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Saturday, 19 September 2015

How to get rid of Annoying Adverts in Android Chrome

I've tended to accept adverts as the price I have to pay for getting free access to websites, but in the last few months adverts have become so intrusive and annoying as to make some sites almost unusable, particularly on a mobile device. Here are some tactics you might be familiar with:

  • You arrive at a site and start reading something, then it jumps down to make way for an advert that's just appeared above it. You scroll down to find the bit you were reading, and it jumps again as another ad arrives. And then again.
  • While scrolling through an article, a video ad pops out of nowhere. And it's the same video you've been seeing all week.
  • The site freezes while some stupid ad downloads or something. The effect is the same whatever: you can't finish what you were reading.
  • While you're reading, a voice starts talking from a video that's decided to auto-play. On the York Press site you sometimes get two copies of the same video.
  • You're distracted by the animated ad that's playing just to the side of the bit you actually want to read.

Now I realise that the people who place ads are desperate to get you to pay attention to them, but I've pretty well given up on visiting some sites because of the appalling quality of their user experience. I'm trying not to mention The Verge or the Independent.

Today I decided to try a drastic remedy, but it seems to have done the trick: I turned off JavaScript and stopped the little sods in their track.

(This is for Android Chrome 45 on Android 5.1, but other web browsers will have a similar setting somewhere in their options.) Go into Chrome's main menu and pick Settings. Under Site Settings click on JavaScript. Switch it off. It's that simple.

On the downside, any web page that wants you to input text (I don't know, Amazon, say) won't work, but if you just want to read, this will completely block the really irritating ads. Simple ones that don't want to jump around will still be there, and you can pay as much attention to them as you always do. None, in my case. If you do need to use a web page that needs JavaScript to function, you can always just switch it back on while you're there.

Or, here's an idea: install a second web browser app and have one Javascript-enabled, and one not.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Do Pensions Keep the Post Office Going?

Since the rise of email, the amount of physical mail coming through my letterbox has declined to almost nothing, but a few intrepid letters still manage to get here. They're rarely interesting, and I suspect legal requirements are responsible for them being made out of atoms rather than bits, because probably a third of them now involve pensions and insurance.

For instance, last month I got a letter from the Clerical Medical Investment Group Limited explaining over six pages that, as they are now part of the Scottish Widows group, they were going to simplify their business by changing their name to Scottish Widows Limited. Then there was a load of stuff explaining in great detail that (I hope) this isn't going to affect my pension.

This week I got a letter from Scottish Widows plc about another pension policy. They are proposing to merge Scottish Widows plc (and six other companies) into Clerical Medical Investment Group Limited, which would then change its name to Scottish Widows Limited. Then the same six pages of legal bumf.

I know keeping customers informed is very important, but I can't help speculating on how much it's costing to let me know that the holding company for my pension is changing 'plc' to 'Limited'.

These are two of several of the many company pensions that I have acquired in the course of a varied career in the private sector. At least annually I get a letter from each of them keeping me in the loop about how much money they're holding for me, how much the transfer value is, and how much it might be worth when I retire (not very much). When I moved recently I had to contact each policy holder to let them know my new address. This takes less effort than it once did, thanks to corporate takeovers that have removed names like Guardian Royal Exchange or Commercial Union (and, soon, Clerical Medical). Talking to Standard Life though required two calls for my Standard Life two policies. Their customer service rep could easily update one of them online, but the other needed a letter from me, as it was in a different system. 

When I got its most recent update report I could see why. The printout looks like the sort of thing I was producing on my Amstrad PC1512 in the 1980s. Which coincidentally is when I joined that pension scheme. I can't remember the last time anyone else sent me a letter printed in Courier font. Now I imagine a room at Standard Life HQ where an ancient daisy wheel printer sits, connected to a computer that predates the internet. I just hope they both last out to my retirement date.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Judi Beamont

As I've mentioned before, I was adopted. My parents (the ones who brought me up, and who I therefore think of as my real parents) had told me about being adopted as soon as I was old enough to understand, and it never bothered me. It still doesn't.

There were, quite correctly, very few details about my birth parents. On my original birth certificate (you get a new one once the adoption is complete) it stated my birth mother's name, with the father section left blank. The adoption society that had placed me had given my parents a few snippets, so that I knew that my birth mother was short with brown hair and brown eyes, and that she was from New Zealand. In my twenties I had contacted the adoption agency after the law was changed to let adoptees get any facts that were held on them, and learned my birth mother's address in Wellington. I didn't act any further, and then largely forgot about it.

However, when I started researching my genealogy a couple of years ago, this small amount of information turned out to be all I needed to make contact with my birth mother's family.

My birth mother had died in 1995. I learned some details of her life and people were kind enough to send me what few photos there were of her, which let me build a picture in my mind of what she might have been like. Limited of course, after so many years. But how that has changed in the last week.

For a few years she worked on New Zealand TV, and now, through the kindness of relatives and friends, for which I will be forever grateful, I have a short DVD of some of her TV appearances. I am really quite stunned—what were the odds that I would actually get to hear the voice and see the facial expressions of this woman who died twenty years ago?

It makes her much more real to me. Not closer perhaps—our paths diverged a few weeks after I was born. I don't blame her for that; it was a different age, when being a single mother was far harder, and in any case, things turned out okay for me.

In some of the clips she's appearing in a Xmas special, probably in the mid-seventies. Most of her co-stars went on to achieve enough fame to show up in a Google search, even to have their own wikipedia pages (including Jan Russ and Myra de Groot, both later of Neighbours). She does not though. But one of the reasons I started this blog was to put information onto the web that I wish someone else had provided when I was looking for it.

So here, then, is some small record of my birth mother, Judith Ann Beaumont (11 Aug 1935 - 10 March 1995), or Judi Beaumont as she appears on screen, and also sometimes spelled Judy Beaumont or Judie Beaumont. Once of 13 Burrows Avenue, Karori, Wellington; 94 Torrington Park, Finchley; and 14 Beaufort Gardens, Kensington.

Friday, 15 May 2015

They still Make Letraset!

When I got involved in politics back in the eighties, one of the jobs I'd end up with was putting leaflets together: typing up the copy, then printing it off and sticking the individual pieces down onto an A4 sheet of blue graph paper. Blocks of text would be interspersed with cartoons and headings. The cartoons were photocopied from pages of stock art or previous leaflets; the headings you painstakingly constructed from Letraset®.

The end result looked like a school project by a primary school pupil, but at the printers it magically transformed into something that frequently looked semi-professional. The blue of the graph paper disappeared during the production process (though yellow turned dark black—not a mistake you made more than once), as did the edges where you'd cut out pieces of paper, and you got back 6000 copies of your leaflet. Next you had to stick them all through letterboxes, but that's a different story.

Letraset was transfers: sheets of letters and digits that you transferred onto paper by gently but firmly rubbing them with a ballpoint pen. The graph paper was especially useful at this point, to help you keep the characters in a straight line.

It might sound easy, but when you were trying to finish off a leaflet late in the night, it was all too common to miss a letter out or misspell a word, or be forced to admit that the letters were too crooked and you'd have to do it all again. Worse still was suddenly realising you'd run out of a crucial letter. "Cambridge City Council" was a real bugger for using up Cs, I remember. And Letraset was not cheap.

Eventually I got my first laser printer. Oh, the bliss. I could type anything I wanted and just print it out. No missing letters, no wobbly lines, and for next to nothing.

That was in 1995. Since when laser printers have come crashing down in price, and desktop publishing has made blue graph paper a thing of the past. So it was with some amazement that I discovered yesterday that you can still buy Letraset. Who uses it? And Why?

I could google it, but I suspect it's very much a niche market nowadays. I imagine council election re-enactment societies, where groups of hobbyists lovingly reproduce election literature of yesteryear. The hard way.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Sinking Feeling

A decided drop in support for me recently. First my office chair settled slowly to its lowest position and wouldn't come back up again, then three days later my bicycle saddle decides to fall off.

I've had to replace saddles before when metal fatigue gets the better of them, and to be fair I had been hearing a creaking noise recently when I pedalled, but I thought it was coming from the pedals. However, when I had a closer look it turned out that the metal about to come away was not the saddle, but the tube that joins it to the frame. Interesting—you wouldn't think that would ever go. Still, it's a small piece, so I got my spanner and removed saddle + tube from the bike, and drove to the most convenient bike store.

They didn't find it as easy to replace as I'd hoped. In fact, they gave me a choice of two possible replacements: one just slightly too wide and one just slightly too narrow, but both far too long ("you can saw it down to size!"). I demurred, and headed off to a less convenient cycle shop. As this was the one where I'd bought my bike, a Gazelle Esprit, I figured that if they didn't know how to replace it, I'd probably end up having to buy a whole new cycle. As part of being less convenient, there is very little car parking anywhere near it. (Presumably they expect the bulk of their customers to arrive on two wheels rather that four.) So stopping at a public car park just five short minutes walk away, then realising I had no change for the ticket machine and that there were no shops nearer than five minutes away where I could get some, I spent the best part of the next ten minutes on my mobile trying to pay by credit card. It was a hassle, particularly as there is no Backspace key on a telephone keypad (which meant I had to start over), and listening to a recorded message when the wind's blowing past your ear is no joke either, but it was eventually achieved, and at least next time I won't have to set up an account first.

So five minutes after that palaver I'm looking for salvation in the cycle shop (appropriately named 'Cycle Heaven'). The shop assistant took one look at my saddle and went off to get the part I needed. Never have I felt so pleased to shell out £4.99 for a small piece of metal. At a stroke my bicycle is transmuted from large garden ornament back into trusty steed.

The office chair is proving harder to fix. I'd always known there must be a compressed air container somewhere in a swivel chair, but I hadn't realised it's actually the whole tube that runs between the five-wheeled base to the seat. On YouTube there are plenty of videos showing how trivially simple it is to replace this gas cylinder. You start by hitting the wheel unit with a mallet, and off it pops from the cylinder. Except, it turns out, on my model. Mine has a clip at the bottom to hold it in place. Fortunately I hadn't been using the mallet for very long before I guessed something was wrong. At the other end the gas cylinder goes into a hole in a metal assembly that is screwed into the actual seat. Again, the videos are agreed: you can try hitting the cylinder from the side to dislodge it, or twist it out using a pipe wrench.

Well, maybe I need a better wrench, or perhaps a better grip. No amount of brute force and WD40 had any impact on it. I decided eventually that there might be another clip to release it, but if so I would have to unscrew the assembly from the seat to get access to it. So I did.

No luck there either: there is absolutely no sign of the cylinder from the other side, and I'm at a loss to see how I can take the assembly apart to find it. So tomorrow I will have to shamefacedly take it back to the shop where I bought it, in pieces, and ask if they can replace the faulty component. At least now the chair will fit in the car more easily.

I shall watch very closely how they replace the cylinder. Who knows? I might even make a video of it.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Batman Returns!

Exciting news that the Batman TV show from the sixties is being released on Blu-ray. Apparently it's never been available before because of legal wranglings too tedious to repeat here but fully elaborated in the article.

When it was first shown on TV in the UK I was about seven or eight, at a guess, and it was the most exciting thing I'd ever watched. How many hours I spent re-enacting episodes with my brother. "Wham!", "Pow!" Holy roleplay models!

The plots were a bit confusing to start with, as Batman and Robin would finish each episode about to be horribly killed, but then in the next episode would be pursuing a completely different case. Then I realised that the closing line about not missing "next week's exciting episode" was leading me astray, because ITV were showing the program on Saturday and Sunday.

Then when they repeated Batman in the mid-seventies it was again compulsive viewing, but now I was old enough to start getting the show's many jokes and ironies, and wonder just how Batman managed to fit so many unlikely devices into his utility belt, or why none of the villains ever pulled off his mask, even though they managed to capture him at least once in every story.

That was the last time I saw the show. However, when I watched this trailer, and Adam West says the immortal line, "To the batmobile!", I felt an old thrill suddenly run through me as I spontaneously regressed more than 45 years. Holy nostalgia!

They're available at Amazon for £109.99. Holy cow!

Why so much? Well, there are 120 episodes for a start. I'd have guessed less than 50, but it was a long time ago. Plus, this is a "limited edition" box set, with a price presumably aimed at the real Batman fans. I think I can hold out for the more reasonably priced unlimited edition. Or maybe they'll come out on Netflix. To be honest, I very much doubt I'd be able to sit through all 120 episodes, but I'd certainly enjoy watching a few.

Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da, Batmaann!

Now, I just need the Gnomes of Dulwich to come back.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Trouser shopping — a reflection

I do not enjoy trouser shopping. Other items of clothing either come in well-defined sizes, or a coat, say, I can slip on by the rack. Trousers are harder. You have to find some promising candidates, then go off to a tiny cubicle and get half undressed to try them on. And if you don't like those ones, you have to get redressed and start the whole thing over again. In my opinion, only shoe purchasing is more irritating, where you need to get someone to help you before you can even get started. (Unless you happen to only have a left leg, I suppose.)

My ideal would be to go into the store, take off my shoes and trousers, and then wander around trying on pairs until I found the ones I want. Well, you'd think people had never seen a man in underpants before!

What I look for in trousers has altered significantly in recent years (and I'm not talking about flexible waistbands, although these should not be sneared at). One thing I really dislike in trousers nowadays are buttoned flies. When I first bought a pair with buttons up the front I thought it was quaint and amusing, that is until I needed to get in there in a hurry. That's when I realised why humanity had invented zips in the first place. They're not much fun buttoning up either, especially in cold weather when your fingers are numb.

Went I went trouser shopping last week I had a newer consideration in mind: would the pockets be big enough to fit my next mobile phone, now that the tendency is for them to look like small tablets. I don't even know for sure yet that I want a 6" phone, but I do know that my phone has to be able to accompany me wherever I go. As if anticipating the recent announcements from Apple and Google, all the trousers I looked at had capacious side pockets.

Another sign of the times: in Debenhams they have a QR code in the changing rooms so that you could download their wonderful Debenhams app. And on one pair of trousers a tag suggested I might like to text a number to donate three pounds to a marine conservation charity. As I was just about to make a considerably bigger donation to Debenhams, I passed on that one. The connection between marine conservation and what I wear on my legs wasn't obvious; perhaps the idea is that people will feel less guilty about spending a large amount of money on clothing is they donate a small amount to charity, thus allowing them to spend even more on clothes.

Some things, though, never change. As usual it seemed that an army of similar sized people had visited the shops just before me, leaving mostly trousers too wide or too short for yours truly. Or I'd find some with plenty in my size, but I wouldn't be seen dead in them. Not that I'll get much say in the matter.