Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Joy Of Interior Plumbing

There was I, pleasantly sitting at the keyboard and uploading a few photos from our recent holiday onto my Flickr account when I heard Lorna shouting my name from the kitchen. It was clear enough from the pitch and volume of the call that I'd better get through there quickly too so off I went at a run.

Just when she'd been ploughing through the mound of washing that always accompanies you back from a holiday, the kitchen drain decides it's had enough and gets blocked. So we've got water pouring out the washing machine on spin, going nowhere except back up the pipes into the sink and out over the floor.

Quickly deducing that all was not well with the plumbing, I hit the power switch to kill the outflow of water and we got to mopping up so we could start investigating the problem. It was soon obvious that the sink waste drain was blocked; I mean the water wasn't going anywhere. We've got a plunger but all that did was shoot a foul mix of gunk back up the sink overflow.

The next step meant clearing out the undersink cupboard and tackling the amazing mix of twisty bits of white plastic pipework leading to the drain outlet. Oh it was horrible! We've been here for about 15 years and never thought about it before but those u-bends and turns are ideal places for gunk to build up and in all that time, an awful lot of it had done. I got the pipework dismantled and was up to my elbows in really horrid slimey glaur but it was still blocked down below where I could get to. That 15 years worth of food and grease build-up had finally clogged the main drain outlet.

We thought we'd have to call a plumber with all the unwanted expense that would involve but, since, for reasons we can't recall, we had a bottle of Mr. Muscle in the cupboard and I thought I'd give it a try and see if it would clear overnight. By morning, the water level in the drain pipe had gone down so I tentatively poured a few kettles of boiling water down and it seemed to drain away, getting quicker all the time. We've had that bottle of sink and plughole unblocker for years and I think we were pretty lucky we had it or we'd have been saddled with the expense of a plumber and the hassle of taking time off work to get it cleared.

We got back in tonight and put it all back together and got on with the holiday washing. The moral of the tale? Don't leave it for 15 years before you clean out your pipes or you'll end up having as fun an evening as we just did and the joy of having to disinfect everything in sight up to your armpits!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Still Poor But Denser Than Average

We're just back from a couple of weeks holiday in Gran Canaria to discover that we still haven't yet won the lottery so can't retire to somewhere sunny like that. Well, when I say we hadn't won the lottery, I did win a tenner but that wouldn't even get us to Helensburgh for the day.

On the upside, as I broke my elbow back in August and the fact that I'm getting old (sigh), I got an appointment to go for a bone densitometry scan today. The results were that my bones are denser than average, which is a good thing. As you age, your bone mineral density decreases and with that there's an increased chance of developing Osteopenia or Osteoporosis. These conditions are more prevalent in women but they're obviously looking to gather data from both sexes and maybe start treating them earlier.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Upcoming Movies - Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem

Aliens vs. Predator: RequiemAliens vs. Predator: Requiem is the second Alien vs. Predator movie. It kind of snuck up on me and I have to admit I didn't see anything about this until last week. The age-restricted trailer is a bit of a gore-fest so it looks like all the stuff they left out of Alien vs. Predator may have made it into this one. Here's a quick outline of the plot…
When a Predator scout ship crash lands in a small Colorado town the Aliens on board escape and kill all the Predators except one. This last remaining Predator must now destroy all the Aliens as well as the horrific Alien/Predator hybrid that was spawned in the first movie. Meanwhile, the helpless townsfolk are caught in the middle of this blood-fest with obviously gory consequences.

The first AVP movie wasn't that well received, mainly for having been cut to pieces by the studio and director and co-writer Paul W.S. Anderson in order to get it a PG-13 certificate, but this one looks like it'll go straight in at an 18 certificate. It's directed by Colin and Greg Strause. The Strause brothers are more usually involved as visual-effects designer/supervisors, having worked on 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, 300, X-Men: The Last Stand, Poseidon, Æon Flux, Syriana, The Fog and Flightplan among others, but they're fairly new as directors and this is really their first shot at directing a larger budget movie. That said, there are no no big-budget names appearing and most of the cast look to have come from US TV series roles.

It's due for a UK release on the 18th of January 2008.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Swarm: A Novel Of The Deep - by Frank Schätzing

The Swarm: A Novel Of The DeepThe Swarm is a tale of what could happen if the Earth decides that humanity can no longer be tolerated in the face of our complacent destruction of the planet's delicate ecology. Here's a brief taster of the plot…
Something strange and terrible is occurring in our oceans and seas. Whales and orcas have started attacking boats and tourists off the coast of Canada, South American fishermen are going missing, a lot of very odd worms have turned up near an ocean-floor drilling station near Norway, huge shoals of highly toxic jellyfish are plaguing the Australian beaches and a weird lobster explodes in a French restaurant, causing a lethal epidemic to spread.

Is the marine life fighting back against decades of our polluting the seas or is it all part of a terrorist plot to destabilize the world economy? Leading scientists from all over the world are recruited to try to figure out who or what is behind all of these occurrences but when events take a catastrophic turn for the worse, they soon come to realize that we may not be the most dominant species on Earth and never have been.

The Swarm
was originally published in German and has been translated into English but I don't think it's lost anything in the translation as it's still a cracking read. At almost 900 pages, it's maybe a bit on the long side for some but Schätzing uses that to build and develop his main characters very well and, given the global scope of the storyline, there's a lot going on.

It starts off with a few small incidents coming to the attention of scientists and governments and builds in tension and speed as it heads towards the inevitably climactic conclusion. Schätzing has done his homework regarding the science behind the story pretty well, especially in the fields of marine biology, geology and geophysics, which makes it all the more plausible.

It's a change to read a novel written by a non American/non British author as Schätzing brings a definitely European perception of things into the mix. This isn't Independence Day and the Americans aren't going to get to save the world in this story or at least not without a lot of help from the rest of us.

While reading it, I was thinking it would make a good movie and lo and behold, I found out that actress and producer Uma Thurman bought the film rights to it in May 2006 and it has been subsequently announced that a film version is in the works for sometime in 2008. Unfortunately that probably means that the Americans will take all the main leads and ruin it.

Well worth reading all the way through to the end!

Genre: Horror, Mystery, Science-Fiction, Thriller
My Rating: 8/10

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

The Bourne UltimatumThe Bourne Ultimatum is the third and final installment in the Jason Bourne story adapted from the books by Robert Ludlum. It picks up almost straight after the events of The Bourne Supremacy.
Marie is dead and Bourne (Matt Damon) is still looking for revenge and information about his true identity. With the suicide of Ward Abbot (Brian Cox), Treadstone has been closed down and the CIA are trying to clean house and that means that they're still looking to terminate Bourne.

When journalist Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) writes about an Operation Blackbriar, to all intents and purposes Treadstone Mark II, in his newspaper column, Bourne makes contact thinking Ross may have information on his past. Of course the Blackbriar team are out to silence both of them.

While The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy were cracking spy thrillers, this really didn't hit the mark for me as well as I thought it would. Sure there was loads of fast-paced action and Matt Damon played Bourne as sharply as before but it just seemed like more of the same as was dished up in the last movie. Bourne's journey to find out his real identity while avoiding the constant stream of Blackbriar assassins, sorry assets, is all a bit too formulaic.

The female interest here is ex-Treadstone agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) and the script did allude to her having more of a relationship with Bourne than was actually stated, which led me to think that it may have been taken from the books and never fully explored. Not that the movies bear much of a resemblance to the books other than the fact that they start off with him floating in the sea.

That said, it's still a good movie and I did enjoy it for its fast pace and well shot action sequences. The chase over the rooftops is excellent. Worth seeing if you've seen the first two movies but not quite as good as either of them.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Mystery, Thriller
My Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

My Aching Feet!

My feet are sore! Why are my feet sore? Well I've just spent the entire train journey from Dundee to Glasgow standing due to several factors. The main one is obvious - there were no seats available but there are several reasons as to why there were no seats available and the blame for it falls squarely at the door of ScotRail. Anyway, here's the list…
  1. ScotRail cancelled the previous train - no reason was given.
  2. Rush were kicking off their UK and European tour with a concert at the SECC.
  3. Celtic were playing A.C. Milan at Parkhead.
So, aside from the tedium of having to spend an hour more than I wanted to in Dundee, I had to stand all the way home in a train absolutely full to bursting and all simply because ScotRail don't have any consideration for their customers. Having cancelled the early afternoon train, you might think it would dawn on whatever imbecile responsible for provisioning the next train that it couldn't possibly carry the expected volume of passengers heading into Glasgow with two such large events taking place later that evening.

It obviously suited their pockets better to cram us all in like cattle, or at least those of us that could get on, and with no regard to health and safety far less our comfort. People trying to board the train at Stirling had a very difficult time of it and I'm sure there were quite a few that didn't manage it, especially a couple of dejected looking souls with bicycles.

So I had to stand in the aisle and listen to groups of forty and fifty-something blokes waffling on about how many times they'd seen Rush or how they hope they play "Closer To The Heart"...again, while constantly checking their Blackberrys and passing round the bottles of Corona and Peroni. On top of that there were the Celtic fans who were pretty well behaved, even though the bottles and cans of beer were being downed with gusto there too. And all that beer meant a constant stream of people trying to squeeze down the aisle to the toilet and back again.

There's an interesting article on overcrowding here and it's obvious from that that overcrowding on trains is seen as just one of those things we have to put up with. Until there's an accident or the train has to be evacuated and then the HSE can step in but isn't that too late?