Friday, March 27, 2015

The Friday Question

Just a reminder that Royal Mail's prices are going up on Monday (30th), so stock up on stamps if you need to!

The non-denominational stamps are valid for their marked service (1st or 2nd) indefinitely, irrespective of their colour.

First class standard size up to 100g will now be 63p, and large 95p.
Second class up to 100g will be 54p and 74p.

While I may be in a small minority in thinking that this is still truly amazing value, I cannot believe the new prices that they will be charging for parcels.

I use Collect+ to send parcels now, and have never had, or heard of, a problem with them.

When receiving parcels, I like DPD as one can track parcels online minute-by-minute. My local driver is Gary (so the website says) and he is the most helpful and courteous delivery driver I've ever met. I recently emailed and told the company that, and he thanked me the next time he delivered to me, so the customer service online team do pass all feedback on, rather than just berating the drivers for people's moans. We had a chat and he told me that many people don't even speak to him (even to say 'thank you') when signing for received parcels. Ah, the modern world.

I hate Hermes, UK Mail, and Yodel (who, I've recently discovered, took over the also-awful but now defunct CityLink, at least in this area) most, but the rest of them can be variable depending on which company particular drivers are working for this week (wherever they haven't yet been sacked from for lying, throwing parcels over gates, deliberately breaking or opening parcels etc etc).

I do think that online and mail-order companies should all have to be clear about who they will be using to send your order, before you place the order. Then one could avoid ordering from companies who use couriers that are problematic in your area.

Who are your good and bad delivery companies?

Posted at 12:50 PM | Comments (3)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Delighted... hear the news from the BBC that they have sacked Clarkson.

I refuse to watch Top Gear as I dislike his attitude intensely. Mr BW has to watch it after I am asleep. I know I am in a small minority here, but young male petrolheads generally need no encouragement to speed, carry out dangerous stunts, or be sexist. Every week local papers around the country are full of tales of teens killed or injured in road accidents. I've known a few myself. The removal of any form of encouragement to consider cars as anything more than means of transport is to be encouraged.

I am still shocked that a million people signed a petition to keep him, without knowing the full facts of the case. Baaaa. Baaaaa. I wonder how any of them would feel were it their partner who had been insulted and physically assaulted at work?

And, current discussions around Clarkson's sacking (seemingly everywhere you read, listen and watch) seem to imply that the majority are OK that the more famous you are the less normal rules should apply to you. I truly despair.

I am also unimpressed by the redesign / further dumbing down of the BBC News website. Can anyone recommend a good, comprehensive, well written, and well researched, alternative?


BW questions: 1

Why is no party campaigning on what they would do to prevent another banking crash? It's still all about dealing with the aftermath of the last one...



Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Oh what a lovely date.

And there will be another next month.


Monday, March 23, 2015


I'm trying to work out how I have used 5000 26/6 staples in the past 4 years and 1 month.

That's over 3 staples per day. I know that I don't use 3 staples a day, or 21 a week.

Oh, the joys of dating things when I start them/insert them (batteries, light bulbs etc etc).

It's the small things that make me happy.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Natural subjects

Fantastic coverage of the eclipse yesterday from the Stargazing Live team, I thought (all of this week's episodes are available on iPlayer for those who are interested and missed them).

For those, like us, who were stuck under cloud, one of their experts was recommending as close to a certain view as you'll ever get: Luxor in Egypt in the summer of 2027 - a three hour total eclipse, with over 6 minutes of totality.

The sun tried to make amends by putting in an appearance late morning, and then providing a coloured sunset - but it was an overly-dilute watercolour effort. 2/10.

I'm always amused when astronomers discuss astrology, and last night's Stargazing revealed that 86% of us were actually born under a different constellation to our assumed 'star sign'. The dates of the ‘star signs’ were fixed over 2,000 years ago, when the zodiac was first devised, as a way of measuring time. Then, they corresponded to the constellation of stars that appeared behind the Sun on the day you were born. But, due to various astronomical phenomena, the constellations have drifted since then.

The calculator here shows that I am not really a Sagittarian, but an Ophiuchian (as is everyone currently alive born between 30th November and 18th December).

The astronomical zodiac actually contains 13 star signs - Ophiuchus (the 'serpent bearer') was deliberately left out of the original zodiac, over 2000 years ago, even though the Sun clearly passes in front of it after passing in front of Scorpius (commonly known as Scorpio) and before reaching Sagittarius. The reason for this is not known, but it may be because ancient astrologers wanted to divide the 360 degree path of the Sun in a mathematically pleasing way - 12 equal parts, each one of 30 degrees. But, the true boundaries that divide the constellations, as described by the International Astronomical Union, are far from equal. For example Ophiuchus is behind the Sun for a full 19 days of the year - which is 12 days more than its neighbour, Scorpius.

Never again will I have to endure someone reading me 'my' horoscope from some tabloid or cheap magazine. "What star sign are you?" "I'm an Ophiuchian!" "That's not listed..." "Exactly!". My only problem will be with remembering how to pronounce it correctly.

Also on natural subjects, on Wednesday we went on a fascinating and inspiring course on Nature Printing. I didn't realise that seventeenth and eighteenth century images of leaves are generally not botanical drawings, but prints. We were shown some two hundred year old books with beautiful prints taken from real plant material specimens. Apparently these were often produced on a subscription basis, with parts being collected, and then bound into books. The last two links explains more.

Working area, with an early print on the lower RHS:

A few of our prints (I mixed and used green ink that almost matched that used for many of the original examples we were shown):

The front and back of each leaf can be printed at once (either by folding the printing paper, or by using two pieces):

A close-up of the sort of detail obtainable (sadly the limitations of 72dpi can't show it well enough):


Friday, March 20, 2015

The Friday Question

So, how far do we have to drive to get out from under this cloud? And, given that I've only just woken up, have we got time to get there?

Mr BW had even located the sheets of welding glass we used in 1999.

Still, at least there is Stargazing Live. And DG.

Roll on 2026...

Update: Here is what we saw during the eclipse:

It did get distinctly darker slowly, and then lighter again much more quickly, but, had we not known that it was an eclipse, we wouldn't have noticed.

Here are the two 'diamond rings' that we should have seen... on the way in...

and on the way out...

Thank goodness for TV.

The sun did finally put in an appearance at 11.45am. I have given it a severe talking to, and it has promised to be good for the rest of the summer.

Happy Equinox!


Monday, March 16, 2015

Not dead, just ill

Mr BW went down with flu a day after the last entry. I followed 36 hours later.

This has ben real, proper flu, the, "I couldn't get out of bed if my life depended on it!" type, and not the heavy cold that most people call flu (in fact, the 'cold' didn't even manifest until 5 or 6 days in).

Two separate people have informed me that there are plagues of it locally, and that it lasts two weeks. Mr BW seems better. I seem to be having a relapse (this may or may not have involved the 400 plug plants that we had to pot up on Saturday). Every time I do something (no matter how small) the throbbing headache comes back. I haven't had such an awful, chronic, headache since 1991 when I had encephalitis after getting severe food poisoning.

In the middle of one particularly achey/coughy/sweaty night last week, I told Mr BW that I needed to be put down; it would be the kindest thing. "I'll do it humanely!" he said. Given his penchant for CSI, Silent Witness and similar genre programmes, this rung alarm bells. "Erm... how?" I enquired nervously, wondering if I should change my mind. "It'll be a surprise!" he said. I'm still worrying...

I am so frustrated, because I felt well, for the first time in several years, when we came back from South Africa. Still, 9 days is better than no days, I suppose.

This amused me (notwithstanding that my own days of doing this have long-gone):


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Another of those BW sagas

I have a suspicion that some people who perceive that they are not very important in the grand scheme of things feel that they need to find ways of exerting their importance.

I had to go into London this morning (a very rare occurrence these days, and one generally avoided at all costs), to attend an important talk of professional significance. I smiled inwardly to myself as I learnt that the things under discussion are finally coming full circle, back to where they were 30 years ago (which is potentially a much better place than they are at now). Actually, I must have smiled wryly outwardly, as the Professor and Head of Centre giving the talk caught me afterwards and quizzed me.

I escaped from her clutches, without giving too much away, and without having definitely agreed to do anything to assist the cause, and, having time to spare before I had to return home, decided to go to the university library a couple of streets away to renew my library card.

"I have free readers' rights," I explained (something that, despite being an alumna, would otherwise cost me £220 annually), "by virute of my membership of professional association." I presented my card. "I think that this might have expired though, as I've not been able to visit for quite a while."

"Where's your proof of membership?" the bored-looking woman behind the desk asked.

"Oh - I thought that was my card, that is in your hand?" I replied.

"No, your proof of membership of professional association!" she said. "The professional association don't send out membership cards any more - it's all done by direct debit and internet lists that are searchable, these days," I informed her.

"Well, you need something to prove you qualify, I can't renew your card without it," the jobsworth said.

"Well, there isn't anything, and you can prove who I am by searching the database online," I suggested. "But, that takes time," she said, "and there is a queue!"

I fixed her with a BW hard stare. There was a pause.

I raised my eyebrows and left them raised, in an assertive, "I'm not leaving until you've sorted this out!" sort of way.

She sighed. "There are lots of people waiting!"

I smiled, a sickly smile. "And I'm at the head of the queue, waiting for you to do a simple internet search, in order to validate my readers' card renewal." She sighed again, more loudly.

She must have decided that I looked like I meant business. I did.

"What's your name?" I told her. She tapped on her computer.

"What's your address?" I told her. She scrolled down a list and hit return.

"What's your email address?" I told her. She peered at her screen.

"How do I know you are who you say you are?"

"Well, apart from the fact that you have my expired readers' card, with my photo on it, in front of you, that I've answered all your questions correctly, and that you can always ask me to sign a piece of paper for you to compare against the signature on the card, I really have no idea!" I said, with just a hint of sarcasm.

"Well, just this once, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt!" she said, inserting my card into a slot which spat it out, duly renewed. She put it on the desk in front of her, rather than into my outstretched hand.

"And just this once, and only because I'm in a hurry, I'm going to give you the benefit of not asking to see your manager to report you for lack of any kind of customer service ethic, intelligence, or ability to do your job in a competent manner!" I growled. "But only this time."