Archive for the ‘random’ Category

So it’s been nearly two years since I’ve posted, so long in fact that I had forgotten my wordpress password. But the recent events in the developing country of NI has been a (metaphorical) bucket of cold water in the face and has awoken me from my cyberspace hibernation.

You will have found it hard to miss all the news as Northern Ireland has been splashed (pun intended) and flashed across the newspapers and TV due to the lack of running water, at one point, to over 50,000 homes. Some homes have been without running water for over 10 days resulting in the country being likened to the third world… but I’ll come back to that later. Of course the blame for this ‘scandal’ has been placed firmly with Northern Ireland Water, the company which as it’s name suggests is responsible for, well… Northern Ireland Water.

So here’s my question:  What is the real scandal? Northern Ireland Water (let’s call them NIW) obviously are accountable – they are responsible for ensuring a safe clean water supply to our homes. We pay for this service through our rates. Ministers from our wonderful power-sharing executive have been outspoken with helpful comments like, ‘Heads must roll’. Yeah, thanks, actually what most people want right now is water from their taps, not the promise of public executions. But I’ll come back to our politicians in a minute.

Certainly NIW have a lot to answer for but surely they deserve a bit of slack. The recent mini Ice Age we experienced was unprecendented, with no-one predicting the extent of the deep freeze. Much of initial water shortage (those who were without water over Christmas) was due to frozen supply pipes. Temperatures during this period dipped to as low as minus 18 degrees celsius. There was clearly nothing NIW could have done about this. The main problem to supply occurred after the thaw. It was only then that the extent of burst pipes became apparent. Until then NIW could not have repaired these pipes. In addition, one of the main reasons that reservoirs ran so low was that the thaw occurred when many businesses were closed. This meant burst pipes remained undiscovered -again there was little that NIW could have done about this. I also think  NIW deserve some credit for the work carried out in the past 3 days. In this time they have restored water supply to over 40,000 homes (the majority of those affected). Given the scale of the problem, this is no mean feat.

Despite all this it is fair to say that key people in NIW should have better anticipated the problems that were likely to occur. But in my opinion, the main failing of NIW was in communication. They didn’t have the infrastructure to deal with volume of calls they received and their website was a shambles. For example while the BBC were reporting that Coleraine was one of the worse affected areas, the NIW website didn’t have any mention of Coleraine supplies being cut off. When they did finally mention Coleraine in update it was to inform customers that their supply had been turned off the night before! This lack of information and misinformation resulted in panic and I think is what angered most people. Rumours spread, with every man and his dog fearing they would be without water in the coming hours. Baths, pots, buckets and all sorts of receptacles were filled (mostly unnecessarily) in anticipation of the taps running dry. This of course further confounded the depleted supply in reservoirs. Some of course stepped up offering to help. One friend of mine offered to turn his garden sprinkler system off for a couple of hours. Another began selling his water on Ebay. And most embarrassingly, Scotland sent us billions of litres of water in aid.

So back my question: What is the real scandal? Is it how NIW have underperformed? Is it perhaps the fact that our polititicians took so long to knock their heads together to try and sort out the mess before jumping on the bandwagon of blaming someone else? Does no-one else think that perhaps our elected government could have acted quicker? Instead they decided to meet only yesterday, by which time most of the water supply problem had been sorted. And have they presented the people they serve with a constructive solution to the problem? Eh, no. All they have promised is retribution for the failings of NIW and maybe a bit of money for anyone who has been upset at being dirty for a few days. Certainly there is a case for some scandal here but this I believe is not the real scandal.

What is the real scandal? Well, you’ve waited long enough wading through enough of my ranting and rambling, so I’ll tell you; The real scandal is how shocked the world has been seeing pictures of white people in the developed world having to queue for bottles of water.

Which of the pictures above is really more troubling? The fact is we’re quite used and dare I say it all too content to see pictures of African children queuing to get water from a well or a puddle they’ve walked maybe tens of miles to reach. Can you imagine what the politicians (and the rest of us) would be saying if our experience was as in the 2nd picture? Well here’s some facts to sober us all up a bit (it’s worth reading the next bit slowly & allowing the horrible reality to sink in):

  • Today 4,000 children will die from drinking dirty water. (Source: http://www.wateraid.org)
  • One in eight people in the world do not have access to clean water. (Source: http://www.wateraid.org)
  • 2.5 billion people live without appropriate sanitation (defined as safe and clean disposal of human urine and faeces). (Source: http://www.wateraid.org)
  • A lack of clean water kills more people every day than anything. And here’s the thing, the estimated cost to make clean water available to everyone is $10 Billion.’ (Americans spend $450 billion EVERY year on Christmas alone). (Source: The advent conspiracy. It’s worth checking out this video!)

Our house was without a full water supply for maybe 36 hours, obviously not as bad as many. But let’s face it, the worst that resulted for the majority of us affected was a bit of inconvenience. I actually in some way enjoyed the adventure of it -having to be resourceful and thoughtful about how to use the water we had left. It certainly made me appreciative of the basic things we enjoy in this country which we totally take for granted. And it made me think of our brothers and sisters around the world who suffer and die on a daily basis because of a simple lack of water. So I actually think the water crisis in Northern Ireland has been a good thing. I would even go so far as to suggest that Northern Ireland Water should think about turning off the supply regularly one day a year – just to cause us to think and be thankful!

Here’s some links to how you can contribute to helping the real water crisis worldwide:

www.wateraid.org

www.musthavegifts.org (Worldvision)

www.unicef.org.uk

www.justadrop.org

I’m guessing some of you may not have heard of the incredible ‘sport’ of speed cup stacking. I was fortunate enough to benefit from the whole Woolies going bust thing when I came across a rediculously reduced price official ‘speed stacking’  kit. It turned out to be the best Christmas present I bought for myself and has occupied a significant proportion of my time over the Christmas and new year period.

But what is this exciting new sport I hear you say? Basically it’s a game requiring extreme skill, manual dexterity and excellent hand-eye co-ordination….eh…to stack cups. Against the clock.

Ok. It doesn’t sound that exciting but it is an official sport run by the WSSA (World Sport Stacking Association). They even hold actual world championship events. The fact that the sport is dominated by 9-10 year olds is not important.

And it’s surprisingly addictive. Myself and 2 other friends (all grown men over 30) spent a significant proportion of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s day morning competing against each other ( I won).

And since then I have consistently improved my time for the 3-6-3 stack – now an  impressive 4.80 seconds. So as a result I feel I am worthy of a new Sports stacking world record:

‘The most time wasted by an adult over the age of 30 cup stacking over the Christmas period’.

On a serious note, the sport’s supporters make a point of mentioning how beneficial the sport is in helping young people to develop their hand-eye co-ordination and motor skills. I have to agree – since I started cup stacking, I can now load the dishwasher in half the time.

Check out the current world champion (Yeah- he’s 10):

Shed load of stuff to nick

Posted: December 16, 2008 in random
Tags: , ,

Here’s a Christmas competition:

What’s wrong with this picture?

photo

The first person with the right answer gets the entire contents of my shed (if he/she creeps around the back of my house in the middle of the night with a screwdriver)

Am I the only one with a completely useless lock on my shed?

I think I saw the best piece of reality TV ever. I’ve never watched ‘I’m a celebrity…’ before but have found myself hooked by the current series. Tonight David Van Day endured his 2nd bushtucker trial: The ‘Hell-o phone’.

The following piece of film is perhaps so entertaining for the following reasons:

1. David Van Day is perhaps one of the worst ‘known’ celebrities ever on the show.

2. He appears to have absolutely no insight to ‘1.’ or to the fact that he is a complete and utter twat.

3. He has absolutely no shame in blatently using the show to mastermind his career come back including writing his ‘bif baf bof, we’re celebrities’ song, his plan for him and Timmy Mallet to have their own show and his West End Musical ‘Rock Bottom’. 

4. He totally lost it during this trial.

David to win!!!

Does the trail end here?

Posted: November 9, 2008 in random
Tags: ,

sunday-0581

One of the highlights of my recent holiday in the South of Spain was the day I spent trailbiking in the Andalucian Mountains and foothills. It really was one of the best days out I’ve had in ages. I own a road bike and would consider myself a fairly capable rider but I’ve never really done much off road stuff (unless you count riding round my garden on a scrambler when I was 12).

I booked with an English run company, Andalucian Trailtours and on the day it ended up being me, another English guy and our English guide. We rode for basically the whole day and covered approximately 130km of off road tracks and trails with only small bits of tarmac connecting them. The scenery was fantastic and the experience was made all the more exciting (and tricky) by the flash floods which had affected the area 2 days earlier. For example we arrived at the crossing pictured above and the guide said “Oh..eh…this river isn’t normally here…..I’ve no idea how deep it is……let’s just go for it anyway!”

What amazed me was the extent of access for trailbikes though these mountains. It would be a bit like me turning up to Donard park (Mournes, Newcastle) and riding up to ‘the saddle’.

Which got me thinking. This is a sport I would love to be able to do locally. Sadly there seems to be little opportunity for any extent of trailbiking in Northern Ireland and a general dislike of any off road vehicles. Trailbiking does not seem to be considered to be particularly ‘PC’. Most areas are ‘protected’ and access is restricted to hiking only. Even access for mountainbikers seems poor and lags well behind other European countries.

But why should this be – is what I’m looking for really all that bad? I’m all for protecting the environment but I’m also all for the countryside being accessible to all sorts of groups to enjoy it.  Would it really be such a bad thing to have certain tracks and trails designated for different activities -some for hiking, some for mountain biking and some for motor vehicles – perhaps even for 4x4s so that all those city folk could let their cars stretch their legs. And relatively speaking, I’m talking about a small controlled area. I understand the environmental argument but let’s be realistic – the impact on nature would be minimal and would be outweighed by the benefits – an increase in tourism, potential revenue for local authorities etc and most importantly people having the freedom to enjoy themselves in the great outdoors. Take skiing for example – no-one seems to complain about the environmental impact of this sport. But the continued use of pistes damages the underlying vegetation and disturbs the natural wildlife, and think of all the coal that needs to be burned to create the electricity to power the ski lifts. But who cares?! In the scheme of things it’s on a relatively small scale, it makes excellent use of the land and people love doing it. A trail biking area wouldn’t need to be nearly as big as a ski resort.

The locals in Andalucia seem to totally accept & welcome the trailbikes which if nothing else brings more tourists to the area. Having designated tracks or areas would also be likely to reduce maverick motocrossers who illegally ride on protected land giving the rest of us a bad name.

How amazing would it be to be able to ride up to the Hare’s Gap for example. Unfortunately unless I’m elected first minister I’m unlikely to see it in my lifetime. In the meantime I’ll just need to look into significantly increasing my carbon footprint by travelling to the mainland or across to Europe if I want to satisfy my appetite for my new found hobby. Shame…

sunday-0511

sunday-0731

Car/phone Whyhouse – Part 2

Posted: October 14, 2008 in random
Tags:

So now you’ve decided to save yourself some money by buying only used cars, you’ll need something else to spend that money on. May I suggest an iphone…

Having got myself one a few weeks ago, I’ve found myself asking the question: ‘Why does everyone not have one of these?’

The iphone 3G really must be the best gadget ever. It’s probably not the best phone in the world but it’s by far my favourite toy. Here’s my list of top things I can do with my phone:

1. I can use it like a satnav to pin point my position and it will give me directions anywhere I want to go. If I had any friends I could also see where they are at any point in time.

2. Using the GPS system I can use the free app ‘trailguru’ to record distance covered and speed etc in the unlikely event of me going for a run or a hike.

3. I can check the weather for the coming week in any major city in the world (amazingly including Coleraine!)

4. I can find out the name of any song playing on the radio or anywhere within earshot of the iphone using the free app ‘Shazam’. Then I can download it from itunes if I want. (This really is amazing – It hasn’t got it wrong yet!)

5. Using yet another free app ‘Movies’. I can check all the latest films on release, watch a trailer, read a review, then with a push of a button (and the phone determining my position by GPS) get the local cinema times, along with a map of how to get there.

6. I can surf the net at a surprisingly fast speed and unlike e.g. a blackberry can view the web page as you would on a normal PC. Phone numbers are automatically highlighted on web pages and dialled just by touching the number.

7. I can quickly check the latest figures from the stock market with lovely graphs which show me how much money my shares ISA has lost in the past month.

8. The accelerometer is a particularly cool feature. It’s basically an internal gyroscope which senses the phones position. It’s a bit like a Wii controller and there are loads of games which use it. I can practice my golf swing, go bowling, use the phone as a spirit level and my favourite; use it as a lightsaber. I would also recommend Crash Bandicoot Nitrokart which is a racing game where you steer by tilting the phone from side to side -it’s genius!

So there you have it. Conclusive evidence that the iphone will change your life and that yes I really am a nerd.

Ok, so none of the things I’ve mentioned are actually things you need in your life or from a phone.

But I still think everyone should have one! Let me know if you get one and maybe we could meet up to have lightsaber fights….  🙂

Car/phone Whyhouse Part 1

Posted: September 30, 2008 in random
Tags: , ,

Well, it’s been a while! But the obscure ridiculous titles are back. The worst thing about my absence is that anyone who checks on my blog every now and then will have been given the impression that the only event in my life worth blogging about over the past few months has been my eldest son peeing on my youngest son.

Anyway after a long period of absence from the blogosphere I pledge to publish at least 2 posts in the next 2 weeks (this one included). This task will be made easier by the fact that I have recently acquired an iphone 3G which immediately gives me endless nerdy material about all the cool stuff I can now do with my phone which I am sure will change my life in ways I can not even begin to imagine…

But back to the intended topic for discussion for this post: ‘part 1’. Basically, new cars….why?

I was pleased to acquire a new vehicle over the summer. The change was probably overdue and was most welcomed by my good wife who regarded my previous mode of transport (an Audi TT) as the embodiment of my (early) mid life crisis. Thankfully this ‘reckless’ period of my life appears to be over and my Volkswagen Passat at less than half the horse (& probably pulling (not that this concerns me 🙂 )) power is a more appropriate and a little less flashy family car.

My ‘new’ car is in fact just over 3 years old, it is an ex-lease hire vehicle and has been fully serviced, and being in good all round condition (& a diesel Volkswagen) should drive well for the next 100,000 miles at least. The price? Just over £4000.

Which leaves me with the question: ‘Why do people buy new cars?’

I genuinely don’t get it. Is it just to enjoy the ‘newness’ and if so is it a price worth paying? A new VW passat of similar spec to mine would cost well over £15k. I cannot imagine that spending an extra £11K on my car would result in any significantly increased satisfaction or other benefits. Maybe it’s a desire for hassle free motoring in terms of maintenance etc. Again £11K would go along way in maintenance bills and modern cars are generally so reliable anyway.

So please enlighten me because it seems to me that if you buy new cars you must have money to burn!

Having said that, if you are in the habit of buying cars new from the showroom, it is important that you continue to do so. A high demand for new cars means there will always be plenty of second hand cars which in turn keeps the market value of used cars low for stingy gits like me.

The downside of this however is that sadly I have as yet been unable to sell my TT. So if you know anyone who might be interested let me know (late 2000 Audi TT 225bhp, denim blue, full leather, 80k miles, FSH, all usual TT extras, excellent condition. First to see will buy! £7000)

🙂