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Miscellaneous

Kebabs, part 2

This evening I went to the other kebab shop near me, which has now reopened following its refurbishment. Sadly they wouldn’t sell me a kebab (probably because I went in two minutes before they closed), so I had the chicken burger instead. It looks like they do a proper “cheap kebab”, but I can’t confirm it at this time.

(Apologies for the short and boring post, but I couldn’t write it yesterday as my web host was down, and I’ve been at the pub this evening.)

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Miscellaneous

Kebabs

Sometimes I blog some top notch investigative work (if I do say so myself), sometimes I blog about kebabs.

There are two kebab shops near me. These are both the “cheap-take-away-type-of-kebab-with-piles-of-cheap-meat-stuffed-into-cheap-pitta-bread” types of kebab shop.

There’s also a Mediterranean restaurant near me, which features kebabs on its menu. I often forget it does takeaway as it’s more of a restaurant, but it does also do takeaway. Because it’s also a proper restaurant, it’s a much more upmarket place than the two other kebab shops. On a visit to this restaurant kebab shop last year, I was suprised that it served its takeaway kebabs deconstructed with the meat in one container, the salad in another and the bread as a separate roll. As I say I was suprised, but chalked this one up to it being a more upmarket restaurant kind of place.

Recently, one of the two kebab shops was closed for refurbishment for a really long time and it seemed like it would never reopen but it did. Last week I went for the first time since it reopened and it definitely looks better inside than it did. However, the kebab was now served deconstructed.

It now looks much more like the meal from the upmarket restaurant kebab place. The cheap pitta has been replaced with a chunk of bread, the meat is served in a separate tub and the price is probably higher (I can’t remember exactly what it was before). Either way, it’s no longer the same experience of having a kebab. I guess I’ll just have to go to the other kebab shop instead…

But no, that one is also now closed for refurbishment. What if that one decides to go ‘upmarket’? What if that one starts selling deconstructed kebabs? Where am I going to go for my cheap low quality kebabs?

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Miscellaneous

A History of Mobile Phones

Whilst I wait for my mobile phone to be repaired/replaced, I thought I’d look back in a retrospective of all my previous phones.

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Siemens A50

Siemens A50

I got my first mobile phone on my 15th birthday. Phones didn’t do much more than phone calls/texts in those days, but I do remember it didn’t have Snake which all my Nokia-owning friends were playing [according to wikipedia this phone had Stack Attack and Balloon Shooter]. As with all good phones of that time, it had removable covers meaning you could change the look of your phone depending on how you felt. Whatever happened to removal phone covers?

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Siemens CX65

Siemens CX65

I won my next phone in a competition on the Siemens website. It probably didn’t get many entrants as in a separate competition I also won the stuffed toy mascots, a dinosaur and a ragged girl doll (these went to a charity shop several years ago). This was my first foray into phones with an unusual input method (in this case a joystick).

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LG U400

LG U400

My next phone featured a “DJ wheel” as the input method and was also my first slider phone. I can’t remember much about it now other than that the DJ wheel was entirely unnecessary and rather gimmicky.

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BlackBerry Pearl 8120

BlackBerry Pearl 8120

I had been hearing about BlackBerry phones for a while, but had always considered them too business oriented. I then came across the Pearl 8120 with its unusual double letter keyboard and its input ball (a new feature for BlackBerrys). It took a while to get used to the keyboard, but once used to it, it was much faster than the old style conventional input. I liked this phone so much that I convinced several other friends to also get BlackBerrys (although not all stayed with BlackBerry as long as I did).

BlackBerry Bold 9700

BlackBerry Bold 9700

I then moved onto a full keyboard BlackBerry, the Bold 9700 which was the first BlackBerry to feature an optical touchpad. This was a solid phone and again, after a few days of using the full keyboard, it became instinct to use and far faster than any other input method.

BlackBerry Bold 9900

BlackBerry Bold 9900

This phone was probably the pinnacle of the non-smartphone BlackBerrys. It looked sleek, it ran fast and it had the right size keyboard for fast typing. It didn’t do anything the previous phones couldn’t, but it did it all better. Unfortunately for it (and BlackBerry) the age of the smartphone was rising.

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BlackBerry Z10

BlackBerry Z10

This was BlackBerry’s first attempt at a smartphone on their own BlackBerry 10 operating system. It also ran (some) Android apps, but this is probably one of my least favourite phones I’ve ever owned (the DJ wheel phone wins that one). This was the first phone I got in white. And probably the last.

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BlackBerry Priv

BlackBerry Priv

Following the events detailed last week, this is the phone I’m now back to (temporarily) using. It’s got a relatively large screen (for watching videos) and a slide out keyboard (for typing things). The best of both worlds surely? Not really, as I always forget about the slide out keyboard and typing on it never quite feels right. Practice might improve this, but the on-screen keyboard is far more accessible (but still far from perfect).

BlackBerry Key2

BlackBerry Key2

This is my favourite of the recent BlackBerrys (and in my top three phones of all time). This is also the second phone I’ve won in a competition. I was at the launch day party for this phone in London and my number got picked in the prize draw. This phone had the keyboard and it ran Android. The only downside was that having a physical keyboard meant a reduced screen size which isn’t ideal for watching videos. Oh, and it wasn’t waterproof.

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Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite

Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite

Given the lack of recent BlackBerry smartphones, and my urgent need for a new phone, I was forced to move away in to the world of the Samsung Galaxy series. Its large screen makes content viewing easy, but typing on a touchscreen has never been as fast as the heady days of typing on a BlackBerry Bold. And unfortunately, unlike the original Galaxy S10 this is based on, this phone isn’t waterproof either.

Next phone?

Who knows what’s next? I’m still hoping they’ll fix my current phone and return it to me. If I have to get a replacement again, I’ll probably get the same again or something similar. For now at least anyway. It looks like there could be a new BlackBerry on the way

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Miscellaneous

Broken

This has been a bad week for crockery in my house.

Last week, whilst doing the washing up I broke two side plates. I had balanced the plates on top of a pile of bowls. I knew it was unstable and it’s my own fault they slid off and smashed on to the floor. I’m now down to four plates which means more frequent washing up until I can get to Ikea to buy some replacements. It also means my cupboard is out of balance, with 6 large bowls, 6 small bowls, 6 large plates, but only 4 side plates.

If that wasn’t bad enough, at the start of this week, again whilst doing the washing up, I smashed a pint glass. It’s not possible to replace just the one as it’s from a multi-pack. Although fortunately it is from a multi-pack and not a special occasion one, for example for a beer festival. I still have eight other pint glasses so I’m not too worried about replacing it.

And that got me thinking about a few of the other things I’ve dropped in my lifetime. Here’s three of them:

University graduation mug

This one was a once-in-a-lifetime collectable that got broken. On graduation, the gift bag contained a number of things, including a mug with the year of graduation. I can’t remember what else was in the gift bag, but the mug was obviously the best item. Sadly it only lasted around a year and a half before it hit the kitchen floor.

Work mug

Another mug story. For ages I didn’t have a mug at work. I don’t normally drink hot drinks so it was fine. But then I had a spare mug, so I decided to use it at work for the rare occasion I wanted a hot drink, but also as pen storage at other times. One time I knocked it over (fortunately just holding pens) and it ended up with a huge chip out of the top and a crack down the whole length. I still use it for pen storage, but I don’t think it would be up to containing hot drinks anymore.

Hard drive

And a non-crockery story. In the early days of university, I bought a massive (well massive for 2006) 250GB external hard drive. Several months later I forgot it was still connected when I turned to move my laptop from my lap to the side. The hard drive got pulled off the shelf it was on and hit the floor. It never worked again. I took it to a repair man who actually didn’t charge me anything, but said it would be quite pricey to be fixed and may not be recoverable. I’ve kept the hard drive in the hopes that future technology developments make it super easy/cheap to repair, although that might be unlikely. I have no idea what’s on this drive, and I’m not sure which would be more disappointing: the disappointment of dropping it in the first place, or the disappointment of finding absolutely nothing interesting on it.

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Miscellaneous

Running along

After thinking about it for a long time, last week I finally got round to replacing my old running shoes (I had been waiting for shops to reopen, but I went online in the end).

In the fifteen months I had these shoes I ran just under 1200km*. That’s way, way over the recommendation of replacing running shoes after 500-800km. My usage averages out to about 2.3km per day. Obviously I didn’t run every day – some days I ran more and some days I didn’t run at all.

*I’m not sure this is quite right as there’s some activities which I wouldn’t have used these shoes for but are recorded with them. Conversely, not all my runs get recorded so it may balance out. Anyway, it still shows I went way over the recommended usage limits.

Distance (in km) against time

There’s a few interesting trends to pick out from this data:

  1. It’s possible to see where I had big races in my schedule. I ran half marathons (21km) in March 2019 (the Big Half), September 2019 (the Great North Run) and early March 2020 (the Big Half again). These all show as an increase in training over the proceeding weeks (more distance covered), a small step increase for the race and then a reduced mileage afterwards.
  2. I also ran a half marathon in August 2019 (the Thames Meander Half Marathon) which again shows as a small step increase, but this was part of my training for the Great North Run so doesn’t have it’s own associated training increase/decrease either side.
  3. I appear to have taken a fairly long break from running in March-April 2019. This was partly from resting after the previous race, but also mainly because I was out of the country. I had taken an older pair of shoes to save on weight (not because my older shoes were lighter, but because I could use them for non-running purposes too – something I wouldn’t do in my almost new shoes).
  4. I also ran less in December 2019-early January 2020. I had a cold/illness at this point (even if my family didn’t believe me) and I didn’t feel like running for most of the Christmas period.
  5. Since the most recent race at the beginning of March, and during the lockdown, there’s been a steady stream of runs, some slightly longer ones but balanced out by some extra rest days. Without any races planned, I guess that’s what my regular running pattern looks like (i.e. when not training for a race and not resting after one).

Anyway, after almost 1200km and four half marathons, it was definitely time for them to be replaced. Time to see how their replacements hold up…

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Miscellaneous

Working From Home vs. Working in the Office

I mentioned last week that I’m no longer working from home, but am now back in the office all the time. Today I’m going to do a comparison of the two.

Commuting

The most obvious difference about working from home is not having to commute to work. My total commute is just over an hour each way, so I should be gaining an extra two hours a day. It’s not quite that simple in practice, but for the moment, working from home is the winner here.

Winner: Working from home

Working hours

Not having to commute meant that I could start work earlier. But conversely I was also in no rush to get home at the end of the day. And having access to email at all times meant that I was never really far away from work (when in the office, I don’t do anything work related after leaving the building). But I did make up for this by having much longer breaks. For example, the flexibility of being at home meant that I could just pop to the supermarket when it was less busy during the middle of the day, rather than at the end of the working day on the way home from work.

Whilst working from home is much more flexible, I much prefer the structured working hours of being in the office.

Winner: Working in the office

Exercise

Whilst I’ve been working from home, I’ve been doing PE with Joe most mornings. This has primarily been due to the early lockdown rules around not leaving the house unless essential. Whilst an indoor workout session is fun and probably worthwhile every now and then, I much more prefer going outside for a run. If I’m up and outside for going to work, I’m much more likely to go for a run either before work, after work or during lunch time. If I’m at home I’m much more likely to spend my lunch break watching TV, whereas at work I often take the time to go for a run which is much better for clearing the head during the working day. And occasionally, in order to use public transport less, I’ve even run all the way home from work (although not recommended when it’s hot).

Winner: Working in the office

Money

My normal commute to work costs between £8 and £11 per day depending on how I get to work. That’s quite a significant saving each week and makes working from home the all out winner here.

I also normally buy lunch from the canteen at work which costs around £5 to £5.50 per day. Working from home means having to buy more meals in my weekly shop. Financially that’s probably cheaper than buying lunch each day, but the benefits of paying for lunch include not having to cook it myself and not having to do as much washing up, both of which make a considerable time saving so I consider it to be worth the extra cost. But the saving from not commuting is a much more considerable saving.

Winner: Working from home

IT

I can’t access the work network from home, which limits what I can do. But I do have a much more powerful computer for the things I can do at home. I’m calling this one a draw.

Winner: Draw

Environment

My living room is south facing and gets ridiculously warm when the sun is shining in. Conversely my office is designed to be a workplace so it has air-conditioning and is kept at a constant temperature all the time. My office also has proper desks and office chairs, whereas at home I just have a dining room table and chair. I know which one my back prefers.

One of the advantages of being at home is being able to able to have music playing in the background which just isn’t possible in an office environment. Mainly because there are other people there. People to talk to. Real people. (Sorry Alexa.)

Winner: Working in the office

Conclusion: Working from the office wins by 4 to 3. Not a huge victory as both have their advantages. Working from home has a lot more flexibility, but the office is just a better environment for actual working. I think working in the office the majority of time with the occasional day at home would make for the best compromise. We’ll have to see how things shift when the lockdown fully ends and the “new normal” begins.

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Miscellaneous

Under the keys

On Saturday I was cleaning my computer keyboard. Whilst doing so, I noticed there was a lot of fluff stuck underneath the keys. My engineering instinct kicked in and I immediately dismantled my entire keyboard to get to the parts underneath.

Once cleaned I then realised I hadn’t any idea which keys went where. There’s a few obvious ones, the F keys, QWERTY, the number pad. But then there’s a lot of random ones, mainly punctuation and features such as “sleep” and “wake up” which are fairly unique to my keyboard. And then there’s other keys such as the left ctrl key and the right ctrl key. Do they have a specific orientation? And what about the up/down and left/right arrow keys?

So I started off with doing all of the keys that were obvious or I could make a sensible guess at where they went and got surprisingly far:

Who really knows how the bottom row of letters goes? (I realised shortly after that the M key was in the wrong place)

But I actually know more keys than I thought I did. Not in my conscious mind, but in my subconscious and my finger muscle memory. When do I ever look at the keyboard when typing? All I had to do was pretend to type and see where my fingers were hitting and that’s where the keys had to be. And that’s how I got back up to a full complement of keys.

Note: There were initially a couple of minor mistakes. I had the [ ] and – = the wrong way round. And the ‘Scroll Lock’ / ‘Pause Break’ / ‘Print Screen SysRq’ keys in the wrong order (but who even uses those? – apart from when I accidently hit them because of the bad design of this keyboard). The * and / keys in the number pad were also the wrong way round but again they’re right in the periphery.

So that took up about an hour of my bank holiday and also gave me something to write about today. Want to challenge yourself to see if you know where all the keys on a keyboard are? All you need is a keyboard and a screwdriver.

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Miscellaneous

Missed the boat

This week I’ve been back in the office.

On Monday morning I went to get the train to work. I missed the train by seconds. Whilst I waited for the next one, I thought about the sequence of events leading up to that moment and all the ways that I could have caught the train if only I had…

  1. Left the house earlier – This is the most obvious answer but without hindsight it’s hard to know the effect that later actions had. It normally takes 10-12 minutes to walk to the station (depending on traffic). I normally give myself 12-15 mins just in case. On Monday I was getting close to my cut-off point and still wasn’t quite ready to leave. I could have rushed and probably made it, but the trains are every 15 minutes, so I thought I’d relax at home for a bit longer and then get the next one. I actually left the house with 16 minutes to get to the station, because on the way I wanted to…
  2. Buy bananas – I mentioned the other week that I normally have a banana every day. I last went shopping on Friday morning and deliberately chose not to buy bananas because I knew they wouldn’t last until the end of this week when I next went shopping. I planned to buy bananas from the stall outside the station, but when I walked past M&S Food and saw there were no queues I decided to go there (this was actually a wise choice as the fruit stall only had green bananas). Whilst I was there, I remembered that I also needed to…
  3. Buy shower gel – I ran out of shower gel a couple of days prior (don’t worry, I always have hotel toiletries for such emergency situations). I was planning to head to Sainsbury’s specifically for shower gel after work, but since I was in a supermarket already, why shouldn’t I just buy it here? Time was tight I thought, but I should be ok as long as I find what I want quickly. But I don’t shop much at M&S Food so it took me slightly longer than anticipated to find what I needed. Not to worry, there was no queue for the…
  4. Automated checkout – I scanned the shower gel, tick. I selected ‘loose item’ and then ‘banana#, only for the machine to tell me “invalid item”. The assistant then pointed me to a separate scales where I had to weigh the bananas and print out a barcode for scanning. I then chose to pay, but the “invalid item” message popped up again, which the assistant then had to come back across to clear. That done, I still had about two minutes to get to the station, I just needed to…
  5. Cross the road – There are two main road junctions I need to cross between my house and the station. They both have pedestrian sequences but they both really depend on the amount of traffic and turning up at the right point of the sequence. The first one was no problem on Monday given the reduced traffic and a bus that was conveniently waiting to turn the corner. The second junction was busier and I arrived halfway through one sequence of cars before the next car sequence and then the pedestrians. I could have made a dash for it, but road safety is important. Also, I could see that the train hadn’t arrived yet which meant I still had time to walk across and…
  6. Touch in – I currently use contactless to pay for my journeys (I used to use oyster but that’s a topic for a future blog). Specifically I’ve been using Android Pay on my phone. I could hear the train coming in at this point, but the station entrance is towards the rear of the train and it would take time for the train to actually arrive at the platform. I hit my phone against the oyster pad and the contactless symbol showed up on my phone, but the oyster pad came up with an error message (I think it was error 67 “contactless payment not approved” but I didn’t really have to time to study it). I knew Android Pay worked because I had used it moments ago to pay for my bananas. I moved to the next oyster pad but the same error. The train had stopped by this point so I pulled out my wallet and tapped my actual contactless card. Success. Now all I had to do was…
  7. Board the train – About 2.7 million people use my local station every year. Normally this means trains are quite busy with people getting on and off every time and so the trains normally stop for a good while. Not at the moment. With fewer people travelling to work it doesn’t take as long for the few people to board or alight. On a normal day, people would still be waiting to get on the train when I arrived onto the platform. On Monday, the train doors closed seconds before I could get to the train.
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Miscellaneous

Power up!

About two months ago, I was getting off a flight and noticed that my backpack (containing my laptop) felt rather warm. I didn’t pay too much attention to it, thinking that maybe my laptop had turned itself on for some reason, or I was just imagining it.

At the hotel, I noticed that my laptop casing was coming apart. I assumed the man in the row behind me had been careless putting my bag into the overhead locker.
img_20161106_2131237

I pretty much ignored it until last week when I decided to take a look inside. And this is what I found:

If it’s not that obvious, the battery had expanded to approx 150% of its normal size, and this is what had pushed the casing apart.

I contacted the manufacturer who put me touch with their UK authorised repairer. Unsurprisingly the warranty only lasts one year for the battery (my laptop is now over three years old), however they were willing to sell me a replacement.

Here’s a comparison of the old battery and the new:

And here it is fitted snugly into the laptop:

Oh, and I saved myself about £85 by fitting it myself.

(For the observant ones out there, yes, I did take the opportunity to clean out the fans too.)

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Miscellaneous

Mebbies aye, Mebbies naw

Since today is Scottish independence referendum day, I thought I’d conduct some voting of my own.

A couple of months ago, I decided to see what it would be like to grow a beard. Here’s the current status:
IMG_1853_crop

Should I keep the beard?

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Leave a comment with any additional thoughts. Should it be longer? Shorter? Get rid of it all together?