Thrifty Thursday: 30 January 2014 – Save That Computer!

Well, last time I joined in with this meme that’s hosted by Gina at Cold Tea and Smelly Nappies I promised you that next time (that’s this time, get it?) I really would show you how to re-use something, in a worthwhile way. So here goes…

Out there, there must be many PCs and laptops that are pushed aside (OK, under the bed, in the shed, or wherever) because the operating system (that’s the main chunk of software, like, say, a version of [insert the W-word here]) has somehow screwed up, or doesn’t do the job any more, or just isn’t as good as the newer version you’ve got on a new machine. And yet, as a piece of computing hardware, it still works.
Now, new proprietary software would a) be expensive, and b) might not run properly on the ageing processor and memory devices. But throwing this gear away seems a shame, even though you never use it.
‘Rock’ and ‘hard place’ come to mind.
Step forward, Linux.
Reactions will now vary from “Oh, yes, I use that already” to (I suspect, more frequently) “What the actual…?”
Linux software is free, thanks to community effort. That’s right. You can have a new operating system, for just a little bit of time and trouble. Price tag, £0. Zilch. A duck’s egg. And you just might find the result far more pleasant and intuitive to use than something that costs a lot of money.
What are the snags? Well, there really aren’t any serious ones. And the small ones can be worked round.
No teapot-lidding, you really do win twice. Firstly, the software is free, and secondly, you can use or re-use older hardware.

Well, for today, this is just a little introduction, but if you’re interested, I’ll expand this in further posts. Please let me know via the comments box at the end. Thank you very much. I’m looking forward to hearing from you. And, in case you’re wondering, yes, this blog comes to you via Linux.

It's kind to share!

Wednesday Words: 15 January 2014

For this week’s Wednesday Words, I’m going to look at just that: Words.

What a difference just one letter makes. Here’s an example:
Compliment: Expression of praise, congratulation, etc.
Complement: That which makes something complete.

Just after Christmas 2012, a supermarket near to where I live was selling off cranberry sauce, chestnut stuffing, and suchlike. A sign read:


I doubt that any turkeys would pay humans any compliments at that time of year, at any price.

And then, more recently, I went to a dismantling yard to obtain some parts for my (ahem) elderly conveyance. There, I saw another sign:


It was just an ordinary sort of place. I was neither considering its attributes, nor was I awestruck.

Oh dear, this language of ours!

Wednesday Words
Chucklemums badge
It's kind to share!

An Open Letter: Dear New Blogger

This post was prompted by a new addition to the blogging community in the shape and form of Messed Up Mum at the end of 2013. It is for her, and all her like. (Screwed up dads also welcome. After all, this is a bloke typing this.)

Dear Messed Up Mum,

Happy new year (belated.) Happy new blog. (Also belated.)

On behalf of the blogging community, welcome, and best wishes. Don’t worry about blogging ‘properly’. This isn’t a case of How To Hold Your Knife And Fork. As one blogger tweeted to me:

What is this knife and fork you speak of? *licks fingers*

Quite. Blog honestly, decently, and legally, sure. (I’m sure you don’t need me to say that.) But, other than that, it’s your blog, your rules. A couple of thousand words, or one photo. you choose. Above all, blog from the heart.

Why bother? well, I suppose there are as many reasons, in detail, as there are bloggers. Subjects include parenting, travel, photography, cooking… the list goes on. Including especially, the ups and downs of this thing called life. But essentially, here’s what comes to mind:
1. We all have in us, if you will, a little bit of the teacher, the author, and the journalist. Something to pass on to each other.
2. We have the joy of belonging. I’ve sat here in front of a monitor screen, reading blogs, and been sometimes helpless with laughter, sometimes welling up in tears, sometimes filled with awe. Others have told me, along the way, that I’ve had these effects on them. This is humbling (in a good way.)
3. We learn how much there is to learn from one another. Learn to be less judgemental, and to contribute to healthy debate.

So, go for it. I’m sure loads of warm-hearted people will welcome you, just as they did me. But, as I happened to say to a blogger who was a little disheartened recently, don’t try to be someone else; we need you to fill the place of…


With love,

Phil XX

It's kind to share!

By the Butterfly Tree – Part Fourteen

The story continues… You can start here for an introduction and a link to the beginning.

After their evening meal had been eaten, and the table cleared, Ross opened his haversack, laid out some books, and sighed. Muriel grinned. “What aileth thee, young laddo o’ mine?”
“Trigonometry and vectors, that’s what, O excellent mother. Yesterday’s double lesson with Racecourse Ron.” Ronald Wetherby was a Yorkshireman, design engineer turned lecturer, who had settled down further North some years before.
“Who did you say? Anyway, you never had any trouble with maths.”
Ross explained, then went on. “This is a wee bitty up from tens and units take away sums, mum. An hour and a half of it. I tell you, he’s torn the knackers off me.”
“Ross, your sister is in the room.” Muriel tried to sound reproving. She found herself looking into a pair of piercing blue eyes that were like a carbon copy of those that had melted her like candle wax, some twenty years previously. She failed. Ross put on a breathy, ‘little boy’ voice.
“Sorry, mother dear. I forgot to take into account the tender ears and mind of my precious and beautiful twelve-year-old baby sister. I do apologise. But your dear devoted husband must take some of the blame. My daddy is in the RAF, in case you had forgotten.”

Leslie was away, on duty. Family meant everything to Muriel. Inwardly, she was now close to tears. Janet, writing in an exercise book at the other side of the table, appeared to be outwardly close to suffocation.

After an hour or so, during which Janet had finished an essay with apparently little effort (a born story-teller, Ross always said) and Muriel’s knitting had lengthened by several inches, Ross closed his books for the night.
“Yes, O fairly excellent son…?” There was such a thing as repartee, Muriel thought.
“Can I bring someone home to tea, sometime soon?”
“Of course you can, laddo. That’ll be Laura, I take it? Just give me fair warning, OK? Then my hair won’t be in curlers when she walks through the door.”
Janet cupped her hands round her mouth, in imitation of a megaphone. “Oh, would you just hear that, everyone? My brother has a steady!”
Ross rounded the table in five strides, and pinioned his sister against the wall with her hands behind her back.
“And, when she comes, you, young lady, can behave. It will be, shall we say, to your advantage. Do I make myself clear?”
Janet squealed. As her brother let her go, she ran upstairs to bed, helpless with giggles. Ross went to the kitchen.

“Cup of tea, Mum?”
The question broke into Muriel’s pensive mood. She wiped her eyes on her sleeve before she could reply to someone who reminded her very much of Group Captain Leslie McGeoch.

* * *

“Thank your mum again for me, would you, Ross? Saturday was lovely. You didn’t need to worry about Janet. She’s a wee scream. I like her. I can see why she’s such a good writer. Mind, I don’t believe she’s as dumb at maths as she makes out to be. I’m roped in as tutor, by the way.”
Ross and Laura were catching up with each other after college on Thursday evening. Both of them had had an exhausting day, and then evening lessons. Trust that scamp to know a good thing when she sees it, thought Ross. But wait a minute. What if she really did like the idea of Laura as a family member, and saw this as a ploy to get Laura into the house? Perhaps he owed his baby sister, after all…
“Oh and another thing. We all went to Uncle Fred and Auntie Kath’s on Sunday, and, like I say, you can’t hide much from her. She reckoned my face gave the game away. Honestly, to hear her talk, you’d think I was a right pettit lip before I met you. Anyway, she wants me to bring you there for a Sunday tea. Soon, she says. I made her promise not to put you through the mangle like she can. So you see…” Laura grinned. “if you want to have anything more to do with me, I’m afraid you’ve no choice.”
Ross held out his hands in a gesture of mock surrender. “O.K, O.K, I’ll come quietly… I might need to catch up on homework this weekend. Would the Sunday after this one be all right?”

Ross’s ordeal wasn’t as severe as Laura had made out that it would be. Uncle Fred was an aero engine fitter, and enjoyed talking engineering with Ross. And Auntie Kath was all right, Ross thought. She had a friendly kind of gruffness that he could cope with. He soon realised that both of them had been like a wonderful mum and dad to Laura, and had treated her the same as their own daughter, Sarah. “No more kids came along,” Kath remarked, as they were clearing up after tea, “but we had Laura.” She gave her niece an affectionate squeeze round the waist.
After helping her aunt, Laura showed Ross an album of photos of her cousin’s wedding. She joked that he might as well see who he’d have to meet next. Sarah and Jeffrey looked a striking pair, Ross thought. A stunning head-and-shoulders portrait of the bride bore a certain resemblance to Laura, he mused. A beautiful delicate necklace hung round her neck.
“Quite a looker, your cousin, isn’t she? Was the necklace new for the day?”
“Well, no, it’s a sort of family heirloom thing. But it was the first time that Sarah actually wore it.”

As they were preparing to leave, Ross was having a last chat about wartime planes with Fred. Laura slipped back to the kitchen. “Well, Auntie Kath,” she asked, cheekily, “Does he pass?”
Her aunt smiled, then looked very intently at Laura for several seconds without speaking. Then, dropping her voice almost to a hiss, she replied.
“Listen to me, Laura Millar. Young lady, I don’t exactly know how you hooked him, but, if you let that young man get away, you will have me to answer to.”

Part fifteen is now published here.

It's kind to share!

Thrifty Thursday: 9 January 2014 – When cool is not so cool…

For ‘Thrifty Thursday’ this week, run by Gina over at Cold Tea and Smelly Nappies I’m going to talk about something particularly related to saving energy in our homes.

Thankfully, it’s now widely known that an old central heating boiler can be very inefficient, wasting gas and therefore costing money unnecessarily. And slowly, the message about energy-saving lighting is getting across. (I might do a post about that another time.) But, drawing on my own experience, I’m going to highlight a potential waste of energy that rarely gets due consideration.

That old fridge or freezer.

Perhaps others have been on this journey (or one like it.)

A good few years ago, I replaced my freezer. The one I had was fairly old – no, very old – and I was scared of its possible sudden failure.

Well, actually, that’s not quite true. ‘Replaced’, I think, gives the idea of instead of. But in this case, it was a case of as well as. I had the space, so I thought, why not keep it going for now, for the fruit season, and… you know the rest. Story of my life. I can’t bear to get rid of something that still works, just for now.

After a few months, though, I noticed that, whereas when I went to the new one, it was rarely running (no motor noise) the old one was almost always running. (They were near to each other, so a difference in ambient temperature wasn’t a factor.) Now, it so happened (I’m an electrician) I had handy a watt-hour meter (just like the ones electricity companies fit in your house.) I rigged this up to one socket, to feed the old freezer. Then I took readings of this meter, and the one for the whole house, a week apart. The results were staggering; this thing I couldn’t part with was using 22% of my total electricity consumption! It had to go!

Now, I’m not saying that every less-than-up-to-the-minute fridge of freezer is a money sink. I’m just trying to highlight a situation that’s easy to overlook. The ‘sealed system’ can spring a leak and lose refrigerant gas, or the thermal insulation can deteriorate. And certainly, modern domestic fridges and freezers are cheaper to run, thanks to improved cabinet insulation and other factors.

So… Running that old one might not be so… cool!

I’m sorry that this highlights a potential problem, but doesn’t give you the money to buy a new appliance! But this truly is an example of a situation where it’s worth spending to save. Next time, I’ll show you how you can re-use something, in a worthwhile way. That’s a promise.

It's kind to share!

By the Butterfly Tree – Part Thirteen

For the new year comes the next part of my story, the first one in the third and final section. If you haven’t read the previous instalments, then please go here to read about how this little effort began, and then follow the links.

It was Ross McGeoch’s first ‘day release’ Tuesday. Instead of heading to the metalwork and engineering firm where he was now an apprentice, he had headed into the city, to the new technical college so symbolic of post-war Britain. All kinds of work-related subjects were taught to young people, under one roof. The local bus company even put on special college services.
The morning had been full of getting to know the place, finding classrooms, meeting tutors, and generally getting a feel for college life. A kind of life that seemed good to Ross. You were on your honour much more than in school. He was determined to show everyone that he could, and would, take it seriously. He’d done well at school, and the head, and everyone else, had expected that he’d enter the sixth form. But Ross had been adamant. He wanted an apprenticeship with the firm he’d done ‘holiday work’ for, and to study engineering at college. And so far, this had worked out.
He was reflecting on this as he now sat in the dining hall, a plate of spaghetti bolognaise in front of him and a bowl of apple pie and custard at his side. Breakfast was a distant memory. An awful lot seemed to have happened since then. A typical lad, his mum would have said…

He was roused from this reverie by a muffled chorus of female voices. A group of girls had walked into the servery area. They chatted spiritedly as they selected their meals and queued to pay. Two of them called to another. “You sitting with us, Laura?”
The three girls were obviously new to the place, like he was, Ross thought. Then, as they walked by to find a table, the one bringing up the rear looked around her. Catching sight of Ross, she smiled for a moment before walking on.

A fraction of a second that blew Ross McGeoch’s mind.

As he made his way to the first afternoon lesson, he realised he had a problem. College, he could cope with. Lessons, he could cope with. Walking up to a girl he’d only just half-met, to ask her out, he struggled with.

Especially if she was, in his estimation, the most beautiful girl in the world.

 * * *

It was a Tuesday late in November when the whole area was blanketed in thick freezing fog. As students returned to lessons after the college lunch break, an announcement was relayed to each classroom. The bus company had telephoned to advise the college that no special services, and few general ones, were now expected to run that afternoon. The principal had decided to end the teaching day after the first afternoon lesson. All students were advised to make their way home as best they could. At two-twenty, Ross fastened his coat and slung his haversack onto his shoulders, then made for the main exit. As he pushed his way through the swing doors, a silhouette came into view ahead of him. As he stepped forward, it became clear that this was another student, preparing, no doubt, for a long walk.
“We just stride it out, eh?” Ross called out, cheerfully. Then he blinked as the other student turned in response. “Oh… It’s Laura, isn’t it?” Goodness, she could even send that smile through fog, he thought. Then, rather self-consciously, he asked “You got far to walk?”
It turned out that she lived about a mile from Ross’s own home. Falteringly, he suggested “We could walk together, if you like…?” When she readily accepted, his heart leapt.

Conversation was stilted, at first. For one thing, they had to find their way through the fog, to roads they were familiar with. Then, gradually, they began to talk more freely, to compare themselves with each other, first of all as far as college went, and then about life in general. Laura was doing a secretarial course and was hoping to progress to accountancy. She worked for a plumbing and heating firm, at their office, not too far from home. Or rather, her cousin’s home, where she lived. At Ross’s prompting, Laura went on. It never occurred to her that she had never told so much of her life story to anyone before. Some long time afterwards, she admitted that it had something to do with a pair of intense blue eyes…

Laura had been orphaned in the war. Her father was killed in action, her mother in an air-raid. Thankfully, her aunt had taken her in and treated her like another daughter, Her cousin, Sarah, was twenty-two and married. As her aunt and uncle’s home was in a village some miles outside the city, and a long way from Laura’s work and college, her cousin had recently offered her a home. She still saw her Auntie Katherine and Uncle Fred quite often.
“Sorry I’m so nosey,” Ross cut in. “I didn’t want you to talk about stuff you’d rather not.” He thought about what it would be like to hardly know anything about his own mother, and suddenly felt awkward for asking so much.
“Aw, no, that’s all right – I mean… I don’t think it’s nosey…” Laura began to laugh. “Anyway, you’ve told me as much about you.”
Soon they turned into the main road near to Sarah’s home, on a new estate. It was now very dark, and they had to pick their way from one street light to the next. They said little for several minutes. Ross knew that Laura’s journey was nearly complete. He gulped for a moment…

“I never thought today would turn out like this, but I’ve enjoyed walking and talking with you. Would you… care to come out with me, some time?”

There. He’d said it. He waited. Laura’s voice was almost a whisper in the fog.

“I’d like that, Ross. Thank you.”

They agreed to meet the following Saturday, and go to watch a film. But, as she walked through the gate of Sara’s house, Laura realised that it wasn’t really the prospect of a good film that mattered to her.

You can now read part fourteen here.

It's kind to share!