Monday, 31 December 2007
Wednesday, 26 December 2007
Saturday, 22 December 2007
Thursday, 6 December 2007
I need some time off really to catch up on personal stuff. Fortunately I have some coming up. During this time I'll hopefully write a proper post for this blog. Just wanted to let any readers know that I haven't disappeared off the face of the earth.
Monday, 26 November 2007
Now while a few years ago the thought of me picking up any kind of dry business magazine would have probably horrified me, but this magazine is different. For one thing it isn't dry. There's a good mix of articles, the odd touch of humour, and a good combination of shorter columns with longer features.
If you re-read my last paragraph you'll see it doesn't actually say very much. Why exactly do I like this magazine? Simple - because every time I read it I feel like I learn something from it. Take this snippet from an interview with Eddy Joseph from the October issue:
"... your world is run by people: get on with them and don't rock the boat."
Duh! How obvious on reflection. When I'm fighting through red tape and procedures at work I can easily find myself forgetting about people. Simple. In the weeks since I read that I feel that has helped me already, and that is just one piece of wisdom from one edition. Like so many other things, it is something I knew already, but reminders of these simple truths every once in a while come in handy.
Wednesday, 24 October 2007
Yep, because I'm going to pay $50 for something which I can get from a recognised blogging platform like Wordpress for nothing.
I don't care how community orientated it might be, given the choice I'll take the option of the expert in the field. Plus the price is better, always a benefit.
Hmm, makes me wonder why I paid for vBulletin for forums when there are free alternatives? Years of familiarity with the product and a trusted reputation, which sounds an awful lot like many people's experience with Wordpress, only without any payment.
It seems to me like vBulletin are stretching themselves for more income here. What's more while they work on blogging their users' most repeated request seems to be for a vB CMS, which would make a lot more sense. But why let that stand in the way of the bottom line?
Wednesday, 17 October 2007
Anyway, here's a few financial lessons I've learnt since I got married. For those of you who are single and hate reading things relating to marriage don't worry, I think they're useful regardless of marital status.
As friends of ours will know, when Lorraine and I had been married for just over a year we had the good fortune to adopt our dog, Cookie. Shortly after the following New Year he started limping a bit. Unable to think about anything else I took him to the vet's, where an injection quickly resolved the issue. The cost? Not much, but it was just after Christmas. Not a good time for us.
At the time we had to think where we were going to get the money from. We managed it, but it showed we needed to think ahead for such incidents.
Now we put aside a certain figure each month into an account titled "Pet Care". It's currently in a Halifax Web Saver, which is great for such purposes as the funds can be instantly transferred to a current account as well as earning a healthy amount of interest.
In addition to putting money away we also use a planner calendar so we're aware of what costs might be coming up, e.g. every October we know Cookie has to go and get his boosters.
Making Interest Work In Our Favour
Just after the New Year in our first calendar year of married life we bumped into another recently married couple in our local supermarket. They mentioned that they were saving for Christmas through the supermarket's Christmas savings card. Good idea we thought, drip feed it, make Christmas a progressive cost instead of taking one big hit at the time itself.
Only we improved on that idea. Without giving away names our supermarket allows you to save £144 and then get a £6 bonus just prior to Christmas. Any other interest on that they keep, and you get £6 on the card regardless of whether you reach £144 on February 1st or November 1st. Now we put aside money for Christmas into a savings account each month, get the card just before the bonus date, and keep the interest for ourselves.
Along with that we've also committed to saving for cars ourselves in cash. Along with having interest working in our favour it also helps us when it comes to the actual purchase and we don't have to delve through small print on any finance agreement.
Not Keeping Up With The Joneses
Speaking of cars, after they had been married for a few years my brother-in-law and his wife turned up at my in-laws with a relatively new Honda CR-V. Once they left I was very matter-of-fact with my father-in-law, saying that we wouldn't be changing our car just yet, and once we did it wouldn't be a car like that (being fair my father-in-law didn't have a problem with that - we're quite like-minded that way).
We left everyone else to do the ooo-ing and aah-ing. We did that when we found out what they were forking out in monthly payments. I still ponder whether it was a factor in their eventual divorce.
We miss out on certain things, but we live within our means. We have to hear about the way some people live their lives (especially a former friend of Lorraine's who had her husband working sixty-hour weeks while she went out spending his money lavishly), but we have stuck with it for our long-term good.
Know the Price You Want to Pay
I'm pretty sure I read this in Moneyball somewhere (although search after search proved fruitless), but there was a basic principle that Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane followed - know your value of each player down to the dollar and what you would give up to acquire that player.
I now have a pretty similar system. When saving for a car I know roughly how much I want to save. When saving for a new TV last year I knew how much I was prepared to pay.
There's also something interesting with technology when you're saving for something - prices come down (providing you don't mind not keeping up with the Joneses), and often your savings and the price of the item you want meet in the middle.
Recently I was looking for a new digital camera, and had a price in mind that I was willing to pay. When high street stores started selling it for that price I knew I could do better. When one online retailer ran out of stock when selling it for 25% less than the high street price I didn't regret not buying one, because I thought it would come back in stock. It did, and my saving had now reached that level. I saved 30% on the cost I was willing to pay.
Just a few things I've learnt, I hope they come in handy for anyone reading.
Tuesday, 16 October 2007
About five minutes into last night's episode on Sky One we saw what was in box sent to Lincoln - the severed head of Dr Sara Tancredi, my favourite character in the show.
Never mind that she was my favourite character in the show, this also seemed like a daft time to bump her off. In series two she survived a drug overdose, a secret agent turning up in her apartment trying to kill her, and then Agent Kellerman trying to drown her in a bathtub while also electrocuting her with a live iron.
Furthermore how come she is the one with her head cut off, while LJ (kidnapped with her) is seemingly fine?
Okay, so contract issues play a part in this, and actress Sarah Wayne Callies wasn't returning to the show, but the character deserved a better ending than this. It's a big shame.
Thursday, 11 October 2007
Friday - 7.30pm (Cookie's boosters at the vet)
Monday - 6.30pm (MOT, after leaving work early though)
Tuesday - 7.30pm (Parents night at Nursery + trip to supermarket)
Wednesday - 7.45pm (Haircut)
No wonder I'm knackered - I haven't got any time to do anything!
I should also add that Cookie's boosters and the MOT are two of my most worrying times of the year, so on top of being worn out I'm also stressed out. It isn't good.
Wednesday, 26 September 2007
Motherwell is ultimately an important place for Lorraine and I. She works there, while I get the train into work from there. There are effectively three ways we can get there, which are:
1) Downhill out of the village, briefly on the A71, then the A72 and then the M74.
2) Out of the village at the other end, through Wishaw, past the Caledonian Retail Park and down under the railway bridge.
3) As above, but carrying on through Wishaw, turning right onto Shields Road and carrying on down into Motherwell.
(Arguably there are other ways, but those are my three options).
At the moment route 1 has roadworks on the A71, route 2 has Glasgow Road closed at the Caledonian Retail Park, thus pushing most of the traffic from routes 1 and 2 onto route 3. It isn't very funny. In fact I would say it is ridiculously stupid planning. Lorraine and I went on route 3 yesterday morning and it took twice as long as normally. Even with allowing extra time I was nearly late for work.
Bit of forethought next time please road planners, and if the problem is due to the problem areas being separately in North and South Lanarkshire a bit of communication between the two councils would be welcome.
Sunday, 2 September 2007
Here's the important detail of the project: I'm not planning to fund it through my wages (or Lorraine's for that matter).
"Huh?" I hear you ask. "How are you going to do that?" Well, let's call this my guide to earning a bit extra for little treats.
1) Google Adsense.
Sensible web advertising. You get money for clicks, not for unlikely and costly sales. Furthermore they're presented in text, not garish and intrusive flash (yes, Yahoo! Mail, I'm talking about you).
The payments aren't huge, and you have to earn a minimum of $100 to get a payment, but it is a program I'd recommend.
2) Amazon Associates.
The program I've used for longest. If you are going to get money for clicks, why not use the UK's leading online retailer?
Simple to implement, easy to follow reports and payouts begin at a more than reasonable £10.
3) Money for opinions.
Being realistic, when it comes to a stick or two of memory the solutions above probably aren't the answer. However what I've found to be a quick and easy way to a little bit extra is to share opinions with people who want them.
I'm not talking about opinion surveys (not too quick in my experience) or consumer websites (where the payments are so small to not make them worthwhile), I'm talking about the magazine market.
It might not sound like much to get £5/£10/£15 for an e-mail, but think of the possible time/reward ratio. I might send an e-mail to a TV magazine which takes me about a minute (or possibly less) to type and send. It's usually something Lorraine and I are discussing anyway, all I'm doing is transcribing thoughts and sending them to an e-mail address I've kept handy.
If you've got opinions why not try your luck? The worst that can happen is that the e-mail isn't published and you don't get paid.
(Actually the worst thing that can happen is that a magazine can ask for a photo of you to accompany what you've written, but that's another matter entirely.)
Friday, 10 August 2007
It led to a bit of web surfing, and it made me realise that I've never mentioned David O'Brien's excellent Braves blog. It's impartial reporting that you don't get on the Braves official site (understandable), plus it frequently throws up some funny stuff from life on the road, like this from yesterday:
Oh, forgot to tell you guys, a cab driver took Villarreal and Escobar to the stadium this morning, only it was Yankee Stadium. He was Middle Eastern, Escobar speaks almost no English, and Villarreal was cussing in Spanglish. Ah, if only it were a Taxicab Confessions cab with the camera in place to record that for us all.
David O'Brien cracks me up with stuff like that.
(Notes for non-Baseball fans: Yunel Escobar is Cuban and Oscar Villarreal is Mexican.)
Another site which usually cracks me up is Deadspin, but it does have more than it's fair share of Mets fans. I hope they all enjoyed Chipper's 470-foot bomb (as Kevin Costner said in Bull Durham, "Something travelling that far ought to have a stewardess on it, don't ya think?"). To paraphrase Kevin Keegan, I would love it, LOVE IT if we beat them to the NL East division title this year.
Finally, as David O'Brien frequently ends blog posts with some appropriate song lyrics, I felt as a tribute to him that I should do the same.
M.C. Hammer - U Can't Touch This
You can't touch this (Repeat 5x)
My, my, my, my music hits me so hard
Makes me say "Oh my Lord"
Thank you for blessing me
With a mind to rhyme and two hyped feet
It feels good, when you know you're down
A super dope homeboy from the Oaktown
And I'm known as such
And this is a beat, uh, you can't touch
I told you homeboy (You can't touch this)
Yeah, that's how we're living and you know (You can't touch this)
Look in my eyes, man (You can't touch this)
Yo, let me bust the funky lyrics (You can't touch this)
Fresh new kicks, and pants
You got it like that, now you know you wanna dance
So move, outta your seat
And get a fly girl and catch this beat
While it's rolling, hold on
Pump a little bit and let 'em know it's going on
Like that, like that
Cold on a mission so pull on back
Let 'em know, that you're too much
And this is a beat, uh, you can't touch
Yo, I told you (You can't touch this)
Why you standing there, man? (You can't touch this)
Yo, sound the bell, school is in, sucka (You can't touch this)
Give me a song, or rhythm
Make 'em sweat, that's what I'm giving 'em
Now, they know
When you talk about the Hammer you talk about a show
That's hyped, and tight
Singers are sweating so pass them a mic
Or a tape, to learn
What it's gonna take in the 90's to burn
The charts? Legit
Either work hard or you might as well quit
That's the word because you know...
You can't touch this (Repeat 2x)
Break it down! (Music breaks down) Stop, Hammer time!
Go with the flow, it is said
That if you can't groove to this then you probably are dead
So wave your hands in the air
Bust a few moves, run your fingers through your hair
This is it, for a winner
Dance to this and you're gonna get thinner
Move, slide your rump
Just for a minute let's all do the bump, bump, bump, bump
Yeah... (You can't touch this)
Look, man (You can't touch this)
You better get hyped, boy, because you know (You can't touch this)
Ring the bell, school's back in
Break it down! (Music breaks down) Stop, Hammer time!
You can't touch this (Repeat 3x)
Break it down! (Music breaks down) Stop, Hammer time!
Every time you see me
The Hammer's disco hype
I'm dope on the floor and I'm magic on the mic
Now why would I ever stop doing this?
With others making records that just don't hit
I've toured around the world, from London to the Bay
It's "Hammer, go Hammer, MC Hammer, yo Hammer"
And the rest can go and play
You can't touch this (Repeat 7x)
Tuesday, 7 August 2007
Today I was looking for some more CD-RWs. One of my current ones is a bit nicked-up, and on it's way out, so I wanted to get a replacement for burning podcasts onto and listening to in the car.
Normally I get my CD-RWs from a shop in Wishaw. The cost? 60p. Unfortunately I can't really get there during the week, so I took a look for them in Glasgow. After taking a look in two hard-to-find stores (one of the upsides of working in Glasgow, although they're a bit of a trek) which didn't have them I headed back to the city centre.
Finally I found some individual CD-RWs. The cost? £2.99! I think I'll wait until the weekend to get some more.
Tuesday, 24 July 2007
The good news? A search at Amazon seems to indicate that multi-region DVD players are now pretty cheap. Certainly they're considerably cheaper than they were when we bought our one six years ago.
The lesson here is that technology always gets cheaper, and so it isn't worth stretching yourself to get it. In fact when I have saved for items I have found that my savings and a price dropping have met at a satisfactory middle ground. For instance the digital camera that I want to upgrade to is dropping significantly on some sites, so hopefully it might even be less than it currently is when I finally choose to buy it (here's hoping anyway).
Monday, 23 July 2007
After receiving it I put it in a case, and then put it in front of my collection of baseballs (but behind pictures of my wife and daughter).
Bit different than just getting a t-shirt!
If any Ducks fans read this they should still be able to find plenty of these on eBay at reasonable prices with reasonable postage charges. This is the guy I got mine from.
Friday, 20 July 2007
With that in mind I got to work on what you can see above you. I'm sure it will develop in time, but for the moment this will do the job.
Wednesday, 18 July 2007
One such entry that was definitely for an American readership was the one on property renting/buying. While an interesting read it appeared that the American market is skewed towards renting, because it looks like renters don't pay property taxes. Over here renters still have to pay Council Tax themselves - there goes that advantage!
I'm pleased to have bought. Most of my friends have bought. The one friend I can think of who is still renting is paying a reasonable price, but I wouldn't say he is getting a lot for his money.
And yet there does seem to be a groundswell of people who think that owning is a peculiar British obsession. Never mind the fact that you're not held ransom to a landlord's whim to raise the rent (especially if you're on a fixed-rate mortgage), for me the big thing about getting a mortgage is the fact that one day that expense will stop. As a friend of mine said a long time ago, "Why pay someone else's mortgage when you can pay your own instead?" At the very worst I'll have my current mortgage paid off shortly after my 48th birthday (I want it to be paid off sooner).
Let's stop all the talk about houses as investments in opposition to shares. Houses are homes, and I'd sooner be owning mine and doing pretty much what I want with it.
There are downsides (that'll be the boiler again!) but on the whole I'm happy that I bought my home nine years ago. It isn't a decision I regret.
Friday, 13 July 2007
This is the move: I'm moving from LiveJournal to Blogger.
The reasons for this are simple, and as follows:
Yes, you could pick your own colours with LiveJournal, but could you add in a Technorati badge, a link to add your blog to someone's My Yahoo! page? Nope. You can with Blogger. In fact you can add pretty much whatever you want to add. That's an enormous plus in my opinion.
2) All the pages look the same.
Go to an individual entry on my LiveJournal and you end up at a generic page. Here the themes carry over. That's a big difference in terms of identity and flavour.
3) There are more people here.
My friends Matt and Pamela have had blogs here for a while, and I'm sure I'll find other friends here soon. I already seem to have had more comments over here than I ever had on my LiveJournal.
I'm not saying that Blogger is perfect (feel free to ask me what I thought flagging a blog was about!), but it's a big improvement on LiveJournal, and it does what I need it to do along with most that I would like it to do.
I've moved a lot of my old posts already, as well as Furling everything else so should anything happen to it I have a backup. Farewell and thank you LiveJournal, hello Blogger!
Saturday, 23 June 2007
Thursday, 21 June 2007
Anyway, I thought I would chip in on the topic of Social Bookmarking. The favourite of many (including .net magazine, who mention it at the expense of all others) is del.ico.us. Now del.ico.us isn't bad, and I like that you don't have to log in to see a lot of links, and I've found other handy links through the tagging system.
However there are annoyances, my main one being that you can't have (at least from what I've seen) a multi-word tag. Therefore items like Crystal Palace and Fantasy Baseball aren't ideal for del.icio.us.
My personal preference is for a site called Furl. Furl supports multi-word tagging, private bookmarks and also keeps a cached version of a page you save (which I really liked when ESPN used to make Bill Simmons' archive available only to site subscribers). Therefore it is ideal for individual articles, in case they should move or be deleted.
For some reason Furl doesn't seem to like IE6 (at least at work) but on the whole I prefer it, especially as I generally use Firefox.
So in summary, del.icio.us for main site links, Furl for individual articles.
My del.icio.us links
My Furl archive
Wednesday, 30 May 2007
The Apprentice, 9pm Wednesdays, BBC1
Another compelling series, featuring everything from the competant (Kristina), the nutty (Tre) and the downright nasty (Katie).
Dream Team, 8pm Sundays, Sky One
The final series in drawing to a close, and with a big assist from our Sky+ box I've managed to see every episode of this series.
Sadly the green arrow indicating the series link option is no longer against the next entry on our personal planner. That's because the next episode is the last one ever. On the heels of the best episode of the series to date that's pretty sad.
Lots of questions remain unanswered. Will Harchester win the Premiership? Will Jason and Katy get back together? Will anyone other than Amy discover that Danny is Dragonslayer, and what happens with the cans of petrol and the lighter that he's carrying?
Featured last year...
Prison Break is still a programme I watch out for. However I downloaded the first twelve episodes before they were shown here, until my dvd writing software decided it didn't like my new dual-layer dvd writer. I've got about five episodes on our Sky+ box but I know we've missed one somewhere, so I'll have to download them to see them all. It's better without ads anyway.
Wednesday, 9 May 2007
After years of using trusty Pegasus Mail, I'm in the process of switching to Mozilla Thunderbird. I've been using (and recommending) Mozilla's Firefox browser for ages, but now I'm going to be using their mail client as well.
The exporting of nearly nine year's worth of folders (I rarely delete e-mails from friends) is going to take some time, but I'll get there. The reasons I'm moving are:
1) Better support for multiple e-mail addresses. With Pegasus I'd be swapping over between mailboxes. No need with Thunderbird, which handles this pretty easily.
2) Better HTML support. While this was secure with Pegasus, it was pretty awkward, and e-mails didn't necessarily render particularly well. Thunderbird works well on incoming (if you choose) and outgoing messages.
That's really all the reasons I have, but they're pretty big reasons in terms of making my life easier. There are a few things I'd like to see in Thunderbird (multiple signatures, selective mail downloading) but I suspect I'll find those in due course in various extensions that are available. Plus I'm still getting used to using it!
There's another move I'm working on, but that can wait for another time.
Friday, 4 May 2007
Glad to be done with 31 if I'm honest. I was thinking back over the year the day before and can't say it has been particularly glorious/momentous. Not much I can do about it now but hopefully can head in a different direction in the year to come.
The thing is that parenthood is pretty consuming. You need to remember that life goes on around it, and that there are other things you can do to make parenthood even more enjoyable.
(Hope that this has been vague enough to cover up any dissatisfaction about my career. Oops!)
Tuesday, 3 April 2007
A few days after this (I'm not sure exactly how much earlier) came the Budget. How I laughed when I found out that my brother-in-law would be paying £300 this year and £400 next year to tax his (needless, for him anyway) Chelsea Tractor!
A few nights ago I logged onto the directgov website to pay my car tax, and found out that because I was paying it post-Budget it would now cost me £140. Very good. I wasn't happy, but figured that I probably deserved it for laughing at my brother-in-law.
Anyway, according to my calculations that's a 12% rise in car tax. I thought they were meant to be tackling gas guzzlers, not 1.2l family cars? As per usual I'll have to try and find that money from somewhere, but it is just another way to get money into the Government's coffers stealthily.
Here I should mention that I don't have an affiliation towards a political party. I remember the Conservatives consistently hiking up the price of petrol, bringing down student grants and other such measures which have made my life harder financially. All political parties do the same one way or another: give with one hand, try and take with the other when they think we're not paying attention.
What I don't understand is the way the media seem to have reported the 2p cut in the basic rate of tax. They all seem to be saying, "It's marvellous!" without any mention of the elimination of the starting 10p rate of tax. Once again, giving with one hand, taking with the other.
If I was really smart/ruthless I'd flee this country in a second, honestly. However it's where my life is, where my family is and where my home is. For the most part I like living here, I just wish it wasn't so expensive sometimes. I'm sure I'm just one of the many people Her Majesty's Government bank on thinking this way.
Sunday, 11 March 2007
In response to this post on Lifehacker I thought I'd post how I organise my bookmarks.
I really only use Firefox at home and it is pretty easy to backup your bookmarks with that, so I don't really use anything else (although I'm beginning to dabble with social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us). I put my links within the following folders (sub folders as indicated) on Firefox:
Bookmarks Toolbar Folder
Firefox and Mozilla
Friends' Home Pages
Personal Home Pages
Radio & Music
Hmm, could probably do with being slighly more organised. Something to work on.
Thursday, 8 March 2007
On Monday... I can't actually remember what I did on Monday. It seems like a long time ago (not kidding). I remember being up later than I planned to be though - I think Lorraine and I were assembling a list of possible questions for nurseries.
On Tuesday my in-laws were round, so my father-in-law and I found ourselves watching the Liverpool-Barcelona game (well worth it, very enjoyable) while Lorraine and her Mum bathed Chloe (n.b. Chloe wasn't in the bath for ninety minutes, although she would do if she had the choice as she's defintely a water baby). They stayed longer than we expected and then I had a bunch of forms to fill out. Another late one!
Last night Lorraine was out with Lucy for an Orange Wednesday at the cinema, so I was looking after Chloe for the evening. We were having a great time together along with Cookie, until eventually Chloe conked out as she finished her milk and fell asleep beside me on the sofa. With Chloe asleep I took advantage of Sky Sports' interactive coverage of the Champions League to flick between three games (Manchester United-Lille, Arsenal-PSV and A.C. Milan-Celtic). And there were still things to do when Lorraine got home - arrrrggghhhh!
Lorraine's working tonight so it's another evening with Chloe and getting very little done at home. My to-do list is getting longer, not shorter. I'm not particularly happy about it.
Saturday, 10 February 2007
1) I've never really had difficulty not finding anything I wanted to find via the standard Windows Search, regardless of the operating system (I've used Windows 95, Windows 98 and now Windows XP at home, NT and 2000 at work). This isn't offering me anything better in that respect.
2) When I'm playing Games (not often these days, admittedly) I use a different log-in and close all other applications down. Most of the applications which start automatically (things like anti-virus software, firewall, soundcard settings) can be shut down from the status bar. If you right-click on the Google Desktop Search icon it opens a web page and doesn't offer any option to quit the program. To actually close Google Desktop Search it seems that you have to CTRL-ALT-DEL into Task Manager, then close the program from there.
3) My biggest issue with Google Desktop Search? Just out of habit I tend to password-protect all my Word documents. Google Desktop Search makes that just about pointless, as password-protected files are hidden from the search, and a preview of the file can be seen in the results page!
Normally I'm a fan of what Google do, especially the growing Docs & Spreadsheets web interface. However Google Desktop Search doesn't really do anything for me. Just the opposite in fact. What I really need to do with it is to uninstall it.
Saturday, 13 January 2007
One thing I love about buying films or TV series on DVD as opposed to VHS is all the bonus content that comes with it. A set of good extras is sometimes the difference between buying a DVD or leaving it on the shelf to me.
So when I made the big mistake of stepping into HMV during a sale and saw that the DVD of A Few Good Men was packed full of extras I left quickly, thought about it for a few days and then returned to pick up a copy. I love the film anyway, so why not pick it up?
Anyway, the most interesting extra on the DVD is a section relating to the adaption of the original play to a screenplay. While the parts with director Rob Reiner are somewhat interesting I found the interview with writer Aaron Sorkin fascinating. Stories as far apart as putting original ideas on napkins while he was writing the original play (which working as a bartender) to struggling to convert to a screenplay format. Very, very interesting. Highly recommended.
P.S. Typical, I recommend Sorkin and then I go to his wikipedia page which mentions he has some interesting ways of getting inspiration. Still a good writer though.