is particularly bad planning on her part bearing in mind that it's her birthday) and as our son is off school this week I had the day off to entertain him.

Now, one recent change to our lives is that we now have a regular house cleaner.  Once a week, on Tuesdays, we leave the house its usual state (that is to say, not quite bad enough for the Disasters Emergency Committee to begin running commercials asking for donations, but not far off) and we return to a beautiful and sparkling clean home.  I find this somewhat unsettling, and end up frantically tidying and wiping counters before the cleaners arrive, so that they can spend their time doing the more in depth cleaning that I am able to ignore, like cleaning under the sink or sandblasting the external brickwork.

Usually we're all out of the house by 8am so we don't ever see the cleaner, but with school being off, we found the day didn't start quite as quickly as the norm, and in summary the cleaners found me asleep in bed at 11 in the morning, my son laid next to me watching the childhood tale "The Gingerbread Man" for the fifteenth time, in what I assume is an effort by him to watch all of the different animations of this story that can be found on YouTube.

Allow me to assure readers that I had indeed awoken some hours before, but my son had had a minor accident and was somewhat upset, so had retired to my bed for a brief "chill out" session, and I joined him to make sure that he was okay.  Once in bed of course I noticed a Bill Bryson book that I hadn't read for at least three weeks and started flicking through it, before succumbing to the temptations of an illicit midmorning nap.

Anyway, once awoken by the cleaners coming up the stairs, we quickly left the house without a clear plan of where to go or what to do - at least I didn't have a clear plan, my son probably did, but as it would probably involve running at moving cars whilst eating chocolate I wasn't convinced that he would have the best idea of how to spend the time.

So, we found ourselves at the Humber Bridge Country Park.  The country park is sited in an old chalk mine on the bank of the River Humber, and when I was young I remember visiting the park any number of times to prick myself with a nettle or fall down a steep wall or something.  I'm pleased to report that my son promptly climbed up a massive and steep face, and then commanded me to join him.  He didn't fall down anything either, which was an added bonus.

I do like the Humber Bridge Country Park, even though at the entrance it has a box full of leaflets that you can take to learn more about the park, and the park administrators have felt the need to put instructions on the box explaining how a leaflet can be safely obtained.  At the time of our visit, some local do-gooder group (The Holderness Annoying Young Persons Society, perhaps) had brought a dozen death-seeking children of indeterminate ages to the country park, all of which immediately launched themselves at every hazard they could find, hanging off railings, dangling legs off the tops of bridges, and bouncing inanely on play equipment.  My son didn't hesitate to join them, leaving me to chase ineffectually after them, and between periods of heavy breathing occasionally mustering just enough energy to shout at him to stop touching whatever he was touching or to not jump from whatever dangerous place he was onto the row of metal spikes directly underneath him.

We ended up staying at the park a good four hours or so, by which time we were both exhausted from a very enjoyable time running around.  In fact we were there so long, that by the time we got back home, I decided to invent a new meal - Tunch.

Aficionados of Brunch will recognise Tunch as a new fusion meal, where we take the "snacky" aspect of lunch (sandwich, crisps, yoghurt, perhaps a piece of fruit) and give it the "quantity" element of Tea.  Tunch for my son was essentially all the items mentioned, plus another yoghurt, and some sort of biscuit on a stick that he coerced me into buying at the supermarket after the country park (four hours of running around a park will weaken your defenses somewhat).

I attempted to apply the other aspect of Brunch, that is that by having Brunch you don't get to eat Lunch, so I did my best to take Tunch sufficiently staunch as to avoid the need for a separate tea meal.  This didn't work of course, my son seems to be able to eat constantly, except when asleep (and if he slept in a food preparation area I think he could continue eating even then) so the idea of skipping a meal just because he'd had a separate meal an hour beforehand was obviously unreasonable.

All in all an excellent day.  Now please excuse me while I sort out some supper.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Surprise - Election!


Abandoning the post I was writing (don't worry, it'll appear soon enough) I shamelessly leap onto a topic that is currently trending on Twitter.

The UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, has stated her intention to hold a general election in early June, in an effort to increase her parties majority as they start the Brexit negotiations.  I've always made an effort to be non-political in this blog and to not favour any particular party, so I'm certainly not going to comment on who should get your (or my) vote.

But it's excellent timing.  May has suffered from the accusation of being made prime minister without the public voting for her.  The main opposition party, Labour, appear to be in disarray.  The Liberal Democrats have not recovered from their time as the Conservatives junior partner in government.  Reasons for voting UKIP are fading as their main drive - to leave the EU - is already being delivered by the Conservatives.  And the SNP are as big a force in Westminster as they can ever hope to be, the best they can manage is to maintain their current numbers.

That said, it's still going to be eight busy weeks until the election (assuming that the House of Commons votes for the early election).  Jeremy Corbyn seems to garner a significant amount of support from segments of the public, at odds with much of the Labour MPs at Westminster. And this is a significant U-turn from May, away from her past statements that there wouldn't be an election until 2020.

Nevertheless, the latest polls indicate a huge swathe of Labour seats potentially changing hands and going to the Conservative party in June, giving May the majority she wants to have the freedom to push hard on Brexit.

All of which brings me to thinking that it's a good time to mention this blog post about 5 things you might not know about working at polling stations, and this video about news on polling day :)



Sunday, 16 April 2017

Easter Weekend


Hi and welcome to this special Easter blog!  We've just got in from a couple of days away staying with family, and I wanted to write about the safari park, and in particular one certain exhibit.

We went to Knowsley Safari Park on Saturday.  We visited the same park last year (which was covered in this blog, read if you wish), and it's a really good wildlife park, I'd recommend visiting it if you can.

Now, one of the main attractions is a "Safari Drive", where you drive slowly around the park, seeing all kinds of different animals.  Quite often you would come to a standstill as a car in front would stop, and bring out a camera to take photos of the rhino, or springbok, or whatever was in the vicinity.  It's all very good, although when you're stuck behind a car because they're spending five minutes looking at an ostrich, and you've already seen half a dozen, it's a little tiresome.

Anyway, on the Safari Drive one exhibit of particular note is the baboon enclosure.  You are given two routes to drive on the Safari Drive, one outside the baboon enclosure (also known as "THE SAFE ROUTE") and one where you actually drive inside the enclosure.

Everyone picks the latter, although I suspect, this is without the complete and unreserved agreement of the owner of the car, who will have read the sign that says "Warning - The Baboons WILL damage YOUR car!!" and is thinking to themselves that maybe, just once, the safe route might be a wiser choice.

So, you go into the enclosure, and baboons climb on your car, and jump from car to car, and they're great fun.

And, as has happened to my car both times I've been there, they try to rip bits off your car.

Sometimes they go for rubber door seals, sometimes it's windscreen wipers.  On my car they particularly like the windscreen sprayers, they like to gnaw them off and then sit there chewing them, as though they're trying an unusual branding of chewing tobacco.  Now, I've been very fortunate that on both occasions I've got the sprayers back and been able to fit them back on my car, but I can understand that some drivers might get a certain amount of joy at the sight when they leave the enclosure.

Because when you leave the enclosure, there are two park keepers stood at the exit, entrusted with the important job of ensuring that the baboons don't escape.

And they each have equipment to help them with this endeavour - equipment, which can be best described, as long hefty sticks, ideal for sweeping baboons off car roofs.

Certainly the first time I drove round the exhibit, and I had three baboons on my car, who were doing their best to not only eat my windscreen sprayers but also yank out the rubber pipe that delivers water to the sprayer, the arrival of the two guys with clubs was enough to make the baboons drop the bits of my car they were eating and run away, no doubt anticipating a swing of a heavy stick in their direction.

I'm curious to imagine the job advert for the baboon enclosure.  It would go something like this, I like to imagine:

Wanted: Safari Park Warden Level 1 (Baboon Enclosure).  We are looking for people enthusiastic and knowledgeable about wildlife. Successful applicants must have good front line customer service skills, and be at all times friendly and presentable.  Applications from baseball players are particularly welcomed.

Alternatively, perhaps they just send someone down to the car park looking for people nursing baboon-damaged cars fresh from the Safari Drive experience, and ask if they fancy volunteering for an hour or so.  I imagine that they'd have some takers.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Probing Space


I've always been fascinated by space, when I was a kid I used to pore over astronomy books, reading about the findings of probes such as Viking 1 and 2.  I remember that I was really excited about the finding that the Mars atmosphere contained 1% oxygen (which apparently is wrong, I'm led to understand that it's actually 0.13%) because at the time I thought that it meant that, with some sort of oxygen extraction device, it could increase the feasibility of a Mars base.

Now, recently NASA reported that there appears to be quantities of hydrogen gas on Saturn's moon Enceladus, created by significant hydrothermal activity on its sea floor, as well as observing plumes of what appears to be water on Jupiter's moon Europa.

However, there's one thing when it comes to space exploration that puzzles me - why do space mission people feel the need to end their spacecraft?

The twin GRAIL lunar research spacecraft were smashed into the Moon into two impact sites named Ebb and Flow. The European Space Agencies' Rosetta spacecraft was slammed into a comet.  The Messenger spacecraft crashed into Mercury. And the Cassini spacecraft is shortly due to begin a final series of complex maneuvers before being sunk into the depths of Saturn, to be crushed by the heavy atmospheric pressures of the gas giant.

Illustration of Cassini Spacecraft's Grand Finale Dive
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

To be fair, the Cassini probe is hoped to carry out some unique research on its final descent into the planet.  And the Messenger one ran out of fuel.  But I'm not convinced that for at least some of these spacecraft the main intent of a crash landing isn't just to give an opportunity for one last press release, one high profile end to a long long story.  To give the mission team some closure.  And to be fair they probably deserve it after working on a mission for so many years.

But how much do these probes cost?  The Rosetta mission, for example, cost 1.4 billion Euros, while Cassini cost well over $3bn.  Seems like a lot of money spent on something if we ultimately wreck it - although, to be honest, I don't have a big issue with the cost, for me space travel is potentially one of the most important pieces of research that we can do, and as long as it completes its mission, I do think it's money well spent.

But what is more important to me is that I believe, in a few hundred years time, assuming that:
  • Humans don't destroy themselves and the planet
  • We actually manage to overcome our difficulties, and;
  • We expand our civilisation into space
I suspect that we might actually like to recover some of these ancient artifacts of what will be primitive space travel.  We'll consider the casual destruction of these probes as historical crimes, and historians will spend a great deal of time and effort deciphering designs and textbooks to recreate impressions of spacecraft lost to time.  That is assuming that we have records of these spacecraft at all.

Think of the Early Middle Ages in Europe, how it is often referred to as the "Dark Ages", because we have so little surviving documentation that tells us what happened.  Or more recently, thousands of TV and radio shows have been lost because until the 1970s it was quite common to record over old tapes, or not record them in the first place.  I know the BBC have put great effort into recreating episodes of classics such as Hancock's Half Hour and Doctor Who, of which original recordings have been lost.

It's not too hard to imagine someone, several centuries from now, spending decades carefully analysing a modern day space probe - perhaps one of the Mars Rovers - desperately trying to obtain clues about our existence from the probes we sent out into space. Basic stuff - what did we eat? Who were our leaders? And what is a "selfie"?!?

Curiosity Self-Portrait at Martian Sand Dune
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

So my view is that rather than giving these craft a glorious but brief end, we should instead stick a M-Disc full of information in it (along with a DVD drive to read it), and when a probe has finished its expensive mission our mission controllers should allow it to rest safely, enabling future discovery.

Extra reading:

https://www.nature.com/news/saturn-spacecraft-begins-science-swan-song-1.21813 

https://www.wired.com/2016/09/ode-rosetta-spacecraft-going-die-comet/ 

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/apr/29/nasas-messenger-spacecraft-to-crash-into-mercury-ending-mission 

https://www.universetoday.com/99035/end-of-mission-grail-spacecraft-impact-a-mountain-on-the-moon/ 

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Sunday

As previously mentioned, I've recently ordered some fabric samples online.  

A LOT of samples online.

I'm thinking of sewing them together into a little blanket or some such thing.  One thing I didn't realise is the extra freebies you get with them - alongside all the fabric samples I've also got a little pencil, two tea bags, a hot chocolate sachet, and one of those Lotus caramelised biscuits you sometimes get with coffees in bars (which I love - you can even get a Lotus biscuit spread in some of the supermarkets which is way over the top, but amazing in small doses).  If you ever want some mail to open which isn't the usual bills, order some free fabric samples.

I've got a pretty good Sunday ahead of me today, I'm taking my dad out for a few beers around Beverley (market town to the north of Hull), there's a few decent pubs (and a micropub) there so that should be a fun afternoon.  This morning will be taken up probably with a few chores, I have a huge pile of washed clothes to put away - which is actually sort of relaxing, I'll put something good to listen to on my phone and just steadily work my way through it all.

Hope everyone has a good Sunday!

Friday, 7 April 2017

Mousey Satisfaction


Today I'm writing about mice, the sort that you control your computer from.  It's a solidly geeky post, so if you don't want to read about mouse, here's a story about cats.

For many years, I used a Logitech G5 mouse.  The best mouse I ever used, it was hard wearing, a pleasure to use, accurate, looked reasonably cool (cooler than a standard office mouse yet not over the top with millions of buttons like some gaming mice)

The Logitech G5 mouse, beloved.  Image attribution: Cncplyr at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I think I got the G5 originally at a LAN party years back, and it didn't disappoint.  But sadly, eventually after many years of use (and I mean many - it lasted a lot longer than the Logitech G15 keyboard I bought around the same time, for three times the money!), it became less responsive and a replacement was in order.  I turned to a Microsoft Wheel Mouse.


Microsoft mice aren't something you'd immediately think of as a gaming mouse, but they're decent quality, reliable mice.  I did work experience for a few months at Hull College as a student, and at the time a Microsoft IntelliMouse was a good piece of kit to get your hands on.  Having an optical sensor rather than a ball made the mouse more accurate, not prone to jamming up with dirt, and couldn't be sabotaged by one of your college mates taking the ball out.

I had a Microsoft mouse in my box of computer bits, so it was put to work, and again was fine to work with for a while, until it too started to play up.

Then, like a fool, I thought "Hey, that Logitech G5 was amazing, another Logitech must be great!"

Not this one.

The Logitech M100.  It's evil, it clicks, and it's nasty.

Now before you think all Logitech mice are rubbish, this is one of their cheapest (if not the cheapest) one that Logitech offers.  Having a quick look at their shop, I see some REALLY nice mice.  But this isn't one - it's light, it's a little too small, it scrapes over the desk, and the scroll mouse making a really noisy clicking sound when in use, like a row of cockroaches being stood on.



I'm now using a Cyborg RAT 5 mouse which I got with my current computer, I wasn't overwhelmed by the shape of it when I first saw one of these (at another LAN party) but now I'm using one I have to admit it's pretty nice, it's solid and comfortable, and even has a nice little shelf to rest your thumb on in between clicks.  I'm finding it occasionally a little unresponsive but I'm not sure if that's down to the mouse or something computer-related.

One day, however, I will buy myself a really good Logitech mouse again.  One day.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Poppadoms and other ephemera

I'm really annoyed.

I hand wrote (and who writes by hand these days?!? It's a rare occurrence for me, at any rate) a blog post on Sunday.  Fast forward to today, and of course I can't find it.  I've been all the way through my big green exercise book, and there's no sign of it.

Ah well.  I shall endeavour to use a large variety of short and unrelated complaints to fill out a post.

So, poppadoms - they're very tasty, but who was the first person who thought "Hey, this spicy curry is all well and good, but what it really needs is a big crisp!".  It's like having a spaghetti bolognese with an unwrapped chocolate bar on the side of your plate.

I searched my Google Photos archive for "poppadom" and this photo of a half cooked pancake was the only thing that came up.  Now, I could search the internet for some public domain poppadom images, or just use this one...

Furthermore, I was aghast at the petrol station the other day, because I found that the pump in question can be set to dispense a certain amount of fuel - you can just press a few buttons, and the pump will deliver the requested quantity.

For me, it's one of the most important parts of car ownership is learning how to fill up to the pound, say to £35.00 exactly (long gone are the days when I could get away with a tenner a week for fuel). Having a button to press to guarantee that you'll hit exactly £35 seems like a bit of a cheat, there's no skill in that.  It's like at supermarkets where now they have a person with a big sign who points out the shortest queues - when I was growing up it was a question of strategy and skill to get to a short queue before anyone else spots it, elbowing old ladies out of the way, or lurking near a till that a shop assistant was possibly heading towards. Now any old fool can go to the shortest queue.

At least I have this to comfort me:



This would be chocolate lemonade jelly, and it's just as wrong as it sounds! :)


Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Online payments

So, I've been ordering some free fabric samples online.  These are for two purposes - firstly, I'd got a vague idea that it might be nice to get a load of samples and stitch them together into something or other. And secondly (and more importantly), my wife gets a lot of parcels all the time and it'd be nice to get a few deliveries for me.

Anyhow, one of the places I went to for samples, NEXT, decided that I had to pay.


That would be, of course, to pay £0.00.  I had the choice of using a credit or debit card, a NEXT gift card, or if I wanted I could take out their NEXT credit card, and get 0% interest for three months on my purchase.

I entered my debit card details, at least the card wasn't declined...

In other news, my wife is training me to help with her burgeoning needle minder hobby, wrapping up parcels being sent all over the world.

Totally natural photo...

The instructions for wrapping the needle minders are very specific, possibly from learning that I have a tendency to deviate from instructions as much as possible - for example, when shopping, my wife might give me a list, with items on such as "ketchup". Now, I know she wants Heinz Tomato Sauce, she doesn't like any other brand, but unless she writes Heinz on the list I'm going to go and buy some other type. So she's learned to give me as little room to maneuver as possible.

But I'm still looking for where I can create havoc.  One thing is that every parcel goes with a little card with a hand written note on it, something along the lines of "Thanks for ordering xxx". I've been advised that I'll need to write some notes myself, for when I package orders up.  I've come up with a few so far:

  • Thank you for your order.  This card will self-destruct in five seconds.
  • Thank you for your order.  There's a secret message hidden in this box in invisible ink, use a UV darklight to read it.
  • Thank you for your order. Help, I'm being held captive in a box making factory.


But suggestions are welcomed!

Monday, 3 April 2017

Googling Yourself

Prelude: The concept for this post was provided by ReputationManagement.com, a leading provider of premier relationship services.

Do you know what I give thanks for?

It's that when I was in my teens and early twenties, I wasn't on Facebook.

True, I did have my own website (talking about computer games and rave music - if anyone wants to experience my ancient and extremely poor game, "Ravers vs Peaceniks", I need something that can compile Visual Basic 3 code into something understandable by todays computers, do let me know if you have a solution) but that website has sunk virtually without trace, and I can proceed through life, unhindered.

Today however people (including, but not exclusively, the young) have to be prepared that whatever they put online may be accessible for years afterwards.

Put a cheeky selfie up about a few too many drinks?  Or a long rant about an annoying customer at your current job?  It might just be a bit of fun, but how would you feel if a potential recruiter viewed it?

ReputationManagement.com have put together this infographic full of tips on Googling yourself and seeing what's out there.



If you try this, do pop in the comments know what you found - was you surprised at what you found?

From Ravers vs Peaceniks - I must find out how to compile it and make it run on today's PCs!

Sunday, 2 April 2017

A Cat Story


I thought I'd bring an old story out of the archives to entertain one and all...

So, my grandmother is now in a nursing home, but prior to this, I used to see her fairly often, taking her shopping and having lunch together, doing the odd chore, that sort of thing.

Now, my gran always had pets, for as long as I can remember.  In the her last years at home she had a cat and a dog, Lucy the cat, and B-For the dog (full name would be "B-For Beautiful").  As you can see in the image below, of five different flavours of cat food, my gran was very considerate of the desires of her pets - as long as they didn't want to be out of her sight for any length of time, if Lucy tried to go out for more than a few minutes my gran would be out in the garden, doing her best to round up the errant feline.  I remember my gran had a gate at the side of the house which was generously tied up with string and old dog leads in an attempt to stop the cat from going through it, which would have been more effective if the gate hadn't had cat-sized gaps in it.

But I digress.

Sadly, pets do become ill over time, and Lucy was getting on in years.  For a couple of weeks when I had been visiting my gran was telling me that Lucy was acting out of character more and more.  This went on for about two weeks, and things came to a head one Sunday when I walked in the door and my gran told me, weeping, that Lucy would have to go to the vets, and be put down - Lucy just wasn't herself any more.

Now, allow me to enlighten you with some detail of Lucy's personality.

All Lucy wanted in life was to be left alone, and if she couldn't be left alone, then she would settle for killing me.

Lucy liked to hide under the Welsh dresser in the corner of the living room, or behind the sofa at the other side of the room.  If you wanted to get Lucy out of these places, you couldn't call her out.  You couldn't encourage her out with snacks.  You couldn't gently stroke her and draw her out.

You had to grab her and pull her out, while she employed her claws to try to keep her in her hiding place.  I recall on more than one occasion donning a coat and leather gardening gloves in order to pull the Welsh dresser away from the wall, then throwing a towel over the cat so that hopefully enough its claws would be hooked into the fluffy towel instead of being locked in a death grip around the bones in my wrists.  Whatever I tried, nothing ever worked, Lucy would always somehow find a bit of unprotected skin to shred.

So, I wasn't looking forward to getting Lucy out and taking her to the vets, although I will admit that a small part of me wasn't entirely unhappy that this potentially could be the last time that my arms would be oozing blood out of a variety of claw tears.  It seemed a bit extreme however to have a cat put down just because it was acting a bit strange, so I planned to take Lucy to the vet, find out what (if anything) was wrong, and take her back.

I cleared the various bits of furniture away from the sofa, where Lucy was hiding, and bent down to take a look.

Four glittering cats eyes looked back at me.

 "There's another bloody cat behind there!" I said. My grandmother expressed the view that I must be mistaken, until I got both cats out and she was forced to accept that there were indeed two cats.  Whilst they did look similar, I could easily work out which wasn't Lucy, because that was the one that wasn't trying to rip my face off.
 I concluded that the other cat must have wandered in at some time (possibly when I had the front door open to bring in shopping or something), attracted by the large and interesting variety of cat food on offer, been shut inside, and because my gran tightly controlled animal access and egress to the property, was unable to escape again.  It was entirely possible that Lucy was acting strange because there was another cat in the house, or perhaps my gran, who doesn't have the best eyesight, was encountering the captured cat around the house and thought it was Lucy.

 You'll be pleased to know that after the rogue extra cat was released Lucy lived on for some time, back in her normal character, slicing me periodically.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

New Cloning Successes

I've been very excited to get this latest news of a new breakthrough in cloning - some form of new process that allows the cloning of inanimate objects!  See in the photo below a successful test.


I understand that the scientists hope to go on to try their process on other objects, such as tables, sofas, beds, and gold.

Particularly gold.


Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Travelling Book giveaway!



So, the better part of 3 years ago I launched the Travelling Book project, sending blank journals to people around the world for them to write in, and then pass to other people to do the same.

However, I have a confession to make.

Three books never left me.

One was the trial version, that one is staying at home, but that still leaves two which are partially ready, but sat on a shelf.  And it's overdue that they went on their journeys too.

See my latest video to find out how you can get your hands on one! Responses by Thursday 6th April 2017.  I haven't decided but I may press my wife into action to choose the winners as she tends to make me do the same for her on her videos :)

Sunday, 26 March 2017

My sons D&B house construction

The other day my son declared that he wanted a house.  We pointed out that he already had a house, but apparently that's our house, and not his.

He proceeded to produce a page of instructions.


To further explain the instructions, they are:
  • 1 - Get a House
  • 2 - Get a Roof
  • 3 - Put the Roof on the House
  • 4 - Put a hose on the back of the House
  • 5 - Put up some curtains.


He must be a fan of modular off site construction.

When questioned on fit out, he insisted on the provision of a refrigerator and an oven, but not a toilet.  Apparently toilet-related activities can be done outside the house, which saves on the foul drainage connection.

He also provided an elevation drawing.


Then came the build.  We struggled with what materials to use, but in the end I managed to build something satisfactory:


For clarification, we've got cushions for windows and doors, a tape measure as a garden hose, wooden superstructure and a foam number template roof secured by Blu-tac.  Between you and me, I'm pleased with the build cost.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Today


I had a far more light hearted blog post that I was planning to write tonight.  That one will show up in a couple of days, but right now it doesn't feel right to write something like that.

At the time of writing, about six hours ago some form of attack took place in Westminster in the heart of London.  I'm not going to go into depth about it because, although there are lots of stories flying around right now, I suspect it's going to take a little time at least before the facts about today become clear.

I'm not going to go into the details either of why it happened or the motivations behind it, but just to say that it's a sad day.  The injuries and fatalities arising from the attack are deeply saddening, and putting whatever reasoning the attacker had to one side, it is truly dreadful to go out with the intention of hurting others.

I'm sure that I'm wrong, but the world seems more dangerous nowadays, at least compared to when I was young (or perhaps I didn't pay as much attention to the news at the time, or the danger was elsewhere).

I've been to London a few times, mainly for work, and I like it (although it's certainly different to where I live).  It's busy and there's always something happening.  I don't feel a desire to live and work there now, but looking back to when I was younger and single I wonder about how things would have gone if I had spent some years working in the capital.  I love experiencing some of the iconic elements of London - Big Ben (which is actually Elizabeth Tower, Big Ben is just the name of the bell), the London Eye, Marble Arch... and the parks!  You wouldn't believe that you can be right in the middle of London and feel like you're miles away from any traffic, but stand in the middle of Hyde Park or Kensington Gardens on a sunny day and you'd fool yourself that you're in a country park somewhere.

I've been fortunate enough to venture inside the Palace of Westminster once, and it's a fantastic building, full of history and yet very much a wholly active heart of government.

I've rambled a little with this post, but I think that's what is needed. We'll see in the news in the upcoming days and weeks more analysis about this attack, and the motivation behind it. For now - go give your loved ones a hug.



Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Choosing which Social Media platform

Prelude: The concept for this post was provided by ReputationManagement.com, a leading provider of premier relationship services.



Branding isn't just for businesses.  It's also for bloggers , YouTubers, podcasters, and all those internet creators.

And when it comes to promoting your creations, the choice of social media platform is key.

It's critical to understand how the different platforms work, and where your audience is.  It's very easy to stick to the largest networks (e.g. Facebook and Twitter) and then getting disappointed that you aren't building your audience.

Two examples - firstly, my own blog.  Whilst not being the largest blog in the world, over the years I have been fortunate enough to build up a number of regular viewers, making me feel that my work is read.


Facebook is great for friends and family, and when I first started blogging Facebook was my go-to social media platform.

But the trouble with Facebook is that it is for friends and family.  My friends and family may love/like me, but they don't necessarily want to read my ramblings about my various hobbies.  So not every blog post - in fact, few of them nowadays - get promoted on Facebook.



Twitter always attracts a few readers, but to make Twitter work, you need ideally to have content that is trending.  A blog post about Valentines Day on Valentines Day, with a cute GIF of a heart, and the right wording in the tweet, will (hopefully) drag the readers over.  Otherwise it's only going to be your followers that ever see it.

Or a GIF like this works.

So which social media platform do I personally find best?



Well, I actually find Google+ is the best social media platform for me, in that its communities allow me to find like-minded people and places where I can share my content, and discover other content.  Blogging is very much a quid-pro-quo world, where you need to read and work with other bloggers to build your own audience.  And it makes it more fun, too.

So despite various rumours that Google+ is about to vanish, I desperately hope that it carries on, because for the likes of me, it is the best way to find and attract new readers.


The second example I have is my wife.  She loves to cross stitch.  And she's found YouTube to be hugely successful, as there is a large YouTube community of what are called "flosstubers", people who cross stitch, and vlog about their cross stitching.  In a very short space of time, she's taken her YouTube channel and attracted over a thousand subscribers.  And she's been able to leverage this into starting her own cross stitch-related enterprise on Etsy, for me she's a real success story on how to use social media to promote your product.

So for me, it's about learning where your audience is, and how to engage with them.  It is extremely rare that someone can release a piece of content, and have it simply go viral, instead your must build those networks, find those people that love your work, and offer it to them.  It may take time, but it will pay dividends.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Travelling Book update!

Well, I'm absolutely buzzing at the moment.

Long-term readers may recall the Travelling Book Project that I did back in 2014, sending blank journals to people for them to write in, and then pass on to other people, and so on until the journals were full, and hopefully they'd come back to me so I could scan them and put them up on the internet for all to see.

And the grey hairs were slightly less obvious

Anyway, I've just got a message to hear that one of the books, #tbook18, is alive and well and in Ontario in Canada.

Number 18 is a special one for me because whilst most of the books were mailed off to people to start their journeys, I dropped 18 off myself, starting its journey by leaving it in the Hull College library.  Since then it's popped up in Oregon, Illinois, and now it's crossed the border and in Canada.

I knew that it was always unlikely that all of the books would make it home, but I hoped that at least one would.  So it's great to see that at least one of them is still journeying around the world.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Within a (40 mile) stones throw

So, I was idly checking out possible hotel deals, and spotted one that seemed pretty cheap if you just wanted a quiet break away from it all.  Only one thing...


If it doesn't show up too well in the photo, the website text it describes the hotel as being a "one-hour drive from Lincoln" and also as being "within a stones throw from Lincoln".  Not sure who's throwing that stone, it is roughly 40 miles between the two places!

Today has been a day of things getting broken, this afternoon my son broke his tablet and we'll have to get the screen replaced (to be fair it's stood up to several years of not entirely gentle use, and even now it works, just with a badly cracked screen), but possibly more impressively, I managed to break my razor.

With. My. Face.

My electric razor has a beard trimmer on the side, but today when I pressed it to my face, it promptly popped off the beard trimmer bit rather than take on my facial topiary.  Currently it's been heavily glued, but I'm not holding out great hope...

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Mattresses tracking me...

In general, I like the way that Google and other providers track what you want, and give you targeted adverts. I personally don't get people who say it's a breach of privacy, because for me, it makes my online experience better, I get better adverts, of things that I might actually be interested in. And it works for advertisers, because in turn I'm more likely to click on those adverts.

However...

If you're a reader of my blog, you may be aware that recently I was looking into new mattresses.

I am now being stalked by the Simba mattress.


Let me start this by saying that the Simba Hybrid mattress looks damn good. It's been extensively tested, it's made up of an awesome combination of special gel, memory foam, and loads of conical pocket springs. I bet, if I tried a Simba mattress, it would be brilliant.

The problem is, I already have a new mattress.

I went into a store, tried some mattresses out, and based on that went online (to mattressonline.co.uk) and ordered some mattresses. They arrived, and they are in use.


So I have a new mattress.  My son has a new mattress. The spare bed, admittedly, does not have a new mattress, but it's very rarely used and the mattress is in good condition, so I don't foresee it being replaced any time soon.

Nevertheless, as I spend time online, what keeps slipping in the adverts?

The Simba mattress.



I wonder what it will be like when we move from our current computer interaction into a VR world - will I be "walking" through a virtual reality - perhaps a park, say - and occasionally a guy will step forward and say "hi there, would you like to try lying on a mattress?"

Hopefully at that point you'll be able to speak directly to the guy and say "STOP SHOWING ME THIS!!"

(If you liked this post so much that you want to experience it again, but without all that pesky reading, here's my video :D  )


Thursday, 9 March 2017

Handling Negative Reviews

Prelude: The concept for this post was provided by ReputationManagement.com, a leading provider of premier relationship management services.

As any creator knows, the publication of any type of creation, be it blogs, videos, or podcasts, brings with it fear that whatever you have made may not be received positively.  People come from a great rainbow of backgrounds, learning, experiences and opinions, and what may be a common view to you may be an anathema to another person.  There has been blogs that I've written in the past that I haven't promoted as widely as normal, or that I've avoided from promoting on a certain social media channel, because of the fear of negativity.

But when it comes to businesses, negativity can have a long and lasting impact.  Recently I was booking a hotel for my wife, and we were looking at three hotels, trying to make a choice on which to book.  We ended up going for the most expensive one, which was a good £20-30 more than the others.

Why?

Because the one we booked had a rating of 4.3 out of 5, whilst the other two had ratings of 3.5 and 3.6 out of 5.  Paying a bit more made sense.  So those negative reviews - which may well have been spurious, or from some time ago - had pushed me towards a certain decision.  And it's not unusual for buyers to read reviews, looking for that one negative review that changes the decision to buy.

I'm a firm believer that organisations need to directly handle and resolve negative feedback swiftly, to the satisfaction of the customer.  Of course there is always the occasional client that is just being unreasonable, but putting these people to one side, by quickly dealing with negative feedback organisations can turn viewpoints around.


As an example of this, I complained on Twitter about a particular service.  Very quickly, the brand in question contacted me, and offered a resolution.  My view of that brand went full circle, from negative to positive, and if I had subsequently written a review for that brand it would have been wholly positive.


Whilst investing in social media monitoring may seem like an additional cost, I do believe that organisations of the current - and more so of the future - must consider it as a core element of their customer service budget.

If a situation ever gets out of hand and you need help putting together a plan of action for damage control, there are crisis management services that can help.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

New Video plus a Certificate

I've just uploaded a new video which I'll come to, but first I'll just mention the certificate...


I wasn't going to mention this in my blog, because it's a little bit too much of blowing my own trumpet even for me, but thinking about it I realised that as a everyday life blogger it's hard enough to come up with stuff to blog about without limiting myself even more.

So yes, I was fortunate enough to win an award Friday night, and I am really pleased, especially with it being from the G4C awards - G4C is something that I've been a supporter of for many years, if you're not familiar with it it's a construction best practice initiative looking to help those new entrants to the construction industry gain the skills and knowledge needed to become the future leaders of the industry.  It's a great cause, and more can be found out about it at www.g4c.org.uk

I'm also ecstatic to report that my construction experience is expanding, because today I replaced the handle on the kitchen window after the old one snapped, and didn't take 2 minutes to do.  Next I'll be laying bricks and learning what "mastic" is.

And in other news, I have just uploaded a video, if for no other reason than to emphasise my amateurness, I've done a remake of "Oh Carolina" by Shaggy.  It's called "Oh Banana" and discusses my love for the yellow fruit.  Enjoy.


Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Sock Sorting Is Fun


This post is not about something exciting.  To be frank, I have a different view to some people as to what is enjoyable.

For example, I've never understood people that like horror movies.  I don't like being scared, and I'm reasonably easy to scare (wave a piece of moldy fruit at me, making it seem that you'll touch me with it, and that'll do the trick) so I wouldn't choose to go watch something that is intended to scare me - I'm sure that it's good for the soul or something metaphysically positive like that, but I'm quite happy to enjoy nice emotions, like laughing.

I have a similar view when it comes to books.  I don't mind there being some tough situations on the way, but by the end there had better be a happy ending or I'll be most disappointed.  Actually, that brings to mind my mum (do check out her blog by the way, currently she's talking about bellows), she's known to read the end of a book first to make sure that she likes the ending, and then read the rest of it.

Anyway, we were having a discussion in the office about socks, and basically a couple of my colleagues put forward the argument that people don't want to spend time pairing up socks, and that they would essentially wear whatever socks came to hand (albeit one of my colleagues only had black socks so they all look the same anyway)

Well, I have a confession.

I quite like balling up my socks.

Not, I have to say, to the extent that I would turn down the offer of a properly cooked medium steak for balling socks.  Or a session in the pub.

But there is something quite relaxing and soothing about having a good session pairing up all of your socks.

When I decide to sort out clothes and socks (which I should do as the clothes come out of the dryer, but I don't, it happens when time allows and often when there is a distinct lack of clothes available in the wardrobes) I'll put something funny on Radio 4 - The News Quiz, Just A Minute, or Chain Reaction are my current favourites, although when The Unbelievable Truth returns it'll be in the mix as well.

And pretty much as long as I've got something decent to listen to, I'm quite happy to potter away balling up socks and putting away clothes.  Black socks are always a challenge, finding ones with the same shade of black, weave, elastic content... yes I get a bit geeky about getting the right two black socks together :)

I feel as though this post has gone on long enough. Maybe next time I'll pick something even more exciting to write about, like how I always wear the same jacket else I'll lose my wallet / work badge / phone.  Stay tuned :)

Friday, 24 February 2017

A Raffle... or is it a Prize Draw?


I had a chap come to the door a few weeks back, asking for money.

It was for some nearby sports club which I was vaguely aware of - I pass it on the way to McDonalds - and in return for giving them some cash they would enter you into a competition to win something or other.  I was in a reasonable mood and the guy didn't talk for too long about the good cause so I gave him whatever it was he wanted, he gave me a leaflet with a number on which I kept hold of in case I won a prize (yeah, like that happens!), and he went on his way.

I didn't think any more of it until the other night, when another person came to the door.
 "Hi, I'm here to collect your subscription!"
 um.... what?!? I thought.  It felt like the man was the representative of some sort of protection racket that I had accidentally become involved in, and I wondered momentarily if declining would result in my car being keyed or having some other such misdemeanour visited upon me.
 Well, it turns out that the first guy had signed me up for a monthly payment to support the sports club.  Now, I'm more than happy to admit (on this blog, not to the mans face) that the first chap could well have talked about a subscription to me.  You see, I am in the habit of only listening to conversations for as much as I think is necessary.  When someone talks to me about a good cause, I can generally summarise the discussion down to:

I promote a good cause and I want you to give me some money

And beyond that, I don't really pay too much attention.  Good causes are generally something I am, within reason, happy to support, It's fairly unlikely that I'll be approached to donate to The Dog Poking Initiative or The Slap a Person Charity, so I generally figure that they're probably going to do something good with the money, and as long as they haven't annoyed me, and don't want too much of my disposable income, I'm happy to help.  I think part of this view comes from shopping with my grandmother - when we used to go shopping at a weekend, quite often at the supermarket there would be some good cause doing a bag pack.

If you're not familiar with a bag pack, it consists of a group of children, probably from a local scout troop or cricket club, who would badly pack your shopping in return for some change.  My grandmother would always want to know if it was a good cause, and I suspect that if it was down to her, she would only accept the offer of help if it was a charity that she approved of (usually a Donkey and Mare sanctuary - I'm not sure why donkeys and female equines are something she views so positively, but of course she's entitled to her opinion), so I took great delight in accepting child labour from any local cause, because it might have irritated her, and done it in such a way that she couldn't reasonably complain to me about it.

Anyway, I digress.  I explained to the man collecting subscriptions that I had been under the impression that I had just donated some money to the sports club to be entered into a raffle of some kind.  The first thing he was very quick to correct me on was that "it's not a raffle, it's a prize draw!"

Of course, the wonder that is the internet allows me to discover what is the definition of a raffle and of a prize draw.  According to the Collins English Dictionary, a raffle is "A raffle is a competition in which you buy tickets with numbers on them. Afterwards some numbers are chosen, and if your ticket has one of these numbers on it, you win a prize."

Which sounds a bit like a prize draw to me.

And to complete the circle, the Collins English Dictionary says that a prize draw is "a raffle or lottery"

I was planning to decline the mans kind offer to lighten my wallet of money anyway, but the defense of his prize draw as not being a raffle helped me to reach that conclusion at an accelerated pace, and he went on his way sans subscription monies.  And I have yet to have any mischief visited upon me.

To be quite honest, the ones I generally find most challenging are the ones that wait in the middle of the high street and try to trap you in conversation during your lunch break so that they can spend your limited time educating you about the difficulties in a certain far away country and how a monthly donation from you could make all the difference - I wouldn't mind so much if it was someone with a collection box and you could just give them a quid and move on, but now you find yourself spending twenty minutes filling in a form with your bank details so you can give them a tenner every month.  And then, because they've taken all your contact details as well, you then get bombarded with telephone calls about how this year has been a particularly bad year, and if you could just say yes they can automatically increase up your monthly donation to four hundred pounds because that'll really make a difference.

Do let me know in the comments how you feel about being approached for donations!

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Mattresses Part 2

I told my son to pretend to sleep on his new mattress so I could take a photo.  I've never seen him sleep in this pose, ever.

Hello dear readers, who have been following my mattress adventures with interest.  In my last blog I was doing my best to tackle the many different types of mattress, in order to buy the best ones to satisfy my family for the years ahead.

Eventually I plumped for a memory foam mattress for my son, and a hybrid mattress (I think it's like a hybrid bike, but less sporty) for me and my wife.

The mattresses arrived, and their installation went swimmingly well, to be honest.

My son's mattress prior to unwrapping.  I think it was more fun at this point.
Ours was quite exciting, because it had been vacuum packed.  What this meant was that when I punctured the plastic wrapping it started hissing and magically inflating itself in a rather satisfying yet unsettling way that makes you wonder if it's actually supposed to do that, or whether I've just managed to destroy a brand new mattress.

My mattress comes with many icons.  It's a bit like my phone in that when I press them nothing happens.

As an aside, I've not seen any warnings that the new mattresses don't absorb vomit, so perhaps I'll have to try that out.

But in summary, they both seem to be good mattresses, and we've all been sleeping better!  In fact, I think I'll go get some sleep now...
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