Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dreadful start to the lambing season .

I read this story on Sunday and it brought tears to my eyes. The problem is the Schmallenberg disease, a new virus that has crossed the Channel from Europe. The disease is invisible in sheep until the infected ewes give birth.

The first signs of the disease reaching Britain came last month. "We had no warning," Mrs Clay, a contract lamber said. "When the first lamb was deformed we thought, 'What is this?' Then they kept coming. "We're seeing limbs fused together, joints that don't work, necks that are twisted all the way round and deformed jaws that don't meet, so they can't feed. We've also had a high number of lambs who should have been born but weren't there when the time came. We're not used to this. You get the odd lamb that isn't right, but nothing on this scale."

The rest of this story makes grim reading. Some tiny little virus can wreck our food chain and the livelihoods of thousands of people. To think that something, so microscopically small like the Schmallenberg virus, can do such damage is a great shock. Our government and it's scientists have a lot of hard work ahead to save us from this plague that is threatening our farmers. It is like something from a science fiction movie but sadly it will not be solved within a 90 minute time frame. The emotional burden that contract lambers carry must be huge and my heart goes out to them as they struggle every day into the unknown.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hacked off. 

I have had a Yahoo! email account for over 8 years now. The email works well and it does just what I want. I have never had any complaints about the Yahoo! email service , it is easy to use and I can access it anywhere in the world.

A while back I read that members of a popular Yahoo! newsgroup had their Yahoo! email accounts hacked and spammers were using their email identities to plague the newsgroup with spam. The affected email account holder also had spam sent to all their friends etc who were in their contacts list. The newsgroup moderator's advice was to reset your password and hopefully the spammers would be denied access to your email account. This hacking of a Yahoo! email account also happened to a friend we met on holiday who has no interest in coaches operated by a nationwide company.

So I have reset my password but am still feeling a little hacked off at spam being sent out in my name. I do not think there is a moral to this story, it is just bad luck. I do not think there is anything wrong at Yahoo! and it is just an attack by hackers trying to gain revenue by sending out spam.

Sadly all email systems are vulnerable to this type of assault. It is the nature of the beast and one of the downsides of having an open and user-friendly system.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The darker side of advertising 

There is an advertising campaign running in South Wales at the moment which is rather creepy. The first I knew of this advertising campaign was when I heard it on the radio. Now I have noticed billboards around Cardiff and posters on the back of buses in Newport.

Now this is creepy, the thought of poisons hiding in your car ready to cause your child to die from cot death, have chest problems such as asthma and bronchitis, more likely to get serious ear infections which can lead to hearing problems and die of cancer when they are older. Even if you open the window, or smoke when your children are not in the car the deadly chemicals linger in the seats and roof lining long after you’ve stubbed it out. Smoking in your car can seriously affect the health of your children. Looking at the image above, the warning sign displays 3Y 1223 which actually is the Hazchem Tricode System sign for Kerosene and is quite an explosive explanation.

Okay, the team at Fresh Start Wales have taken an alarmist stance in their advertisements but they have a point. We can all smell the odours left behind by smokers, I should know because of my father's pipe smoking habit. But what toxins do these smokers leave behind? Is it a nasty smell or a death sentence? What are the toxins lurking in your car? Thank goodness that smoking is no longer allowed on public transport and in enclosed public spaces throughout Britain. Is arsenic to be found in the fabric of your car as stated in the advertisements from Fresh Start Wales ? Maybe it is, so welcome to the darker side of advertising.

Sleep well my babies.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The price of renewal.

Our car breakdown cover is due for renewal. We are currently with Green Flag and pay by a continuous payment to our debit card. The renewal notice came the other day telling us that we do not have to do anything because a debit will be made and our breakdown cover will continue. That sounds really customer friendly doesn't it, do absolutely nothing, they will debit our card and the breakdown cover will continue. The renewal notice states "And don't forget as an additional bonus you're now entitled to 2 years No Call Out Discount". And the renewal price quoted for their Recovery Plus package was a staggering £93.28 - gosh, I thought, that is steep!

A quick look on the internet and I found that I could get the same cover from the RAC for £89.00 and the AA for £101.00 - so at a glance, Green Flag is posting competitive rates. But last year I remembered that Green Flag was so much cheaper than the others, the choice was a no-brainer. I wondered what it would cost if I was a new customer to Green Flag ? A customer without the alleged 2 years No Call Discount. So I looked at the Green Flag website and the price for new customers on the same Recovery Plus package is £61.48 - that is some saving!

So I spoke to the Green Flag call centre on the telephone and asked them what was going on. Why can a new customer get the same cover for £31.80 less? I want to cancel my renewal and take out a new policy at the lower rate of £61.48 - how many forms do I have to fill or keys do I have to press to get this lower rate. The helpful guy asked me to hold whilst he spoke to his line manager. He then came back on the line and told me I can have the same cover for £53.00 because of my No Calls Discount, please could I give him my card details. So that was the deal I took with Green Flag . The Recovery Plus package for £53.00 which was £40.28 less than I would have paid if I had been too lazy to do my homework. I wish I could get paid £40 for doing work like that every day!

So the moral of the story is this: Businesses like customers to be lazy and will claim discounts are applied. Do not take these claims as gospel. Always do your homework and survey the market. Whenever you renew an insurance based product always get quotes from a range of companies as a new customer. We have experienced these price differences before and quite often you can beat the renewal price by going to your existing provider as a new customer - are you listening Mr Swinton? I do not think that Green Flag are any different from other companies, they all take the public to be lazy, illiterate mugs.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Where is the morality?

Two television series ended on Friday night. Hustle on BBC1  and Law and Order on ITV1. I was a fan of both television programmes and enjoyed every episode. I do enjoy crime dramas and both programmes were well scripted. Law and Order was an instant hit as you watched the trail to bring the bad guys to justice. Hustle was very different because the programme was from the point of view of some very devious criminals. The viewer was encouraged to have empathy for these criminals as they cheated people out of goods, money or services. These bad guys doing these criminal acts, who called themselves grifters, all had likeable personalities. As a viewer, you grew fond of these criminals as the series progressed. You cheered as they conned people with their elaborate scams.

The ethical problem I have is this: I enjoyed Law and Order because the good guys tried to bring the bad guys to justice. I enjoyed Hustle because the criminals got away with cheating people by using their scams. This should not be right! I should not enjoy criminals cheating people and getting away with it! The BBC have taken a brave decision commissioning a programme that supports criminal activity, especially when the characters are so likeable and witty.

Thankfully this is only light entertainment and make-believe television and not official guidance to the general public. It just poses the question, where is the morality of a public broadcaster?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Check, check, check.

Every day in my day job as a coach driver under contract to a nationwide company, I am checking coaches. The first thing I do is a walk-around-check of my allocated coach. Check, check, check on loads of things, too numerous to write about here in this post on my blog! At the end of my shift I fill out another form, check, check, check goes the biro on the form. This check, check, check is part of my working life and it is like getting washed and dressed in the morning. I do leave my work at the farm when I come home, honest - but some things do carry over. One of them is check, check, check. I treat my car the same as I treat any of our 12 coaches.

Yesterday was MOT day for our car. I dropped the car off and took our dog for his walk whilst the garage performed the MOT. I got back to the garage and the owner laughed "I won't make any money out of you! You should see some of the cars we get in here, some drivers simply never bother with maintenance and it comes as quite a shock when we tell them what is wrong."

So the check, check, check certainly pays off. I was not caught out by the MOT because I did my usual checks and had replaced the right hand number plate light bulb a short while ago. I wonder how much that would have cost if I had not checked and rectified it before?

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Reaping, The Fahllen Book 1 by M. Leighton .

Carson Porter is a 17 year old girl living with her Dad. She has the usual teenage pressures and problems but one morning she noticed her skin had changed a little. Carson is a very likeable girl and you follow her as her body changes and she discovers a whole new world. Carson has a recurring dream and slowly she learns about the Darkness. The Reaping is a fantasy that is told in the first person.

Michelle Leighton's writing is absolutely spot on. Her style is very similar to that of Slights by Kaaron Warren. Michelle writes with a tremendous vocabulary, painting such a full picture that makes you imagine that you are Carson. The Reaping is a fantasy and it is a fun, exciting and enjoyable read. The structure is great and the pace is correct. There is some mild humour, which is self depreciating, for example...

“I mean, why wouldn’t I be alright?  I’m a probably-cursed, possibly-dead, fire-wielding, plant-killing, ghost-seeing orphan with a second skin.  Why on earth wouldn’t I be alright?”


My luck took a turn for the better the next morning.  After locating a library that would allow me to avail myself of their internet access without a cavity search, I was quickly able to come up with an idea of where my mother might be.  And I was closer to her than I thought.

...This book is clean, there is no rough or graphic sex to make the reader smile. The ending is good. The Reaping was written in 2011 and I bought the Amazon Kindle 535KB eBook for just 86p.  I am going to vote The Reaping the maximum score of 5 stars on Good Reads simply because I can find nothing wrong with it. I am an Atheist and The Reaping is such a HOOT! to read. This book is not my usual reading genre of conspiracies or crime thrillers but The Reaping is very entertaining and a joy to read. As a reader, I can't ask for any more as it fills my desire for an inspiring daily read. I will always remember this book when I am walking my dog and I stumble across a clearing in the woods!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Touchy feely.

Some people are more touchy feely than others. Quite often in the workplace, employees brush against fellow employees in a familiar manner. This brushing is not accidental but done on purpose. This is not sexual harassment, just workmates being friendly with each other. The brushing can be same sex or opposite genders, it makes no difference as the action is just friendliness. Very often the brusher creeps up behind and the brushee has to guess which workmate it is. I have lost count of the number of times my bottom has been caressed by fellow workmates in the bus garage. No offence was ever taken as it is only a harmless game of guess. If other drivers are not brushing my bottom then they are patting my stomach and asking when my baby is due. This is all taken in good humour.

However things are different in Thailand as this video shows...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

First it was Latin, now it is Welsh.

Language is a wonderful thing, it changes to reflect the times. Most languages grow but some like Latin simply die. These forgotten languages have a history but are not used in normal conversation. The number of fluent Welsh speakers is falling by around 3,000 people a year, a new report suggests. The report says that around 6,500 Welsh speakers die annually and 5,200 move away, out-pacing adult learners and children learning or raised in Welsh. It found the number of people who say they speak Welsh fluently is approximately 300,000.

Although I have lived in Cardiff for 21 years, I do not speak Welsh. Not speaking Welsh has not put me at a disadvantage as everyone in Cardiff speaks English. Okay, people in Cardiff can sing the national anthem in Welsh after a few drinks but that is a social thing and is not normal conversation.

So I think that Welsh is going the way of Latin and will become a dead language. It will leave a heritage, just like Latin has but I do not think it will be missed. Society moves on and Welsh will become another dead language. Throughout the world there are lots of minor languages that are still spoken in small local groups and I think Welsh will become one of them. I can't see the point in our government promoting the Welsh language as it's declining use demonstrates that people don't want it. People want to speak English and not a language that has clearly had it's day. Think of all the time wasted by Welsh school children learning a language that they will not use - that seems like teachers having a political agenda to me!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Swansea, the toilet seat of learning.

Swansea is famous for many things and now it has become the toilet seat of learning. Swansea is a multi-cultural city and accordingly Swansea University has produced a helpful poster to show people how to use the toilet.


When you look at the mess left behind by passengers who have travelled on our coaches, maybe the nationwide company should consider displaying similar posters? The place for the used toilet tissue is down the bowl and not on the floor. Many a day I have spotted footprints on the toilet seat and have wondered what has been going on? Surely our toilets are not big enough for two passengers to engage in sex whilst I am driving along the motorway at speeds of up to 62mph?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"You're spiteful".

I am back to work from the holiday leave that I took to nurse Gail following her knee replacement. My second shift was a Customer Care training day. This is a recognised module of the Driver CPC that everybody must hold by September 2013. It was a fun day for the 15 drivers who took part, something very different to the pace of our normal working day. We had the joys of interactive discussions, videos, Microsoft Powerpoint Presentations by a girl in funny shoes and a tasty working buffet lunch.

There is great commercial value to Customer Care and by getting staff to work professionally, good customer care raises the company perception and profile. Each driver was given 5 golden rules...

Be approachable, smile and greet my customers.

Ensure I have the most up-to-date knowledge and information to help my customers use our services with ease.

Speak clearly and use terms my customers will understand.

Take personal responsibility for my actions, ensuring my customers' questions are answered and problems resolved.

Treat my customers with respect and put myself in their shoes even if I don't agree with them.

...We all took this on board and left this training event energised to greet our passengers the next day.

The following day I was approached by a passenger with a Fun Fare ticket for a later journey from London to Newport. I told him that he could not travel on my coach because he had purchased a Fun Fare ticket. He could change his ticket which would cost him at least another £5 or wait 90 minutes for the journey he had bought. He questioned my response because he could see spare seats on my coach and could not understand why I was refusing him travel. I informed him that he was bound by the terms and conditions he entered into when he chose to purchase a Fun Fare ticket.

When we depart London Victoria Coach Station, drivers shout from their cab window the number of passengers on board to the station supervisor. I did this call as normal but I was heckled by this guy who wanted to travel to Newport. "You're spiteful" he shouted as I drove away.

The next day I told this tale to my line manager. "Quite right, Stephen" he replied "that is the terms and conditions, he chose to buy the ticket." I then discussed the irony of the training day before about Customer Care. No matter how good staff are with customer care, you might as well bang your head against a brick wall when it comes to Fun Fare refusal. All the good work that staff do towards good customer care is demolished when you have spare seats and refuse travel to later journey Fun Fare passengers. My line manager had the last word when he said "it's okay Stephen as long as you smile when you say 'NO' - that is good customer care" as he grinned from ear to ear.

So, it is okay to enjoy a Microsoft Powerpoint Presentation by a girl in funny shoes but the passenger could still consider you to be spiteful. I am just waiting for the day when a passenger with different skin pigmentation claims my refusal to let them travel was racist.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Bill Posters get it wrong.

Oh! it is so easy to get the position wrong with the window frame when you paste a poster...

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Dodging the system .

There are people around, who try to dodge the system. Those people who try to steal a free ride. Some people even go online to try and cheat a ride.

Visitors to Germany notice that there are no barriers at tube stations? "It could never work back home," proclaim tourists from less law-abiding nations, notably Britain. "No one would bother paying."

About 3.5% of journeys on German public transport are not paid for, according to statistics from the Association of German Transport Operators (VDV). In less compliant Berlin, it is 6%. The VDV is also outraged at an internet "service" launched in one German city to help fare dodgers evade ticket inspectors' sporadic checks. The MVV Blitzer warns passengers in Munich where and when the usually plain-clothed inspectors are working and what they are wearing. Oliver Wolff from the VDV is worried that not paying is becoming socially acceptable in Germany. "It's now got to the point where potential fare dodgers are organising themselves and helping each other online. It's this sort of open activity that is making travelling without a valid ticket seem less harmful,"

This dodging is not harmless fun, it is theft. I am appalled at the lack of morality by some people. This lack of revenue has to be paid for by the remaining and honest passengers. Over time this theft is paid for by increased fares, so these fare dodgers are not only cheating the operating company but all the other passengers too. This is not a victimless crime. To start an online service for fare dodgers is moving into organised crime.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Who gives a tweet, researchers ask.

I am not a fan of Twitter , the micro blogging website where people are limited to posts with a maximum of 140 characters. This 140 character restriction means that all tweets are short, snappy and quite often inane. There is never the depth that posts achieve on regular blogs like natural yogurt. So you may wonder how many tweets are actually read  and are of value to the reader. Well a quarter of the 200 million tweets sent each day on the micro blogging platform Twitter are "not worth reading at all", according to new research. Overall, only 36 percent of the tweets were liked, while a further 25 percent were disliked. So maybe they should have a change of brand from twitter to twatter?

Unfortuneately this style of micro blogging on both twitter and Facebook is still rather popular. I am surprised at the high number of businesses who throw high resources to developing their profile on Facebook and twitter. Maybe the funds they allocate to their online presence could be better spent elsewhere? Or maybe society has changed and the public now wants just 140 character sound bites to keep them up to speed?

Still, there will always be a place for people who want a long rant about anything, that place is called Blogger , who will give you a blog for free.

Friday, February 03, 2012

I smashed the windows.

We have had this desktop computer over a year now. It came with Windows 7 Home Premium installed. Gail prefers to use her laptop or tablet computer rather than this traditional desktop. I prefer this desktop computer because of the traditional 101 button keyboard. It seems like a proper machine that sits on a desk where you sit on a proper office type chair to surf the net. It feels and looks like a proper machine rather than a mickey mouse toy.

I have never been a fan of the Windows operating system. It seems so bloated and busy. It is doing so many things that are not core to the applications I wish to launch. Windows 7 appears to take a long time to boot up from cold. I think "what is going on, come on you bitch, boot up you damn fool, where is the wretched desktop?".

So, I thought, there has to be another way. Now that the guarantee has expired I could afford to play around with alternative operating systems. To cut a long story short, I looked at quite a few, burned some Live CD's and gave each operating system a try. I settled on Linux but which distribution did I decide to install to my hard drive?

What I wanted was an efficient desktop? I tried quite a few, some were speedy but others appeared to be bloated, heavy on resources and slow to boot up. So I decided to choose my desktop first and my distribution of Linux second. Looking at all the desktops my favourite by a long way was LXDE , the  Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment, which is an extremely fast-performing and energy-saving desktop environment. Maintained by an international community of developers, it comes with a beautiful interface, multi-language support, standard keyboard short cuts and additional features like tabbed file browsing. LXDE uses less CPU and less RAM than other environments. It is especially designed for cloud computers with low hardware specifications, such as netbooks, mobile devices (e.g. MIDs) or older computers. LXDE can be installed on many Linux distributions including Debian, Fedora, OpenSUSE and Ubuntu. It is the standard for Knoppix and lubuntu. LXDE also runs on OpenSolaris and BSD. LXDE provides a fast desktop experience; connecting easily with applications in the cloud. LXDE supports a wealth of programs that can be installed locally with Linux systems.

Then I looked at different distributions of Linux. The one that worked best for me, overall was Lubuntu with my second choice being Fedora .  Installation of Lubuntu was very easy to do as it comes with a very good installer. I have had no problems whatsoever since I reformatted my hard drive and installed Lubuntu as the sole operating system on our desktop computer. Lubuntu is far better than Windows 7 Home Premium, it boots up really quickly from cold and does not seem to spend time doing other tasks in the background like Windows 7 does. Also you do not get the frequent Windows updates that plagues Windows 7.  The  LXDE desktop is nimble on the eye, easy to navigate and a joy to use.

I am really glad I broke those windows, because there is another way and I do not want to go back!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

And she's back!

It's back to normal in my home today because Gail was discharged from hospital last night. Gail was wondering just how long she would remain in hospital as I arrived at 16.00 for the visiting session. I made her really happy as I gave her a carrier bag containing a savoury cheese baguette and a coffee cream puff bun from Greggs. At around 17.00 the surgeon came along, examined Gail and declared that she was free to go home. This was a huge surprise and relief to her. She has had a full knee replacement in her left leg. Unfortunately the operation wound was slow to stop bleeding and Gail spent a total of 10 days at Llandough Hospital. I had been sleeping on my own for 9 nights and it was strange having her back in my bed.

Barney is pleased that Gail is back as he has spent a lot of time on the window sill in our lounge, looking out and hoping for her to come back.

Oh! and that strange black thing in the corner has started up again, Gail is watching her television. It's back to normal folks, soap operas every night until 21.00 and then something we can watch together.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Dove Season by Johnny Shaw .

Dove Season is written in the first person, of Jimmy Veeder, who like the author was born and raised in the Imperial Valley on the Calexico/Mexicali border. Jimmy comes back to Imperial Valley where his father is dying. Jimmy takes the reader on an adventure around the region. The story plods along and Jimmy is a rough but okay guy. As a thriller, Dove Season is slow, rather dull and lacks sharpness. The descriptions of the life and culture within the farming community are good. This novel portrays the soul of the people and the place. The observations can be quite witty, for example...

I grabbed a seat at the counter, not bothering to look at the menu. I kept to a strict policy with roadside diners: OOB. Only order breakfast. It was a safe bet and sometimes a pleasant surprise. Lunch and dinner could be a crapshoot. There’s always that one entrée that doesn’t belong.


“Let’s walk around, make sure,” Bobby said. I nodded. “Did you nod?” Bobby asked. “Cause in the dark, nodding don’t communicate dick.” “I nodded,” I said. “I just nodded back,” Bobby said, and then he walked deeper into the building, waving the light into the corners.

...The humour is centred around realistic dialogue between close male friends, for example...

Bobby cut in. “You ain’t in LA no more, brother. Besides, you’re thinking of strippers. Mexican hookers tend to use their real names. Fun fact.”


As Pop had told me, “Boredom brings out the bingo in every old fart.”

...The relationship between Jimmy and his father is touching as they both accept the reality of death.

The ending of this story is very far fetched. There is nothing special about this book. It is second rate. Dove Season was published in 2011 and is the first novel by Johnny Shaw. He was a finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition in 2010. I purchased the Kindle edition which has a 1029 KB file size.

I think this book is poor and I am only voting it 2 stars on Good Reads . This is not a fun read, it is not a book to enjoy. Dove Season is more like a holiday brochure for a working farm. I will not bother to read another Johnny Shaw novel.

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