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    Wednesday, 31 March 2010

    Fucking Hell – it’s a new beer!

    I’ll apologise immediately for that headline – but honestly, it wasn’t meant as a profanity, although I admit I chose to write about this here on my personal blog rather than on my Publican blog for fear of repercussion from the editors there!

    Indeed, had I received this news article tomorrow morning, I’d have put it down to being a great big April Fool’s joke, but it seems it might not be.

    According to Spiegel Online International, the EU have granted a German firm the rights to name a beer “Fucking Hell”. 

    “Hell” is apparently a German term for Light Ale, whilst Fucking is the name of a town in Austria that the company wants to name the beer after.

    Admittedly, it was at this point that I thought that somebody was taking the, well, er, piss, to be frankly honest.  Until I looked it up on Google Maps here: Fucking, Austria.  It’s as good as the town of Muff, in Ireland, which really does have it’s own Diving Club

    So, unless the German’s actually do have a sense of humour, and their version of April Fool’s Day is 29th March – and if Google Maps isn’t in on the gag – it seems we soon could be drinking a pint of “Fucking Hell.”

    You can read the full story here: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,686305,00.html

    Sunday, 28 March 2010

    Schumacher fails to shine in rain-sodden race

    “The German’s comeback is proving to be a struggle and, while the elements might have worked against him today and he got a touch unlucky in the opening lap, one can’t help but wonder that if Schumacher’s fortunes don’t change soon how long before he discovers that his neck is beginning to hurt again and that he may have to give up on Formula One for good…?”

    In sharp contrast to the opening race of the season, today’s Australian grand prix had more than its fair share of thrills and spills as the drivers started on intermediate tyres and then gambled like crazy to choose the right time to come in and change to dry-weather tyres.

    If Australia had been the opening race of the 2010 season, and if the race had run exactly as today’s did, the past two weeks would not have been spent with journalists and bloggers (myself included) filling column inches, Twitter posts and web pages with diatribes about how F1 needs to get its act in order.

    So the big question is going to be: can the excitement keep up?

    Red Bull dominated the front row in qualifying, with Vettel pipping local hero Webber to the Pole Position spot, but when the red lights went out at the start of the race the track was very different from yesterday.  Rain had been falling, the circuit was slick with water, and the teams were each predicting more rain at varying points in the race.

    The action was dramatic from the start as the drivers got underway gingerly in the damp conditions, Alonso more gingerly than most and quickly slipping down the order to tangle with Button and Michael Schumacher in the first corner, leaving the Ferrari driver facing the wrong way as the pack roared by.

    Schumacher’s front wing was damaged in the incident and he had to make his way back to the pits for a replacement, leaving him at the back of the pack with all the work to do too.

    The race continued in the same vain, with Button making an early call to switch to dry tyres and then immediately sliding off the track at the first corner.  It looked like it was a decision that could ruin his race, but the track – and the tyres – quickly came back to him and the reigning World Champion started pumping in fast times.

    With the timing board showing up his impressive progress the other drivers started streaming in for dry tyres – including race leader Vettel, who managed to get out and maintain control of the race before Button had a chance to catch him.  Had Button not slid off the circuit, he would undoubtedly have beaten the German to first place.

    The champ’s team-mate, however, was having a very different race.  Despite undoubtedly being the driver of the race, with overtaking manoeuvres left, right and centre that were unbelievably impressive, a wrong call for a fresh set of tyres and several tangles (including a shunt from a frustrated Mark Webber), meant the 2008 World Champion couldn’t get himself on to the podium and ended up finishing sixth.

    Vettel looked like he had the race in the bag until, just before half-way, a brake disc collapsed, chucking his Red Bull off the circuit and his hopes of victory in the bin for the second race in a row.

    Button took his second Australian victory in a row, with Renault’s Robert Kubica, and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa making up the remainder of the top three – none of them resorting to changing their tyres and hoping that their driving styles would mean they could keep the cars on the track as the tyres begin to wear – while Fernando Alonso and Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg filled the gap between the podium position finishers and Lewis Hamilton.

    Both Virgin cars, Kubica’s team-mate Petrov, Bruno Senna, Sebastien Buemi, Nico Hulkenberg, Kamui Kobayashi and Jarno Trulli failed to finish the race, while Heikki Kovalainen in the remaining Lotus and Karun Chandhok in the Hispania team car managed to bring their new team’s cars home, albeit lapped by much of the rest of the grid.

    But the new boys are showing themselves to be totally unafraid of the grid’s highest-paid driver, Michael Schumacher.  The seven-time champion may have had a reputation for being a little aggressive on track, but today he showed little of the flair that made him the champion he became.

    Instead, Jaime Alguersuari in the Torro Rosso showed that he wasn’t intimidated by the great man and kept him at bay for much of the race, with Schumacher eventually passing him and bringing his Mercedes home in the last points position, a lowly tenth.

    The German’s comeback is proving to be a struggle and, while the elements might have worked against him today and he got a touch unlucky in the opening lap, one can’t help but wonder that if Schumacher’s fortunes don’t change soon how long before he discovers that his neck is beginning to hurt again and that he may have to give up on Formula One for good…?

    Tuesday, 23 March 2010

    Mark Daniels and the fiery pizza of death

    Nothing has ever made me get up, run to the bathroom and stick my mouth under the cold tap before.

    Yesterday we decided we’d pop out for a spot of lunch, so Ali and I headed to the local Pizza Express.  Not because we were in the mood for a pizza, but because we had one of those gift credit cards, so it wasn’t going to cost us anything.

    I was actually in the mood for a curry and I’d already set my mind on the Diavolo pizza as it’s nice and spicy, so imagine my delight when I spotted a new pizza on their menu: the Calabrese.

    The waiter told me it was very hot, and so I ordered it.  I’m used to having to warn people about hot foods – Ali’s hottest version of her chilli once competed with a nuclear reactor core and was so warm that it actually burned a hole in the top of one of our tables – and I’ve always been a bit partial to hot food.

    When the pizza arrived I dug in.  I have to say it was very tasty, and appeared only mildly spicy.  Working my way in towards the centre of the pizza, chatting happily away to Ali about why I really needed to pick up a copy of Tiger Woods PGA Tour ‘10 as soon as possible, I suddenly became aware that my tear ducts had opened involuntarily.

    I wasn’t aware of any other symptoms at first until I took a swig of beer and carried on eating, at which point my mouth became hotter than Satan’s under-crackers.

    It was as if somebody had just lit a gas main over the top of my tongue, and then the tears began to flow properly.

    Now, I’ll admit that I’m getting older and my taste for hot food is probably weakening, but the last time an item of food actually made me cry I was sat on a beach in Penang eating a Malaysian curry.

    And nothing has ever made me get up, run to the bathroom and put my head under the cold tap to cool off my tongue.  But this did.

    Returning from the bathroom I tried my best to hide my tears and sat down, manning myself up to finish the pizza off.  The manager discreetly brought me a jug of iced water – bastard had seen me make a break for the bathroom – and checked everything was okay.

    “Fine,” I squeaked, as Ali giggled quietly to herself.

    So the Pizza Express Calabrese.  Lovely pizza, very tasty.  But only recommended for people with tongues made of asbestos.

    Thursday, 18 March 2010

    I’m a Web Fox…

    According to the BBC’s Lab services, I’m classed as a Web Fox:

    The following information is taken from the BBC’s website following an online science experiment: you can take part by visiting: https://www.bbc.co.uk/labuk/experiments/webbehaviour/

    Mark J Daniels, you are a Web Fox

    Fox

    Fast-moving - Web Foxes like you are great at finding information quickly, just as real-world foxes are always ready to pounce on an opportunity.

    Sociable - Foxes are highly social animals, maintaining complex relationships with the other members of their social group. When you browse the web you are also a social creature, often using social networks, or other sites whose content is created by its users, as sources of information.

    Adaptable - Web Foxes are highly adaptable multitaskers, able to do several things at the same time – just like real-world foxes who can rapidly change their behaviour to suit their environments.

    How we worked out your web animal

    Our web animals are just for fun, but the test is based on solid and rigorous science, so your results should tell you something interesting about your web behaviour.

    Three aspects of your web behaviour were used to work out your web animal.

    Adaptable or specialised?

    Family using the internet

    We aren't always as good at multitasking as we think we are

    The internet allows us to do lots of things at the same time. You might be listening to music and updating your blog while receiving news alerts and chatting online with friends. Then an email arrives. Can you switch seamlessly between different tasks? Or are you actually less efficient?

    Indeed, a study from Stanford University in California suggests that people who spend their time multitasking might actually be less good at juggling tasks than non-multitaskers.

    If you are an ‘adaptable’ web animal, then you scored highly on our tests that measured your ability to multitask. If your web animal is ‘specialised’, then you are probably better suited to taking on one task at a time.

    Fast-moving or slow-moving?

    Multitasking woman

    Slow and steady sometimes wins the race

    The internet helps people find information fast. Practice makes perfect, and its possible to learn techniques for getting to the information you need quickly. But speed isn’t the same as accuracy. The first answer you find isn’t necessarily the right answer.

    We measured the time it took you to complete a series of search tasks. If you are a fast-moving web animal, you took less time than average. This maybe because you know exactly what you’re doing, but could also mean you missed important information. If you are a slow-moving web animal, this could be because you're less confident, that you focused on getting the rightanswer rather than the first one.

    Social or solitary?

    Family using the internet

    An online social life could influence the way you trust people

    The internet has radically multiplied the ways in which we can meet new friends and stay in contact with existing ones. (Internet guru Clay Shirky once said that before the internet came along, the most recent technology that affected the way people sat down and talked to each other was the table.) So how social are you online?

    If your web animal is social, you probably told us you spend quite a lot of time on social networking sites and that you tend to trust sites whose content is created by its users. If your web animal is solitary, you probably don’t socialise as much online and are inclined to trust sites whose content is produced in a more traditional, ‘authoritative’ way.

    Social behaviour online is a fascinating area of study for our scientists. They would like to understand the relationship between time spent online and the type of information sources users choose to trust.

    Tuesday, 16 March 2010

    Formula One is in need of some Hormone Replacement Therapy

    Here’s hoping the 2010 F1 season doesn’t turn out to be too much of a bore.  Without Michael Schumacher winning all the time it just won’t be the same…

    I think I’m finally over the shock.

    After months of waiting, hype, speculation and anticipation, the Formula One season finally got under way this weekend, with Bahrain hosting the season opener rather than Australia.

    There was much to look forward to, not least the fact that the sport I have loved since the tender age of three years old (and I’m now much older than that) was getting under way again.  We had new rules – smaller front tyres, no refuelling and so on – and new teams.  The inaugural Korean Grand Prix will get underway later this year and, with Mercedes taking over Brawn GP, us Brits found ourselves with that mouth-watering fight we always love: England versus Germany.

    Reigning world champ Jenson Button joined the 2008 champion, Lewis Hamilton, at McLaren while Mercedes lined themselves up spectacularly with Nico Rosberg and, wait for it, the return of the master himself: Michael Schumacher.

    With Fernando Alonso taking over from Kimi Raikkonen (who appears to have left F1 for a career of crashing cars in the World Rally Championship) at Ferrari, the line up of Hamilton, Button, Alonso and Schumacher means four world champions on the grid.

    USF1 Grand Prix failed to make it to the grid at the last minute (wow, didn’t see that one coming), meaning just three new teams turned up in Bahrain to compete.  Lotus, Virgin and HRT.  Whoever thought of calling a team HRT?  All it makes me think of is my wife.

    Apparently, though, it stands for Hispania Racing Team and I couldn’t help, out of all the teams, feeling sorry for them.  With no chance to test their car before they arrived in Bahrain, all their shakedowns were done on site and it meant that Karun Chandhok, India’s latest F1 prodigy, didn’t get to drive a single lap of Bahrain until he went out to qualify because of hydraulic problems that blighted him through most of the practice sessions.

    Ultimately, this meant he qualified last and crashed first as he struggled to get to terms with his new car and a rather bumpy Sakhir circuit.  But that doesn’t mean we should write him off yet – given that he had had no running he quickly made up his pace to qualify just a second and a half behind his team mate, the late Ayrton Senna’s nephew, Bruno Senna.  In F1 terms, that sort of gap is a life time, but considering Senna – who eventually broke down on lap seventeen and whose uncle had touted him as faster than the great champion himself – had managed to run in the previous practice sessions and get some experience under his belt, he qualified only one place ahead of Chandhok … and almost three seconds off the pace of 22nd place Lucas di Grassi in his Virgin.

    The shiny green Lotus of Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen found themselves in 20th and 21st respectively, sandwiched, as they were, between a pair of Virgins, with Timo Glock qualifying 19th.

    The rest of the grid lined up almost as the bookies had predicted, with Vettel fooling everybody at the last minute and putting his Red Bull on Pole Position.  In the one-upmanship game, Massa trumped new team-mate Alonso by getting on the front row alongside Vettel, pushing the double-world-champion back in to third.

    But there was never any doubt about which of the two Ferraris would be ahead of the other as the first lap came to an end and, after the lights went out and the race got underway, it seems to me that the most spectacular thing to happen was that Mark Webber’s engine spent most of the race looking like it was going to explode, but never actually did.

    What followed was pretty much what everybody who isn’t a fan of Formula One always says happens: a procession.  Cars going round and round in circles.  There were a couple of taps and a suspension failure for Renault’s new boy Vitaly Petrov but other than that the opening race to one of the most eagerly anticipated Grand Prix of recent years was, well, boring.

    Michael Schumacher moved up from seventh to sixth and then spent the rest of the race hoping he could remember which was the brake pedal, but the guy has been out of the sport for three years so we really ought to give him chance.

    Reigning world champ Button went up from 8th to 7th.  And then spent the rest of the race hoping he could remember which was the brake pedal…  Team-mate Lewis Hamilton started fourth, finished third … but only thanks to the fact that Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull developed a mechanical problem and it was all that the German could do to keep himself in the running.

    Otherwise, to be fair, he’d have won and the Ferrari’s wouldn’t have finished first and second.

    The new rules have actively encouraged the teams to build strategies around preventing tyre wear and conserving petrol.  Nobody wanted to push hard, nobody wanted to be aggressive and everybody just drove around in circles until Alonso won.

    Bernie Ecclestone has warned against knee-jerk reactions to the opening of the season, but we all know he’s a bit pissed off because he’s told the teams that they are in the business of providing entertainment and not conserving fuel.

    A knee-jerk reaction might be too much too soon and we’re all hoping that Australia in a couple of week’s time will be a lot more exciting and prove us wrong, but there’s no doubt about it: Formula One might just be in need of some serious Hormone Replacement Therapy.

    If they need any pointers, they should watch the rerun of Sunday’s IndyCar 300 from Sao Paulo.  Even though the American series racers don’t like driving in the rain, there was action from first to last corner and the race was eventually won by a man whose parents obviously had a sense of humour: Will Power.

    Here’s hoping the 2010 F1 season doesn’t turn out to be too much of a bore.  Without Michael Schumacher winning all the time it just won’t be the same…

    Thursday, 11 March 2010

    My claim to fame…

    Google Streetview has gone live on the majority of the UK’s roads this morning, both urban and rural, so – as all good geeks do – I had a play around with it this morning.

    Then I remembered that I had once seen the Google Cam car working its way through our sleepy village so started to have a potter about.  And that’s when I discovered this:

    Me on Streetview!

    It seems that not only do I remember the day the Google car was in the village, but it remembers me, too!  At least I can say I was doing my bit for the planet, taking the bottles to the bottle bank in my green wheelie bin, as I was.

    Wednesday, 10 March 2010

    Growing up before 1980…

    I received this on e-mail yesterday and it made me smile… thought I’d share:

    When I was a kid, adults used to bore me to tears with their tedious diatribes about how hard things were. When they were growing up; what with walking twenty-five miles to school every morning.... Uphill... Barefoot... BOTH ways… yadda, yadda, yadda

    And I remember promising myself that when I grew up, there was no way in hell I was going to lay
    a bunch of crap like that on my kids about how hard I had it and how easy they've got it!
    But now that I'm over the ripe old age of thirty, I can't help but look around and notice the youth of today.  You've got it so easy!  I mean, compared to my childhood, you live in a damn Utopia!

    And I hate to say it, but you kids today, you don't know how good you've got it!

    I mean, when I was a kid we didn't have the Internet.  If we wanted to know something, we had to go to the damn library and look it up ourselves, in the card catalog!!


    There was no email!!  We had to actually write somebody a letter - with a pen!
    Then you had to walk all the way across the street and put it in the mailbox, and it would take like a week to get there!  Stamps were 10 pence!

    Child Protective Services didn't care if our parents beat us.  As a matter of fact, the parents of all my friends also had permission to kick our ass! Nowhere was safe!


    There were no MP3's or Napsters or iTunes!  If you wanted to steal music, you had to hitchhike to the record store and shoplift it yourself!


    Or you had to wait around all day to tape it off the radio, and the DJ would usually talk over the beginning and @#*% it all up!  There were no CD players! We had tape decks in our car..  We'd play our favorite tape and "eject" it when finished, and then the tape would come undone rendering it useless. Cause, hey, that's how we rolled, Baby!  Dig?


    We didn't have fancy crap like Call Waiting!  If you were on the phone and somebody else called, they got a busy signal, that's it!


    There weren't any freakin' mobile phones either. If you left the house, you just didn't make a damn call or receive one. You actually had to be out of touch with your "friends". OH MY GOD !!!  Think of the horror... not being in touch with someone 24/7!!!  And then there's TEXTING.  Yeah, right.  Please!  You kids have no idea how annoying you are.

    And we didn't have fancy Caller ID either! When the phone rang, you had no idea who it was!  It could be your school, your parents, your boss, your bookie, the collection agent... you just didn't know!!!  You had to pick it up and take your chances, mister!

    We didn't have any fancy PlayStation or Xbox video games with high-resolution 3-D graphics!  We had the Atari 2600!  With games like 'Space Invaders' and 'Asteroids'.  Your screen guy was a little square!  You actually had to use your imagination!!!  And there were no multiple levels or screens, it was just one screen... Forever!  And you could never win.  The game just kept getting harder and harder and faster and faster until you died!  Just like LIFE!
    You had to use a little book called a TV Guide to find out what was on! You were screwed when it came to channel surfing!  You had to get off your ass and walk over to the TV to change the channel!!!  NO REMOTES!!!  Oh, no, what's the world coming to?!?!


    There was no Cartoon Network either! You could only get cartoons on Saturday Morning.  Do you hear what I'm saying? We had to wait
    ALL WEEK for cartoons, you spoiled little rat-finks!
    And we didn't have microwaves.  If we wanted to heat something up, we had to use the stove!  Imagine that!

    And our parents told us to stay outside and play... all day long.  Oh, no, no electronics to soothe and comfort.  And if you came back inside... you were doing chores!

    And car seats - oh, please!  Mom threw you in the back seat and you hung on.  If you were luckily, you got the "safety arm" across the chest at the last moment if she had to stop suddenly, and if your head hit the dashboard, well that was your fault for calling "shot gun" in the first place! 

    See!  That's exactly what I'm talking about! You kids today have got it too easy. You're spoiled rotten!  You guys wouldn't have lasted five minutes back in 1980 or any time before!
    Regards,

    The Over 30 Crowd
    (Send this to someone you'd like to make smile)

    Tuesday, 2 March 2010

    Sony PS3 meets Toyota Y2K

    My wind-up watch gets confused by February 29th every year and it’s still working…

    A confused PlayStation 3, yesterday Laying in bed this morning I was filled with dread as I heard horror stories on the news about Sony PlayStation 3 units going in to meltdown as a slightly delayed reaction to the Millennium Bug caught up with the modern world.

    This caused me a moment of panic, as I love my PlayStation.  It was probably the one gadget that I would take with me as I leapt from a burning building, mainly because it has all my high scores on it and a new one would mean I’d have to start all over again…

    The problem was simple: for some reason, older PS3 units believed the year 2010 to be a Leap Year and, therefore, at midnight on Sunday simply changed the date to the 29th February 2010.

    I didn’t switch my PS3 on yesterday, so I didn’t notice the issue, but despite Sony’s demands that users don’t switch on their consoles until they fix the bug I leapt out of bed and switched on my beloved console to make sure it was still alive.

    Sure enough, it said today’s date was March 1st 2010.  So I switched the date to March 2nd and all is fine.  My high scores are still safe, my machine still connects to the Internet, planes haven’t fallen out of the sky, and Sony don’t have to send me a bug fix via urgent Acme courier delivery service.

    It all seems as overblown as the Toyota accelerator pedal recall to me; After all, all drivers have got to do is hit the brakes and the car will stop and all PS3 users have got to do is change the date on their console.  My wind-up watch gets confused by February 29th every year and it’s still working…

    Monday, 1 March 2010

    What That Renault Did This Month…

    A really rubbish car, unfortunately.Those of you who have been following the “Renault” blogs will know that in June 2009 I bought a Renault Vel Satis and by July 2009 I was regretting it.  The car was littered with faults, all of which should have been resolved under the warranty that was apparently provided by the dealer that sold it to me: Bulldog Premier of Downham Market.

    The list of faults were quite endless, ranging from little issues such as the outside temperature display not

    Where the Sat Nav always thought it was...
    working, through to the utterly ridiculous such as the satellite navigation constantly thinking it was parked in The Wash.  Or the door mirrors that repeatedly adjusted themselves to a totally useless position each time you got in the car.

    And then there were the more serious faults, such as the slightly annoying gearbox clunk and the starter motor that failed…

    It was the starter motor that really was the straw that broke the camel’s back when it came to Bulldog Premier.  When I’d purchased the car the salesman had told me it came with a 6-month, 6’000 mile all-inclusive warranty.  And then I found out that they weren’t prepared to honour that, either because the salesman had lied to me (one suggestion put forward by the company secretary) and that I didn’t really have a warranty at all, or because they really just didn’t want to spend the money on the car and were doing their damnedest to ensure that they didn’t have to.

    The gearbox ‘clunk’, they said, was a natural quirk of Renault’s revolutionary gearbox from 2002 and nothing to worry about.  The car didn’t have an outside temperature gauge, they pointed out, which was why it didn’t work on the dashboard.  The mirrors adjusted themselves according to the memory setting that I had in place, and therefore I must have set them wrong.  And the satellite navigation didn’t work properly, they surmised, because it wasn’t an original copy of the Renault software.  Which is odd, because they supplied it to me.  And charged me for the disk…

    You might remember from the last “Renault” blog that just as I thought I’d had a clear month with no problems, the dashboard lit up with an “Automatic Handbrake Failure” warning.  When I took the car to a local Renault dealer, they pointed out that it was the computer that had failed and it would cost the better part of £600 to repair.  Just to make a handbrake work again.  “Oh,” the engineer added, “and your gearbox is f***ed.”

    It turns out that the ‘quirky clunk’ that Bulldog had told me not to worry about was the sound of the automatic gearbox clutch slowly lunching itself.  That’ll be at least another £1’000 please…

    And so the Renault is no more.  It’s gone, replaced with an ageing, high-mileage Chrysler Grand Voyager for the time being.  It’s not pretty, but it’s practical, and it was cheap, and if the handbrake goes on that it should cost me nowhere near the amount it was going to on the Renault…

    It’s a shame.  I liked the Vel Satis, it ticked every synapse that makes me want to buy a car, and it was quick and comfortable.  It could have been a pleasure to own, but it wasn’t.  I know you can get “Friday afternoon” cars, always littered with problems, but you can also buy them from rubbish car dealers who’ll do their best to make it seem like it’s your fault, when it isn’t.

    The Outside Temperature Gauge, for example, did exist.  It was just that the wires behind the wing mirror had been cut and taped back together with electrician’s tape by some bodge-it mechanic.  I couldn’t possibly say where from…