Living On A Prayer

Cheap Skate

I went to the Far East last Summer and travelled throughout Japan. I planned to stay in Japan for much longer than I actually did. The cost of living there is ruinously expensive. A Starbucks coffee is around £7 / $11. The cheapest hotel rooms, shared with 2 other occupants, comes in at a costly £25 a night / $39. A small beer will set you back around £4 / $6. In a bar your looking at £6 / $9. Sounds like much fun. NOT. No wonder the Japanese are so skinny. They can't afford the rent and food. You pay the rent or eat. You can't have both. What the heck. Pay the rent and skip a few meals.

I'm not sure I can afford to live in Japan. The economy is slow. My Japanese is poor. Chances of finding a job are low. What to do? I'll go back to England and find some work. The economy cannot be as bad as it is in Japan. Wrong. How wrong can I be? Err very wrong. Anyhow, I won't have to get a work permit back in England. I can work legally without duress from the Government.

I love Japan. Its a great country. Things did not quite work out as I had hoped, and I decide to fly back to London. When I get back, I have a small amount of savings and bank on finding a job pretty quickly. Could I be more wrong?

Four months pass and no work. I apply for 10 to 20 jobs a day. Thats around 100 vacancies a week. As its via email and CV (resume for you American folk) attachment. I can easily do 100 job applications a week.

I hear back from around 3 or 4 a week. The economic slump continues. Things are worse here than I had feared. Maybe coming back was not such a bright idea.

Its been many years since I did a job interview. I'm now doing around 2 job interviews a week. As with all things, I'm rusty for the first few. Not so much nervous, as unsure of what to say, in response to their probing.

After each interview, I make notes, and try to recall what they probed me on. I go online and research interviews questions.

The 50 most common questions you get at interview. I skip the last 30, and work on the first 20. I print them out and carry them around with me. I prepare answers in advance. These dudes are not gonna ambush me. I'm gonna be prepared.

I rework my CV. I sign up with the 6 top online jobsites in the UK. I'm getting around 50 vacancies a day. I'm responding to 10 or 20 a day.

Its lunchtime. Walking back from the train station my mobile (cellphone) rings. Its one of the jobs I responders. Yeah, I'm interested. I agree to a 4pm appointment. Its a first interview.

I arrive 30mins early. Not a problem. You ever been late for an appointment. Your mind is unsettled. Your heart is beating. You whole psyche is unsettled. I like early. Its easy. Stress-less.

Late is painful. Give me early any day of the month. I am given a test paper, that a 12 year old could pass. I cannot believe any job applicant can fail this.

I pass the math, english and grammar tests and wait to be intreviewed by people from personnel. I  sit through a gruelling 3 hour interview session where I am systematically interviewed by 5 different people at different levels within the company, right up to board level (yeah, its not that big a company). I am told I meet the strict criteria and I'm on the team.

They will email me job description and employment details the next day and ask if I can respond immediately. ie within 1 or 2 days of receipt.  I respond same day.

A few days later I get an email with a formal job offer and details of when I can start. As its before Xmas, the next induction will be in January. Third week of January. Damn. I have to kill time over Xmas. I accept the job offer and now have to bide my time till I start work.

I'm doing little else, so I continue to apply for jobs online. I have a fear the job may fall through. In the mean time I apply for and attend several job interviews. This may seem crazy. Why bother? The answer. The more job interviews you do, the better you get.

At each job interview, I learn something new. I record the questions I'm asked. I note their attitude. Their emotional thrust. What seems to be important to them. What questions they ask, the previous interviewer did not ask? Slowly, I improve. I refine my CV (Resume).

My CV is refined and refined till its now like a dolphin surging through still water. I continue to polish my CV, till it's a complete sales tool. It has one function and one function only. To get me the job interview. To get me in the door. That's why CV exist. No other purpose/ With the CV finally polished, I switch attention to my covering letter. This is a back up sales tool. Providing support, but a sales tool never the less.

I go to job interviews and now I'm confident, assured, I understand the process and I understand what they want. I deliver.

I hear back from the company about the job offer I received in December. They have reviewed their  employment policy. I am without a job, agaiin.

I search the local papers and find a company in need of telesales. I go interview and land a position. The pay is poor. Really poor. Last time I earned this kinda money, I was still wearing nappies (diapers). I have no choice. The economy is flat. Jobs are scarce. Pay is low. I'm lucky to be working.

I read in one of the trash rags, that unemployment is rising and hits a 20 year high of 2.7 million. I shut my mouth and gratefully accept the job.

So here's where the blog starts.

I have no money. Just got back from touring the far east. I land a poorly paid job. What am I to do? I sit on this thing and await inspiration. It hits me. When I was on the road in Japan, I lived like a pauper. Frugal was my mantra. If I could not afford it, I didn't have it. If I was low on funds and hotel rooms were too expensive, I slept on the streets, in bus stations, train stations, parks or temple grounds. If I could save £25 for a hotel room for the night, the park bench was cosy and comfortable. Ya woke early, but hey that was okay. The birds rise early anyhow. You can hear them sing at 5am.

I would now apply the same frugal attitude till the economy had improved and I found a better job. We are mired in the worst recession since the 1930s.

So here's the deal...

For the next 12 months, I am gonna be the embodiment of frugality. I will be frugal personified. Don't know quite how I'm gonna do it, but I will. Its not such a big deal. I don't live the high life anyhow. But it will be interesting.

From here on, I will live by the cheapest means I can and document it. Along with my thoughts, feelings and justifications for doing so.

I will record as best I can .

The guiding principles will be...

To save as much money as I can.
To spend as little money as I can.
To continue to live as best as I can.
To cut back on spending, as much as I can.

I will try to buy the cheapest items where possible.
I will try to buy the lowest priced alternative where possible.
I will investigate alternatives accepted spendthrift practices.
I will seek out thrifty alternatives.
I will avoid spending money, where I can.
I will avoid luxuries, at all times.
I will try to live with the clothes I presently possess.
I will try not to buy any goods unnecessarily.

I will document it throughout the next 12 months, in the hope that it may help others, show what is possible, and see just how much we spend unnecessarily. Spending is often driven by impulse and clever marketing.

Here goes to the next 12 months of fiscal sanity, online.

Bon Voyage.


Veg Oils

They Do What?

I don't do a lot of science reading, but occasionally I dig around Science Daily for bits of info, mainly related to Anthropology which interests me.
I came across this article on the Science Daily website which kinda threw me.

Here's an extract:

Philip Jessop, Canada Research Chair in Green Chemistry, has created a solvent that -- when combined with carbon dioxide -- extracts oil from soybeans. Industries currently make cooking oils using hexane, a cheap, flammable solvent that is a neurotoxin and creates smog. The process also involves distillation, which uses large amounts of energy.

These guys are thinking energy conservation. I'm thinking health issues.

So lets get this straight. Industrial production of vegetable oils use a flammable solvent that's a known neurotoxin in their production?

Neurotoxins deactivate nerves or disrupt the way nerves work. Neurotoxins can be lethal in small doses. Commonly found in snake venom and poisons produced by animals and insects. 

You have to ask the question. Why do this? 

Did someone say profit?

I don't use vegetable oils for cooking. I stopped using them a long time ago, for other reasons. I have long understood that veg oils are not well assimilated in the body. Your better off with butter, fat, lard, or olive oil. 

I use olive oil in salads and occasionally for cooking. Olive oil is not a vegetable oil. Olives are fruits. There's an ongoing debate about the suitability of olive oil for cooking due to its smoke point. Compared to other oils, it has a low smoke point.

Olives are fruits because:
  • It's the ripened ovary of the plant which contains the seed. 
  • It contains the seed of the plant
  • It grows on trees.
Vegetables do not grow on trees. 

Coming back to the original thrust of this post. Why would anyone use a neurotoxin in food production?

Vegetable oils are used in countless commercially produced food products. Corn chips, potato chips, pizza, bread, cake, pastries, cookies, biscuits, chocolate, and more and more.

Most food products made in a factory will contain some vegetable oil as an ingredient. Are you eating neurotoxins tonight?

Food for thought!

Humax PVR-9300T

Digital Switchover
A relative has Humax PVR-9300T Freeview digital set-top box and recently asked about the Digital Switchover which happens next month. The old analogue signal is being switched off.

I was asked what should be done to ensure there is no loss of TV during the switchover period. I did some digging a couple of things need to be done.

The Humax PVR-9300T needs to be retuned on April 4th and April 18th. If you have saved programs on saved on your PVR hard disk and wish to keep them. You need to carry out a factory reset. This will not delete your recordings but you will lose all your user settings and any timers you may have. So it may be worth making a note of them before you do the factory re-set.

You will need to do a second factory re-set for stage 2 of the switchover on the April 18.

The Humax PVR-9300T will re-tune itself to the new signals and settings.

To carry out a factory re-set do:

1. Press the MENU button.
2. Select Installation and press the OK button.
3. Enter the password using the NUMERIC(0-9) buttons.
4. Select Automatic Search from installation menu and press the OK
5. Automatic channel search begins.

Default password is 0000. That's four zeros.

The Humax is an excellent Freeview box. Affordable with a 320GB hard disk which allows 160 hours recording. It allows simultaneous viewing and recording of separate channels or programs.

The Humax has a couple of recurring bugs in the software. It occasionally hangs while switching channels. There are two solutions to the bug.

1. Wait. It takes 3 or 4 mins for normal operation to return.
2. Switch off and on. Normal startup follows.

The other minor irritant occurs during recorded programs replay. Sound drops intermittently. Hitting pause, then play sometimes fixes it. Sometimes not.

Otherwise its a great Freeview box.

That's about it.

Firefox 14 Install On Debian

Pretty Easy

If you run Debian stable, you'll have the default Debian browser installed. If you want a browser with more capabilities and plenty of add-ons (think ad-block and flash-block), then you'll be looking at Firefox.

Sometime ago there was a dispute between Mozilla and Debian over trade mark infringement, which resulted in Debian removing Firefox from their servers and replacing it with Iceweasel.

Iceweasel tends to be several releases behind Mozilla's current Firefox offering. So if you want the latest and greatest iteration of Firefox, you have to download and install it yourself.

Here's a quick run through how to do it.

Download Firefox 14

Go to

As root (superuser) do the following.

Unzip the downloaded tar zipped file.

tar xjf firefox-14.0.tar.bz2

Move the newly created Firefox directory to /opt

mv firefox /opt/firefox-14

Create a symbolic link to launch Firefox

ln -s /opt/firefox14/firefox /usr/bin/firefox

Enjoy fast surfing with thousands of add-ons.


Hell's Kitchen

Hell On Earth?

I've been watching several seasons of Hell's Kitchen and thoroughly enjoy each episode. Unlike most reality shows, Hell's Kitchen is different. The contestants are judged on their performance not on their perceived or interpreted performance. If the meat or fish you cook is raw, your out the game. If your appetisers fail, your zero. Cooking as in sport or war, is dependent on your performance, NOW. Your only as good as your last effort. There is nowhere to hide. You mess up. Your out.

Most reality shows are pretty lame. What makes Hell's Kitchen different from other reality shows? 

The following factors:

1.) Gordon Ramsay
2.) Performance based
3.) Untrammelled abuse
4.) Failure results in exit
5.) Hunger for success
6.) Unbiased ability based

I talked about the show with friends, and most seem to miss the salient points of the show.

Gordon Ramsay puts them through 'Hell'... Why?

If you watch the series, you'll see he's actually tutoring them. He has compassion for the cooks with ability. He beats them up, but for their own good. He does that to enable them to grow into the role.

Some rise to the challenge. Others fail. He pushes them to the edge, and sometimes beyond, and waits to see what comes back. He's gonna offer these individuals the opportunity of running one of his top-line restaurants with a salary of $250,000. He needs to make sure they can take the heat in the kitchen.

What he puts them through, is way more than they will ever experience in their working environment. He knows that. But still he puts them through the paces. He's in their face. Shouting obscenities. Calling them incompetent. Calling them idiots. Tearing down their erroneous views, opinions, and self-perception. He's doing a great job and a great service to all that take part. They may not believe it. They may not like it. But that's the truth.

You can see that in Season 6, when he invites Robert back to participate. He wants that dude to come back a second time and do well. Unfortunately, Robert is too fat for his own health, and bails out a second time. That dude needs to lose weight before cardiac. Yet Chef Ramsay wants him back to participate. How kind is that? Yeah sure, he's gonna shout in his face at max volume. But its for Roberts good. Along with the other  chef's in Hell's Kitchen.

Most people don't get it. This is a formative experience for the chef's that have come to display their wares and show their mettle. Ramsay turns the heat up to forge something special. The furnace of Hell's Kitchen forges a quality chef to run one of Ramsay's disparate restaurants.

Ramsay is no fool. He knows what he's doing. Putting these kids through their paces. And I love it.

Compelling viewing.