Sunday, 23 November 2008

PostHeaderIcon Photos: St Lucia, November 2008

Friday, 17 October 2008

PostHeaderIcon I was having a piss...

...when I saw this... I was there
Saturday, 4 October 2008

PostHeaderIcon How to make the perfect Chili, The Final Cut

This is an update to my original post on How to make the perfect Chili and it's follow up How to make the perfect Chili, Redux. Not everyone preferred the Redux version with the smokey taste of the Jack Daniels being a little to up-front for them. This Final Cut version combines the best bits of both which pleases everyone and I must say tastes all the more perfect. Please try it an let me know what you think.

Here it is - to serve 3-4.

What you'll need:
  • 1 packet of Old El Paso Chili seasoning (this isn't cheating, it's a damn good mix)
  • 1 large red onion
  • 400g lean minced beef (fresh not frozen, this is very important)
  • 200g lean stewing steak chopped into 1-2cm cubes
  • 1/2 a glass of red wine (something gutsy like Wolf Blass Yellow Label Cab Sav)
  • 200ml of Jack Daniels
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tin of black eyed beans or pinto beans, drained. (Don't ever use kidney beans)
  • 1/3 jar of Peppadew peppers

What you do:
  • Marinate the diced steak in the Jack Daniels overnight or at least for a few hours. Stab the steak repeatedly with a sharp knife to make sure the JD penetrates
  • Finely chop the onion and gently fry for a few minutes in a couple of tablespoons of mild olive oil
  • Crumble the minced beef into the frying pan being careful to retain nice chunky meat morsels (which is why you cannot use frozen mince) and add the marinated cubed steak, gently fold it in and let it brown on one side before gently turning to brown on the other (do not stir, it breaks up the chunks!)
  • Once browned sprinkle the chili seasoning over the meat and gently fold in. After a few minutes poor in the red wine to deglaze the pan and simmer gently until the liquid is reduced
  • Poor over the chopped tomatoes, beans and Peppadew peppers, gently fold in and allow to simmer for another 15 minutes

Server in a bowl with garlic bread and the bottle of Wolf Blass.
Sunday, 31 August 2008

PostHeaderIcon Kiva - Loans that change lives

Kiva - loans that change lives
Let me tell you a bit about Kiva. is a non-profit that is revolutionizing the fight against global poverty by enabling people to connect with and make personal loans—of as little as $25—to low-income entrepreneurs in the developing world. Most of the poor in developing countries are self-employed entrepreneurs and a small loan to purchase business-related items such as sewing machines or livestock can empower them to earn their way out of poverty.

Kiva is the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to an entrepreneur in the developing world. By combining microfinance with the internet, Kiva is creating a global community of people connected through lending.

Kiva's mission is to connect people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating poverty.

Kiva was born of the following beliefs:
  • People are by nature generous, and will help others if given the opportunity to do so in a transparent, accountable way.
  • The poor are highly motivated and can be very successful when given an opportunity.
  • By connecting people we can create relationships which exceed beyond financial transactions, and build a global community expressing support and encouragement of one another.
Kiva promotes:
  • Dignity: Person-to person lending encourages partnership relationships as opposed to benefactor relationships. Partnership relationships are characterized by mutual dignity and respect.
  • Accountability: Loans encourage more accountability than donations where repayment is not expected.
  • Transparency: The Kiva website is an open platform where communication can flow freely between the developing and developed worlds.

Kiva democratizes philanthropy, allowing the average individual to feel like a mini-Bill Gates by building a portfolio of investments in developing world businesses.

Kiva will have facilitated loans totaling $100 million by 2010.

You can see Gary's Kiva loans by clicking the Kiva tab at the top of the page.
Saturday, 9 August 2008

PostHeaderIcon Photos: Glastonbury, July 2008

A few photos from our weekend in Glastonbury with Kerry & Julian and Karen & Peter.
Monday, 14 July 2008

PostHeaderIcon Photos: Camping in Llangennith, July 2008

A few photos from a camping weekend in Llangennith. These photos were just to test the quality of the camera in my new iPhone and to check it's geocoding features. I uploaded them to Picasa as it handles the geocoding automatically and so this post is a feed from Picasa.
Monday, 30 June 2008

PostHeaderIcon Photos: Peter's 40th Birthday

A few photos from Peter's 40th birthday party.
Thursday, 19 June 2008

PostHeaderIcon Virus Alert!

I was reading this article The 25 Best High-Tech Pranks and it reminded me of a practical joke that was played on one of my colleagues (henceforth known as the poor victim) some years ago. Remember I work in IT as does the poor victim of this practical joke which makes it all the more hilarious that he fell for it, you'd expect anyone with the smallest amount of IT knowledge to realise exactly what was going on.

I had been on holiday and on the morning of my return I was sat at my desk doing the usual catching up with emails etc when one of my colleagues (the poor victim) approached my boss (the department manager) to ask if it was OK to get some quotes from our suppliers for anti-virus software. My ears pricked up at this wondering what he was on about as the company was well covered with AV software and so there shouldn’t have been any additional requirements. He continued to explain to my boss (who must have also been away the previous week) that we needed to get AV software to install on the companies laser printers as we had had a virus outbreak on them the previous week. I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing from him and I guess from the glazed-over dumb look he got from my boss neither could he. The poor victim continued to explain how when he was stood at the printer waiting for reports to come off he noticed the LCD panel was flashing messages such as “S.O.S.”, “...---...”, “Help, Virus Alert!” and the like. At this point I couldn’t keep a straight face and as much as I wanted to stay and listen to his story I just had to leave the room to burst into tears of laughter in the corridor. I was soon followed by a couple of other work mates who were also in hysterics and filled me in on what had happened.

We use HP LaserJet printers for all our reports and forms and as well as supporting the usual commands for printing text and graphics you can also send to the printer commands to alter various printer settings normally accessed through the on board control panel. Some of these commands allow you to display a message on the printer’s LCD panel. Every time the poor victim went up to the printer to collect a report another colleague would send an SOS message to the printer for the poor victim to see.

Well, the poor victim took it all a bit too seriously and really believed the printer was infected with a virus and made it his personal crusade to rid the company of the infection. He fished out the printer’s manual and read it cover to cover looking for anything that might enlighten him as to what was happening and after finding nothing there and with the printer still seemingly being infected even after a number of power cycles he did the only thing that was left for him to do and telephoned the manufacturers technical support line. This was some years ago before the Internet existed in its present form so he couldn’t just Google it for a solution.

Well from what I gather the tech support guy must have thought he had a lunatic on the other end of the line and did ask him “Do you have a practical joker in the office?” To which the poor victim replied “No, he’s on holiday!” I think the tech support started to play along as clearly there was no getting through to this man and so they continued to humour him by asking such things as “What’s the temperature in the office?” To which the poor victim responded by getting a thermometer and measuring the temperature. Eventually I think the tech support guy must have suggested to the poor victim that we should infest in some AV software for the printers just to get him off the phone.

Of course by then the poor victim was in his stride determined to get to the bottom of this and decided to check every printer throughout the company and as you can imagine he was greeted by similar virus alert messages on each one he checked. I can't remember if he ever did try to buy the software but I'm pretty sure he never discovered it was all just a prank.
Sunday, 15 June 2008

PostHeaderIcon Photos: Portugal, June 2008

Friday, 13 June 2008

PostHeaderIcon The Joy of SEx

SEx = Sat-nav Experiences/Expeditions/anything else you can think of beginning Ex… (lame I know but got your attention didn’t it)

Tomtom (the sat-nav software not the little drums) is great, it makes navigating in a strange area dead simple, especially a foreign country where the signs aren't always immediately obvious. Probably too simple really as we become to rely on it just a little too much and follow Jane's relaxed soothing instructions without a second thought.

We've been in Portugal and decided one day to drag ourselves away from the chore that is sitting by the pool slowly getting intoxicated (in fact as I write this I am still in Portugal sat by the pool slowly getting intoxicated so if it all becomes nonsense please forgive me) and instead do a little bit of sight seeing in some local villages. Not knowing the area that well I put all the locations on our itinerary into tomtom before setting off.

Our first stop was a little church on the edge of town that is supposed to have the most amazing interior and so we decided to check it out as it was on the way to our main destination. (There doesn't appear to be a lot else to look at around here other than old churches and castles etc. - maybe I just need a different guide book.) As it was just down the road on the edge of town I didn't feel the need to get my tomtom out. It’s very easy to find, you drive the mile or so to the edge of town and there it is on your left, unmissible, just take the exit and ta-da. I took the exit and suddenly found myself heading back in the opposite direction on the town bypass and a few minutes later driving past the house where we’d set out from. We did a U-turn at the next junction, drove past the house again and got off at the exit where it all went wrong. Only to find that there didn't appear to be anyway of crossing the bypass to reach the church that was on the opposite side of the road. I was about to admit defeat and pulled off the main road so I could get my tomtom out when I instead decided to follow a small unsigned non-descript lane which did eventually meander its way down and under the bypass before coming back up near to the church. The sense of victory was all mine.

The interior of the church was indeed worth seeing I only wish I could have photographed it but there were signs everywhere warning you against using cameras (probably so they can sell you a postcard for 50 cents, which I did buy so I guess it works for them) having paid €2 to get in a think that’s a bit mean, but there you are. I couldn’t even secretly knock a couple of shots off as the ticket lady was very school mistress like and after taking our money pointed to some pews where I think she wanted us to sit (surely she knew weren’t in there to pray, heaven forbid) and then stood in the doorway watching our every move.

When we left I decided it was time for tomtom to do its magic and guide us to our next stop. I wasn’t going through the previous fiasco where the less than 2 mile journey ended up closer to 7 miles. We got 50 yards down the road and tomtom asked us to turn left but unfortunately it was a right turn only so we found ourselves back on the bypass again travelling in the wrong direction. Never mind, one thing that’s great about tomtom is that if you go the wrong way it’ll just correct your route and off you go. Half a mile down the road Janes soothing voice calls out “Right turn ahead… Right turn in 100 yards… Right turn.” Now had I been driving a Chieftain tank or even had we been on foot then the right turn would have been fine (except that it would have only taken us back to the left turn that we couldn’t take) but as we were travelling in a Renault Clio that I expected wouldn’t have been to happy about mounting the 2 foot high concrete barrier between us and some scrub land that led down to a small country lane off to the right I decided that Jane was full of shit and chose to ignore her. She clearly wasn’t happy by the sound of her constant instructions to do a U-turn (though the annoyance never shows in her voice, not like when Emma’s navigating! But that’s another story.) I knew roughly where we wanted to go, there was a motorway a mile or two north which we needed to be on to get back in the opposite direction. As fortune would have it there was a brand new dual-carriageway a little further along which I took to get us back on track, again much to Jane’s annoyance as she seemed to think we were ploughing across some open field or other.

Eventually we arrived at the village we were heading for and drove straight past the site we came to see. Now this wasn’t exactly tomtom’s fault as when setting the route I saw a POI (point of interest) on the map which I just assumed was ours but turned out not to be. Not wanting to think we’d missed out on something I was eager to see exactly what it was that tomtom want to show us so like sheep we followed Jane’s instructions to a T. We soon arrived in what was clearly the ‘old’ part of town built many centuries ago before the invention of the motor car and when she asked us to take a sharp left into what looked like nothing more than a cobbled pavement I was beginning to have my doubts about her sanity but when a scooter shot across our path and down the ‘road’ I assumed it must be navigable to motor vehicles and so did the tricky manoeuvre necessary and followed the scooter. I was feeing kind of relieved that we were only driving a Clio as anything wider would have meant returning the car to Karen and Peter in a state that most garages would usually describe as ‘written off’. After a few very frightening minutes of squeezing down the narrowest of lanes and around the tightest of corners I spotted a car park and decided it was time to cut our losses park up and do the rest of the journey on foot. Well we eventually found our way to tomtom’s POI on foot only to find it was shut for renovation.

By now we were gasping for a drink (but had to make do with Coke) so stopped in a cafĂ© in the town square opposite yet another picturesque church (maybe that really is all there is to see in Portugal?) to refresh. Whilst there I dug out the guide book to show Emma what it as we really came to see only to read that they’d just shut for lunch and wouldn’t open again for another hour and a half. Bugger. We cut our losses and decided to head home to make the most of the remaining pool side intoxication time.

We told tomtom to ‘Navigate to Home’ and off we set. This time she did us proud, managed to avoid the narrow lanes/walkways and get us out of town and back onto the motorway. We were a couple of miles down the motorway when Jane said “Exit ahead”, hmmm I don’t think so I thought, when we came we got onto the motorway a few miles further down, but I followed her lead nevertheless. (as a side issue, ‘nevertheless’ is one of my favourite words – told you I was getting intoxicated didn’t I.) I was once again beginning to trust tomtom’s wisdom when the road suddenly became recognisable and I knew if we followed it we would eventually get to a left turning that would take us back down to the house. That’s when Jane surprised me again with a “Left turn in 100 yards”. By now you’d think I’d say “fuck off Jane I know the way from here thank you very much” but of course I didn’t and instead followed her commands like a perv in a gimp suit at an S&M dungeon.

The ‘road’ we followed carved its way through the countryside before we saw it was taking us back towards the motorway. Bloody hell I thought if tomtom has taken us off the motorway only to take us back on at the next junction (wouldn’t have been the first time) I was not going to be happy. Jane said “At the roundabout take the second exit straight on.” That’s when the paved road suddenly turned into a dirt track that dropped down underneath the motorway and the ‘roundabout’ that Jane talked about was nothing more than the scrubland surrounding the pylons holding up the motorway. As I wasn’t driving that Chieftain tank I went the wrong way around the roundabout only to be greeted with our ‘exit’ which turned out to be a dirt track up the side of a hill with about a 2:1 incline that I think even the Chieftain would have struggled with never mind our little Clio. Had I been driving a Landy with some V8 grunt, a long run up an a tail wind I may have considered giving it a go but I didn’t think the third-party only car insurance we had on the Clio wasn't enough to warrant an attempt. I turned around and went back another way. After we arrived home I examined the map and that dirt track was actually a very good short cut it’s just unfortunate that tomtom is unable to tell the difference between ‘dirt track’ and ‘main road’ at least in Portugal anyway, perhaps in Portugal there isn’t really a proper distinction?
Tuesday, 27 May 2008

PostHeaderIcon Road kill has its season just like anything else

I’ve been neglecting this blog for a while (I wonder how many blog posts start with that remark – and then follow it with this!) so lets kick start things off again.

We got the campervan on the road again this bank holiday weekend, it was only its second outing this year and its second within as many weeks. Last weekends outing, being its first this season, was a bit of a test to check all was running OK and to see what areas might need a bit of attention before having its MOT last week. I fully expected the van to fail the MOT and so thought I’d get all the little niggles fixed at the same time it was in for any work to get it through the test. However much to my surprise and delight the van passed! So off we set this weekend confident that we had a good road worthy vehicle.

We headed off to Pembrey on Saturday - for those that don’t know, Pembrey Country Park is adjacent to Cefn Sidn sands our favourite beach and probably the best parakarting beach in the whole of the UK – with high hopes for the weekend, the weather was good (for Saturday at least), the tides were right and the wind was strong. When we were there last weekend there was no wind at all which was a disappointment.

When we arrived the weather was great and we headed straight to the beach to make the most of the good conditions. There were already a lot of parakarters on the beach as it was a CLSC Meet weekend and as I approached the flying zone I had a look out for what others were flying as it’s always a good indication of what the wind conditions are like and what kite to unpack first. Someone was flying a Flexifoil Viper which I guessed to be 3-4 metres (I later realised it was only a 2m) and so thought our old 4m Sky Tiger (the predecessor to the Viper) might be a good choice as it’s a good solid dependable kite and doesn’t give you to many surprises especially in the gusty wind we were experiencing.

So off I set down the beach and I hadn’t gone far when I was beginning to regret the choice, there were some very strong gusts that made it very difficult for me to keep hold of the handles and kept pulling the buggy sideways and almost tipping it. I was also picking up quite a bit more speed than I was comfortable with and after a kilometre or so I thought oh shit, I am not going to be able to turn this buggy at this speed so I slowly took the kite out of the power zone and when I’d slowed to a crawl I dropped the kite back into the power and turned to spin the buggy when a particular vicious gust of wind decide now would be a good time to teach me a lesson and I was ripped sideways out of the buggy and dumped onto the hard sand, the buggy flipped and landed on my legs before I was dragged unceremoniously down the beach whilst I struggled to bring the kite under control. It really was a struggle as well, I think the brake lines may be too long.

Anyway, I dusted myself down, got back into the buggy and gingerly made my way back up the beach. I was slowly coming to a stop at base camp when the wind died causing the kite to collapse and tie itself in a knot which then became a whirligig of a propeller once the wind picked up again and spun franticly out of control. I was again, rather embarrassingly, pulled out of my buggy and dragged across the beach right in front of everyone. The spinning kite was generating so much power that I just couldn’t hold on and as a last resort I just had to let go of one of the handles. I don’t think I’ve ever had to resort to that before as it really is a last resort resulting in one hell of a twisted knotted mess.

Again I gathered myself and the kite and tried for a while to untangle the mess when Emma joined me to help sort things out. We came to the conclusion that it would be impossible to sort out in the high winds on the beach and decided to pack it away and try later back at the campsite. It was then that we heard a shout from behind and turned to see an unmanned kite making its way rapidly down the beach towards the sea with just its handles dragging along the sand. Being the closest to the kite and also trying to recoup some street cred I set off at speed to try and catch it and after what must have been the fastest 100m sprint I’ve ever done and close to death (I’m not as fit as I should be) I was about to give up the chase when the kite slowed down and with an extra spurt of energy I managed to catch it just before it reached the water. I was left holding the kite for ages before anyone, including the kite’s owner bothered to come and help out and even then I didn’t get a proper thank you from the owner. Miserable sods the lot of them.

We didn’t stay on the beach much longer after that as the wind got even choppier and gustier which wasn’t very conducive to having a good time. We made our way back to the campsite and had a pleasant evening untangling lines, barbecuing and drinking.

Over night the weather broke and it pissed down with rain all night long and the following morning it looked like it was probably set in for the rest of the weekend so we decided to cut our losses and head for home. We set off and I managed to persuade Emma that we didn’t need to stop to do some shopping, so making good progress I thought I’d manage to get home in time for the start of the Monaco Grand Prix.

We were heading down the motorway when I remarked to Emma at the extraordinary number of broken down cars there appeared to be along the route. It’s a phenomenon you see every bank holiday weekend, whilst roads are busier than usual they are probably no busier than any normal weekday rush hour. The difference being the cars on the road during a normal rush hour do that journey day-in day-out whereas on a bank holiday you have a lot of vehicles on the road that are overloaded and have probably travelled a lot further than they normally do. I was discussing this with Emma hoping I wasn’t tempting fate (not that I believe in any superstitious mumbo jumbo) when the van started making a funny noise which at first sounded like a rough road surface but it then soon became apparent that it was in fact a blow out when it got scarily loud and the van started to lurch around. I steered the van onto the hard shoulder and got out to be greeted with a tyre that was in shreds with most of it littered all over the carriageway.

We fortunately stopped near an emergency phone and so I called for the RAC who came out fairly quickly and changed the tyre for us. I wasn’t happy doing it myself on the busy motorway and my jack probably wouldn’t have been strong enough to lift the fully loaded van anyway.

So all in all not the most successful of weekends.
Friday, 23 May 2008

PostHeaderIcon Alcoholometer

My goal for 2008 is to have more days without than days with alcohol. It's going to be tough because it's almost guaranteed that I'll have a drink every Friday, Saturday and Sunday which means I therefore can only have a drink on one other day of the week every other week just to achieve 50%. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think it's unachievable!
Comment:I have officially thrown in the towel.
Thursday, 1 May 2008

PostHeaderIcon Bloggy 'ell

My boss in work approached me the other day and mentioned it had been brought to his attention that a blog existed the contents of which could be defamatory and bring the company into disrepute. Having written one or two work related anecdotes in this blog, my first thought was 'oh bloody hell, which in-duh-vidual have I pissed off this time!' But no, as it transpired the supposed content of the said blog was nothing at all to do with anything I've ever written about. So breathing a sigh of relief I eagerly set about trying to track down this other blog. I must admit a little bit of disappointment that after using all my search know how and voodoo I was unable to track down anything anywhere on the Internet. I did however uncover this little gem, though who they are talking about and even if it is our company (there's more than one with the same name) I can't be sure.
“Will there be free beer again?” I asked.
“You’re not gonna stand outside the barriers smoking all the time, are you?” Jim asked.
“Maybe. That cunt from CompanyX won’t be there, will he?”
“Which cunt?”
“That cunt that was there last time. I fucking hated him.” He pestered me while I was smoking. Thought he was brilliant. I loathe people like him and made no attempt to conceal it when he made small talk with me in July.
“Ah, yeah – no, he won’t be there.”
“Good. Let’s go.”
Anyway, this did get me thinking about whether there are any possible ramifications to anything I've ever written about in this blog as there have been a couple of posts where I've been a little bit critical of people I have the greatest of pleasure working with.

Is anything I've ever written defamatory? I don't think so as no real names have ever been mentioned, it's probably only the people I've written about that could identify themselves. And besides, by definition if it's true it's not defamatory!

Could anything I've ever written bring the company into disrepute? Again I don't think so as I never mention who it is I work for and any details that identify them get changed. OK, so some work colleagues may read this and they'll know who I work for but I don't think that matters as it's only stuff that I'd openly speak about to anybody in work who could be bothered to listen to my ramblings.

I've just done my research and am a little happier now I know that in almost every case where a person has been dismissed for supposedly bringing their employer into disrepute for blogging that almost all of them have won their unfair dismissal cases, and these were people who were very open and critical about who they worked for. So I should be safe with my little occasional rant.

By the way, did I mention I work for the most wonderful company in the world and I only wish I could mention who they are so I could recommend you all go out and buy the excellent products right away!
Friday, 11 April 2008

PostHeaderIcon Bright Lights

We've had new lights installed in our office as the others were to dim; now it's like being in a solarium! Our only recourse to prevent blinding headaches and allow us to see our screens is to sit underneath umbrellas.
Monday, 21 January 2008

PostHeaderIcon How to make the perfect Chili, Redux

There is an update to this post, published here.

This is an update to my original post on How to make the perfect Chili. That recipe has been the basis for my chili for many years now but I'm always playing around with it looking for new ways to improve it and I have now settled on a slight variation to the original which I think is more perfect.

Here it is - to serve 3-4.

What you'll need:
  • 1 packet of Old El Paso Chili seasoning (this isn't cheating, it's a damn good mix)
  • 1 large red onion
  • 500g lean minced beef (fresh not frozen, this is very important)
  • 200ml of Jack Daniels
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tin of black eyed beans or pinto beans, drained. (Don't ever use kidney beans)
  • 1/3 jar of Peppadew peppers

What you do:
  • Finely chop the onion and gently fry for few minutes in a couple of tablespoons of mild olive oil
  • Mix in the chili seasoning and fry off a bit to release the flavours.
  • Pour in the Jack Daniels - being careful not to flambĂ© it - and let it reduce until you have a nice syrupy consistency. This will be quite quick as the alcohol evaporates and your house will stink of liquor!
  • Crumble the minced beef into the frying pan being careful to retain nice chunky meat morsels (which is why you cannot use frozen mince) gently fold it in and let it brown on one side before gently turning to brown on the other (do not stir, it breaks up the chunks!)
  • Make sure the meat is well coated with the syrup and allow to simmer for five minutes
  • Poor over the chopped tomatoes, beans and Peppadew peppers, gently fold in and allow to simmer for another 15 minutes

Server in a bowl with garlic bread and a good bottle of wine, Wolf Blass Yellow Label cab sav works well.


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