Monday, 23 November 2009

Moving on, moving up - Check your bookmarks!

Very soon, this blog will be moving... I've decided to move it to a WordPress platform and most of the work is now done.

So...

1. Please change your bookmark if you have one, to http://phillconnell.com/ - you won't notice any difference straight away but that will make sure you don't miss out once I move everything.

2. If you use Google Reader (as I do), go to the new pre-launch site and subscribe to the RSS feed from the big logo in the header.  You can't miss it.

3. Join Me! I've put a Google Friend Connect box on the new site, so please rejoin the blog there.

If you're here and it's past mid-December 2009, please hit this link right here.

I hope to continue the rambling, random and nonsensical nature of The Blind Leading The Blinds in future, but I feel that the Wordpress platform will make things better in many ways going forwards.

Hope to see you there!  Tell me Phill sent you!

Friday, 6 November 2009

Oooooh! Aaaaaaah!

It's not what you think!

Remember, remember, last night was Bonfire Night. The night in which we celebrate the possibly misguided life of a Roman Catholic who found himself hung, drawn and 'cut into four pieces' (as my daughter so nicely put it) for giving up on demoracy.

But, historical justification forgotten, it's actually the night we just have a bit of fun, burn effigies and set off fireworks.

Rochdale hasn't held an organised firework display in the town centre for a couple of years, but this year they've got some money left over as every junction in the Borough already has a mini-roundabout. So, they spent it on fireworks, Hurrah!

I hope you like the photos....









That's all folks, that really is it for today. Sorry Gaz, no bike again!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Mark Cavendish Book Review

Boy Racer: Mark Cavendish

In my haul of 40th birthday presents, I got some books as I usually do. One of them was "Boy Racer - My journey to Tour de France record-breaker" by Mark Cavendish.




Mark Cavendish is officially Britain's most successful Tour de France cyclist. His 4 stage wins in 2008 and 9 wins in 2009 have singled him out as an exceptional athlete, particularly as he does not possess the type of body-shape so typical of the lycra-clad sportsmen we see on the telly.

I wasn't sure how much I'd enjoy this book. I really enjoyed the TdF coverage on the TV this year and I was amazed by this scally's performances on the bike. I felt almost as if he was flying the flag for short blokes everywhere!

Like most cyclists, I've read the Lance Armstrong books and feared that this missive could be more of the same. Lance is a fantastic writer, so inspirational, but there's only room for one cyclist writing that sort of book.

I'm glad to say I was wrong. Mark Cavendish's book is different: honest; bolshy; in-your-face; heartwarming and in places upsetting. And there's loads of good information about competitive cycling and Le Tour.

I would recommend any cyclist to buy this book. In fact I would recommend anyone who's ever been involved in competition to buy this book.


Tell 'em Phill sent ya!

Saturday, 31 October 2009

At last - a decent day's cycling.

Ten Mile Loop - A Day To Myself

Today was a very rare day: one for which I was home alone. Work and holidays had happily conspired to give me a little me time.

So, I found the shed key and set off on an unplanned bike ride. I'd awoken to blue skies but by 11.30 the clouds were rolling in and looking pretty gloomy, so I figured I'd better stay close to home in case I ended up getting my shower before getting home!

First Job ...

Before I set off, my first job was to fit my new torch. To be honest, the simple bracket was incredibly easy to fit and not worth worrying about. It took about 2 minutes, resulting in the busiest cockpit in the Western hemisphere:



I set off through Milnrow first of all, going a little further than needed to avoid the steep climb that is Kiln Lane. A much easier uphill jaunt through Milnrow's residential back streets brought me to Wildhouse Lane which was much easier to ride towards Hollingworth Lake than it is coming the other way: the prevailing wind was behind me, woohoo!

On reaching Hollingworth Lake I treated myself to this:



A luvverly cuppa and a luvverly view!


Then it was a clockwise loop around the Lake (with another cuppa and a butty halfway round. I remembered I hadn't eaten since last night's trip to Milnrow Balti House and nobody wants a muddy collpased diabetic on their hands on a weekend stroll out!). I unwisely went for the fat and tomato option:



Stomach full, I finished the lake loop then headed to Littleborough via the main road, as far as Smithy Bridge Road then downhill to the rail station and back on the canal before heading home. It was a lovely ride and the rain held off for long enough to let me relax in the back garden, have a drink and admire my clean dirt from the jaunt:

The ride's on MapMyRide if you fancy a more in-depth look. Tell 'em Phill sent ya!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

No More Staying In

Bright Light !

In a previous blog post I mentioned that I needed a new light to guide me along the off-road sections of my rides.

When I set off, my first 3 miles or so are usually done along the canalside, and if I do a simple “there and back” run, of course my last few miles are done there too. With these long, British Wintertime evenings, that means it’s pitch black and that a watery end lies no less than five feet from me for most of my ride!

I’ve got a set of blinky lights to allow me to be seen on the road, but they’re less than hopeless to actually light my way. In fact, set to flash, they positively blind me when there are no streetlights to show the way.

So, rather than use the darkness as an excuse to stay indoors, I decided to invest in a good light to show me the way. Detailed, in-depth research (well, messages between me, John Girvin and Nev Sutter to be fair) narrowed the choice down to CREE LEDs. I decided I couldn’t be bothered doing a Tesco torch mod (see John’s info here) so I dived into fleabay and got busy.

An hour or so later, and I’d picked this little monster. It’s zoomable between “kill laser”, “blind” and “stun” settings via a simple sliding lens gizmo. On “kill laser” setting (narrow beam to those with no imagination), this torch is easily bright enough to knock your sight out in a bright daytime office: I should know. Ow.




The unit is a poxy 10.5cm long and takes 3 AAA batteries, which are cheap and easy to buy in either oldskool disposable or rechargeable formats. The brains of the outfit is a little CREE LED which you can just about make out in this photo:



The light cost £30 delivered – not as cheap as the Tesco mod, or from Hong Kong via http://www.dealextreme.com/ – but it’s still good value with a bike mount, ready to go and delivered within 2 days.

It’s football tonight and tomorrow I’m putting a mirror up at my OH’s friend’s place, so I’ll get some working shots for you when I get some dark miles in.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Quick Cycle to School and Back

Autumn Ride to Spring Hill

Today, my boy was due for a session at Spring Hill School in Rochdale, so we decided to take advantage of the unseasonally warm weather and go on our bikes.


It was only 3 and a half miles or so, there and back, but it was great to blow the cobwebs off with my son.


You can see the ride here...




As we neared home along the canalside, we saw a barge chugging up the canal so we decided to do an extra few hundred yards and take the photo-opportunity! We won't see many more of these with the shorter, colder days closing in, so it was nice little treat.























I'm hoping that we'll get plenty more little rides like this through the winter. It was great fun!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Life Begins at 40.

Life Has - Officially - Begun!

First of all, let me apologise for not blogging more often. My free time has been taken up reading other people's blogs instead. The likes of Joby and Gaz have been blogging like machines and keeping me endlessly entertained, so thank you, lads! I recommend that you read their blogs: Gaz to be inspired into action; Joby to be entertained by his road rage exploits!

Well, What have I been up to?

Over the last couple of weeks, since our run in Heaton Park (see previous blog entry), I've kept myself busy.

Turning 40

That was a fun weekend. Parties, cakes, friends and family all contributed towards a lovely way for Life to officially Begin. If Life hadn't Begun earlier, I wonder who gave me the fine children, brilliant partner, nice life and home though... but never mind that.  At 3.30am on Saturday, you'd have been forgiven for thinking that maybe my life had ended!


Making a Small Dog

What can I say? I can't dam my creative juices for long, so when I was asked to help with some modelling clay I jumped at the chance. A short while later, with 25 minutes in a coolish oven, here's the result...


I'm actually quite chuffed with our work and looking forward to making a matching black and white cat sometime soon!

Not Getting My Bike Out

At this point I have to apologise to Gaz and Joby (and Emma, and Chris, and John Girvin and John Moore). This photo is of my beloved bike, my £300 mountainbikewishitwas, relaxing at Hollingworth Lake earlier this year.


Since then my pride and joy has done the Longdendale Trail, been up and down Rochdale Canal a few times, been driven to the South Coast and ridden someway along it, but more recently has languished in the shed since I built it.

I have a desperate need for a decent headlight in advance of this weekend's clocks falling back, to make sure I really have no excuse for not riding in the evenings, then I hope I can stop apologising!

I'm sorry guys... I hope I'll be back on the bike regularly this winter!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Run 3 miles, Plant a Tree !

The Manchester TreeAthlon, Heaton Park, October 2009

For a few weeks now, I’ve been doing a regular jog, aiming towards last Sunday’s Manchester Treeathlon, a 5km run around Heaton Park in Manchester.

Last Sunday, the big day came, so I set off to meet a few friends and colleagues. Registration was faultless when we got there, so we put on our t-shirts and waited for things to start.

Ian Cheesman from BBC Radio was there, taking the mickey, and half an hour before the run some too-cheerful-looking blonde gym bunny took to the stage and took us all through a thorough warm up. All I could think was "if I warmed up this much every time I ran a couple of miles, I'd never leave my bloody house"!

At 12.00, the run started. At around 12.10, we crossed the start line at the back of the pack. Sometime around Tuesday night, we finished! Well, it wasn't that bad, we actually had a great jog and here's proof that we finished. You have to take my word for it that we went round the course too...

















For those of you that like to see the route, here it is in glorious MapMyRideColour:


It was a brilliantly organised event, plus we got trees and a frizbee at the end! What more could you possibly ask for??

I reckon I'll do it again next year, anyway.... :o)

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Running - No, No Bikes: Purely Temporary

Running Amok

A little over a month ago, I received an email about a 5k run taking place this Sunday, 4th October 2009, in Heaton Park, Manchester.  The Manchester TreeAthlon is a fun run aimed at encouraging people to raise money and support the planting of more trees in and around our fair city.

Foolishly, I decided to run.  Anyone who knows me, knows I enjoy cycling.  They also know how unfit I am.  In our weekly Utility Masters football matches, I'm well known for being unable to run both ways along a pitch without a decent rest!

So, on Thursday 27th September, I did my first run.  One minute running, one minute resting, 8 times:  Absolutely blimmin' knackered!

Now, one month later, I'm doing FIVE minutes running, two minutes resting, 4 times.  The difference is incredible.  After five minutes of running, I know I could do more.  My legs are in better shape than they have been for years.  I have more stamina at our weekly footy matches too (though no more skill, alas!).

This has been done without any massive effort, just regular jogs whilst increasing the time running and reducing the time resting gradually.  You can see more at MapMyRide.

In short, I've run 28 miles, over 14 nights, burning about 2,500 calories in the last month.  I've lost a few pounds in weight too, but the biggest winner has been my fitness.

Once this Sunday's run is out of the way, I'll be getting the bike out again I promise!

Friday, 11 September 2009

Fitness Fumblings

Fatness, Fitness and Forgetfulness

We went to Ikea recently. That's bad enough news on its own, but this time we picked up some bathroom scales.  Needless to say, the inevitable weigh-in yielded bad news so I'm now in the midst of a bid to lose 9 lbs.

As a result, we're doing two things to motivate us:
1. Running in the Manchester Treeathlon, a 5km run in October, which is forcing us to go out and do a little jogging every couple of nights.
2. Trying to use the bike a bit more often.

On both fronts, I've decided to record my efforts on my own MapMyRide.com profile, which you can look at by following the link.  If you're a member, connect with me on there why don't you?  I often forget to log my runs for a few days, but generally we're doing well and it's even got to the stage where a few nights without exercise cause a bit of uneasiness!


The best bike loop I've found from our place so far is mapped on there, and also shown below.  Let me know what you think, please!




So far, I've lost 5lbs so it's going well!

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Media Players: Western Digital WDTV HD Media Player v. Freecom WLAN 450

Western Digital vs. Freecom in a straight fight

I’ve owned a Freecom 450 WLAN media player for a year or more now, and it’s brought us much joy. With a 1TB drive installed, it’s been storing and playing all the family’s photos, music and movies since it was bought. However, there are things I didn’t like about it:

1. When showing photos, the HDMI signal flicks on and off, which is pretty annoying when it’s happening all the time;
2. The formats for playing video are limited;
3. It’s a chunky box, not too portable and a little whirry despite the fanless SATA drive configuration.
4. The GUI’s a bit bobbins. You can download new skins but I wasn’t risking that – I’ve seen some of the skins designed by hapless enthusiasts!

Also, updating the drive via USB was becoming a bit of a chore. I didn’t use the WLAN capability as I didn’t want to leave PCs switched on throughout the house to stream media through. I began thinking about getting myself something new a couple of months ago. Something simpler, shinier, cheaper...?

Then out of the blue, someone (Joby actually) put the Western Digital WDTV into the frame. I viewed the videos online, checked out the price and took the leap.

I bought from good old Amazon, using the free “deliver it when we feel like it” option and waited for 4 days. Then on Monday this arrived!


I was at work, so all I could do was excitedly post a picture of the box on twitter  and wait until I got home...








.. At home, we had a trip to Ikea planned but the temporary disappearance of our cat out paid to that (thank you Socks, oh and we’re glad you came back at bedtime, of course) so I could play with my new toy.

Firmware upgrade. I didn’t know how long my box had been in storage at Amazon, so I’d downloaded the latest firmware from the WD site to the root directory of my WD Passport. The WDTV doesn’t have any internal drives, you just hook up any USB drive and away you go. The player saw the upgrade it automatically and asked for an “ok” confirmation to install. The process took a while and seemed to have hung at 47%. I was just about to phone the freephone helpdesk when the bar inched along a little and finished it’s doings. The player rebooted itself and off I went!









Size. In size, the box is much smaller than I was expecting. This is a good thing. The transformer is built into the plug top so you don’t have an extra box to lug around, which is great. The main box is palm-sized, then you have your USB drive to think about, but it sits so nicely in the smallest of gaps. The photo on the left shows it behind the Freecom box, with my WD Passport attached.  On the right you can hardly see it, tucked sneakily in on the bottom shelf next to our 5.1 home cinema kit.



Playing. It seems to play all the media I have. The slideshows are great, with jerk-free transitions, if you discount some of the jerks in my photos :o) 
Video plays very well, including mp4 which my Freecom box couldn’t cope with. I’m really impressed with the music quality and the way it’s presented on screen. The GUI is intuitive and my only misgiving is that it doesn’t play music while there are pictures showing, which was my favourite bit about the Freecom unit.

***Edit! Actually this is wrong, it was user error, and I'm the inept user.  Thanks to a comment by Brian (thanks, Brian!), I now set the music playing and then view the photos, and all is good.  Just remember to put the music on "Shuffle, Repeat" to make sure it doesn't finish before you've finished looking at photos.  I use this with the slideshow view of pics when we have guests round, it's lovely moving wallpaper. ***

Summary.
In short, for about £70 delivered I love this new shiny black toy. If I were you, I’d buy it if you have any media stored on a USB drive. It’s quick to set up, easy to use, excellent quality to play and looks the business with your other AV gear.

Tell ‘em Phill sent you!

Friday, 21 August 2009

Getting My Kicks on Route 66

Getting My Kicks on Route 66


I first spotted our house on a ride with my kids, when my son pointed out the nice new houses that were being built on the other side of the canal, along our ride to Hollingworth Lake. Six months later we’d moved in!

I now know, to my delight, that we live on Route 66 (Sustrans, not the trans-American highway). You can get from Manchester to Kingston-Upon-Hull on Route 66, but last night I used about 3 miles of the Route along Rochdale Canal as the start of my loop.

After leaving the canal I headed uphill to Hollingworth Lake and my timing was perfect. Dusk was falling so I sauntered around the Lake with my little LEDs blinking, admiring the sunset before peeling off along Wildhouse Lane between the rolling fields and into a bugger of a headwind. Never mind though, the views were lovely.

To avoid a steep downhill road in the dark, I hung a left near The Gallows pub and meandered gently through the back streets of Milnrow before joining the main road and heading back home.

It’s only an 8 mile loop, well maybe a little more, but it’s a lovely one on a warm (if windy!) evening. And it’s one I’ll be doing again!



View Hollingworth Lake Milnrow Loop in a larger map

Monday, 13 July 2009

Shameless Shaving Shenanigans

Shameless Shaving Shenanigans

Last week, whilst quietly getting on with my work, I was interrupted by one of the girls from upstairs carrying a package. Normally the mail doesn’t arouse much interest, but the “King Of Shaves” franking in red on the front of the lumpy envelope meant that I wasn’t going to get away with opening this package without a little unveiling.

I’d totally forgotten that I’d emailed Will King’s KoS empire a couple of weeks previously, trying my luck for a free sample of a new product they’ve released, Kinexium Shave Serum. Regular readers will have spotted me bigging up their Azor a while ago when I bought one. If not, here’s a link to that post

Needless to say, they’d once again demonstrated their ability to deliver on the Wow-factor and sent me some free product. Top marks to the King Of Shaves team!



Well? Is It Any Good?

I’ve used the oils made by King Of Shaves for a long time without any problems, so I was very sceptical about this new product. I have to admit I certainly wouldn’t have gone out and bought any. But I was so wrong.

I shaved on Saturday morning after carefully cultivating some stubble through Friday – Fridays are dress-down day at work so I usually give my chin & neck a casual day too. The shave with the new serum was the smoothest, most comfortable and quickest I’ve had in a long time! I’d publish photos but I want to keep my readers!

I have no idea what the active ingredients are (they are listed but I haven’t investigated yet), but they work. I probably won’t bother looking to see what's in the product, because why would you bother to analyse something that just works?

I’ll certainly be buying this stuff again when it runs out. I suggest you do the same, unless of course you don’t shave, in which case buy it for somebody who does!

Tell ‘em Phill sent you. Once again!

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

All Hands On Deck. Ing.

All Hands On Decking


It’s traditional in the British Early Summertime to get a little too carried away with DIY projects and I’m no exception.

We’ve lived in our new home for just about a year. Long enough, we feel, to know where the sun lingers longest and therefore where we should be planning to eat outdoors. I’m so glad we didn’t go with our instinct last year, because it would’ve been wrong. The awful picture shows how we get the sun and why I stuck the deck at the furthest point from the main doors to our garden. The huge blue circle is our kids’ trampoline and the little green one is my beloved water butt
!

I bought the decking from
www.diydeals.com via their eBay shop. To put it in a nutshell, they were two-thirds of the Argos price, for superior timber, delivered free to our back garden. The assembly instructions are on the website too, along with phone numbers and everything you should need, except a couple of good drills and some time. The timber: 4x2 joists and decking boards, is all treated to last 15 years, even installed sat on the dirt as a ground deck like mine.

In my case, I had to cut down 2 joists of 5m and one of 3m, to make 5 x 2.5m joists. The 30cm waste piece comes in handy later! Altogether I now had 2 x 3m joists, plus my 5 x 2.5m ones.


The most difficult part of the whole job was making the frame. I positioned the two 3m joists at either end of a 2.5 m joist, 5cm in from the edge. Supplied corner brackets took care of the joints, with the help of one drill making pilot holes and a second drill driving in the supplied screws. A further 2.5m joist was joined 5cm from the other end in exactly the same way. Next the last 3 of the 2.5m joists were joined at equal distances, in my case 69cm apart allowing the 50mm (2”) thickness of each joist. When it was finished, I measured diagonally from corner to corner each way, the distances were equal so I knew I’d got good 90 degree corners.

The kit I bought came with 18 decking boards of 3m each to run the full length of the deck, enough to cover the deck with just one board left over. I used this one to tidy up the front edge of the deck, simply screwing it to the ends of the 3m joists and trimming it to fit – I left a slight overhang to meet my path when the deck was sited. Next I attached 3 boards: one at each end and one right down the centre. This gave the frame rigidity for moving into position.

No lawn in Christendom is dead flat, especially not in new-build developments, so I had to get some earth dug out to make the decking level enough. This wasn’t easy. That’s why I was glad I had help!

We marked out the frame by simply lifting it into position (it’s here you’re glad you didn’t screw all the boards on. The thing’s already pretty hefty!), marking out the frame with a lawn edger or spade, then taking the frame away and digging. Check how level your new deck is with a spirit level, and use the leftover 30cm piece of joist as a chock to hold the thing clear of the ground while you’re shifting soil around. Once we were happy about the level, we put weed control fabric down and laid the deck.

Then, it’s really all about tidying up and placing your bits & pieces how you like them!

We’ve eaten our evening meals outside every day it’s not rained since installing it, and we love it to bits. If you’re thinking of installing a deck, just go ahead and do it!

Tell ‘em Phill sent you. Again!

Monday, 8 June 2009

The Water Butt Of The Jokes

I Like Big (Water) Butts and I Cannot Lie

I’m employed to help businesses see the sense in saving energy, and the conservation message rubs off on me as I market it to the manufacturers of the UK. With this tree-hugging attitude, I set off to Argos recently to get myself a Water Butt. ... It’s at this point that those of you who were expecting different Butts rapidly become part of my Bounce Rate stats :)

Installing Your Water butt

I’d set aside an hour or more to get this job done, so I was amazed and delighted when the job was done in about 20 minutes. You won’t need much, but it’s good to get set things out before you begin.

- A 450mm x 450mm square, or larger, level surface
- A 25mm hole saw (I used 26mm, not problems)
- A saw, suitable for your downspout which is usually made of plastic these days

Get a level surface to site the water butt, somewhere near a main downspout (obvious? maybe!) and where the thing’s not going to get knocked over. I used a little gravel and a basic 450mm flag which was about £4 from B&Q. A little shovelling and a spirit level later and that's the site ready.

Put the water butt on its stand on your level site. Then, measure a level from the spot where the filling pipe will be attached, to determine the same height on your downspout. Move the water butt out of the way or you'll end up falling over the damn thing.

Saw your downspout right through at the level you measured. Keep the cut horizontal or the diverter (the little device that fills your butt up) will look wonky. Saw again, 30mm below the first cut. You should have a nice 30mm deep gap and a correspondingly nice 30mm length of downspout. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t think of use for this, so I threw it away. It’s too flimsy to poach eggs with, too short to propogate seeds in… just throw the damn thing away!

Loosen any brackets that keep your downspout attached to the house - just for a couple of minutes. Slide the rain diverter into the gap by moving the downspout bits to the side, then straighten the spout up again, with the diverter attached. There’s a nice little cover to make it look pretty and to stop random insects or leaves falling in, too: make sure this is put in place. Re-attach the brackets to keep everything in place.

In the picure, I’ve attached the fill-pipe, but you don’t have to, I just wanted to see if I could get a tune out of it. I did, I’m considering entering Britain’s Got Talent with my Houseaphone next year if I can get it on stage at the Lowry.

Now, back to the water butt itself… Put it back on its stand where it’s going to live. Work out how to align it so that the filling pipe (from the diverter to the butt) will be level and fairly short. Then drill your 25mm hole in the side of the butt. There is a flat circular guidance bit to give you a clue, but you don’t necessarily have to use this. Drill your 25mm hole and attach the pipe-holder provided, which will seal the hole by screwing tight to the inside & outside of the butt.

Attach your fill-pipe to the pipe holder in the water butt, cut the pipe to the right length and attach the other end to the rain diverter in your downspout. The pipe must be horizontal, or your water butt either won’t fill, or might overflow.



There, you’ve done it. How easy is that? Let me answer that, it’s amazingly easy. I should know: I’m rubbish at DIY.


How Good Is This Water Butt Anyway?

I thought that this £25-worth of rotomoulded plastic might save me a few trips to the tap to fill watering cans, and that having one in the garden send out the right signal to my kids about conserving water. I didn’t actually expect to be impressed.

I put a couple of pans of water into the thing at first, to stop it blowing away. We had a dry few days. Then as you’ll know if you’re in the UK, it rained like, well like a rainy thing, for a day and a half solid. I came home from a morning's karting (what a great trip - another blog, perhaps!) and checked my new toy. It was full, to just under the brim!

I was gobsmacked. That one and half days of rain will keep my strawberries, sweet peas, raspberries and hanging basket happy for weeks! That’s thanks to a roofspace about 15 feet by 15 feet – basically the back half of my average-area home. 100 litres of saved water.

Just imagine how much chemical-free rainwater runs away down your drains: it’s amazing how much we waste free resources that fall straight from the sky.
I can’t recommend this bit of kit
highly enough. It’s the right thing to do, and for £25 it’s a bargain.

Save the planet, one garden at a time. Tell them Phill sent you… Again! ;o)

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

King Of Sings

Singalonga Shaving

A couple of weeks ago, I got a bit caught up in a “ditty-off” (does that sound wrong) on Twitter, started by Will King – King Of Shaves himself.

I’ve blogged before about how much I like the guy’s Azor and the shaving oils he makes. He seems to be a man who simply did the right thing and is now reaping the rewards. I hate to summarise so glibly and I hope his lawyers won’t be after me, but I’m going glibly summarise anyway: some years ago, he noticed shaving creams and foams were rubbish, so he made his first oil, and lo, It Was Good.
Several years, major distribution deals and brand extensions later, we have the Azor for blokes and the Azure for ladies. I bought an Azor for two reasons:


1. It looks fab and has a lot less unnecessary packaging frippery than its competitors;
2. I’m hooked into the brand after using the oils for a while.

- well, those two reasons, plus my Gillette Mach 3 was looking very 2nd hand!

Anyhow, a couple of weeks ago Mr King, seemingly from nowhere, posted a couple of little two-line ditties onto his twitter profile and I couldn’t help but keep track. I put a couple in myself, and a few of my favourites are here for your delight, delectation and discussion. I’m afraid they’re unattributed, so if you know who did one, add a comment and I’ll make sure I attach the necessary credit to this blog…

I tweeted ten ditties and liked the game, tomorrow I'll be back doing the same!

Dodgy expenses claims, expensive shaves. Don't be an MP, choose King of Shaves. (bit dodgy, that one!)

For a ladies cheek to be your haven, you better be using the King of Shaving

The shaving world's all a Twitter, cos in the face of Gillette Will has proved he ain't no Quitter

To keep my increasingly white beard at bay, I use King Of Shaves without pain every day.

From statistics that we gather, the swing is to shaving oil, no lather!

I itched and burned and was red raw, Now King Of Shaves helps my chin not be sore!

No pulling, at the stubble's base, our soothing oil protects your face!

Little Will King, modern soul, busted shaving's brush and bowl.

Gordon Brown lost the election, babies he kissed: had no protection!

If you still don’t know whether to try one, take it from me, they’re worth trying. No silly packaging, no insincere celebrity sportsmen - just a good, honest, durable, sharp, simple razor at a good price.

Tell them Phill sent you… Again ;o)

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The Hurricane's Over!

At Last!

Well, at last the Hurricane is completed, and not before time. I've come to realise that dragging out a small modelmaking project for so long can't really be a good thing.

For one thing, my partner's sick of the sight of it on our kitchen windowsill, and for another, you patient readers must be looking forward to seeing something else by now!

So, Here's The Completed Hurricane




I took advantage of an hour of "The Biggest Loser" on TV and set about finishing the decals the other night. Now the model's in pride of place on top of the lounge storage unit - that is, until this weekend, when it'll be moving to its permanent residence in my son's room!

Oh well, I can't totally boystyle the home, can I?

More ramblings soon... ;o)

Monday, 11 May 2009

Hurricane Update

You might have noticed that it’s been a while since I posted anything about my modelmaking exploits. (You might also notice that the above title might get me some inappropriate links from weather websites!)

You’ll be pleased and relived to know that the Hurricane MkIIC is almost complete. My son and I put a little time into a couple of models over the weekend and this is the result:




There’s just a little more painting to do, the glasswork to glue on then the decals (that’s stickers to us English) have to go on before the project’s finally finished.

Considering that this model has about the complexity-level of an 8 year-old, I think I’ve done a pretty good job! By my reckoning, the 3D thought, dexterity and eyesight needed to do these models right peak at about 13 years of age, then begin to atrophy until an average 30 year-old man can’t successfully complete one. Of course, that 30 year-old will mutter some justification along the lines of “…job to do … kids to sort out … boring … just for kids …” but you know as well as I do that it’s all lies, so as a 39 year-old man I'm quite chuffed. ;o)


I’ll post a separate, more organised entry about my son’s Ferrari F340 build another day, so until then just have a look at ModelZone’s online shop and let me know what YOU think I should make next.



I’m thinking Messerschmidtt Bf109, to give a balanced WW2 view!

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

My New Bestest Friend - Western Digital My Passport Essential 250GB

I bought two big pieces of computer kit last weekend: a new Compaq laptop and a portable Hard Drive.

I have to confess, the laptop is excellent and was a bargain: 250GB drive, 3GB memory and it looks the business, all for £360 from Staples
. However, it’s the little portable drive that I’ve fallen in love with.
£60 of my hard-earned cash went over the counter at Comet for a Western Digital My Passport Essential 250GB
, in white.


1. How it looks.


I don’t own an iPod. I don’t own a MacBook. I don’t own an iPhone. But there’s no getting away from it: white, shiny, portable stuff is cool. It fits easily into a pocket or my quasi-gay manbag, and the little mini-usb cable supplied (also in white) is short enough to not get tangled into my sandwiches on the trip to work.

2. How it works.


This is where it gets interesting. I have only word of advice appertaining to the on-board synchronisation software: DON’T. Do not, I repeat do not, use the software. It’s confusing, it’s too clever for its own good and there’s simply no need for it.


The only useful part of the software is the “Lost and Found” information, where you can put your own contact details into a form, just in case an honest person accidentally ends up with your shiny new drive in his/her sticky little hands. Having said that, they would have to fire up the drive, find the right icon, open it then click the “Lost and Found” button – which isn’t highlighted in any way – and that’s just never gonna happen. If you’re bothered about making sure people know it’s yours, borrow a dymo machine and just stick your name and mobile number to the flippin’ thing.

Once you start using this as a drag-and-drop drive, things get so much easier. I moved 50GB of media files from our tired old desktop PC in about 40 minutes, then copied them simultaneously to the new laptop and a 1TB Freecom Media Player
in another hour and a half.

3. What should you do?


If you ask me, you should buy one of these little beauties. As I said, Comet are knocking them out for £59.99. You can pick them up online from about £52, or if you’re cute you can print off the best price and take it to Curry’s or PC world, where they’re asking the ridiculous price of £90, but they’ll pricematch!


Tell them Phill sent you. :o)

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Boffer's Bit On The Side Going Live Soon!

The lovely people at Boffer are launching a new service, the Bit On The Side. To see a bit more, watch this video then go to http://www.boffer.co.uk/ and join in the fun!

Don't miss out on the BOTS Bargains!


Friday, 1 May 2009

INQ1 versus 3 Skypephone - A Review

I’ve been using two mobile phones for a few years now, a business phone for work and a personal one too. At the moment I’m using the Vodafone V1615 at work (aka HTC TyTN II/Kaiser 120 and MD Vario III) and I love it.

However, I like to have a smaller phone for my own use, and to keep my personal comms separate from the ones my bosses pay for! 18 months go I got a 3 Skypephone - mainly because Skype calls were unlimited and free, so my partner and I both got one.

Last weekend I walked into my local “3” store and upgraded the basic phone. I had plenty of choices available, but chose the INQ1 for two main reasons:

1. It’s small and simple, just like me. I don’t need a complex phone: I already have one.
2. The tariff offers by 3.

The Phone

The handset is a simple slider, available in black & silver or, wait for it, silver & silver. It’s packaged well, with a series of simple instruction cards to get you started. To be honest, my instructions are still wrapped and I’ve not needed to refer to them yet. After an overnight charge, you’re pretty much on your way with this little beauty. The charging is done via mini usb, which is nice and flexible.




The button feel is reassuring, so texting is much, much easier than the old Skypephone. This is because the slider design allows a bigger keyboard with a much more definite feel. My only disappointment with the slider is that there’s nowehere you can get a good purchase on the collapsed phone, so opening & closing is a little bit fiddlier than it should be. One little indentation near the logo would have sorted that out.

Screen size is great, again thanks to the slider design. It’s big, it’s bright and it’s easily customisable. I ditched the standard logos and chose my wallpaper and screensaver from my Mini-SD (taken straight out of the Skypepone – bonus!) and had my kids on the screen before I’d made my first call. Easy.

Understandable icons and menus drive the GUI, so you should never get yourself confused about where you are or where you’re going with usability.

So, my verdict on the INQ1 handset compared to the Skypephone is that it’s a big improvement.

The Tariffs

I mentioned that we had 2 Skypephones in the house, to take advantage of free Skype chats & calls. Of the two of us, there are 2 types of user:

Me: Few calls; Many skype chats; Many texts; Some messing about on internet & social media sites.
My better half: Many calls to many networks and landlines; Many skype chats; many texts; Almost no internet use.

We are also, importantly, as tight as ducks' bottoms. We don’t want to spend a fortune on fully-inclusive contract tariffs. Thankfully 3 have thought about this, to couple with this entry-level handset.

So, we chose the following tariffs:

Me: £15 a month. 75 call minutes in UK, unlimited texts, unlimited internet, unlimited Skype.
My better half: £18 a month, 500 minutes on calls or texts (1 minute or text = 1 unit of the 500), virtually unlimited Skype, internet charged per bandwidth.

This way we’re both happy that the tariffs suit our phones, and we have common handsets so there are no usability issues at home. We’ve chosen a black one for me, silver for my better half so we don’t leave home with each other’s stuff!

It’s only been one week so we’ll see how they perform over time, but to summarise I have to say it’s been a good choice so far, and not cost us a penny extra.

Can’t say fairer than that…

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Self-Analysis: Is it Helpful or Disconcerting?

I was sent a great link via twitter today, which analyses your conversations and works out your personality. I'm likeable, inquisitive & cautious, with a garrulous & coherent writing style, apparently, and I'm classified as a talker.

On following a link from my analysis, I found out that Hatmandu also provides a Blogalyser which looks at your Blog and gives an analyis of that, too (no suprises there)!

Here's how I did:

The Blogalyser reveals...

Your blog/web page text has an overall readability index of 11.

This suggests that your writing style is conventional
(to communicate well you should aim for a figure between 10 and 20).Your text contains 106 sentences, which suggests your general message is distinguished by verbosity
(writing for the web should be concise).

CHARACTER MATRIX



male malefemalefemale
self oneselfgroupworldworld
past pastpresentfuturefuture

Your text shows characteristics which are 50% male and 50% female
(for more information see the Gender Genie).
Looking at pronoun indicators, you write mainly about yourself, then your social circle and finally the world in general. Also, your writing focuses primarily on the present, next the past and lastly the future.

Find out what your blogging style is like!

--------------------------------------------------

If you get half a chance, follow the link, try it out yourself and let me know how you did, I'm dying to find out....

Talk soon.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Of Camping, Drinking & Shrinking

Anyone Remember Tesselations?

We spent a busy morning on Easter Monday cramming 3.76 Tonnes of equipment, 3 kids and 5 bikes into, onto and around a C4 Grand Picasso . Since getting the car in December last year, I've thought it was enormous. to be fair, it is when it's not taking 5 people on a camping holiday. Eventually, we set off for Bala with Free Willy on the DVD player in the back to ward off the expected "are we nearly there yet" abuse. Just over 2 hours later we arrived at Glanllyn with all 3 kids still alive, checked ourselves in and started pitching up.


(This is after we got the five bikes and rack off!)


The site's in a gorgeous setting, with Bala Lake alongside and an inlet running by the site where my son spent most of the 3 days catching minnows, using the same type of net I spent my entire childhood catching bugger all with! Kids these days, they don't know they're born!


My Alice In Wonderland Experience

Now I've never been into recreational drug use in a big way, but there was definitely something in the Hoegaarden in Wales! Is it me, or I have I shrunk here? The pen and the beer were just bought in shops in Bala, so I don't know what happened!

Model Plane Update...

If anyone's wondering, the Hurricane build didn't go to Wales with us, so watch this space for the paint job when I get time... Have a look below if you don't know what I'm blabbering on about.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Conference, Camping and Chins ...

Friday's conference was a success, thank goodness. Without too much detail, the day went well and there were no hitches involving laptops or presentations. The mouse was a bit lively, but infra-red mice aren't designed to be waved in the air are they? No wonder a few presentations went one slide forwards then two slides back.

A few of us tried to put Peter off with our specially mail-ordered facial hair, but his professionalism won through so we just had a quick photo taken and got on with it.


On a better note, the Easter Camping Trip has been booked and we are off to Glanllyn at Bala lake. We spent Sunday afternoon buying camping gear and now all we need is the gas bottle and we're off!

I'm sure you're excited to know how the Hurricane MkII is coming along. Well, here it is...

The guns were as fiddly as fiddly things to attach, but after a few minutes standing in the kitchen waiting for the glue to set a little, the thing was looking good. Just the painting to do, then the glasswork to glue on and it's finished. My boy has asked for a model for his birthday in a few weeks, so there should be more to come. I bet you can't wait, can you? ;o)

Shaving? Then read this bit.

On a totally different subject, I bought a new Razor last weekend. I've been impressed by the "King Of Shaves" oils for a few years, and I noticed their "Azor". The packaging is designed to save on their Carbon Footprint, and the design itself is a joy: simple, clean lines with a strong, functional blade attached. I'm happy to say that the shave I'm having is a massive improvement over my old Mach 3. So buy one, if you're a bloke. If you're a woman, buy one for your bloke. If you don't have a bloke, get one and buy him one.
King Of Shaves, Azor, tell them Phill sent you.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Team Building?

It's our company conference tomorrow, so the office is a mess of palpable nerves and bristling egos. I'm trying to gather all the presentations together: deadline Wednesday pm, so far it's Thursday lunchtime and half of them are done.


I have no room to talk: mine's not finished either! But don't I automatically I get special dispensation as the Marketing guy?


As I polish off my Cajun Squirrel crisps (possibly my favourite Walkers experiment so far) I'm checking my desk for car keys, as I'm off to the bank to releive the Sports & Social fund of £440 towards post-conference refreshments.


I'm a big believer in Conferences as Team Building events, but I have to confess that it'll be a relief to get back to actually doing some flippin' work next week. The new style marketing's working very well and I need to keep the momentum up. 16 good leads in the last 5 weeks from emails and the web, which in our niche is brilliant, if I say so myself.

At Home...

No progress on the blinds business, BUT I did get a little more of the 'plane done.

It's looking vaguely like an actual aircraft now, and with each step I relax a little bit more. Note the clever use of a dark background this time!

Well, I'd better get to the bank before 22 Utility Masters employees and up having to pay for their own beers tomorrow!

Bye for now.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

If at first you don't succeed, get distracted.

It quickly becomes apparent that one post isn't enough. We didn't progress the blinds business last night, choosing instead to deliver a birthday present and shortlist potential Easter holidays.


Bala Lake in mid Wales is looking favourite. We drove past a place last October and I fell in love with it just for the view http://www.glanllyn.com/. Terrible website, but gorgeous place and reasonable prices. No play area for the kids but a beach leading down to the lake, so I'm sure we'd be fine there.


I also put another step in on my way towards the Hawker Hurricane model you can almost see, light grey against white (note to self: use different background) here. Building the model is a guilty pleasure: I do it either while Sharon's out, or in the smallest room, or while I'm making our bedtime brew. Girls don't understand Airfix!


Work's going really well. I got another unsolicited phone call from a potential customer this morning. They'd looked us up on the web after two rivals, recommended by KPMG, turned them down for being too small! Silly rivals, they're not too small, you're just too inflexible. Thank you for your incompetence. Anyway, this chap found us on the web and just dialled the number on our homepage http://www.utilitymasters.co.uk/


Not sure what tonight's plans are. Maybe a little guilty modelling, maybe more holiday planning, maybe even something useful!


See you soon!