Saturday, 29 November 2008

Don't gas me, please!

Why does anyone still use aerosol antiperspirant? I stopped when I was a teenager when, left coughing from a cloud of fumes, I finally read the label and thought "Do I really want to breath in this stuff? If it's designed to keep my armpits dry, imagine what it's doing to my lungs!".

Switching to a roll-on, I gave up on the scented varieties when a classmate asked me, "What is that perfume you're always wearing? It's really nice". It was Rexona - all I remember now about the scent is that it was the green one. Embarrassed, I sought out something non-scented.

Over the years, I've tried most brands of non-scented roll-on: Revlon (don't leave the cap off, it evaporates); Old Spice in a stick (sold for men, but it worked very well on me and there was no scent); Mitcham, etc. The most irritating fact about them is that they are marketed almost exclusively for men. Trying to find a non-scented roll-on? Look in men's toiletries. (As an aside, why do women still wear a scented antiperspirant when they're wearing a completely different perfume? Hasn't someone taught them about the fragrances clashing?)

For the last 6 years, I've used a crystal deodorant and been very happy with the results. Not only is it economical: each 125g crystal lasts about three years and costs about the same as two thingies of Mitcham; but there have been very few days when my nose has wrinkled and my brain has gone "Uh oh! I can smell me!" (certainly no more than with the other products I've tried). The best parts have been the lack of marks on clothing (what is it in antiperspirants that turn t-shirts to cardboard?), the lack of sting after shaving and the drying time (rub the dry crystal on shower damp skin and, before you've towel dried the rest of you, it's dry).

The biggest problem had been sourcing them. In 2002, when I first decided to use a crystal deodorant, I scoured the shops and supermarkets and couldn't find one: Boots, Superdrug, Holland & Barrett, The Body Shop, all came up bare. I eventually purchased my first two crystal sticks in my sister's local health food shop on a visit home ($4 each plus a £700 airfare). Now even sourcing them isn't a problem; following the increased interest in green products, all of those shops now stock crystal deodorants and Holland & Barrett even sell multiple brands.

The only time I didn't use my crystal deodorant was when I travelled - then I'd revert to a roll-on because I didn't want to risk damaging/wasting/losing my precious crystal.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago: last year, I "scored" a couple of sample packs of Nivea products which included a travel sized spray-on antiperspirant, so I took one with me when I went to Site. My God! The fumes! In my regular hotel, I developed a routine of spray on the damn thing in the bathroom and rush into the bedroom to dry off, closing the bathroom door to let the exhaust fan clear away the smell. Eventually, I'd return to the bathroom once it had dissipated.

For my October Site visit, I left it until it was too late to get a room at the regular hotel so had to stay at one of the weirder hotels in the neighbourhood. On the surface, this hotel looks perfectly OK - the rooms are clean and stylish, the menu is good, the staff friendly. Scratch the surface and you'll find weird bits. The owners have an animal-print fetish, using (probably) fake horses hide to decorate chairs, pillows, bed heads. This time, my bedroom had a bathroom alcove - there was no dividing wall between the bathroom and the bedroom! This time, there was no escaping from the fumes. NEVER AGAIN.

No wonder people have asthma attacks after using spray-on deodorants. No matter how careful you try to be, the fumes will get in your face. And without a powerful exhaust fan, they take forever to dissipate.

As for me: the Nivea spray ended up in the bin. I can no longer even tolerate its scent. I now have a travel sized crystal and that's what I'll be taking with me from now on.

- Pam

Friday, 28 November 2008

Feeling my inner Nerd

I got distracted this afternoon. The plan was to finish work at 12.30, come home and take some FO photographs and put them up on the blog. The reality was leaving the office at 1.30pm, getting home just in time to enjoy listening to Kermode live, log on to the home computer and ....... Where did the time go?

The time went on a new-to-me blog that I've discovered: Nerd Girl a.k.a. Jennifer Gardy. Today's post will sound familiar to anyone who has ever worked in an environment where the deliverables don't rely on just following a process. Jennifer calls it "The Daily Grind of Trying to Find Nobel-worthy Results". If you substitute Spider Solitaire with "read Motley Fool" and "find Nobel-worthy Results" with "generate invoice", she could be describing my average day.

The second or third post on the blog distracted me still further. Where do I fit in the Nerd-Geek-Dork Continuum? Am I a Geek, a Nerd or (heavens, no!) a Dork? Nobody wants to be a Dork! We all know Dorks - the socially inept (usually) male who is OK on his own but you wouldn't want your friends to meet him.

I don't think I'm a Geek. When I was a Finance Systems Trainer, I used to joke "I'm not a geek, but I've played on on television". I've worked with plenty of Geeks. You ask them a simple question, like: if I do X in Credit Control, does that impact on Y? And two hours later, you still don't know the answer but you now now how Credit Control links up with the rest of Accounts Receivable, including which automatic accounting instructions are needed to drive the system.

I've always thought of myself as a bit of a Nerd. I like learning. I enjoy sitting in a classroom being taught something. I'm more likely to watch documentaries than soap operas on TV. If there is a topic I'm interested in (i.e. how people survived on the home front in World War 2), I'll read whatever I can get my hands on. But what divides me from being a Geek, I think, is that I don't preach about what I know. I don't think the rest of the world will be as interested as I am.

In trepidation, I did the test.

[ Drum Roll, please! ]

Ta Da!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am 79% Nerd, 39% Geek and 35% Dork.

- Pam

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Radio - someone still loves you!

Back in April, I was driving into work when I turned a corner and the usually crystal-clear car radio went "buzz!". Static. Interference. Call it what you will. I lost the AM stations and most of the FM stations in one right-hand bend. Disaster!

I'm an avid radio listener. Talk radio, rock music, pop music, classical - I listen to the lot depending on my mood. Most of the time, I listen to talk radio. Music is fine, but on long journeys I want information, company and entertainment not just background music. And in Britain, that means BBC Radio Five, which is only broadcast on AM and DAB digital frequencies. Radio Five delivers news and interviews, sports commentary, book review, film reviews and the occasional phone-in.

I sought advice: check the connections, particularly if it isn't the one originally installed. Apparently, they become loose. That made sense; it's not the original radio (a few Christmases ago, DH bought me one that played CDs instead of the original one which played tapes). But I couldn't figure out how to get it out, so took it to the garage and they had a go. Miraculously, they re-established reception of most of my channels. It wasn't perfect, but it was better than nothing. The mechanics suggested replacing the antenna at the next service - not just the aerial, but the whole thing. The next service came and went. "We're sorry, but we can't get the radio out, so we can't change the antenna." I was disappointed. The radio still worked, not brilliantly but at least I could hear most things, some of the time. It just wasn't reliable.

The CD player works, but there are only so many times I can listen to the same audio book before getting bored. Having bought a new MP3 player, I sort out podcasts. Radio Five does several: the book program, Mark Kermode's film reviews, various finance broadcasts, etc. I'm up to date with the shows I love, but sadly they don't keep an archive. More recently, I've sought out the various knitting podcasts out there: Cast-On, Yarn Thing (hello, Marly-mad-woman! I love listening to you), She Knits, and Knitty Nora are the most noteworthy.

Podcasts have opened up another window on the world for me. Most are amateur - people who just have something to say and want to share it with you. I've come to the conclusion that the best knitting podcasts are like the best blogs: it's like having a good conversation with a friend. Yarn Thing has to be the best of the lot: fun, entertaining and Marly's laugh is contagious. If you have never listened to a podcast, I suggest you start with Yarn Thing. My trips to Site are 4 hours each way - I've been up there three times in the last five weeks - and listened to the entire archive of Yarn Thing on the way. And I still want to hear more! Surely that is the best recommendation there can be.

- Pam (got to get the radio fixed. It's lost the AM stations again, so there's no football and no cricket in my car and I can't live without them.)

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Where was I before I was rudely interrupted?

Yay! My laptop is working. It took six weeks to sort out. I felt as if I'd had my voice switched off. Blogging from work isn't practical (or safe, job-wise) and I hate using DH's computer when he's around - I feel as if I'm depriving him of something.

What caused the Blue Screen of Death? A virus infecting the boot directory. Don't know where it came from, although I suspect it was attached to a midi-file player I downloaded. The advice I was given really didn't help the process, either; running CHKDSK broke the computer because it crashed in the middle and damaged the ability to run in Safe Mode. Here is what I learned:-

  1. CHKDSK will not solve the problem and could make it worse.
  2. If you have auto-reboot set up, disable it so that you can read the Blue Screen of Death. This option will appear when you start the computer and hit F8 (the same key that gives you Safe Mode). You need to record the error message (all gazillion digits of it), to help decipher the cause.
  3. The most useful website for information belongs to Dell. (My next computer will be a Dell.) Everything I learned to solve this problem, I learned from the Dell website last week, after DH's computer also developed the Blue Screen of Death. Dell has a downloadable fix that worked on DH's PC. Use "Safe Mode with Networking" to access and download.
  4. The second most useful place for information was McAfee. I emailed them asking what I needed to do to re-install their anti-virus software before I wiped the laptop. They also sent me a link to a fix, but by this time the laptop was so corrupted I couldn't boot in Safe Mode. Thank you McAfee, your customer service is superb.
  5. Windows XP has a special "reinstallation" mode which means you don't need to reformat your hard drive first - it overwrites the existing software leaving everything else intact. Put the Windows CD into the CD drive and then boot up the computer. Sadly, it Blue Screened in the middle of the reinstall, so I bit the bullet and went to Plan D.
  6. Plan D was to wipe the hard drive and reinstall everything, which I did last night. This was another option on the Windows CD.
  7. The most useless website for information belonged to Fujitsu Siemens, the makers of this expensive near-doorstop. Try searching it for "Blue Screen" - you will find absolutely nothing useful. Yet another reason why I won't buy another laptop from them.
  8. The most important thing you can do is run regular back-ups. When the Blue Screen of Death first appeared, I took a complete copy of My Documents and placed it on our external hard drive. It's better to use a program like McAfee, but I couldn't get that to work at the time.
- Pam (Did you miss me?)