Archive for the 'ephemera' Category

Out of office

The BBC has a report on Some of the funniest out-of-office replies. It’s a summertime filler story but I noticed them quoting Tyler Brûlé who wrote an article suggesting that people who set out-of-office messages simply aren’t committed enough. This is another example of “presenteeism”, one of the reasons that British workers don’t take time off sick when they’re ill.

I love my holidays; I work to live, not live to work, although I do love what I do. So I always set an Out of Office message on my employer’s corporate email. I’ve noticed through various jobs that most of the email I receive is either ephemera (“I’ll be late today”/ “Please note the fridge will be emptied on Thursday”) or conversations that go on for a few days, and then resolve themselves.

So my out of office says “I’m out until DD/MM/YYYY. If your message remains important when I return, please re-send it then, as I will delete all messages received before that date without reading”. And, apart from messages from direct bosses, I do just that.

Feel free to use my personal email out-of-office as inspiration:

OFF THE GRID!

I love you. I really do. The way your cute nose goes all crinkly when you smile – I dream about it and sigh. The way you toss your beautiful hair when you’re materialising from hyperspace makes my heart go pit-a-pat and skip a beat. Thinking of how your tentacles encircle my exoskeleton causes … well, let’s not go there.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m backpacking around India at the moment, and connectivity is limited. And there’s loads of stuff to look at that’s cooler than email, so it may take time until I reply. Until we see each other again, I yearn for your gentle caress and to hear the ethereal howling you make when extruding your egg sacs.

CUDDLES. xxx

Relax! Read a book! Go swimming! Play guitar! Get drunk! Learn karate! Do some yoga! Play tennis! Make love! Have fun with your friends and family! Remember, the graveyard is full of indispensable people.

Frozen Crunchie

Public service announcement: it’s good to eat Mars bars straight from the freezer, but don’t try it with a Crunchie: freezing makes them totally brittle and they turn into dust. I ate all the dust I could scoop off my shirt, but had to sweep 50% of it off the floor.

My friend Jooly informs me

Caramac will be fine … I’d be very careful with Turkish Delight though and only a fool would try to freeze a large bar of Dairy Milk Marvellous Creations Jelly Popping Candy. You better know yourself if you’re going to mess with that.

Yosemite, Garageband 10.0.3, Soundfonts

My recent upgrade to Yosemite appeared to go without a hitch, until I fired up Garageband to tidy up the guitar line on my cello and harpsichord-driven song Girl In The Room.

To my dismay, the cello and harpsichord samples had disappeared, to be replaced by a very clunky generic synthesiser sound. After some investigation, it appeared that the new OS (or new Garageband 10.0.3) had nuked the soundfonts I’d put in Library/Audio/Sounds/Banks/. Perhaps I should have known this – but I’m new to Mac, and my experience on Windows is that it doesn’t hose your data when you upgrade. Ah well. Apple knows best, of course.

[Added 16 April. Looks like I’m not the only one.]

But, once I’d got the soundfonts from a backup and restored them to the correct folder, I’ve noticed that Garageband doesn’t see all of them. Other times, it sees a soundfont, lets me associate it with a track and plays it fine. Then I hit play again and the same track I heard seconds before is entirely silent although the dialogue box still claims the soundfont is associated with the track. (and what is a “user define bank”? User-defined, surely?)

Screen Shot of Garageband claiming - falsely- that the track is playing a cello soundfont

This basically means Garageband isn’t usable for me with soundfonts (which was the whole purpose of my buying it; I don’t want to be restricted to the excellent-quality but rather middle-of-the-road default samples).

But I’m a Mac/ GB n00b and am probably missing something obvious. Anyone got any advice?

Autumn

The smell of roasting dust heralds the fan heater’s first use of the autumn, like the smell of the crematorium we’re all another year closer to.

The Tax Return Blues

I’m trying to do my self-assessment tax form. I’m not a stupid man, so it shouldn’t be too hard (and I got a grade B Maths O Level in 1983!) and I want to be fair and pay my share. My salary is PAYE but I have a small amount of extra income from a book I wrote 4 years ago – and, as it’s a tech book, it’s quite old so the sums are small.

That, plus derisory rates of interest from money I save (as breadwinner in a Hard Working British Family™, I save for a rainy day) means I have to fill in a form. Once again, it’s defeated me. Why, for example, do I have to tell them how many dollars I was paid in royalties? The money hits my bank in pounds, so I note it down like a good boy in pounds so I can pay income tax on it in pounds. So I can’t fill that bit in. How do I record my ISA savings which are tax free (there’s only a place to record net interest and gross interest).

The whole thing seems like a conspiracy to create jobs for accountants. I have nothing against accountants (except for my karate sparring partner Mohammed, because he’s loads better than me), but I shouldn’t need a professional to record a few hundred quid in book royalties and ISA interest.

And the website is so shockingly rubbish it’s embarrassing to be in the web industry.

So, tomorrow, like every other bloody year, I’ll call their overloaded phone help line and be coached through the form, at great expense to the tax payer.

Slow-cooked lamb with 40 garlic cloves

I don’t usually follow recipes from magazines, because they usually need zillions of ingredients and take ages to prep. But I had six people around for dinner, and a whole leg of lamb, so Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Six-hour spiced lamb with 40 cloves of garlic seemed a good choice. (All of us like garlic, but it’s not actually death-by-alium, as you don’t crush the garlic, just add it to the juices.)

It took about 10 minutes longer to prepare than any other roast, and that was toasting the spices and pulversising them in a pestle and mortar, but it was time well spent as it was absolutely delicious.

It did list some ingredients I didn’t have, so I adapted it thus:

  • For the sauce, I didn’t have paprika, caraway or fennel. So I added a couple of cloves, and some chilli flakes (about a teaspoon).
  • After the first 30 minutes, when you’re supposed to add a cup of water, I added a mug of water and a cup of red wine. (I knew my guests would want lots of gravy.)
  • An hour before the end, when you add all the garlic, I also added a couple of sprigs of rosemary from the garden, a couple of handfulls of black olives, and another cup of wine.

The gravy was really intense, even before I squished some cloves of garlic and a few olives into it and sieved it. The remaining olives tasted great for people to munch while the meat was resting. I served it with carrots that I cooked around the lamb for the last hour, potatoes roasted in goose-fat, Yorkshire puddings, roast butternut squash and boiled broccoli and cauli.

Best lamb ever, my friends said.

Why Norman Tebbit is cool

I was reading a Reddit post on which celebs are “assholes” and which aren’t, and can exclusively reveal that Chris Tarrant is a tosspot, whereas Irish post-punk bands The Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers are jolly nice people — Jake Burns wished me happy birthday, and Undertones’ bassist Micky Bradley gave me a can of Stella when I was 14.

Perhaps more surprisingly, Thatcher-era government minister Norman Tebbit is a good guy too, although he’s largely remembered as a leather-clad psychotic enforcer in the satirical show Spitting Image.

However, Tebbit also has a sense of humour. At University, my housemates and I would write letters to TV personalities requesting autographed photos to decorate our rented house on De Grey Street, Hull, AKA “Raunchy Studsville”. (Note, this is before the Web existed to divert students from essays etc).

We wrote to Tebbit at the House of Commons:

Dear Norm, we’ve watched your rise through the Tory party with admiration. Market Forces dictate that you send us a signed photograph. Get Down! The Raunchy Studs.

A week later, an House of Commons envelope addressed to “Raunchy Studsville, 1 De Grey St, Hull” landed on our doormat, containing a hand-written note on headed note paper:

Dear Studs, who am I to argue with Market Forces? Here’s your photo. Get Down!

and the photo was signed “Norm”.

Where’s my bloody xmas card?

I didn’t send you one. Not because I hate you (I don’t – I love you, especially in that outfit and the way you toss your hair when you laugh), but because I don’t send them to anyone. If I did, I’d have to post them to friends in Thailand, Norway, USA, Australia, India, Russia, Japan and elsewhere, polluting the planet so that twee pictures and shop-bought sentiments can end up in landfills. What a waste of money.

Instead, I donate the money I’d spend on cards and postage to a charity. This year, I’m sending some cash to the Bhopal Medical Appeal which gives free medical care to the people hurt in Bhopal and so shamefully treated by those responsible, Union Carbide (now part of Dow).

To date our Sambhavna Clinic has treated more than 35,000 people. We employ over 60 staff, roughly a third of whom are themselves gas survivors. We carry out valuable studies, inform, educate and train people in gas-affected communities to monitor their health.

…In the Bhopal Medical Appeal ‘we’ don’t ask ‘you’ to help ‘us’ help ‘them’. The Appeal and the Sambhavna Clinic are shared efforts between those of us who are survivors, those of us who run the Clinic and the Appeal and those of us who support the effort with our money and by volunteering our skills or just our enthusiasm.

So that’s your card. Have a merry consumerfest, and a happy new year.

The joys of double glazing: Amber and Anglian review

Finally, a boring post about something other than web minutiae!

Eighteen months ago, we moved into a large Victorian house that needed lots of work. Twitter chums have responded to my requests for recommendations for builders, roofers, tree surgeons, decorators, plumbers, electricians and plasterers enthusiastically. But when I innocently tweeted “Can anyone recommend a decent double-glazing company that aren’t pressure-salesmen, cowboys or criminals” I got no replies at all. Not any. Twice. That’s telling in itself. So I decided get a couple of quotes and compare them.

Firstly, I called Amber Windows, told them what I wanted and told them that I had an hour maximum for them to measure (two doors – how long should it take?), and emphasised that I didn’t want to waste time with faux-discounts; give me your best price and go away.

Needless to say, Cliff, the Amber Windows salesman, told me of a “special discount” to reduce the £5600 cost (ha!) to £2500. Then came the usual palaver of “calling his manager” to ask if there was an extra special deal. Lo and behold! there was. Mild pressure was applied; a curt “that’s the lowest price, if you sign up today. Take it or leave it”. I told them I’d leave it as I hate people pressuring me and insulting my intelligence. Other the next two weeks I received several phone calls, from different people, offering me wildly different prices until I told them to stop calling me.

I told Jim, the Anglian Windows salesman, not to waste my time and simply to give me his best price. He was direct, but was clearly anxious to sign me up there and then with the implication that there was a further discount. (I said no, as I wanted to discuss the various different designs with my wife at our leisure). He also didn’t seem to know about his products; the Anglian brochures boasted of a certain British Standards that their windows meet; my insurance requires a different Standard and he couldn’t tell me if Anglian’s windows meet More>Than’s minimum security standard.

His price was good, so I invited him back to take a deposit, provided that he could answer the British Standards question. He didn’t come prepared with an answer, and was visibly annoyed at my asking the question. I signed the contract and gave him a cheque on condition that her find out (this was written into the contract) and I emailed him several times subsequently but he never satisfactorily answered my question. Eventually I gave up and the surveyor gave me the answer on headed notepaper as Jim had promised (but failed) to do.

Jim also promised me that my burglar alarm contacts would fit on the new doors, and that I would have a trickle vent to prevent condensation forming. This was written into the contract. When they were eventually installed today, the trickle vent was missing on a door, and the burglar alarm contacts wouldn’t fit. I can only assume that the factory misread the words “trickle vents to be fitted above doors” as “trickle vents to be fitted above only one door”, and Jim’s error regarding my burglar alarm was nothing to do with his eagerness to get a sale.

After signing the contract and paying a 20% deposit in August, I waited and waited and eventually chased up Anglian myself for a survey date and a fitting date. The fitting date was postponed by Anglian at the last minute, three times. The first two times because of bad weather, the third time because of lack of fitters. When I complained on Twitter, they mysteriously found a fitter who came today. They’ve done a nice job, but have yet to return today to finish the job (to put trim around the back door, put in a spyhole and a knocker and install a trickle vent. The burglar alarm contacts I’ll have to sort out by myself). I was hoping to visit the doctors on Monday morning, but now I’ll have to wait a week.

I have another window that needs double-glazing, but simply don’t feel like going through this rigmarole again.

If there is an Apple-style “just works” double glazing firm that doesn’t entirely ignore customer satisfaction in its haste for profit, I hope it will clean up the market.

New Spam Call: Charlotte

I got a call last night over dinner from “Charlotte” at “PC support”. As usual, I like to record them keep them talking for as long as possible, to waste their time and in the hope that they’ll blacklist me. I got Charlotte so grumpy that she hung up on me after 5 minutes.

Listen to Spam Call: Charlotte gets grumpy

There are more spam calls, and Reverend Bruce’s replies to spam emails, over at my Spam Letters.