CHAOSTOCOSMOS

Friday, 30 May 2008

Telefonica Censorship?

I've explained before how Telefonica's net babysitter system, Canguro.net has (unwantedly) activated itself and prevented me from visiting some sites, but recently, something even more strange has been happening.

A couple of weeks ago, I needed to make an online purchase and it was something that a) I couldn't get from another supplier, b) was essential and c) could only be purchased online. I was able to visit the site (based in the UK), but once I'd made my selection, if I clicked any links to attempt to proceed with my purchase, I could not do so. There were no error messages, I just got no response to clicks. Nothing happened. The page stayed where it was.

Because I absolutely could not fail to make the payment, just on a whim, I disconnected my connection (via Telefonica's ADSL) and reconnected to the internet via a free dialup connection I use for emergencies, via Gonuts.

And, using that, I was able to complete the purchase without problem.

Today, I wanted to make a simple post to my Blogger blog. I attempted (via Telefonica's ADSL) to reach the Blogger Dashboard, but all I kept getting was a timeout message, while I could reach other Google services OK. Thought I'd try Gonuts again and I was able to get to Blogger on the first try.

Now I will admit that my technical knowledge is not enough to understand why this might be happening, but it feels like censorship, or that, for some reason (admittedly, I can't see what that reason might be, other than potentially financial ones), Telefonica doesn't want its users to visit certain sites.

Probably unsurprising: they've been accused of unfair practices before. Unlike the Canguro problem, nothing comes up to tell me why this is happening; no errors, nothing that I could "switch off". Anyone else suffered this?

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Domestic Darkness & Damnation ...

Yesterday, the light in the kitchen ceiling went. Well, the second half of it: the other half burnt out about 8 years ago and was never fixed. I can't reach it, even with a ladder, so that reduces me to groping around with a torch. It's raining hard this evening and the roof is leaking again. F*ck it!

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Paranoid police state

Quoting from one of the comments on this post at Boing Boing:
"To this outsider, the US appears to have become a paranoid, brutal, nasty, thuggish, selfish, war-loving police state little different from China or Russia except for wealth, and it seems like a majority of the people who live there either don't particularly care as long as they get their SUVs and big screen HDTVs and McMansions, or they actually PREFER things the way they are."

Truthfully, I think that might be being a little unkind to China and Russia, who may still have a long way to go, but who appear to have made some progress in recent years. Meanwhile, the US - closely followed by their puppy-dog, the UK - seem to be regressing to the dark ages with draconian control measures.

Old folk like me are particularly inclined to become divorced from reality (you know, the good old days were always worse / better, depending on nothing more than the needs of the storyteller), so I am conscious and check myself before making these wild assumptions, but whichever way I look at it, the paranoid police state seems to be a fact and so does the selfish attitude of people who do nothing, so long as they have their "day-to-day luxuries."

The question occurs to me: what do the authorities expect? If the example they're setting is paranoid, brutal, nasty, thuggish, etc., is it any wonder if the people behave in a paranoid, brutal, nasty, thuggish, etc., manner?

And, on the other hand, people probably cannot be expected to see the "big picture", when all they ever see is their local media. Personally, I'd make it compulsory for everyone to live for a time outside of their country of origin, so they could see things more clearly without the cotton wool wraps. Of course, I think I'm in an excellent position to see things more objectively. :)

Anyway, my question to the wind / internet at large is this: Is the paranoid, brutal, nasty, thuggish, selfish, war-loving police state the reality?

And, if so, how much of people's silence is because they are too self absorbed to care or, do they really fear the consequences of speaking out?

(That said, with the Canary Islands' Parliament having approved the formation of a Canary Island police force - this is in addition to 1) each town hall's municipal police; 2) the Spanish National Police and 3) the Civil Guard, one has to wonder if there are any places left not converting into police states.)

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

The L is for Lentitude

Have you ever stopped to wonder what the initials DSL or ADSL (as we have in Spain), mean? Nope, nor had I, but it dawned on me yesterday, when after years of it sorta working (not without problems), my connection first slowed to a pace that would make a snail impatient, before disappearing up its own orifice.

Ha, I really didn't know that the "A" stood for Asymmetric either and, there being something "unbalanced" or "odd" about that is no surprise at all. :)

Anyway, so there I was cut off from my (cough) "always on" connection (again) and, as it usually does, it tries to reconnect itself. After several false starts, where it said there was no dial tone, the computer at the other end wasn't answering, etc., ad nauseum, it finally connects, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.

When it connected, the little balloon pops up saying at what speed.

Usually, it lies, claiming to be 1.0 Mbps, but they warned me I'd only get half (far from the exchange). So I just treat it as a starting point, halve it, take away my European shoe size and arrive at an approximation of the true speed - that has never before exceeded 400 odd.

This time, the stupid balloon said, proudly 64k.

As broadband speeds go, I don't think it gets any slower than 64 kbit/s. But this did not behave anything like any sort of broadband I know. It didn't even resemble the performance of a 64k modem. Maybe it was a Commodore 64?

Now, yes, I've been through all this before and you can not get help from Telefonica's help line until you've run the diagnostics, disconnected, restarted your computer, reconnected ... only for them to tell you what you knew all along: that the exchange / ADSL in this area is fu... well, has a problem.

No, really, if you ring them up, after you get past the 20 minute wait and all the "Press 1 to be verbally abused by machine" nonsense, if you dare to admit that you haven't done all this unnecessary stuff, they tell you, like you're a naughty child, to do as you're told and call back. And they just hang up on you.

So, like a dutiful lemming, I hit the ADSL monitor thingy to run the diagnostics. They're bloody smart, you know, these monitor thingies, 'coz something came up marked in red saying I didn't have access to the internet. No, really? Then it asks me if I want to recuperate the last working connection and, naturally, I tell it yes. Then it says it cant to that (so why ask me?), but proceeds to remove the connection settings from the computer.

This was last night. At that point I gave up, switched off, went to bed.

This morning I checked my email via a free modem dialup connection that chunters along at 36k. If the ADSL is slow, you just can't imagine how painful that is. Gmail will not even load on it, except in barebones plain HTML. It's like going so slowly, you go backwards, through time, to another century! :)

So, next we had to drag out the installation disk, the manual, the record I had sensibly made of all the settings when I did this the first time and reinstall all the software for the ADSL all over again ... grovelling around on the floor unplugging and plugging, waiting, restarting, testing things that didn't need testing. And, at the end of the day, actually, I can't really complain:

It was the first time it had ever broken the 500 kb "sound barrier"! :)

It'll never last. (And it didn't, 'coz later it was taking forever to load pages.)

Can we do without broadband? I still tend to think we're all a bunch of spoiled brats for having such "modern conveniences" as internet at all, but it's hard to do anything these days without an intenet connection. People expect you to go online to their website, to book things online, to send them stuff by email.

And with web pages three times as large and "heavy" with images, codes, etc., since 2003 and 22 times bigger than they were back in 1995, it's not luxury, it's necessity to have had one's speed and capacity increase along with it.

But then, at least I don't have Telefonica's latest "advance" in broadband, that Microsiervos report in their WTF? section. (Click here to see the evidence.)

Yes, it really does say negative -2492.62 kbps as in backwards.

Alvy says, "You can interpret this as, instead of downloading pages, you have to go up and get them!" And, surprise, surprise, "This happened to Medra on making a speed test to find out why their ADSL was going so slowly."

And there's the Telefonica Net logo on it. Priceless! :)

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Mummy's Boy on Mother's Day

Mother's Day here in Spain was last week. In the UK it was in March, but today, Balu has been constantly hanging around either of his "mummies" (me or the dog) for love; for reassurance. That furball has idolized his dog, ever since she picked him out of the box when he was a mere 4 inch long scrap of kitten, seven years ago, laid him on the floor and washed him from arse to tip - with one lick.

Holly has slept next to her adopted charges, kept bums clean, supervised them to make sure they didn't stray, chastises them for bad behaviour and, many's the day I will wake up to find her playing with "her kid", rolling him on the floor, nuzzling into his soft belly fur and seemingly giggling, as well as sneezing, while showing no retaliation nor impatience with the painful claws in her snout.

Today, Balu got me up at 7.30 a.m., he's been on and off the desk half the morning and, unusually for that time of day, snuggled on my lap, "arms" around my neck, nuzzling me and purring loudly. He's been sat on the chair beside me and has been following and nuzzling the dog even more than normal.

Animals can always sense when their routine is changing.

Little does he realize quite by how much.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

The Wordpress Hog

Interestingly, Eric Giguere also says he's had issues with WordPress being too much of a resource hog and causing problems with his hosting service. I'd installed WP-Cache when this happened to me the first time too, but it looks like even that will not be enough. In his post, Eric points to the WP Super Cache plugin and, this must be worth a try, since PHP was identified as causing the high CPU load and WP Super Cache, "When it is installed, html files are generated and they are served without ever invoking a single line of PHP."

Though, I do note that among the caveats mentioned there is, "Don't expect a cheap hosting plan to survive a major traffic spike, even if it is cached!"

This rather confirms what I had diagnosed as the problem. Well, since I can't afford more than cheap, if the problem rears its head again, then likely as not, I'll just have a hissy fit, delete the bloody thing and start anew with Blogger. [1]

Wordpress, despite being free, probably isn't for poor people then? :)

[1] UPDATE: Which is exactly what I had to do in the end.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Wrap up: What's left to eat?

128296214217657500imonurrefrig.jpg Moar crazy cat pics

So, if you've been waiting for the punch line of this joke, or the conclusion of this food series that says, look, here's the tasty and interesting stuff, forget it!

Nuts!What is one permitted to eat for snacks between meals, when you're hungry, for instance? Once you've subtracted all the nice things you're told to avoid, I boil it down to; dried fruit, fruit, a glass of water and a few nuts (and I will be am!) Walnuts are among the top foods for fighting cholesterol, they say. Just a pity they're not among my top food favorites.

Shitake Mushrooms came top on the list of cholesterol fighting foods, did you notice? On the other hand, note that should be spelled Shiitake and definitely not be SHIT TAKE as you'll find in the market in Santa Cruz, nor Shit Ache as Catherine Tate would have them. The last two versions are the best, I reckon, because let's face it, you couldn't take all this healthy eating stuff too seriously, because if you actually thought about what's left to eat (not a lot), you'd cry.

Admittedly, I feel better when I eat this healthily, but it does take willpower.

Speaking of shit (and, I admit, I'm probably full of it) ...

There's one "good" thing I've noticed already. I'd been very careful not to eat too much (increasing my intake of fruit instead) since giving up smoking, but my system (for it's own reasons) became "sluggish" and, despite my efforts, I was becoming something of a bloated lardarse. Well, the change in diet this last month or so has had the effect of, er, speeding up waste production.

(There's another curious thing, for all you doubters of the effects of "second-hand smoke" (I was), my cats got fat too when "we" gave up smoking.)

How to shed extra pounds down the loo at lightening speed: If you really want to purge your system, so to speak, eat porridge for breakfast, sweetcorn with your lunch, oh, I think there was a kiwi fruit in there for pudding, a ration of three bean salad for tea and some dried apricots for a nighttime snack.

Don't bank on going anywhere other than the bathroom the next day! :)

Yes, I did accidentally manage to do that! Actually, I do feel better; lighter and less bloated (I don't have scales or a full-length mirror), but a couple of local ladies I was chatting with the other day said I look like I've lost weight too. Then I went and ruined my new found confidence by wearing a pair of just washed jeans and finding it difficult to bend in the middle again. But I do think things are moving in the right direction and this diet seems to suit me.

A personal thing I found (whether this is linked to my extreme dislike of the tasteless crap, or any real intolerance to it, I can't say), but I found I really could not get along with skimmed milk. My stomach blew up and ached right away, so I've eliminated it and gone back to the pretend soya variety.

I'll let you know if the diet seems to be making any other improvements.

Audience participation time: Apart from this, I'm saving what look to be suitable recipes (with proviso that; I am not an expert, some assembly required, your mileage may vary, etc.) to the food tag in my del.icio.us account, so if anyone else is looking for this stuff, feel free to enjoy the buffet.

On the other hand, if you have any suggestions, share them please.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Passport Security

Last Wednesday, finally, my passport arrived although it took several phone calls to chase it up and two more to literally "coach" the courier up here to the valley - against more whining protestations about having to drive further.

Once she got here she thrust the thing in my hand, wouldn't even look at me and, was off like a speeding bullet once she had my signature.

But, considering how important the document is and after the performance on the Tuesday, I really had no alternative but to phone the consulate in Madrid to chase it up and, in doing so, complain. They put me onto the courier, who, after I'd explained again, said they'd tell the driver it "just wasn't good enough."

Well, it wasn't. And, she was dead lucky to still have a job.

No, I don't say that flippantly. If I'd told one of my company's (any of them) customers they were too far away and refused to deliver, or lied to pretend I'd been somewhere and been caught out, I'd be on the dole, deservedly.

Another worrying issue came out of that conversation though: the office was telling the driver (I appreciate the hurry up) that I needed the passport to fly the next day. What I don't like about that (apart from the fact that it was a lie and, as an excuse will soon wear thin), is that this confirms to me that the couriers know what those packages contain. They should not / do not need to know.

All it would take is an employee who is anti-British or thinks they're underpaid and, let's face it everyone in Spain IS underpaid and you have a "perfect" environment for thefts of these valuable, saleable items.

(Yeah, yeah, so it's got a chip. The crooks will be well ahead ...)

Anyway, I thought Britain was trying to tighten security on passports, but this new delivery system, seems entirely counter productive, if you ask me. No, I'm not saying that any passports will definitely go missing, but this just does not seem like the best way to go about helping to prevent that possibility.

And after that, now I really angrily resent all the additional costs, stupid photo requirements, extra journeys and unnecessary hoops I had to jump through.

Secondary meals: What's left to eat?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         "Secondary meals" because I mean the lighter meal of the day, which I would prefer eat at a British tea time (not because I'm British, heaven forbid, but to avoid eating too much, too late in the day.) And this, following Diamond Geezer's plan, is where things get less simple.

Because of having fresh, wholemeal bread delivered daily, I would tend to grab something lazy quick and easy, like bread and jam, bread and honey, a cheese sarnie or something for my afternoon tea. Much the same as you might grab a sandwich of some sort for lunch. But, when trying to watch the cholesterol, the low fat spread (in place of margarine) is only allowed "Sometimes", which I reckon is less often than every day of the week, so that kills the idea of bread and jam (even if sugar free) or bread and honey on a regular basis.

Most cheeses are also off the menu, even though I did eat sandwiches without butter and plain bread seems a bit dry and boring, so this needs a whole new approach. Roast extra chicken for sandwiches, provided you can bear it without mayo. Tuna, likewise. Tinned sardines can be spread onto bread or toast like pate. Almost all choices can have salad in it or with it, to up the veg intake.

Home made tzatziki and hummusBread is still going to be the "filler" component of this meal and it dawned on me that Spanish has a phrase that covers just this situation and the lack of butter or margarine: "para mojar pan" (for moistening bread), which applies to sauces, dips, soups, etc. This approach seems a bit more interesting and Greek style dips; Tzatziki, Skordalia, Taramasalata and Hummus all look safe enough.

Once upon a time, I probably read a recipe for these, but now I just tend to throw them together. For the tzatziki, combine in a bowl; half a grated cucumber (squeezed to drain off the excess juice), a couple of tablespoons of fat-free yoghurt, a slurp of olive oil, a dash of lemon juice (or good vinegar), a few finely chopped mint leaves and a couple of minced cloves of garlic.

For the hummus (this is based on a Spanish recipe, which dispenses with the tahini paste); cooked chickpeas (garbanzos), a goodly slurp of olive oil, a couple of cloves of garlic and a pinch of sea salt. As a general rule, I don't add salt to my cooking, but if you don't put salt in this, it tastes like soap! :) Throw the lot into a blender, food processor or use a hand blender to beat to a pulp. For best results, start with less oil than you think you'll need and add more gradually to get the right consistency, 'coz it's hard to remove excess!

And fat-free soup (doesn't that sound unexciting?) is allowed. I assume they mean clear soups. Surely, any vegetable puree type with no cream, nor other added fats will fit the bill? Hot soups in winter and, as we are allegedly moving towards summer, cold soups such as Gazpacho. Well, I hope that's right, 'coz that's what I made this week. Again.

Want more tempting soup ideas?

There's always Woman's Institute Soups for All Seasons.

Hey, don't knock it; these ladies really aught to know soups that are simple to make yet delicious, satisfying, uplifting, refreshing, warming.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Main meals: What’s left to eat?

Events rather took over last month, but I've been meaning to get back to the series I started, based upon Diamond Geezer's cholesterol reducing diet.

Breakfast seriously lacked viable alternatives, so let's see if we can do any better at main meal times.

NB: I've called these "main meals" instead of lunch or dinner, because I follow the eating plan that goes, "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper" - Adelle Davis. Folk wisdom holds that, to promote good health, one should begin the day with a large breakfast and consume progressively smaller amounts with each successive meal.

The results of the present study support that concept and suggest that such a pattern of eating might help prevent obesity. Your mileage may vary.

Actually, this is the eat like a pauper all day plan, but because I'm almost always at home, I eat my larger meal at lunch time to attempt to avoid eating any great amount in the evening. You might do this the other way around.

So, once we've crossed off the list everything that I can't buy here, won't or prefer not to eat, it looks like meals will consist, mainly, of jacket potato and something! Actually, I don't mind too much. Would you like monotony or hard work Pamela? Oh, I'll take the monotony, thank you! :)

Anyway, I'd be happy to have jacket potato and cottage cheese, if I could buy cottage cheese. Jacket potato and salad. Jacket potato, sardines in escabeche, with salad is not bad, even 4 times in a row.

Jacket potato, tuna and salad will ring the changes!

Spuds can be thrown in the microwave ...

So it won't win any culinary prizes, but at least it probably won't kill me! And 2008 is the International Year of the Potato, after all. Oh and year of the potato prices rises too, which hiked 7.2% this year so far.

We also have chicken and fish, mostly, and those can be served in a gazillion different ways (thankfully). The emphasis is on oily fish, what the Spanish call pescado azul (blue fish), such as; herring, mackerel, sardines, tuna, salmon.

Buying fish should be a doddle on an Atlantic island, shouldn't it? Being a long way from the main road though, without mind reading when the vans are going to come round selling their fish fresh from the sea, I'd have to be capable of running faster than a cheetah to get down there in time as the van speeds past.

On Saturday, I picked up mackerel, salmon and tuna (sardines I'd managed to get in Buenavista), as well as hake from the supermarket in Puerto de la Cruz. But by the time I got home, after waiting an hour for one bus and it would have been a 3 hours 20 minute wait for the second bus change (had I not thumbed a lift instead), it was hardly fresh fish any more and you begin to understand why I don't make a habit of going out of my way for things not available locally.

Here's a tip for the uber-lazy cook (like me): When I buy spuds in my local store, I always say to them that if they have large potatoes, I'll take those (yes, old fashioned store where you have to ask for stuff and they serve you and the potatoes are kept out the back). Anyway, last month they were mostly small to medium, so they weren't really suitable for doing in their jackets and would need boiling instead. So, I selected 2-3 of the right size to make a single portion, times 7, scrubbed them well (hell, no I won't peel them), chucked 'em all in my biggest saucepan with a couple of sprigs of mint from the garden and, hey presto, spuds cooked for the entire week.

Cleaning 14-21 potatoes doesn't really take that much longer than doing 2-3; it doesn't seem to matter how many potatoes you're cooking at once, they still take the "regulation" 15-20 minutes - so cooking in bulk, you've just saved 6 / 7ths of the energy it would have taken to have cooked them separately, on a daily basis - and, you only have one saucepan to wash up, once in 7 days.

When they're cooked, I rinse them once more, drain them and then put them in a large bowl (leave the mint with them, because it smells nice each time you open the 'fridge door.) Dry, with skins still on, they keep perfectly well.

On a daily basis, you can peel them (or not), dice them into salad, warm them (or not) ... If you do this pot full on a Sunday, then when you come home from work late during the week, you could grill a bit of fish (that will only take five minutes tops), just throw the spuds alongside, if you're really tired, add sauce / vegetable / salad and you've got a healthy dinner, no mess, no waiting.

Some of the other dishes I've made in the last month or so (there would be photos too, but the memory card in my camera decided to break):

Half-Baked Potatoes

On a bed of sliced onions and sliced (deseeded) green peppers in a flat oven tray (like a school dinner tray), lie halves of washed (no need to peel), cut potatoes (cut side down). Cook in a medium-hot oven for 45 - 60 minutes. The spuds kinda half-bake, half-steam and you get veggies ready done too. Goes with any chicken or fish. Keeps for a few days, so you can make a batch.

Fish Casserole

This fish casserole again, because, with the simple white fish (mine was hake), boiled spuds and vegetables, it is suitable and it's super easy to make.

Persian Chicken Salad

With one chicken breast (after I'd roasted it in foil, with some garlic), I made a variation on this Persian chicken salad. Mine didn't have prohibited mayo or eggs in it, because I don't remember there being any eggs in the one I used to have regularly (as a starter) in the restaurant on the Pershore Road in Stirchley, Birmingham. (Theirs, I am certain, didn't have carrots either), but there's something about the combination, especially with the pickle to add bite, that is just heavenly. The other thing is that this would make a good dish to make on Monday from leftovers, if say, you had roast chicken, potatoes, carrots and peas on Sunday - you could even cook extras, on purpose.

Beans and pulses

What weren't mentioned in the table are legumes, like red beans, white beans, chick peas (garbanzos), lentils, etc. I am presuming they come under the general vegetable and vegetarian things. I hope so, because I'm making this delicious lentil and spinach stew again and a three bean salad (red beans, white beans and green beans, chopped onion, a dash of olive oil, lemon juice and a sprinkle of 'erbs.) The latter will also go well with wholemeal bread.

Obviously, I need to rethink my whole cooking regime and recipe choices to get some variety in my meals, before I go completely round the bend here and, I picked up a free magazine supplement with 132 recipes "para cuidarte" (to take care of yourself), your heart, cholesterol ... which will make a start.

You might also consider:

NB: Whilst I still eat the ocassional fish and seafood, I have re-eliminated chicken and all other meat from my diet since writing these food posts.

WTF Update?

The council plumbers, who were due to come last Tuesday, turned up at 7.50 a.m. last Wednesday morning. It's a good thing Cat Balu has taken to waking me up early then, she says sarcastically. Anyway, the new regulator is fitted, even if they did fit more pipe, another stopcock and the whole thing ended up looking awfully similar to this bit of Fontanería creativa (creative plumbing).

The WTF? element is still the fact that a regulator is needed to protect the installations in the house from damages that could be caused by ups and downs in water pressure, when a) every single bit of it already broke (because of the last pressure surge) and is now new and b) the very same plumbers still insist that they are not responsible and that the pressure never changes.

For b) to be true, a) could not have happened.

They would, no doubt, argue that I had imagined the whole scenario, but I distinctly remember being wet up to the knees mopping out real water.

So, that just leaves the leaking water heater still to be fixed.

Since the regulator was fitted and the pressure was put back at a sensible level (I'm sure it wasn't measured with an apparatus, but it's better than it was), the intermittently not working water heater and the temperamental washing machine have both behaved themselves. Now I've said that, they won't.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

No day off for the staff ...

100_1769No lie in on workers' day off for the cats' slave! We are not surprised, are we?

Mornings are getting lighter lately and this, I believe, rather than any actual need for food, is what is motivating this fat little bugger to wake me earlier and earlier each morning. This morning, it was 7.45 a.m.*, which I think is still night time. Remember the video of the Wake up Cat?

Well, that was exactly what this little monster was doing this morning, whining about starving to death or something, jumping on top of me, walking all over me, draping himself over my shoulder and especially the bit where the paw comes out to bat me with his claws out ...

So as soon as I'd got up and done other chores, he got his nails clipped!

* Which is nothing like as early as he now wakes me in the UK!

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