David's diary: April 1998
April Fool's Day, and everyone was simply too busy this morning to have any fun and games - except in the usual non-humorous sense, of course. As I lay in the bath before leaving for work, my night's tally of three things still to do to the Chemical equilibrium software upped itself to about half a dozen, and breakfast added another two or three. In any case, I had ample to do in the morning, but I still managed to get it all done by - an only marginally late - lunchtime, and it's now safely with QA for testing.
At the same time as handing over the Chemical equilibrium software, I asked Lynda what the state of play was on the Electrons in atoms - bearing in mind I'd received a few late change requests from the course team - but that has apparently gone to duplication now, so they'll have to wait until next year at the earliest. After the initial glitch under Windows 3.1, no further reliability problems were found with that software, I am delighted to say. Hopefully Chemical equilibrium can fare at least as well.
To say that it is a relief to get all this stuff out of the way is only a slightly massive understatement. It really has been lingering and festering for far too long, indeed I can't really remember much about what I was doing before I was seconded onto S103 last summer. It's only really starting to dawn on me just how massive a psychological and intellectual release it is to have finished it, and what major changes it is likely to herald in my work patterns, the academics I deal with from day to day, and so on.
I had a chat with Ian about the technology faculty projects they are trying to steer me back on to, now that S103 is but a rapidly receding memory. The software I am likely to be working on first is another conversion of an old GEM program into Windows. There seems to be a number of projects of this nature, altogether; I guess it's an extremely positive reflection on the amount of software that we developed in the early days of the PC, and the quality of that software being such that it is still in great demand today.
This particular GEM program is a simulation of a hypothetical microprocessor's fetch-execute cycle, with a graphical representation of the the microprocessor on screen - i.e. registers, address and data buses etc - and animations of the data being pushed around the system as various instructions are executed. It's not going to be wildly complicated, indeed perhaps even a little boring, but it should be quite satisfying, and the fact that they want it completed by May does not present me with any great worries.
My birthday is well over a month away, but I seem to have found something to do that will be a treat both for me, and my mum who says she will come up here for the evening. Assuming it's not all fully booked already, we'll go and see Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy at the Stables in Wavendon. We've seen Martin live before - it's always a delight to hear him play - but only got Norma on CD, so that will be a new experience. My dad's leaving for France that morning, so it all works out rather well, altogether.
My boss had told me that whatever day I finally handed over the Chemical equilibrium software, I should take the next day off. OK, so it was only a morning rather than a whole day that I took in the end, but it was much needed, and I did something else that was even more overdue than my taking a breather from work. My continuing run of not-too-brilliant health reminded me that I really should register with a local doctor, and so this morning - as part of a wander into the city centre - I dropped into the Central MK Medical Centre, and am now on the rolls of one Dr Eric Webb.
I've got to go back to the medical centre after work Monday evening - with specimen bottle in hand - to have the routine health check they like all new patients to undergo these days, but I am now officially registered and can now rest a little easier - and avoid considerable parental nagging into the bargain! Of course, when I move at the end of May, it's quite likely I'll leave their official catchment area, but I'm sure it will be a smoother procedure to move to another practice now that I'm registered within the city at all.
I must have been half asleep when I ordered a Big Mac meal at Burger King, much to the amusement of the staff and customers around me - and myself once I'd got over the initial embarrassment. I'm not too sure about these cardboard boxes they're now selling Whoppers in; the old-style paper wrappers used to be good for keeping the garnish and stuff from slipping out all over your lap, and the buns seems to have a distinct tendency to stick to the inside of the new box, not coming off at all cleanly. But their burgers still remain by far the best of the major chains; it's just a pity their Whopper-for-a-pound promotional offer has ended.
So I got into work early afternoon, to find Phil working methodically through my Chemical equilibrium software, making painstaking notes in some quantity. He did assure me, however, that he'd found nothing seriously wrong, and it certainly hadn't crashed on him or anything nasty like that. He did then find a couple of blunders in the audio track - for which I was not directly responsible - which need rectifying, and might be tricky, but aside from that, there was nothing too pressing. Lynda had found a crash bug in part of the software, but her attempts to reproduce it failed, and she advised me not to worry about it unduly.
This afternoon was hardly my most intensive one ever, but I still managed to fix a couple of minor bugs that had emerged from the testing of the software, and I was also able to give a little thought to the microprocessor simulation I am supposed to be starting about now. Overall, it was nice just to be able to step down a gear for the day, to be able to do things that had perhaps been procrastinated over too long, and - for once - to truly be able to see the wood for the trees. And I know I'm not the only one...
There's nothing quite like a nice cool beer when you've just got in from a long day, wrapped up with a run - loosely speaking, bearing in mind this is me we're talking about - around the lake. Quite how I managed to make the mile and three-quarters last almost half an hour is a complete mystery, though I'll admit I wasn't running non-stop. Could do better, I guess, but I certainly feel it did me some good. Maybe next time I'll bring some more appropriate clothing; I did this very much on the spur of the moment, and was dressed up to the nines. There is a group of guys and girls from the church who run semi-regularly round the lake, and it would be a positive thing to aim for to be able to join them myself sometime, though I feel I'm still a way off, unable to manage more than about half a mile without resting.
As for the day at work, well it's still stepped down a gear from the last few weeks, but the Chemical equilibrium software is still loitering with intent. The QA testing only revealed very minor and easily-fixable bugs - apart from the Division by Zero one, which as far as I can tell must be something in the Delphi runtime library, given that I am not doing any division of the type that would produce the error message Lynda documented, and in any case, all attempts to reproduce it have failed miserably. But Phil's differently critical eye spotted a load of minor but niggling problems with the flow of things, and we've agreed that I will work until next Wednesday to try and rectify these.
I started looking at the microprocessor simulation project, and have some ideas now on how I am going to tackle it. One of the biggest issues - bearing in mind this is not a terribly complex program, really, only being a glorified animation - is the construction of the screen display. We are constrained by the fact that this has to be distributed on a floppy disk, so heavily-designed bitmaps are out of the question, but it still wants to be a bit more stylish than the barely-functional black and white line drawing in the GEM version. I have tentatively opted to design the screen as a Windows metafile, an efficient format for storing more complex presentation-style graphics, and which Delphi can use just as easily as bitmaps.
Apart from all that, the only other thing of note was that I have now booked tickets for the Waterson/Carthy gig. When I finally got through to their box office, everything went very smoothly, though I have to say it does seem a little haphazardly run. Having said that, the whole venue is very informal, and it would be a bit odd to have a highly professional booking service for what is virtually a spit-and-sawdust auditorium, from what I can gather. I took the girl's word for it that the tickets were in a good position, but she said she'd bought the same ones for her dad once and he was happy enough. I got a pound off each ticket, my mum's for being old, and my own for working at the OU, so we got quite a good deal, all told.
April is surely with us, with text-book weather for the month - beautifully sunny one moment, chucking it down with rain the next. I just about dodged the showers to do my shopping, and was certainly grateful for the shopping centre being under cover, and even when it wasn't raining, the skies were pretty inky and threatening-looking, with the odd rumble of thunder.
Annoyance of the day has to be that Chappells have now reduced the price of my guitar effects by a whole seventy pounds - though when I got it in January, it was in the sales, so I didn't quite pay the full price, thankfully. I guess this is just the way with hi-tech stuff's pricing, though I always thought Zoom gear was normally priced about as cheap as it could go.
On the other hand, falling prices of hi-tech stuff are - sometimes literally - music to ones ears. For example, I've been thinking for a while about getting a portable MiniDisc recorder, and just about every time I look at them, they've been reduced by another twenty or thirty quid, so by the time I've finished procrastinating, I should easily be able to afford one.
The open exhibition area saw a display of the new Mercedes A-class, and despite all the bad press about their stability - which I gather has now been rectified - I have to say I quite liked the design. There are certainly prettier cars, but at least these were both stylish and functionally-designed for safety and so on. Shame about the basic model's price tag, though.
Embarrassment of the day - since I managed to get my Burger King order right this time - had to be when I was looking at the cheap-and-nasty CD stand on the market, and the table behind me collapsed, scattering panpipe and singalong discs everywhere. No-one seemed to care too much - and it was nobody's fault - but it left me somewhat trapped amongst the pile of junk.
So that was Saturday, with April's busy Celebration day ahead of us. That means the morning meeting is the whole of MKCF together at Radcliffe School in Wolverton, rather than being in our area group at Springfield School. The evening meeting - again for the whole fellowship, but smaller in number for various obvious reasons - will be at Springfield, however.
I have to admit that I don't always find the Celebrations to my liking; I tend to get lost in big crowds at the best of times, preferring the more intimate nature of smaller meetings. However, the music is normally a step up from the weekly fare, and the guest speakers they get in for the events - preaching both morning and evening - are often top-class in their field.
As so often seems the case on a Sunday afternoon, I'm taking full opportunity of a few moments of calm in between the morning's and evening's activities. This morning's Celebration threw me still further with the long-anticipated reversal of the seating arrangement, making much better use of the available space. A slightly diminished congregation - thanks to the Easter holidays, I think - enjoyed a heartening talk by Aled Griffiths primarily about the need for fellowship. The worship was a bit down on usual for a Celebration, with many of the musicians currently at Spring Harvest, but it was a good morning in its own way.
I ran Lucy back home afterwards, and with her mum out - initially at least - popped in for a cup of tea that rapidly extended itself into a walk down to the pub on Willen Lake, arriving just too late to have lunch there, sadly. Lucy's sister and mum are not on the greatest terms at the moment, and I think Lucy was glad to get out for a bit and talk freely. The weather held out more or less, with it just spitting with rain as we got back to Springfield. I'm still not at all sure where I stand with Lucy or what, if anything, I should strive for; we are just good friends - if close ones - and I am happy with that for the time being.
Well the good news, after today's check-up at the doctor, is that I'm not suffering from anything terminal, but the bad news is that I'm officially a lardy git. Slightly, anyway. So in order to get out of the light orange and back into the yellow on their magic chart, I've got to lose about three quarters of a stone. I blame my parents' inaccurate bathroom scales, personally. Amputation would be a quick solution, though I can't immediately think of any limb that I could do without. So a diet it is, then, plus a whole lot more exercise.
I nibble too much during the day, and I'm sure cutting out my habitual afternoon visit to the shop for a packet of crisps and a bar of chocolate will do the world of good. Much as I like my bread and Marmite, I think I could halve my intake without too much trauma, and I'll try and keep things like pizza and kebabs to the weekend, when I don't have the opportunity of a good balanced works-refectory meal at lunchtime. Oh and maybe make the gateau and cream for dessert a bit more of an occasional treat. Oh and make a four-pack last a fortnight...
As for the exercise, well with the lighter evenings, I will undoubtedly be getting out more after work, and even before today's revelation, I wanted to get running more rather than just walking. But now I have a good excuse to do it, and probably rather more than I'd planned. Cycle to work, maybe? It would be feasible, and something I've been promising myself and others I'd do "when the weather is better" for the last year or more. But for the moment, I think I will stick more to my accustomed routine, only stepped up a fair bit.
As for the rest of the day, well it was fairly productive at work, even though I was in late and left early. I've done about three-quarters of the things decreed to be remaining to be done to the Chemical equilibrium software - a process which has to be done by sometime Wednesday, which doesn't present any obvious problems. Specifically, I've added draggable audio sliders to all the applications, and fixed a few cosmetic things along the way.
Ian gave cautious approval to my plan of using a Windows metafile to draw the screen display for the microprocessor fetch-execute simulation. It doesn't appear that we have any wonderful drawing tools at our immediate disposal, so I guess I'll just have to carry on using the at-best functional editor built into Word, though when I have the basic layout, I could probably find a copy of Corel Draw somewhere and smarten it up a bit if necessary.
The tickets for the Waterson/Carthy gig arrived this morning, and by the looks of the enclosed seating plan, it's a good position we've got, right next to what appears to be the VIP seating. The venue really does look tiny, with us, almost at the back - on the front row of the raised area - probably only about ten yards from the action. This is just the kind of intimate arrangement that suits their music, and I'm looking forward to it immensely.
With the rain lashing down in torrents outside, I got back to the car from my evening stroll/run just in time. If it hadn't been for finding a completely unexpected late surge of energy, I'd undoubtedly have got absolutely soaked to the skin, and I don't believe it was at all by chance that I didn't. Driving conditions on the way home from Caldecotte Lake were the worst I've known in all the time I've been in Milton Keynes.
Work-wise, I think I've now done everything required for tomorrow's second-phase hand-over of the Chemical equilibrium software. There's still a bit of glitching in the audio that came in since I added the progress slider to the audio player, and that I really can't logically explain. However I'm not convinced that it happens with all hardware configurations, and have a hunch that it may even be a design fault in the sound card itself.
Day two of The Diet, and so far so good - though it's obviously early days yet, and the outcome of my strategy will not be revealed for some time. Put it this way, I've been eating a lot less food and a lot more regimentedly, and I've not suffered any immediate adverse effects - I've not even felt hungry despite probably almost halving my daily intake. So even if it's not effective as a weight-loss diet, it's likely to help in other ways anyway.
As agreed, today I completed the final tweaks to the Chemical equilibrium software, and Phil painstakingly ran through it again. He took about half a page of notes, but then realised that some "bugs" he'd spotted were actually due to his own misunderstanding, and apart from a couple of things put on file for doing at a later date - i.e. for next year's revision - there's nothing much wrong with it and it should get passed by QA now without further ado.
This morning saw the slight diversion of entertaining interviewees; our QA department is recruiting again, and four hopefuls were interviewed today. I met two of them with Fiona, generally chatting about our work and answering their questions in an informal manner. Such meetings do not constitute part of the interview process per se, though Joel and Roger did ask our opinions on what we thought of the candidates, mainly to confirm their own feelings.
This evening was definitely on a JeamLand talker theme. I took the opportunity to convert my Windows remote notification client to use a new freeware socket library I'd obtained, and while testing it, Andy connected to announce that the Orchard talker was finally up and running again. I got most of my software working, and I will hopefully address the last few conversion problems - and make some other long-overdue improvements - in the next few days.
With Orchard back on-line, at telnet://orchard.jeamland.org:4141, a major new public release of the JeamLand code imminent, and hopefully the updated version of my remote notification software released too, the future for the JeamLand system has never looked brighter. Anyone setting up a new talker would be well advised to consider it for its flexibility and high performance, and even administrators of existing talkers may find it worth migrating.
Hopefully just a quick diary entry before I turn in for the night after a long old day. The Easter weekend lies ahead, so I can lie in lazily for as long as I like tomorrow morning, thank goodness.
With some problems cropping up with the Block 8 stuff in general, a little more time was bought for my Chemical equilibrium software, so Phil asked if I would be able to make those few changes he'd put on file now rather than next year. I said I could, and duly did - plus fixed a couple of other problems that probably only I noticed, but still annoyed me. That takes Phil's wish list for the software down to a nice satisfying zero items.
I did a bit more to the microprocessor simulator, getting it to display help information for each element of the architecture. All I need to do now - though it's going to be tedious if straightforward - is program the animations. It's looking nice, with a tastefully coloured diagram on top of a gradient filled background, and as intended - since it has to fit on a floppy disk - it's compact code-wise, currently taking about 250Kb at the most.
The weather today was atrocious, following on from some the worst days I have known. At 9.30 this morning, it was as dark as when I left late yesterday evening, and thunder rumbled all day. Flooding was widespread, with the river having burst its banks, leaving our football pitch and a large portion of the perimeter road - plus a few parked cars - underwater, and my boss had difficulty getting back home due to floods and abandoned vehicles.
This evening's pre-Easter neighbourhood group meeting was in two main parts. First of all we all went out armed with leaflets and chocolate mini-eggs, inviting people from the local area to come to our Easter service on Sunday. I must admit I really do not like going around knocking on people's doors, and I was happy just to provide moral support to Angela, though the response we got was, for the most part, very welcoming and positive.
Then when Danny and Chris had gone, things got a bit more informal, playing Chinese chequers for a while - with six of us left, that was ideal - and discussing, amongst other things, whether Europe really was the corporate embodiment of the Antichrist as some have suggested. I hasten to add that we did not consider that to be the case, and that if there is such a thing, it's more likely to come from the Middle East and its Islamic states.
Good Friday, and the start of a very welcome four-day break - even though in past years it has been longer, the unions to blame for shortening it, surprisingly enough - from work, an opportunity for a lazy day without having to worry about when I was going to fit in the shopping or anything like that. So I got up late, dressed still later - in fact only a little while before I went out for the evening, I am ashamed to say.
While at work yesterday, I got a phone call from my old boss, finally confirming the return of the rights to my WaveCraft sound software to me. I consider the software in its current form to be of no further commercial value, so I spent a while today starting to write some web pages in order to give it away. I still consider the concept very much alive, so I'm hoping to get plenty of feedback to help in the specification of a sequel.
This evening, seven of us from the church went to see The Man in the Iron Mask at the Point. I'd have to confess that I am normally one to go out of my way only to see science-fiction and Schwarzenegger-style action films - though I might yet concede and watch Titanic - and I was a little doubtful about the idea of a semi-historic swashbuckling costume drama. But I'm glad I went, because it was quite unlike what I'd expected, and a great story.
Most of us went back to Alan's for a cup of coffee that rapidly became a games evening, only finishing somewhat after midnight. We started with Pass the Pigs, which - true to form - I won most of the games we played, then moved on to various card games, most of which I was - equally true to form - atrocious at, apart from Black Maria, for which all those wasted hours playing Microsoft Hearts paid off, winning handsomely but luckily.
And now it's all over, and for the second night running, bed is going to be something saved for the wee small hours of the morning - not good when I am supposed to be taking the opportunity to rest and recuperate. Tomorrow evening I'm most likely going to be round at Andy and Rosie's again, first for tea, and then probably another social, so I doubt I'll be away from there the sensible side of midnight either. All good fun...
It's almost 9 o'clock on a very bleary-eyed Easter morning, after yet another great - and long - night out, and I suspect more to come before the bank-holiday weekend is up. Still, rather have it this way any day, than have to admit not having done anything much with the weekend.
Yesterday evening, I had agreed I'd have tea at Andy and Rosie's, but there was a slight change of plan at the last minute. While they'd been doing the rounds of the neighbourhood group, delivering phone lists, they'd bumped into the twins Natasha and Loretta, who were celebrating their birthday in the evening, with everyone invited.
Whilst toddling round to Andy and Rosie's to get a lift to the party, Andy pulled to a halt in my street gesturing to me to get in quick, with yet another slight change of plan, zooming down to Bletchley Tesco to do them out of half their remaining stock of hot cross buns, needed for this morning's family Easter service. We almost thought they were out of them - like just about everywhere else - but we eventually found a stash, bought about 50, and dropped them back at Danny and Chris's.
Eventually back on track, we waited for Angela at Andy and Rosie's - an opportunity for Andy to show off the new top-of-the-range computer he's been given "for safe keeping" - and finally got away a bit before eight. So it was that about twenty of us altogether - Generation X people mainly, plus a few friends from the world of worship music - descended upon Bedford and enjoyed a fantastic and excellent value Mexican, the restaurant transforming itself into a club later in the evening.
On the way, we also picked up Ian from Bedford station, who'd been dared to make it from Crawley to Bedford in the shortest possible time, which he duly did, despite having only about ten minutes warning. Apparently the water was lapping up against the railway track at one point, so it was fairly lucky he wasn't seriously delayed. Flooding was much in evidence everywhere, with parking chaotic in Bedford with many of the main car-parks underwater.
It was back to Andy and Rosie's afterwards anyway, for a few of us. Cheat and Spoons were order of the evening, games-wise, and we all finally got away somewhat after one, again, and I'd better have some strong coffee or something this morning if I'm still going to be conscious later this morning.
This April weather really won't make its mind up. I joked right at the start of the month that the showers were here, but they went on and on, setting the pattern for the following week or so, and with no sign of a nice heat-wave to finish it off - though nothing would surprise me.
The flooding here is apparently the worst for about sixty years, with several people lucky to be alive by all accounts. Down at Willen Lake this morning, the water was lapping up to the path near the Wayfarer pub, with other parts unreachable except by people wishing to paddle or more.
And now, this afternoon, after a beautifully sunny but cold morning, there have been reminders that winter wasn't really so long ago, with flurries of snow, and looking out of the window, it looks like there's a lot more of the same on its way for at least some parts of the city.
I feel my love life is currently somewhat reflected in the weather; severe ups and downs, sudden changes, hot and cold spells, and all. To be honest I think for perhaps the first time in my life, I really am desperate for love, and nothing is ever as it seems, or for long, anyway.
Certain people either inexplicably won't talk to me, or flutter their eyelashes enigmatically one moment and proudly present their husbands the next, and it hurts. I have recently suspected that perhaps my biggest complex is a fear of rejection, and this merely confirms that to me.
The simple fact of the matter is that I wish I'd felt this way five or even ten years ago. As it is, all the nice girls of my age turn out to be either married, engaged, or at least very attached, even if they do go out of their way to be friendly and even affectionate. This leaves only older women - usually either divorcees or pathological unmarriables - and younger ones, who I feel some kind of irrational guilt about even contemplating going out with.
Even once I convince myself that age differences really don't matter - within reason - I still get qualms about maturity and so on. One friend said he would have great difficulty committing to someone with whom he couldn't feel able to talk on a direct and intelligent level on highly technical matters. I'm not condemning anyone by suggesting this, merely pointing out the gulf that must inevitably come between people having spent such different times in the world.
Maybe I'm making excuses, anxious to preemptively worm my way out, rather than suffer the pain of yet more rejection. Too many times - not only in personal relationships - people I thought I knew and trusted have turned their backs on me without explanation, and often kicked me while I've been down. I am left feeling insecure, uncertain of whether what's happened is my fault, and if so, why - and perhaps subconsciously avoiding situations where it could happen again, and so missing out on so many exciting opportunities without even giving them a chance.
Getting my deep feelings into words like this I find is a very useful exercise. The way in which I have discovered subtle things about myself in so doing comes close to the self-analysis that eluded even the greatest psychologists. Of course, I may well just be saying the things I want to hear myself saying, as some kind of artificial self-confidence booster, but I am sure there is at least a grain of truth in what I've said, even if it is not the full picture.
Easter weekend is now officially over, now into in the small hours of Tuesday morning. The weekend was wrapped up with a great day out today - or should I say, yesterday. Lying in the bath in the morning, hoping for a nice long relaxing soak, the phone rang, with Andy giving me half an hour to get dried, dressed, breakfasted and round to his house.
Andy, Rosie, Ian, Angela and myself then trundled over to Blenheim Palace, hoping to find their boating lake open - which it wasn't - but enjoying a great day out there anyway. Even when the snow came down like it was mid-winter. A butterfly-house, a maze, giant chess, and a narrow gauge railway might not sound the ultimate fun, but it was a great day out anyway.
Taking Ian back to Bedford station after supper, we missed his intended train by about a minute, so we went down to the riverside, taking a look at the flooding. At least the waterfront road was open - which it wasn't on Saturday - but there were still bridges leading nowhere, and normally ornamental weirs that would have challenged white-water rafters.
In the evening, we decided to be mad and spend about half an hour to bring Andy's PC downstairs and set it up to watch Speed on Video CD, a new experience for me both in terms of the film and the medium. Good film - though typically ludicrous in many parts - and the Video CD things seem a good trade-off between quality and convenience.
So the weekend is over, and three out of the four days pretty busy with late nights. Am I tired? Yes of course I am. Do I feel refreshed for the - albeit short - week ahead? Nope. Do I care? Nope. It's been a great weekend that I wouldn't have missed for the world, and far better than my other option of camping and walking - probably in the snow - in Wales.
The last couple of days have been very quiet at work, with hardly anyone yet back from the Easter break. My technology-project boss put in a brief appearance yesterday, hoping - in vain - to back-up some stuff onto our departmental file-server, but also taking the opportunity to see how I was getting on with developing the microprocessor simulator he is essentially overseeing. A few others were around, but altogether the place is like a morgue.
I took my car up to Wolverton early this morning for its MOT and service, ringing Andy for a lift back home, since they wanted to keep it in all day. True to form for a workshop, they didn't phone me when they said they would, me having to chase them instead. Unsurprisingly it has failed its MOT on a few counts, but they hope to have got everything done by about 5 o'clock tonight - and it's a lot cheaper than it could have been.
With MOTs and things, I really do get the impression there is no such thing as a bargain. Some places seem to offer amazing looking deals to tempt you in, then sting you for - sometimes unnecessary - repairs, whereas others charge for everything separately, but are a lot cheaper on the repairs. For two bits of welding and an adjustment of something, they're charging 50 quid - versus 70 quid last year for one bit of welding at a supposedly cheap place.
When I'd got the estimate from the workshop, I gave Andy a ring to let him know what the situation was, and I ended up popping round for lunch - nothing fancy, but better than my near-empty fridge could have come up with - and then a slightly damp walk round Furzton Lake. It's now about three hours until I expect to hear from the workshop, and - Rosie's collection from work permitting - Andy will be able to take me there again to pick the car up.
On the off-chance that anyone is wondering, yes, I did take today off work; the joys of having finished this S103 software now, and being able to step down at least a gear or so. Of course, with the car hopefully sorted out, I ought - with the new property section out in today's local paper - to get on with house-hunting. It's still a month and a half until my deadline, but I previously thought that about my MOT, and that caught up with me alarmingly.
Back at the flat, with one happily serviced and MOT-tested Metro. It still makes all the noises that it used to, which I guess means they were nothing too important, and there are a few things they have highlighted as potential problems but not worth hauling it up on this time. The repair checklist eventually included three bits of welding and a headlamp adjustment.
Annoyance of the day has to be that they forgot to ask me for - or I forgot to give them, rather - my old test certificate, so I've lost about six days on the renewal date, but I still got a year and a day out of the previous one and - although readers will know I've said this with annual regularity - I really don't plan on keeping the car for another year anyway.
That's right - with one MOT fault last year, four more this year, and more problems identified - including a worrying "underside poor in places" - the long term prognosis can't be too terrific, and this summer could be a good time to call it a day. It's done a very low mileage and been well cared-for by all its owners, but it was always a bit of a lemon rust-wise.
There's enough dealers in the city offering a tasty - and indeed arguably profitable, given that I paid 900 quid for it - grand for any roadworthy vehicle in part-exchange for new and used cars, that I'm sure I could find something to my liking. I'd like something a little bigger, but am not at all sure I can justify it, so a Corsa, Fiesta or similar look best bets.
It's Friday evening, and the end of a very mixed bag of a week. Monday and Thursday off work, and the other three days somewhat different to the several hectic weeks preceding Easter. I'm glad it's the weekend again, though; maybe I really can rest a bit this time. Has it been a productive week? Not terrifically. I find it easier to be productive when there's a bit of life in the department; I'm definitely not someone who can generally benefit from a quiet day with no-one around, as my various abortive attempts at working on Saturdays have proved.
During a little while I had spare this morning, I thought I'd try my hand at something I'd been meaning to do for a while, which was to write a simple talk server program. I had an idea as to how to do it, which wasn't entirely off the mark, but enough to require me to rethink. I found a few lines of example code to accept a single incoming connection, and I extended it to support multiple connections, and relay information between them. Emotes, and also "who" and "quit" commands were very easy to add; if I wanted to, I could fairly easily make a complete talker.
I say "if I wanted to" because I have no great urge to add yet another code-base to an already somewhat confused area of software, especially with offerings as good and polished as JeamLand already available. Rather I did it to prove to myself that I could, and I can easily justify doing so in terms of the expectation that the way things are going at the moment, I see it quite likely that I will be asked to write multi-user internet software as part of my job at some point; the principles of servers are much the same regardless of what purpose they are for.
Annoyance came, however, when I tried out the software on my home PC, running Windows 3.1. The server was developed under Windows 95, but theoretically is fully 16-bit compatible. But it doesn't work on 3.1, complaining about listening on the IP pseudo-address 0.0.0.0, meaning accept connections from anywhere, according to my help files. I would have tested it at work first, but for the fact that whoever last borrowed our networked 3.1 test machine kindly upgraded it to Windows 95 without asking, so we now have no networked machines with Windows 3.1 at all.
This issue first emerged with the Electrons in atoms software, which I was unable to test under Windows 3.1 until almost too late. There was only a tiny problem, but we should have the facilities to test these things without cutting CD-Rs specially for the purpose, just because someone had the lack of consideration to return our machine in the state they borrowed it. But with this talk software, I can't do anything at all much, since the Windows 3.1 machine used has to be networked, and the only one of those I now have is at home - not very convenient.
Trying to pinpoint the Windows 3.1 bug in my talk server program, I downloaded the complete archives of the mailing list associated with the ICS high-level socket library that I'm using. It certainly appears that I am not alone in having problems, with even the author's examples crashing under Windows 3.1. As I suspected, however, it appears that the problem lies in the Trumpet Winsock stack that most Windows 3.1 users employ, making a bad hash of handling the special-case address 0.0.0.0. Unfortunately, although the socket library is essentially Windows 3.1 compatible, the author openly considers 3.1 a thing of the past - certainly as far as he is concerned - and doesn't seem too bothered about issuing a work-around.
I can understand his stance, because with Windows for Workgroups, Windows 95 and so on, the Winsock stack is standardised, with no vendor-specific quirks, in a way that could not be assured with the more anarchic situation under Windows 3.1, and - given that ICS is really only a hobby - it's fair enough that he concentrates his efforts on the more predictable platforms. Thankfully, though, one of the subscribers to the list has had a bit of a fiddle with the ICS library and has published a fix of sorts, so hopefully I can implement that on Monday, and just cross my fingers that it won't cause other knock-on problems with the Windows 95 Winsock, under which my software currently runs very nicely indeed.
Anyway, I guess - shocking though it may sound, half way through the afternoon - I'd better get dressed, and go and do my weekly shop. This will be the second weekend that I'll be carefully inspecting the nutritional information on just about everything I buy. In the past, I'd buy what I thought I'd like, and not worry about what went into it, but now I feel it's prudent to take more care over my dietary intake. With a combination of eating less, eating better things, and more exercise, I should be well on my way to getting back to a healthy weight. It's a touch irritating the way certain people will try and tempt me with "nice things", in the full knowledge that I shouldn't, but maybe soon I can relax a bit.
Now back from the shops, the weather seems to have returned to its old tricks, with yet another miserably wet evening ahead, no doubt. Apart from my low-fat diet groceries - with a slight concession for pizza - I also got the latest feature-packed Sound On Sound magazine, with yet more things to tempt me to shed excess money, and also a copy of The Bible Code, finally out in paperback at a sensible price. The latter I am reading more out of curiosity than anything, since I gather a lot of the work described therein - spotting modern-day prophetic patterns of letters in the Hebrew text - has been somewhat discredited, but I'd like to form my own conclusions anyway.
The microprocessor simulation is proceeding slowly but surely, with the user interface essentially completed, and one of the four animations it displays. The fetch sequence phase for each animation will be pretty much identical - only the data involved and whether each simulates a one or two address instruction varying things - so I can probably get the remaining three, even though they are more complex, completed within the next couple of days.
That will be slightly longer than the four days of developer resource booked, but most supposedly short projects overrun like this; it is simply impossible to specify, produce and test a robust piece of software in that space of time. Unfortunately, the target machines are apparently only going to have 16-colour VGA displays, so all my tasteful colour-coding and gradient fills will probably have to be dumped, but it's not a major issue.
We've finally got a new departmental secretary, with Deirdre starting this morning. We've had a series of temps over the year and a half I've been here, with our permanent secretary on long-term sick leave. Deirdre is yet another temp, but we've not had anyone at all for a few months, and it has been all too noticeable how certain administrative aspects of the department have deteriorated during that period. Hopefully that can now be reversed.
Personnel seem strangely reluctant to accept the fact that Anne is not coming back - certainly in a full-time capacity - and to formally re-advertise the post. If they feel some loyalty to her over and above the legal call of duty, most of us feel they should instead keep a position open for her in the university's pool of clerical staff. Apart from anything else, things have moved on a long way in CES, and settling back in would be difficult.
There's mixed news with the talker server. The work-around for the Trumpet Winsock bug worked; my software now happily runs under Windows 3.1. Unfortunately, it seems to have compatibility problems with most telnet clients. I suspect it's the string conversion problem I had with the S103 software rearing a different head, but once again, not having Windows 3.1 at work - or room on my home PC for Delphi - is going to make investigation very tricky.
Even though I have no intention of developing the talker much further, I am still determined to get what I have done so far working properly. Once I have done that, I plan to add password protection, but then stop there, at least for the time being. Passwords will require the implementation of user-files, completing the basic foundations for any multi-user system, accomplishing my objectives in starting this in the first place.
In a good day at work today I finished the bulk of the microprocessor simulation, leaving only the user interface to tidy up before I call it a day. There was even more commonality between the four different animations than I'd previously thought, such that once I'd done a couple of them in painstaking detail, the others could largely be done with cut and paste, and changing a few numbers as appropriate.
When this microprocessor simulation project is over, hopefully by the end of the week, I will be working on a completely new bit of software, but one that has been on the drawing board for several years. It is all to do with Ellingham diagrams, which I must confess I know next to nothing about, but are apparently a mathematical way of maximising the yield from chemical processes, amongst other applications.
I made a few adjustments to the talker server this evening, such that it now seems to work properly with all telnet clients apart from the main one on my home machine, and I hope to be able to debug that problem tomorrow. I also added password protection, using the same encryption system as UNIX does, so it should be pretty secure, though people testing it so far have been understandably cautious!
Julian reminded me earlier today that I was supposed to be writing a musical jingle for the revamped and relaunched Orchard web pages; the pages are slowly nearing completion, so it was a timely reminder. He wants it as a WAV file, so it's got to be short to be bearable to download, and I think I've now come up with something that I would be happy for him to use, being suitably jolly and snappy.
Today was fairly productive work-wise, getting the microprocessor simulation more or less complete. It now happily fits into a 640-by-480 VGA screen, and should very soon auto-adapt to different numbers of colours to give the optimum display on any target machine. Apparently the minimum target specification is a horrifyingly-low 386 with bog-standard 16-colour VGA, but I have included some nice visual enhancements for better machines.
It's a stormy night here in Milton Keynes, but turned a lot colder since earlier in the evening when it was almost ridiculously warm and humid. The storm seems closer than ever now, but not as spectacular as it was earlier, when the lightning in the far distance was blindingly bright but accompanied by very little audible thunder.
Just after nine, Andy and Mark rang inviting me round for a game of Scrabble - got to keep my word-game skills in practice! - and for the first time ever, I drove to his house, on account of the rain coming down like stair-rods. I lost handsomely, but it was a good game, and I was up against opposition who do play some pretty obscure two-letter words.
The talker server software is now essentially complete, apparently working fully with all telnet clients I can throw at it, whether it's running on Windows 95 or Windows 3.1. As such, development on it will now stop, though I might tidy things up a little bit; with feature-creep, it's all too easy to end up with very poorly organised code.
Hearing that the Res Rocket internet-jamming software is now completely free to the general public - even though when I was a member before, I got it free anyway, for historical reasons - I signed up for it again today, trying out the new release of their software. Has to be said that it still has the same old bugs, so I doubt I'll be hanging around.
The microprocessor simulator is now to the point where I would like the academics involved to have a look at it; it still needs a little polishing in places, but it is now fully functional. Feeling like some kind of archaeologist or something, I dug out a very clunky Dell 386 with Windows 3.1, to test for the worst case scenario. It was sluggish, with the graphics visibly updating and so on, but it was acceptable.
Under slight influence of alcohol, I had promised Andy that I would try and write a play-by-email Scrabble system, so I spent a little while this evening knocking up a prototype interface. It's going to be fairly simple, and rely on a fair degree of mutual trust on the part of the players, though it is going to have basic safeguards against spying on each other's letters, secretly adjusting the board and so on.
This evening's neighbourhood group meeting went quite well, considering that it was billed as a bible study - enough to put many people off right from the start, though most of our absentees were ill rather than skiving. It was all about styles of evangelism, and was not heavy going at all, though the psychometric analysis of what kind of evangelist we think we are, was seen as little more than a distraction.
Mirabelle in the technology faculty managed today to raise herself above the technical level of her academic colleagues in general, by successfully managing to run a Windows executable file I had attached to an e-mail sent to her. It was probably received via a Macintosh though, so we still have some way to go. It was the draft of the microprocessor simulator, and she had no immediate comments, which is probably a good thing.
I tidied it up a bit more after sending her the draft, making the animation style a bit more consistent, and making sure that things didn't go whizzing off the visible screen area, as they were inclined to under certain circumstances. In fact, I would now say that the working copy on my machine is of a high enough standard to go out properly, but there's bound to be some work coming out of the comments Mirabelle promised for next week.
This afternoon I registered for distributed.net's challenge to crack the RC5 encryption scheme. This is an official and legal challenge, with prize money on offer, but although the key will ultimately be found, the odds of winning are very slim when participating computers - which are effectively running in parallel via the internet - are in the tens of thousands, all around the world, and including some seriously powerful hardware.
The Windows version of the software runs in the background, and has the option to make the lowest possible impact on machine performance while you are actually doing important things, but making the most of the available power when otherwise idling. It installed and ran with no obvious problems, and I should be able to join the Mono team effort on Monday, once my computer's registration has gone through distributed.net's system.
It's Saturday night, back at my parents' house, glad to get away from Milton Keynes for a few days for the first time in ages. Nice surprise of the weekend so far has to have been the unexpected visit by my sister, down on her own for a change, mainly to visit friends. We went into Wycombe to do a bit of shopping, which was a nice diversion from the usual routine when I visit home.
This weekend's edition of the News Quiz on Radio 4 featured as its introductory clip a quote from a cycling magazine about the recent name change of "Thatchers" restaurant in Thame to "The Old Trout", getting an appropriate response from the studio audience. Of more interest to me, however, is that the magazine in question is edited by my mum, and the contributor of the news item to the magazine in the first place was my dad. Oh, and I created all the Word templates and macros used to produce the magazine. It's a small world, isn't it?
Low-light of the day was losing this evening's Scrabble game, despite gaining a total of 100 bonus points through using all seven letters on two occasions. I did only get one high-scoring letter, though, and was cursed with more consonants than Carol Vorderman, so I guess it wasn't a bad effort. I'd just hoped I'd do a bit better given the tough standard of opposition I've been accustomed to over the last few weeks.
Tomorrow I am hoping for a slightly quieter day, though Alison does expect to pop back for a late lunch, all being well. I'll probably head back to Milton Keynes mid-afternoon sometime, unless anything remarkably special unfolds to change my plans. I'd hoped I might hear back from my old friend Carolyn, who keeps insisting we should meet up sometime when I am down this way, but I only ever get her answerphone until it's too late to sort anything out. I suppose I could have sorted something out in advance, but that takes organisational skills I don't have.
Today was indeed a much quieter day, unavoidably lying in late for some unknown reason - I'm normally up well before nine on a Sunday morning - and not really doing anything much with the day. My sister came for lunch as planned, but was somewhat apprehensive about the trip back to Wales for various reasons. Just as we were both hoping to leave, Jill from next door popped round for a rare but much appreciated hello, but I still managed to get away in time to quickly whizz into the shops to stock up for the week.
Once again, I think I left my cap at home, so I decided it would be a good opportunity to get a new one anyway, and was shocked by the variation in prices from one shop to the next, with some costing half as much again for exactly the same product. Needless to say, I went for one of the cheaper ones, and thankfully also one with relatively inconspicuous logos on it; it seems impossible to get a plain one, but I did the best I could and I don't feel too ripped off.
As promised, Mirabelle from the technology faculty got back to me today with the feedback from her testing of the draft version of the microprocessor simulution software. Thankfully, she was essentially happy with it, and the few problems she had were easily rectified, and I should be ready to send her the second draft tomorrow.
Tomorrow should be fairly busy at work, with a Borland C++Builder workshop in the morning, where Chris is to introduce another group of us to the new compiler, which the powers-that-be have more or less now decided will at long last replace the combination of vanilla Borland C++ and our now rather dated OpenWin class library.
In the afternoon I am meeting Ross to discuss the Ellingham Diagrams, the new software that I will be working on imminently, probably starting before I have completely finished the microprocessor simulator. Ross has assured me that the software should be "fun", which will certainly make a change from recent projects.
Plans seem to be developing for the forthcoming Generation-X holiday, though I'd be lying if I didn't claim a little apprehension. I guess I'll be happier once I've sorted out transport and so on; I would be prepared to drive down myself, but I'd rather not, and I'd feel more confident with a few more details of what's happening.
Well that's a weight off my mind, having sorted out more or less everything for the weekend away. I rang around a few people, and just about everyone pointed me towards Angela, who is happy to take me plus one or two others, leaving mid-afternoon on Friday. Catering-wise, it looks like we play things somewhat by ear, not taking anything really apart from money, and making good use of the Sainsbury's that is apparently very close by.
I guess it's just part of my nature that I'm not happy about things like this until I know for sure that everything's in order and I know more or less exactly what's happening. Things like the trip to Slovenia were somewhat of a nightmare for me, precisely because it was almost impossible to sort out the things I'd rely on for peace of mind - such as currency and so on - before I left and was committed beyond the point of no return.
This morning's C++Builder workshop was interesting and enlightening, though as someone very familiar with the essentially similar Delphi, it wasn't such a great jump as for many of those with little or no experience of visual design environments. The workshop exercises included one to design a simple component and add it to the tool palette, which was surprisingly easy, I must say. My biggest obstacle in adopting the system is going to be the C++ language itself, which seems a lot less elegant than Delphi's ObjectPascal, even if the concepts are similar. Unfortunately, for the time being, the workshop will be an isolated opportunity to use the system, since we are experiencing difficulties getting the latest version 3 software, and we don't want to use anything less.
Ellingham diagrams were flavour of the afternoon, and I am reserving judgement on whether or not they make any sense to me. I've taken away a wodge of books and photocopied notes, and I have another meeting with Ross a week Thursday, when I will hope to have digested it all and come up with a skeleton plan. In truth, there is already a storyboard for the software, but half a dozen quickly scrawled sketches cannot possibly account for the two or three hours for which this activity is expected to occupy the students. In an ideal world, this software would have been written about two years ago, and now it's unlikely to be ready for use this summer, but it might well be possible to trial a prototype under supervision, entailing an expenses-paid trip to Manchester if nothing else.
Suddenly realising quite how many days of holiday I had left to take before the end of September, and needing some time to prepare for the coming weekend, I took today off work, and was grateful for the opportunity not to rush things, in an utterly unexciting manner. I popped into town at lunchtime to buy some film and other essentials, and started sorting some stuff out this afternoon, but that was about all.
Emptying my sports bag in preparation for tomorrow morning's packing, I pulled out that "Bible Code" book that I'd bought a couple of weeks ago and hadn't yet got round to reading - not least because I've not yet finished the book I'm currently reading - and thought I'd have a quick look at it. Readers may recall that I mainly bought it with disproval in mind, but I'm not so sure now, and I'm definitely hooked...
Whilst I obviously take the author's word for it, he quickly disproves a lot of the anticipated criticism of the methods discussed. Despite claiming no faith himself, he nevertheless leaves the reader in little doubt that the Bible is not just a collection of myths, but something entirely relevant to the present - Christians and Jews know this anyway, albeit in different ways - and with origins beyond mere mortals.