Monthly Archives: July 2011

Odori Done?

This is a dish called Odori-Don.  Made from Salmon, Seaweed, and Caviar, It has a dead squid on top that “dances” when Soy Sauce is poured on it, activating it’s neurons.

Not sure I could manage to eat this!

Odori Don

Unashamedly Plugging

I may just have mentioned on one or two or six occasions about my fabulous Retired Racing Greyhound Tinker, who we’ve had for well over a year now.

We obtained him from the local branch of the Retired Greyhounds Trust, an organisation dedicated to rehoming retired racers.

They’ve recently produced a promotional video to help in their work, and I’m doing my extremely small piece to help by linking to it below.  In the video clip you’ll see Dillymore, where we got Tinker from, and some gorgeous Grey’s which remind me in so many ways of our little Tinker.

Please take a look, and if you should ever find yourself looking for a new pet, I sincerely hope you’ll give a Greyhound a look.  They are the most wonderful pet, with such a great laid back temprament, such a nice nature, and they don’t need as much exercise as you might think!

 

A Gentleman’s Grooming Tools

I’ve come to realise something interesting over the last 18 months or so.   I happened to mention it in conversation at work today and several other people agreed with my realisation, even though they only realised when I pointed it out.

Gillette Fusion ProGlide

I am referring to the quality of Mans Shaving Razors currently available.

For many years I have (in hindsight foolishly) fallen for the marketing hype, and persistently bought Gillette Razors.  After all, they are “The Best a man can get”, right?   My Father always used to use Gillette, and to start with I tended to follow suit.

I’m not sure why, but at some point I picked up a pack of Wilkinson Sword blades, probably on offer somewhere or other, and have been using them for quite some time (since Jan/Feb if not earlier) perfectly happily and without issue.

I’ve recently needed to stock up on blades, so I picked up Gillette once again, wincing as usual about the price!  In use I’ve now noticed something which I’d specifically not noticed with the Wilkinson Sword variety.

Wilkinson Sword Hydro Razors

I’ve noticed that I can only use the Gillette ones about twice before they are blunt enough to leave my face feeling quite sore.  The pack of four blades I bought for an obscene sum less than a month ago has just about seen all the use it’s going to, and I’ll be replacing them once again.    On reflection the pack of Eight Wilkinson Sword blades I bought in Jan/Feb has lasted me until mid June, which is significantly longer, and without such a marked decrease in shaving quality.

I don’t want to think about the price per shave I get out of the two packs respectively, but suffice it to say that I get FAR FAR better value for money out of the Wilkinson Sword ones.  Shaving quality is good with both, and while the Gillette ones might “currently” have the edge (pardon the pun) on first use, they quickly tail off in comparison.

So, I will be bying more of the Wilkinson Sword Hydro razors in the future, and deliberately staying away from the Gillette.  That is until the marketing machine convinces me otherwise and the next incarnation of the “Fusion ProGlide Ultra Extreme Power” or whatever Gillette produce next comes along and I am taken in by the marketing and convinced to give them a try!

Do you have a preferred brand of razor?  and have you noticed a similar problem with the Gillette brand ones?

 

Customer Service

I’ve seen examples of both Amazing/Excellent Customer Service, and pretty piss poor couldn’t-care-less Customer Service in the last 24 hours.

My DART Tag

Starting with the negative first, earlier this week I had cause to travel through the Dartford Toll Crossing twice. As a reasonably regular traveler of that route in the past, I long ago invested in a “DART-TAG” to make my life easier, and to save a few pennies.  What SHOULD happen is that as you approach the toll barrier, the equipment there somehow senses the presence of your tag, and so just debits the charge to your account.  In most cases you don’t even have to stop, the barrier is sensitive enough and quick enough for you to just slowly drive on through.  The Tag usually emits a loud “bleep” to indicate it’s been recognised, and you get a nice friendly message saying that the toll had been paid (or your credit was low of course!).  But this time, when I tried it on the way “out” this week, NOTHING HAPPENED.

No Bleep.  No nice friendly message, and most importantly NO ACCESS through the barrier.   And of course the car behind me was right up behind me, meaning I couldn’t reverse to reach the machine’s coin catcher if I wanted to.

I had to go rummaging around in the loose change in my pockets, and rolling about in the car trying to find enough change to pay my toll.  I could see the people in the car behind me getting impatient and exasperated, and then I had to sort of wriggle out of the window and reach over my shoulder and behind me to get the money in the machine.

The return journey was a similar experience, only I was prepared for the eventuality that it might not work and had the cash ready to use.

So as you might expect, I looked at the Tag Website to see what if anything was said about a Tag not responding, and there was nothing.  The “FAQ” seemed quite laughable in actual fact, when you consider the number of tags that must be out there (mine is numbered well in to the hundreds of thousands) it is not outside the realms of possibility that they might just stop working every so often, for whatever reason.   Simply NOT having a “What do I do if my tag doesn’t work” in the FAQ doesn’t really make me think that it’s a wholly reliable solution that never goes wrong, merely that the operators of the service are too short sighted to realise that this is EXACTLY the sort of thing an FAQ might actually be Helpful with.   Instead I resorted to the “for any other enquiries please e-mail xxxxxx” option, seeing as the published telephone numbers all seemingly close at 5.30pm!

Anyway, to my disappointment, it’s been over 24 hours now, and I’ve not so much as had an acknowledgement of my e-mail, let alone an answer to my problem.   If I’d have been traveling through the Crossing again today, it would have cost me £1.50 each way instead of £1 each way with the tag, so I’d have lost more money.  I therefore hold this up as a classic example of (1) how to NOT help your customers via your Service Website, and (2) how to NOT help your customers by responding in a timely manner.  There’s nothing for it but to label this as  BAD CUSTOMER SERVICE.

And then the positive.

I was gutted today to discover when I picked my Kindle up intending to use it, that the screen appears to have broken.

My rather broken Kindle

I can genuinely say that I’ve not dropped it, smacked it, or anything else.  Indeed you can see the plastic surround is pristine and undamaged, as is the surface of the screen itself.   I keep it in a purpose made leather wallet which is also totally undamaged.   When transporting it, I tend to put it in my baggage right next to my iPad which is also absolutely fine, so I have absolutely no idea how this damage occured.

Unfortunately it renders the Kindle quite unusable.  The top/right hand part of the screen stubbornly displays the last “advert” it displayed in Sleep mode before I turned it on, and the bottom/left part of the screen works more or less as normal.

So I called Amazon using the “call me back” facility on the Website.   I bought the Kindle back in March this year, from my local Tesco.  I had Googled “Kindle Repairs” and come up fairly short, so really wanted to ask Amazon if they could offer or recommend a repair service.  However I was astounded by what happened next.

I explained what I’d found, and how I couldn’t explain how the damage had occured, and before I could ask my questions, the operator started asking me a few other things.  When did I purchase the unit?  I wasn’t totally sure, maybe as long as 6 months ago from Tesco, I hadn’t bought it from Amazon.co.uk directly.  No, to the best of my knowledge it hadn’t been dropped, or squashed, or exposed to water.  Yes, I had tried the “cold reset” facility.    Ok then, in that case they’ll dispatch a replacement today on next-day delivery, please send the old one back in the next 30 days.

I was astounded.    Given my honesty and sheer puzzlement over what could have caused the damage, I certainly wasn’t angling for a free replacement.  I was expecting to have to pay for a repair or even replace it at my own expense.   Never did I expect a replacement to be sent out just like that.   No “proof of purchase” required, no quibbles, or messing about.  Just a straight replacement, and I hadn’t even asked!

Of course I wasn’t going to turn it down, so I went from being quite angry and annoyed with the prospect of spending another £150 on a replacement Kindle to elated and overjoyed that I’d be getting a Free Replacement (and a postage-paid label to return my old broken one with!) the very next day.

That in my estimation is going above and beyond the requirements of Acceptable Customer Service in to the realms of the Exceptional.  Well done indeed Amazon.co.uk, you have one very happy customer here!

 

Finally!

After what seems like an eternity, my new car is here!

My Vauxhall Insignia Elite Sports Tourer

It’s rather nice to drive, positively gliding along the Dual Carriageways. I’m glad I went for this rather than the Ford Mondeo Estate. Visibility in this seems far better than in the 5-door hatchback I tested.

We haven’t tried Tinker in the back yet, that’s a job for the weekend and two people, as the Automatic Tailgate might be slightly confusing and unsettling for him for the first few uses.  The Interior looks quite elegant compared to the older cars I’ve driven:

Insignia Interior

Insignia Interior - closeup of Central console

Insignia Interior - Dashboard


I initially had a problem using the USB port with a USB Memory Stick. Aside from the fact that it needs to be a fairly short stick to prevent it being hit by the centre console armrest when it’s folded down, it seemed to insist on playing the files in a strange order. Not a major problem for Music, but something of an inconvenience when listening to an Audiobook! I haven’t yet tried it with my iPhone, so that’s something else to put on the list of things to do!

More photos and feedback to follow in due course!

An Unfulfilled Quest

I wrote a few days ago about my interest in a Fuji Finepix XP30 camera.  I wanted it specifically because of it’s underwater ability, and the dustproof/shockproof characteristics would come in handy for my grand holiday later in the year.

However, I’ve been dissapointed, and in retrospect I’m actually glad.

I went ahead and ordered the Camera from Amazon, together with a “Pro” class 16Gb SDHC card for it.  Unfortunately the day it was due to be delivered I was out of the office at a certain Football Stadium.  When I returned and found no parcel waiting on my desk, I contacted Amazon who confirmed that “Home Delivery Network” had put it through the letterbox at 9.02am, and hadn’t obtained a signature.

The only problem being there IS no letterbox at my work address!   Needless to say I contacted Amazon who went off to investigate.  They later confirmed that something had gone awry with the order, and were good enough to re-order both the camera and the memory card for me at no cost.   But the story doesn’t end there!  Of course the Camera itself is out of stock at Amazon now, and the only options are more expensive.  Amazon will be re-stocking but in 3-4 weeks time.

So I’ve been looking around for alternatives.  And having read through in more detail the reviews for the XP30, both at Amazon and elsewhere, I’ve phoned back and cancelled the Camera, and requested a refund.

There are a few alternatives out there, including the Canon PowerShot D10 (12.1 MP, 3.0x, 2.5″ LCD), or the Pentax Optio WG-1 (14MP, 5 x Wide Angle Zoom, 2.7″ LCD), the Panasonic Lumix FT3 (12.1MP, 4.6x Zoom) or the Olympus TG-310 (14MP, 3.6x Wide Angle Zoom, 2.7″ LCD)

I’m not sure which to look at, the Canon and the Pentax both have much better write-ups, and both come in at about the £220 mark.  While that’s a fair amount more than the Fuji XP30, it’s not unreasonable.  The Pentax appears to have the best specifications of the two.

I don’t expect this to be a fantastic camera, but I do want to be able to take it underwater.  The dustproof & shockproof nature also have some appeal given where I’ll be taking it.

Anyone out there have any experience with cameras like this and able to offer any suggestions?

PATHPING: An oft overlooked tool for the Networks Guy

There’s a little known tool that’s provided as part of a Windows installation, it’s certainly available under XP and Vista which seems to be overlooked in Network troubleshooting.

Called pathping, it’s a command-line utility that will help you to troubleshoot intermediate hops between your source and a destination host. Something of a combination of ping and tracert (or traceroute for the *Nix users out there).

Tracert will show the intermediate hops between you and a destination, together with the link latency, and packet loss rate. In other words it will very likely show you where a problem lies between two nodes on the network.

The command itself takes some minutes to run, dependant of course on the number of hops between you and a destination host. The below example takes for me 475 seconds to run because Google is 10 hops away, via my corporate internet connection. Sample output is shown below (but of course the IP Addresses have been changed to protect the innocent!)

Usage is simply pathping [destination host or IP]

C:\>pathping www.google.com
Tracing route to www.l.google.com [64.233.183.104] over a maximum of 30 hops:
0  mydesktoppc [192.168.1.10]
1  mydefaultgw [192.168.1.254]
2  internal-local-ce-router-01 [10.0.0.1]
3  service-provider-pe-router-01 [172.16.1.10]
4  internal-remote-ce-router-01 [172.17.24.1]
5  remote-core-switch-01 [192.168.254.254]
6  remote-inner-perimiter-firewall [192.168.0.100]
7  rate-shaping-switch-perimiter [192.168.74.12]
8  remote-outer-perimiter-firewall [192.168.75.6]
9  isp-router
10  unspecified-00.ukcore.bt.net [1.2.3.4]
11  unspecified-01.ukcore.bt.net [2.3.4.5]
12  unspecified-02.ukcore.bt.net [3.4.5.6]
13  195.99.125.82
14  209.85.255.175
15  66.249.95.130
16  64.233.175.246
17  72.14.233.79
18  216.239.43.34
19  nf-in-f104.google.com [64.233.183.104]

Computing statistics for 475 seconds...
Source to Here   This Node/Link
Hop  RTT    Lost/Sent = Pct  Lost/Sent = Pct  Address
0                                           mydesktoppc [192.168.1.10]
0/ 100 =  0%   |
1    0ms     0/ 100 =  0%     0/ 100 =  0%  mydefaultgw [192.168.1.254]
0/ 100 =  0%   |
2    0ms     0/ 100 =  0%     0/ 100 =  0%  internal-local-ce-router-01 [10.0.0.1]
0/ 100 =  0%   |
3    6ms     2/ 100 =  2%     2/ 100 =  2%  service-provider-pe-router-01 [172.16.1.10]
0/ 100 =  0%   |
4   11ms     0/ 100 =  0%     0/ 100 =  0%  internal-remote-ce-router [172.17.24.1]
0/ 100 =  0%   |
5   12ms     0/ 100 =  0%     0/ 100 =  0%  remote-core-switch-01 [192.168.254.254]
0/ 100 =  0%   |
6   12ms     0/ 100 =  0%     0/ 100 =  0%  remote-inner-perimiter-firewall [192.168.0.100]
0/ 100 =  0%   |
7   12ms     0/ 100 =  0%     0/ 100 =  0%  rate-shaping-switch-perimiter [192.168.74.12]
0/ 100 =  0%   |
8   13ms     0/ 100 =  0%     0/ 100 =  0%  remote-outer-perimiter-firewall [192.168.75.6]
0/ 100 =  0%   |
9   22ms     0/ 100 =  0%     0/ 100 =  0%  isp-router
0/ 100 =  0%   |
10   21ms     0/ 100 =  0%     0/ 100 =  0%  unspecified-00.ukcore.bt.net [1.2.3.4]
0/ 100 =  0%   |
11   21ms     0/ 100 =  0%     0/ 100 =  0%  unspecified-01.ukcore.bt.net [2.3.4.5]
0/ 100 =  0%   |
12   22ms     0/ 100 =  0%     0/ 100 =  0%  unspecified-02.ukcore.bt.net [3.4.5.6]
0/ 100 =  0%   |
13   29ms     0/ 100 =  0%     0/ 100 =  0%  195.99.125.82
0/ 100 =  0%   |
14   26ms     0/ 100 =  0%     0/ 100 =  0%  209.85.255.175
0/ 100 =  0%   |
15   26ms     3/ 100 =  3%     3/ 100 =  3%  66.249.95.130
0/ 100 =  0%   |
16   37ms     0/ 100 =  0%     0/ 100 =  0%  64.233.175.246
0/ 100 =  0%   |
17   34ms     0/ 100 =  0%     0/ 100 =  0%  72.14.233.79
0/ 100 =  0%   |
18   39ms     0/ 100 =  0%     0/ 100 =  0%  216.239.43.34
1/ 100 =  1%   |
19   35ms     1/ 100 =  1%     0/ 100 =  0%  nf-in-f104.google.com [64.233.183.104]
Trace complete.

So what is the output showing?

In this case I’m loosing 2% of packets getting to my service-provider-pe-router-01 and a further 3% at one of the later hops (probably a network interconnect) later down the chain.

When PathPing is executed, first section shows the route for the traffic, as would be shown by Tracert.

PathPing then displays a busy message which will vary based on 25 seconds per hop to the destination, during which time it will gather information from all the routers previously listed and from the links between them. At the end of this period, it displays the test results.

The two rightmost columns — “This Node/Link Lost/Sent=%” and “Address” — contain the most useful information.

The loss rates displayed for the links (marked as a “|” in the rightmost column) indicate losses of packets being forwarded along the path. This loss indicates link congestion. The loss rates displayed for routers (indicated by their IP addresses in the rightmost column) indicate that those routers’ CPUs or packet buffers might be overloaded. These congested routers might also be a factor in end-to-end problems, especially if packets are forwarded by software routers.
Loss Calculation

The raw data that PathPing obtains describes how many ICMP Echo Requests are lost between the source and an intermediate router. The diagram below shows how PathPing estimates the per-hop loss statistics. While at first this calculation might seem trivial, it is complicated by differences between the forwarding code path and the code path taken in responding to ping packets (ICMP Echo Requests/Replies).

The horizontal lines indicate the “fast path” of a router, which is taken by packets that are not sent to or from the local computer. That is, the fast path is the code path taken by transit packets that require no special processing other than forwarding, and is highly optimized for such packets.

In the diagram, the vertical lines indicate the extra processing taken when an ICMP Echo Request is sent to the local computer. This kicks it out of the fast path and delivers it to an ICMP module (often using separate queues and processors). Assuming no packets are dropped due to queue overflows, the ICMP module then generates an ICMP Echo Reply, which is forwarded back to the original sender.

Since packet loss can occur in the path indicated by the vertical lines (but such loss does not necessarily imply loss on the horizontal forwarding path itself), the raw numbers obtained from pings do not by themselves determine end-to-end packet loss. For example, pinging an intermediate router might create a 10 percent loss even though no end-to-end packet loss is occurring. PathPing’s algorithm uses the change in values from hop-to-hop to estimate actual per hop loss rather than losses in the higher-level router components. This actual per hop loss is the result provided in the “This Node/Link” column of the final PathPing report.