The dreams of children

My 4-year-old daughter climbed into bed this morning and asked if we’d like to hear about her dream. This is what she told us:

There was a princess in a tall, tall tower. A prince rescued her and she fell flat on her face. The prince thought she was sleeping and kissed her, but she was actually dead.

I hope she ends up becoming a writer, I do like a bit of dark fantasy 🙂

Books in 2011

I never did a new year’s resolutions post this year.  Oh well 🙂  One of them was to try and read more, plus try to read/re-read some mythology in translation.  One part of this is that I want to keep track of what I’ve read, hence this post.

  1. Surface Detail, Iain M Banks.  01/01 – 22/01.
  2. The Táin: From the Irish epic Táin Bó Cuailnge, Thomas Kinsella (trans.) and Louis Le Brocquy (illus.)  22/01 – 30/01.
  3. The Kraken, China Miéville.  31/01 – 15/03.
  4. The Quantum Thief, Hannu Ranjaniemi. 15/03 – 22/03.
  5. American Gods, Neil Gaiman. 23/03 – 30/03.
  6. Before They Are Hanged, Joe Abercrombie. 31/03 – 06/04
  7. Last Argument of Kings, Joe Abercrombie. 07/04 – 16/04.
  8. The Lovecraft Anthology Volume 1, Dan Lockwood (Ed.) 17/04 – 20/04.
  9. Deep State, Walter Jon Williams. 21/04 – 05/05.
  10. At The Mountains of Madness, HP Lovecraft, INJ Culbard (Illus.) 22/04 – 23/04.
  11. The Night Sessions, Ken MacLeod. 06/05 – 19/05.
  12. Dark Spires, Colin Harvey (Ed.) 20/05 –
  13. Zoo City, Lauren Beukes. 20/05 – 16/06.
  14. Wireless, Charles Stross. 17/06 –
  15. The Quest for Arthur’s Britain, Geoffrey Ashe (Ed.). 25/06 – 30/06.
  16. Camelot and the Vision of Albion, Geoffrey Ashe. 30/06 –
  17. Rule 34, Charles Stross. 09/07 – 15/07.
  18. The Evolutionary Void, Peter F Hamilton. 16/07 – 23/07.
  19. Vast, Linda Nagata. 23/07 – 06/08.
  20. The Bohr Maker, Linda Nagata. 07/08 – 25/08.
  21. The Recollection, Gareth L Powell. 26/08 – 02/09.
  22. Damage Time, Colin Harvey. 02/09 – 28/10.
  23. Sixty One Nails, Mike Shevdon. 29/10 – 14/11.
  24. A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin. 15/11 –

And that’s all so far. I guess I’ll be able to see just how widely, or not, I read by the end of the year.  I often have more than one book on the go, but so far it’s been sequential so far this year.  Link targets vary, some Wikipedia, some author or publisher sites, some reviews – there might be a tooltip if you hover over the link and I remembered to add one.

A new decade

Happy New Year!

It goes to show just how much I update this site that 2009’s Happy New Year post is still showing on the front page as I type this 🙂

I don’t think I’ll bother publishing a list of resolutions this time around, suffice to say that it’s 30 days since I last smoked a cigarette, I never did start swimming regularly again but I do drink less, so that’s a qualified failure.  Still, 30 days and no smoking is pretty good so here’s to that being 395 days this time next year (although I haven’t smoked full-time for years and I’ve gone far longer without a cigarette before. Ach, come on – positive thinking!)

Changing the subject, I’ve recently got around to going back over the content here categorising and tagging posts and generally tidying up.  This blog has moved hosts, changed URL and been restored from backup more than once and is in a bit of a mess.  There’s a fair amount of linkrot that needs sorting and plenty of typos and markup errors that need correcting.  My aim is to get it all sorted out so at least what is here looks OK and doesn’t make me look like too much of an amateur 😉

Looking back now I will admit to wincing a little when reading some of the posts.  I suppose this is natural when you consider that the site’s been around for 7 years or so and over this period I’ve done a fair few things, grown older, changed.  Nevertheless I’m leaving it all here unless it’s actively misleading.

As for new content… well life’s pretty busy these days and doesn’t leave a lot of time for blogging.  My employer obviously doesn’t pay me to maintain a personal blog and my family takes up much of the rest of my time.  I’m not complaining, just observing.  I’d like to think that writing is something I’ll take up more seriously in the future, but for the time being I don’t expect to post much here other than the occasional how-to piece.

Booking Train Tickets Online

This evening Polly and I were trying to book some tickets for a trip she’s making to see an old friend in Manchester.  First stop was the National Rail Enquiries Site, which offers a gateway service to book tickets.  You fill in your preferred date and time of travel, and it lists the tickets that are available.  It then redirects you to a choice of rail operator or third party sites where you can actually make a purchase, passing through the details of the journeys you have selected.

In theory, this sounds great – a really good use of the web. One place to go and identify what tickets and trains are available leading to a choice of commercial sites where you can make a purchase.  In practice, it turns out to be frustrating and dysfunctional.

We selected the cheapest available tickets and were duly packed off to a train operator’s site to make the purchase.  There were a few more hoops to jump through at the new site, about five screens to page through to confirm the selection, seating preferences, etc.  One of the screens facilitated selecting the train and ticket type, with unavailable tickets displayed but inaccessible.

So far so good, but having reached the end of the process the final click redirected back to the front page of the operator’s site with the message that the site was unable to complete the reservation and that we should choose again.  That was it.  There was no guidance as to which part of the process failed.  Was the whole purchasing system down?  Had the tickets we’d selected sold out while we were working our way through the site, and if so which journey was the problem (we were buying two tickets on different trains on different days)?  Something else?

Going back through the process still showed the options we’d selected as available and we were allowed to select them. Going to another operator’s site and trying to purchase the same tickets also showed them as available, but it also failed with a similar message (it looks like all these sites operate from the same back end, which renders the choice of retailer somewhat moot).

Why advertise the tickets as available and then not allow the transaction? Maybe the whole system was struggling, so to test we selected the most expensive tickets available (over £100 each way) and lo and behold, the site allowed the reservation!

By now we’d spent a good twenty minutes mucking around trying to place an order. We were left with trial and error to determine which tickets the system would allow us to buy, and which it would not. We tried numerous combinations and permutations before reaching the conclusion that the cheapest tickets we’d be allowed to purchase came in at just under double the price quoted when we’d performed the initial availability check.

Of course by now we’d invested a fair amount of time on this, plus it’s known that the numbers of cheap tickets are limited so the closer you get to the travel date the more you are likely to have to pay. Even though we’d allowed a few weeks, this is the kind of task you just want settled and out of the way, plus having to go through the process a second time… eugh. So we purchased the tickets.

Now I’m quite sure that the small print on the sites states that it’s not always accurate, and perhaps a more generous soul would be prepared to grant the UK rail industry the benefit of the doubt that they can’t be expected to provide accurate real-time data as to the availability of tickets. But if the purchasing system has the intelligence to know that the reservations aren’t available, could this not be leveraged by the availability search? It felt like we were lured in with a cheap quote, only to find the salesman up the price at the last minute when our investment of time and energy predisposed us to just accept it. That may not be the reality, but that’s what it felt like.

Happy New Year

Here’s the obligatory happy new year post! I would have written it yesterday but I was at work doing my bit of the holiday cover. I’m afraid to say that my resolutions this year are fairly unoriginal:

  • be more healthy, in particular:
    • stop smoking completely once and for all
    • no alcohol on weekday evenings (one just too easily leads to another 😉
    • start swimming regularly again
  • Spend some time early in the year thinking about just what direction I want to take from here in life – career, home… we’ve often talked of living abroad while the kids are still young… maybe it’s time to start planning ahead a bit more.
  • Become more financially literate. I really need to be more clued on on stuff like mortgages, pensions and general investments, especially given the current economic climate.

And right now that’s about it. Anyway, happy new year to anyone reading this.

Balloons and Blackberries

Bristol’s annual Balloon Fiesta has just wound up (I’ve written about this before, and taken photos too). We’ve had some good weather recently and Perrett’s Park, which overlooks much of Bristol, has been busy in the evenings with people watching the launches taking place over at Ashton Court.

Two out of three evenings the wind favoured us and the balloons passed by low overhead, much to the delight of all the children present. I didn’t take so many pictures this year, but you get the general idea from this – balloons at dusk. They do early morning launches as well, but as I was on earlies this week I missed them.

As I mention above, the kids love the balloons. Our eldest has also just discovered another summer delight – wild blackberries. We’re fortunate enough to have a lot of green space around us even though we live in the city and at the overgrown local cemetery, the city farm and around the nearby allotments the brambles are heavy with blackberries at the moment which the kid would eat until she was sick if we let her.

We went over to Arnos Vale before lunch and let Uma run around while we picked a bag or two to bring home. It’s great to be able to do this in the city; both Polly and I grew up in the countryside and we occasionally worry that our kids might miss out on things like this. We eventually tore Uma away from the free food and took our pickings home.

We’re not sure what we’ll do with them yet. Crumbles, jams or just as they come. Yum!

Busy Weekends and other things

Hey, over a week since I last posted. That’s better than eight months. You’d think that I’d get more of a chance to do things like this at weekends given the fact I don’t blog from work, but it just doesn’t work like that when you’ve got kids. If anything, my weekends are busier and more manic than my workdays and I’m often more tired than on a weekday by the time they’re tucked up in bed. Besides, we often have friends or family over at weekends, which usually means the evening are full too.

Not that I’m complaining about any of this, merely pointing out why no more likely to post at weekends than I am during the week. I reckon the most opportune times for recreational blogging for someone with a none-blog-friendly full time job and two small children are weekday evenings and the occasional moment like now when I’m home from work early and Polly’s out with the kids.

In addition to all of this, the weather has finally improved and we’ve been spending our evenings sitting in the shade on our balcony looking out over Bristol. We’ve got a fantastic view, and I think you’ll agree that sitting outside sipping a drink and watching the sun set is hard to improve upon.

There’s a couple more like this on Flickr (1, 2, 3), plus a whole lot more.

A White Christmas!

I’m not feeling inspired to write much, but I wanted to post this picture as I’ve not had a white Christmas for years. Although the snow didn’t settle too well in the valleys, up on the moor it was a good couple of inches deep.

[Snow covered fields on Dartmoor]

Come boxing day the moor was packed with people building snowmen and throwing snowballs at each other. A good way to recover from the excessive eating and drinking of the last few days. Cheers again to Marc for acting as chauffeur!

The Winter Solstice

Once again we arrive at midwinter, so raise your glasses to the gradual lengthening of the days and the coming spring thaw as the cycle of the seasons swings around once again. But don’t forget to take a moment to appreciate the beauty of winter while we’re here – the white on green of the frost on the hills, the crisp clear mornings… It’s not all rain and cloud and seasonal depression, there’s wonder here too.

Man that was cheesy.