Thursday, February 18, 2010

Two little stories

Two stories to tell you...

The first one is about my 3 year old granddaughter, A, who collapsed
in a heap after briefly running around the coffee table with her
cousin Mini and her uncle J. It was towards the end of a very active
day for her at our house.

“I wanted to be first … I wanted to win a prize!” she sobbed.

Uncle J, who is the sales director for a London IT software company,
said: “Welcome to my world, A.”

The second one was told to us by A’s mum yesterday. She and her
husband K were shopping around for a fairly cheap new carpet for
their main bedroom (to tart up their house for a Spring sale). The
first shop they went to was the carpet department of one of the
main retailers in the area (well known for giving a “divi” to
their members / customers). There was only one member of staff in
the entire department, who looked as if he’d left school fairly

B and K showed him a piece of paper with their room measurements
on it.

“Oh, I’m very sorry, but I can’t accept measurements in centimetres,”
he said. “You’ll have to go home and come back again with the
measurements in metres.”

K said: “We can help you work that out from the figures we’ve
given you.”

Well they weren’t impressed with his maths skills, and so they
didn’t proceed with the purchase. They went elsewhere to buy the

I'm having a little break from blogging until about 2 March, so
I'll be back in touch with you all then,

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Privacy and the internet

Are you concerned about privacy when using the internet?

I watched an interesting programme this evening on catch-up TV. It was
the third episode of Aleks Krotoski’s “The Virtual Revolution”. One of
Aleks’ main points was about how much information is being gathered by
Google and other large companies, with the intention of giving us
better targeted advertising.

The big question is to what extent are we being monitored by Government
secret services, and the fact that it’s very difficult / virtually
impossible (nice pun here, I think) to erase what you’ve written on
the internet ... so she says.

But what happens to your blog if you simply delete it … surely after a
short while, any reference to what you’ve written will totally disappear?

She gave as an example that in the early 1900s the Netherlands
government kept records of the religious beliefs of everyone, so when
the Nazis took over in 1940 they were able to round up all the Jewish
people for transportation, very easily. A chilling example of how
information-gathering can be badly misused.

Prospective employers can check out applicants' Facebook sites, and find
out what antics they get up to during work-time and in play-time. One
of my sisters eavesdrops on what her children are up to on Facebook,
and has been told by one of them to stop making comments on his site.

I’m not too bothered about Google collecting information about me …
and I’m not bothered about its targeted advertising, which I rarely
read, and which I don’t find intrusive.

Like most folk, I used Google for all my searches, even to find “My
Favorites” as I find it quicker to do a Google search for them. I use
Blogger (obviously) and Googlemail, and I use Google maps and its
Street View (plus G. Earth) from time to time. I’ve had a brief look
at Google Docs and G Chrome, but don’t really fancy using them. I
also use Google-based Page Ranking sites to check out how my websites
are doing, once or twice a year. I’m using YouTube more and more, for
info on how to do a whole range of things … mainly educational videos
on website creation and the like.

So all this wonderful free stuff with Google, paid for by unobtrusive
advertising. Who’s bothered about that?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Saving money on home energy prices

In the last 2 days I've done an online comparison of our gas and
electricity prices, using Martin Lewis' moneysavingexpert website.

I'd worked out our annual dual fuel consumption (in kWh), and
used 3 of Martin's recommended comparison sites. For us, Simply
Switch offered the cheapest quotes. There's a special offer on at
the moment for Southern Electric (about £250 cheaper than what
we're currently paying to SE on a different tariff!), but as we
can't re-sign with our current supplier, I've set us up with
Scottish Power. With online billing and a promise from SP to peg
its prices at 3% less than its standard tariff, I've set the
switch in motion. Simply Switch will save us £207 a year on what
we're paying at present, and also will give us £20 cashback.

Two or three years ago, when I last did this exercise, we signed
up with one of the cheapest options then: Ebico, which said they'd
put profits into greener energy provision. I'm not sure what
relationship it has with Southern Electric, but we're being billed
by the latter. It's a shame that Ebico's prices are no longer

Why I didn't keep a closer eye on what we're paying to Ebico/SE,
I don't know ... perhaps laziness or perhaps waiting for energy
prices to fall before locking ourselves in for a year with a
what might turn out to be a dearer tariff. British Gas has just
lowered its prices by 4%, and Martin Lewis predicts that other
suppliers will follow suit (like a herd of sheep). However, that
possibility didn't stop me going for what I think is a bargain.

Building societies / banks are well known for attracting savers in
with high interest offers on their savings accounts. Then over a
year or two (if you're not on a fixed rate of interest), interest
rates can drop dramatically. They rely on inertia of their
customers not to switch their savings to better accounts.

Mrs C and I have got a few cash ISA accounts earning very little
interest at present, so switching these is my next job.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Keeping busy

Last Friday, we had a great day with the grandchildren, A and her brother,J.

J is starting to walk a little ... only short distances at present. He tends
to get about more with a fast crawl. I showed how to kick a small ball,
carrying him with his feet slightly off the carpet, and swinging him a little
to gently kick the ball. I'm pleased to say that a short while later, he
started to dribble the ball by himself. (Well, I did refer to him as "J the
dribbler" in a recent post).

We had a long day with them (9 and a half hours), keeping them occupied /
entertained, and fed & watered, etc., so we both felt quite tired after
their mum had collected them at tea-time.

Saturday: I spent a good part of the day fitting new parts to our micro-
chip cat flap. The locking mechanism had seized up, so that the cat flap
was only working one-way .... our cats could get out of the house, but
couldn't get back in.

As it was still under guarantee, we were sent replacement parts by
Petporte. I spent 4-5 hours getting the defective bits out, and putting
the new bits inside ... about twice the time it takes to put together
flat-pack furniture sold by a well known Swedish/Dutch company. Ideally
PP should have provided full illustrations of what to do (with detailed
photographs) ... fortunately, I'd taken several close-up photos of the
entire internal mechanism, before I took it apart, which were a great
help to me in putting all back together again.

I spent the rest of the day, finishing off my marathon computer back-up,
and then installing Avira's Antivir, which appears to be working well.

I spent part of today training our cats to come back into the house
again, via the cat-flap, instead of through our patio door. I spent a lot
of time this evening encouraging Slayer to come back in ... she eventually
came in at about 8pm.

Mrs C made some delicious marmalade, which we sampled this evening on some
freshly made bread (with malted grains in it) ... yummy. There's nothing
quite like the taste of home-made marmalade ... the closest taste to it
is Frank Cooper's Oxford Marmalade, which is my favourite one otherwise.

This afternoon, we settled down in front of the TV to watch "Sunshine
Cleaning", which is mainly about the relationship of two sisters,
brilliantly acted by Amy Adams and Emily Blunt. Here's a link to the
IMDb website, if you'd like to know more.

A few things coming up this week ....

Sort out the wi-fi internet connectivity (for a talk I'm giving soon
for the charity I work for)
Find/replace my missing car handbook (missing since the car service
and MOT)
Find the code for our car radio (radio needs resetting after the car
battery was temporarily disconnected during the service)
Phone our boiler man, to ask him to fit a new pair of thermistors
Phone our roofer (to see to one of our drains, the downpipe and the
ridge tiles
Choose some photos for online printing (with Mrs C)
Give a talk on Flickr this Thursday (slide show finished last night)
Meeting up with friends tomorrow (jamming with electric guitars)
Committee meeting on Tuesday (for my charity)
Check out gas & electricity prices on online comparison sites (and make
a change in provider if necessary)
Review our cash ISAs, some of which are earning piddling amounts of interest.
Phone our holiday company (to ask about an admin matter)

By the way, we'll have the grandchildren with us all day on Friday.

There are a few more things on my list for this week, which I won't
bore you with (I'm unlikely to find time to do them anyway)

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Piles of paperwork

... well, a lot of it online really.

We got the tax forms off to the Inland Revenue in time last week,
and this week, I've been soldiering on with another lot of paperwork
for the Inland Revenue. However rather than giving money to HMRC,
we're taking it off them, in the form of Gift Aid for the charity
I work for. The majority of our U3A members have signed up for this,
and I'm pleased to say that today I've sent off a claim for just over

My next job is to do a huge back-up of everything on our two computers.
I've had a look at the last CD-Rom I put together, and was surprised to
find that it was early November when I did this. I have saved some
photos and docs on USB flash drives since then. I'd like to finish all
this in the next day or so, as my AVG Professional anti-virus cover on
our laptop will expire this weekend. I'm thinking of replacing this
with Avira's free version of Antivir, which has has a good write-up in
reviews I've read. I've got free Avast on my PC, with no problems.

Apart from family activities, I've also been busy creating a website
for another U3A in the area, and am having a play with creating PDF
files in Open Office, and putting them up on a website (instead of
creating extra webpages). A couple of great things about PDF files
is that most people can read them (with Acrobat Reader), and that
they're 100% virus-free. They can also be downloaded onto your
computer, and be used for reference purposes (eg simple timetables
for groups meetings, etc).

Here's a 3-4 minute video of how to do this with Open Office (free
of charge) if you're interested ...

I struggle to read .docx documents sent by someone with Word 2007,
but they can be read in Open Office (though I've found that I can't
edit the end-result). I've tried the Microsoft Compatibility program,
but I'm not impressed with that... I found the end-result was read-only
also. If any of you have had a different experience, I'd be pleased to
hear from you.

We're looking forward to having our grandchildren for the day,
tomorrow. Wow, this past week has really flown by. I must get to bed
early for them (well, 11.35pm is early for me).

Monday, February 01, 2010

Domain renewals

Today I received a letter from what looked like a genuine domain name reseller/registrar … the Domain Renewal Group.

The letter is full of detail listing my name, address and one of my
website addresses, along with attractive prices for 1 year, 2 year
and 5 year renewals. There’s also a list of prices for optional domain
names, ending as .com and .net.

The letter is headed as “Domain Name Expiration Notice” and one
of the paragraphs reads as follows …

“You must renew your domain name to retain exclusive rights to it on
the Web, and now is the time to transfer and renew your name from your
current registrar to the Domain Renewal Group. Failure to renew your
domain name by the expiration date may result in a loss of your online
identity making it difficult for your customers and friends to locate you
on the Web.”

The rest of the letter is written in rather technical but very well
presented text, and on the reverse is masses of contractual stuff in
tiny print, which looks very genuine.

I spent several hours thinking about all this, and then looked very
closely at all the wording. And then a thought occurred to me … well,
how did these people get hold of my name, address and other details?**

Should I contact my existing web-hosting company (based in the US ),
and ask if DRG is genuine?

A quick search on Google for the DRG led me to several articles
entitled “Domain Renewal Scam” … here is a link to one of them …

I thought some of you might own other website names, and so should
be aware of the controversy about DRG.

** it's the Whois register ....


I've got to leave the house early tomorrow, to travel over to the other
side of Nottingham to do some child-minding - looking after Little A and
her brother J, while their mum goes to the doctor's surgery for some

Little A said to her mum: "I want to go with you tomorrow to the doctor's."
Mum replied: "Well, I'll show Granddad where the Jammy Dodgers are in the
cupboard, and you can have one while I'm at the doctor's." She was
very happy with that idea.

I think I'd rather have a Jammy Dodger than go to the doctor's.