Friday, 19 September 2014

Featured post: Water conservation

I might have reviewed a garden irrigation system the other week but we're keen to make sure we're frugal with water in our house, especially as we're metered, which means our consumption is directly reflected in our bill.

We've got a water butt in the garden which we use for watering plants and stuff when we're not away on holiday but there are loads of other saving water tips that seem obvious when you see then but might not occur to you otherwise. For example, ever since we got a dishwasher, we make sure we properly scrape the plates off into the bin rather than running the pre-wash programme because that means more water usage, never mind the extra electricity.

It used to be conventional wisdom that drawing a bath used more water than having a quick shower but now days with power showers it isn't always the case. Don't believe me? Next time you have a long and luxuriating shower, pop the plug in and see how full the bath gets by the time you've finished. Talking about sanitation, when we had out bathrooms refitted, we made sure we had cisterns (close coupled in both instances) that have dual flush functions- a half flush for shifting wees or a full flush for more serious issues. Even then, we don't flush wees during the night because it's a waste of water and the boiler is right next to Ned's bedroom and we don't want to wake him up.

Perhaps the sneakiest water saving tip I have was told to me by Brita, the water filter people. They pointed out that most of us now have mixer taps in our kitchen and the amount of water we waste by running the tap for a few seconds to make sure it's cold before we get a drink soon mounts up. Ever since they told us that back in January, I've made sure we've got a jug permanently in the fridge. Cunning eh?

I know it's small fry considering the amount of water that's lost in pipe leakage by the big water companies every day but if we all do every little thing we can, it can make an difference.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A man of modest means

With the MAD blog awards fast approaching, and with me fortunate enough to be a finalist for the second year on the trot (the fourth time I've been short-listed at a major blogging award and no doubt the fourth time I'll come away with nothing but fond memories and a proto-hangover in waiting, since lets face it, there are much more deserving people than me with more to offer the wider community), I've seen plenty of posts about dresses, hair, shoes and the like.

Unfortunately the rush of companies to clothe dads (the D in MADs) doesn't appear to have been as fulsome as that for the ladies*, and so I shall be dressing myself. I won't be popping out to spend money on an outfit, as I know a lot of the attendees have done, as there are things we're better off spending the money on as a family (and for the same reason I won't be staying over at the venue or a local budget hotel either). I have however allowed myself a small spend on a luxury for the evening:


So even though my black jeans might not hold up to close inspection (I do promise to iron them though), and my shirt might not be wing tipped with a dickie-bow attached, you can absolutely guarantee that my moustache will be waxed into a form of near perfection.

You have been warned, and I look forward to seeing you all there!

*someone very kindly passed me the contact details of a large dept chain that was apparently looking for me to dress late last week but the opportunity to contact them in a timely fashion was beyond me.

Kids versus "me" time

Before I get any further I should perhaps mention that whatever I write her is but a small fraction of the stuff that wifey has to endure. She often has the two year old in bed with her, pressed up against her, from the middle of the night onwards and often doesn't stop with chores or work until well gone 9 o'clock. So while I'm considering the concept of me time, it doesn't for one minute predicate the lady wife having it ten times worse than me. 

Before we had kids I used to have hobbies- both formalised and organised ones like scuba diving and the typical hobbies that lots of blokes have- I liked playing video games, reading books, staying up late to watch films, going to the cinema regularly and just messing about doing nothing in particular. Before the boy came along I had even started to learn golf along with wifey.

What struck me over the weekend was how much this has changed now we own three kids. The first thing to go was the scuba diving as it was i) too expensive and ii) all the trips happened on the weekend which are typically family times. Following closely behind that was golf. We'd only had ten lessons anyway and the time to both play and get better wasn't there any more. No great loss but I've now not picked up a club in 7 years. Next to go, and this was an odd one, was my love of reading. My eyes (and brain) were just to tired after a day at work and interrupted sleep, to let me concentrate properly on reading. Since the boy breath held to the point of passing out, the next to go was time out together with wifey; either the cinema, the pub or a meal together, since we didn't feel we could ask anyone to babysit and the cost of an actual babysitter along with the activity itself was too much. Even staying up late to watch films went by the by as we'd often be so exhausted we'd just give up and go to sleep.

The kids are now two, five and seven and things have improved a bit (we don't get woken up every single night by Ned now for example) but there is still precious little down time. I was making a bed at 8pm the other night, and Fifi came in and demanded to know where the ring she'd lost at the Nozstock Music festival was. I struggle to get the kids to bed as it is, nominally aiming for 7pm, with the boy being allowed to read in bed for a bit, I seldom have them settled (and the half a dozen post lights out summons dealt with), before twenty past eight. That leaves realistically an hour and a half or so before I want to consider getting ready for bed myself in case Ned has an exciting night.

I even feel guilty for playing the introduction of Shadow of the Colossus on PS3 the other night. It took half an hour but I gave up in the end because there was simply too much else to do. Part of me misses the times where I'd sneak into bed at quarter to five in the morning after playing Football Manager all night, only to get up two hours later. Most of me doesn't though because that was a dangerous addiction that could have cost me my sanity. Even so, when I do sit down to engage in a bit of gaming, I often give up quickly as my patience isn't there, worn as it is to a frazzle by the normal day.

Don't get me wrong, I still manage to do stuff on my own. Heck, since we've had kids I've been on all sorts of wonderful blogging trips while wifey has stayed behind and looked after the family (I've been to Germany, Italy, Abu Dhabi, as well as away in the UK), and I also go out every Wednesday from 9pm to 10pm and play 5 a side football. I'm hardly hard done by and I'm also off out an additional two times this week, off to a Fuji event at the Shard on Thursday evening and to the MAD blog awards on Friday evening. I'm definitely not hard done by but...

But I suppose I wonder who exactly I am at times. I seem to be mostly either a professional sitting at my desk or a Dad wiping bottoms and cajoling children to do their homework/eat their dinner/get into the bath/stop talking over adults. If I take those two things away, what exactly is left? Sometimes I think it's just an argumentative contrary bugger, which isn't the best of things to aspire to or the best example to set for the kids.

I'm sure it'll get better and this is probably only a phase- either I'll snap out of it or the kids will get bigger and more easier to manage in ways that will help (and harder to manage in other ways obviously) and there is certainly nothing anyone can really do to help. I tend to go through phases when I'm full of energy and optimism about everything- where I can achieve things easily and everything makes sense- and at other times everything is a slog and I end up second guessing myself on absolutely everything. 

I am lucky though because wifey is incredibly supportive, incredibly hard working and really understanding. And, even though she has to deal with 3 small children all day, she still has the patience to deal with me, which truly does mean she has the patience of a saint.


Sunday, 14 September 2014

Bed Wars

He doesn't sleep like this in his bed
I'm not entirely sure I'm going to win this one.

Ned, two and a half, but with the obstinacy and obduracy of someone in their 70's, has declared war on me. He's undertaken a Blitzkrieg style land grab and is holding on for dear life.

He's stolen my side of the bed.

Somewhere between two and 5 o'clock in the morning he comes into our room and duffs me up until I leave my warm bed for his room and shelter under his single duvet with the Peppa Pig cover. This is of course nothing new but the key change is how he is now waging a psychological war on me as well. The other night he came in dead early- about 11ish and I duly obliged and sloped off to his bed, only for him to come into his room at 5am and demand that I vacate my second bed of the night so he could take my place AGAIN. When I woke up an hour and a half later I had no idea where I was.

Similarly, when he was naughty the earlier today and I sent him to his room, I came up to find him sitting on MY bed looking sorry for himself. He's now taken to putting his teddies on my bed when he comes up stairs to get ready for bed because lets face it, we all know where he's going to end up don't we?

This has to end but none of us have got the energy to put him back to bed 100 times, spend 2 hours listening to him pound his tiny fists on his door or settle the boy and Fifi when Ned wakes them up for half the night.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Stronger security for your Google Account with 2-Step Verification

The recent stories about celebs naked iCloud photos being leaked to the world has been a bit of a wake up call for some when it comes to online security. The Fappening, as it's known by those who leaked the photos on popular website Reddit, showed how easy it was to  trick people into parting with their passwords and usernames for pretty much any service when a fake landing page is used. If you use the same password and username for multiple sites, you might give people access to your paypal account, Amazon or anything.

There are things you can do to make a lot of your online accounts safer. I've written about how to spot scam emails before but everyone has an off day and is entirely capable of clicking something without thinking about it, so there are other things you can do. If you use the Google ecosystem, which obviously includes Gmail, you can set up what's called 2 step verification.

2 step verification breaks your devices down into 2 categories- trusted and untrusted. You have the decision on what to make trusted, and what to leave untrusted. A trusted device might be something like your smartphone or your home PC, an untrusted device might be a work computer that others have access to or a friends computer.

On all devices, you have to go through a verification process for the device the first time you log in from it after you've turned 2 step verification on. This involves a 6 digit code being texted to you which you have to enter to proceed with the login. At login you're given the choice of trusting the device, which means you won't have to do the 2nd step with the text message again. If you don't choose to trust the device, you will have to do the second step with a new 6 digit code every time you log in. If you lose your phone, don't worry, you can still log in to your account on a trusted device and simply change the mobile number.

Even if you choose to not set up two step verification, it's worth noting there are some other security features that Google has. You can go to your Google account settings and click Security to view all the settings but the one I'd highlight is the recent activity tab. Click on this and it will show you where your account has been accessed from recently. For me it's 90% St Albans as I live here but if somewhere you know you've not been to appears, you're account may have been compromised. You can even set up Google to text or email you when it detects what it considers to be a suspicious log in attempt. When I logged in via the wifi in the cottage we stayed in on holiday, I was asked to confirm who I was as I hadn't logged in from that location before. Just make sure you have a recovery mobile phone and email account set up.

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