The end of the road

I’ve lived in my current house for almost 10 years. It’s in the middle of a housing estate which, like many others, consists of a main road with several side roads branching off it. In my case the main road drops down a hill and I live on one of the side roads near the bottom. A little bit further down, another side road off to the right connects with another estate and then back out into the town, while the main road around which my estate is built heads off to the left.

Usually I get in and out of the estate either via this side road to the right or going down an alley that provides a convenient short cut out of the estate if you’re on foot or a bike (as I usually am), or sometimes I go up the hill to the top. I have no real occasion to follow the main road round to the left past the turn-off, although I did once drop round to visit someone on another side road a bit further down. I’d never actually gone all the way to the end of the road!

Last week I had a letter delivered to me by accident that was actually supposed to go to a house on a similarly named road in town. I was intending to write a note on the envelope and stick it back in the post box, but when I looked up the location of the other road (to satisfy my own curiosity) I discovered it was actually slightly closer to my house than the postbox is (going up the hill instead of down), so I decided it was better just to pop round and post it directly through the door.

Apart from a weekly bike ride to go shopping and check the post at my office, I’d not actually got round to leaving my house / garden since the lockdown started. I felt quite invigorated by this brief walk and decided that it’s probably a good idea to go for at least a short walk (allowed under the daily exercise provision) on any day when the weather’s not too awful and I’m not going out on my bike. I may get this year’s running season off to a start soon (though I realise I probably haven’t mentioned running yet on my blog as I only got into that after my final post of last year and I’ve been having a winter break since mid-October).

The first couple of days I stuck to a couple of my fairly well-trod routes, but on Saturday I decided the time had finally come to walk to the end of the road. It turns out that it’s slightly less than half a kilometre from my front door, and the road ends at a gate leading into a field. I think it’s a public right of way so I may go back soon and investigate further.

Another, more figurative, end of the road almost happened today as well.

A few days I ordered a couple of bits I needed for my computer from Amazon. I know they are one of the big, bad corporate giants but they are a very convenient one-stop shopping location for so many things, and generally give a pretty reliable service. I was pleasantly surprised when I had an email this morning to say that my parcel, which I was expecting on Wednesday, was now due for delivery this afternoon. I was pleased (though not surprised) when it turned up. I was less pleased when I found that the end of the box was open and only one of the two items I’d ordered was actually inside. The one which actually turned up, in case you’re wondering, was an external CD player for my new office laptop; the missing one was an external hard drive,intended for backup purposes.

My guess is that the box was probably not securely fastened during the packing process and the hard drive fell out somewhere in transit, though it’s possible that somebody may have helped it out, or even that it was never put in there in the first place. In any case, since my Amazon orders page quite clearly showed both items being included in the package, and the package having been delivered, and since I had received the package with a loose end and just about enough empty space in the box for the missing item (which wouldn’t be labelled with any delivery information), I figured it would be best to alert Amazon immediately rather than waiting to see if it would turn up separately.

Cue much frustration as I searched in vain for a means to flag up delivery problems other than a package which hadn’t arrived at all (basically – contact the courier and ask them about it) or to return items which had arrived but were somehow defective (I tried using that approach but it wanted to put me in touch with the manufacturer who in this instance can’t be held to blame!). I was just on the verge of giving up, and beginning to seriously consider cancelling my Amazon account by way of protest (and also concern that they didn’t seem to provide any mechanism to contact them in case of snafus such as this one), when I finally spotted a “Contact Us” link tucked away in submenu at the bottom of their Customer Service page (itself only accessible, as far as I could see, via a link hidden at the very bottom of the page footer).

This link led me to a chat setup which started with a chatbot to establish the nature of the help request before putting me through to a human assistant (who went by the name of Luv – not sure if that’s their real name). While I was deeply unimpressed by the difficulty of locating this avenue of help, I was very satisfied by the service I got from Luv. Within 5 minutes of hooking up to the chat, I had briefly explained the problem and accepted the offer of a replacement item to be sent to me as soon as possible (an offer that was made without quibble – I was offered a refund as an alternative, but since the item is something I need I figured a replacement would be the better option). It’s not due to arrive until early next week, but that’s fair enough in the circumstances (and if my recent orders which have actually arrived are anything to go by I may get it a bit sooner).

Anyway, that’s quite enough rambling for now. It is time for me to nip out into the early evening sunshine and take my daily walk.

Soldering on

I mentioned yesterday that I’d been listening to the radio and promised to say more about that.

Now, listening to the radio is perhaps not all that unusual, although it’s not something I do very often these days. What was notable, or at least a source of great satisfaction to me, was the fact that I was able to listen to this particular radio, which I’d managed to break several days earlier.

The radio in question is a fairly cheap little portable DAB radio that I picked up a couple of years ago in order to be able to listen to my favourite stations (mostly that’s Radio 3, Radio 4 and Radio Cymru, with occasional forays elsewhere) without all the extraneous noise that tends to happen with analogue radios, especially if (like me) you live in an area with not particularly good reception. In fact, I think they are due to be turning off analogue broadcasting sometime soon if they haven’t done so already (or maybe that was just TV – I’ve not had one of those for several years but I’m fairly sure they are digital-only by now).

I didn’t actually use this radio all that often but recently I’d started tuning in again a bit more frequently (mostly the other week when I was working in my shiny new home “office” – aka my sitting room but had my music collection on the PC in my bedroom and hadn’t yet succeeded in setting up my Raspberry Pi as a music server from which I can access my music anywhere in the house; that is now up and running pretty well, and I may even get round at some point to tweaking it so I can access it from outside the house – not that there’s a lot of point in that just now; anyway, I digress!).

All was good until a few days ago when I moved a trailing extension cable, completely forgetting that the radio was plugged into it and sitting precariously balanced on a shelf at just about the extent of its power cord’s range. The radio came crashing down on to the floor. I picked it up and put it back, admonishing myself to be more careful next time, and then proceeded to get on with playing music on my Pi (controlled via ssh from my laptop), which I had by this time managed to get working.

I didn’t discover the problem until a couple of days later when I decided that, since I no longer needed the radio to listen to music while I worked, I’d put it in the kitchen to enjoy music while I cooked or washed up. I then discovered that the radio was not working, or at least it started ok and then stopped with a message about low power despite clearly being plugged in and turned on at the wall. A brief inspection revealed that the power connector was wobbly (to use a technical term).

Undaunted, I dug out a screwdriver and took the back off the radio (after unplugging it from the mains, of course, and being very careful to avoid going near any capacitors inside. It turned out that the power connector (a micro-USB socket) is surface-mounted to a PCB and held on by four fairly flimsy solder connections, all of which had got disconnected as a result of the radio being yanked off the shelf by its power cable.

Still undaunted, I figured that it was worth a shot at resoldering the thing since the worst that would be likely to happen would be a non-functional radio, which I already had, and there was at least a chance I might manage to get it working again, which would obviously be better than consigning it to landfill and having to either buy a new one or do without. I’d say my soldering skills are fairly rudimentary (and quite out of practice) but just about up to a relatively simple task like this.

Actually the hardest, or at least the slowest, part of the task was probably digging my soldering iron and related equipment out of the garage, where I’d left them after my latest burst of enthusiasm for electronics waned a few months (or years?) ago. The soldering itself went pretty well and I soon had the connector more or less firmly attached to the PCB once again. After that it was a simple matter to put everything back together and find out whether it would actually work.

It did, and so far is still doing so (well, not right at the moment as I’ve got it switched off, but I’m confident it will work next time I switch it on unless I’ve managed to pull it off the kitchen windowsill and break it again by then). And now I’ve dug out my soldering iron, along with several boxes of components and a handful of books, I may just have another go at getting back into electronics.

(In unrelated news, today is the anniversary – 33rd, or thereabouts – of the violin grade 1 exam that remains the pinnacle of my qualifications, if not my actual achievements, in practical music-making. I can’t remember whether I’ve ever played my violin on the radio, though I have apparently played it on Romanian national television!)

Second Life

In case you’re wondering about the title, I’m not talking about the virtual world Second Life, although I do still visit there from time to time.

Rather, I am referring to my second visit to the life drawing class I wrote about last week.

After I blogged last week, my brother (also a keen artist) drew my attention to a couple of figure drawing resources available on YouTube. One is a series of lessons at Love Life Drawing. The other is Croquis Café, which has a number of different things available including several of their own tips videos (effectively short lessons) but, to my mind, the best of them is a whole set of virtual life drawing sessions (roughly 25 minute videos each featuring a model, or occasionally two, holding a series of short poses to give a slightly better approximation of a real life drawing session than just using photos).

I’ll probably write a bit more about the pros and cons of using videos such as those found at Croquis Café in another blog post soon. For now, suffice it to say that I’ve worked through several videos (mostly CC ones, but also about half the beginner lessons at LLD) in the past week, as well as doing quite a lot of more general drawing practice and reading a bit more on figure drawing and anatomy.

I think that preparation paid off as I felt a bit more confident at today’s life class, and I think my results were slightly better too, although it will take a lot more time and practice before I really get a handle on life drawing (and at least a lifetime to master the subject).

Rather than give a blow by blow account of today’s session here, I’ll just direct your attention to my album of life drawing pictures at Flickr, where you can see my sketches from today’s session, as well as last week and hopefully in future plenty more to come. I’ve used the description area of each photo’s page to provide a bit of a running commentary on the sketches. This particular album is reserved for my actual drawings from real life (although I’m including artwork I’ve based directly on such sketches as well), while I’ve got another album set up for drawings from Croquis Café resources.

Normal service will resume soon

Here we are, almost three weeks into Movember and I’m still not entirely used to the beardless version of myself. I no longer wince every time I look in the mirror but it still definitely feels like I’m looking at somebody else. Suffice it to say that I’m fully intending to put the razor well away as soon as we hit December. I may even get round to writing a blog post on a different subject sometime soon too!

In the meantime, since the official Movember thing is supposed to be about growing a moustache rather than about shaving I thought you might like to see how I’m doing. So here is a snapshot I took yesterday. At the rate my moustache seems to be growing at the moment, I fear I won’t have much scope for fancy styling before I reach the end of the month.

My facial hair suffers from the unfortunate combination of being quite dark but rather slow-growing and not all that dense, which means that I start to look unshaven fairly quickly after I shave but it takes a long time to get a useful amount of hair to work with (or to provide insulation from the cold etc.). Therefore, in the unlikely event that I should ever do Movember again, I’d probably start by just shaving the non-moustache bits of my beard and get straight to work on styling a more interesting ‘tache rather than having to wait the whole month to even begin to reach a point I can start thinking about that. In fact, if I start growing my hair (i.e. the stuff on top of my head) now, I may be able to pull off a Derek Smalls impression sometime in the next couple of years (he’s the bass player from Spinal Tap, in case your wondering, and sports a notable handlebar moustache).

Once again, thanks to everyone who has contributed to my Movember fundraising. The total currently stands at £900, not including Gift Aid (which is probably at least another £100 on top) so we’ve pretty much doubled the target I’d set.

Hair We Go

So, November (or as I’ll have to call it this year, Movember) is upon us, the world fulfilled its target of raising £500 for my Movember Challenge (and then some – £646 at present with at least a bit more still to come in, and that’s not counting any Gift Aid added to donations) and I too have upheld my end of the bargain.

Here’s the starting point, in a not particularly wonderful photo taken just before the shaving commenced:

The mechanics of shaving were accomplished relatively easily, after a first pass with hair clippers to reduce that lot to something more manageable. I was particularly impressed that, for my first shave in more than 20 years, I only needed one small application of a styptic pencil to stop a minor cut. As I recall, that’s significantly better than my average used to be when I shaved regularly. Perhaps the fact that tonight I was using a brand new razor (and a proper Gillette Mach 3 to boot) rather than a cheap disposable that I kept going for way longer than was sensible might have had something to do with that.

I did take the opportunity, while I was having the initial trim, to give myself a sneak preview of what I look like with just a moustache (not a style I’ve ever previously tried, and quite possibly not one I’ll ever try again after this month). Sadly, I’d forgotten to put my phone on the charger earlier in the day so it was busy charging in another room while I completed the shave and I didn’t get a chance to take any shots of the work in progress. Still, that gives you something to look forward to later this month.

Now, though, the moment you’ve all (or at least some of you) been waiting for… the first picture of me without a beard since the summer of 1995:

I don’t know what you make of that. My own reaction is that it’s not, I suppose, too gruesome but it definitely isn’t me.

Roll on December!

PS huge thanks once again to everyone who has contributed to the fundraising — which has been somewhat more successful than I had dared to hope — and to anyone else who is still going to donate a bit. As I mentioned before, the pot is still open. 🙂

Challenge Accepted

Up until this morning, I was holding out hope of raising almost but not quite £500 for my Movember Challenge and thus being able to escape with my honour and my whiskers intact and still have raised a decent amount in aid of men’s health issues.

However, the donation total has now exceeded the target (it’s just shy of £600 at the moment and hopefully will go up even more) with still a week to spare. So, since you’ve managed to fulfil your bit of the challenge I will also do mine and, by round about this time next week (certainly sometime on 1st November, though it may not be until the evening) I will wield a razor for the first time in two decades and prepare the field for the cultivation of my Movember ‘tache.

In a way, I’m kind of glad because I had actually already gone out and bought myself a shiny new razor and watched a handful of youtube videos (a commodity that didn’t exist last time I shaved!) to remind myself how to use it.

Huge thanks to everyone who has donated, especially the two anonymous donors who each gave £150. I will be aiming to get some documentary evidence before and after (though probably not during) the big shave, as well as some kind of photographic record of the state of my facial hair throughout Movember, so I trust you’ll all feel that you got value for money (apart from the warm glow of supporting a good charitable cause).

If you haven’t donated yet, it’s not too late to do so and if you were intending to, or were just hoping to see me beardless for a bit and cheekily hoping that enough other people would cough up so you wouldn’t have to, or have only just learned about my challenge and would have chipped in if you’d heard about it earlier, I would especially encourage you to put a quid or two (or as much more as you want and can afford) into the pot. The preferred way to do this is still to donate directly via my MoSpace (which should be up and running well into November, if not beyond). Alternatively, if you’re able to get the money to me in person (cash or cheque preferable), I can pay it in myself. Or, now that the target has been reached, if neither of those alternatives is feasible you could just make your own donation to the Movember Foundation or some other charity supporting men’s health, or cancer research etc.

Magnus’ Movember Challenge (executive summary)

In case you missed my previous statement of my Movember challenge, or didn’t have the time or the stamina to get to the end of that rather long blog-post, here’s a restatement of the key information in somewhat more condensed form:

I have issued the challenge to myself and the rest of the world that if (and only if) I can raise £500 by the start of November, I will shave off my beloved beard of 20+ years and grow a moustache from scratch for the duration of the month. The money is for the Movember Foundation, which promotes men’s health, and the incentive is for you all to get to see what I look like without whiskers.

The shaving will only commence if the target has been met by the time I wake up on the morning of 1st November. At present, roughly half way between when I first issued the challenge and the moment of truth, I’ve raised slightly less than £200. Not a bad amount of money for a good charitable cause, but somewhat less than half way. So for the moment it appears that my beard is safe.

If you want to change that situation, the best thing to do is to visit my MoSpace and donate directly; you can do it anonymously or privately if you don’t want to tell the whole world about it. Alternatively, if prefer not to donate electronically, but can get the money to me in person, I’ll pay it in to the Movember fund for you; so far about £50 has gone in this way and any money I’ve received will be counted towards the target even if I’ve not had a chance to pay it in before the deadline is reached. What I’m not accepting is just vague promises to pay up – if you want to see me without a beard, you’ve got to part with your cash before I part with my face-fungus (and probably a certain amount of blood, given how out-of-practice I am at shaving).

Massive thanks to everyone who has already contributed to this initiative. I truly hope that enough other people will cough up that you won’t be disappointed!