goznet ...

David's diary: July 1997

Well the latest news in brief is ... I'm back on talking terms with Kate, which is more of a relief than many people will probably appreciate. I would have hated to have completely lost her as a friend, and that now thankfully looks like it won't be the case, and we are both trying ever-so hard not to upset each other I think. And the summer holiday is slowly taking shape; I have found at least a couple of airlines running services out to Graz and/or Ljubljana, and the prices are not horrendous, though I am hoping to get the low-down on Adria's pricing, which will hopefully be more competitive than Lufthansa, leaving me more beer money once I'm out there.

Regarding Kate, I am mightily relieved it has worked out this way, and it seems a great big cloud has been lifted now we seem to have reached some common understanding that we don't want it to get any more personal for the time being. I don't know what the future holds, but last time round we seemed to have somehow missed out on the being just good friends bit, so I'm going to make the most of that bit this time round!

Back at home again, and some interesting news. Almost a year on from my first car being stolen, the police have the culprit in prison - not specifically for stealing my car, though; the guy was in prison for other offences, and he recently admitted to the theft of my car too. The police say it is highly unlikely, given that he's behind bars anyway, that there would be much chance of compensation or an increased sentence, but it's reassuring to know the matter can finally be closed, and I don't have to view with suspicion every group of youths which passes by the house. I will be forwarding a copy of the police's letter to my insurers anyway, just in case it has any bearing on anything - they did say at the time that the payout they made was on the basis that no culprit had been found - though I'm not particularly hopeful, and in any case, I had - and still do really - considered that episode closed. It makes me wonder why the guy is in prison though, given that most joyriders - unless they actually kill anyone - just get let off with slapped wrists, and indeed whether my car was taken purely for joyriding, or if it was used in connection with some other traditionally more seriously-punushable offence such as a burglary.

This weekend of course also saw the landing on Mars of the Pathfinder probe. Now whilst there are a few technical problems that threaten to seriously disappoint, the pictures it has sent back so far have been pretty stunning, although Howard Stableford on the Open Saturday television broadcast did seem to tire a little of continually pointing out rocks, rocks and yet more rocks. Hopefully, with the Martian sunrise in a few minutes, they'll be able to do something to release the Sojourner buggy and yet more fantastic pictures and scientific data will be beamed back to Earth. The television programmes are of course recklessly sensationalist, even the documentary ones - and sadly Open Saturday, an Open University production, was as bad as any in that respect - quietly ignoring the fact that Pathfinder is not actively doing anything to prove or disprove the existence now, or at any time in the past, of life on Mars, that being the task of subsequent probes over the next few years.

The holiday plans for the summer are advancing a little, with details now of Adria's direct flights from Heathrow to Ljubljana; though they work out no cheaper than Lufthansa's fares, the fact that there is no transfer involved could be a big tempting factor. I realise I'll probably have to get a bit fitter over the next month or so, though I think I'll be fine, given that even Slovenia's aging president has climbed the mountain, and having been for a fair few walks lately, I am finding myself surprisingly energetic. I still think though that this holiday will be an immensely character-building experience; I would indeed be quite disappointed if I did not return as a pretty changed person, in one way or another. I used to climb lots of mountains when I was younger, though soon rather bored of the activity for its own sake, and still am not generally inspired by the thought of climbing lumps of rock, though I have to say that this, a realistically-attainable challenge, a peak over twice as high as Ben Nevis, in a country and culture I little understand, cannot help but bring me closer to nature and to the great Creator like nothing I have done previously, and even if I never climbed another mountain again, would be too great an opportunity to squander.

Another week passed by, and a fair bit done, I suppose. Monday saw my first appraisal at work. I was a bit worried about it - despite the best assurances from all my colleagues, and the fact that I knew it is supposed to be a positive experience - though it turned out to be perfectly fine, quite informal, and actually quite useful, unlike the poor apologies for appraisals offered by most companies these days. I now received back the report on the meeting and an action-plan, which I am supposed to comment on - if necessary - and hopefully approve, and I have to admit it does paint a very flattering picture which certainly can't do me any harm.

The molecular simulation is going quite well at work. I had a deadly serious meeting with the head and deputy head of unit, where we agreed on a radical action plan for the project, and so far, it seems to be reaping benefits. The project now seems almost certain to have a reasonable future, where only a few days ago it was looking very bleak indeed. If I can pull off a phoenix-style resurrection of the software, it will look very good on me, and if for any reason I can't, it won't be a disaster for me, because they had pretty much written it off before. So long as I do my best, I can't go far wrong, really.

I was looking into effects units earlier today; I want something combining the seemingly mutually impossible attributes of low cost, high flexibility and lush sound, and seem to be gravitating towards the Alesis range, in particular the latest incarnation of their tried and trusted Microverb, which is currently in the summer sales at my local music shop. The Microverb 4 is a no nonsense little module, with about a hundred dial-up programs and a couple of knobs for adjusting things like the decay time - simplicity itself. The sound quality seems to have improved by leaps and bounds since the earlier versions, and is really quite spacious.

With my CD player currently lying in bits on my other desk, I've recently been rediscovering tapes, in particular those recorded by my good friend Jim, a.k.a. U4ia, which he gave me earlier in the year, but I had barely had a chance to listen to at that time. This guy really is a musical genius, though he combines this genius with such a self-deprecating modesty that he is unlikely ever to get the break he deserves. He effortlessly manages to combine just about every musical style under the sun, producing immensely listenable concoctions blending drum'n'bass, acid house, jazz, orchestral, trance and much much more. It is so sad that people like Jim labour along in unsigned misery, but producing cracker after cracker, while complete tosh gets signed to major labels and is gone before you know it.

Not an altogether very happy weekend, though not all bad either. I think, either way, it is likely to be one I will look back upon as somewhat of a turning point. After church this morning I drove up to Willen Lake on the east side of the city, and had a good long stroll in the sun - I managed to dodge the intermittent and torrential showers - trying to get my head together about a problem which has recently emerged, to find a rational and reasonable solution that would hurt as few people, preferably including myself, as possible.

The Res Rocket Surfer project in which I am heavily involved, and have mentioned various times in this diary, seems to be going catastrophically pear-shaped. For those who are not aware, Res Rocket Surfer was set up a couple of years ago by a small group of musicians and programmers, in order to bring to the world a radical new internet-based MIDI music composition system, allowing people from all round the world to join in with more-or-less real-time jam sessions. Now, finally, the software is approaching public release, but the project has unfortunately turned from being a friendly community type thing, into being a faceless money-making machine, with its loyal members who have stuck with it for the last couple of years ripe for extortion.

For a number of reasons related to this, I feel unable to continue to have any relationship with the project. The last thing I want to do is be around - and apparently accountable - when the credit card numbers start getting gleefully collected and the real uproar no doubt results. At the moment I nominally run their biggest mailing-list and one of their web-sites, and have been earmarked to do on-line technical support for the internet jamming software. I am not paid a penny at present, though I am seen by most as being more than a regular member, and am sometimes expected to speak on behalf of the organisation. I have managed to politely refuse the technical support role, but pulling out of my other responsibilities and the project as a whole have the potential to hurt - both me and others - a lot more.

In short, I have a wonderful set of friends in the Res Rocket community - even more so than on Monochrome, and that says something! - and I will be sad to lose them. However I am well aware that the sentiments I have expressed are widespread, and many of those friends are similarly expected to be saying their farewells from the project within the next few weeks. So this is a hard, and not happy decision, though I think it's for the best, and will release more time for other projects, both musical and otherwise. I predict a mass-exodus of the current membership when the software and charging structures go live, and unless they can pull off something pretty amazing on the marketing front, I see the project being an embarrassing and entirely avoidable failure within the next six months; I and others are not too keen on the idea of being around for the mopping-up operation, so now certainly seems a good time to bow out with face saved.

So it's now just a matter of deciding how best to call it a day with tact and consideration, though however I do it, it must be done sooner rather than later; even the odd day could make a difference now, with the speed at which the Res Rocket Surfer money-making machine is grinding itself into gear for the big launch. I, for one, certainly don't plan on being there to sup the champagne.

Quite a productive day. I got the molecular simulation working pretty much smoothly, and totally reliably, and nicely demonstrating dynamic equilibrium as required. It's running about 10% quicker than the version I inherited, which could be critical is getting the software to work acceptably on the lowest specification machines recommended for the course, i.e. 486DX2/66. Having got the basic simulation working pretty solidly, now I can expand it to do the other bits and pieces required; the previous version had lots of very pretty bells and whistles but was not reliable underneath.

A problem came to light with the beam simulation software I had been working on previously. It was nothing too hard to fix - though I was kicking myself that I let it slip through - but it was a bit hard getting the revised version of the software up to UMIST where it was being used, especially with e-mail systems playing up big-time. On the basis that I didn't hear from UMIST again after lunchtime, I am assuming that they did eventually succeed, and that everything is all right. If all else fails, I will have to go up there myself - all expenses paid, of course - which would be an experience if nothing else...

It's been good talking to Rhythm and Sax on here for the last couple of days. Now I know they are far from being the only ones on Mono, but they are both Christians, and it's cool that they have been prepared to talk openly with me. I find it quite hard to share my faith, even with people I know to be Christians. I guess I'm basically pretty shy, because it's not just sharing faith that I find difficult. I'm fine once I get talking to anyone, but breaking the initial ice is something that I am all too often afraid about before the event, though it rarely turns out to be a problem in practice.

I see there has been some heated discussion in the Wayfarers section on Mono over the last few days. I tend to sit back and watch, mainly because I'm pretty good at putting my foot in my mouth whenever I contribute to controversial discussions of any nature. The main point being made seems to be that Christians are all too often too pushy in their evangelism, and enjoy an unfair advantage in way religion is taught in British schools and so on. I have to say that I do have a degree of sympathy for the sentiment, though I would hope that those people who have been critical are complaining primarily about the manner of delivery of the message than the substance of the message itself.

It is true that those professing the Christian faith have in the past - and continue to, however unwittingly - frequently done the faith no real favours, but it is not the fault of Jesus or of God, but of excessive and frequently insensitive enthusiasm brought on by sheer human weakness. I would be the first to admit that I am no evangelist, and indeed that I am not the world's biggest fan of "doorknocking", old-style missionary work, and other intrusive techniques of evangelism. However, I believe everyone has a right to know the truth about Jesus, and would always aim to be approachable to passively evangelise through sound guidance and example. God is powerful enough - one plus point of being omnipotent, I guess - that He will ultimately and inexorably draw in His people regardless, in the same way as He did with me four years ago, when I first truly came to faith, and as He did again when I joined the MKCF last year.

Nevertheless, there are positive methods of active evangelism, where good example with a message can be promoted in a non-confrontational atmosphere. A good example of this is the Lighthouse project in which I have been involved in the past, which provides a fun week of Christian oriented holiday activities for kids of all ages - including some grown up ones! Crafts, games, drama and music are interspersed with more obvious Christian activities, and it is pretty much universally enjoyed. The event attracts anything up to 2000 children per day, drawn from a reasonably small catchment area. It is plainly obvious that only a small percentage of those children come from a real Christian background, but the fact that they can all enjoy it so much is wonderful, and if even some small seed can be sown - and an entirely positive seed at that - there is the potential of many more wonders to come. Of course, a large percentage of those children attending are basically dumped there by parents wanting some relief, but once you accept that, it soon becomes obvious that there are far worse potential dumping grounds!

So in conclusion, there are good, and bad, ways of spreading the faith. Unfortunately the most obvious ways are frequently the worst, which will inevitably attact uninformed criticism, with people sadly unaware of the very positive ways in which the message can be put across, in a manner that truly benefits society, sometimes not with instant gratification, but frequently in a manner which may only become obvious in years or even generations to come.

Oh - and before anyone accuses me of being anything more than passive in my evangelism here, just remember, no-one forces you to read this diary!

I'm about to head off home for the weekend, but thought I would put in a quick diary entry before doing so. This week saw a real turning point for my involvement in the Res Rocket Surfer project. Readers will recall that I was getting increasingly annoyed with various aspects of the running of the organisation, but early this week came the final straw. I had - in good faith, I believe - been asked to run perhaps their busiest mailing list and its accompanying web site, and I had agreed to do so on a voluntary basis. Since that agreement, I had been awaiting passwords etc to enable me to do the job properly, and upload some of the resources I had spent time gathering, and so on. But then, a few days ago, a new mailing list member mailed me complaining that the web site wasn't there any more, and a quick check confirmed this to be the case.

As the person responsible for this resource, I immediately contacted the management, and eventually got a pathetic reply, basically saying they had a professional web team - who they can't afford to employ, oddly enough - and that allowing me access to their new servers was too much of a security risk. They would try and fit the development of a new site into their schedule, but could make no promises that it would ever be replaced as such. Nothing else by way of apology, or explanation, and this had all happened completely without warning. Since that was all the thanks I was going to get for putting time, effort and travel into the project, I did the only decent thing and tendered my immediate resignation from all formal involvement with the organisation. No-one official has yet had the decency to reply to that - for them to acknowledge what has happened is probably too much for them to handle - though the many messages I have received from other ordinary members have been entirely positive and understanding, and entirely convinced me that I did the right thing. I am remaining an ordinary member of the organisation for the immediate future, though will probably have to largely pull out once they finally unroll their commercial for-profit service, for both technical and ethical reasons.

The chemical equilibrium thing at work is going well now. Today I put the (almost!) final touches to two sections, which appear to be working reliably and quickly, unlike the program I inherited. Thankfully I have managed to largely re-use the code and graphics I was originally given, so there should be no bitterness from the previous programming - who is still working on campus and still shows his face occasionally - or the graphics designer responsible for a lot of the artwork, who I gather had heard some rumours that prospects were a lot worse than they actually are. The molecules now bounce around smoothly and happily at about 40 animation frames per second, and the explosions - yes, it's a bit sensationalist, I know, but there was good reason - when they collide and react are now nicely animated rather than just flashing instantaneously. By splitting the project into a number of interacting, but separate executable modules, the logic has been simplified immensely, so that hopefully anyone else needing to modify the code in the future would at least have a small chance of making head or tail of it.

In an intriguing twist to the Res Rocket Surfer debacle, a Swedish guy contacted me asking if I would like to write an article about the organisation, for an on-line magazine he runs. I accepted in principle, and have started to get together some words. In trying to make such an article as balanced as possible, it is a great opportunity to sit down and think absolutely rationally about the good and bad aspects of Res Rocket Surfer, judgment which may well have been clouded by recent events.

In no way do I want to slate the organisation, but in the best interests of the magazine readership, I must show caution where it is due. It is reassuring though, that so far, most of it has come out as a generally enthusiastic endorsement, with the main concerns centred on the charging structures and an uncertainty of the organisation's ability to cope - from both a technical and human standpoint - with the unpredictable, but nevertheless exciting, ball it has set rolling.

I should emphasise that none of this has changed in any way my official position after the recent unfortunate events. I still have no wish to return to formal involvement with Res Rocket Surfer, finding that for the time being at least, I can enjoy all the positive aspects as a regular member, whilst avoiding the less savoury issues with which I would almost certainly continue to come into contact if I took any more executive role in the organisation. Put simply, I am happy where I am, because I can speak positively about what I can see from here, and after all the effort - now being eroded - that has been put into Res Rocket Surfer by its enthusiastic founders and its loyal membership, I would find it painful to do otherwise.

With all this extra time released by pulling out of my previous Res Rocket Surfer responsibilities - and no doubt yet more when I inevitably withdraw altogether - I really have no excuse now not to get on with this recording project of mine. Hopefully I will get the effects processor I need within the next week, then I can get down to compiling all these ideas and MIDI-file snippets into something worthwhile and hopefully marketable in some form.

I'm still not at all sure about specific content, or even the style, but am pretty sure I have enough to be going on with. My studio set-up is not that huge, and a little eccentric, but I think will serve me fine. I'll worry about proper mixing and recording when the time comes, and I might well be able to borrow or hire such stuff as appropriate if it seemed rather excessive to buy things I would use so rarely, though a proper mixing desk and DAT recorder probably would be good investments if I could afford them.

Over time, the AWE32 has become less of a workhorse, though still a vital controlling hub. It will still be used for the odd sample, and for any realistic instruments required, but once I have the effects, the K1r will come into its own for lush strings and choirs and some of my other modules will take on a new lease of life. The newest bit of gear is currently the VL70 module, though ironically, I expect that to be used most of all for emulating analogue synthesisers of the 70's and 80's. It's odd how these things turn around!

Res Rocket Surfer gets more ridiculous by the minute. Now not only will one particular guy refuse to get it out of his head that this whole episode was a personal attack on him, which was something I had been consciously trying to avoid all along, in the knowledge that the guy in question had absoutely nothing to do with it despite any appearances to the contrary, but now another guy is effectively saying that he has been responsible for the whole mailing list and everything all along, that I was effectively a self-styled leader, that my demise was an irrelevance, and that he would be carrying on as before. Now that's patently untrue, because I was specifically offered the job, though I consider the guy in question to be yet another victim, no doubt not told when I took over his role, even though I had assumed all that had been previously negotiated. Once again, a communications failure that ends up making all involved look very silly and betraying the genuine professionalism shown by most of the staff members. Frankly this all makes me even more glad to be officially out of it, though as a friend of both those directly involved here, there certainly are important issues to be resolved rather than walked away from, and the fact that those issues are as a result of communications breakdowns rather than anyone in particular's misconduct sadly strikes at the organisation as a whole.

I got a bit further with the molecular simulation thing today, adding some of the features required by all the software that is part of this particular project. The basic simulation has been complete for several days, but now any pretence of good design has been wrecked by the integration of sound clips and other more superficial things. Everyone involved with the project thinks the graphics designers went way over the top with fancy textures, buttons that light up when you move the mouse over them, and visibly squidge when you click them, to the extent that certainly for some of the modules, the software designers have been spending more time on unnecessary presentational issues than on the underlying scientific models. Some designers were able to rationalise this, but in the case of the software I inherited, I would certainly say that presentation had taken priority over actual content, to the extent that the previous software designer was more concerned that his on-screen buttons had a nice clicking action than that the program crashed inexplicably every few minutes, rendering it unusable no matter how pretty it looked. Needless to say, I am trying to ensure that any projects over which I have any design control as far as possible steer well clear of hefty graphics, antialiasing, non-standard buttons, and anything else that promises to make a mockery of the real software underneath. Never again do I want to risk there being, in the words of a senior member of staff, after six months' work, "no product".

Wonders never cease. I am hopeful that I will very shortly be returning to my position within Res Rocket Surfer. They are adamant that they want me back, and that puts me in a strong bargaining position. I have stated a set of very reasonable conditions for my return, for the protection of everyone - not just me! - concerned, which centre around establishing official lines of communication between the various parties involved. I have yet to hear back from them, but if they are a decent and professional organisation they can only agree to meet with the conditions stated. If they won't meet with them, then I would have to doubt their sincerity and call it a day once and for all as an organisation not worth doing business with, though I would of course be open to discussion of minor details. We'll see... More news as and when.

My office-mate at work left me a message that the boss from my old company had telephoned, with instructions to ring him back. This I did, but I have only managed to get his voice-mail, though I have asked him to get in touch with me back here at the flat now. I hear through the ex-employee grapevine, however, that something big is going down. I have no details, which is why I am anxious to hear direct from the boss, but it appears that the company is being drastically scaled down, spelling - quote - "the end of Last Unicorn as we knew it". I have known for ages that the company was doomed, and that it was just going to be a matter of time, but now it seems that the point of no return has been reached and the boss is engaging emergency measures to save face. He has never had a company fail on him, and I don't think he wants to lose that reputation. My main concerns would be that I am paid the money they owe me - not a huge amount, but enough to want to chase it - and that the best interests of the software I produced for them are served in whatever action is taken.

Not the most exciting weekend ever, but I guess it's not too bad. I finally got round to getting this long-awaited audio effects box this morning, buying an Alesis Microverb 4 in the summer sales. Like the weekend, it's not terrifically exciting, but it does what it's supposed to, which is to make things sound nicer in a variety of different ways depending on the occasion! It doesn't have a power switch, which is a bit of a silly omission, but that made a good excuse for me to reorganise the wiring of my musical stuff, so that it's all powered from one wall-socket now, which can be turned off without disabling the answerphone, PC or television... Also, with the advances of technology, the unit is only about three inches deep, rather than the more traditional seven or eight, which posed a few problems because I was reckoning on having my mixing desk sat on top of it, though a few unsold copies of my WaveCraft CD-ROM came in handy to prop things up as a temporary measure! I'll bring a small rack unit back from home next time I go, which will be a much tidier, more robust and permanent solution.

Then I went shopping again, just to do my regular starvation-prevention stuff, though popped into Smiths for a few stationery items, like a jiffy-bag - surprising the shop assistant that a CD really would just fit in a size-zero bag - and a new mid-year diary for work. Of course I forgot to take with me the whole clutch of post I needed to send, so I'll have to go out yet again this evening, probably grabbing a kebab en-route, knowing me!

But apart from that - and of course trying out the new effects thing at some length - not a lot really. I've been trying to be on-call more or less, in case Kate rings. She seems to be on a bit of a downer at the moment and is currently on her own. Serious things may be finished between us - or at least been put on hold - but we still care for each other immensely; I do worry when she goes through phases like this, and it seems all too often. I feel sure she is missing something, that not even she knows what it is, and that it is making her very unhappy with life. Because I don't wish to come over any stronger than I really feel, I find myself powerless to do a lot, though at the end of the day, she's more important than my hang-ups.

The holiday looks a bit closer to being planned. I have provisionally agreed a set of dates at the end of August, and it now seems the mountain climbing bit isn't quite as long as I'd thought, though still estimated at a three day trek if we go via the more scenic route. I'm planning on going for a week, which will allow us to pick and choose a bit, weatherwise - the thought of spending three days walking up a 10,000-foot mountain in pouring rain is not one that appeals particularly, though it's frankly not too likely. Mind you, I've spent similar lengths of time camped out and hiking on Dartmoor in atrocious conditions, but then I wasn't paying good money to do so! So far, Slovenia has managed to avoid the terrible floods that have swept across much of eastern Europe, though apparently Austria got hit hard, and it's not far from the Austrian border where we'll be going...

Oh yes, just had a phone call from my friend Jon, reminding me - in fact I didn't know - that the church is having a picnic in Willen Park tomorrow, and that needless to say, I should bring a packed lunch and things with me since we would be going there straight after the service. Weather permitting, that should be nice, and an opportunity no doubt to meet more people properly - although I've been going for getting on for about ten months now, there are still lots of people I've never really got around to talking to properly, which is a real pity, but hopefully easy to rectify given a friendly and informal event like this one!

Well the picnic yesterday afternoon was all very pleasant, and I found a few new people to talk to, though most of the folk were regulars. A good time was had by all, though, playing football, frisbee, and catching eggs - don't ask! The weather was gorgious, and frankly I couldn't have thought of a better way to spend a pretty lazy Sunday afternoon. I'm sure we will be having more such events before the summer is out...

The dates for the holiday have now been confirmed, so the only remaining hurdles - and knowing me, they really will be hurdles - will be to book the air ticket and sort my hiking kit out. So long as I book up by early August, I should be able to get the ticket at a semi-reasonable price, though it's still going to dent the finances whichever way I try to look at it. But if I don't do this, I'm unlikely to do anything much else, and that would be no good either.

I've just been watching a fascinating nature documentary, all about the cichlid fish living in Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania. These fish are incredible in their resourcefulness and ingenuity, and certainly make me think that humans have perhaps only been as successful as they have through being at the top of the food-chain and having rather useful hands, rather than through any great intellectual superiority.

Alcohol really can help software development. I had long suspected this to be the case but had never before had the courage (or should that be Courage) to put it to the test. But today I decided to leave work a bit early and put in half an hour's work at home instead. On getting home, copious cold beer was the only suitable refreshment, and upon finally getting down to the work, within minutes I had solved a problem that had been bugging me for days, and more elegantly than I could ever have hoped, no less!

This morning I successfully incorporated the QuickBasic subroutine I developed last night into the Delphi code for the chemical equilibrium application. This part of the code is concerned with showing how the relative proportions of reactant and product gases vary as the pressure and temperature in a closed reaction vessel are varied. I had a bit of a scare when the results started apparently going haywire, though inspecting the actual numbers, it became clear that the bug actually lay in the pie-chart drawing code rather than last night's calculation. The problem was swiftly, if rather inelegantly, fixed, and it all now seems to be working fine. Except that the results it produces are the exact opposite of those produced by the code I originally inherited, though there is evidence that the old code has a bug - not noticed because the author was concentrating on pretty graphics more than scientific validity - that could cause just that error. My office-mate pointed also out that if nitrogen and oxygen spontaneously reacted at run-of-the-mill termperatures - as the old code seemed to imply - our atmosphere would probably be totally unbreathable and the world uninhabitable!

Res Rocket Surfer's AWE32 web site suddenly and unexpectedly reappeared today, though there has been no official announcement, and I was not informed that anything was happening. I can only assume that the terms - agreed by everyone to whom I talked to be entirely reasonable - of my offer to maintain all this stuff once again, have been rejected, which is very sad, but I'm not going to make an issue of it, because it's simply not worth the bother of trying to negotiate anything like that with an organisation that is pretty much rotten to the core. I am still sticking around on the mailing list, trying to be the friendly and welcoming face that people were all so positive about and grateful for, but it wouldn't surprise me if even that role became untenable if too many people still consider me - despite my making the contrary quite clear - as some kind of official representative of this organisation. An organisation that is planning to reward its loyal and enthusiastic membership base built up over two years with extortionate annual membership fees if they wish to stay, a cynical about-turn that has been pretty much universally condemned by those very people Res Rocket naively relied on for support.

I just went to pay the balance on my car insurance, and found that Kwik-Fit have apparently managed to screw things up - I guess they wouldn't be in the insurance business if they were perfect though! I decided not to leave payment until the absolute deadline, because I did have a few queries, and it was just as well because they wouldn't have been able to issue the final certificate to me until after the present cover-note had expired.

However, just checking down my bank statement for last month, I found that in relieving me of my seventy-pound deposit, they had deducted an additional fifty pounds to which they weren't entitled, and which they now can't trace on their system. Thankfully they were very nice about it, are currently making further enquiries, and have promised to ring me back this evening.

However let this be a warning to everyone to make sure they check their bank statements carefully, particularly if they have made large direct-debit payments, and especially those done over the telephone without real authenticaton. I'm not saying for a moment that Kwik-Fit were being at all disreputable; I'm sure it was just an honest mistake, but one that will inevitably happen from time to time when human fallibility is a limiting factor in the transaction process.

Well they've just rung back and still can't trace the rogue payment, but say they'll look into again tomorrow and someone will ring me at work about it. I will keep you all posted...

Kwik-Fit rang me back this afternoon, and the rogue payment problem has been resolved. It was exactly as I had expected - when processing the day's batch of payments, they had accidentally keyed in another person's deposit using my bank details, so someone somewhere's been having nice cheap car insurance at my expense... As I said before, these things will inevitably happen where fallible humans are relied upon as the weakest link in the chain, though thankfully Kwik-Fit sorted this particular problem out quickly enough, and hope to have the money back in my account within the next couple of days. I feel confident enough again now to ring them - as I had hoped last night, before finding that tell-tale bank statement - to settle the balance of my premium and get my year's paperwork through.

Phil here at work has had a look at how I'm getting on with the chemical equilibrium stuff and seems really pleased. OK, so he found some glaring problems in connection with Windows font sizes - such things are notorious for plaguing Windows doftware development - but they were easily fixed, and now it all seems to be working just fine. There's still a lot to be done, but he seems as confident as I do - which is reasonably so! - that we now have a solid scientific base to start getting a bit more adventurous around as far as media content and so on are concerned.

Needless to say, my paying off of the balance went without a hitch, though I will of course be triple-scrutinising my next bank statement...

Another pretty ordinary day at work. Paid off all my outstanding bills, and got a bit further with this chemical equilibrium thing. The main highlight though was getting the following letter through from the personnel department:

Dear Mr Gosnell

I am pleased to tell you that you have satisfactorily completed your probationary period with the Open University, and on the recommendation of the Director, Academic Computing Services, your temporary appointment as Software Designer, Grade 2 in the Academic Computing Services, is confirmed with immediate effect.

Personnel Officer

I'm not at all sure they know what they've let themselves in for... Even more worryingly, that means I've now been with the university for getting on for a year!

I also got official news of what's happening to Last Unicorn, the company I used to work for. I had already heard vague rumours, but it was confirmed today that Last Unicorn is being drastically scaled down - amazing when it only had one full-time member of staff as it was! I don't really expect it to last much longer now, because there will not be permanent manning of the telephone during regular office hours, making it more or less impossible for them to process customer orders or studio bookings, which they rely on for day-to-day income. They are still hopeful of pulling off some small bundling deals for my software, which could just save the day, but on past performance I am not holding out a great deal of hope.

My main continuing responsibility is for their web site, and even that looks likely to be shut down soon, though they are going to consider some other options for maintaining a more cost-effective web presence - vital when perhaps 75% of their business is generated through the web. It is good though that the boss is finally facing reality and categorically saying that if the company can't break even now, he will pull the plug on it; although it would be sad, I think that would be for the best, because it's not doing anyone any good muddling along as it is at present, even if it happened to make a few pounds profit in a couple of unusually lucky months.

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