Monday, February 28, 2005

Waterless urinals....

I regularly visit a building that has recently converted the Gents' urinals to be "waterless", i.e. it no longer needs to be flushed with clean water at regular intervals from a self-cycling tank. Indeed, there is a notice warning users not to pour water down them under any circumstances. Fortunately, a weak urea solution with assorted minor chemical traces appears to be permissable!

Whilst this is good for water consumption, there is a downside. A quick study on the topic of waterless urinals (via 'tinternet) reveals that conversions are not always problem free.

Indeed, this particular convenience is developing an odour problem, or as one user put it, "it stinks of stale piss in here".

Urine can acquire a particularly pungent odour in the right conditions. To demonstrate this, carry out the following:

1) Fill a large vessel with fresh urine at body temperature and seal, but not too tightly. Ensure the vessel is of adequate capacity!
2) Allow the contents to stand for approximately 12 hours, whilst retaining most of the latent heat. Selection of a storage vessel utilising vacuum insulation technology manufactured by the Thermos Corporation is particularly suitable.
3) Place the vessel horizontally on the front seat of a Company motor vehicle and leave parked in the sun for a further 8-9 hours.
4) return to the vehicle to experience the joy of fermented urine in full-on fish-o-rama.
5) Waste money on ineffective valeting and air fresheners. Throw away the Thermos. Allow the Company to sell the car internally to someone you don't like very much.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The things kids say.....

A recent conversation whilst out shopping....

(Connected to some sea animals having suckers, as inspired by Squidward Tentacle in Spongebob Squarepants)

Me- "So does an Octopus and a limpet. Do you know what a limpet is?"

Son- "I don't think so..."

Me- "You've seen them, they are quite small, shaped like this, have a hard shell and they cling on to rocks by a sort of sucker. Their sucker is so powerful that you have to kick them very hard to move them."

Son- (after a short pause)"....or you could use a hammer...."

(Sound of trolley weaving across the car park whilst the parent is practically doubled up in laughter).

Friday, February 25, 2005

Standards in public life....

We seem to have a bit of a problem with our Town Council, of which I am a Member. We talked about a suggestion last meeting to fine anyone whose mobile phone went off in a meeting, £5 to the Mayor's charity. I asked that the fine bit be struck out as I thought it was illiberal to force someone to pay a charitable contribution under duress, after all we are not Magistrates (actually, a couple of us are, but they are not on the bench in Council meetings). My suggested amendment fell for want of a seconder.

Anyway, subsequent to the meeting, we were sent amended standing orders from the Town Council Office (despite the motion not being seconded & being "for discussion") & furthermore, we have a Standing Order that prohibits discussing any change to Standing Orders at a meeting once proposed or seconded anyway!

The correct procedure is to propose & second, defer, then continue discussion at the next meeting. Previously the constitutional committee has dealt with these matters but in my opinion this could have simply been added to a "guidance for councillors"
document without any kerfuffle.

Hopefully we don't bring ourselves into disrepute by breaking our own rules as we could be accused of maladministration which hardly bodes well for our Quality Council status.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Things that really get on your pecs.....

...DVDs that insist on you watching certain bits with fast-forward and track advance not permitted.

It started with copyright notices, moved on to brand idents. Next, trailers that you couldn't skip, just fast-forward through. Now, "Sharks Tale" insists on us sitting all the way through the Dreamworks ident, a trailer for Madagascar and another trailer/infomercial for Wallace & Gromit every time we insert the disk.

Soon, a chipping service specifically for overriding this "feature" could make a mint due to market forces....

Blackpool beckons.... again

The Pleasure Beach opened for the pre-season £10 wristband weekends on Saturday. Unfortunately, it was way too popular, we even had to queue 20 minutes for the River Caves....

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Eustachian troubles...

The eustachian tube links the ear system to the nasal system and is there to keep pressure equalised. I have a tendency to get blocked tubes in the winter which results in "tympanic distension", i.e. the eardrup curves out or in due to pressure or slight vacuum, reducing the effectiveness considerably. It frequently hurts as well and can precipitate an ear infection.

The worst trouble with suffering hearing loss in this way is the inability to locate sounds properly- every time a phone rings in the office I have to look at mine to see if it is my phone. I also have to be careful where I sit in meetings so that I'm not constantly having to move my head where I can hear best and lip-read as well.

Fortunately, for me, it is a temporary problem and the brain soon gets used to it. Unfortunately, it can last several months and I am reminded of how bad it is by occasional temporary restoration after a yawn or swallow when my hearing is briefly very good again.

Most of the time it is a serial effect, with the right ear generally suffering the most. When it takes out both ears at the same time personal effectiveness declines dramatically.

I'll just go & sniff some more decongestant drops from my inhaler cup....

Friday, February 18, 2005

It made me laugh....

Type in the word "Fuckwit"
Hit "I'm feeling lucky"

I admire Google's discrimination and assessment of character....


(Just in case you are trying this after H.M.Government has complained bitterly enough for the search to be pulled, it brings up the Biography of the Deputy Prime Minister)

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Roll up, roll up...

The Blackpool Tower Circus is back for a remarkable 38 week run in 2005. It is a new show with many old favourites, particulary Mooky the clown who always stays topical.

(I'm the only clown in the village....)

There are two small downers- a large metal ball thing spoils the view for the North Balcony people and whilst said ball is used to remarkable effect for the finale (think Fairground "Wall of Death") the water finale only consists of sinking the ring in order to partially submerge the ball pedestal, no squirty effects, fountains or waterfalls. Plenty of noise and petrol fumes though! It also took the crew (& half of the cast) a long time to get the ball in place and the young lad on top will probably end up falling off the girders he nimbly skips along at some stage in the season.

Otherwise there are a number of amazing circus acts, high wire work, what has to be the world's longest trampoline and the daredevil Angels from USA who make the audience gasp with their death wheel antics. They were at the Yarmouth Hippodrome for the Centenary season although they aren't acting quite so crazy this time. (The structure is two hamster wheel style circles either end of a long truss which can pivot. The Angels run around inside and outside the wheels whilst it swoops from floor to ceiling. At Yarmouth they were even jumping from wheel to wheel!) An unusual act were a pair of Jamaicans wearing rasta-style garb, one of whom appeared to have hips that could swivel 360 degrees. They also demonstrated limbo circus-style.

Mooky is also a highly skilled performer as well as a clown and he recreates a plate spinning act of the style we used to see on David Nixon shows with his own flair and humour.

There is another minor downer- the relentless plugging of souvenirs, face painting, candy floss, light-up tat etc. before the show and during the interval. Rather than pay attention to that, spot the turns selling stuff. Last year we noticed the Wardrobe Mistress also sold candy floss and worked a follow-spot.

The show is well worth the admission fee and it is worth queueing to get good seats ringside on the North. If you want to bite your nails watching the death wheel, sit in the South Balcony!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Let brotherly love continue

The title above is the motto of the worshipful company of plaisterers and I had the pleasure of attending the CMA conference which was held last week at Plaisterers Hall which is in the City right opposite the Museum of london. The building only dates from 1972 (and has a very modern brand new office block directly above it at one London Wall so it has probably had the "Criterion treatment" where special elements were preserved within the fabric.) but the interior feels much older

A Plaisterer is a decorative plasterer and I have had a fascination with fibrous plaster in theatres so I knew a visit there would be of particular interest. They were originally given a charter in 1501 and helped form the well known "City & Guilds" Institute. Their heraldic shield looks rather fierce with what we first took to be battle-axes but it seems they are actually trowel and hammers along with plasterers brush, essential for the art or mystery of daubers. You can see it here, click on history.

Their original charters are on display in the foyer and were fascinating, if somewhat difficult to read.

The main hall I guessed (correctly) as a reconstruction rather than being original. However what I took to be a pastiche of Louis XIV & Regency style is actually based on the works (and even some moulds) of Robert Adam who is well known for numerous reconstructions including Osterley, Syon Park and the Admiralty.

Indeed I think of Adam's interiors the way that beautifully laid out gardens infer the touch of Capability Brown (who I had forgotten was called Lancelot).

Some tantalising photos of Plaisterer's Hall can be found on the Web here. The main hall has three magnificent crystal chandeliers to die for and all of the rooms (apart from the rather bland Mott room) have a style of their own. The 21st century has mostly been kept at bay visually, although the plain access door onto the minstrel gallery in the main hall probably has a health & safety officer just itching to put a "fire door-keep closed" sticker on it!

Compare and contrast...

Compare this:

The specific aim of Directive 97/13/EC is to ensure that Member States use fair and transparent procedures for issuing licences which allow licensees to provide telecommunications services or networks.

to this:

Licence Fees

Current network licences are charged on an annual basis according to the following algorithm:

where "n" means the number of Earth Station terminals (subject to a minimum of 50 terminals per licence) licensed in the network;

"bWn" means the Network Transmit assigned bandwidth (in MHz);

"MODn" means Modifier Value of 0.5; and

"Pn" means Transmit Peak power (in Watts) appearing at the flange of the network terminal antennas.

I showed it to an accountant who didn't have a clue how to resolve it....

Thank you the Radio Authority, now Ofcom

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Where were you when the lights went out?

There is an interesting paradox in the UK regarding our infrastructure. The electricity distribution network is totally reliant on telecommunications, whilst the telecommunications network is reliant on electricity. BT et-al can keep the phone network going without the mains as long as their diesel supplies hold up but the reverse is not entirely true.

It is to do with power stations coming on and off line. They have to join the national grid in a very controlled manner and will conversely dip out at the slightest sign of trouble as running on the grid out of sync can be very expensive indeed in new switchgear, generators and turbine halls. The electricity grid providers expect a very fast response over their private comms circuits, typically propagation delays of no more than 10mS. They got it on the original analogue circuits and it was retained when they were moved onto digital circuits running on the then new PDH hierarchy subsequently superceded by SDH.

There is a rather big fly in the ointment, however, in the form of BT's forthcoming 21st Century network, it seems it isn't suitable for 20th century power generation as the latency on the new asynchronous IP solution will be no better than 40mS. It also seems that the obligation to provide a guaranteed latency figure has been forgotten about in the mists of time. So, it seems to be a bit of a stalemate then and we can expect the introduction of BT's new solution to be a little problematic.

I asked my well informed colleague whether there were actually plans in place to bring up the national grid in the event of total shutdown. It seems that they do exist at a regional level. How long would it take? About a week.....

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Don't swear at your mum.

Chatting on the phone tonight, she asked me what I thought of Charles & Camilla. My reply was indifference and annoyance. I'm not particularly bothered about the whole thing and annoyed that the Beeb devoted so much airtime to it on PM.

Topic drifted onto the job being a calling like the Pope & I pointed out that Popes aren't born into the role, it is sorted out with white smoke. She said the cardinals elect like the Masons. I immediately said BALLS. Sorry? she asked.

"The masons use Balls for ballots, hence the term blackballed" I replied. It is a good job she didn't take offence...

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Morley Entertainment

Morley doesn't have a Theatre or a Cinema. Not strictly true, as it has both, it is just that the buildings serve other purposes. The New Pavilion Theatre has become Puccinos (via a Cinema, Bingo & Davy Ravy Gravy venue) whilst the other picture house became a Fine Fare and part of it is ironically now a Blockbuster Video.

What it does have is the Alexandra Hall which is a splendid victorian room in the Town Hall complete with wrap-around balcony. What it doesn't have, however, is a proper stage- only a platform. It is wonderful for Brass Band Concerts but not too hot for shows. There are hardly any stage lights and the chandeliers have got those horrible energy lamps in them so they can only switch on or off.

To get round this, the local societies bring in a fit-up stage which whilst making the shows more theatrical doesn't get round the basic problem of no wing space, no storage space, no scenery space and convoluted entrances for the performers.

The hall is well used, although the most common performance involves beds and needles instead of rows of seats. I don't mean it is a hothouse of sex & drugs & rock & roll, it is a regular blood donor centre. At least you get a biscuit...

How's my driving?

Seen written in the dirt on the back of a petrol tanker on the M62 this afternoon...

How's my driving? Phone 0800-EAT-SHIT

It made her indoors laugh!

Friday, February 04, 2005

Mobile Phonegate

Some naughty people have been using their mobiles indiscriminately during Council meetings & the Mayor is not happy.

Consequently, a discussion item appeared at Full Council on Wednesday about a possible change to Standing Orders forbidding use of mobiles in meetings and infractors to pay a fiver to the mayor's charity as punishment. Whilst supporting the principle, I felt that mandating a figure into Standing Orders was a bit extreme and argued that charity was a personal thing and could not be considered a donation if it was extracted as a fine. As it happened no-one seconded my position but it wasn't put forward to go into Standing Orders anyway so is effectively an informal guideline.

I also had plan b) up my sleeve, which was that anything proposed and seconded for standing orders should then be deferred without discussion. My view on that wasn't as a stalling tactic, just that if we have rules of procedure then we should actually follow them and Standing Orders are deliberately designed to be difficult to change so that there might be more of a chance of people thinking about the consequences, intended or otherwise.

The term "Mobile phonegate" was coined after a diatribe about the goings on at a planning meeting where I had sent my apologies due to being in London but managed to get to half an hour after the start. Not being there I missed out on comings & goings, vibrating pockets, unheard apologies & various states of Quorate/inquorate transition. I wasn't overly endeared to be given a bit part and described as having "rolled up" but was advised this is a Morley term and not a suggestion of being lackadaisical. I did arrive in a motor vehicle which is one of the definitions....

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Old business cards....

A business card wallet surfaced in the home office (i.e. the spare room) yesterday. Flicking through it, I was surprised by a few things.

The first one was names of people I'd forgotten that I once knew. Some people you never forget, like the design engineer who featured as a "Mr. Spoons" on the Steve Wright Show, now a Director of his own Company.

I was a little puzzled as to why I had a card from someone in the Prime Minister's Office in the Republic of Hungary, then I remembered, he was a telecoms Engineer and showed me round the Houses of Parliament in Budapest, including a memorable trip to the oculus of the massive dome. I didn't speak Hungarian and he didn't speak English but we got by in German.

One of my own cards from Nortel in the late 80s has me down as a Program Manager, a job title that would earn me megabucks today in the context of project management. I was actually in the throes of becoming a Product Manager at the time but did have some other responsibilities. It still puzzles me though.

Two more recent cards have me down as Principal Consultant for a small English Firm and Senior Consultant for a small American Firm. (The former term refers to something akin to partner in the US). The reality was that I was a jobbing Contractractor so on the basis of these cards, I am frequently skeptical of job titles as they are often there mainly to impress the clients.

My favourite business card is my first one, for Anglo-Nor Engineering A/S, Stavanger in 1981. I'm just down as "Ian Grey" as they didn't want to pitch me too specifically....