Back up and running!

After a break of over a year I’ve finally got my blog back up and running

When we were in the south and times was hard I dispensed with my web hosting and set up a web server on an old pc that I’d bought off the company I used to work for for a fiver! I had it all up and running and my websites working from it when suddenly the hard drive failed. In the sort of idiot sort of fashion I hadn’t backed it up for ages and I lost quite a bit of stuff when I reinstated it all. This time I decided that I would automatically back up the website and SQL databases onto the other drive so that if one failed I’d still have the data. Sadly as I was about to find out backing up to the same computer wasn’t a great plan! In 2014 we decided to move back to the North but just before we did I started having problems with the server as it kept crashing. I discovered that this was being caused in a DoS type attack by hackers trying to gain access to the site. As far as I could work out it was because there was a weakness in WordPress if you had the user name as admin which I did. As we were moving I just turned it off and figured I’d sort it out when we got there!

Then we moved…

Once we were established in our new place I set up and account with GoDaddy hosting and then all I had to do was get the data off the old server and upload it to the new service. So I got the old server out and powered it up and…nothing! I tried everything I could think of but to no avail it just wouldn’t boot. So I took the drives out of the server and tried to access them but again no luck. At that point I uploaded an old version of the website to the GoDaddy server and left it like that until I sorted out the drives. That was several months ago!

Over the last couple of weeks I was thinking about it and the one thing that annoyed me was that on my blog there had been a couple of entries regarding my mum and my dad which I would have been quite sad to have lost. So I decided that I was going to sort out the drives once and for all. When i was working from home the other day I hit on the idea of disconnecting the CD drive in the computer in the attic and attaching the drive to that. This worked and the machine could see the drive but I still couldn’t see any data so I went away to have a think. It then struck me that the drives had been formatted in the Linux Ext2 format which I couldn’t see from my XP machine so I looked for and found a piece of software to allow me to access it.

Frustratingly last night I didn’t get the chance to try it out but as Sarah and Ben were at cubs I decided to try it tonight. I installed the software and attached the first drive. It took me a while to work out the software but when I did the drive opened but to my horror there was no sign of the website files. At this point I decided to try the other drive which worked as soon as I put the drive into the pc and when I opened it I could see three directories – one with the website files, one with the SQL databases and one with a load of random files – so I set them off copying to my ext hard drive and went to pick up Sarah.

Then today I set about uploading all the files to the website. the first problem was that I couldn’t remember my password but once I did I set up an ftp program to upload all the files. Once I’d done that I tried to upload the sql files for the blogs but they wouldn’t work. After much head scratching I discovered I had to create the database first and then upload them – once I’d done that I just had to edit them so they had the new passwords and away we went! Hopefully they’ll stay here for a while now and I might even get them sorted out someday!

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Death of a Salesman

Got home from work hoping for a nice quiet evening but that was before…………the double glazing sales man turned up!

Sarah had been approached by a man at the door on Monday to ask if we were interested. he seemed to be from a reputable company Safestyle UK and gave us a leaflet offering buy one get one free on windows so it seemed like it was worth getting a quote. So they arranged for someone to come round tonight – said it would take about 45 minutes. So this man arrived at 7:30 and Lissi was under instructions to start dinner about 10 minutes later so it’d be ready when he’d gone.

He took us through the sales spiel and showed us some examples of windows – he was offering 3 types – a really expensive one which was obviously out of our league, one which was fitted with A type glass and another more basic model with c type glass. So he explained all the advantages and disadvanatges of each type and then went to measure up the windows. Basically we want the whole house doing except for the 2 doors we had put in just after we moved so that was 16 windows and a door.

So he gets out his calculator and adds it all up, carefully explaining how we would need to pay for a scaffold tower to do the one in the attic (although I thought that £600 was a bit steep given they probably own them and if not you could hire one from HSS for a fraction of that cost – but I digress). At this point he announced that the cost of the A rated windows would be around £13,000. My first instinct was that was a bit much but I went with it. I was starting to see an obvious sales patter starting but thought the way he was operating went out of fashion years ago. I then asked him how much the c rated windows would cost and he calculated and declared £11,000 – my first thought was if that includes the buy one get one free offer that would make them almost twice as expensive as the A rated ones but I let that go for now.

Then the sales patter really got going, when we didn’t agree he offered to go and sit in his car for 15 minutes while we talked about it. We said that we’d need longer than that so he then reduced the cost of the A rated windows down to the cost of the c rated ones so they were now £11,000. When we didn’t sign then he offered to do it on a deferred payment scheme which was possible because of the finance company paying commission which he would give to us as cashback equivalent to 10 months payments which at this point was £230 so effectively knocking the price down to £8,700. When we said we wanted to get alternative quotes he said he’d shown us the Which report (which was from 2009) which proved they were competitive so we didn’t need to bother (even though he’d said if we got a lower quote they’d match it!).

So then he says that if we’re not going to sign then he just has to phone it in to his office to register the quote. Mysteriously at this point he is told that if we have the work done on a fixed day (which just happens to fall exactly when we said we’d want them done) he be able to reduce the cost further to around £9,000 with the deferred payment/cashback offer now at £1,800 so that would mean that it would now cost £7,200. Now that was more like I wanted to pay but by this point alarm bells are ringing so loudly I can barely hear what he is saying anymore! I look up stuff on Google and start to think that although it sounds like quite a good price I’d still like to get other quotes. I also ask him what period do we have to cancel if we sign up today and this is where he looses the sale! He simply replies “why would you want to cancel”. At this point he also starts getting quite nasty – obviously he’s annoyed that we haven’t begged him to start doing the paperwork right there and then and his tone changes.

I think to myself sod it I want him out of here so I ask him to leave, which he does and I slam the door behind him – twat! At least I didn’t have to do what a colleague told me he had to do which was threaten to phone the police after the sales man had been there for 3 hours! He had, though, been there for 2 and our dinner was only fit for the cats at this point.

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Which reminds me! While we were talking to him in the early stages Jubbly decided to come and sit on my knee. He then does what he usually does and starts licking my face! I have to keep him subdued so I can hear what the salesman is saying. Then the idiot asks us, as we are discussing, the back door, do we have any cats! Yes we do I say peering over the feline that is sitting on my knee!

Stupid thing is – if this company has the product it says it has why do they have to employ such awful and obvious sales techniques? If the guy had come in and been honest and said you want 16 windows and a door, that’ll be £7,000 in the A rated or X amount in the C rated, here’s a brochure and my card – take a bit of time and talk it over, I’ll call you in a week or so. Then they probably would be getting an order in the near future. Why sell as though you’re about to con some old granny out of here life savings – it’s hardly professional. I do wonder if there are any mugs out there who sign up before he calls the office!

Back then…..

Disney Garden

In the late 60s and early 70s we used to go from our house in Sunderland to visit our Gran in Boldon Colliery. When we were on the bus or later on in the car we always used to look out for a garden on the main road in East Boldon which was filled with cut outs of various cartoon characters. I don’t recall whether we outgrew it before or after it disappeared but I think the story was that the guy who owned the house got fed up with it being vandalised and ended up taking it down – sad really.

Hey Jack Kerouac!

The whole universe was crazy and cock-eyed and extremely strange.

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Wild eyed hipster sitting cross legged pounding the keys of beat up old Hermes, fuelled by coffee and cigarettes and an endless roll of paper in a non stop word orgy spinning tales of a road that stretched into infinity filled with boundless adventure. Tales of Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarty, Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg, of Mexican boys and brown skinned girls, of drinking, marijuana, poetry, jazz, Cadillacs and dark empty nights driving cross America.

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Popped into the British Library to see the original scroll that Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road on in three manic weeks back in April 1951. It’s 120′ of tracing paper taped together so that he didn’t have to interrupt his creative flow by stopping to change sheets of paper in his type writer. It is, apparently, only the second time the scroll has been on display in it’s entirety since it was re-discovered. I’d been wanting to go and see it since I heard about the exhibition so the other morning I took the opportunity of a late start up in London to make a detour and a pilgrimage!

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It would be easy to say that On the Road changed my life but I don’t think it did, I read it in the late 70’s and it was probably one of a number of books I read at that time that shaped the way I looked at life. I would, however, say it is one of my favourite books and seeing the manuscript is probably akin to seeing the actual tablets that Moses brought down from the mountain with the ten commandments chiselled into them.

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The actual exhibition was a bit uninspiring especially as you had to pass a zip up access tower on the way in. There were some pictures and information on the walls as a display case with a first edition and contemporary books but other than that it was just a very long case containing the scroll. (I have to confess that I was a tad disappointed to see the end still on the roll, so much for the whole thing being on display!)

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I tried to read the scroll but it was really difficult, firstly because of the angle you had to get yourself into to read it and then because of the reflection of the over head lights. In addition to this the text is quite small and as it was typed without line spacing or paragraph breaks it’s so easy to get to the end of the line and then either end up going back a line or forward a line and loosing the thread. When you did get a good momentum going it gave you the feel of how it must have been come out of his head in that stream of conciousness way, you could help but read it fast!!!

I tried hard to find my favourite bit which is the wild evening in the whorehouse but I didn’t see it (don’t even know if it was in the first draft) but I did find a few passages I recognised! I’m absolutely sure I will have to buy the original scroll version when I have a bit of spare cash and read the book the way he originally wrote it. I’m glad I went as I don’t suppose I’ll see it again or indeed anything quite like it unless those tablets turn up!

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Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?

(Yet) another rant about Vodafone

I don’t know where to start explaining how annoyed I am with Vodafone!

On Thursday my Android phone just suddenly died – I tried everything but nothing would make it come back to life again. So on Friday I looked at the Vodafone site. It took a while as the information was well hidden but I eventually found out that the phone was covered by a warranty and that as I had Vodafone’s Cover Me insurance I would get a courtesy phone too! I rang up and spoke to someone and he confirmed all of this and told me to take the phone into a Vodafone shop and they would sort it out for me. I felt quite pleased but experience told me it probably wouldn’t be as good as it seemed. In fact I put this on my Facebook status:

Have to say Vodafone surprised me today – turns out that according to the man I spoke to my phone is under warranty and my insurance will give me a courtesy phone while it’s being repaired. Now whether or not that is the reality when I go into the shop tomorrow remains to be seen!!

My expectation, having seen the subject to availability notice was that I would get to the shop to be told “sorry we don’t have any courtesy phones left” .Curiously it wasn’t the case although I think it would have been better if it had been. I took the phone in for repair and was given this phone:

Basically it’s a bog standard phone that allows me to make calls and send text messages and not much else. The man in the shop put my sim card into it and said “oh there’s no contacts on your sim card” Well duh! of course there aren’t my phone is an Android and they don’t work like that. I pointed out that if that was the phone they were giving me I would have no access to my contacts, diary or any of the other things I use my phone for. He suggested that I phone Customer Services.

So I did and this started a whole 3 hours of complete bollocks which ended up with the suggestion that they credit my account with £30 and I go round the second hand shops trying to find a second hand Android phone for that amount, pay for it myself and wait till next month to recover the money. The only thing that they were able to offer was money – I told them on several occasions that I’d rather have good service than money. Every person I spoke to said they could see my point of view but weren’t able to do anything about it!

At the end of the day Vodafone and other phone companies are selling products that go beyond a simple mobile phone. However that is all they are saying they offer when something goes wrong. Is it too much to ask that I be provided with a phone that works on the same operating system as the one I’ve been paying for for the last 18 months? I’ve paid something like £360 in insurance over the last 3 years and not claimed until now and this is the best they can offer – typical of insurance companies to take large premiums and pay out the absolute minimum.

It’s also the second phone in a row I’ve got by signing up to a 24 month contract only to find that the phone only lasts 18 months! I see from other comments on Facebook that I’m not alone in having this experience! I also can’t understand why Vodafone seem to spend so much time and effort trying to placate angry customers by offering to credit their accounts when they seem to spend so little time and effort keeping them happy in the first place. My contract ends in a few months and this time I fully intend to look around and see what is on offer from other companies before I decide on an upgrade from Vodafone – well done chaps I’ve been a customer for 10 years and you’ve pissed me off once too often!

So I tried to get to grips with the phone I was given. I’ve had smart phone for at least 7 or 8 years now and haven’t had to use the abc type input on a phone for at least 10 years so trying to get to grips with it was painfully slow – it took me 5 minutes to type the message “got a phone, of sorts” in a text message to Sarah and then I couldn’t bloody remember her number as I just use it stored in contacts! It was, however, my attempt to use the internet on it that was the final straw. It was slow, painfully slow and trying to do anything in a postage stamp sized screen drove me nuts.

So I went out to my shed and rummaged in my drawer. I found my old Qtek 9600 which I had when we went to Australia back in 2006. Even though the phone is probably 7 or 8 years old it still has more functionality on it than the one I was given as a “courtesy” phone. So the Samsung has gone back into the box where it will stay until I get to pick up my repaired phone. They said a week but I don’t intend to hold my breath!!

An uneven silence

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Mornings, when I came to visit my father, were always the same. He’d sit in his chair reading the newspaper. I’d come and sit in the other armchair and read whatever caught my eye, a book, a discarded section of his paper or in later years something on ny phone.

The room would be silent, broken only by the turn of the page or other people elsewhere in the house, my stepmum in the kitchen cooking bacon buns for breakfast or the kids in the back room watching tv or arguing about whose turn it was on the computer.

Occasionally the silence would be broken, one of us would speak, I’d ask him his view on something in the news, usually chosen for maximum reaction or he’d ask me if i’d seen such and such a movie or heard of so and so the singer. A discussion would ensue, views would be exchanged and then the silence would descend once again.

As I sit here this morning in my usual place I stare across at the empty chair opposite and though the same silence fills the room it’s an empty uneven one.

A Night at the Proms

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Ligeti: Poème symphonique
Berio Sequenza V
Xenakis: Phlegra
Jonathan Harvey: Mortuos plango, vivos voco
Louis Andriessen: De snelheid
John Cage: 4’33

I went to the Royal Albert Hall the other night for the late night Prom. May have got there a little too early and despite having to dash over to the park to find the toilet I was still third in the queue for an arena promming ticket! At one point a lady from the venue came out and gave us all a raffle ticket to mark our place in the queue but no one ever asked to see them so I wasn’t sure what the point was. Shortly afterwards a load of people who were at the earlier Prom came out for the interval and started having picnics on the wall next to me!

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After the first prom finished there were more people joining the queue and to my surprise people who were at the first prom were given preference over those of us who had waited in the queue. Either way I still got ticket number 26 and when we were allowed into the arena found it quite easy to get very near the front.

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While we waited I noticed that behind the orchestra position on the choir seats sat 100 metronomes stretched across the whole width of the stage. As we sat several members of the orchestra sat on the stage near the metronomes and suddenly without warning they started them going and left the stage. People around me continued to talk as the metronomes clicked frenetically away. It was only after a while that the house lights dimmed and the audience began to focus on what was happening (apart from one woman whose voice could be heard loudly from the area of the circle). Slowly the metronomes started to run out of steam and one by one they dropped out until only two next to each other remained clicking in a melancholic duet slighly out of time with each other . You could have heard a pin drop as the last metronome ticked slowly to a stop, the silence in the room held for an eternity until the audience broke into applause.

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Afterwards there was an example of Proms humour as the applause died away someone clapped mimicking the metronomes. This was then imitated by others but was suddenly halted by the first blare of a trombone as Byron Fulcher appeared at the top of the steps to the left of the stage dressed in a clown outfit complete with white face and red nose! He played Berio’s Sequenza V very theatrically before collapsing on the floor at the end. Afterwards was my favourite piece of the night which Xenakis’ Phlegra – I first heard Xenakis on Radio 3 from the Proms a few years ago and fell in love with his music straight away so it was good to see a performance at such close quarters.

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We were told that when the Xenakis piece finished we would be plunged into darkness for the next piece but sadly the RAH doesn’t do dark very well. It was a shame really as I would have liked to have heard Jonathan Harvey’s Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco in complete darkness with the way the 8 track recording spun around the room. Following an interview with composer Louis Andriessen there was a performance of his piece De Snelheid which I found the hardest of all the performances this evening – all of which, I later noted, that my wife would have asked “what the hell is that…” if she heard them!

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The final billed performance was John Cage’s infamous silent piece 4’33” which I’d been looking forward to. I liked the ironic way the orchestra tuned up for it before sitting silent through each of the 3 movements, turning the pages at the end of each bit. The idea is that the performance space creates it’s own sounds and throughout you became aware of the small sounds that go on around you all the time but are usually drowned out. The shuffling of feet, people coughing, seats creaking and even the sound of your own movements all become the focus as the orchestra sits there in silence. I did wonder if Radio 3 had to turn off the system that would normally shut down the transmitters after such a lengthy period of dead air.

The final piece which wasn’t on the original bill was by Matthew Herbert and was called Encore Intervention – Small, smaller, smallest. A team of people had roamed around the hall during the performances recording bits on mobile phones to create a soundscape. The audience was meant to join in at a given point by sending themselves a text message but this sort of went wrong as I don’t think we all got the instructions so mobiles were going off left right and centre but to my mind this added to the whole composition.