Welcome

This is my poky little corner of the Internet. Originally started in 1999 (my website that is, not the Internet) it took on many forms - until 2005, when I lost enthusiasm for my own Internet presence and simply stopped updating it.

This is my attempt at getting some of that enthusiasm back. Enjoy!

157

We like the moon... 'cos it is close to us

Courtesy of my new Nikon Coolpix P900 superzoom...

moon

189

Those magnificent men in their flying machines

It's the last day of Septemblog, and I've failed to blog on three days out of the thirty. That's a 10% failure rate, which is higher than I would have liked, but on the other hand it does mean that - this entry included - I have blogged for 27 days out of the last 30, which is a far higher rate of posting than I've ever achieved before.

I doubt I'll keep it up, but if I can do two posts a month minimum that would be good.

But anyway

On to the actual topic of this post - flying machines, and in particular, passenger airliners.

I've been interested in aviation right from the age of about 5 or 6 when I vividly remember congregating in the back garden of my house with my Mum, Dad, two of my brothers, my next door neighbours, and my visiting Aunt and Uncle (and their two children) to watch Concorde fly overhead.

The reason I vividly remember that event so well was because I was completely unprepared for the sound that Concorde would make when it broke the sound barrier directly over our house, and I literally wet my pants with fear. Not proud of it, but there you go.

It was a few years later at the age of 10 that I took a flight for the first time, and the intense feeling of acceleration when the plane started the take-off procedure was amazing - although somewhat muted by my adulthood and having been lucky enough to drive some ludicrously fast cars.

Look how far we have come

It amazes me that the human race has been able to develop powered flight, and not only that, but to such a degree that we can take an aircraft like the Boeing 747-400, which (at maximum take-off weight) clocks in at nearly 400,000 kilograms, and not only get that into the air but keep it there long enough to travel to the other side of the world. To put that into some kind of perspective, when Orville and Wilbur Wright developed the world's first powered, manned flying machine, the Wright Flyer I, it weighed only 274 kilograms and stayed in the air for under a minute for all of it's first few flights.

It is this amazement that fuels my morbid fascination with aircraft accidents and aviation disasters.

Flying is of course, statistically, the safest form of transport, with by far the lowest number of fatalities per passenger mile. But the flipside to this is that, when something goes wrong, it tends to go wrong big.

Bizarrely I always find myself reading about aviation disasters the night before I have to catch a plane myself, and the "worst" instance of this was shortly before the holiday I took to Tenerife in 2010. Up until that point I'd been blissfully unaware of the 1977 Tenerife airport disaster, which remains the single largest aviation disaster (by number of fatalities, and excluding deliberate action such as the September 11 attacks)

In this particular case, a catalogue of human errors compounded by bad weather conditions resulted in one aircraft attempting to take off while another aircraft was taxiing across the runway. They collided, and 583 people lost their lives. A lasting legacy of this incident is that the language used by air crew and air traffic controllers changed significantly in an attempt to prevent repeat incidents - part of the problem in Tenerife was that the air crew on one plane thought they'd received permission to take off from the tower when in actual fact they'd been told to hold - patchy radio communications meant they essentially just heard the words "take off" and assumed all was clear.

Nowadays, the words "take off" are only said to give clearance. At all other times, "take off" is referred to as "departure."

It's these little changes that occur that contribute to air travel's safety record. Sure, things go wrong, and as above they tend to go wrong in a big way, but we learn from our mistakes and push onwards, as humans are so good at doing.

Back to Concorde

Some news came out recently that a group of aviation enthusiasts (and Concorde fans) had clubbed together and raised $120 million (or £120 million, can't remember) in a bid to return Speedbird to the skies - all Concorde airframes were grounded in 2003, after a decidedly rocky start to the 21st Century with the 2000 Air France crash (the only crash Concorde ever had) and the "relaunch" flights taking place on the morning of September 11, 2001.

I personally can't see it happening (Airbus withdrew support and maintenance agreements for the type around 2003 and I can't see them being particularly keen to start it up again) but it would be nice to think that it could happen.

I was able to sit on board Concorde in 2008 on a holiday to Barbados - it wasn't flying, obviously, it was stationed at the air museum at Barbados' Grantley Adams International Airport.

My overriding impression of the plane was that it was much smaller inside than I'd imagined. There is only room for four-abreast seating (with the gangway down the middle) and headroom is much less than on other airliners, simply because the plane itself is so thin.

A truly incredible piece of engineering, and it's a shame that we're unlikely to see further developments in supersonic air travel any time soon - there's not an awful lot of money in it, there never was (Concorde never really turned a profit for the two operating airlines, although British Airways apparently managed to make it profitable towards the end of it's operational life) and from an airline's perspective, there are more money-making opportunities on longer flights with more people than on a supersonic flight that lasts half the time.

180

"The chances of anything coming from Mars..."

"...are a million-to-one," he said.

Yes, it's my second post this month with a direct quote from Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds in the heading. But, you know what? I don't care. Today has been an odd day for me, with lots of apparently accidental yet strangely coincidental goings on.

Firstly, on my way into work this morning I realised that I was listening to Jeff Wayne's 2012 release of War of the Worlds, which I've previously derided on this very blog. I started it playing last night on my journey home, the goal being to finally listen to it all the way through and decide once and for all if it can hold a candle to the Richard Burton version.

I had to pick up Kit, my good friend, colleague and extreme BeEx lurker this morning as we often carpool into the office, me picking him up as my journey into work takes me past his house.

With Kit in the car, I told him about NASA's rumoured (and, it appears, actual) announcement today about them discovering evidence of actual liquid water on Mars, which is some pretty damned big news and presumably leads to all sorts of questions about whether there is actually life on Mars still (even at just a microbial level.)

I then asked Kit what he'd done over the weekend, and he informed me that he'd been to the cinema to watch a Cineworld Unlimited special screening of Matt Damon's new film, The Martian.

It was only at this point that I realised the connecting thread between all of these things, and it struck me as a little odd that we'd spoken about three things related to Mars without even picking up on it, all within the first 20 minutes of the day.

As if that wasn't enough, I was hit in the face by a chocolate bar wrapper flying up into the air while I was out walking on my lunch break. Yes, it was a Mars wrapper.

There also seemed to be a frankly ridiculous number of Bruno Mars and Olly Murs songs playing on the Spotify playlist at the office today. OK, so Olly Murs is a bit of a tenuous link, but still.

What can it all mean?

133

Those games that you can always come back to...

I've been mucking about with computers for the best part of 25 years now, and in that time I've spent a fair amount of hours playing computer and video games. In fact, as my earlier post about Steam will show, I've got quite a lot of games kicking around on my home PC - most of which I've never played, mind.

But, in that 25 years, I've come across a few games that have made such an impression on me that I can always go back and play them some more. For two of those games, I'd long moaned about how no-one had ever bothered to make a worthy sequel to them, but in recent years those two worthy sequels have materialised and I now have both the old and the new to play with, which spells bad news for my spare time.

Here's a bit of a write up about some of them, starting with...

Frontier: Elite 2 (and Elite: Dangerous)

I kind of missed the boat with the original Elite. It was released in 1984 when I was just a toddler, and until I took ownership of an Amiga A1200 I didn't really have any of the machines that it was available for, and by the time I'd got an A1200, it's sequel was released.

Right from the intro movie, I was hooked:

I loved the sense of freedom that the game provided, and even though strictly speaking there wasn't any "point" to the game (apart from gaining ELITE status, which could only be done by destroying a ridiculous number of AI ships, so I never bothered trying) I never got bored of just flying around soaking up the universe.

I still think that it was an incredible achievement - David Braben squeezed an entire universe into under 500 kilobytes of disk space. True, much of it was procedurally generated, but the core systems were all hand-built and there was of course graphics and audio to be included in that size as well. I imagine this web page probably doesn't fit into 500 kilobytes of disk space!

I always chose the "recommended start position" at Sirocco Station, on the surface of Merlin in the Ross 154 system. My first action would be to buy some hydrogen fuel and some animal meat, and then jet off into the big black (or rather, the big blue in Frontier's case) and hyperjump to Barnard's Star, where I would dock at Boston Base (an Orbis starport that orbited Birminghamworld, if I remember rightly) and sell the animal meat. I can never remember what I took back to Ross 154 - I want to say Robots or Computers, but I think they may have been too expensive to buy at this stage, so it might have been Farm Machinery.

Either way, I went back and forth between the two stations until I'd raised enough to move over to Sol (where Earth is, non-spacey people!) and do more trading around there before getting in with the Federal Military.

Eventually I'd get cash rich enough to upgrade my Eagle Long Range Fighter to a Viper Defence Craft and then I'd go and kick some space pirate arse. Although usually what happened was that I would get my non-pirate arse handed to me on a plate and I'd have to start over.

Over the years I've most likely spent thousands of hours playing this game, and it's one of the ones I always wanted a worthy sequel to. Frontier: First Encounters came out in 1996 but I never had it as I wasn't a PC owner at the time, and it was a buggy mess anyway.

Over time, rumours started that David Braben and his company Frontier Developments were working on a new sequel, the much vaunted Elite 4. Nothing ever came to fruition though, until a few years ago when Elite: Dangerous appeared on Kickstarter and made an absolute fortune. I put quite a bit of money into it myself, and the game came out last year to a mixed reception. I enjoy playing it, and still do occasionally, but at the moment it lacks some of the features that made Frontier so special - namely planetary landings and passenger transport missions, but the former is coming to the game very soon.

And it looks so, so pretty...

UFO: Enemy Unknown

The spiritual successor to Laser Squad by the Gollop Brothers, UFO: Enemy Unknown (or X-COM: UFO Defense as it was known in the States) was a turn-based strategy game centred around the story of an alien invasion of Earth.

I'd played turn based strategy games before (including Laser Squad, and the good-but-not-quite-as-good-as-UFO Sabre Team) but none of them really "gripped" me in the way that UFO did.

I think it was the combination of base and resource management and the actual turn based battles themselves, it made it feel like a deeper game (and it was only really in the mid 2000s, when I got involved with the UFOpaedia, that I became aware of just how deep the game actually was)

Here's the intro:

The best part about UFO was that it was completely and utterly unrelenting. In most games back then, and even more so today, you were punished for failure - but the difficulty level in UFO (even on the easiest setting) was such that you could expect to lose your soldiers constantly, and for the most part it didn't matter - in fact, in many cases you found yourself recruiting soldiers specifically to be used as cannon fodder.

In most games, the difficulty curve starts off very easy and, as you learn the ropes, the difficulty increases until you get to the Big Bad Boss. This was basically reversed in UFO - at the start of the game, you were outnumbered, outarmoured, outgunned and outclassed in pretty much every way. You are facing off against an unknown enemy force and you know literally nothing about them or their capabilities. As the game progresses, your research scientists discover more about the aliens and their weapons and you develop effective methods for fighting them.

At this point, the game normally throws harder aliens at you with new capabilities, but as time goes on and your scientists produce more and more kit, your job gets easier as you can fight back with alien weaponry. By the time you reach the "endgame", you should have almost no trouble at all taking on the aliens.

This is another game that I've logged a stupid number of hours on. Sure, it has a dated user interface and graphics (although I love the "manga" style, personally) but in terms of gameplay, atmosphere and sheer outright difficulty, nothing has ever come close for me.

And, as with Frontier, this game has been crying out for a decent sequel for a long time. Many, many game developers have tried and most have failed. It was only in 2012 when Firaxis Games announced that they were working on a new game - XCOM: Enemy Unknown - that I sat up and took notice.

The 2012 game (which has recently had a sequel announced, creatively titled XCOM 2) changed some elements of the original, which I remember being quite aggrieved about at the time, but those negative thoughts faded away as soon as I played the demo. It was near perfect, and a bang-on reimagining of the original game. I seem to remember writing a review of XCOM back when it was released, too.

Cannon Fodder

This was a bit of a controversial game at the time. The original box-art featured a red poppy, which led to a hate campaign in various British newspapers, who vilified it as an insult to war veterans and people that had died in service of the country, claiming that it glorified war.

Of course, what every single one of those newspaper editors had failed to realise, and what would have become patently obvious if they'd bothered to play the damn thing, was that Cannon Fodder was very much anti-war. Through satire, the use of visual metaphors (like the "Boot Hill", which would slowly become filled with the headstones of soldiers that had died under your command) and other small touches (like all of your soldiers having names) the game went to pretty big lengths to point out that actually, war's a bit on the crap side and that we should do all we can to avoid it, it being a senseless waste of life.

Besides all of this controversy, the game was great to play and over the course of the game you became really quite attached to your little green helmeted guys.

I don't really get much chance to play this (and its sequel from a couple of years later) any more these days as I can only really play it on an Amiga emulator and I often can't be bothered to boot it up, but it's still as good today as it was then, and I would give my left nut for a phone/tablet conversion.

A Russian company was licensed to make a sequel in 2011. It was crap. It tried desperately to retain the charm of the previous two games, but the move to 3D really didn't work, and nor did the poor attempts at keeping the same atmosphere.

It also didn't help that there was clearly a dodgy translation somewhere as lots of parts of the game (right down to its Start Menu shortcut) referred to it as Connon Fodder 3.

Still, at least the first two games are still playable. There is a game in development from someone completely unrelated to the originals that looks promising (Jarheads, by the excellently named Gareth Williams) and, should the worst come to the worst, the first game gave the world possibly the greatest video game music video to have ever existed:

109

"No lists", he said

I screwed up and didn't blog yesterday, so that's two days out of the 30 that I've failed so far. Still, like the previous time, my excuse was simply that I didn't have an awful lot of time in which to blog, and my back being screwy is still causing me no end of grief.

So get off my case, mang.

Anyway, I now have to blog for today and - to be honest - I'm starting to run out of ideas. Never mind though, Jem has given me a great idea for a blog post and despite it going against one of my own pre-determined rules at the start ("No listicles") it'll do in a pinch.

"Enough already, what's the topic?" I hear you cry.

Awesome Jem

Yeah, basically, this is just going to be a list of things that I like and love about Jem, and how she's made a difference to my life in the 18 months or so that we've been seeing each other.

Jem did this for me once, in a private e-mail, telling me how awesome I was. She came up with over 200 different items (although some were basically duplicates) - I doubt I'll get anywhere near that, but let's see...

Go!

  1. She does the same job I do, which means finally I can talk/rant to someone about things work related and they understand.
  2. She possesses a decent amount of intelligence.
  3. And knows how to use it.
  4. She looks great in most dresses.
  5. She knows her own mind (most of the time) and is as stubborn as I am.
  6. She's a good cook.
  7. She's a great driver, despite only having a licence for a few years.
  8. She is interested in many of the same things I am.
  9. She does not object to me doing things that I want to do, even when they don't involve her.
  10. She doesn't mind me referring to her as "she."
  11. She looks great out of most dresses.
  12. She puts up with my car-changing habit.
  13. And my other bad habits.
  14. She's a fast typer, although not as fast as me - natch.
  15. She makes an effort with my family and friends.
  16. She has a varied taste in films and TV, despite not really watching that much of it prior to being with me.
  17. She appreciates history.
  18. And art.
  19. And architecture, especially gothic.
  20. She isn't afraid to tell me when I'm being unreasonable.
  21. She doesn't mind having the mickey taken out of her.
  22. And also doesn't have any problems taking the mickey out of me.
  23. The way her hair sort of "curls" around her ears is dangerously cute.
  24. She has a terrific smile.
  25. Which, in the words of Semisonic, she reserves only for me.
  26. She reads books.
  27. She has more books than DVDs.
  28. She has more Terry Pratchett books than DVDs (although, full disclosure - I've never read a Terry Pratchett book despite it being on my "to do" list for ever)
  29. She has a sense of humour that is very similar to my own (although we do disagree on some things, notably Big Train)
  30. She humours me when I tell bad jokes and Dad jokes.
  31. And also when I'm trying to dazzle her with a new card trick that I've learned.
  32. She's a great mother (although not to me, obv)
  33. She's actually managing to turn me into someone who is happy to be around kids.
  34. She has a childish streak to rival my own.
  35. Sometimes she can be as mad as a box of frogs.
  36. She is (for the most part) good with money, which is good as I'm bloody terrible with it.
  37. She looks great in my shirts, even better than she does in dresses.
  38. She works hard to keep herself in shape and keep fit, and is always looking to improve herself.
  39. She loves her cats.
  40. And mine.
  41. She had no concerns about me moving in with her and pushing my way into her life and home.
  42. She doesn't think my Celica is silly or "chavvy."
  43. She makes a damn good cup of coffee.
  44. She is sympathetic to my plight when I'm suffering with my bad back.
  45. She is very strong willed (again, for the most part) and once she sets her sight on something will strive to achieve it.
  46. Her extroversion brings out a little bit of my extroversion when we're with other people.
  47. She boycotts Nestlé products (I don't because I don't have scruples, but I don't particularly like the company or its business practices)
  48. She managed to make a list like this that was 200+ strong and all about me.
  49. She has overcome hardships that I can't even begin to comprehend and has managed to make something of her life and raise two well-rounded (so far, at least) small children.
  50. She has a fantastic arse.

I'm going to stop there as it's a nice round number (kind of like the subject of point 50) but in theory I could have gone on - I don't think I'd get up to the lofty heights of 200, but nevertheless, there's a lot to like about her.

Cheers, love.

(someone pass the sickbags - Ed)

102

Sometimes I wish I was an ideas man

Over the past few months, I've begun noticing more and more adverts (or promoted posts, or whatever they want to call them) on Facebook trying to sell me products that the advertisers have deemed that I need, no doubt from analysing my browsing history, the status updates that I post to Facebook, my tweets and every other digital footprint that I leave on my hike through the information superhighway.

The thing that amazes me is how (quite frankly) utterly ridiculous many of these products appear to be. I've included a few examples below. In true "don't sue me" fashion, I feel I should write a disclaimer that states that I'm sure all of the products featured below have a valid use and aren't just shameless cash grabs for unsuspecting gadgetphiles, but that they're just not for me and my opinion counts more than anything else. Natch.

Nope

Let's start with this one, shall we?

I used to have a MacBook Air, with a built in webcam. I have a laptop now, again with a built in webcam. I don't think I've ever been particularly bothered by the prospect of someone remotely switching my webcam on - let's face it, I'm just not that interesting, and out of the billion or so Internet users (probably more than that) why would someone pick little old me?

Clearly I'm something of an odd one out though, as nearly eight thousand people with more money than sense donated a grand total of just over $93,000 (NINETY THREE THOUSAND UNITED STATES DOLLARS) to "bring this project to life."

To be fair to the project creator, the lowest pledge tier was $5 and that at least got you a two-pack of Nopes.

However, as one Nope is basically just a small neodymium rare earth magnet, I can't work out why someone would buy Nope instead of just forking out a fraction of the price for a pack of 10 from Amazon.

Klokers

This project is still in the funding stage but is somehow going to be fully funded.

Watches and other timepieces have remained largely unchanged since they were invented, for all intents and purposes. Sure, the invention of the digital watch meant that people didn't need to look at analogue clock faces any more, and there have always been novelty watches available, but this is something else.

Not only is the watch itself much harder to read "at a glance" than every other timepiece ever made, but it retails for a mere 349 euros. Actually, reading the campaign page, this price doesn't seem too high as the engineering involved to make this watch work as described must be quite involved, but 349 euros will buy you all manner of watches or smartwatches.

Reading the Kickstarter page, it becomes very apparent that they are targeting hipsters and other fashionistas who would probably buy a watch like this purely to make a statement rather than as an actual functional item.

(I'm hardly one to talk about this, incidentally, in that I own an Apple Watch. But at least I bought mine to use, damnit, and to look vaguely idiotic when paying for something at a supermarket.)

"Watches to travel through time", indeed. Get bent.

The BASICS Notebook

This is another one that continually pops up in my Facebook feed, usually with a suitable clickbaity headline like "You Won't Believe The Features That This Notebook Has! It's INSANE!"

They wanted $10,000 to get the manufacturing of this notebook off the ground. They ended up with just over $383,000.

For some bloomin' paper and faux leather - not even real bloody leather! The cheapskates! $27 for one notebook. $27 for a non-refillable notebook. $27 for a notebook that boasts such incredible (sorry, "INSANE!") features as having a gap at the top for putting a pen in, like people don't have pockets.

Amazing. Simply amazing.

What next?

A portable flask made out of titanium, that ships with it's own unique insulating coat, and is designed purely for the collection and bottling of snow for the express purpose of retailing to Inuit communities?

This is why I'm not an ideas man.

And, do you know what? On reflection, I take the heading of this post back. I'm glad I'm not.

102

Range anxiety

By "range", I do of course mean "distance", not "shooting range" or "frying range" - although to be fair, I have experienced frying range anxiety from my first job working at a local chippie. That was more to do with the owner though, a large, hairy Greek man called Tony who insisted on calling me Gary no matter how many times I told him I was at best "Gaz" and at the very worst, "Gareth."

Distance anxiety, then

Oh yes, sorry - got a bit sidetracked. Which is sort of apt for the topic of this post.

A lot is said about electric vehicles and "range anxiety" - i.e. being worried that you will not have enough battery power left to reach your destination.

Because EVs are (currently, at least) far more limited in terms of their potential range, there's no denying that not being sure about your state of charge can be something of a concern.

However, the number of public charging points dotted around the place should make this more or less a thing of the past, and I had my first real taste of this today.

The day started with me doing the school run, with Jem. I've never done the school run before, so it was nice to get out and do so. However, it did mean using up about 10 miles of precious range before I'd even started my journey to work (18 miles.)

I then had an appointment after work in Newport to see an osteomyologist about my back problem (which is still giving me a ton of pain, annoyingly) so that took off another 16 miles.

Now, ordinarily at this point, I would have just gone home (about 13-15 miles from Newport I think) and all would have been fine, but on this occasion I had to pop back to Shrewsbury to do some shopping for my Mum, so that knocked another 16 miles off (for a total of approx. 60 miles) and still left me 18 miles from home.

In theory, it would have been fine - the range meter was showing 24 miles left, but I'm not that used to the car yet so I didn't want to risk running out of electrons on the way up Harley Bank near Much Wenlock (steep hills will kill the range of an EV, and Harley Bank has a 12% incline)

I therefore hatched a plan - I would do my Mum's shopping at ASDA instead of Morrisons, and take advantage of the fast charger they have on their car park to top up while I was shopping (and, to maximise charging time, Jem and I decided to nip further up the road to Nando's for a bite to eat)

I am the Chargemaster!

The public charger at ASDA Shrewsbury is operated by Chargemaster, and users can either register to receive an RFID card used to open the sockets, or they can pop in to the store and ask to borrow one of their cards for a £10 refundable deposit.

Unfortunately for me, this took a bit longer than planned as the woman behind the counter at ASDA had no idea what I was talking about and had to call a colleague to come and get the card for me, but all was well in the end and they even waived the £10 deposit as I only had a card on me rather than cash.

There are two charging posts, each with a 3kW and 7kW charger on board - fortunately I specified the 6.6kW charging option for the LEAF when I bought it, so could take advantage of the faster charge. I'd remembered to leave my Type 2 charging cable in the boot so I was able to hook it all up for an hour and a bit while we did the shopping and had our quickie-chickie.

Success!

Upon returning to the car (and having returned the RFID card back to the customer services desk in store) I switched the car on and found it had gone from 21% charged to 55% and that I now had an effective range of 52 miles - more than enough to get home!

Conclusion

I can understand why people get anxious about range with their EVs, although I didn't worry too much - even if the charger at ASDA had been out of service I would have risked it and probably just ended up getting a taxi back the rest of the way if I'd run out of juice.

I had to rearrange my plans for the evening slightly to fit in around using the charger, but it actually all worked out quite well in the end and very probably saved time - had I had the range to spare in the first place, I may have ended up spending ages driving around deciding on a place to eat!

Next time, I think I'll push the car a bit more and see if I can find out just how far I can push it before it stops.


100

Let's party like it's 2016!

30Jem turns 30 next year, and thanks to me and my Big Mouth™ it now falls upon me to organise a birthday party for this age-related milestone.

I'm still not 100% sure how I volunteered myself for this task, but Jem assures me that I did, legitimately and without coercion.

The good news is that I have already organised a venue, thanks to Kirsty at work giving me some super ideas of places that I could enquire to about it. I've found a venue that is quite close to the train station and also relatively close to the Premier Inn in Shrewsbury, which will be handy not only for some of the partygoers but likely also for Jem and myself - I can't imagine we're going to be in a fit state to drive back to Broseley that evening.

So, what else do I need to organise? Well, my list currently stands at:

  • DJ or other musical entertainment
  • Catering
  • Room and table decorations
  • Cake
  • Hiring pole-dancing equipment (don't ask)
  • Fancy dress, or some sort of theme perhaps?
  • Oompah-loompahs
  • A marching band
  • A videographer
  • Two turtle doves
  • Commissioning a special 30th birthday dress to be made especially for Jem
  • Production of 30 candles laced with vodka
  • Procurement of vodka
  • Hiring a skywriter to write directions to the venue from the train station in the air
  • A bouncy castle
  • A chocolate vodka fountain
  • and finally, some sort of cat-themed cabaret act

As you can see, I've got my work cut out for me! Good thing that I don't really need to keep it a surprise, I'm terrible at that sort of thing.


81

Rooty-tooty, point and shooty

My Tuesday nights will now be taken up by my sport of choice - bell target shooting - so I thought I'd do a blog post tonight detailing what it is, how it works, why I find it so good and how you can get involved.

What is a bell target?

It's not, as the name suggests, a target in the shape of a bell.

belltargetIt is essentially a circular steel plate with a hole in the middle. The exact diameter of the circle varies between targets I believe, but the important things are that the hole in the middle should be 3/8ths of an inch wide (9.525mm) and that the target rings radiating out from that hole are spaced at 1 inch intervals (counting from the centre) - like the picture on the right.

The plate is usually painted with a thick white oil-based paint that doesn't dry particularly quickly. This is so that, when hit, a mark is left in the paint by the impacting pellet.

Behind the plate is a mechanism that, when triggered, rings a bell inside the target box. The usual way of triggering this mechanism is to fire a pellet through the hole in the middle.

Resetting the bell position is either automatic (for posh new targets) or done by pulling a reset cord.

So, what do you need to do?

Basically, you just need to shoot a pellet through the hole, from a standing position, 6 yards away from the target. The sport is usually done with .177 calibre air rifles, which fire ,177 calibre pellets - 4.5mm. So there's not a lot of wiggle room!

Exact scoring is different depending on the rules being played, but as an example, in the league that I shoot in you score 5.5 if you shoot clean through the hole (i.e. you don't leave a mark on the plate) or 5.0 if you get the pellet through the hole but it leaves a small mark on the outer edge.

Scoring then goes to 4.5 if you leave enough of a mark that more than half of the pellet's diameter is showing but is still within the next ring - and then 4.0 and below for each ring after that.

In our league, each shooter has seven shots, making a maximum score of 38.5. If a shooter scores 5 or above for all seven shots (but doesn't score the maximum) he/she is said to have scored a "possible."

What do you use to shoot?

As mentioned above, we use .177 calibre air rifles. There are a huge variety of rifles in use, some shooters still use traditional spring-powered air rifles, some use pneumatic air rifles that require the shooter to "pump up" a charge of air prior to each shot, and some (including myself) use "pre-charged" air rifles, that have a cylinder of compressed air (usually up to around 200 bar!) attached.

This is my rifle, a Feinwerkbau Model 700. I've had this gun for a good 10 years now, and it's still just as accurate as it was the day I bought it:

fw700

Apart from the gun itself, there are also a lot of additional items of equipment that can be used.

The most obvious is a shooting jacket. Not all shooters use these, but most do as there are significant benefits to using them. A shooting jacket is a very rigid garment worn as a jacket (clue's in the name!) that helps keep your upper body still when aiming. They come in a huge range of colours and sizes, and can be eyewateringly expensive (much like the rifles and pretty much everything else associated with the sport, to be honest!)

I'm still using a second-hand jacket that I purchased from another member of my team back when I first started in 2005. Natty threads, eh?

shootingjacket

You can also get dedicated shooting trousers (which again, are very rigid and help to keep the lower half of your body solid and still) and shooting boots - which are also rigid, but crucially have elongated and completely flat soles so that you are not able to wobble from side to side as much on your feet.

I don't use shooting trousers (although I do wear normal trousers, I don't shoot in my pants*) and although I don't have shooting boots, I do wear a pair of thick-soled "work boots" which I find achieve much the same effect.

Why do you enjoy it?

A number of reasons. Firstly, it's very challenging both physically and mentally. I'd like to think I'm pretty good at it, although my performance has been a bit lax the last couple of seasons, and you never really stop learning new techniques.

It is accessible to everyone, and inclusive too. Woman, man, pensioner, youngster, teenager or child, able-bodied or disabled - it doesn't matter, you can come and have a go and see if it's right for you.

There's a great sense of "community" too. Shooting on the whole has received a lot of flak and negative media attention in recent years, thanks to tragedies like Dunblane in 1996 and Hungerford in 1987, and of course the seemingly never-ending spate of mass shootings over in the US. Shooting as a sport, however, is very rarely well represented in the media, despite it's excellent (some would say impeccable) safety record. It's not a great spectator sport, and the general negative view of shooting means that we're all used to dealing with the stigma, yet shooters are, for the most part, some of the friendliest people I've ever had the pleasure to meet.

We're always eager to introduce new people to what is unfortunately something of a dying sport too.

My team mates, and those on the teams that we shoot against, are all a great laugh. My team, Telepost, has a long standing "rivalry" with another team, The Breidden - who, I'm sad to report, often completely trounce us in matches, yet there's never any ill feeling and we can all have a laugh together - even if sometimes we are a little jealous of their apparent ability - we're half-expecting them to have a go blindfolded one of these days.

Where can I find out more?

Information is a bit sketchy on the Internet, as it's not a hugely known sport. Nevertheless, there is a great resource for anyone interested in learning more about the sport - www.belltarget.com.  It's even where I took the image of the target at the top of this page from.

* fnarr fnarr, etc.

66

I had a dream

"Of becoming the finest retailer of washing sponges the US has ever seen." - Martin Loofah King

Sorry, terrible joke, but it was the first thing that came to mind.

I'm blogging pretty much as soon as I've woken up, as I don't often remember my dreams and when I do it's usually all gone out of my head within an hour, so I thought I'd better get this down.

I had a dream last night that I was in a world where Doctor Who actually existed, and more so, I was a star player in one of his adventures. Well, sort of. The dream ended before things got really exciting, so I'm afraid this post will have something of an anti-climax.

I'm not 100% sure why I dreamt about The Doctor - the only thing I can think of is that I was reading a thread about it on BeEx shortly before I went to sleep. On reflection, that actually seems to be a fairly safe bet. Mystery solved!

The Singularity Device

That's just my little made-up title for the adventure.

I was dreaming in black and white - which in itself is a little weird - so I must have been taking part in a William Hartnell or Patrick Troughton serial.

I was a supermarket till operator, who just happened to be walking back home from work past a laboratory when I noticed that all of the lights inside were still on despite it being very late at night, and also the door locks had been forced open.

labgate

Against my better judgment, I went inside and investigated the disturbance, and found the aftermath of what looked like a pitched battle between the scientists that had worked there and some invading force. There were many dead bodies lying around, a couple of piles of ash, and one scientist who was still alive - barely. I rushed over to assist and he pointed towards an adjacent room and, with his dying breath, said something about safeguarding the "singularity device" and pushed a piece of paper into my hand.

I walked over to the adjacent room and peered inside - lots of equipment and a wall safe. The room had been ransacked but the safe remained locked.

I looked at the piece of paper - a code! I carefully made my way over to the safe, stepping over the detritus and battle-scarred furniture, and punched in the number from the paper. The safe bleeped and opened up, revealing a small, unassuming black box. The box had an antenna folded against it, a power switch, a red button marked "FIRE" and a protrusion at the top that kind of looked like a very short gun barrel.

Knowing a bit about science, and having a (very limited) idea of what a singularity was, I decided not to push the button but to instead keep it safe on my person and head home.

The next morning...

I was awoken by a very odd sound coming from my downstairs living room. A sort of "throm-throm-throm", as if someone was running a bow across a violin in completely random directions.

I went down to try and find the source of the noise and was quite surprised to discover a blue police box sitting in the middle of the living room, with no obvious clues as to how it had got in.

tardis_homeBefore I could think about it any further, the door opened and an elderly looking man in a blue jacket stepped out.

"Hello. I'm the Doctor," he said, "and you are?"

I gave him my name, asked him how he'd managed to get into my house with his box, and more to the point, why he was in my house.

The Doctor explained his blue box - the TARDIS - to me, and how it could dematerialise and rematerialise without moving, how it was bigger on the inside and how it could travel through space and time. I didn't really know how much to believe, but on the other hand, there was most definitely a blue box in my lounge that could not have got in in any other way short of wrecking half the walls to make a big enough hole.

He then went on to explain that he'd been following a unique energy signature, and asked me if I'd come across anything unusual in the last 24 hours. I hesitated, but explained the events of the previous night.

"A Singularity Device?", he questioned, suddenly looking rather concerned. "May I see it?"

I handed it to him. He pulled out a weird looking probe thing from his coat and waved it over the black box. "Hmm, yes. And you say that somebody was after this? Did you see who?"

I told him that I hadn't seen the attackers, but that I could take him to the laboratory and he could investigate himself. He agreed that this would be a good plan, so off we went. I had suggested we use his magic box, but he declined, stating "depending on who was after this thing, I may not want them to know I'm around."

The return to the laboratory

crimesceneWe arrived back at the laboratory to find the entire scene had been cordoned off by the police. Police tape was everywhere, and officers were stationed at every entrance and exit, guarding the building.

The Doctor told me not to worry, and to follow him whatever happened. We walked up to the entrance, and the officer stopped us, asking to see some ID. The Doctor pulled out a wallet, opened it up and showed a piece of blank paper to the Sergeant.

"Ah, sorry Sir. I didn't recognise you. Go on in." he said, and lifted the police tape for us both to enter.

The Doctor immediately set about looking into every nook and cranny. The bodies had all been removed, but he was particularly interested in the piles of ash that were laying around. He got out his probe thing, which he'd since explained was something called a "sonic screwdriver" and waved it over the pile of ash in front of him.

"Just as I suspected," he said, "this is the work of Daleks."

He took me off to a quiet corner of the room and explained who the Daleks were, where they had come from and how they had come to be. Purely genocidal xenophobic creatures of hatred, dedicated to ridding the universe of anything that wasn't a Dalek.

He surmised that the Singularity Device was an experimental weapon, capable of creating singularities - or black holes - wherever it was pointed, and that the Daleks were almost certainly interested in it as a means of destroying the Earth and all of the non-Daleks contained upon it.

Before we could decide what to do next, there were loud screams and a horrible shrill sound, not too unlike the typical "death ray" laser from science fiction films. Unfortunately, that's exactly what it was, and I got my first glimpse at one of these so-called Daleks as it rounded the corner in front of us.

Run!

dalekIt looked a bit like a salt and pepper shaker, was about five feet tall, and moved silently across the ground as if it was hovering ever so slightly above it. A weird looking stalk protruded from it's "head", which I assumed was some sort of eye, as the head span around to survey the area. Underneath, in its mid-section, were two metal "arms" - one that looked bizarrely like a sink plunger, the other like a kitchen hand whisk.

It caught sight of us, but before it could do anything with its new fleshy targets, the Doctor grabbed me by the hand and ran, pulling me with him.

We made it outside the laboratory to find that all of the police officers were now dead, clearly victims of these murderous travel machines.

The Doctor explained to me that the Daleks would most likely stop at nothing to get their hands - or plungers - on the device. The energy signature that he'd traced back to my house would likely be being traced by the Daleks as we spoke - they had probably returned to the laboratory because I'd removed the device from its safe and exposed the signature to their scanners. My house was probably crawling with Daleks.

Clearly the only thing we could do was try and hide the Singularity device again.

The Cold Room

I had an idea. The supermarket I worked at had a cold room, used for storing all of the frozen goods. It was large, was sealed shut by a big thick insulated door, and was kept at a temperature of -18°C. We could hide the device in there.

The Doctor had another idea - he wanted to bury it far, far underground. He asked if there were any rock quarries nearby, but I told him that there weren't, and that it probably would have ended in tears anyway - they're very dangerous places!

So, we made our way over to my workplace. I climbed into the cold room suit and walked in, closing the heavy door behind me.

In the middle of the room, on the floor, was a little "air conditioning" system of sorts, that helped to keep the temperature low. I opened up the unit and placed the Singularity device inside. I reasoned that this would keep it safe from prying eyes.

Suddenly, I heard that telltale "death ray" sound again, and more screams. I heard the Doctor shout to me to stay there, and that he would come back for me.

I figured that my body temperature would also be quite well hidden in this room, so I wasn't particularly worried.

I stayed in the cold room for what felt like an hour, waiting until I could hear nothing except the quiet monotone hum of the cold room's air conditioners.

I opened the door and stepped outside.

And that's where the dream ended...

Talk about annoying, eh?

I vaguely remember dreaming about the Doctor and I discussing other options - posting the device off to a random address in another country so they wouldn't know where it had gone, destroying the device (I think the reason we didn't do that was in case the act of doing so created a singularity on Earth) and even just taking the batteries out.

All I could think about when I woke up though was simply that, if the Doctor and I had gone back to the laboratory in his TARDIS, we could have escaped in that, with the device, and it could have been kept safe in there for the rest of time.

But then, technically 99% of the Doctor's adventures would be solved with judicious use of the TARDIS. But he never does. I guess because that wouldn't make for a very exciting adventure...