Wednesday, 18 January 2012
I had always known that one day, my trusty Dell C521 Dimension desktop PC would cease to function adequately, would start to resist my efforts to interact with the world wide web and ultimately, would be destined for the Internet cafe in the sky.
That day came last week. After five years of loyal and dedicated service, the old boy just packed in. I hoped that I might be able to resuscitate it, but it turned out that the problem was serious enough to warrant a full PC replacement. In all fairness, five years is a decent run for a PC, and anyway, I was starting to find a few limitations in terms of what the little silicon based chappie could deliver in this more technologically demanding decade.
So, knowing that a replacement was required, I turned my attention to what was on the market. I had a budget of £400 and I had made the decision that although you can get a lot more 'bang for your buck' with a desktop, I wanted a laptop. In all honesty, this was mainly so I could realise my dream of sitting on the sofa on Saturday afternoons watching Sky Sports Soccer Saturday whilst mindlessly surfing the net and/or writing twaddle. Basically, I wanted to be just like this guy, but without the smug grin, with more chocolate stains on my t-shirt and sporting significantly longer toenails:
Now, despite what people might assume, I'm not really much of a PC geek - I am aware of what does what - but open the lid and I wouldn't know a front side bus from a National Express Coach. Equally though, I'm not a complete moron in this regard either and am more than able to find reasonable value for money when computer shopping.
These were my minimum specifications (for those mildly interested):
Processor: 2nd Gen Intel i3
RAM: 4GB min
USB: 3 ports min. USB 3.0 would be nice
HDMI Out: Yes
Graphics Card & Sound Card: Bog standard - I'm not really a PC gamer and I'm not a big audiophile either.
Having scouted around online, a couple of laptops caught my eye, and happily were in my price range. One such device was a Lenovo IdeaPad z570, which ticked all of the aforementioned boxes and was £30 shy of my budget limit - coming in at £369.99. It also came in a fetching blue colour, which I must admit, looked rather nice.
Checking out some user reviews of the laptop, I was pleased to say that it rated well. For someone like myself who wanted to use it for surfing, a bit of work (on occasion) and a lot of downloading of movies and music, it appeared to be the perfect match.
Trouble was I needed to purchase it sharpish, and it was only available at the computing den of vice that is - PC World.
I have never before bought so much as a USB stick from PC World. It is the very definition of a soul-less mega store. Unlike many little independent computer shops, who pride themselves on very personalised customer services and ensuring that the customer gets exactly what they're looking for, PC World's core ethos seems to be about maximising profit by convincing/conning people into buying pointless crap that they don't really need via the medium of 'informative' sales patter.
This pointless crap includes ridiculously expensive anti-virus software, extensive 'office' software and worst of all, outrageously overpriced 'peace-of-mind' guarantees and insurance packages that you'll subscribe to and most probably never use.
Worse still, a large number of staff at PC World tend to have little more knowledge about the products that they are selling than that which was described to them on their first day briefing. They are also duty bound by their blood signed employment contracts to do everything in their power to get to to buy the aforementioned 'pointless crap' and squeeze you for every last penny that you can afford.
Still, I shamefully headed over to my local Curry's/PC World Superstore to pick up my chosen device.
Upon entering the shop I made my way over to the laptop display area. Along the way I passed a couple who appeared to be utterly mesmerised by the shiny white hub that was the Apple Mac area. Glancing quickly across, I too felt strangely drawn to the pearly white devices with their edgy, minimalistic looks - but then I was snapped back to reality when I noticed that they were all so stupidlyexpensive that I've have had to flog my own kidney to afford one.
After browsing through more completely overpriced laptops in the SONY area, I made my way to the mid-range laptop section, where my quarry was to be found. The area was populated by a variety of Lenovos, ASUS' and ACERs - All of which are top quality makes which tend to be a bit cheaper as they don't usually attract the status minded shoppers (who are usually busy salivating over more well known brands).
Having found the Ideapad, I toddled off to find a member of staff, whom I hoped (despite some grave reservations) might be able to assist me with my purchase. My mission was simple. Get the staff member to answer a few straightforward questions and then sell me the laptop without any additional crap.
I called this challenge; 'Geek Fighter II - The PC World Warrior', as much like the famous 2D beat em up game Street Fighter II, I was sure to do battle with numerous foes, each with their own unique style and technique.
The first of my PC World Fighter Opponents (Identifiable by name-badge) was Anne. Her face obscuring fringe, multiple facial piercings and dyed black hair suggested an embryonic adult, currently enduring the uncomfortable transition from being a fully fledged mardy-arsed teenager to becoming a downtrodden retail salesperson.
I approached her cautiously as she appeared to be in a world of her own - probably contemplating the relative strengths of differing shades of black and composing lyrics about Rigor-mortis.
Round 1 - Anne.
Height: 5ft 2"
Style: Disillusioned post-teen Emo type - currently being sapped of her life-force by the corporate machine.
Special Move: Complete lack of interest in anything I that am saying
1) I told Anne that I had found the laptop I wanted and asked her if the RAM was upgradable. POW!!
2) She somehow managed to completely ignore my question and started telling me about another machine which would allow me to access the Internet via the push of a button (???) BAMM!!!
4) I told her that this really didn't interest me and I asked her again if she could reliably inform me as to the maximum RAM capacity of the Lenovo Ideapad Z570. HADOUKEN!!!!
Unable to continue to ignore me or actually provide an answer to my question, Anne retreated to fetch my next opponent.
Enter Jasbeer - a rather rotund fellow who looked like he would have been more suited to life in a 2nd hand car dealership than in a premium corporate megastore. With his few remaining strands of upper head hair blowing steadily under the air conditioned 'gulf-stream' of PC World, Jasbeer sauntered over to me with the look of a Lion about to sink his teeth into an Antelope carcass.
Round 2: Jasbeer
Style: Arrogant balding Sales Type
Special Move: Pretending to know loads of made up shit
1) Jasbeer approached me in overconfident, supremely patronising manner. "How can I help you 'young man'?" SMASH!!
2) I responded by repeating the RAM question that had vanquished Anne. HADOUKEN!!!
3) Jasbeer blocked this enquiry, with a swift counter of; "You probably don't need to worry about that, but do you know what you should worry about? Viruses! Like, there's this new virus that will actually steal your bank account! Completely steal it man! You're going to have to consider getting some good anti-virus protection - you can't be too careful these days!". SONIC BOOOOM!!!
4) Unsure as to how exactly how a bank account can be stolen, I unleashed my own counter. "It's alright 'mate' I use AVAST antivirus - which is highly rated - and free". SHORYUKEN!!!!!!
5) Sensing victory was imminent, I hit him with a double whammy. "Anyway, so again, can you tell me what the maximum RAM is, and are the USB ports USB 3.0? HADOUKEN!!! SPINNING BIRD KICK!!!!
With his mildly dishonest sales patter defeated, Jasbeer informed me that he'd go and get another colleague who would be able to answer all of my questions, as he wasn't sure.
After pacing back and forth for a few minutes, I spotted my next opponent making his way over. And what a sight he was!
Dressed in the customary PC World purple shirt, but with a scrotum crushingly tight pair of drainpipe jeans, the one whose badge revealed him to be 'Harvi' looked every bit the unrelenting opponent that I would have expected at this point. I was right in the middle of a full-on salesman chain-brawl and they were throwing the 'big-guns' at me now.
The most spectacular thing about Harvi was his long flowing locks of jet black hair. His was truly a mane to rival that of Lord Aslan or Simba's Dad. Like an Asian Jon Bon Jovi he swaggered over to me.
Round 3 - Harvi
Height: 5ft 9"
Style: Long lost member of Guns n Roses
Special Move: Supreme self-confidence stemming from the power of his awesome barnet
1) With a wall of pryotechnics exploding behind him, Harvi walked through a wall of dry ice, looked me dead in the eye and said, Hi I'm Harvi! HADOUKKEN!!!!!
2) Harvi then followed up by answering my question about the USB ports (they weren't USB 3.0), and then complementing me on my nice suit and insisting that I'd probably want the full MS Office 2010 package with it, as it only had the starter package - which had only had vastly reduced versions of Word and Excel - which wouldn't nearly be adequate for a professional looking gent like myself . TIGER UPPERCUT!!!!
3) I was taken aback by this double whammy of PC World persistence and bare faced arse kissing. A quick counter was needed. "I don't really want Office (i knew I'd be able to download a hooky copy anyway), and I'm still not sure about the maximum RAM situation". To hammer home my advantage, I followed up with - "I take it the existing 4GB is DDR3 RAM?" (knowing full well that it probably was) METSUUUU HADOKKKKEENNNNNNNN!!!!
With this final assault of simple questions, Harvi, his amazing hair and unfeasibly tight trousers were finished. He told me he wasn't sure and he'd have to find out on the store computer. He asked me to go and wait by the till and told me he'd go and get an Ideapad out of the store-room and double check my questions on route - then if I was happy, he'd finish the transaction at the till.
I'd done it! I'd beaten the PC World staff. They had truly given up on their efforts to sell me extra rubbish. Harvi pointed me towards the till and he headed off to fetch an Ideapad from the storeroom.
But then as I watched Harvi , he veered off from his storeroom-bound course towards a another man who was standing with his back to me. Harvi's deferent posture as he approached the mysterious figure suggested that this was someone of importance. And they were. For he was....
Store Manager 'Alan'
Store manager Alan was everything that I had feared. He appeared to be an actual geek. His thick glasses, uncoordinated posture and greying wizened look suggested that he might actually know what he was talking about and would seek to confuse me with a confident display of knowledge. I was ready though. Well at least until he spoke...at which point it became apparent that Alan was a born and bred crafty cockney.
A goddamn geeky cockney sparrow! And everyone knows that cockneys have a genetically inherent ability to be able to sell absolutely anything to absolutely anyone. Its a superpower akin to x-ray vision. If I didn't play this one right, I'd end up walking out of PC World with £100 platinum coated HDMI cable and a lifetime subscription for keyboard insurance.
Final Round - Store Manager Alan
Height: 5ft 10"
Style: Cockney herbert with a nerdy exterior
Special Move: Unflinchingly relentless and persuasive sales banter.
Straight out of the blocks he sought to unnerve me with his cockney charm:
1) "Alright san. Howr ya doin me old' mucka? What can I do you for?" POW!!
2) I repeated all of my questions in quick succession, hoping he'd be overwhelmed. PSYCHOCRUSHERRRRRR!!!!!!!
3) He responded instantly in a typically brisk and assured cockney style;
"Well, you can ramp up to the full 8gb whack, but would ya want to? You see me ol' chestnut, unless you're into your high end stuff, you won't need it. What you're looking for is reliability fella. Reliability! Now, it don't matta which machine you go for - they're all pretty reliable as it happens, but sometimes they do 'ave an habit of goin' a bit Pete Tong on you - and if that happens - you're gonna wish you 'ad a bit of cover, aint ya? So here's what ol' Alan says! Buy this laptop, coz it's a steal for the price - but take out the three year extended warranty peace of mind plan. It'll only cost you 35p a day, for the duration of the contract, and we'll only charge you 14.2% interest APR if you take it out as a monthly plan. Now ya can't say fairer than that, can ya?" TIGER DESTRUCTIONNNNNN!!!!!!!!!!!!
4) Battered and bloodied by this relenting sales pitch, I mustered every last bit of consumer resistance left in me and replied. It's alright mate I've got extended warranty cover and hardware support cover with my bank (this was at least partially true) and one of my close friends is an IT professional who's fixed my computer before for free. WRATH OF THE RAGING DEMON!!!!! SHIN SHORYUKEN!!!!!
With my questions answered and my resolute refusal to be tricked into buying into an expensive, subscription based insurance swindle, Store Manager Alan was no more. Harvi returned from the storeroom with the Ideapad and rang it through the till.
I picked up the Ideapad box and strode victoriously towards the exit.
As the automatic doors parted upon my departure, I turned back to see Alan, Harvi, Jasbeer and Anne stalking the aisles again - and I knew that they were just waiting to do battle with the next......
PC World warrior.
Tuesday, 3 January 2012
Now that the wheels of life are beginning to turn again, you have probably headed back to the land of gainful employment and are readjusting to a more mundane routine. You might also have decided that it is time for you to embark on some sort of fairly ambitious self improvement scheme for the new year. This might include a weight loss plan of some variety, be it through dieting, a exercise regime or via an ill-advised makeshift stomach stapling procedure involving stolen office stationery.....
Whatever your method, if embarking on a healthy living plan in these early days of 2012 is the course of action that you have chosen to take, I say to you...STOP!
Look around you. Your home will no doubt still be littered with the deliciously festive sweets and treats that were bought during the Christmas period.
We've all been there. It's the new year, and you want to start getting healthy, but there's still too much food around! So you tell yourself "I'll eat this lot then I'll get on with living the dream of a healthy lifestyle".
Trouble is, the food supply is seemingly inexhaustible, and you find yourself sitting on your sofa on a Friday night, eating a leftover box of mince pies whilst watching the 11pm Eastenders catchup on BBC3 instead of being out running ultra marathons in the Arctic Tundra.
There is but one solution......
You must literally eat every last morsel of leftover Christmas food or you will not truly be able to move forward with your personal improvement overhaul. You could just throw everything away, but let's be honest - we're in a time of economic crisis and that sort of waste is inexcusable! Better to neck the lot.
As such, I would encourage you to follow my patented Pre-Healthy Living Plan Consume Everything In Sight Plan - PHLPCEISP(c), otherwise known as stage 1 of the 'Fat Bastard Exorcism Program'.
The first step of your PHLPCEISP(c) is to catalogue all of your surviving Christmas food stuffs (SCFs) so that you can calculate the total Consumption difficulty level (CDL) of your stockpile of leftover Christmassy goodness. Generally, these will be those things that have a long shelf life, rather than the many meat based products that will have long since become inedible.
The following is a guide to cataloguing your SCFs:
1. Christmas Cake
Often used for the purpose of bludgeoning men to death, the sheer weight of a Christmas Cake should be enough to tell you that it is packing some serious badness. It main constituents are icing, err...cake, and usually about half a bottle of rum, whiskey or some other suitable alcoholic spirit. As eating an entire Christmas cake in one go will probably result in death, it must be integrated into your plan and consumed on a gradual basis.
Consumption Difficulty Level (CDL): Per slice - 5
Beer. The unadulterated king of liquid calories. Lets face it, you're always going to have some beer stocked in the fridge, but having two spare leftover Christmas cases is asking for trouble for anyone wishing to embark on a weight loss program. Again, the consumption of this should be integrated into your plan to avoid death by bloating.
Consumption Difficulty Level: Per can - 3/bottle - 2.5
3. Assorted Savoury Snacks
Typically, these will include some, or all of the following:
- Crisp multi-packs (i.e. quavers, walkers etc..)
- Salted Peanuts
- Bombay Mix
Consumption Difficulty Level: Per packet/large handful - 2
Aah, Fromage, Formaggio, Cheeeeeeese! Hats off to the person who first left a jug of milk out for too long and inadvertently created this wonderfully pongy snack. As the eponymous hero of the almighty Cheese-Board, it is a truly wonderful addition to the list of SCFs. Trouble is, it's another one that tends to hang around for a while after Christmas due to its long shelf life and results in numerous mini cheeseboards being created every time you enter the kitchen area. It is not advisable to eat entire blocks of cheese in one sitting because:
a) If you're lactose intolerant, prepare for a tsunami of alien matter to be ejected from every orifice of your body
b) You will suffer from nightmares that will be more terrifying than a night spent in the company of Jedward.
Consumption Difficulty Level: Per generous slice - 4
5. Jars of things
'Jars of things' are another danger to the good intentions of a person recovering from the excesses of Christmas. 'Jars of things' fall roughly into two categories:
- Pickled things - Consumption Difficulty Level: per good helping - 3.5
- Jams & Chutneys - Consumption Difficulty Level: per good helping - 3
The presence of pickled things also has a habit of inspiring you to create entire micro meals from your SCFs. It is for instance, nearly impossible to eat a single pickled onion without subsequently finding yourself unwittingly creating a plate full of crackers, cheeses and grapes and of course about half a dozen further pickled onions to boot. In a further unavoidable twist of fate, the moment that you have finished your pickle inspired snack, you will be required to indulge in a pudding, or sweet, thus encouraging you to continue to raid your stocks of SCFs.
6. Chocolatey treats
Chocolatey treats are generally the most abundant SCFs - largely because you will have received a large supply in the form of gifts from other people (the bastards!) to compliment the stockpile that you have already amassed yourself. Like being in possession of a plentiful supply of class-A narcotics, you will never truly be able to turn over a new leaf until you have scoffed the lot. The enemy is varied and numerous:
- Quality Street
- After Eights
- Ferrero Roche
- Guylian Seashells
The most dangerous thing about this variety of SCF is the ease of consumption, which can lead to prolonged stomach aches, an inability to move and finally an enormously unsatisfying crap.
Consumption Difficulty Level: per individual treat - 0.25
Usually less numerous in quantity than chocolaty treats but equally as varied, sweeties are usually of a fruity or sour nature. Sweeties are normally bought for the kids, but inevitably become the object of desire for scavenging adults during the Christmas period. Sweeties are also often bought in giant plastic tubs, ensuring that there is normally a reasonably large supply that makes it to the new year and beyond. Fairly easy to consume and not naturally fitting into a larger snack, sweeties are probably the most harmless SCFs, but nevertheless must be consumed along with the rest.
Consumption Difficulty Level: per handful - 1
8. Mince Pies
You might not like them all that much, many don't - but you will almost certainly have a couple of packets of mince pies knocking about. As it is illegal to eat a mince pie between the dates of Jan 6th - Dec 1st, you need to get these necked, sharpish like!
Consumption Difficulty Level: per pie - 3
With the SCFs catalogued, you will now need to make a list and jot down the consumption difficulty levels (CDL) as mentioned above. Here's an example:
This particular list has a whopping Total Consumption Difficulty Level of 388! Actual medical experts have compiled the following 'danger chart' based on the Consumption Difficulty Level scale, which suggests that consuming over 80 CDLs in one sitting will result in a negative impact on your general wellness, and that if you were attempt to finish off the entire list of 388 CDLs shown above, you'd be shuffling off this mortal coil before you could digest your last pickled onion:
So basically, if you're going to conduct your PHLPCEISP(c) safely, you're going to need a carefully devised daily gluttony plan. Here comes the hard sell:
Using my patented PHLPCEISP(c) optimum snacking formula, and for a one off payment of £39.99, I'll help you through this tough time by providing you with the following:
- Your own personalised 2 week PHLPCEISP(c) post christmas gluttony meal plan.
- 3 daily text messages of encouragement (e.g. "Go on, have another bag of quavers, you know you want to") during your programme.
- A signed poster of Rick Waller
- 24 hour access to the Live chat forums where you can discuss whether or not to eat that last ferrero roche with other registered PHLPCEISPers.
- A full money back guarantee if you don't pile on the weight that you eventually want to lose.
Here are some testimonies from successful PHLPCEISPers:
"With the PHLPCEISP(c), I was able to eat all 17 jars of my homemade picked duck's eggs within 2 weeks, and gained the 13lbs I'm going to try to lose next month!" Boris Netharegiane (48), Swansea, Wales
"Using the PHLPCEISP(c), I gained nearly 21lbs in two weeks by practically living on Blue Stilton and After Eight mints. Now I can start my exercise regime at last! Janice Meatsweate (37), Nottingham, England
"The PHLPCEISP(c) helped me to demolish my stocks of surviving christmas foodstuffs and finally break a cycle of snacking that started with a box of Mint Matchmakers in 1983, and has now pushed me towards considering signing up to my local gym. Vestan Pance (56), Buckinghamshire, England
"Don't delay. Register today to begin your journey towards considering embarking upon a journey towards a healthy lifestyle!"
* Please note that providing any bank details may initiate the process of a large cash sum being transferred from your bank account to a Nigerian Banking institution of questionable legal and moral ethics. You also may never actually receive any of the described items - except for the Rick Waller poster. You'll definitely get that.