Local Politics and the Church

I’ve blogged from time to time about politics within the Church, but every so often, even at a local level, village politics and St James come into contact. In the past it’s been in relation to things like the villages memorial oaks being on church, rather than public land, and occasionally the Parish Council will use the church or our parish centre for services or events. The Parish Council also generously gives us an annual donation into church funds. However as part of our conservation appeal, alongside a number of other grant awarding bodies we applied to the Parish Council for a grant, and put in an application for what would be considered a significant amount – £15,000, backed up by Rev Richard personally attending the meeting to put his case for the benefits that the church building offered to the community and the village as a whole. In all honesty expected to be awarded a lot less than what we had asked for, therefore we were delighted to be awarded the full amount, but it caused a bit of a storm. The award was passed by majority of the councillors at the meeting, but one Parish Councillor who voted against the award was so upset that she has resigned her position in protest, stating that she believed the money would not be benefiting the whole community.

ASUS eeePC

ASUS eeePC with Evesham Laptop

Ever since Psion pulled out of the PDA market I’ve been on the look-out for a device that gave me the calendar/diary functionality that I had with my Series 5, but allowed me to work on the move without having to lug a laptop around. With the PDA market heading in the direction of portrait orientation touch screens, although I’ve been able to get calendar and diary functionality, there has never been a keyboard equipped device that has really met my needs, such that my Series 5 periodically gets dusted off when I need something small on which to type.

The big issue with carrying on with just the Series 5 however has been the lack of communication options. It has neither Bluetooth or Wi-Fi functionality, so getting the kind of web and e-mail access I can get even from a device like an iPod Touch.

Just before Christmas, ASUS, a Tiwanese technology company better known for producing components rather than whole devices came out with a new sub-notebook called the eeePC – the name coming from their slogan that it is “Easy to learn, Easy to work and Easy to playâ€? with the device. In a slight bit of irony, some are classing the computer into a new category called Netbooks – one of the last Psion products was the Psion Netbook a sub-notebook of similar size to the eeePC that once again pre-empts many of the ideas that the wider market is now exploring many years before they became fashionable.

The eeePC is pretty limited by modern standards, coming with a relatively slow processor, limited RAM, and a solid-state drive that varies between 2Gb and 8Gb depending on the model. Operating system wise it ships with a version of Xandros Linux, but it does include full instructions and the relevant drivers to allow Windows XP to be installed. However the switch to Windows XP would bring a serious nose-dive in terms of the performance of the device. The other compromise in terms of design is the screen, which is a small 7“ screen that displays only 800×480 pixels.

The target market for the device is apparently education, certainly indicated by the choice of RM as a distributor in the UK. The units are very much built to a price, are intended to be robust – the only moving part is a small fan to keep it cool – but that doesn’t need to run often. Out of the box the suite of software includes a modern web browser in the form of Firefox, and also an install of OpenOffice an open source office application suite that can quite happily cope with the various standard document formats. Alongside this it has Skype support – including video on the webcam equipped models with the latest software updates – and can hook up to most IM networks. It even has a copy of Kontact to provide PIM functionality. There are a few educational applications, but it is targeted primarily as a small, easy to use device for producing documents and browsing the internet.

Having said that, they are also being sold to consumers, ASUS seeing that such a device might be popular outside education circles. With a retail price of £250 for the mid-range 4Gb model, they have been flying off the shelves, with resellers often warning that availability was difficult.

Evesham, ASUS eeePC and Psion 5mx

After the initial rush though, and with a new higher spec model about to appear, the demand has slowed somewhat, such that I could just walk into our local PCWorld in Reading yesterday and pick one up. They didn’t have the full range of colours however – although Expansys, RM and Clove list anything other than the black or white as delayed or unavailable – so I couldn’t get a black one. However when I asked they did have the blue and green units that seem to be like gold dust everywhere else. More than that when I enquired further, the assistant said that they had 26 of the blue, and similar numbers of the green. Certainly if you’re in the market for an eeePC, especially if you want a coloured model, it might be worth checking out your local PCWorld rather than going for one of the internet retailers.

So what’s it like in use? The keyboard is a little cramped, but has more space than my Series 5. Screen wise some of the websites don’t quite fit in, but generally it’s a nice little machine. I had no trouble hooking it up to my router either via a wire or wirelessly. It even quite happily read the memory card out of my camera in the built in reader. There are some more things to try however. It has an external VGA port, so can apparently drive a full size screen or projector. It also includes three USB ports so it will be interesting to try some USB devices (some of the 3G USB modems apparently do work). It’s nowhere near the size of the Series 5, however as a small, easily portable device for reading e-mails, writing documents and browsing the web on the go it is great, and an absolute bargain for £250.

The Sontaran Stratagem

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Last night, The Sontaran Stratagem marked the return of another of the classic Doctor Who monsters brought back for the new series – this time being one of Russell T’s acknowledged favourites, the Sontarans. Much as with the other returning monsters the advances in prosthetic effects, and the much increased budget for the new show have made a big improvement, so rather than the rather scruffy costumes from the monsters last appearance back in The Two Doctor’s this time there really did seem to be a vast army of cloned warriors ready to take over the planet. The same can also be said of this episode’s other returnee – UNIT (now renamed the Unified Intelligence Taskforce to remove the United Nations references) who unlike the fairly small contingent of troops that used to be seen onscreen in the past rolled up with a much increased number of troops giving a much more convincing army unit.

In many ways this episode was a classic Doctor Who/UNIT set-up, with a less than enthusiastic Doctor placed against Colonel Mace filling the familiar place in proceedings that in times gone by would have been occupied by Nick Courtney as the Brigadier. In much the same way Mace and the Doctor frustrate each other as the one tries to run his military organisation remaining sceptical to what is going on whilst the Doctor in familiar fashion appears like a whirlwind through a well organised plan. As at the end of this first episode of the two-parter the bulk of UNIT have yet to come face to face with the Sontarans, but I’m sure amongst the raft of other in-jokes that we can expect Mace to be ordering his troops to fire “Five rounds, rapidâ€? at the small chaps in the blue armour!

At this point in the proceedings, the actual the Sontaran plan is still unclear. The episode opened with an undercover reporter being thrown out of a school for the gifted, run by Luke Rattigan, a gifted child prodigy and millionaire. Amongst other things, his organisation has developed the ATMOS system, that cleans all carbon from car exhaust fumes, and also provides satellite navigation. The reporter, driving away tries to turn off the system, but can’t, discovering too late that it can also take over full control of her car as it plunges her into a river. The the Sontarans are providing Rattigan with assistance to produce these new devices – as we discover at the climax of the episode the ATMOS system also is the key to the Sontaran invasion plan, producing poisonous gas from installations in millions of cars across the globe. They also have the ability to clone humans – at one point cloning Martha Jones who also makes a return appearance in this episode. Previous Sontaran episodes have highlighted the strategic importance of the Earth in the ongoing war with the Rutans, so perhaps this will become more clear next week.

Unlike the new Cybermen for example, the Sontarans are very much an updating of the creature, rather than a reboot, so there are still the humorous elements of the creatures that go right back to Robert Holmes original ideas where we get a great build up of military bluster from General Staal, before the Doctor briefly incapacitates him using a squash ball to injure the probic vent on the back of the General’s neck. Much as before the creatures singular military focus is actually shown to be a weakness at times, perhaps paralleled by the same limitations with regards to UNIT operating through a military view.

The next episode preview of course doesn’t give much away. Certainly it looks as though UNIT and the Sontarans are going to meet face to face. It’s probably fairly certain who will ultimately win – but at what cost? New Doctor Who has always shown the personal impacts of life with the Doctor on those left behind, and with the comments that Martha makes at one point I can’t help thinking that some of that may be coming the way of Donna and her family.

There Wasn’t Anything About This in the Book!

I’ve just had one of those evenings where nobody knows what to do, but people turn to me because I’m the Churchwarden!

When I turned up at choir practice the kids were still over in the Parish Centre on their break, so I went into the church, and there was a small creature in the middle of the floor of the north aisle. On closer examination it turned out to be a bat – and a rather inactive one at that.

Many people who have been to our church will know that we have regular visits from bats, but this one was a lot smaller – and they are usually flying around, not sat in the middle of the floor. Luckily Meg our Parish Administrator was around as well, having an additional practice with the Handbell Group. She has regular bat visits at her home, and also had a booklet of contact numbers in the office from previous problems with the bats in the church.

First off we phoned the local vets, who directed us towards the RSPCA. It is worth saying that tonight was one of the rare occasions when I didn’t have my mobile with me, as it was back at home on charge, as a result trying to speak to the person who knew about bats at the RSPCA proved to be a bit of a pain. When you phone the emergency number you get through to a regular call centre person, who then passes a message to the relevant part of the organisation. They then phone you back – the problem being that twice I didn’t manage to get to the call. No problem I thought, I’ll just dial 1471 and ring them back. That doesn’t work though as the number you dial redirects you to the same emergency number where you can only speak to the normal call centre.

Eventually I got to speak to the bat person who said unfortunately there was nobody available in our area tonight, but that they would try and come out in the morning. She then talked about some of the bat behaviour, and said that the bat would be unable to take off from a horizontal surface – they need a drop of about five feet at least to get airborne, and that if we could move the bat somewhere that had this, that would help matters. She then also suggested trapping the bat in a box and providing food and water.

So what we did was put the bat on a shelf by the 1590 door – a place that bats can get into the building – and close to the wall, and then I came home. I then went back up about twenty minutes later to find that the bat had vanished – so it didn’t seem to be too unwell – the kids took it’s inactivity as being that it was dead, I think it was just trying not to attract attention. Anyway, either it’s still flying around inside the building, or hopefully by putting it close to the door where it could squeeze through, it made it’s escape. Suffice to say there isn’t anything in the Churchwarden’s Handbook about how to deal with bats!

Update: Seems our resident bat hadn’t gone – he was back on the floor of the north aisle at a christening this afternoon. Our Director of Music who was playing for the service left the 1590 door open however and he managed to make his way outside, and climb up enough of the wall to fly away.

Apprentice x3

So last night we had a bit of an apprentice catch up. Having been away for a couple of weeks we had the last two weeks stored up, plus another episode going out last night.

First off we had the week three “Pub Grubâ€? task. The idea was that each team was given a pub, neither of which had offered food, and the teams had to set up and deliver a food service. For the first time this series Sir Alan picked the project managers – in the case of the boys picking Ian who having been brought up in a pub would reasonably be expected to have an advantage.

The first problem however was the distinct lack of cooking experience on either team. For the girls, project manager Sara took on the cooking duties, over with the boys, Kevin – a bank manager by profession – volunteered primarily because he ate at a lot of Italian restaurants, Italian being the chosen food style for the boys. Over with the girls, the chosen style was “Bollywoodâ€? where they basically ripped off the menu from the local Indian Takeaway. This perhaps highlights the most fundamental flaw for both teams – the over-ambitiousness of their menu. Neither team opted for traditional pub grub which probably would have been a lot easier to cook. Instead both teams struggled with the cooking, forgetting key ingredients and in the case of the girls totally failing to deliver any service at all during lunchtime.

The winners and losers eventually came down to costs. Whilst the boys spent a small fortune on professionally printed menu sheets and flyers, and bought their ingredients (and frozen pizza’s) from the local Tesco, the girls got all their printing for free in exchange for advertising on the tickets and menu sheets, and sourced their ingredients cheaply from local suppliers. The ticket idea was another deft move on the part of the girls – they sold tickets for the evening service at £5 per head offering a £5 discount on the food bill – since half of the fifty people who bought tickets failed to turn up that produced a significant boost in profits. Ultimately it was the boys that were up for the chop, and despite a valiant effort to blame Kevin in the kitchen – even lying to try and escape (Tip: Don’t put on your CV that you value honesty in business and then be filmed being totally dishonest) it was project manager Ian who took the taxi ride home.

The next episode sadly marked the demise of popular candidate Simon Smith. Through the preceding weeks he had shown himself to be one of the better organised and enthusiastic of the boys, always keen to turn his hand to anything. However, in the pub grub task he had attracted attention by trying to point out the problems within the team – in particular issues like setting the menu prices before costing out the meals – and then felt he had something to prove. When the task came up as running a photography stall in Bluewater, photography being an interest of his, against the reluctance of the other members of his team (now mixed around to avoid personality clashes) he put himself forward as team leader.

The reluctance to have Simon as leader translated into some of the strong people in his team – in particular Claire – making the management job all the more difficult. Since he was also acting as photographer, someone needed permanently on the stand, things became impossible. Since both teams also had problems with the technology – one weren’t able to correctly identify the pictures to be printed, and the other only managed to print out on normal A4 paper – his project management was highlighted as the weak link. Even a valiant effort by Claire to annoy Sir Alan in the boardroom (he threw her out of the room rather than the whole competition) failed to save loveable Simon. However if the audience reaction in the studio of The Apprentice: You’re Fired is anything to go by I’m sure he’ll have a good career in the media if he wants it.

That brings us to the ice cream making last night. Both teams were under the leadership of people on trial. On one side was Claire, who Sir Alan had thrown out of the boardroom the week before. The other side was led by Lucinda who had again been set up to fail the previous week when she had been put in charge of picture processing by Helene despite possessing no technical skill whatsoever. Lucinda proved to be a revelation though – after grumbling in the previous tasks that she was being put into roles that she did not have the skills for, she proved to be a good manager, quietly and efficiently planning the task, allocating roles and so on. Perhaps her only failing was that she stepped back from an idea to mix the production and sales teams on the second day to avoid a confrontation and bad feeling amongst the sales team.

Over on the other side it was chaos. Most of the work on the first day was done by the production team whilst Claire and the sales team disappeared off and failed to get many confirmed sales calls or ingredients that were needed in good time because they wasted a load of time sampling cider. They even failed to make it on time to their taste test, instead opting to pick two blokes at random from the local pub. So whilst Lucinda’s team were working through a list of confirmed appointments Claire and co ended up going door to door. That made it all the more frustrating when thanks to one big deal, Claire’s team put in a flukey and narrow win.

Whilst Sir Alan would have had a vast choice of potential sacking targets and reasons amongst Claire’s team, it was difficult to pin down a reason for the loss for Lucinda as they only lost by a small margin. Ultimately, when it was discovered that the sales team had achieved at least two sales by offering exclusivity deals without consulting either the project manager, nor the farmer whose produce the teams were selling it came down to being one of the two salespeople who offered the exclusive deals – the chosen victim being Lindi who was supposed to be in charge of the sales team so should have stopped Jenny (the self proclaimed best salesperson in Europe) when she first mentioned exclusivity, and certainly shouldn’t have subsequently agreed to a similar deal herself.

The boardroom debate though highlighted an interesting feature of the Apprentice. Jenny, the other one of the final three alongside Lindi and Lucinda, at one point put forward that she was the best candidate, and highlighted what a good salesperson he was. More often than not a large number of the contestants in the programme are vocal sales types who maintain they are the best candidate due to their sales volume. However, Sir Alan doesn’t ever seem to go for that. Certainly he likes people who can sell, but they need to posses other skills as well. Indeed if you look at last years winner, he definitely wasn’t the best salesperson, even in the final two.

Ironically because Lucinda seems to have proved herself to be a well organised manager, she could be much more of the kind of person that he goes for – although in her case she perhaps doesn’t stick up for herself as much as she should in the boardroom. We’ll have to see exactly the kind of person he is looking for this time around – certainly after this week it will be interesting to see how far she goes, as before I was expecting her to be gone pretty quickly.

So now we have got into the series a bit, who are the people who are starting to stand out? Interestingly at the moment it is Alex, someone all the ladies seem to love. Whilst I can’t really comment on his attractiveness he does seem to be finding his feet and is coming over as trustworthy and efficient, and without the level of antagonism that seems to surround certain of the other candidates. Having said that, there is still a lot to go – I totally failed to agree with the choice Sir Alan made last year, so I could be surprised again by the end of it this year too.