Garden birds

blue tit Looks like the birds are back to my little garden looking for food now that the summer is over and that natural food is becoming scarce. Once I hung a suet ball in the summer and it wasn’t until months later before it was eaten. I was hoping to see how the bird can acrobatically eat that ball, but it was eaten while we were away recently to Lake District!For the past few days I’ve been spreading bird seeds in my garden, and they have been consistenly cleared up. Apparently many birds are creatures of habit and will probably make a special visit to my garden once they learn there is food there. Which means that once I start feeding, I should continue through the winter. This is because seeds, fruits and insects become harder to find as the winter progresses, and so the food I put out becomes steadily more important. Especially when the weather is bad, a wasted journey can potentially make life even harder for them!

HSBC security device

HSBC Security Device This security device has been given to HSBC customers in the far east (at least Hong Kong and Malaysia) for a while now, at least a year, for more secure online banking. Yet, in a lunch time conversation with my colleagues when we so happened to chat about the different authentication methods used by the banks, none of them are aware of such security system. In fact, HSBC are already rolling out this in the UK, but only to business customers. I know because I’ve just opened a business account with them recently. The way you use this device is everytime you want to log in to your Internet bank account, you need a username, a password and a 6-digit number from the device, which you will get everytime you press the button on the device. That number is time-sensitive, as in it only lasts for a few seconds, after which you will be given a different number when the button is pressed. Presumably the sequence of numbers, which is unique to the device, need to match the same sequence stored in the HSBC authentication server in time. But how this device can be time synchronised to the server is rather intriguing. My initial guess was it must have a very stable clock that drift very little, hence allowing it to remain closely matched to the server’s clock for a long time. But after experimenting a few times, I have to say that this little device is not as sophisticated as I first thought. Although the numbers on the device keep changing every few seconds, it does not mean that the old number are no longer valid for logging in. I would say the number has a useful timeframe of about at least half a minute, althought I haven’t really stretch-test it :).To sum up, rather than relying on customers to change one set of their passwords every so often, this device changes for them periodically, which is certainly a step forward in terms of securing their login details. But I won’t say I’m overwhelmed by this gizmo.

Inheritance tax

I have never heard of inheritance tax until I came to England. To my horror, this is apparently rather common in Europe countries. It was not till I work in the tax industry that I feel so outraged about the whole tax regime revolving inheritance tax. Honestly, why should someone be made to pay tax just because they have been left some hard-earned wealth by their parents? To make matters worse, the tax rate is at a whopping 40%! To put things in context, if you inherit a house from your parents after they passed away and don’t have the money to pay the tax, you are likely to end up selling the house to pay the inland revenue!There is no inheritance tax at my home country and I really hope that it remains so. It’s bad enough that you have to make arrangements for your death when you grow old. Imagine having to make tax planning at the age of 60 to make sure that your children don’t suffer a huge amount of tax. With the house prices surging and showing no signs of lethargy, it is likely that more than half the people who inherit a property will have to pay inheritance tax. The current nil band rate at a meagre £275,000 is unlikely to be sufficient to exempt inheritance tax for most households without adequate tax planning.Sometimes, I am not entirely sure if I am in favour of a welfare state. True that you get certain service for free, for example the healthcare. But it’s not really ‘free’ as you still need to pay sky-high fees to have your annual body check for example or even getting a test on cholesterol can be pricey. Anyway, that’s just a little whine based on my tax knowledge.

The big investigation

It’s getting really annoying now. There’s been holes consistenly appearing in my herb pots and flower pots everyday for the past one week, dug up by a mystery creature which we still have no clue what it is. Initially we suspected that it is a naughty bird, but a bird probably is not strong enough to topple our rectangular shape herb pot. My colleague suggested that it could be a cat, as this kind of incidence happened to him before. I have toyed with the idea of setting up a surveillance camera using a webcam and remotely monitor it over the Internet while I’m away at work. But monitoring live video is too involving while storing half a day’s worth of pictures is going to take too much hard disk space, and requiring me to scan through the pictures. My colleague came up with a yet better idea, that is to use motion dection software to only snap up pictures when motion is detected. This is brilliant, the mystery creature will unveil itself in no time! But, before getting all too excited, I need to first get myself a webcam, ‘doh!

Doctor and Mister

Dr EvilUNITED NATIONS SECRETARY: Gentlemen, silence! (to Dr. Evil) NOW, MR. EVILDR. EVIL: (angry) Doctor Evil! I didn’t spend six years in evil medical school to be called ‘mister’.Interesting isn’t it, in the United Kingdom, surgeons are distinguished from physicians by being referred to as “Mister”. This tradition has its origins in the 18th century, when surgeons were barber-surgeons and did not have a degree (or indeed any formal qualification), unlike physicians, who were doctors with a university medical degree. By the beginning of the 19th century, surgeons had obtained high status, and in 1800, the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) in London began to offer surgeons a formal status via RCS membership. The title Mister became a badge of honour, and today only surgeons who hold the Membership or Fellowship of one of the Royal Surgical Colleges are entitled to call themselves Mister, Miss, Mrs or Ms. [Development of modern surgery]

A weekend away

It was a long weekend for most workers in Britain because Monday was a bank holiday. The train stations were extraordinary busy as most people, myself included, have chosen to travel within or without the UK before the summer ends.My husband and I went to Preston, a town in the North West region of England to visit a couple. They just moved down south from Glasgow and have rented a country house to settle down for the time being. It is such a lovely home, I loved it the minute I got out of the car. The front garden was immaculate with carpet grass that makes you feel like lying on it under the sun. The house boasts 4 double bedrooms with 5 toilets/ bathrooms! It also has a good sized dining room and a lovely lounge with extremely comfortable sofa. It’s almost a house to dream for.The highlight of my weekend was our trip to Lake District. We went to Ambleside and the town was so idyllic. In order to capture the serenity of this famous place, we challenged ourselves with a 3 hour walk and hiking. In fact, there are various walking trails and we just chose one that led us to Loughrigg Fell as we were told that it’ll be worth it. On our way up, there were walls at parts of the trail that were built using stacked slates partly covered with moss. It felt as though we were on an adventurous journey in the LOTR’s ‘Middle Earth’. There were also lambs almost everywhere that add a tinge of life to form the picturesque country view.

Grasmere lake

We climbed to the crest of Loughrigg Fell which is 335m high and the sights were breathtaking. I have to confess that the journey was a lot more interesting than being at the top. My hubby has taken a few photos which I have posted here as I think they deserve more admirers. Except the crowd that packed the town due to the long weekend, it was otherwise a perfect getaway.

Grasmere Lake 2

I won’t complain about the weather as I didn’t expect it to be all sunny. I was last in Lake District about 6 years ago and I almost forgot how pretty it is. It’s definitely worth going again and I suspect that will be soon too.That just about summarised my weekend and it is a little bit of a pain to be back home in the city centre after a 4 hour delayed train journey. Reality is a pain when you realise that you are stucked in it.:)

Corner shops

Today I paid a rare visit to the corner shop just down the road from where I live. As one could easily have guessed, I went there for the milk. Although the corner shop was not a place I particularly enjoyed buying my stuff from, it was convenient for me. I bought a 2-pint bottle of milk, and it costed me the same as buying it from Sainsbury in town. I was surprised, as I thought corner shops should price slightly higher to survive these days.It’s a pity that more and more corner shops are being squeezed out by big supermarket chain, not just in the UK. I remember back in Malaysia, when I was a kid, the owner of a sundry shop used to deliver groceries to my house on a motorbike. All the goods that were delivered were recorded in a little “555” booklet, and we only needed to settle the payment once a month. In the french movie “Amelie”, the groceries delivery boy even possessed keys into apartments so that groceries can be delivered “safely” into the apartments. That was the kind of trust and relationship people had with the local sundry shop back then, which I think was lovely.Come to think about it now, after 20 years, this kind of home delivery service is now back on the menu as one of the list of services big supermarket can offer to the consumers, at a cost and without the personal touch from someone you are familiar with. For groceries shopping, it’s hard to see how this service model can gain more market share or be profitable for the supermarket, and be valued by the customers. Nevertheless for the corner shops left in the UK, which do not do local delivery, and make little effort to personalise their service, I’m afraid that their days are numbered.

Growing herbs

Herbs growing may not appeal to many people but it’s definitely one of my favourite past-times. It is so exciting to see your plants germinate then growing inch by inch each day. The joy of being able to harvest herbs from your backyard whenever you need them for cooking is simply irresistible.With autumn approaching, rain began pouring since two weeks ago. I was rather worried about the plants at my backyard as there is no shelter from the rain. You will need a rather sophisticated green house in order to balance the sunlight and rainfall which is a luxury that I cannot afford at the moment. However, it appears that my worry may be needless after all. The plants are flourishing ever since the rainy season started and the herbs are growing faster than ever. My basil plant has doubled its size since 2 weeks ago. You can feel so much life in these plants just by looking at them each day and it gives you so much satisfaction.At the moment, I only have basil, coriander, parsley and thyme in my collection. Hopefully I will be able to add more to my collection when next summer comes. My immediate worry is to think of a way to keep my plants healthy throughout the winter. Otherwise, I might just have to sow the seeds again next spring. I still have so much to learn about growing herbs. I would love to be able to complement the herbs to my cooking in time. So much about herbs growing for now and I will keep my fingers crossed that they will continue to flourish before the winter comes.

Expectation

LFC Watched Liverpool kicked start their season this afternoon. It was a disappointing afternoon. Against a newly promoted team, Sheffield United, Liverpool, although not with their best eleven, should have enough quality to have won the game. The first half was awful. Before the match, I was all excited, and so looking forward to the start of the season, as I genuinely, despite the setback today, believe that Liverpool finally have the squad to win the title this year, after surrendering the crown for 16 years. But the team was playing so poorly in the first half that my emotions slowly swung from excitement to anger, angry at a team I’ve supported half my life and which I’m so passionate about.Such is the danger of having expectation of anything, especially high expectation. Actually, football game is a bad example to talk about expectation (but I am going to do that anyway). In this modern time, football is a crazy game, too much money is involved. Fans have to pay ridiculous amount of money to watch a game at the stadium and players are earning a lot of money, from ticket sales, merchandising, sponsorship etc. There you go, I pay to watch, you perform, that’s the mentality most fans have. That’s hardly surprising really, as we are all brought up to expect certain level of service from things we pay for, from the electronics we buy with warranty to the service we can expect to get from eating in McDonalds.Take away the money, and you can see that it becomes difficult for fans to have the same level of expectation from the team. As with all competitive game, the players want their team to win, which is the goal of the game, to win. If they try to play it differently, then they are not playing the game. Ok, without the money, some fans still have a lot of expectation from their team, particulary one with an illustrious tradition of winning trophies like Liverpool 🙂 Now what? Think I’ll continue later, gotta go out 🙂

Cron jobs

For those of you who don’t know, a cron is a unix command normally used to schedule a job that is executed periodically. Yeah, I know, but I’m excited because I finally know how to schedule tasks to run on my server, and it is so easy! “crontab -e” is the key. I can now schedule google sitemap generator to generate Sitemap at 00:00 everday and output it to the root directory of my site. I am happy 🙂