Category Archives: Guestblog

Guest post: Things you can do to speed up your broadband connection

I’ve traded reciprocal guest posts with the nice people at Broadband Genie – my post on this topic lives here, so you can compare advice and see who you rate better :-). Yes, it’s a kind of mutual self-promotion, but I’ve written about the topic before and they’ve put together something that fit my specific request, which is how I’m always happy to receive (and indeed contribute) guest posts.

This post was conrtibuted by Rob Clymo from

If you live in the centre or even the outskirts of a town or city then chances are you will probably be able to enjoy high-speed Internet in one form or another. After all, the choices will be more extensive and connectivity is likely to be more durable too, either via ADSL or cable.

Out in the sticks

However, if you live out of town then it may well be an entirely different story because of less connectivity options and more issues with the technical side of things. Even if you live in an area covered by the extensive BT network, there are distinct possibilities that you’ll have to endure a poor level of performance due to your proximity to the local telephone exchange.

Broadband only deals and offers may well be plentiful back in town, but if you’re away from populated areas then you may well have to be just a little bit canny in order to pep up the performance of your current Internet connection.

People in this kind of scenario can often find that any chance of NGA, or next generation access, will be sorely forgotten because the range of next-generation optic fibres does not extend to them.

Faster, faster

Although Ofcom has already stated that the average UK broadband download speeds in the UK back in 2009 were 4.1mbps, many rural user still get far from that sort of performance even now. Of course, there are some things you can do to get a little bit more out of your current connection. Start by using the free tools on broadband comparison websites to find out what sort of speed you’re currently obtaining.

If it’s poor, or fluctuating, then you could try tracing back all of your cabling, repositioning routers, refreshing your supply of filters to the phone points and also shortening the distance between the connection point and your computer. If you’re on a conventional BT landline ADSL setup, or one that comes via their network, but through a different Internet service provider, then you may have the same problem.

Clearing interference

And while wireless broadband via a router at home can be handy, it can also mean slower connectivity. If you have problems, then try relocating your device to sit closer to the machine you’re using. Remember that these devices can suffer interference too, not only from things like walls and other obstructions, but also devices including baby monitors.

There are plenty of things that can slow down a broadband Internet connection, so working methodically back through the obvious potential suspects may reveal a defect or positioning issue that could resolve things a little and offer up a bit more speed.

Make a change

If all that fails to make much of a difference then consider another angle, including cable broadband from a provider such as Virgin Media. Their network doesn’t doesn’t cover all areas, but it could be a great alternative if you’re lucky enough to be in a catchment area.

Another route to take is that of mobile broadband, which is becoming cheaper, better performing and also very competitive. All of that means lots of great deals and offers for consumers, and although there are shortcomings with using large amounts of data, it can be an ideal solution if you consider yourself to be an average user of the high-speed Internet.

Film review: 300

Even though Armand is back from holiday, he is very busy, he tells me, so I will continue to guestblog…

Anyway, lucky old me got a tickets to the premiere of 300 last week (not, alas, as one of these funky favoured blogger-type people, but through the old-fashioned mainstream media). We got packed into screen 6 of the Vue, Leicester Square – several of the screens were filled with people, and this meant poor crew & cast carted from screen to screen to be introduced to the audience. Which meant we had to wait ages before we got to see it. Still, we got free popcorn.

First however, a warning, spoilers follow.

The basic plot is around the 480 BC Battle of Thermopylae, a battle where (according to the film) 300 Spartan warriors led by King Leonidas held off the 120,000-strong army of Xerxes I, until they were betrayed by John Merrick. Or something like that. The film isn’t that true to history, but then it is based on a Frank Miller graphic novel, and so you know what you’re getting beforehand; you’re not getting Simon Schama strolling across the battlefield drily describing what went on – you’re going to get smacked in the face with a fist with the words “dramatic re-interpretation” all over it. So don’t complain, just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Trying to sum the film up to Tom on the way out, I came up with the three words: “exquisitely choreographed ultraviolence”. The film is visually gorgeous and compelling, yet the acts depicted in are unashamedly brutal and ought to be ugly and repellent. There are severed heads and limbs, impalements, and acts that today would be quite gross abuses of the Geneva Conventions. However, the CGI-enhanced presentation turns it into something else; time is slowed and sped up alternately, as we see the warriors fight and spear and kill in ballet-like motion; the battlefield is turned into a elaborate stage, the warriors lit like models on a catwalk and framed by a perfectly-tailored landscape. The result is so engrossing, so hyperreal, that I ended up being neither appalled nor excited by the violence; instead I was just entranced.

Frank Miller’s fascination with the grotesque and fantastical runs through this thickly, from the depiction of the leprous Ephors, mystical priests who are bribed by Xerxes, to the hunchbacked Ephialtes, who after being rejected, betrays the Spartans. In fact, it’s pretty much safe to say that all the good guys are flawless specimens, while the baddies are thronged with the repulsive. As Tom Reynolds puts it:

It seems that the Persians have a more inclusive role in the society for the disabled, yet they are the bad guys.

The creators of this film best be careful, that sort of thinking got Glenn Hoddle into a lot of trouble a few years ago.

Anyway, the film’s imagery of the flawless, buffed European warriors versus the multitudinous hordes of disfigured Asians isn’t exactly subtle, and as Scaryduck puts it:

Loaded with U.S. vs Them imagery, the Persians are portrayed as swarthy sexual deviant warmongers bent only on the destruction of those good, white, European Greeks. Unable to learn from their mistakes, they use force of numbers against the more intelligent, better organised Spartans to no avail. Because, hell yeah, we’re number one.

Indeed, the best other parallel in fiction I can think of is in Star Trek. The Spartans are the Federation, where a cabal of few (mostly human, mostly Western) highly-skilled, highly principled individuals are fighting against a collective of disparate races assimiliated together into one massed unit, i.e. the Borg, the one continual ever-present bad guys throughout the latter 20 years of the series, which of course was borne out of American fears of the Soviet threat and Reagan’s Evil Empire in the 1980s. I’ll leave you to work out what the film’s creators have used as their inspiration.

Just in case you don’t get this point, then there’s a nice subplot involving Gorga, Leonidas’ wife, who tries to get the Spartan parliament to send reinforcements, culminating in an impassioned speech for “Justice, truth, and law and order”. It’s all a bit too “Atticus Finch in the 5th Century BC” to take seriously, mapping a modern western ideal of liberal democracy back onto a society where democracy was still very much in its infancy at the time. As Tom put it to me on the way back home on the Tube, she might as well have added “… and a separation of powers, a second chamber directly elected by proportional representation and no DRM on our CDs!”

Not that any of this makes 300 a bad film. It’s just that it wears its politics awkwardly on its sleeve; afraid the message will get confused or the audience will come away not thinking precisely what you want them to think, the writers and directors hammer the point home far too unsubtly. Quite frankly, if you’re going to do that, then at least follow Team America: World Police‘s lead and make it funny (warning – rude language in that link).

The political fumblings aside, it is a good film, with a decent enough script and plot. The direction is tight, keeping the film well-paced and not overlong despite the obvious temptation to do so. And it’s helped by a good cast; Gerard Butler gives a mighty performance as Leonidas, like a young Brian Blessed, while the very beautiful Lena Headey as Gorga does well despite the shoddy lines she has to deliver. The supporting cast all perform well, with Butler supported by a load of suitably roary and fighty Spartans, and Rodrigo Santoro playes Xerxes as a superbly camp yet insecure man-god, whilst looking like a nine-foot tall Richard O’Brien; yes, this is the same Rodrigo Santoro who plays the very hirsute (and annoying) Paolo in LOST.

And to bring it all together, there is the beautiful presentation. You might think that it’s a triumph of style of substance, but you’d be wrong; the style is the substance. The film’s depiction makes it go beyond real, into the more than real. It is an interesting thing to think about – this kind of film would have been impossible to make ten years ago, yet the technology available now means we can meld truly fantastic (in the original sense) and compelling effects into live action absolutely seamlessly. What 300 does so well is that it isn’t just a load of effects with the plot and dialogue as cinematic Polyfilla; rather they are combined into a compelling and enthralling whole that cannot be separated. That takes the film as a spectacle on the next level, and that’s what made it such an enjoyable experience.

Some reflections on geekdom

Haha! The opportunity to take over every site in the world, one WordPress login at a time, begins! Only I have to not swear while I’m doing this.

So… let’s talk about geeks. The word itself has a weird and wonderful origin:

Etymology: probably from English dialect geek, geck fool, from Low German geck, from Middle Low German
1 : a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake

But of course it has a much different meaning in the modern day. But what exactly is it? Armand and I both proudly self-identify as geeks, but defining what makes you a geek is a bit tricky. Armand and I have often discussed the matter, and a few months ago Armand put forward a mostly agreeable definition of “A person with great passion for life, and things in it” but to me it doesn’t quite capture the essence. Passion is not enough; it’s the slightly neurotic devotion that we have to whatever it is we’re fans of that sets it apart. In addition, the word “passion” is becoming increasingly misused and co-opted by business-speak, and by using it we may be muddying the waters:

We’ve used up so many great and needed words this way, and passion is a sacred one. It’s the language of Abelard and Heloise, Petrarch, Anna Karenina, Beethoven, and Oppenheimer. It belongs to lovers, artists, and worldchangers—who rarely need to talk about it, because they live it—and it means something more than “kick it up a notch.” We have good words for what we need—curiosity, enthusiasm, craftsmanship, and dedication. Let’s stick to them, and save passion for when we (really) mean it.

Curiosity, enthusiasm, craftsmanship, and dedication are all geek-like qualities in addition to passion, particularly craftmanship; the pride one takes in a particularly good bit of code, or an astoundingly funky design, or an excellent and nuanced insight. At least, in my opinion. But it means we’re left with a less snappy tagline.

Even with additional embellishment, we are still left a lot of latitude about what geeks are into; defining an actual “geek culture” it is actually quite hard. I for example, have always been far more into computery geek things, leading to all-too amusing situations where I’ll send Armand a link to an XKCD comic strip (such as this one, which I now have on a T-shirt) and Armand is left having to ask me to explain it. At the same time, I know next to nothing about graphic novels and fantasy sci-fi, while Armand’s knowledge (and personal library) is staggering.

Trying to pin us down to particular cut and dried stereotypes about our hobbies and interests is never going to work. Still, you can trace particular threads through much geekdom, extrapolating from the basics established above: an attraction to novelty, regression to childhood delights, an unerring devotion to the topic at hand and an eye for detail, with a strong streak of fantasy and idealism. Putting it like this, it makes us sound dangerously autistic, verging on a state of permanent infancy. And yet, for the most part, the geeks I know are functional and sophisticated adults as well, even if it can take a little longer to get to know or appreciate these qualities.

Of course, all this shows is that you cannot rely on a single identity to live by, which is as obvious for this as it is for any other form of identity, be it gender, race, religion, politics etc. But it’s a trap a lot of people seem to fall into; in over-emphasising the geek aspect over the others. As wonderful and enjoyable as it is, you should never let it rule your life.

Sheila blog stats

Sheila’s done some good blogging in my absence. She’s achieved the following:

    Approx 300 visitors per day (closer to 40 once you strip out the ‘bots’, but not far off this site’s average)
    9 blog posts
    15 comments (well above my average!!)
    A currently indeterminate, but significant,number of emails
    A first ever blog comment from Daddy!

Which is great! But… (suspenseful pause) Sheila’s considering NOT BLOGGING anymore. Which would be a decision but, I feel, a wrong one. Please encourage Sheila to either set up her own blog or to consider ongoing guestblogging on division6 until she feels comfortable spreading her wings – send emails to her usual address, or post comments here (preferably the latter!).

Lit Agents, Elephants, Return of The Budge

‘An agent’s like a third wheel’ patiently explained a manager in my department.

‘An agent’s like a real estate agent’ whispered a publisher after a lengthy meeting with one.

‘Selling a book is like pushing a baby elephant up a hill’ said an agent.

So…this is an elephant on wheels.

I think you’ll all agree this is an excellent post to end my guest blogging career on Budge’s website.
Thank you all for reading. We shall now be returning to tech-chat par excellence.

Welcome back Budge.

A day and a titleline just for Daddy

Happy Father’s day to all fathers reading this!

(I suspect it might just be you daddy, so Happy Father’s Day. Some sterling fathering you’ve done so far, results can’t be argued with, so keep up the good work.)

God bless daddy, god bless his beard. Today I listened to Handbags and Gladrags, The Wichita Linesman, RaRaRasputin and The Circle of Life in tribute to daddy and his musical taste. After all, it did shape mine.

Barbeques and Artichokes

Thursday evening had been just too hectic, I realised walking into work on Friday, feet sinking into the pavement and eyes slits against the light. Now, having found large dark glasses which take up somewhere between 1/2 – 3/4 of my face, I’m feeling much much better.

Thursday’s first party was jolly. Wine, noisy publishers, ruddy cheeked agents dashing about with bottles and writers ‘schmoozing’ away. I only have one small quibble. Canapes should be bite-sized. They should be dainty and delectable. Fist sized artichoke hearts should not play a key role. There should be few tartes and more tartines and tartelets.

The four of us in our mid-twenties located each other very quickly, taking up sentry post by the front door, and sitting happily with a bottle of wine in between us. An editorial assistant at a well-known London house had just completed her first project, an erotic reminiscence of sorts. I.T. had been blocking lots of her emails thinking they were spam because the language content was so explicit!

Then south, to Clapham, where I had perfect timing, arriving at the barbeque as the first burgers were ready. 9pm, and still so mild. Gorgeous start to summer. Back to the question first raised at Imo’s bbq last month, “How many bankers/chartered surveyors does it take to work a barbequeue?” Very school disco with all the girls sitting demurely at the table and all boys semi-circled around the bbq.

It’s the weekend : nuff said.

Terrible experience at the National Theatre

After work today I skipped down to the South Bank. The English were all out in their summer gear. Not a jacket or a brolly in sight. I scowled at the lot of them, and headed into the giant cement legomonster that is the National Theatre. I collected the tickets and found a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc at the bar. My mood got even better when the pinstriped one arrived, swinging his red man-brolly, complete with glossy wooden handle.

The play, The Royal Hunt of the Sun, is listed on the National’s site as ‘…the clash between two cultures leaves thousands of unarmed Inca troops slaughteres and sparks and intense battles of wills between the sun-god and his captor…’ You can see this in full at It was like a badly animated cartoon. The ten pounds I’d paid for my (extremely good) seat seemed an exorbitant amount to have to sit through it. Simplistic, unsophisticated, completely cringeworthy dramatisation. The Inca god spoke in a similar style to Ken Brannagh’s Benedict in Much Ado about Nothing, diguising himself from Beatrice at the masque.

The pin-striped one and I made our exit at the interval and wandered up the bank, delighted that we’d escaped safely.

Next time I decide I want culture, am so picking up Jilly Cooper’s ‘Wicked.’ You can find it on by searching for Jilly Cooper, legend.

Brideshead Vs Gatsby

Hello, Sheila here. This is my first blog post. At 14 I created a rather tragic website with the aid of my technologically advanced brother which featured pages titled ‘My friends’ and ‘My holidays’. I’m hoping to move away from the delightfully egocentric world-vision of youth, into the wonderfully self-centred observations of my early-twenties.

Firstly I hope everyone’s having a happy start to the summer time.

Was at a Brideshead themed party the night before last. Actually Brideshead Vs The Great Gatsby, so you could pick your nation. It was such a gorgeous day, and as the sun didn’t seem to set till about 8, we stood on the lawn drinking pimms for hours, surrounded by velvet smoking-jacketed men, young boys carrying old bears, beplumed girls wearing pleated dresses. The only hint of reality operating was given by heels slipping into soft ground.

Yesterday, got back to London. Budge and I headed up to the park and fell asleep in the sun. Actually I fell asleep, he read 100 pages of his small shiny-covered fat fantasy book. I took Ali Smith’s The Accidental with me. It’s taking me ages to read it. Stuck in someone else’s stream of consciousness is something which seems to take me a little while to get used to.

Another hot day today, hope everyone’s having a lovely day, maybe drinking bloody marys with ben harper singing in the background and culture in their laps.