David's diary: January 1998
Hooray, it's time to kick out the old, welcome the new, and all that. 1998 is here! And does it seem any different to '97? No of course it doesn't - just colder, blearier, and naturally less certain than the past. The passage of years is not an arbitrary concept, being governed of course by orbits of the earth round the sun, or more traditionally by the passing of the seasons, but the timing of the new year - the transition from one to the next - seems to be something pretty much pulled out of a hat. Maybe it is was chosen to mark the approach of spring, when new life comes to the natural world around us - but that's still a couple of months off really, with the worst of the winter weather to come, no doubt. At the end of the day, though, a lot of fuss is made about an arbitrarily-chosen date.
The millennium will be a similar load of tosh, no doubt; pedants argue that the real millennium is actually at the end of 2000, rather than 1999, pointing out that there was no year 0 AD - any millennium parties on 31 December 2000 are likely to be populated by very sad obsessed individuals - and yet even the millennium is an arbitrary date, based on the twin assumptions that Jesus was born in 0 or 1 AD - which he wasn't - and that there is some intrinsic importance in a human-created decimal system that holds significance in numbers with lots of noughts in them. To me, the passing of the millennium will be no more significant than when, on long car journeys, my dad would point out that the odometer was about to pass 20,000 miles or whatever - yes, all very interesting for a fleeting moment, and nice to witness, but with no real bearing on anything in the longer term.
Call me a cynic by all means, but it just seems to be that we are so wrapped up in an age of materialism, money and continual me-me-me, that we hold onto something as trivial and pathetic as the odometer of human-quantised time passing through a few noughts as an excuse for that something more deep seated and spiritual which so many of claim to strive for - when it suits us, of course. At the end of the day, the millennium is an excuse for a good party - as transient as this artificial event it will mark - and nothing much more.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, nobody phoned last night, not even early in the evening, as maybe I'd hoped - nor after midnight, as I'd been all but promised. So the night passed away really quite boringly, watching some grim weepy film about captured aliens who turned out not to be, seeing the new year in with Angus Deayton, watching a few fireworks going off in the vicinity of the flat, hanging on for a little while afterwards reading the Open University's fascinating in-house newspaper, then going to bed with one ear open just in case. Unnecessarily, as it turned out. Oh well, I guess nothing ever really changes. But here's hoping...
It's my first day back at work after the Christmas break, and do I feel motivated? Do I heck? It certainly looks like I'll be coming in tomorrow - Saturday - too now, with this developmental testing deadline on Monday and not wanting to take too many liberties. Pity, because I was supposed to be meeting up with a friend tomorrow, and that'll have to be severely curtailed by the looks of things. Such is life, I guess - but for the fact that my hopes are higher than they've been for quite a while, I could just curl up quietly and die.
What a day of contrasts, and certainly not a day with a moment to rest and reflect - or not until now anyway. This morning I made the rare move of going into work, as I had anticipated, with this deadline on Monday looming ominously, and got done about 90% of what I wanted - though with the photocopier-room locked, some stuff will have to wait until Monday morning. Then it was on to Springfield to meet Lucy, and to Caldecotte for a nice lunch out. After some deliberation - and the realisation that when it comes to things to do on a cold, wet and windy day, Milton Keynes is somewhat lacking - we then thought we would go and watch Tomorrow Never Dies, but the afternoon showing was pretty much fully booked, so we had a browse round the shops instead, with me being introduced to Lucy's "outragious" tastes in fashion, amongst other attractions. In Smiths, we were looking at the various bibles and things, and were rather disappointed by the choice - Good News, Good News, or Good News, basically - so decided we'd whizz up to Wolverton where there's a excellent Christian bookshop. We bought a few bits and pieces there then headed home. After dropping a very tired Lucy off back at her house, I decided I'd still rather like to see the Bond film, and dropped back into the cinema to book myself a seat for one of the evening showings. I drove home, had a bite to eat, checked my mail etc, then braved the increasingly arctic conditions to walk out to see the film. And wow, what a film - if you've not seen it yet, don't hesitate! Excellent non-stop action stuff, probably Brosnan's best - and I thought Goldeneye was amazing too...
And what about Lucy? Well in fairness, she's turning out to be a very good friend, but I don't think it would be fair - for either of us - to try and progress things any further. She is too young, both in body and mind, and her outlook on life seems very different in key areas. I value her company, and she values mine, but I really don't think we are cut out for anything more. Am I disappointed? No, I don't think so, not least because I never really had any specific expectations. I think it is wonderful that people can be friends like that; more people should try it, probably, and if nothing else it has given me the confidence to go forward with renewed resolve. As I said before, we both think we are in this strange city for a reason, but were not sure whether those reasons would necessarily coincide - I am now fairly sure they don't, but that the truth is not far away now for either of us.
Today's an annoying day. Having come in to work much against my will last Friday and also Saturday morning, with this 10am developmental testing deadline today, it's all turned out to be a waste. Needless to say, the deadline came and went without the promised visit, and e-mails aren't being replied to or anything. I guess the person involved simply isn't back from their Christmas break yet, which is kind of understandable, but still an annoyance when I've sacrificed a significant chunk of mine - not forgetting those three days before Christmas which most sane folk took as holiday too - to keep to my side of the bargain. Oh well, such is life, but some departments are rapidly getting an appalling reputation for keeping appointments.
I know this is extemely tedious, and probably not even a particularly proud set of statistics to share, but I was a bit bored - so here's a league table of users of my diary and the number of times they have graced my log-file with their name during the past year or so. Highlighted users are those wonderful people who have decided that my ramblings are, for some bizarre reason, worthy of favouriteness. The bar-chart is not particularly accurate, and there is certainly not a 1-to-1 correlation between the number of accesses and the length of the bar - amf's would have been too wide for the screen, such is my immense popularity! Anyway, here goes - and I thank ye all...
amf 93 *********************************************** >mayday 88 ******************************************** >aslan 73 ************************************* >alcides 73 ************************************* >silly 37 ******************* >gryphph 33 ***************** titulus 33 ***************** eccles 22 *********** >galaxy 20 ********** >rhythm 14 ******* tripwire 13 ******* dragonlo 12 ****** >f1gp 9 ***** big-pete 8 **** devnull 8 **** mwxutbi 8 **** >alexia 6 *** mormegil 6 *** sax 5 *** sbj 3 ** lurch 3 ** ankh 3 ** music 3 ** dipper 2 * mykynen 2 * oozer 2 * (robots) 10 ***** (guests) 17 *********
Those who also served:
brock, gnuff, limpfish, madbob, deebee, dingo, vicquey, zenith, scratch, vodkaboy, bladernr, magicman, flossie, corinne, criz, tech_man, dana, piglet, nivag and zane.
Cars... How many times have I said they are pains in the posterior? No more so than tonight, however. I can face the idea of a car not starting, but not that of a car which starts fine and then dies for no obvious reason only five minutes later, in the middle lane, waiting at a busy roundabout. It had started at work like a dream, and was enjoying being opened up at a healthy 70mph along Standing Way, then with a flicker of the battery light, it died at the roundabout at the end. Plenty of power in the battery for lights and stuff, just not even a small party chipolata of ignition, and barely enough oomph to turn over the starter motor. Thankfully, after a few minutes of surprisingly calm panic, a guy pulled over nearby, and we moved the car onto the verge, then decided on the next course of action. We were about to phone the breakdown service, but he thought it was worth trying a bump-start - well there's a first time for everything! - which we did, and it worked. I felt so rotten speeding away down the road, and decided I would double back at the next roundabout - but it was probably the longest stretch of road in Milton Keynes without one... Eventually I did make it back, and was just in time to give the guy a thank-you wave, and I got back to the flat without any further problem. Worrying moments though, and it's obviously untrustworthy - as I said, I could face it not starting at all, but not being able to rely on it to get me from A to B once travelling is a more serious drawback. It's too late and dark to do anything about it tonight, so it'll have to wait until the morning, but even if it starts OK - which I am completely unsure about, either way - I really ought to get it checked over professionally as soon as possible.
The car's happy and I'm happy. In a rather round-about way, I got the electrics looked at early this afternoon, and a new battery duly fitted - the old one had a dud cell and was continually discharging and bubbling away even when not in use. The workshop I took the car to - on my work-mate Jon's recommendation - was absolutely brilliant, and a real blessing when living in what is still a relatively unknown city, with such a proliferation of fly-by-night mechanics and so on. Needless to say, the car's been great since, though it's early days yet of course, and the cold weather will be the real test to come, I am sure. But for the time being, this is a massive relief - it's amazing and somewhat depressing the significance that cars, merely hulks of metal and plastic, hold in our lives.
I was very glad yesterday afternoon that I took the approach that I did in the end. I had been planning on driving back to the flat, loading my rarely-used bike into the boot, dropping off the car at the workshop in Bletchley then cycling back into work for a couple of hours. Quite aside from the fact that the job was actually done very quickly indeed in the end, I'm glad I wasn't on my bike because the weather when I'd probably have been cycling back out to Bletchley to pick the car up again was absolutely atrocious; waterproofs or no waterproofs, I'm certain it would have been an absolutely miserable ride.
As for today - well I had a couple of interesting and useful meetings, and was able to cross off quite a few things on my to-do list, though there is still too little time to do too much. The "Electrons in atoms" quantum physics software now seems a lot better specified than before, and I have enough information now to press on with that, though the deadline for the bulk of its completion is still less than a couple of weeks away. This afternoon I participated in an interesting experiment on collaborative learning, tackling some problems associated with the phases of the moon, via linked computers and video-conferencing.
And now I'm back at the flat, unusually early in the evening for me, actually - I thought I'd make a conscious effort to leave work on time today. Apart from the usual clutch of mail to forward to previous tenants, there's a letter from the letting agents, saying the landlord has finally - after only about a year - authorised some essential repairs to the property, and that I should hear in due course from the plumbing and electrics company involved. I've dealt with them before, and they seem efficient enough, so hopefully this rather long-running saga is close to an end now.
Not a terribly productive day, even by my own low standards. I spent most of the morning fighting with Zip drives - great idea, when they work - and the afternoon was a no-mans-land of nothing much in particular. The hand-over of my chemical equilibrium software for developmental testing turned out to be a lot less painful than perhaps I had imagined, and I only got one anxious phone-call this afternoon from the woman who's currently looking through it in advance of letting it loose on some volunteer students next week.
I am getting kind of messages that I should maybe be looking towards certain specialist singles agencies etc; there have been a number of what some might call coincidences over the last week that point this way - but on the other hand, my very wise friend Steve advises I just "take some chill pills" and let God do his stuff at the right time. So I'm not leaping into anything - not just yet anyway - and in any case, I don't feel desperate enough to go down that route while there are still more conventional opportunities.
Expensive weekend time, again. I'd been thinking for a very long time of getting an electric guitar to complement my otherwise more electronic sonic armoury, and this weekend I took the plunge, taking advantage of some considerable savings in the January sales. It has always been one of my aims to fuse electronic and guitar styles, and whilst I would hardly be the first to do so, it still seems an exciting prospect. I'm not yet sure whether my forte will be playing in real time, or relying more on painstakingly sampling until it sounds right - that will just depend on my proficiency and the overall effect I want to create. I also got a reasonably good foot-operated unit offering things like distortion, chorus, reverb etc, allowing a good deal of flexibility for different musical styles and so on - as well as looking rather flash if I ever foolishly step up on stage... In any case, I believe a reasonable guitar set-up to be a useful addition to any sound studio - you never know when it might come in handy!
Today at work was reasonably unproductive, finally pulling together my monthly report for December - and that wasn't too lengthy considering how long it took me to write it. Needless to say, I am hopelessly behind schedule for this software, but I am far from being alone, and so long as I carry on pulling my weight I have nothing too much to worry about. The problem in general is that this whole suite of software - and it is a massive one, one of the biggest educational software projects ever undertaken anywhere - was an unknown quantity when initial time and cost estimates were made. It was the first heavily multimedia-type project we'd taken on, with the necessary level of interaction between departments such as graphic design and audio-visual. As a result, estimates are already out by a factor of as much as two or three; what was originally only going to involve a couple of developers from our department has ended up drawing in more or less everyone in some capacity or other, and we still have a long way to go before it will all be over.
Just got back from watching Starship Troopers with the guys from work; don't believe the panning this film has got from the press etc - it's far better than people seem to be making out. Sure, it's not too cerebral, having about 1000 times more special effects than plot, but it's well worth seeing, with just the right balance between gore, comedy and blatant rip-offs of just about every science fiction creation under the sun. Probably best seen - as I did - with a group of friends, if only to share the laughs, but you'll almost certainly look at that spider sitting in the corner of your bedroom in a different light...
One of those bitty kind of days, but also one when I got a reasonable amount done. In the morning, a group of relative newcomers - including me, even though I've been there about sixteen months now - had a short tour around our on-site BBC production centre, particularly focusing on their various hi-tech digital editing suites and so on, and then looking at some of the software they are developing. The centre is often seen as being somewhat in competition with our own department, and it is true that they do duplicate a certain amount of expertise in a somewhat predatory manner, but there are some truly unique skills - particularly on the audio-visual side of things, unsurprisingly - they possess, and most people we talked to seemed to be wanting more cooperation than there is at present, although the way things seem to be going, that sadly looks increasingly unlikely to happen.
Then after lunch, I worked for a bit trying to speed up a particularly slow part of the composite beam-loading simulation software I developed last year, and was getting close to cracking it very elegantly. Then I got an e-mail from the guy who uses the software asking if I'd yet installed an updated version fixing some other bugs he'd identified, which I hadn't, so I went straight across and did that there and then. Whilst there, I decided that their 486SX/25 really was far too slow, and must be contributing to the afore-mentioned performance problem - the guy had been accustomed to going to make a cup of coffee when he set certain calculations running. So I had quick look at the CMOS set-up on his PC, and lo and behold, just about every performance-boosting feature was disabled. Quickly rectified, the software suddenly started working about ten times quicker; fixing this performance problem in the software has now been ever-so-slightly de-prioritised...
Finally I reasonably successfully got a rather boring - but somehow quite important - part of the "Electrons in atoms" software working. I had been using Delphi's equivalent of the Tooltips floating hint boxes for reading precise values off a graph, and the academic I deal with had decided it would be nice if those hints could include letters in different fonts, subscripts, and so on. Unfortunately, there is no way of controlling the font the hints are displayed in, so I had to work from the ground up, basically developing my own custom hints, and it now works reasonably well, I'm pleased to say. Time is generally short for the project, of course, so it's very encouraging that boring things like that can be got out of the way relatively quickly, so I can concentrate on the more academic content.
A reasonable day at work, getting a bit more of this "Electrons in atoms" done, but far more interestingly finally picking up New Order's Substance 1987 double CD for a mere tenner at one of the itinerant sales that drops in at the university once in a while. Actually, such sales are quite frequent, but are normally for boring things like crystal jewelry or lingerie, and the CD sales tend to be budget stuff - Welsh karaoke, famous banjo anthems etc - that no-one wants anyway. So anyway, Substance is happily playing away while I am similarly happily typing, bringing back memories of a dim, distant but frequently reminisced-about past - when I was living it up at Southampton, spending more time listening to great music and sinking pints at the bar than burying my head in my books like I undoubtedly should have been.
I was somewhat jolted to my senses when I got a mail from an old friend, who is about half way through making the first album of his own - he's made major and uncelebrated contributions to others - reckoning he has about three months to go on his. Needless to say he asked how I was getting on with my stuff, and the answer was "not very well". This guy is married, working long hours and has lots of other commitments, and yet he still has time and inspiration to get this stuff done - I must be missing something somewhere. Having said that, I now know I am technologically fixed up to more or less anything I want now musically, so I guess I'll just have to find some time for it, lock myself in, and just get the job done - or at least get the ball rolling.
Back in Milton Keynes after my first weekend home since Christmas; I had been accustomed to making the not-too-long trip fortnightly, but Christmas rather broke the routine, and frankly I think from now on I'll probably aim to go back rather less than previously. It had been becoming too much of an institution, and I was probably foregoing other things that I could have been doing, so hopefully going back a bit less often will allow me to do more stuff here at the weekends, and make those trips home rather more special than they had become.
I had a fair bit of time over the weekend to further investigate my guitar and effects - Prestwood is not the most happening place in the world, you can be quite sure - and I think I am just about getting to grips with them. I have spotted some rather irksome shortcomings with the effects, probably a side-effect of them really being quite cheap for the amount of functionality they have jammed into the box, but have equally found ways to largely overcome them, so they were not as complete a waste of money as I was feeling at one point.
The weather, particularly today, was utterly foul, so I really didn't go out much, other than fetching the customary fish and chips at Saturday lunchtime, and in the afternoon driving down to Amersham to the outdoor sports shop, where mum stocked up on maps and things and I did the boring thing and stocked up on walking socks. Mum had been suffering with a rather nasty cold-type thing during the preciding week, but was thankfully rather better by the weekend, so I haven't come back horribly contagious as far as I can tell.
Good productive day at work today, getting a lot of nitty-gritty stuff done for this electrons thing. Although there's no way I can meet the provisionally-agreed developmental testing deadline of tomorrow, the project is generally proceeding well now, helped no end by the input of an academic who - for a change - knows what he's talking about from both the scientific and software development standpoints. Compared with the chemical equilibrium software I was working on before, this software is - so far - falling into quite a logical structure. Delphi is still behaving itself well and helping me churn out good solid code, allowing me to be tactfully smug in comparison to my colleague whose Toolbook development software seems to crash with painful regularity, usually just before he does a major save.
Off shortly to a specially convened house-group meeting, where the long-anticipated changes to the structure of our church are to be formally announced. I'm not at all sure what action is being taken, and although I know that whatever they have decided will be for the best of the church as a whole, it will be a hard decision to swallow if it means me - or any of my close friends - having to change congregations. I know one of the major changes is likely to be an enhancement of the role of these house groups as forces both within the church and in the local community, and I guess that is why they have chosen that venue to announce the changes, rather than doing it at one of the larger meetings - as well as giving a better opportunity and less formal atmosphere for people to get answers to their questions about it all.
Tomorrow evening is looking fun in a daunting manner. I had tentatively agreed with Darryl, one of my colleagues, that we would have a bit of a jam sometime soon, but he has arranged with another guy that tomorrow night's the night. They have been practising over the weekend, and today e-mailed me a load of chord sheets and lyrics for some REM, Crowded House, 10,000 Maniacs etc songs they seem to think I'm going to provide wonderful keyboard parts for... So I've had to lower their expectations somewhat, but am still going to give it a go - but have insisted that at least this time we do it at my place so that I have the option of all kinds of wizardry to help me when the going gets tough, as it undoubtedly will. Darryl's been in touch with the rock and blues society at work, and we might use their low-cost facilities in future, but we'll see how we go tomorrow before committing to anything too much.
Well in truth, last night's meeting was really a lot of fuss about very little. There is to be no great change - or not in the immediate future anyway - but instead somewhat of a focusing of our activity as a house group, basically so that we are in practice doing what we probably should have been all the time. The congregations are being left as they are for the moment, though after interrogation, they did admit that further changes were likely but that they were still very much on the drawing board. As for the details of the immediate way forward - e.g. OK, so what are we doing next week? - nothing was really too clear; I went for a couple of pints with one of the guys afterwards, and he was really quite disappointed by the lack of decisiveness, and felt - as I did - that the main purpose of the evening was nothing to do with these reforms, but instead to announce the hand-over of the running of the house group to a new couple. So the evening wasn't a waste of time, but its length could have been halved if they'd come straight to the point...
Well the jam, rehearsal, or whatever the various people involved called it is all over, and I am still alive - just. My attempts at keyboarding were, as expected, pretty dire - even with a few choice MIDI-files to help out, but the other guys seemed to quite take to the wind synth, so I'll probably be sticking with that in the future. That's particularly good because it's by far the most portable part of my electronic set-up. We attempted probably about half a dozen songs, of which I knew a few to some extent, and the rest not at all, but it was all a pretty good laugh even if I felt somewhat of a lemon for a lot of the time. The drum machine proved pretty useful, especially on its rhythm and blues settings - but will benefit from some song programming rather than just having the same pattern on repeat-play - so I suppose I'll have to get some little mixer type thing, or maybe a cheap keyboard combo, for when I'm not here at home, so I can run that in parallel with the wind synth in as simple a manner as possible.
Another good day all round, really. At work, I got a lot more done of this quantum physics thing, indeed to the point of being able to confidently hand over a half-way version to others in the unit for consistency testing with the other software comprising Block 7 of the science foundation course. I'm also some way to understanding all about s- and p-states of electron clouds, though I fear I am somewhat at the "a little knowledge is dangerous" stage.
Musically I'm getting increasingly confident with the guitar, though still not yet venturing too far away from the old favourite chords - one day I will suss this barre-chord thing which allows you to get more or less anything you want, by using your fingers as a variable capo, but for the time being I'm perfectly happy with what I know well. I'm enjoying some of the more subtle effects on the Zoom unit, especially the valve-style overdrives.
Plans for a potential Easter break are taking shape, but nothing's definite yet, and I'm not entirely sure I want to go anyway. Basically it would be a modest walking holiday in the Welsh Black Mountains, based at some outdoor activity centre place run by some family friends, but - although I certainly need to use up some holiday entitlement - I fear it would be a bit of an anticlimax after the - literally - high achievements of last summer.
Just watching Tomorrow's World, where Res Rocket Surfer are demoing their DRGN software to a wider TV audience ... yep, not a bad feature, with no serious misinformation to speak of, though it's pretty unlikely the general public will get the quality of results that Timmy and Willy did with their thousands of pounds worth of studio gear. Let's just hope that the project doesn't now suffer the notorious Tomorrow's World kiss of death...
And finally, some terrific news today is that Kate's finally got a new job. She left NEC getting on for a year ago under not-too-auspicious circumstances - I don't think she'll mind me saying that! - and has been on the dole, in and out of various training schemes and so on, ever since. But this morning she had an interview with Psion-Dacom, and was offered the job of IT engineer - starting next Monday - before she'd even left the building.
Probably one of the coldest mornings of the winter so far, here, especially with the university being in somewhat of a frost-bowl, so close to the river. Nice and snug - though undoubtedly sleepy-making - in the office though, and my fingers have warmed up sufficiently to type. Seemed to spend about half of last night on the phone for one reason or another, and the quarterly bill arrived this morning. Once again the total wasn't as high as I'd feared, not least because the warning letter BT regularly - alas - send me when my quarterly calls exceed 100 pounds, applies to the cost before discount from things like Friends and Family and so on. I see they have launched a new variation on Friends and Family, called BestFriend, where you can nominate one of your ten selected numbers for a further appreciable discount; all I have to decide is which of Demon Internet's two PoP numbers that I regularly use to assign it to!
Now Friday evening, with another typical weekend coming up, no doubt. Today at work carried on the tradition of the last few days by actually being not too bad, and getting a fair bit done. The main triumph was reminding myself how to use Excel, needing it in order to plot a pretty little graph that needs to be embedded in the quantum physics software. It showed how long it was since I'd used a spreadsheet application, when I was about to very tediously manually calculate 1-squared, then 2-squared, 3-squared, and so on up to 20-squared! I got my daily exercise running backwards and forwards beween my office and the technology faculty, making fairly trivial fixes to a text data file that makes up part of the beam-loading simulation software I developed. It's still not perfect, but it's beyond my control to a large extent now; at least I get a co-authoring credit on a paper about it that I believe has been accepted for publication in some American materials science journal. This evening I've been messing around some more with the guitar, this time bravely accompanying some rock-style bassline sequences I'd written; it's early days, but things are sounding good, and this is certainly broadening my creative musical interests no end.
It's Sunday, and I've just got back from a brisk walk around Willen Lake - it's not a day to loiter unduly, but it was good to get out while it was so refreshingly invigorating. The water was pretty choppy at the boating centre, and I rather wished I'd taken a hat, but I soon warmed up and decided I'd do the full monty and go round both halves of the lake - something I'd not done for quite a while. The south lake is the watersports lake, and relatively busy both on and off the water, whilst the north lake is a wildlife refuge with a naturalised island, and on whose quieter banks the Buddhists have their peace pagoda and centre. One interesting thing was seeing some dogs being trained to rescue people from the lake; I bet that apart from the odd idiot falling through ice, conditions wouldn't get much less favourable than today's.
The morning saw the first of our slightly revised morning church services, and I have to say that - although it will no doubt take some fine-tuning - they got off to a good start. The overall format remains broadly similar, but instead of getting bored for an hour in the latter half of the meeting with some undoubtedly-valuable but soporifically-delivered lecture, now, after a short introduction by the speaker, we break off into small seminar type groups and tackle the day's subject matter in a far more interactive and therefore memorable manner. This evening sees the first - quote - "New-look Sunday evening meeting in which we seek God in Worship, Word of God, New Wine in the Holy Spirit"; if they have overhauled this evening service as well as they did this morning's, it should be very good indeed, and I will be there to find out.
Just got back from quite a long night out, starting with the new-look evening meeting, and culminating in tea, coffee, beers and cake at two of the guys' shared house. The meeting heard lots of testimony from people who'd come off drugs and worse, and reminded us of many other cases of God's goodness in the real and tangible world, and amongst our own number. People like the little daughter of one of the pastors who survived a bout of meningitis that was "supposed" to have killed her, and that still has the staff at the hospital incredulous with disbelief the best part of a year on. People like Vera, admitted to a local hospice in order to die, with cancers on both lungs and barely able to breathe, but who is being allowed to go home on Tuesday. I could go on, but these were particular cases fresh in my mind from tonight. And there is true and more general hope in God, where without him there is so often none; one of our pastors is shortly to have high-level discussions with the local police, who are on the one hand despairing at how their drugs rehabilitation programmes are failing miserably, and on the other hand seeing the immense and apparently miraculous good the church has done in getting a number of hardened addicts back on the straight and narrow - to put it bluntly, the police want to send these guys not to prison but to church, as is happening so successfully in other countries. Sometimes I feel weak and doubtful in faith, but recognising these outward expressions of the power of God invariably has a profound influence on my inner self, and no amount of so-called rationalist argument can take that away.
Just got back from a nice little party at work; it was Canan's birthday - there were plenty of Turkish delicacies and more conventional liquid refreshment laid on - and it's also Teresa's last week before she moves on to new pastures as an IT consultant, so it seemed a good excuse for more than just the usual e-mail saying there's cake in the kitchen if anyone wants it. So it was one of those unusual opportunities for getting more or less everyone - well the "young people" as the managers tend to refer to us - under one roof, and a chance to evangelise the merits of Quake and such things to unenlightened folks, though we stopped short of setting up a game on the projection screen we had in the room... All good fun; it seems we're getting back into a bit more of a routine with doing stuff on Tuesday nights, which is certainly something of which I approve wholeheartedly, with two trips to the cinema, a jam and now this party in the last month or so, and more to come it seems.
Another great day at work, getting a big chunk of the quantum physics software out of the way - this time tackling the introduction sequence, which required a number of graphic events to be synchronised to an audio soundtrack; I also had to create the graphics and soundtrack in question, though I expect they will be tidied up by the audio-visual department at some point once we are happy with the way the software is working. It was time-consuming, but all worked pretty much first time, thankfully, and the code is nice and logical compared with a lot of retro-fitted multimedia elements in software that I have experienced. There's still some more to be done to that part, particularly the rather tricky-looking feature they want where the computer automatically moves the mouse around and clicks on things to demonstrate how it all works - I know it's possible, and there's more than one way to do it, but I still suspect it's a rather large can of worms.
Waiting for a phone-call from Kate - she rang just before I got in from work and said she'd ring again later. Today was in fact her first day back in the working world, because she was ill over the weekend and at the beginning of this week. Her new boss was very understanding however, and suspected he'd given her the bug at the interview! She sounded cheerful enough on the answerphone message - though in truth I've never known her not to - so I guess it was a good day as first days go, though no doubt I'll get the full low-down shortly, with the customary lack of opportunity to get a word in edgeways.
Definitely a day of ups and of downs. In the morning I was very pleased to get the animations working in my software, demonstrating how some of the tools worked; I used Paint Shop Pro's excellent image-capturing facilities, which let you grab whole sequences of screen or window bitmaps - optionally including the mouse pointer, until Windows' own built-in capture feature. I then fashioned trimmed down versions of these bitmaps into a Delphi-based animation, but in the process my executable size went from about 800Kb up to over 1.6Mb - and likely to further double when some more required animations have been included - so over lunch I pondered taking a slightly different approach.
Therefore later in the afternoon I did a little experimentation with sending Windows messages to controls, and was getting reasonable success, so I started work on converting my animations so that they were using actual live controls, with automated mouse movements driving them - rather than rapidly displaying large bitmap snapshots of the controls in use. All I can say is thank goodness I took a back-up first, because the whole thing has gone horribly pear-shaped, and what I thought would simplify things has actually made them horrendously more complicated. I have a few ideas I might try tomorrow morning, but the odds are squarely on me reverting to the previous bloated version and hoping Windows 3.1's memory management can cope.
Also on the way to lunch I bumped into Denise who is coordinating the developmental testing on my chemical equilibrium software, and the news there is mixed. Apparently the students didn't get on with the software at all, though Denise was quick to point out that she felt the problem lay much more with the underlying teaching approach than with my programming - which is gratifying for me, but still worrying as it means a radical redesign is likely, with time now almost gone. Andy from technology popped in to drop off a late draft of our paper on the simulation of composite beam loading - which I'll have to find some time to check through - and also a copy of Microsoft's Musical Instruments CD-ROM, which I gather is rather fun.
Kate did ring again in the end last night, and she seemed to have enjoyed her first day back at work in quite a while. She had to see to a few broken machines and so on, but a lot of her time was taken helping her boss prepare material for a big presentation he is doing at the hockey stadium, all about the internet. This presentation has to be geared towards a fairly general interest standpoint, so he is concentrating on the more fun and interesting aspects and possibilities of the technology, rather than boring the people with details they don't need to know. They are also very anxious she should get straight on to some accredited training courses, so it's all go at Psion-Dacom, and I'm sure she'll do just fine.
I'll be off shortly to the first house-group meeting since the changes within the church were announced, and it will be interesting to see how things will have changed there, other than the new leadership, which must undoubtedly make a difference. Readers will recall that during the meeting a week ago Monday, which laid down all kinds of plans for how the house-groups were to be transformed, there really was precious little clue about what was going to be happening that was so very different in the immediate future. But I will go, as ever, with an open mind; I was surprised and pleased by the transformation of the Sunday morning and evening meetings, and it would be cynical to predict anything less for this evening.
A good day, tinged with sadness at the very last. Work went really well, and I recovered well from the problems I was having at the end of yesterday, managing successfully to automate the mouse movements and so on as I had hoped, without using bulky animation frames or AVI movies or any of the other good - but technically problematic for one reason or another - suggestions people had made. For perhaps the first time ever, I managed to complete my monthly progress report before it was due, perhaps making up for the fact that my December one wasn't delivered until almost half-way through this month...
The sad news is that Vera, the not-very-old lady in the church we'd been praying for, died last night from her lung cancer. Twice she had been admitted to the local hospice, in order to die in a peaceful atmosphere, and twice she'd been sent home again when she didn't. The last time was just this last Tuesday, and it had been hoped she might be on the road to a miraculous recovery. But sadly it wasn't to be, and she leaves a husband and young-teenage son. Her greatest fear, she said, was not necessarily of dying, but of a drawn-out and painful recovery, so it is perhaps a blessing that she was spared that trauma.
Yesterday evening's house group meeting went quite well, though I am sure it still needs to find its feet at least a bit. Andy will make a good leader, and has some great stuff lined up for the next couple of months. After the meeting, Andy and Rosie invited me back to their house for a beer and a chat, and apart from finally finding a taker for my spare graphics tablet, it looks like I've possibly landed myself with a rather onerous task for later this year - namely sharing the driving of a 7-ton relief truck to Mostar in Bosnia and back again. Nothing's decided yet, and I'll have to give this some serious thought, and although the idea scares me, it also somewhat inspires me and I am sure it would be a fantastically worthwhile experience.
I've been thinking some more on this Bosnia opportunity, in advance of meeting Andy again tomorrow, and although I've not come to any kind of decision - and in any case it wouldn't really be for me to decide anyway, ultimately - I am getting a clearer picture of what I should do if they decide that they would like me to take part.
The basic fact is that they would want me to share the driving of a 7-ton Mercedes truck into Mostar in northern Bosnia. We would be travelling through Europe more or less non-stop, I think, and be driving these great big things on what I would consider to be the wrong side of the road - something I which I should emphasise I have no experience whatsoever. Nevertheless, Andy says he got used to his truck very quickly, once he'd worked out where all the gears etc were. So it would be a completely new and unknown experience, filling me with about as much fear as the destination itself.
We would be driving into what may not currently be a war-zone, but an area of extremely high tension, where the different ethnic groups do not venture into the wrong part of the city, or they can more or less guarantee not to make it back. Bosnia is generally enjoying a fragile peace, and inside sources suggest all-out war could break out again at any time. Even without war in progress, there is still a lethal legacy of the past, with many areas - even within the city - not yet cleared of mines. Mostar is a city of great contrasts; when Andy last went, the first sight was of the rich Christian area, and he wondered what they were doing there, but their final destination was the much poorer Muslim area, where the buildings remain as burnt out and bomb-wrecked shells, and the people eke out whatever existence they can.
So apart from the driving, by biggest fear would be of death, I suppose, if war broke out again, someone didn't like the look of my face or couldn't identify me for who I represented, or if I accidentally stepped or drove onto something nasty. But then I have to consider the benefits of going to those we would be serving. I am young, single, and have few responsibilities in this world; if the worst was to happen, it would far better happen to me than someone with a wife and children to support. So on balance, yes I think I would go. In a way it would be a blessed relief if the truck hire company refused to insure me or something, but that is a cop-out wish.
Sometimes we just have to live life a little bit on the edge; it's all too easy just to sit back in your comfortable armchair and let others take the risks, and I feel I've done that for too long now. If anyone else has any words of wisdom to share with me on this, please do, but I'm feeling more and more that I am fed up with my cosy but unexciting little existence.
Today I finally got up and dressed and everything somewhat after lunch-time, and trudged out to the shops. I grabbed a Whopper meal at Burger King, and then went into John Lewis to investigate tents on behalf of my mum. They had none on display, and only a couple bagged-up on the shelf, but I was shown a brochure, some of the contents of which they could sell, and I noted down details on a couple of models that looked like they might interest mum. Then I had a good look round the market, probably the first time that I have done so, after well over a year here in Milton Keynes. Not that it was by any means wonderful, and about the only stall I made any mental note of was the one selling Gilette blades for about half the rip-off price they went for when I bought a pack in Waitrose last weekend.
In Waitrose I got my usual unhealthy-looking basket of groceries, this time augmented with a nice bottle of wine for tomorrow's lunch - they had a wine-tasting table thing there, and having said how nice the wine was, and bearing in mind I was going to get a bottle of something or other anyway, it was hard to refuse. These shops do work strangely though. At the bakery counter, they had apparently run out of the loaf I wanted, but the girl said they had more, and came back a minute later with an armful of neatly bagged-up loaves. I asked if I just take my loaf wrapped like that, but she said that they have to remove them from the plastic bags and put them in a paper one - but agreed it was a crazy rule. I suppose it only looks like they're selling fresh bread if they're all traditionally stacked on the shelf gathering germs and drying out by the minute. Then finally pondering the unanswerable question of why people are prepared to wait twice as long at the "one basket" check-out with half a dozen people queueing, than I did at one of the mainly-trolley ones that was almost clear.
So yes, a fairly ordinary kind of Saturday. Up late, used Mono a bit, went shopping, used Mono a bit, played some guitar, used Mono a bit. Get the picture? At least tomorrow should be more interesting, with Celebration in the morning, and lunch at Andy and Rosie's.
Today's been a busy day for this diary, rather, hasn't it? This last entry for the day though centres around a bit of wishful moralising - namely why can't people get on with each other in a civilised manner? It saddens me when people with really quite minor and trivial differences of opinion, attitude or whatever, let it blow out of all proportion. On the greater scale it can lead to wars, and the immense human suffering that can result even to the innocent, but it can be just as upsetting on the minor scale, especially when the people involved are good friends.
I saw it when I used to be at college - I would safely say I could hold a civilised conversation with, and treat as a friend, everyone on my course, but sadly the same could not be said for others - and I see it at work quite a bit too. And now, sadly here on Monochrome too - a service which is designed to be fun, and which most people treat as such, but that a few have taken to extremes of sensitivity over pathetically trivial issues - and I sometimes feel stuck in the middle as the only one willing to communicate in a reasonably level-headed fashion.
Life really is just too short to harbour these kind of emotions; enemies do no-one any good and ultimately destroy your own spirit from within through feelings of resentment, anxiety and even fear, just as much as the enemy itself from outside by its own actions. Frequently the enemy is not an enemy at all, merely perceived to be, which makes the negative emotions even more regrettable and possibly leading to catastrophic consequences through sheer misunderstanding.
I am not whiter than white in all this, needless to say. There are people in the world who I perceive as hating me, but of which I have no proof, and yet I perpetuate any myth that might be. I am afraid to confront these issues and find the truth, even though I know the truth will in most cases be completely innocent and by removing a huge burden of resentment from me, be immensely liberating. So I think a late new year resolution will be to at least try getting in touch with some of these people from my past, and hopefully destroy a few myths in the process.