Archive for May 2011

Merrell Chameleon Wrap Slams & Salomon Exit Aeros – final reviews

Posted by on May 31st 2011 in My reviews

These items for review were supplied by Adam Smith while he was a representative of Fitness Footwear Ltd.

The Merrell Chameleon Wrap Slams have done a fair few miles now, I've been wearing them either with very thin socks or with no socks at all because of the sizing problem. With socks they still squeak quite loudly so I tend to wear them only when I'm on solo walks, obviously when I'm going sockless they're a tad more partner-friendly but the range of terrain is restricted accordingly. Aside from the noise they've been fine on all sorts of non-icy terrain, they're not waterproof but are quick to dry. Grip has improved with use. They've been through the washing machine on the "sports shoes" cycle with no detectable detriment. If I had the correct size I'd wear them a lot more and in more testing places. Oddly, I find that they are a really good choice for driving - I think it's something to do with the way the heel grips the foot-well carpet.

The Salomon Exit Aeros haven't done as much mileage but have proved to be fine for casual, mainly indoor wear. I still don't trust them in the wet - the grip seems to have worsened with wear. Again, they're not waterproof but they do dry amazingly quickly. I've decided that they have too much flex for me to wear them on long dry walks so they've been relegated to the role of slippers - they see a lot of use during YHA stays. Shape-wise they do fit me well and if I did acquire any more Salomons I'm confident that they'll suit my feet, but there's no way that I'd get a model like this until they've sorted out the sole/grip problem.

I've come to the conclusion that footwear such as these items doesn't suit the outdoors stuff that I do, although the Wrap Slams have been OK for general outdoor wear. Maybe I've not tried them enough, maybe I've been expecting too much of them, but I really can't get on with them. My feet still feel better in more substantial footwear, and I feel more confident when my feet stay where I put them. That's why I keep going back to the AKU Croda GTXs.

NICs twisted even tighter

Posted by on May 26th 2011 in A bit of a rant

I'm getting increasingly fecked-off by the whole sorry state of affairs that is otherwise known as the National Insurance Contributions system...

Today I tried to pay the two-week shortfall for the 2010-2011 tax year. I like to keep my accounts simple - if I owe, I pay ASAP, I don't like to be in debt. Paying now would be a simple operation, you'd have thought.

Well...

I went to the Directgov website and clicked to the page entitled "When and how to top up your National Insurance contributions". On there it clearly states that voluntary contributions can be paid via my bank or building society's internet or telephone banking service. Indeed, clicking the "how to pay" link brings up another page which states "HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) recommends that you make your voluntary Class 3 National Insurance payments electronically" and goes on to justify that recommendation as follows:

Paying electronically:

  • is safe and secure
  • gives you better control over your money
  • provides certainty about when your payment will reach HMRC
  • avoids postal costs and delays
  • may lower your bank charges
  • lets you pay at a convenient time if you use Direct Debit or internet/telephone banking

No probs, I'd much rather pay electronically than by cheque. I'll go for that.

I scrolled down that page to the section entitled "Paying by internet or telephone banking", where it states "You can use your bank or building society services to pay your quarterly payment request or any deficiency payment by internet or telephone banking. To make a payment you will need the account details given below and your voluntary Class 3 National Insurance reference number."

So I went rooting through stacks of documents looking for my "voluntary Class 3 National Insurance reference number". Damned if I could find it anywhere here, so I phoned them up again to get said number.

It turns out that they can't give me that number.  It won't be generated until sometime between September and November 2012!

I asked them to generate a number for me now so that I can get paid up, negating the need for them to send me a begging-letter later this year. "No can do" was the gist of the reply. When I asked why it couldn't be done, they had no answer apart from to point out that their system won't allow it. They did, however, tell me that I could send them a cheque... which sort of defeats the object of them recommending payment by electronic means.

So I can't pay electronically. They tell me that I can and then prevent me from doing so. Eejuts!

FFS, I can feel the will to live ebbing away.

Observing Report 18th-19th May 2011 (Another Cluster)

Posted by on May 25th 2011 in Astrostuff, Observing Reports, Pics

Another session, another glob. Needed to use the 2x PowerMate to get a decent-sized image on the chip, so resolution has suffered a bit.

Not enough hours of proper darkness for much more than one target...

 

M56 (aka NGC 6779), a globular cluster in the constellation Lyra.
Subs: 13 light @ 300s, darks and bias frames, ISO400.
1000D on the 6" R-C with 2x PowerMate, guided with PHD.

Getting my NICs in a twist

Posted by on May 24th 2011 in A bit of a rant

Ok, so I'm a house-husband, a stay-at-home Dad, a domestic engineer, call it what you will. Having stopped work in 2003 I've claimed no unemployment benefits or JSA at all, although I did get Child Tax Credits (CTC) and Family Allowance. I like to think that I've not been a drain on the country's finances, I've not been a dole-scrounger, I've not shirked my responsibilities to family or to society. We've traded my income for a strong, stable and caring family situation and it's worked - our kids are bright, well-supported educationally and otherwise, and more-or-less "well-adjusted".

I was subscribed to the Home Responsibilities Protection (HRP) Scheme which meant that Class 3 NI contributions (NICs) were paid while I was in receipt of Child Benefit for a child under the age of 16. This scheme (not a benefit) ran from 6th April 1978 to 5th April 2010, and when it stopped nobody told me, no letter was forthcoming.

In April 2010 HRP was replaced by a new scheme of National Insurance Credits. According to that scheme, I was credited weekly with Class 3 NICs because we were receiving Child Benefit for a child under the age of 12. It was a significant change, and nobody told us of this either.

Our youngest turned 12 in March of this year. My Class 3 NICs credits stopped immediately - again, nobody told us of this either.

Meanwhile, in blissful ignorance, I'd assumed that it was situation normal, NICs credits being paid due to the HRP Scheme. Nobody had told me otherwise.

Then I received notification that the CTCs had been stopped at the end of the 2010-2011 tax year, mainly due to the lowering of the qualification figure. With the downturn in the economy we expected to lose something, most folks have lost or will lose, we didn't expect to escape the wide-bladed axe. Note, however, that it took just three weeks to be told by letter that the CTCs had stopped.

I went online today to check the CTC qualification figures, it turns out that our income is actually just below the cut-off so I phoned them to get things sorted, it looks like they may have to reinstate the payments, albeit at a reduced level.

Then, by chance and idle curiosity, I happened to browse to the page concerning HRP... I followed it to the details about the new scheme... from the info there it didn't take a genius to deduce that my NICs credits would have been stopped, but I needed to be certain and wanted to know why I'd not been informed of the changes.

I've been on the blower to the NI peeps. Turns out that I'm two weeks shy of a full year of NICs for 2010-2011, and there are no NIC credits for the current tax year. Apparently, I need to send them some cheques...

Furthermore, when I asked for a check of previous years, they said that there's a gap of nearly three whole years (2003-2006) when there were no NICs credits despite the HRP system being in force. I think that they'll be getting an appeal instead of a cheque for that.

I asked the NI person why I'd had no notification of the cessation of credits in March, and got told that there's a pecking-order for folk being informed about gaps in their NICs:

  • First in line are folk that are in employment, their employers get kept up to date on an ongoing basis
  • Next are folk who have lost their jobs, they get informed as part of the application processes for JSA and other benefits

When I got the answer to the original question, bearing in mind that my circumstances are different to the aforementioned "classes", I was gob-smacked to find that they work two tax-years in arrears and that I would have had to wait until at least THE SECOND HALF OF THE 2012-2013 TAX YEAR, by which time I'd be in arrears by over £900 at current rates. Moreover, they can't explain why, despite their two-year arrears process, I've never been told about the "error" that created the 2003-2006 NICs gap. It's a bloody good job I phoned when I did, I reckon somebody needs an arse-kicking!

Now I'm told that I can have my NICs credited weekly from now onwards if I go on the dole - if I claim JSA I can get NICs credits but I won't get the actual JSA itself because during the previous six years I've not made any Class 1 NICs. So that's a great incentive to get back to work, eh?

There's something awry with a system that doesn't keep you informed about an increasing shortfall and which will allow you credits only if you claim a benefit that you can't actually have and don't really want.

I've come to the conclusion that the system's shite, not because it doesn't give me what I'm entitled to, but because it doesn't keep me informed.

Tip of the day: Don't rely on the NI peeps keeping you informed - phone them and ask them to check your contributions record - you may be in for a nasty shock! Find the contact number here.

Bong!

Posted by on May 16th 2011 in In the News, Just for fun, LMAO!

Today's top news stories...

BONG!

In a freak accident at the weekend a Midlands woman managed to fall out of a cardboard-recycling bag while squashing down the contents.
It was an impressive display of gravity overcoming gymnastic ability.
Luckily, the resident professional clean-up squad was on hand to mop up the mess when the loaded tea-tray was sent flying...

 

The offending recycling bag. The victim declined to be interviewed for this report, but is said to be "embarrassed".

 

BONG!

In a totally unrelated incident, the same woman discovered too late the perils of not adding enough water to the breadmix...

 

The not-so-wholesome wholemeal "loaf".

 

BONG!

GCSE exams started today after a weekend of cramming and intensive revision.
The five-week forecast predicts a sustained period of stress and angst,
this to be followed by a period of indecision and uncertainty and then a jubilant celebration before calm is restored...

 

Stress/Strain (Young's Modulus)

 

BONG!

A middle-aged bearded man has been caught planning a wildcamping weekend in the Lake District.
When questioned by the authorities, he also admitted to being involved in planning a fishing, camping and coastal walking operation in Wales...

 

Archive picture.

 

BONG!

There have been reports of a large wild black cat terrorising the neighbourhood...

 

Felis sedatum.

 

BONG!

In a fitting tribute to the quality of Skoda cars, RAB passed his MOT again today despite "irregular" servicing and maintenance...

 

Archive picture.

 

BONG!

And finally, the international news...

Reports have started coming in from the Task Force that set out across Scotland to marvel at the spread of wind-farms...

 

Scotland's Renewable Energy Policy in action (artist's impression).

In all probability, further details can be found by Googling "TGO Challenge 2011".
DON'T Google "TGOC" unless you have a strong constitution!

Billy No-Mates to be fed to the Lions Rampant?

Posted by on May 8th 2011 in In the News

So...

you've shamed yourself by publicly branding as a bigot one of the people that you serve...

you've screwed up the country and the voters chucked you out on your arse...

you've tried to form a coalition so as to cling on to power but got rebuffed...

you've tried to become head of the IMF but thankfully didn't get nominated by the current government...

what's your next move?

This?

FFS, the SNP will eat him for breakfast and not bother to spit out the bones.

For Mr. Miliband it's a win-win situation - either Mr. Broon will succeed, hence vindicating the decision, or he will fail and so Labour will be shot of the buffoon for good.

What's left of my money's on Mr. Salmond.

 

Uberlightweighter’s smartphone

Posted by on May 6th 2011 in In the News, Shiny new kit

While surfing the Beeb for more election titbits I happened across this article about the PaperPhone, looks like it could save a bit of weight...

 

 

Can't tell if it has GPS, if it does it'll be an interesting gadget for the gramme-counters out there.

More details here.

Energy Independence Day?

Posted by on May 6th 2011 in In the News, Just for fun

From the election results declared so far, it looks like change is a comin'...

 

 

There'll be more windfarms and less wild land, I'll wager.

Observing Report 3rd-4th May 2011 (A Cluster and a Ring)

Posted by on May 5th 2011 in Astrostuff, Observing Reports, Pics

I'll spare you the usual details, suffice to say that it was a warmish night, nice and clear and with a light breeze so I was out with the baby R-C scope looking at more Messier Objects. It was a late start and a short session, as from 4 a.m. onwards it was too light to take pics.

As before, I'll let the results do the talking:

 

M10 (aka NGC 6254), a globular cluster in the constellation Ophiuchus.
Subs: 7 light @ 300s, darks and bias frames, ISO400.
1000D on the 6" R-C, guided with PHD.

 

 M57 (aka NGC 6720, The Ring Nebula), a planetary nebula in the constellation Lyra.
Subs: 16 light @ 300s, dark and bias frames, ISO400.
1000D on the 6" R-C with 2x PowerMate, guided with PHD.

 

M57 really needs a lot more data, I'll try to get more next time out.

Safe seat

Posted by on May 5th 2011 in Rambling on...
Tags:

Just been up to the polling station to cast my many votes. Unlike this time last year, it was uneventful - no "unidentified, suited and clip-boarded older man". Oh, and no mad dogs either.

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