Аркона—Лики бессмертных Богов

This week’s 195 metal CDs offering is by a Russian folk-metal band from Moscow called Arkona (Аркона).

While searching for information about them I discovered this video released in 2010, from their 2009 album Goi, Rode, Goi! (Гой, Роде, Гой!).

It’s a song called ‘Liki Bessmertnykh Bogov’ (‘Лики бессмертных Богов’) which means ‘Faces of immortal gods’. I rather like it.

The song describes a human who has lost his reason for being. With his spirit in vexation, he stands on a crossroad, fearing death and having a wish to flee from the reality. Only the Faith can give him the will to live on.

“With life praying to your native shrines
You are looking into nowhere, in the mist of your dreams
And in this oblivion of the soul, in grey vain life
Will revive in your memory the faces of immortal gods.”

Perhaps one day I’ll finish learning Russian.

Why I will be engaging with politics this year

Debating chamber, Scottish Parliament

Debating chamber, Scottish Parliament (Source: Wikimedia Commons, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)

I’ve never really considered myself as someone who is terribly interested in politics. That has changed this year as we rapidly approach Thursday 18 September 2014, the date set for Scotland’s Referendum where the country will be asked “should Scotland be an independent country?”

My first awareness of party politics was while walking home from primary school one day, probably in 1979; I would have been seven years old. I was walking along Selkirk high street when a friendly lady invited my friends and I into what is now the British Red Cross shop. It had been turned into a shop front for the Liberal Party (before it merged with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 to form the current Liberal Democrats).

I wandered home proudly clutching a handful of Liberal Party stickers and leaflets about our local candidate David Steel. I simply remember my parents’ disapproval. My stickers probably went in the bin.

Of course the Conservative Party won the 1979 election, Margaret Thatcher became prime minister, and as well as my stickers I also lost my bottle of milk each morning at school. The country lost a whole lot more.

I watched the miners’ strikes on the television. I didn’t understand much of it at the time, but I knew that something was wrong, and that these men in black donkey jackets and white helmets with lights on them were protesting against what the government was telling them. That seemed brave to me, but I was also somewhat confused. As a child I was brought up to obey those in charge, and how much more in charge could the government be? It all seemed so distant.

The first general election in which I was eligible to vote was 1992; I voted for David Steel (Liberal Democrat). Next was 1997, I was living in Bermondsey in south London; I voted for Simon Hughes (Liberal Democrat). At the next general election in 2001 I was living in Inverness; I voted for Charles Kennedy (Liberal Democrat). Do you see a pattern? In 2005 I was living in Edinburgh; I voted for (I think) John Barrett (Liberal Democrat). By the 2010 general election I was here in Fife; I voted for Menzies Campbell (Liberal Democrat).

If you were to have asked me why I voted Liberal Democrat, what they stood for, what attracted me to their manifesto compared with the other major parties I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. I voted for them because they were familiar. I voted for them because that’s what I knew growing up. I voted for them because a kind lady gave me a roll of stickers when I was seven.

It has concerned me for many years that I haven’t engaged with politics more. That I haven’t read the party manifestos before voting, that I haven’t engaged in meaningful conversations with party candidates on my doorstep. Or even better, that I’ve not gone out to engage with them. Because in many ways politics is presented as being very much “out there”.

It still all seems so distant. It feels like our politicians are telling us, “Don’t you worry about any of this politics stuff, we’ll deal with it.” And we have. And we’ve become distanced from it, numbed to what it going on, until all of a sudden we discover that MPs have been claiming expenses for all sorts of things and then we’re up in arms. Until it blows over and we once again lose interest.

We have a professionalisation of politics that has made democracy feel so much less representative; no wonder people like Russell Brand don’t vote. We’ve de-skilled ourselves in so many areas over the last few decades. We’ve handed over these really important issues of how we behave in a civil society to professional politicians, just as we hand over our cars to professional mechanics, and our health to professional doctors.

We are now being encouraged by the health profession (see, there’s that word again) to become partners with our doctors in managing our own health. I think we need to start doing the same with politics too. It’s for this reason that comedian Rufus Hound is planning to run for election in the European parliament because he is passionate about the NHS and what it stands for and he’s appalled by what the current UK government are doing to it. As was reported in The Independent:

The comedian said the NHS was “one of the single greatest achievements of any civilisation, ever, anywhere in the history of the world”.

And he hit out at the “millionaires that currently run things… the politico douchebags who are taking away your kids access to medicine”.

One of my primary goals this year is to engage more fully in politics, and particularly in the issues surrounding the Scottish referendum debate. This is a really important question that will shape our country for centuries to come. I owe it to myself and to my children to engage in this so that I when I step into the voting booth in September, in the building where Isaac’s playgroup meets every morning, I will know why I am marking an X in the box that I choose.

I am currently reading more than I have ever done about politics, about the UK, about Scotland, about history, about the construction of social reality, about the creation of money. I intend to blog about it here. (I’ve even created my first new blog category in about six or seven years: politics.)

And for the record, this half-Scottish, half-English boy (you could just say ‘British’ boy) is intending on voting NO on Thursday 18 September.

My next task is to begin to unpack just exactly why.

I’ve lost confidence in @BTCare

BTCare on Twitter... although I'm not so sure now that they do

UPDATE 1: About 20 minutes after posting this I got a phone call from @BTCare. I have an engineer booked to visit on Tuesday morning.

UPDATE 2: Engineer visited on Wednesday 18 February and found literally thousands of faults on the line. He cleared these but broadband is still dropping out randomly. He wondered if this was an issue with Repetitive Electrical Impulse Noise (REIN).

@BTCare are sending out another Openreach engineer on Monday morning. They have at least phoned me now on the day they said they would, even if it did require me to poke them via Twitter to remind them. Confidence in them is growing a little, which is a relief.

See post Broadband woes / continued.

UPDATE 3: Engineer booked out for another visit on Monday 24 February between 08:00–13:00. It’s currently 14:00 and no sign or word from him. Although @BTCare have just kindly tweeted to ask how the appointment went… except that he’s not been.

UPDATE 4: Engineer booked for Saturday 1 March.

UPDATE 5: Engineer booked for Monday 10 March. It’s FINALLY FIXED!


The last few weeks have been the most frustrating I’ve ever experienced with BT’s customer support channel on Twitter, what I’m experiencing as an ever-more ironically named @BTCare.

In fact, I might go as far as saying that this has been my worst experience of customer service full-stop.

For the last few years I have enthused with anyone who will listen about how excellent I’ve found @BTCare to be. With a simple tweet or two I’ve found them to be engaged, interested, and conscientious; I’ve felt cared for, I’ve felt that they owned the problem and they haven’t stopped until it was resolved.

I have found myself in training sessions at work about world-class customer service raving about I see @BTCare as the paradigm of the level of support and professionalism that I would like to offer our clients.

As a web professional people regularly ask for my advice on internet service providers, and I have always recommended BT on the strength of their excellent support.

But after these last three months I can’t do that any more. I now find myself, three months into this current issue with our broadband connection randomly dropping out, and increasingly getting worse, feeling not only disgruntled but wondering if they are now purposefully ignoring me or at worst lying to me.

Having been such an advocate for what was a first rate customer service experience, I am now feeling disappointed and angry.

All I am asking for is the service that a) I’ve had, and b) that I’m paying for.

So BT tell me, what has changed? Why have I found the last few months to be the most excruciatingly frustrating experience I’ve ever had from any company’s customer service team? Why have I found myself contacting you again and again asking for feedback? Why have you replied to me time and again saying that you’ll be in touch with me soon, that you’ll phone me shortly, that you’ll a colleague “will be in touch with [me] today”.

Why am I still waiting?!

Timeline

You said that you’d be in touch on Wednesday.

I was in, but I’d just got back from the hospital and was in a lot of pain and couldn’t get to the phone in time and my phone was set to silent/vibrate. I tweeted back immediately saying that I was available…

No reply. Nor the next day. So I contacted you again:

No call.

So I contacted them again yesterday and was told:

There was then a flurry of activity, none of which was useful. I felt like I was repeating myself. I’d already explained what was going on in one of the many emails that I’d written.

But I don’t know how these things work at their end, perhaps they didn’t have access to the information that I’d sent. There also seemed to be a misunderstanding that the issue was simply a drop in WiFi connection rather than the connection to the whole hub dropping out (the blue light turns to a flashing orange light).

Then late last night, while the connection was dropping out every other minute I was asked to send another email.

I finally found a few minutes where the connection stayed up for long enough to write a long, detailed explanation of what is going on.

The issue: my broadband connection keeps dropping — orange light flashes… connects (blue)… drops… repeat. Not just WiFi – the lot. My main PC is connected via LAN cable to the hub via a powerline. My phone and tablet are connected with WiFi (2.4 GHz, channel 6). I have changed the channel… no effect: still drops out.

Here’s a record I’ve kept from the HomeHub 4 logs:

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1778315/broadband-outages.txt

Connection during the day is solid, from about 08:00–23:00. Today it started dropping every few moments after 21:00.

We had an engineer visit in mid-December. He tested everything and said that our internal wiring (from master to one extension socket) was fine. He recommended unplugging everything and reconnecting in case the issue was static on the line. I’ve done that… it hasn’t fixed things.

He suggested that if it continue then the issue is likely to be the Home Hub 3 we had. This has now been replaced with a Home Hub 4. The connection was absolutely fine for a couple of weeks, and was faster than the HH3 but now it has started dropping out again and only in the evenings.

We have not changed anything in the house. Same equipment is on and switched on. The only change is the Home Hub and filter, swapped for the one that arrived with the Home Hub 4. But like I said it worked for a few weeks.

I now have the [brand new] Home Hub 4 plugged into [a brand new microfilter plugged into] the master socket in our hallway. I’ve also done a factory reset on the hub.

This strikes me as being an issue that is external to our property.

I got this reply this morning:

It is now 17:22, I have stayed in all day, on Sundays they close at 18:00 and so far no call despite an assurance 9 hours ago that you would be in touch.

So, please tell me BT… what has happened? Please turn around this experience for me. Please make me believe that you can offer world-class customer service again.

But most of all: please fix our broadband connection.

Is this the last alphabet that English will ever have?

I wasn’t great at English at high school. I just didn’t connect with it, and none of my teachers really set my heart on fire with passion for this odd, largely-stolen language of ours.

That was until I went to university in 1989 and had to learn another language: biblical Hebrew. In order to learn that I needed to brush up on my understanding of language, grammar and syntax.

Thanks to Dr Jim Martin, Dr Robin Salters and Mr Peter Coxon for the first time in my life I began to feel excited about language. I studied Hebrew (3 years) and Greek (1 year) and after I’d graduated I had a rather failed attempt at trying to learn Scottish Gaelic and I began to read more about English, its grammar and history.

I rather enjoyed this three minute video by Tom Scott about the English alphabet. I have often wished that we still had a few of these characters in our alphabet, not least because then my name might have been spelled Garð.

Everybody’s gone to the rapture

Scene from 'Everybody's gone to the rapture' showing a car in a deserted car park, rays of sunshine through the trees

It looks like The Chinese Room, the games company behind the exquisitely beautiful Dear Esther, is working on a new game entitled ‘Everybody’s gone to the rapture’.

All the website gives away at this stage is:

6th June 1984 06:37am

Time since Primary Event 5 days 4 hours 37 minutes

Time since Omega Event 0 days 0 hours 37 minutes

This story begins with the end of the world.

As well as a few screenshots of the environment, which like its predecessor looks stunning.

One to keep an eye on, methinks.

 

Fixing an ‘Initialization of SteelSeries Engine failed’ error

Initialization of SteelSeries Engine failed. Please reinstall Engine and try again.

Yesterday morning when I booted up my PC I was greeted with this error message:

Initialization of SteelSeries Engine failed.
Please reinstall Engine and try again.

Not again! I thought. I’d experienced this before and had needed to get help from SteelSeries tech support to resolve it. I suspected that it had been caused by a recent Windows 8 update, but I don’t know for sure.

Here is how I resolved it:

  1. Clear temp files
    In Windows Explorer I typed %temp% into the address bar and pressed Enter. This is a shortcut to C:\Users\[USERNAME]\AppData\Local\Temp. I selected all files and deleted them. (A few files are still in use so just skip past these.)
  2. Close SSEngine.exe process
    The next step is to make sure the SteelSeries Engine process isn’t still running. Ctrl+Shift+Esc brings up the Task Manager. If the SSEngine.exe process is still running (under the Processes tab) then close it.
  3. Uninstall
    In Control Panel > Programs and Features uninstall the SteelSeries Engine application.
  4. Clear AppData\Roaming\SteelSeries
    In Windows Explorer, in the address bar, type %appdata%. This is a shortcut for C:\Users\[USERNAME]\AppData\Roaming. Locate the directory called SteelSeries and delete it.
  5. Clear AppData\Local\SteelSeries_ApS
    Do the same at C:\Users\[USERNAME]\AppData\Local. The directory there for me is called SteelSeries_ApS. Delete it.
  6. Unplug mouse
    Unplug the mouse from its USB port. Wait 10 seconds then plug it back in.
  7. Download drivers
    Now download fresh drivers from SteelSeries support. Do not rely on previously-downloaded drivers.
  8. Install as administrator
    Right click the installer and select ‘Run as administrator’, then follow the on-screen instructions and install the drivers.
  9. Reboot
    You should now find that your computer reboots without any initialization error message.

As well as reinstalling the Engine drivers I also took the opportunity to upgrade the mouse’s firmware.

It was then just a case of recreating my custom profile to make my mouse behave as much like a Microsoft Intellimouse Optical as possible (left-hand side buttons: back; right-hand side buttons: forward), as well as setting two sensor speeds (red 1600 dcpi for me, blue 800 dcpi for the children).

It worked.

Why you shouldn’t screw your flip flops to your feet!

A pretty drastic way of ensuring that you prevent your flip-flops from falling off is to screw them on!

A pretty drastic way of ensuring that you prevent your flip-flops from falling off is to screw them on!

This week hasn’t quite turned out as planned. For one, yesterday morning I had to manually remove a No.8 (40 mm) screw from the bottom of my foot and go to hospital for a tetanus booster injection.

Reuben and Joshua have been on holiday from school since Wednesday, and as they have repeatedly asked if they could have ‘a sleepover’ a Grannie in Selkirk’s I took these three days off too and planned with my Mum to head down yesterday morning (which would also have been my Dad’s 69th birthday).

The plan was to take a leisurely drive to the Scottish Borders and then spend the day showing them a bit more of Selkirk: where I grew up, where I played, where I went to school, and also to visit my Dad’s grave and lay some flowers to mark his birthday.

I was woken around 06:20 by Reuben leaping onto my bed. “When are we going to Selkirk?!” were his first, excited words.

“After breakfast,” I replied getting out of bed.

I still had to throw a few things into a bag but first, looking out of the bedroom window into the backyard, I realised that the bin needed to go out—the paper-recycling lorry would be round soon.

After a quick detour to my study to pick up an R-kive box that I use for storing paper to be recycled we tripped downstairs and as Reuben and Joshua got comfortable at the breakfast bar I said I’d just be a minute and I headed outside into the cold, pulling on a jumper.

I also had my flip flops on. I love my flip flops. I love walking around in bare feet but I have quite flat feet and so it gets painful quite quickly. These Quicksilver flip flops have been perfect: giving my foot the cushioning they need and my arch gets the lift that it deserves. And they left me walk quite comfortably on stones, even gravel. (But not wood screws, as it turns out.)

I stepped across the stones and tipped the contents of the R-kive box into the grey wheelie bin before I started to pull it towards the gate and the main road.

I stopped. The back door was still open. I reached over and pulled it closed, only to turn around in time to see the wheelie bin tipping over and spilling half its contents into the backyard. “Oh no!” I groaned righting the bin and then getting down on my hands and knees and scooping up handfuls of scraps of paper that were now being blown around in little eddies around the yard.

I looked over at the R-kive box. Surely it would be quicker if I scooped the paper into that: less distance to travel. I stood up, stepped across the gravel and reached out for the box, sitting on top of the blue general waste bin.

“Ow!”

I stepped on something sharp; stones likely. I lifted my right foot and gave it a shake. It was common for small stones to slip beneath my foot and my flip flop. I heard a few stones fall out and click on the gravel beneath. I put my foot down and quickly lifted it again.

“OW!”

A sudden fear went through my mind: something has gone into my foot. A sharp stone? There’s a sharp stone embedded in my foot! It seems to have gone through my flip flop too.

The paper continued to blow around the enclosed backyard. I needed to clear that up first and as I couldn’t exactly walk without pain anyway I dropped to my knees with the blue and white R-kive box and crawled across the gravel to the paving stones.

I could feel the panic rising within me.

“Joshua!… JOSHUA!” I screamed. The back door was still ajar; it hadn’t closed entirely.

I frantically scooped up the paper into the box: scraps of A5 notepaper, newspapers, food packaging.

“JOSHUA!”

I pulled myself up using the bin and tipped the contents of the box into the wheelie bin once again. Joshua appeared at the door, “Yes?”

“Joshua! Get Mummy please. I need her help. I think I have a stone in my foot!”

Joshua ran off as I closed the wheelie bin lid, turned around as carefully as I could and tried to make my way into the house. The pain was excruciating now. My sense of panic was growing. I held onto what I could grab and I began to hop up the steps and in through the back door.

“Jane!” I yelled. “JANE!”

“I’m coming!” I heard her reply, sounding slightly irritated. Jane was recently diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, a back condition that has left her in a lot of pain herself. She had spent much of the night squeezed into Isaac’s bed beside him and she was struggling to get out of bed.

I collapsed onto the sofa in the kitchen as Jane arrived.

“I think I’ve stood on a sharp stone,” I said quickly. “I think it’s gone into my foot.” I was beginning to go into shock by this point. And the pain was so intense that I felt like I might pass out.

“Breathe… breathe…!” I told myself. “Slow your breathing. Deep breaths.”

Jane switched on the lights and took a closer look. “I think it’s a nail!”

“A nail?!”

“Oh, hang on… it’s a screw!”

“A SCREW?!”

It was a screw. It turns out to have been a No. 8 (40 mm) Pozidriv screw. As my colleague Steve confirmed later: those are the painful kind!

Jane couldn’t get a grip on it. “I think I may need to cut your flip flops off,” she apologised.

“Do it!” I said. I’ve watched Casualty on TV: I know how it goes.

After another failed attempt I realised that I was going to have to do it. I’ve often prided myself on such a strong grip. I didn’t realise that one day I would have to manually unscrew a No.8 from the bottom of my foot!

I sat up, took a deep breath, crossed my legs and took a closer look. I felt sick.

If a man, trapped in the mountains can saw his own arm off using a Swiss army knife, I found myself thinking, then I can remove a screw from my foot.

“Which way does it go?”

I considered at this point of sending for my Black & Decker electric screwdriver. At least it has buttons to differentiate between in and out.

I grasped the screw head tightly between by fingers and began to turn it anti-clockwise. It was coming out! It was coming out!

Just over an hour later I was sitting in a treatment room at the minor injuries unit in St Andrews community hospital having the wound washed out and getting a tetanus booster injection to my arm.

An hour because we’d phoned NHS 24 for advice and well… they promised to phone back within three hours(!) and I couldn’t wait any longer; and Jane had phoned her parents asking if she could quickly drop the boys off at theirs so that she could drive me to the hospital and her dad had insisted that they be dressed first… and they really weren’t up for playing that game. Forty-five minutes to get three dressed on a non-school day was actually pretty good going, compared with other attempts.

So the trip to Selkirk was postponed, I got my pain relief under control, and I sat with my leg up for most of the day.

Today it really hit me: I felt floored, I had no energy, I slept a lot. Tomorrow… well, I think I have an infection brewing. I’ll be phoning the doctor first thing.

Update

Friday 14 February

I have an infection in the foot. I’m not long back from the GP with a small bag full of medication:

  • 28 Flucloxacillin 500mg (4 per day)
  • 21 Ibuprofen 400mg
  • 100 Co-codamol 30/500mg

My mum recommends Listerine original for infections of the feet, but my local chemist only has mint or anti-cavity.