Nov 2012
Awwww, shit.

There are times when you can predict the entirety of a phone conversation with just the first few words. Last night was like that…

“Hi, [Sodium]? It’s Ali’s husband…”

Five words and I knew I would be attending a hospital bed or a funeral service.

So… Ali.

One of my (many) failings is that I’m rubbish at keeping track of friends. Once I stop seeing people on an enforced regular basis, I always lose track of them. I left school and instantly lost touch of everyone. I stopped work to go to Uni and I lost track of all but one person (they lasted another 5 years before we lost touch).

The internet helped with a lot of this because the contact was suddenly everywhere – no matter where you are, you are still a part of the same world as your friends.

Ali was the first of these friends.

I met Ali in my first year of Uni when I bumped into someone equally insanely talkative on some MUD or talker server somewhere. That was a long time ago – long enough ago that Ali wasn’t even Ali back then. She was “EJP”.

She had a seriously fucked up childhood (understatement of the week) and decided that a part of escaping the past was reinventing herself. I spent 3 days chatting with her on IM, bouncing names back and forth as she tried combinations of first and last names that worked for her. In the end, I think that I was responsible for suggesting 3/4 of her name.

I remember where I was on 9/11… I was sat in a pub with her, trying (and failing) to look after her following a particularly shitty medical appointment. It was 24 hours later that I finally discovered that the other pub patrons weren’t watching a very boring action movie on their huge screen TV. While other people were digesting the horrors of a terrorist attack, I was staring at the inside of my friend’s arm, wondering where she’s had the razor blade stashed.

On more than one occasion, I ended up “playing” a game in the hospital bedroom she temporarily residing, where we both tried to identify as many sharp/dangerous objects as possible. And every time, I waited until I was an hour away and then phoned the staff with a list of the things she’d identified. The last time we played it, she realised what I was doing and threatened to kill me in novel and interesting ways. But she did it with a smile on her face so she was probably mostly joking.

She irritated the hell out of me by tending to only make contact when she was in hospital and bored – but she made contact, which is better than I normally do. More importantly, I knew that if I needed her, I could always find her – and I hope her hospital text messages meant she knew the reverse was true…

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Jun 2012
Projects hindsight

Every time I decorate a room, I get about a quarter of the way finished, look back and think “Yeah, you know, this could work!” and suddenly realise that I should have taken a photo of how it was before I started.

It’s not just decorating, it’s anything where there’s a chance for a big reveal type before and after thing going on. I always forget the “before” shot. Decorating, gardening, ground clearance (which is what most of my gardening turned into), renovating and (in the case of at least one disgusting car) cleaning.

Today’s project that has no “before” shot is weight loss. Oh yeah, baby, I’m making two posts about it in a row! Read the rest of this entry »

It’s strange how addictions work. You know that you can change your life whenever you want. You could change your life today if you wanted. In fact, you will. Tomorrow…

You know that your addiction has a risk of harming you, but that’s in the future. It won’t be this one time that kills you though, so that’s okay. And then you get a wake up call, and it changes. It has to.

Thankfully, my wakeup call wasn’t something like liver disease or emphysema.

I’ve not been sleeping well for a while, so the doctor gave me some zopiclone and told me to come back in a month, where she’d consider sleep analysis.

One month-long shimmery time-passing effect later, I was back. I was sleeping better and could concentrate better. I was still snoring and suffering sleep anea, but I was at least rested. No side effects. Except I was pissing like a race horse.

If I’m honest, I already knew what the next question would be.

I live my life at a desk; could happy live off fatty meat and caffeine; and consider walking to the car to be exercise. If you sliced me in half length ways, either half of me would have a healthy BMI.

“Do you have any history of diabetes in your family…?”

Yes, yes I do. My grandfather had diabetes before he died (although that may have been cancer related) and my father died from a heart attack that’s believed to be diabetes related.

“How old was he…?”

When he died? Late fifties. When he was diagnosed diabetic and had his arterial replacement? Thirty something.

She wasn’t impressed.

Ten minutes later, the needle in my arm was drawing for a fasting glucose. 3 days later I was back in for a glucose tolerance test.

A healthy person scores less than 6 on either test. A diabetic would score about 6 on your fasting glucose and above 11 on your tolerance test.

I scored 7.4 and 9.6.

No matter what, it was time to face the truth. I needed to sort my shit.

The “Diabetic Nurse” (who isn’t diabetic, I checked) agreed. Except she phrased it better. I needed to lose weight. I needed to get my eating under control. I needed to do exercise. She wanted me to come back in 3 months to see how I was getting on and to see if I needed help getting my weight and my blood glucose down.

That was on the first of May this year. 4 weeks ago.

Back on the first of March, I weighed 154.5 kilos and had a BMI of 40.6.

Today, I weigh 144.5 kilos.

On 1st August (the 3 month mark) the trend line on my weight tracking app has me weighing 134.5 kilos with a BMI of 35.6. I’m not intending to disappoint it.

Assuming I can break free of StumbleUpon, the next few months may involve a lot of updates on health and food.

I love the BBC. It’s a powerful institution that provides us with hour after hour of fresh quality entertainment. Don’t believe me? Just check out the current “comedy” category on the BBC iPlayer…

* Being Human (repeat)
* Fraochy Bay (Gaelic cartoon)
* Have I got a But More News For You (compilation)
* Have I got News for You (repeat)
* Ideal (repeat)
* Little Britain (repeat)
* Live at the Apollo season 7
* Live at the Apollo season 5 (repeat)
* Mock the Week (repeat)
* Mrs Brown’s Boys
* Never Mind the Buzzcocks (repeat)
* The Ones (Jasper Carrot doing material from 1990)
* Outnumbered (repeat)
* Royal Bodyguard
* Russell Howard’s Good News, series 5 compilation (repeat)
* Russell Howard’s Good News, series 1 (repeat)
* Twenty Twelve (repeat)
* Would I Lie to You? (repeat)

Only the best, fresh new comedy, don’t you agree?

In the last dozen years or so the number of sandwich vans visiting office blocks and industrial parks has exploded to the extent that the park I work on is now visited by more sandwich vans than delivery vans.

So how, with such competition, can they all be so crap? Lets take a look at the vans that visit my particular building… Read the rest of this entry »

Yesterday two things happened that reminded me just how much the Internet has changed the way we communicate. The first was about physical distance and the march of technology. The second, how the Internet has removed some structures and replaced others.

Which makes it all sound so much grander than it really was.

Event 1 : Wooo, tech!

First, let me tell you about 1996. I was at University in Leicester, spending way too much time with nerds, watching too much SciFi and “dating” a girl in Alberta.

A normal day during the holidays would start with dialing in to the University SLIP (this was just before we got Dial-up) and using Telnet to check my email in Pine. We only had one phone line, and after 8am cost money, so it was very much a quick peek. I spent the day pretty much out of the loop, unless someone sent a message to my pager – and then the conversation was pretty much one way, since I hated payphones. At about 4pm, Sky One showed their daily shot of Star Trek : TNG and I spent 45 minutes watching Tasha Ya caress her computer and Deanna Troi accuse everyone of hiding something (and wondering why, if the computer was so clever, it needed to be told that Earl Grey should be served hot). At 6pm, my grandmother would finally wrestle the remote control from my hands and I’d go and tie up the phone lines again, dialing back in to the University system to chat with friends – either as a group via a MUD or one to one in the fantastically confusing “Talk”, where both parties had equal rights to type things in the same box. Finally, at about midnight (when phone costs dropped again) I dialed about 20 numbers (plus an international phone number) into the phone so that I could spend £5 on ten minutes chatting to this girl in Canada…

Fast forward 15 years to the day…

Yesterday, just before work, I went to the coffee shop to get, well, coffee. While I was waiting, my phone chirpped three times – once to tell me I had a new email, a second to tell me my brother wanted me, and a third time to tell me Earl Grey should be hot.

The day before, I’d called a UK service provider (tax/utilities/insurance type thing) to tell them to cancel my brother’s service. Only – they wouldn’t talk to me because I wasn’t my brother (we’ll ignore the fact they only knew this because I said I wasn’t). He would, they said, have to ring them to say he wanted it cancelled – but they only had an 0870 number, which can’t be accessed from abroad.

Using my leet ninja nerd skills (ahem) I got the unlisted number, sent it to my brother and told him to sort his own shit out. That second chirp was my brother, on a computer smaller than my 1996 external hard drive, IMing me, on a device twice the size of my 1996 pager, yet more powerful than the 1996 PC, to tell me that he’d just used Skype to call the provider (for free) to tell them he wasn’t a UK resident any more.

It struck me that, barring the whole space travel bit (which, lets face it, wasn’t a major part of TNG), tech was now more like Star Strek than it was like 1996. Hell, if you believe the Apple adverts, Siri has a better grasp of English than Enterprise’s computer.

Event 2 : Twitter

On a completely different subject, when did sending celebrities weird messages stop being the actions of a stalker?

Last night, while watching the BBC’s frankly fantastic Only Connect, I posted a message to twitter…

SodiumLights : Why are this week’s #onlyconnect teams dressed to match their backgrounds? Is round 5 hide and seek? Even @VictoriaCoren is at it… [LINK]

This morning, I woke up to find my phone desperately trying to catch my attention – someone had mentioned me on twitter…

VictoriaCoren : @sodiumlights I’D LOVE THAT TO BE ROUND 5. Unfortunately, I refuse to wear my glasses and we’ve only got half an hour.[LINK]

When did this happen? When did it become normal for people making random observations about TellyLand have TellyLand respond to them?

Let this be a lesson to you all – if you have a fish tank, keep the KH up. And, if you forget and your KH keeps dropping, don’t do a 25% water change of RO water. Especially if you tank was running at about 8.5pH and the RO is (apparently) at 5pH.


  • 7 4 guppies
  • 4 glass catfish
  • 4 2 loaches
  • 2 Dwarf Gouramis
  • 1 male siamese fighting fish
  • 5 female siamese fighting fish
  • 3 2 Plecs
  • 6 glowlight tetras

Not the best of weeks…

Update Make that 1 guppy…

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been told in the last few weeks that “September 11th changed everyone’s lives”.

I’m sorry, but no. At least, not directly.

On the radio last night I heard an interview with an American woman talking about September 11th and how both she and close friend both lost their husbands on that day. I felt genuinely sorry for her. The friend’s husband died in the first tower. Her husband died of a heart attack across town – nothing to do with the attacks. Since that day, she claims she’s heard first, second and third hand accounts of the other man’s death hundreds of times, but barely anyone is interested in her own husband. He’s just not interesting.

And that’s the point – the attacks were a horrific thing, but by no means unique and by no means overshadowing everything else that day.

But “that day changed everyone’s life all across the world”. Really? Do you think so? Read the rest of this entry »

Jul 2011
Minecraft Cathedral

So, I might have spent a little time building a cathedral in Minecraft. It might be a bit… well… big.

Each of those dots is a meter square block. (click for bigness)

The cathedral itself is 255 meters long, and the grounds stretch it to 270. It’s long enough that even set to ‘far’, you can’t see the high altar when you’re stood by the front door…

Under the tower, looking at the labyrinth toward the octagon

Closer to the octagon, with the high altar rendering

The place is based (ver, very) loosely on Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire. Loose in the sense that, it’s nothing like Ely Cathedral, but I turned to it whenever I needed inspiration.

Things like, how to join the roof together at the cross-bar of the cathedral. Enter Ely Catherdral’s famous Octagon.

Yeah, this version is a bit bigger and less subtle. That'll be because I needed the light. Thanks to Notch for letting us put candles on fenceposts.

More when I’m sober…

Just as he’s leaving work, a programmer gets a text message from his wife

On your way home, can you go to the store and buy bread? If they have eggs, get 6.

45 minutes later, the man walks into the kitchen with 6 loaves of bread.

“What the fuck?” the wife asks, “I asked you to get one loaf of bread. Why the hell did you get six?”

“Well,” he replies, “they had eggs…”

Apr 2011

I nearly got suckered into rejoining facebook.

It’s the same old story… people want your email address and then your twitter name and before you know it you’ve gone from a bit of recreational twitter to a hard facebook addiction.

You tried to seduce me before, and I was weak. This time I was strong… I was a member for a full 30 minutes before I realised just how horrible and unintuitive their site design is, and just what a nasty mess the whole process is. So I quit.

Facebook had other ideas…

Try getting that Captcha right without opening charmap.

The car in the video game didn’t exist – pixels and vectors and nothing else.

Then someone decided to make a real life version of it…

I’ve got to admit, I’ve seen stranger ideas for hybrid cars…

Dec 2010
XKCD : Audiophiles

( Go visit XKCD. No really. If you don’t know Randall’s comics, go. I’ll wait… )

It took 7 years of alternating between ignoring them and telling them that I knew their rules better than they do, but the wonderful people of TV Licensing finally decided to send one of their crack team of enforcement agents to my door – a woman in her 50s with a Range Rover Sport and one of those attitudes that says that you are scum and you are now officially “In Trouble”. To be honest, I was disappointed…

So, I can now tell you how deep and involved their interrogation techniques are.

You’ll need the tag end of a roll of co-axial cable, tucked behind the radiator, preferably covered in cobwebs. You’ll also need to make sure that the channels 1 to 4 are tuned to static.

  1. Show the officer the end of the cable.
  2. Show the officer channels 1 to 4 of static
  3. Wave goodbye to her

Job done.

Of course, if you happen to use your DVD player or digital set top box as a receiver then your first four channels wouldn’t be tuned in, would they?

So, just remember boys and girls – you only need a license to receive broadcast TV at the time that it is broadcast.

Things you need a license for:

  • Watching or recording TV broadcasts that have come down your aerial
  • Watching an internet stream of live TV if it’s being broadcast live by a UK provider – you can watch The Daily Show live, but you can’t watch the Olympics via a Bolivian TV station if it’s being shown on the BBC at the same time
  • Using a TV card in a computer
  • Technically, watching a VHS of something someone else recorded for you

Things you don’t need a license for:

  • Watching iPlayer, 4OD or similar on demand internet streams from UK broadcasters, as long as they aren’t being broadcast at the same time. I’m not sure how this works for repeats…
  • Watching DVDs
  • Playing computer games
  • Using it as a strangely expensive and useless mirror

Don’t let their bullying letters scare you. If you don’t watch live broadcast TV on your TV, don’t get a license. Spend the money on a congratulatory meal out instead…

One of my personal projects involves reading and revisiting a journey described in a stupidly rare book from the 1920s. I finally found two copies of it online – once as a 80MB pdf file and again as a scan from Google’s famous book scanning exercise.

This fantastic preamble comes from that Google scanning and OCR…

      This is a digital copy of a book lhal w;ls preserved for general
ions on library shelves before il was carefully scanned by Google
as pari of a project

      to make the world's books discoverable online.

      Il has survived long enough for the copyright to expire and the
book to enter the public domain. A public domain book is one thai
was never subject

      to copy right or whose legal copyright term has expired. Whether
a book is in the public domain may vary country to country.
Public domain books

      are our gateways to the past, representing a wealth of history,
culture and knowledge that's often dillicull lo discover.

      Marks, notations and other marginalia present in the original
volume will appear in this file - a reminder of this book's long
journey from the

      publisher lo a library and linally lo you.

      Usage guidelines

      Google is proud lo partner with libraries lo digili/e public
domain materials and make them widely accessible. Public domain
books belong to the
public and we are merely their custodians. Nevertheless, this
work is expensive, so in order lo keep providing this resource,
we have taken steps to
prevent abuse by commercial panics, including placing Icchnical
restrictions on automated querying.

It’s not looking good when your OCR can’t even process your boilerplate frontpage…

Last night I dreamt that I, together with all my friends and family, I was living in a naturist / nudist camp.

Except it was bloody cold in the real world yesterday, so in my dream everyone was wearing woolly hats, scarves and gloves.

That is all…

Since Private Eye don’t have a website, I’ll have to write this out…

In recent years, in our coverage of American politics, we may have given the impression that, in electing Barack Obama as President in 2008, the American people had shown themselves as thoroughly enlightened and forward-looking, having thrown off racial prejudice and generally become politically mature in a way which should serve as an inspiration to the whole of mankind.

Such headlines as “US Comes of Age in Electing First Black President”, “Obama Victory Shows America Has Thrown Off Race Prejudice For Ever” and “US Walks Tall Into Future With Barack The Superman” might have suggested that we considered that by electing Mr Obama, America was entertaining a new golden age.

Having watched with horror as in the recent mid-term elections US voters went overboard for candidates representing the so-called Tea Party, we now realise that the American people are no more than a bunch of backward-looking, reactionary, gun-toting, Bible-bashing rednecks who have no place in the modern world. We apologise to our readers for any inconvenience our gullibility may have cause.

Yeah. Not much that can be said about that really… (©2010 Private Eye, 1275).

My brain does weird things when I’m falling asleep. Conversation between me and GB, my wife.

Me: Can’t sleep. My brain is being mean to me. It keeps trying to create some fake chemical name.
GB: Yeah?
Me: Lacto-something acid. The something ends in ‘ick’. And all I can come up with is Barric.
GB: Okay…
Me: What’s Lacto-barric acid? Milk that gets more acidic when the air pressure changes?
GB: It could be Barium.
Me: No it couldn’t…
GB: Why not?
Me: Because milk comes from cows not swallows.
GB: What…?
GB: Oh.
Me: Ow…

In case your brain doesn’t work like mine, here’s the punchline. Not fun. Like someone decided the next Muller corner yoghurt would be chalk flavour…