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USA ’18 – Day 3 – Not so Fast not so Furious

Our drive along the 192 into the parks takes us past numerous eating establishments but at the very end there is a formal looking building with the words “Bob Evans” above the door. Initially I thought that it might be an estate agents or a realtor in the local parlance but a quick search identified it as a restaurant. I then made the mistake of suggesting to the rest of the occupants of the car that as it had Evans’ name above the door it must be a more up market restaurant. This was quickly shot down in flames as it was pointed out to me that if having your name above your eatery was a mark of good quality that would make Wendy’s, Denny’s and McDonalds all fine dining. They had a point so I quickly drove on. I’d like to say that nothing was said of it again but these things have a way of coming back to haunt you.

Today’s park was Universal which is actually two parks but they are so small (compared to Disney) and so close together that we consider them as one. Universal feels a lot more adult in its theme with rides based on the likes of Harry Potter (of which there are many), Transformers, Simpsons and Fast and Furious.

We made our way straight to the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride for which the signs said there were 10 minute wait times. I can only assume that was the wait time to secure a locker because beyond that and the long walk to the ride itself there were no delays (as seen below). In keeping with many of the more recent rides in Universal this makes use of screens to display action as you are moved from scene to scene in some sort of cart. This is a lot more effective that I have made it sound here. The best example is probably the Transformers ride which seems very immersive.

Next stop was to Hogsmeade station where a trip on the Hogwarts express awaited us. This is what appears to be a real steam locomotive pulling four carriages. It is incredibly realistic. Once you are seated inside you really could be on your way to Platform 9 3/4 as the windows are replaced with TV screens projecting images of your journey including a number of iconic movie places and a very realistic run into London. It was very impressive. You step out onto Kings Cross station which too is very realistic.

That is not an accusation you could lay at Universal’s newest ride Fast & Furious — Supercharged. It had only been open a week and today was the official opening. Despite this, like the rest of the park, it was pretty quiet and we got on it easily albeit slowly. We all came off the ride saying the same thing – “is that it?” It was very short and pretty tame compared to the high octane films. I don’t think we’ll be rushing to go on it again.

Today was the first time ever (I think) that I have gone completely camera free on holiday. Instead all the pictures were taken with my phone and don’t seem to have suffered any for that. I did feel a little naked not carrying the camera round though and it is much easier to hold and use than a phone so I may yet still take it out with me.

For our evening meal we went to The Cheesecake Factory. I was feeling bloated from all the other meals we have had so I ordered off the skinnylicious menu where the salads were under 600 calories. What turned up was the biggest plate of salad I have ever seen and while it was delicious I could still only manager half of it!

What do you mean mats aren’t included?

Those of you that are reading this and know me will know that I like my cars fast and, like many others, like top end marques such as Jaguar, Aston Martin and Tesla.

Helen and I have long talked about what our next car would be to replace the hated Vauxhall Insignia and had our eye on a nice new BMW 1 Series. Yesterday we bought a Hyundai i30. How on earth did that happen?

Our current car, the aforementioned Vauxhall Insignia, we’ve had from new since 2009 and has been a pain from day one. We picked it up from a garage in Cambridgeshire and on the drive home there were problem with the electrics. Over the years there have been all sorts of issues with it including needing a brand new gearbox. We’ve spent a lot of money on that car and it hasn’t seemed very grateful.

Just recently there have been a spate of niggly issues with it (the coolant appears to be leaking away somewhere) and it has been in and out of the garage. So it was clear that its days were numbered and I wanted to avoid the issue we had with the previous car, a BMW 3 Series, where I came out to drive to work one morning and found that it had wet itself!

In an ideal world I would have been straight off the the local Tesla garage and ordered a fully loaded Model S or even that BMW 1 Series but financial realities took hold and so we found ourselves sat in the Hyundai showroom. We had pre-booked a test drive and they were obviously keen for us to attend having emailed, phoned AND texted to make sure we were going to be there.

I have to say that I like the look of the Hyundai but I had low expectations for the comfort and engine so I was pleasantly surprised when we took it out for a spin. It not only drove well but was comfortable too. Based on this we decided to commit. As an aside it seems that the time spent viewing (anything) is inversely proportional to the purchase price. I’m sure we spent more time contemplating our last fridge than we did this car!

One of the things that had drawn us into the Hyundai garage was a very generous amount on offer as part of a government backed scrappage scheme to take older, more polluting cars off the road. We knew that this would be £4,000 for our Vauxhall and the salesman almost immediately upped this to £5,000 or about £5,000 more than our car was actually worth! I did also consider asking if I could come and watch as my old car was crushed just to make sure nobody else had to suffer it.

Next came the difficult questions – what did we want from our car. We had a fairly modest list: not the 1 litre engine, had to be petrol, doesn’t need Sat Nav, shouldn’t be white, er, that’s about it. It seems that Hyundai have taken a leaf out of the Henry Ford playbook as we were told we could have any colour we wanted as long as it was white.  If we wanted a poncy name colour that would be an extra £600 – kerching! Oh and as for that 1.4 engine you can only get that with the third model up, the SE NAV, which, of course, comes with Sat Nav and a higher price tag – kerching!

Then there are the insurances, one of which was to protect the paint and upholstery. From behind his desk the salesman produced a large bag, similar to a pilots flight bag. From this he began to pull all sorts of cans and bottles like a magician pulling rabbits from a hat. He then explained that these could be used when polishing the car. Helen and I looked at each other and then back to him. “Polish the car?” we thought, “that’s not happening.” Maybe we could gift the bag and its contents to the nice Eastern European gentlemen at the local hand wash place at the shopping centre?

By this point we had been in the showroom for getting on for two and a half hours and I was frozen and if I heard diamond cut wheels one more time I was going to scream. Part of the problem was that our conversations with the salesman were punctuated by long breaks as he went off to check things. As it turned out this checking also seemed to include the score of the England v Ireland rugby match…

Decisions had been made and so the salesman took us through our purchase and the financial implications of it. “So you have the Hyundai i30 SE Nav in poncy name blue with 1.4 litre petrol engine, electric mirrors, bluetooth, DAB radio, Apple carplay, a wireless charging mat, rear parking sensors and rear parking camera (why both?). Oh and are you happy to pay £60 for the floor mats?” Excuse me? The floor mats aren’t included in the price but a sodding rear facing parking camera is? Ah you see these aren’t any sort of mats, oh no these are “luxury” floor mats! I am therefore expecting them to be stitched with gold thread.

The deed is done and it has to be delivered to us (well we have to collect it) before the end of the month to ensure that the scrappage applies. I just hope that this time we can make it home from the garage before a warning light comes on!

Kudos to Eddie Izzard

So last week I completed my Couch to 5k journey and despite not really enjoying it (I said in the last post “I have always found exercise to be a chore and derive no pleasure from it whatsoever” and I stand by that) I have continued with it as I am using it as a way to help me lose weight.

At the same time as I was complaining about completing 5k Eddie Izzard was doing 42.195 kilometres a day for 27 days for charity. I take my hat off to him as I really cannot comprehend how he managed to do it when I struggle to run for half an hour. In fact on the last day Izzard did the equivalent of two marathons (84.39K). Unbelievable.

So kudos to Eddie Izzard. I won’t be emulating your feat but I am inspired to keep it up and I have bought some new trainers to celebrate!

You can donate to Sport Relief the charity Eddie was running for here.

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Couch to 5K

So I am happy to write this blog post now that I have finished the nine weeks of couch to 5k. For those that don’t know what c25k is it’s a nine week plan that gets anyone at any level of fitness from sedentary to running for 5K three times a week.

As it turns out, C25K is not a strictly accurate name as it actually gets you to running for 30 minutes three times a week and whether that is 5k will, of course, depend on your speed. For me the closest I got was 4.49006976 kilometres!

It has been a deliberate move on my part to not tell anyone that I was doing the plan until now that I have completed it. This was simply because I didn’t want to tell everyone only to not complete it. Also I knew that it would come up when I met anyone I told who would want to know my progress which would pile on the pressure to complete it. So I didn’t tell anyone even when it would have been obvious to say, something my wife found very amusing. So I have completed it on my own terms.

This secrecy also extended to going out first thing in the morning when it was dark and cold. Week one it was pitch black when I left and also when I returned 30-40 minutes later. By the end of the ninth week it was just cold and everyone in the street could see what I was doing. And how I was dressed. As you can see from the picture below I look like Reading’s best dressed cat burglar!


C25K is a nine week plan and there are many podcasts to guide you but I chose the one from the NHS figuring that they would go out of their way to ensure I didn’t end up in hospital using their services which would be self defeating. These podcasts are narrated by “Laura”, a Northern lass who guides and encourages you along the way.

Laura assures me that it is quite natural to feel knackered and when she is running she does such and such. I have no way of validating this and strongly suspect that she was chosen for her comforting voice rather than running prowess.

I found some of Laura’s idioms a bit odd. She regularly tells me that “You’re doing really great” when I would have thought that it would be more natural to say “You are doing really WELL”. I can imagine a committee somewhere in NHS Towers where they argued long into the night over the precise wording that would motivate.

As the weeks progressed I got to week six where I was running with no walk break in between and Laura announces that I am now officially a runner. I await delivery of my certificate in the post. I get back home and my legs ache for pretty much the rest of the day and I wonder if it will ever feel easier. My wife helpfully tells me that “if your legs hurt it shows it’s doing some good”. Easy to say from her position of not having been out for a run!

Last week I completed the ninth week of couch to 5k. If I was expecting hearts and flowers from Laura I was to be disappointed. The last week of the NHS’ C25K podcasts were strangely impersonal with the last three runs being all exactly the same. I don’t think it would have hurt to have recorded a different one for the very last run.

So what now I have completed the nine weeks?

Well, some people apparently get a rush of endorphins when they complete their exercise and have a buzz for hours after. I don’t. I have always found exercise to be a chore and derive no pleasure from it whatsoever – it is a means to an end. I recognise that I need to do something and so I will persist until something less taxing but with the same benefits comes along. I might buy some new trainers though!

This post has been adapted from a weekly blog on The Chubby Challenge and you can read them all here.

The Human Google Interface

I had a request from one of my sons recently where he was struggling to find something on Google (other search engines are available just not as comprehensive) and asked me to see what I could find. If there was a university degree in finding things on Google I’d have a first with distinction.

What was interesting about this was that both my sons are very intelligent and have grown up with search engines so the request could only be one of two things: laziness or a failure in the simplicity of the interface. Given the nature of the request I discounted the first option and anyway it was never going to be quicker to ask me than to just do it yourself, right ;-).

The Google interface is deceptively simple – type in some words and a list comes back of things Google thinks are relevant to your search. Searching for human google interface, for example, brings back “About 103,000,000 results” – that’s a lot of pages to wade through sifting the wheat from the chaff. Gone are the days of finding a Googlewhack. However, searching for “human google interface” returns only 85 matches. That amount I can sift through.

And there is the issue in two quotation marks. The real real power of Google lies not in being able to type in the search box but in being able to harness the power of the search operators to get a list of results that is both manageable and meaningful. So while Google is an amazing resource much of the usefulness is trapped behind that simple text box and until they, and other search engine providers, discover a way to humanise it then it will remain that way.

It will make someone enormously rich.

Ten Years a’blogging

I missed an anniversary in January – ten years since I have been running my own blog. I did blog prior to that, sporadically, on Blogger but this was the first time that I took it seriously, firstly using Greymatter and then transferring to WordPress.

Over the years there have been some ups and downs and I even considered quitting completely after one particularly nasty attack with the hacker trying to extort money out of me to get things back online. I refused and rebuilt everything on a more secure platform.

Looking back across all the posts they have seem to converged onto a couple of themes: music and travel, which seems to accurately reflect my interest. Although other passions (technology and Williams F1 Team) are dealt with elsewhere.

The blog is really here for my enjoyment rather than yours which is why I don’t bother much with SEO, finding the right post title or any keyword analytics. In fact it’s pretty amazing that you are here at all, did you stumble upon the blog by mistake? Well thanks for looking you are in a select band of 50-60 people that stop by every day.

I enjoy bashing out the occasional post so I will continue. Here’s to the next ten years!

Always the Bridesmaid…

I have written about my younger son’s playing of League of Legends before. Yesterday was the culmination of months of games in the NUEL (National University eSports League) with over 300 teams having been whittled down to the final two with Mat’s UoB Storm pitted against Nottingham Bears. Unfortunately they lost out but it was still a mighty achievement and we are incredibly proud of what he has achieved.

Thinking about Mat’s participation reminded me of a post I wrote way back in 2009 about something I saw, with Mat as it happens, at Gadget Show Live and my comments. Part of the show was seeing the Guitar Hero World Champion in action. This is what I said at the time:

He must have been about 16 and while quite impressive you can’t help but think that his parents would probably have been more pleased if he put in the same amount of effort on revising for his GCSEs than the enormous amount of practice he must have put in on Guitar Hero!

One of the boy’s parents subsequently contacted me to say how proud they were of their son and how well he had done in his exams.

Fast forward six years and I find myself in a similar position with Mat in the final year of his degree and as parents wanting him to do well and here’s the thing – he is, very well. It seems that, my offspring at least, are capable of managing their time more so than perhaps I have given them credit for.

It’s hard as a parent to realise that your children have grown up and don’t rely on you anymore but sometimes you’ve just got to let go. It seems that they are quite capable without our support – it must have been they way their mother brought them up!

Solar Eclipse

As I write this and look out of my window it is a beautiful day. The sun is shining down and there is not a cloud in the sky.

Wind back to this morning when the solar eclipse was supposed to be happening it was grey and overcast with zero chance of seeing what the BBC described as ‘Breathtaking’. I think that this is a prime example of ‘sod’s law‘.

So I have drawn a picture of what it would have looked like had the skys been clear…

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Every Episode of House M.D.

Opening scene somebody gets ill, others around are concerned but this is misdirection as ta-dah it’s one of the concerned others that falls sick and needs a trip to the hospital.

Someone tries to entice House to take the case by offering up tidbits of information about the illness but he is not interested. Then someone mentions something inconsequential and he snatches the case file and accepts.

Initial diagnosis is unclear but it could just be Lupus but ‘it’s not Lupus’ (except for when it is). Patient is started on a series of meds but they get worse, usually involving a lot of blood from some unusual orifice. An alternative diagnosis rears its head at this point and the patient begins to respond to the change of medicines but we are not fooled as it is only half way through the episode and know there is an imminent relapse coming.

At this point Foreman is sent to break into the home of said patient to rifle through their draws and find something that might relate to the case. Often this will show up nothing but later in the episode Foreman will casually mention something trivial such as a bus pass they had seen and House will chide Foreman for not mentioning it earlier. The next diagnosis will related to something caught off the seat of a public bus.

By now prospects for a healthy recovery are looking low and you fear the worst – that House might finally fail and a person might actually die. But no, wait a minute, perhaps it is the thing that we thought it was in the first place just hiding as something else! Start them on the meds and they’ll be right as rain.

Literally minutes later the colour is back in the patients cheeks and within 24 hours they are discharged and are last seen running a marathon.

Three cheers for Doctor House!