Showstoppin’ 3

Anvil Stage

Last night we made what has become an annual trip to see the Basingstoke Tappers & Jazz Dance Company annual show at The Anvil in Basingstoke. The fact that I would willingly attend a dance show is probably a surprise to some people, probably due to the many years when I was in drama classes when I was a child, and we shared our annual show with the local dance school – but thats another story!

Anyway, we do have a lot of fun going along to see the Tappers show every year, and this year was no exception. Our link with the dance company is via Catherine and Phil. Catherine has danced in the shows for many years, and Phil has stage managed the shows for the past couple of years, having married into it when he and Catherine tied the knot a couple of years ago. What keeps us going back though is that despite it being a showcase for an amateur dance company, complete with the really young beginners who only know a couple of steps, the production values are second to none.

The music has always been good, thanks to various contacts in the industry they get a selection of experienced professional musicians who give up their time for the show, however over the past few years the staging and scenery has been amazing. For example a couple of years ago they performed numbers from the Lion King musical, complete with home built versions of some of the animal costumes. This year they recreated Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on the stage, We Will Rock You with explosions on stage, and finished with Mary Poppins, complete with a flying Mary Poppins.

The music this year was again boosted by the presence of the Chosen Few Jazz Orchestra, who first appeared in the show last year when they provided the big band backing for some Las Vegas style numbers. However this year they were present on stage through the whole of the show, allowing the dancers to dance to a real band rather than CD’s for a lot of the show. Whilst many of the numbers would be a bit of a disappointment to fans of the orchestra, as most numbers in the musicals aren’t written for 13 piece brass sections, there were three points in the show where we got a sample of their big band sound. Also as before they played on after the stage had cleared despite the usual mass exodus by most of the audience to the car park, bar or whatever (which this year started before the dancers had even cleared the stage, to the point that the circle was almost empty when the last dancers had left), although we stayed to the end to give them a cheer when they had finished – not often you get to a twenty piece band live!

Anyway, if you want to support a local dance school, whilst at the same time hearing some west end quality music, without paying west end prices, put the last weekend in July 2006 in your diaries!

Missing Sync Upgrades

As I wrote back in May, although I purchased a copy of MacOS 10.4 Tiger, I wasn’t going to upgrade as MissingSync , the software I use to keep my PDA in line hadn’t been updated.

Anyway, I recieved notification this week that the new version was finally available, however since I won’t get a clear weekend to do what is needed with my MacOS install for a couple of weeks, I thought I’d use the opportunity to keep an eye on the MissingSync mailing list to see how the early adopters cope. To date, although some have had no problems, others on the list are not happy, and especially with having to pay for another problematic version.

I think that maybe I’ll wait until I have a chance to install Tiger, and do the changeover then – maybe the problems will be fixed!

Ongoing Glasses Issues

As you might have noticed, I’ve been having somewhat of an obsession with our new glasses over the past few weeks. Ultimately it is down to the fact that both Beth and myself have worn spectacles for years, and although we’ve both had to take time to adjust to new prescriptions, we’ve never suffered from apparent problems getting the basic prescription right.

The current situation is that I am waiting for new frames to be delivered after the chipped lense last week, whilst Beth is trying to get used to her new glasses. However, although Beth has now found that the headaches have subsided (although her eyes still feel tired), she still has problems with blur in the middle to long distance – particularly a problem with reading signs when driving for instance.

Since after two attempts to get things right, and still having problems I decided to do some background reading, and also collect as much information as I could.

One useful source of information was the ever useful Wikipedia which includes a great article explaining about how an optical prescription is constructed including examples of how different problems cause different blur, and explanations of how lenses are constructed.

Another interesting source of information was the discussions on the newsgroup, which includes several professional opticians. It seems to often have to be a helpline for people snookered by the way eyesight services are handled in the USA where the place that tests your eyes, and the place that sells glasses are often totally separate, which means in situations like ours the two businesses will blame each other for the problems. Many discussions such as this one highlight issues over high-index lenses, specifically the trade off in using thin lenses. As a general rule of thumb, as the index increases (and the weight decreases), the colour abberation (the fringing I saw in my first pair of glasses) – often abbreviated to just ‘abbe’ increases, although different materials such as glass or plastic also have an effect.

As a final addition to the discussion both Beth and myself contacted the places that previously tested our eyes and supplied our current glasses. In the case of Beth, that was a trip down to Tesco, who said that her current glasses supplied in 2002 had lenses with an index of 1.6. In my case when I was tested at Tesco my eyes hadn’t changed, so I had to go back to 1998 when I was tested at the branch of Specsavers in Watford, near my parents. Luckily they still had my records, and kindly went and pulled the details of exactly what I was supplied with. It is worth mentioning that our local Specsavers have twice said that my existing glasses are 1.6 lenses, as the branch in Watford supplied me with their standard single vision lenses, which backs my belief that it wasn’t as expensive, since the single vision lenses are included in the standard price.

On that information I said to the optician in Watford that I thought that the local branch were trying to get me to pay out for extras I didn’t need, to which she replied that they weren’t paid on comission, and that with the newest high index lenses she would recommend a 1.6, and that a 1.67 would be required for any sort of rimless frame, confirming what the local Specsavers had done. She also added that in general the ‘quality’ of vision with the high index lenses was better – same as with our local branch, and again as with the local branch she didn’t really quantify in what way the quality actually improved.

After discussing the issues over our current prescription she suggested that if after two attempts we were still having problems, that we should obtain a second opinion. As a result, after a little looking around, Beth has made an appointment on Monday at Eyesite in Reading, who are a small chain of independant opticians, rather than the national franchise operations of Specsavers or Dollond & Aitchison. Hopefully then we’ll be able to establish whether the eye tests are at fault, or whether the issue is with the higher index lenses. Dependant on how her test goes on Monday, we’ll decide how we proceed with Specsavers, although I’m not keen on getting stuck in a US style situation where one optician blames the other for any problems.

So despite the fact that the company pays for tests and gives a discount at Specsavers, I might forget the discount, ask for a refund, and go elsewhere if Beth is happier with her test on Monday. This actually follows on from the experiences of a friend at work who went to a different branch of Specsavers, had problems, and after eight return visits gave up and asked for a full refund. He actually advised me not to bother when I said I was going to Specsavers a couple of months ago, however it is worth mentioning that the two branches I have previously visited had been fine, indeed the Watford branch were still happy to help me out this week. Of course the big problem is that as with any franchise, it can be a bit of a lucky dip between branches as each is independant. Hopefully by going with an independant like Eyesite who have been around for a while we might be able to get things sorted without the tedious hassle we’re getting with Specsavers. Their no quibble promise is great, but it is not an excuse to repeatedly get things wrong or not accurately present both the pros and cons of any particular treatment!

Belated War of the Worlds Review

War of the Worlds

As you may remember, I was in two minds about the recently released War of the Worlds back when details were starting to come out back in January.

During my recent week in London, I was able to see the movie, although I didn’t have a chance to sit down and write a review back then.

As expected, the plot diverges quite a bit from the original book. Many of the plot elements and events turn up in one form or another, but it is decidedly mixed up. For example one character is called Ogilvy, who in the book is an astronomer friend of the narrator, however in the movie he is a hybrid of the characters of the curate and the soilder. Also the aliens are not apparently from Mars, and also the war machines are already hidden on the Earth, rather than being built, so the whole tension building elements at the beginning of the book are gone. However despite what Howard predicted back in January, the ultimate source of the demise of the aliens is the same as in the book, complete with birds flocking over the remains.

Putting aside the spot the difference, the question is whether it is a bad movie. I have to say that I really enjoyed it. Although there were some plot holes, particularly the apparent lack of damage to parts of Boston at the end of the movie, the movie was very well made with great looking war machines, and well acted. Certainly if you’ve had little to do with the original book, you won’t have a problem with the movie. Even if you are a fan of the book, go in expecting a good action packed pop-corn crowd pleaser and you won’t be disappointed.

Freebie Wi-Fi ‘Grey Area’ Gets Cleared Up

An article published on Thursday confirmed that one of the big grey areas in the current explosion in computer communications had been cleared up, at least for the UK.

A user with a wi-fi laptop had found an unprotected wireless network at a domestic address in Ealing, and on three occasions had been spotted sat outside in his car using the connection. As a result the user had been prosecuted and convicted under the Communications Act, and was fined £500, given a 12 month conditional discharge, and had his laptop and wi-fi card confiscated.

Having said that, finding an unprotected wireless connection is not exactly difficult. Although our network at home is encrypted, hidden and controlled by an access list, our two wi-fi equiped computers can usually see two or three other networks which are totally unprotected. In fact when I was first setting up our wi-fi Beth’s laptop couldn’t initially locate our network and Windows automatically logged on to one of the other networks and started downloading!

As an example of the extent of the problem a friend once drove back from docklands to Finchampstead using his wirless laptop hooked up to a GPS to navigate. At the same time he had a copy of NetStubmler running which plotted in excess of 1500 unprotected networks over the 40 mile journey. Slightly worryingly whilst there were plenty in residential areas, the greatest density of unprotected wireless was in the city – from office blocks.

The grey area has come from the debate over access. People who have borrowed these connections are not physically trespassing, or gaining unauthorised access to buildings in any way, the argument being that because the signal is available in public areas it is free to use to the public. It is up to the owners to ensure that it is protected if they don’t want it used. What the court case has done is drawn the line at a different point. As a non-computer type analogy, it could be compared with a person who leaves their front door wide open, and you just pop in the door and make a quick call on their phone.