David's diary: March 1998
Not a terrifically good day at work today, hindered by remaining extremely both physically and emotionally drained after an altogether very busy weekend. I think yesterday evening, details of which I shall not go into here for reasons of confidentiality, did however show me to be capable of listening to people and not being judgmental, no matter what apparently appalling sequence of events is related. As such, although I feel weak in many ways as a result, I am probably spiritually stronger than for a good while, though none of us are out of the woods yet, nor will be until the very last of the final days, I suspect.
Great news today though was yet another happy report back on the quantum physics software, this time from my boss - always a good thing, I'm sure readers will agree! Admittedly, attached to it was a list of a couple of dozen problems needing fixing, but the overall impression was good. I was a bit annoyed with myself though, when I noticed a couple of problems Phil reported that I knew full well I'd fixed, but then discovered that although I had uploaded the most up-to-date version of the executable to the test server, I'd forgotten to do the same with a very important configuration file, with the net result that anyone testing it would have been oblivious to two or three days' work done during last week.
Today was a reasonable day at work, managing to work through quite a few items on my checklist of things needing to be done before handing over the chemical equilibrium software to QA for its final limb-from-limb dismemberment. The projected QA handover date is the end of this month, with the equivalent date for the quantum physics software a week earlier. I feel that I will be able to keep to my side of the bargain, but it will rely on the right input at the right time from the various other people involved, so I'm not counting my chickens.
Another day of chipping away at my Chemical equilibrium to-do list, and being reasonably successful at doing so. Such was my engrossment in my work, that I clean forgot about a meeting in the afternoon, embarrassed to be reminded about it a quarter of an hour after it was due to start. To make matters worse, the meeting was fairly horrible, about the virtual spectroscopy project which readers will recall has grown by an order of magnitude while I wasn't looking, and I have semi-committed to putting in three months' developer time between Easter and the beginning of August - this would be OK, but for the fact that I also have almost two months of holiday to take before October, and have other projects I'll be expected to dovetail this with time-wise. All good fun, not.
An unexciting but fairly productive day at work, seeing the return of my real line manager, Ian, after a month sunning it in Australia - even if he did only come in on the understanding that he was going to spend most of the day sorting through his e-mail backlog. This evening's neighbourhood group meeting should be quite interesting, billed as "Panel questions - what if someone asks me..?" though according to our programme that should be next week - hmm, I wonder. Anyway, it's a rare opportunity for us to pose awkward and even confrontational questions to a learned panel, so I'm going to be having a quick recap of the Grill a Christian file to get some inspiration, I think!
Just got back in from the neighbourhood group meeting, following by a little while round at Andy and Rosie's. As I suspected, the question and answer session thing is indeed next week, with tonight's meeting instead being "three-minute testimonies", which was very good, giving a valuable insight into the different ways God's working in our various lives. I'll hang on to the questions I culled from the Grill a Christian file though, since they will still be useful next week. We also prayed about various situations, including Jon's work as a major issue - and literally as the very final amen of the evening was said, the phone rang and he's been offered a job, not the perfect one certainly, but one that he would be happy with for the time being and with the potential for working from home and such-like.
Then as I said, I popped round to Andy and Rosie's, not only to say hello to Hooper the cat - I do miss having a cat sometimes - but also so that Andy could show off his new graphics tablet. Well not really new, and barely his - this was an approximately eight year old tablet I was given a long time ago and had never used, and I recently gave to Andy on the understanding that it was very old, probably obsolete, and impossible to find Windows 95 drivers for. But amazingly, it turns out that his CAD package includes a driver program, that will enable a selection of graphics tablets to appear as a standard mouse not only to itself, but all Windows applications - and this Summagraphics unit, long since abandoned by its manufacturers, was amongst the devices supported.
It's Sunday afternoon, and I've just got back in from doing the shopping after a weekend at home, indeed the first time I've been back there for about a month - it was nice to see my parents, and as I hoped, by going back a little less frequently, it makes it more special when I do. Went out for a nice walk from The Lee yesterday afternoon, making the most of some of the better weather of the weekend, and then watched an interesting documentary on the local author Roald Dahl, giving a fascinating insight into this obviously very troubled man, who lived about a mile from my family home until his death. Oh, and I won at Scrabble for the first time in a while, which is always a good sign, though my most recent games were somewhat handicapped by playing with an unfamilar set - it's surprising the difference it makes - and also a couple of games as a foursome, which puts a very different perspective on scoring.
Although I would still never go out of my way to do my shopping on a Sunday given any great choice in the matter, it's something which bothers me less now than even quite recently. From the practical point of view, the fact is that the law now says that shops can open for a limited period of time, and whereas while Sunday opening used to be a very grey area, staff were frequently exploited, forced to work Sundays against their will or face the sack, nowadays it is well organised, and many young people in particular rely upon Sunday work for vital income. From the Christian perspective, I suspect that the most vociferous critics of Sunday trading are also those who are at their most Christian on Sundays - or indeed, dare I say it, only Christian on Sundays or other times when it suits them - and thus seriously deluded about what living a Christian life is about.
Sadly I got back to the flat this afternoon to a somewhat unwelcome but also strangely familiar sight; that of a boarded-up front door to the block, and splinters of glass all over the path and downstairs landing. I was half expecting to find my flat broken into, which it hadn't been, thankfully, but - without wishing to jump to over-hasty conclusions - I have my suspicions about what happened, since it would certainly not be the first time. That is to say, not the first time that a drunken and/or stoned neighbour either wasn't let back in late at night by his partner, or got into a heated argument with friends or acquaintances that escalated into a fight. I really can't understand how people can carry on their lives like that. I know I'm not perfect - far from it indeed - but that must be a desperately miserable existence indeed. I had thought things had improved a lot lately, but that now appears not to be the case.
A fair day, I guess, getting a few niggly bits done of the various bits of software I'm working on, but generally still waiting for confirmed scripts and so on before I can really do the final polishing. Complete and utter final deadline for the quantum physics thing is just under two weeks from now, with the chemical equilibrium one a week later. As I think I said before, I'm pretty certain I can keep to my side of the bargain, but meeting the deadlines will depend on getting the right material at the right time from the academics involved, and some of the "final" material I have received in the last few days has given difficulties.
After work I went for a beer with Sbj, which will probably be one of the last before he disappears back up north in a couple of weeks time, his research at the OU come to an end. His bike's currently in the repair-shop, so I'd agreed I'd save him a wet walk home by giving him a lift - he only lives round the corner from me - but instead we wound up at my place anyway, and played with my music stuff for a good couple of hours, introducing him to the delights of MIDI wind, virtual synthesis, 80's retro analogue stuff and so on. Well he said he enjoyed it all anyway, even if he left me to do the bulk of the fun stuff while he just listened contentedly!
Not a wonderful day at work, feeling in so deep that I couldn't even breathe, close to giving up utterly; more than once just sitting blankly staring at the screen just willing it to go away and never come back, as well as contemplating worse. I am frankly fed up with academics who think that so long as they laugh and smile, they can get away with murder, and since I am someone who finds it very difficult to stand my ground and say no when required - if only for my own sanity - so the water level simply gets deeper and deeper. But I was made to feel slightly fortunate in the afternoon, when we had a seminar about a computing course, where the academics involved were ten times worse than those I have had to deal with. Perhaps they didn't laugh and smile whilst still getting away with murder.
I also got an e-mail from my friend David - I didn't even know he had my address, found using Yahoo's search facilities - asking if I could help him out Friday evening, setting up chairs and tables for an event in Milton Keynes village. This was a bit of a pain, because I had already promised Andy that I would help man the Bosnia Relief kiosk in the city centre at some point on Friday, but I didn't know when exactly. However it now seems that there are plenty of people available to help at the kiosk in the evening, which would have been my preferred time - especially with work as hectic as it is - so we agreed I'd give that a miss, so I've been able to confirm that I'll be able to help David with his tables and chairs after all. What a mundane life I lead, where a request to help arrange furniture is the highlight of my day...
More laughs and smiles from the academics at work today, and the water's still deeper, but I still believe and am sure that I can do what's necessary to get the various bits of software out of the door at the requisite times - a week Monday and a fortnight Tuesday, respectively. I don't pretend it's going to be easy; indeed the next two weeks will probably be amongst the hardest of my working life, but when these two projects are out of the door, I can breathe a massive sigh of relief, at least until the next truck-load of nebulous specifications and ridiculous deadlines comes along to taunt me. Still, at least I have a job, and one that I essentially enjoy, even if it does sometimes seem to have more downs than ups. All too many people - even amongst my friends - are stuck in totally lousy or dead-end jobs, or have no work at all and consequent financial problems, so I should count my blessings.
As planned, I helped Dave sort out the chairs and tables for this dinner he's helping organise tonight. Thankfully - indeed somewhat unexpectedly - I had no problem at all finding the place, Milton Keynes village hall, though it consequently meant I arrived about ten minutes early, and the lady with the keys and food things was running late anyway - which was quite nice actually, because it gave Dave and myself a rare opportunity to chat, and he could explain to me a little more about the organisation whose dinner it was that we were helping prepare for. We had everything sorted out in about half an hour or so, and I am sure the dinner - for approximately fifty members of the Milton Keynes based Bridgebuilder Trust, an organisation committed to bringing the gospel into the city's schools by various means - has gone on to be a great success.
Mum rang a little while ago for a chat, and one of the things she'd been doing was sorting through my wardrobe at home, trying to make a bit more space, and she'd found a box of stuff relating to a less-than-glorious past life of mine that I agreed I'd sort through before too long. But it got us talking about various things, and I have been left immensely reassured by what she had to say. I still don't feel it's something I can talk about, let alone talk about frankly - I hope one day the time will be right and I can lay the whole stupid episode to rest for good - but Mum helped to quell the remaining lingering doubts about myself, raising my self-confidence immensely, making me realise that although I might not have been completely spotless - through naivete and lack of guidance more than anything - the conduct of others involved has shown they had even more to hide than me, and were incompetent, vindictive and indeed downright irresponsible.
Got up typically late this morning, but not so late that I couldn't justify having both my usual breakfast and a Burger King an couple of hours later. Yes, Saturday afternoon was shopping afternoon, with amongst the more interesting things on my shopping list a capo for my guitar, a tube of fungicidal cream, and a pair of nail scissors. The capo will of course enable me to play my limited repertoire of chord fingerings in a range of different keys, the fungicidal cream will hopefully clear up for good - well until the next time anyway - a recurring foot infection I seem to get, and the pair of nail scissors is now somewhat of a necessity since the incredible success of my new year resolution to stop biting my nails - though I hasten to add I never did bite my toe-nails, but rather the infrequency of my visits home these days means I don't get to cut them as often, home being where the only nail scissors were until today.
I had a gut feeling before I went out that I ought to take my cheque-book, somehow fearing I was going to run into problems with the Nat West cash-point. I normally get my week's cash at the Waitrose check-out, but I was running low and needed to buy all those little things with cash really, so it was quite a rarity that I went to the Nat West to get money. And my gut feeling proved to be completely justified, with major - and apparently somewhat inexplicable - computer problems at the branch which had rendered just about everything inoperable; the only way I was going to get any money out was by cashing a cheque.
It's Sunday evening, and I'm psyching myself up for a busy night ahead, I don't doubt, and one which I am entirely expecting to find difficult at times. My friend Lucy has been having to put up with a fair bit of stick from other people for even daring to be sociable with me, to put it bluntly. We are just close friends, enjoying each others' company as we fight through tricky times, but it somehow makes both of us feel even more self-conscious - as if we have something to hide - the more we have to spell that out to other people who seem to just love a bit of potential gossip and an opportunity to administer ill-founded "advice". Maybe I am being somewhat naive to believe that a bloke can like a woman without there being anything more to it, whether real or perceived, but I fear that if I hear anyone so much as mention anything about it tonight I'm going to bite their head off, or more likely just walk straight out.
This morning's meeting was good, with the first of a series of seminars aimed at people like me who are relatively new to the church and who are perhaps lacking a certain foundation in our faith. About seven or eight of us met with Danny, discussing various things relating to this, particularly focusing on passages such as that of the wise man and the fool and their respective house-building techniques. It's early days yet, and Danny's planning on running these on a fortnightly basis for several weeks, I think, and the ultimate aim is to bring us to a position where we are prepared to make a commitment to the church - with things like baptism along the way, it would appear. Quite what the benefits of commitment are, I'm not quite sure. I know it means you get a birthday card, and your name and address in the first half of the directory, but I'm sure there's much more to it than that, and it will all become clear.
Well the evening came and went without any of the problems I had anticipated, though I still felt difficult at times for other reasons - but nothing that couldn't be released through good solid individual prayer. Yes, an elder from one of the other areas did ask how we knew each other, but there was no suggestion of anything more probing, so I am happy, and I think Lucy is too; she underwent a massive releasing tonight and I think is well on the road to spiritual recovery. With Helen not too well at the moment, our usual post-meeting gathering at Alan and Mark's pad didn't happen, but in a way it was as well, because I can certainly use an uncustomarily early night with this busy couple of weeks ahead at work.
Today was not a day which will go down as one of my most enjoyable, but nevertheless as one which might represent a major turning point. In this morning's post I received just over two months' notice that the owner of this flat wants it back at the end of my current tenancy agreement. He is of course entirely within his rights, but it is somewhat disappointing when I'd waited so long for the essential maintenance work to be done, and now will have only about three months to enjoy the benefits of it. On the other hand, the rent for the flat was always rather good compared to the usual market rate for properties of this type, so it's probably not worth making an issue out of, especially if I want to get a good reference.
So it's rather a pain coming when there's a thousand other things - work, personal and vehicular - to be worrying about, especially when I've had no real experience of looking for accommodation before. Indeed the last time I had such an ultimatum was when I started looking for my current job, and that involved a move from Hampshire to Milton Keynes anyway - and the blessing of being able to move straight into a room at this current flat without any real searching. It's quite likely that I will lose out substantially financially, whatever happens, so I'm going to try and minimise expense as much as possible - I'd be fairly happy with a one-bedroom flat, and I also have a few friends in the property letting business who might be able to help.
On the up-side, it will mean getting away from this troublesome immediate neighbourhood, though of course there's no guarantee that I'd move into one that was any better. It will be nice to move to somewhere where crime is not rife, where I don't have to look suspiciously even at my neighbours, and where I can actually hope to get some sleep on Friday and Saturday nights. I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing, but this is also likely to defer my buying my own place for the time being; rent is expensive in Milton Keynes compared to property prices for buyers, but on the other hand, with a short-term contract - even if it does keep getting extended - I shouldn't really be tying myself down in debt quite yet.
As I suggested earlier, I am wondering if this is going to be the start of a new chapter of my life, a fresh start as some people have suggested. I would be lying if I claimed to be totally happy at work, so it might well be that a change there is needed too - though I'd rather it was on my terms than anyone else's. I do still know in my heart that my future is in Milton Keynes, but it may well have been that the twin openings of the job at the university and finding this current flat were only mechanisms for getting me into the city, and that only now is my true vocation here slowly starting to be revealed. With developments afoot within the church and more personal relationships, it really does seem like a time of change.
Today was mercifully uneventful really, getting a reasonable amount done at work, including some stuff that I really thought I was going to have to let go unamended in the quantum physics software but actually turned out to be quite simple. This evening I popped round to see Sally, after she left a message this morning to say she'd still got the property section from last week's free rag. At a first glance at it with Sally, there appears to be a fair bit of rented accommodation available at sensible prices, though I have still to work through it methodically. Other than that, yes, a really quite uneventful day, indeed probably what I needed most under the current circumstances, though I am sure the storm will rage on for a while yet.
Anothing stunningly uneventful yet pleasantly productive day at work. Amongst other things, I finally saw the back of all my draft audio clips from the "Electrons in atoms" quantum physics software; the more I heard it, the more I hated the sound of my own voice, so it's a blessed relief to finally get Stuart's nasal twang into the software. It gives the software a whole new lease of life, which is just as well when it is likely to be used with minimal modifications - future versions of Windows permitting - well into the next decade. Before anyone asks, yes it is Year 2000 compliant - mainly due to not actually having any absolute time based functionality anyway.
Cool Edit 96's downsampling facilities worked excellently at reducing the sound files from 44.1kHz to 11kHz sampling - although if you heard the two versions of the files next to each other you would certainly notice a difference, without anything to judge the 11kHz ones against, the end-users should be as impressed as I was. Normally 11kHz samples would be expected to sound very dull, with a top frequency response of only 5.5kHz, but Stuart's audio clips really did sound crisp and vibrant - testament to the professional quality recording by the audio-visual department of the original 44.1kHz material, and Cool Edit's amazing performance for low-cost shareware.
I had a bit of hassle synchronising the on-screen happenings with the new audio, especially as a few parts had changed order as well as timing, but that part of the software is now complete. This leaves what should hopefully only be a few minor tweaks to make over the next two days, before the final QA testing hand-over on Monday. I really am quite confident about this software, a sentiment I wish I could also express about the "Chemical equilibrium" package, which seems to go from bad to worse with every little modification that gets requested, though with the final audio - a yawn-inducing forty minutes of it - being recorded on Friday there shouldn't be many more change requests.
Today at work was a day of real changed fortunes, starting as bad as it's ever been, but ending on a high note - and indeed not even really wanting to leave, except that I was pretty drained by then. First thing I tried to fix this problem that had emerged last night, but I had no joy with it - but it's mainly cosmetic and I don't think will affect many machines, so I'm not losing sleep over it. I daresay someone might notice it during the quality testing phase, in which case I will have to come back to it, but that's a bridge that can definitely wait its turn to be crossed.
Then I turned the front-page to a printed document containing the final script for the software, and to my horror, found it contained well over twenty further pages of corrections, looking like two or three days worth of work in store - not good news with the hand-over on Monday, only two days away, and with plenty more to do besides. Even then, I wouldn't be able to do everything requested, and I was really quite concerned. It was also rather worrying that part of the problem was that I was using Delphi, which although strong in most areas, fell down badly in this particular one compared to other tools at our disposal - C++ with the in-house OpenWin class library in particular - and my boss can be rather good at the I-told-you-so routine in such cases.
So it was that after half a morning with my head in my hands, unwilling even to start to chip away at the changes, I decided to take a major gamble - or perhaps better described as a leap of faith - and rewrite a substantial chunk of the software, with the aim of making it a lot quicker and easier to implement the changes as a direct result. It has to be said that only a day or so from a final deadline is not the best time to delete swathes of code wholesale and start all over again, but the gamble paid off; two hours later I had a working system, an hour later than that it had been successfully integrated into the main software, and an hour or so after that, I had managed to put ticks through almost all the red ink changes on that dauntingly horrific script document.
In simple terms, the code I wrote was a formatted text viewer, something sadly lacking from Delphi. Whereas Delphi will by default happily display unformatted text, i.e. plain ASCII, anything more sophisticated is a no-no, but with my code, it can now happily display all the common styles like bold, underline and italics, plus subscript and superscript - vital for scientific text - and it would be easy if necessary to add things like font and colour changes. The mark-up language is my own, admittedly not a million miles from Monochrome's attributes scheme, and more suitable than something more like HTML or RTF; 16-bit Delphi has a very limited string length, so it's not a good idea to waste too much of the strings with lengthy formatting tags.
This still leaves a fair bit to be done tomorrow, but I feel a lot better about the software in general as a result of today's breakthrough, so have a real incentive to polish it as best I possibly can in the remaining time. I expect I'll work late tomorrow evening, and might even have to come in at some point over the weekend - though I hope not - in order to get the software ready for hand-over on Monday. But today has proved to be perhaps one of my most productive ever, a day on which I overcame one of the only things that made Delphi at all limiting - and which could help gain acceptance for it and its C++Builder sibling - but most of all, a day on which I can finally say that I cracked this project and will be able to hand it over with full confidence that it has fulfilled everyone's wishes.
I'm sitting here half falling asleep, after a very long day at work as mine go. Even this morning I felt tired to the extent of a certain queasiness, but after an eleven-hour day I have to say I feel fit to drop. I got more or less everything done that I wanted to, but I'll still have plenty to do on Monday; thankfully the deadline isn't first thing on Monday, but on the other hand I don't want to still be making major modifications too soon before the hand-over. Depending how I feel, I might put in a few hours tomorrow afternoon, but it probably won't be strictly necessary, and I could probably use a serious lie-in.
This morning I'm still feeling quite tired, but I had a fairly sound night's sleep, and I feel infinitely better than I did this time yesterday. My car tax renewal notice finally arrived in this morning's post; I knew it should be arriving shortly, and was actually beginning to get somewhat worried about its whereabouts - surprising perhaps given that it only means yet more money - since I don't get many opportunities to get anywhere near a main post office.
Anyway, that will get paid off today, all 150 pounds of it; sadly the Chancellor's vague budget edict about reduced rates for small, clean, cars doesn't come in until next year, and in any case it would take a miracle for it to include my Metro, which might be physically small but not much else. Even giving it a good hosing and turtle-waxing isn't likely to help.
Sunday has been a great day, all go for the last thirteen hours, and now finally drawing to a peaceful close. The morning service was as great as ever - Di was speaking, giving a very different feel to proceedings - but just before it started, Cally invited me to a lunchtime gathering at Jon and Phil's house. This was targeted at those of us without mums living locally, so we could still have a bit of a special time - yes, I know the logic's a bit screwy; I guess it was really just a feeble excuse for a load of us to order pizza.
Anyway, that meant all told we had Jon, Phil, Cally, Mark, Gillian and myself, and a smashing time was had by all. Feeling utterly stuffed with garlic bread, dial-a-pizza and ice cream - and the Calcutta Cup match completed with a satisfying score-line - a stroll by the Grand Union was called for, going via Gillian's house to drop her off. Mark and Cally were being typically unadventurous and soon toddled back to Jon and Phil's, whilst the rest of us took a bit of a longer loop, spending a fair few minutes regressing into childhood on the swings and things as light relief.
It was probably about seven o'clock by the time we were back, and Cally needed to get home. So we rang Andy and Rosie, inviting them to come and watch a video of some description - and they kindly wondered if they should invite me, even though Jon had already told them I was there anyway; I guess I'm still a bit of an unknown amongst this circle, though things happily seem to be changing - and then also Alan and Helen. Taking Mark's mobile, I drove to Blockbuster with Jon, and remotely consulting with our prospective audience, we chose Air Force One - plus chocolate and Pringles. Back at Jon and Phil's, we also made popcorn and stuff, and a most pleasant evening was enjoyed in the company of Harrison Ford and colleagues.
But now it's all over, and I can relax ready for the storm at work tomorrow; I should at least sleep like a log after such a busy day today, though I sadly doubt I'll be too perky in the morning. I know that feeling as tired as I tend to, I should perhaps slow down a bit at the weekends, but on the other hand my day-to-day life is otherwise somewhat mundane, so the odd days like this - and they seem to be happening more and more often, I am happy to say - are a very welcome release, even if they do nothing much for my tiredness.
The quantum physics software, Electrons in atoms, is now out of the way, at least for the time being. As previously agreed, this afternoon I handed it over for testing, and now - apart from the fact that I have plenty of other stuff to be pressing on with - it's just a matter of waiting to see what catalogue of horrors gets revealed by QA's punishing test procedures. The hand-over wasn't helped by our departmental file-server deciding to take a nose-dive, with downtime estimated at anything up to a week, but Chris had moved most of the important files pertaining to this project onto another networked machine, so all was not in vain.
The chemical equilibrium software will be the focus of my attention for the next week, with the hand-over firmly scheduled for a week tomorrow. The list of change requests is somewhat smaller, perhaps, but hides a multitude of lurking nasties; as I have said before, I feel nowhere near as good about this software as the quantum physics one, but I expect it will still end up as reasonable as could be hoped. I always have to remember that to a lot of people, it's quite a miracle this software is being completed at all, given its dubious development heritage, so any worthwhile product can only work in my favour.
A few other interesting things transpired over the weekend, which all somehow seem to fit into my recent kind of personal rediscovery and beginning of a new chapter of my life. As I implied before, I really feel that God is telling me that it's time for a change, and that if I'm not going to get off my backside and do something about it, then he's going to kick me. Already I have seen myself getting more and more involved with others at church, both on a friendship and more personal relationship level. I am also taking the road towards somewhat reaffirming my faith, and I believe this enforced house move to be part of it too.
Anyway, as far as further developments are concerned, over the May-day holiday weekend, a load of us will be going down to Ringwood for a short break. This is the long-awaited Generation X holiday, our "Generation X" group being the successful fruit of Graham Kendrick's realisation that in Christian life as much as any other, the young adult all too often feels there is nothing in it for them, with resultant loss of identity, fellowship and so on. I've been to a couple of their meetings, and I have to admit I didn't really get on too well, finding them perhaps a little cliquey, but I am sure a down-to-earth weekend away will fix that.
Then next Sunday lunchtime, Danny and Chris are hosting what is not being advertised as a singles lunch, but is anyway. It looks like there could be anything up to a dozen or more of us enjoying a full roast - so we will be paying our way - and if past performance is anything to go by, at least part of the idea will be to directly deal with that "being single" issue... Now I have to admit I'm none too keen on matchmaking exercises, and I would resist any blatant efforts by other people to pair me off, but I also happen to know that there are some charming young ladies amongst those to be invited, and I will take things as they come.
Finally - though I am sure there is more to come in abundance - it seems like at last I will be getting involved in the music group at church, something I have for a long time felt it on my heart to do, but never had the courage. I explained that it would be a real hurdle for me to actually get up on stage and perform - Holy Spirit or no Holy Spirit assisting - but Mark insisted that I should at least come along to some of the practices, get a feel for the way things worked, and see how I could fit in and what I could bring to the group. I think their next practice is in a couple of weeks time, which should give me enough time to brush up.
So all in all, it's been a really quite special last couple of days, with both church and work life bringing me a lot of happiness and genuine contentment - I do feel more at peace with myself than for a long time, another vital step in this exciting new phase of my life. They have done nothing for my tiredness, however, so an early night is called for tonight; I felt very self-conscious this morning, getting up at only half past eight on such a busy day at work, but I really feel I wouldn't have made it through the morning if I hadn't caught those extra winks of sleep and resigned myself to getting into work slightly later than normal.
Early today at work I got a visit from Stuart, the academic I have been working with on the Electrons in atoms software, asking how I was getting on with it. I explained that it was done and handed over for testing, but he still said he'd like to see it. I politely asked why, and he said he wanted to go through it and comment on it - no doubt to come up with another small rainforest's worth of change requests. He didn't seem to buy my "the deadline was yesterday and it's gone to QA now so tough" line, so I doubt it'll be the last I hear about it, but sooner or later these academics - and I know I am not the only victim - will have to realise that just because it may be technically possible to tweak computer software - unlike other media - up until the moment the CD-ROM mastering machine starts smoking, it's simply not acceptable to stretch these things to the limit. I know my boss recently refused point-blank to make even a single-word change to one of his pieces of software - because giving in would have set a dangerous precedent - so I should have good support if needed.
Just before I was going to leave work this evening, I got a phone call from my colleague Malcolm. He is involved with a Milton Keynes based organisation called Friends around the World, who run twice-yearly relief convoys to a town near Sarajevo in Bosnia. As regular readers will know, I have been involved with a Bosnia relief organisation linked with our family of churches, and had vaguely considered driving for them. Malcolm was aware of my interest in the issue, and a couple of weeks back he told me that he was going to be driving down to Olovo with various goods for children who had lost parents in the conflict. But this evening's phone call - predictably enough, perhaps - was to explain that one of their drivers had been forced to drop out, and wondering if I wanted to take his place. I've since talked to my friend Andy, who has been down to Bosnia with our own organisation, and he is emphatic that I should do it, and as a result I phoned Malcolm back to express a serious interest.
However it seems Malcolm's organisation is a bit haphazardly run, and the vehicles may well not be entirely ideal, being somewhat small capacity, so I have my reservations. But he wasn't asking me to commit myself on the spot, even though he couldn't really think of anyone else who might be able to get time off work at such short notice - I can't even be totally sure that I can, though it's quite likely - and they could manage without a replacement driver, at the expense of a slightly slower and logistically more complex journey. In any case, in the meantime I have agreed I'll go along to their packing session tomorrow evening, where I can meet the others involved, and hopefully be able to more definitely say yes or no. I do feel that with the sudden and somewhat unexpected curtailment of the current major project at work and a few other factors, I am more than coincidentally placed in a good position to do this, and I hope any lingering doubts can be extinguished tomorrow night.
A couple of days of ups and downs have passed since I last wrote in here. Yesterday at work was spent starting to integrate the final audio into the Chemical equilibrium software, and - apart from having to sort through the complete tangled mess of misnamed files supplied by the sound studio - it went quite well, with no major hitches. I completed this integration today, but hit on some quite serious problems, where last-minute changes sneaked into the audio have non-trivial - a euphemism for exceedingly complicated - knock-on effects on the programming, such that I fear once again I'll be working at least part of the weekend, or longer than is good for me tomorrow night. I saw Elaine briefly and mentioned this to her, but she seemed jovially unconcerned; I guess so long as the customer is happy, everything's fine. Despite the success with the audio, the annoyances of the script changes rather spoilt my day, and I have to say that this evening I feeling rather miserable, further unhelped by there being no neighbourhood group meeting tonight, due to a talk by Fiona Castle at one of the local churches.
The low-light of yesterday must have been the visit from Lynda, carrying out the testing on my Electrons in atoms software, and complaining that it wouldn't work at all on the first machine she tried. Now perhaps it was tempting fate a little to start with a notoriously problematic Opus 486 running Windows 3.1, but the QA process is supposed to give software a hard time, so I suppose it was fair enough. After all, I know the software works perfectly on a 266MHz Pentium II with all the trimmings, so it's pointless duplicating my effort. It turned out the problem was isolated to Windows 3.1, with a textbook Delphi-to-C string conversion function failing miserably, filling the result with garbage - not the best data to feed to an integer conversion. Annoyingly, QA's testing is done on non-networked machines, so they won't be able to have the corrected version - it was easy to fix once the problem was isolated - until a new gold disc is burnt sometime next week, and doubts will linger with me all the while.
The threat of a short-notice trip to Bosnia has now diminished, with the insurance company announcing that they could extend the policy on the minibus down to over-21's, the result of that being that Malcolm's daughter can - and indeed will - now go, filling the place for which I had possibly been earmarked. This suits me fine, because a number of things seem to be complicating the issue for me, and whilst it remains a worthy cause, I'd rather stay on the sidelines. Nevertheless, I said I'd go along to their packing session last night, so Malcolm gave me directions to get to what turned out to be the Bradville mosque - yes, that venue was one of the things that gave me a bad feeling, especially after I had specifically asked God to give me some clear-cut advice on whether I should involve myself. But I went anyway - it would have been wrong to have promised and then not turned up or made excuses - and helped them for an hour or so, packing boxes for individual named children - including clothing, food, toys, stationery etc. I made a donation, but left it at that, and I don't expect to be further involved.
After getting back from the Bosnia packing session, I'd agreed to go to the Cricketers with fellow Mono user and Oldbrook resident Sbj, probably the last such beer-swilling opportunity before he finally leaves the city for his Shropshire home this coming weekend. Conversation, as usual, centred around a mixture of work, technology, Mono and music, and he came back to my place for a short while afterwards for a cup of tea and a further natter. When Sbj leaves the city, as far as I know I'll be the only regular Mono user based in Milton Keynes; my old flatmate is still in the city, and occasionally pops onto Mono, but apart from him, I am aware of no-one, even amongst the student population of De Montfort. Mono users certainly seem to exist in clusters, probably due to the word-of-mouth publicity which constrains any such services running on the UK's JANET academic network, and whereas some universities have dozens of users, the majority of institutions - even large ones - have little representation at all.
Today has been one of those not-much-to-say days really, not terribly productive, not very eventful, and probably best forgotten, to be quite honest. Elaine popped in to see how I was getting on, and was in a slightly more apologetic mood regarding her faux-pas on the audio track, insistent that the code should not be changed; instead this meant me doing some further ingenious doctoring of the audio track, which was far more fun than programming anyway. I'll be going into work tomorrow, sadly; there's simply too much yet to be done, with the hand-over scheduled for Tuesday - much to the alarm of my boss who thought it was Wednesday, and has software to hand over himself! That meant it was best to do my weekly shop tonight, so I wandered into the city centre a little while ago to stock up on my bread and milk - anyone would think I was a hedgehog - plus a few things for tomorrow's lunch.
Well it's half way through Saturday afternoon, and I'm sitting at my desk at work, unable to make any progress whatsoever on this Chemical equilibrium software. I lack both the inspiration and motivation to make best use of the pile of rubbish I have here, and also the time to make the ground-up modifications that are really needed if this software is going to work as required. This project was doomed from the moment I took it on, and the inevitable has only been delayed, it seems. Six months ago, it was thought this software had no future, and it was only thanks to my enthusiasm and perhaps misguided optimism for how it was going that the management didn't give it the coup de grace at that point. And oh how I wish they had, now, because this pile of biologically-processed Pedigree Chum is no doubt going to linger on the soles of my shoes for as long as I work here.
The four main parts of the software work well, hence my previous optimism, but it is the last part which has pulled the whole lot into the mire, since it became clear what it really involved, as distinct to what I was originally told when I took over the software. The other four parts were not all trivial, by any means, but they operate smoothly and without any rough edges. The first part is the famous "bouncing balls" simulation, where molecules bounce around like undamped billiard balls, reacting when they collide, demonstrating the nature of dynamic chemical equilibrium on the microscopic scale. The other main parts take a step back and look at equilibrium on the macroscopic process scale, dealing with the statistical proportions of reactants and products in chemical reactions governed by gas pressure, gas temperature and solution concentration, respectively.
But it is the fifth and final part which has caused all the problems. Described as a notebook, I understood it simply to be a tool which students could call up to record interesting observations, such a trivial thing that I never worried too much about explicitly considering it in my development time estimates. Indeed the version I inherited was simply a text editor, like a functionally-lacking Windows Notepad. It soon became clear, however, that a plain text editor was not going to be enough, since not only was the notebook actually supposed to be automatically updated, but also able to represent things like chemical equations in conventional notation. Then the real blow - the notebook was supposed to be able to ask questions and plot graphs... Suddenly anything like a descendent of a text editor began to look strangely inappropriate.
Suffice to say, that over all these different incarnations, the thing has become a monster, and calling it a notebook at all is a complete con. It's not really that huge, but it is disproportionately complex for what it does - and utterly unmaintainable, as today's non-progress clearly demonstrates. Good functional software can only be designed, not haphazardly evolved; history has shown this to be the case more often than I care to mention, and frankly I am embarrassed to have any connection with this thing. Yet I have promised that all the requested changes - and I don't even understand half of them - will be made by next Tuesday's hand-over, so something's going to have to be done. And now, having wasted my Saturday like this - instead of having a lie-in and a rest - I'm going to be even less fit for work on Monday, and even less likely to complete the work than ever before.
Back at the flat now, and I can assure readers that very little more happened at work since my last edit. In the absence of anything else I could really think of to do, I tentatively started merging my custom rich-text routines - developed for Electrons in atoms, but generic enough to be used elsewhere with care - into the Chemical equilibrium software, in the hope that they might help somehow. I extended the syntax to allow ASCII text input fields, so that simple gap-filling exercises of the type required by the software would be possible, and it should be easy to do the same to allow the drop-down list boxes I want to use.
But all this could be in vain, because time still remains wholly against me; I did it mainly to justify the fact that I'd bothered going in to work at all, rather than because I could be sure it would be useful in the greater scheme of things. So about eight hours at work yielded precious little, and now I am back at the flat, gently sipping Lemsip and wondering what the heck has happened to Saturday. The salt was further rubbed in by 1471 revealing one of the guys from the church rang at lunchtime, probably to invite me to do something far more exciting than sit with my head in my hands, tearing my hair out and contemplating worse.
Yet the ironic thing is that I have no great inclination to phone him back and find out. I guess either way I lose, because there's almost certainly only two reasons he'd have rung. First reason would have been to invite me to do something interesting, exciting and possibly even musical - which I will have missed, since you don't ring people at Saturday lunchtime to suggest an evening activity - or to say that the singles lunch for tomorrow has been cancelled or postponed or something, which would really make my weekend enjoyment thoroughly complete. Yes, I guess this is depression once again; still, realising it is a vital first step.
Well maybe things are looking up already. This evening I managed to define a useful looking file-format for generalising the questions and processing the responses to them. It's probably got a little way to go, but it looks solid enough to me, and should be capable of implementing everything I need to, though there will be a lot of boring repetitive typing to do on Monday, with about half a dozen lines per chemical involved. Still, lots of boring typing is far preferable to being unable to see what to do next, so I'm semi-happy.
It's lightly drizzling outside, so I can feel justified relaxing awhile before the evening's activities - I certainly missed my hour's sleep last night. This morning's meeting went well, with the highlight being the second of a series of special seminars covering issues of faith and commitment. Then it was on to Danny and Chris's for this much anticipated singles' lunch, which also went very well, and I hasten to add that there was no effort made at all to pair people off or anything; it was just an opportunity for those of us in the church who wouldn't otherwise probably be having a very nice Sunday lunch to do so for a change.
After this evening's meeting I've agreed to pop round to Mark's - though if it's anything like a regular Sunday, most of us will anyway - but specifically to look at a room he's offering me if I want it, though I suspect it could be a little on the small side, depending on how much other space there would be in the house for my musical and other clobber. Rent would be competitive at about 180 pounds inclusive - except phone, of course - and being a house rather than a flat, it's certainly worthy of consideration for sharing, and from the summer - when Alan moves out - there's likely to be a bigger room available if I want.
This evening was altogether very good, despite the odd thing that could easily have turned it sour. Reading the local free newspaper I spotted an article saying that the MFI call centre here in Milton Keynes is being shut down, with up to 90 redundancies. Lucy works there, so I immediately phoned her, and she confirmed it was true, but she's being amazingly strong - indeed utterly cheerful - about it, seemingly unconcerned about the career moves they had in mind for her being dashed in an instant. She's also currently trying to move house, and all that at the same time would have broken me for sure, especially finding out on getting back from a much-enjoyed holiday.
The evening meeting was very good, with Andy concentrating on the gifts of the spirit, and being very practical with it. There was lots of participation from the congregation, and powerful - indeed unarguable to those who listen - testimony as to the power of prophecy in particular, both from his own experience and others he knows. He asked what gifts people had it on their hearts to develop, and a lot of people responded to that, but I don't think I yet have a clear enough channel between my heart and my mind to stick my neck out so much. But nevertheless, God did still provide in abundance and I am eternally grateful to him for that.
As agreed, after dropping Eric off - but with the currently somewhat inseparable Lucy still in tow - I popped round to see Mark to look at this room he's offering me, and I must say I could be quite enthusiastic about taking it. It's more or less the same size as my current one, but with an additional power-point and a walk-in wardrobe off the landing just outside. The house is on high ground, enjoying impressive views across the city - quite unlike this current place. Angela called in to drop some stuff off, and we sat and watched a bit of South Park - a very funny, if tasteless, programme - then I dropped Lucy home and headed back myself. Now I am more or less ripe for bed, with a busy Monday ahead.
I'm struggling to stay awake here, and I think I might well shortly call it a day and hope that I can recover some semblance of consciousness in time for tomorrow. I got into work sometime after 10 o'clock in the end, somehow avoiding any suggestions that I'd forgotten to adjust my clock on Saturday night - I guess at a place where most people seem to get in late anyway, my time-keeping was not particularly noteworthy. But my lateness was simply due to absolute sheer exhaustion after the weekend, combined with this recurring cold; I'm quite sure the two are inextricably linked.
But nevertheless - and despite having to peer at my screen through eyes that really didn't want to - I managed to implement the necessary code to support the latest extensions to my formatted text system. These now include text fields and drop-down list boxes in a vaguely object-oriented fashion. I hammered in most of the required text to feed into these routines, though I've still got to go through those parts where there are about half a dozen differen reactions to choose from, which will take a while, especially with the need to triple-check things that often only change every so slightly.
So do I still expect to get it done tomorrow? It will be hit and miss, but I'm going to try. There have been delays with getting the printed material out for the previous blocks, so I daresay schedules have been pushed back a bit, which might buy a little time, but if I can't get it finished tomorrow - and a semi-compulsory CES seminar won't help my schedule - it certainly will be by Wednesday. I'm actually beginning to feel more optimistic about this software, though it will never be everything I'd have hoped it to be, and indeed could have been if I'd had the option of specifying it myself.
Well, it's the moment everyone's been waiting for ... did I get it done today? Well, yes and no. In the strictest sense of the question, no I didn't, because I didn't hand it over by the end of normal working hours. But at about 8 o'clock this evening I made what should be the last scheduled changes to the software, such that tomorrow should only see me correcting the odd typo before I hand it over for QA testing. But is it any good? I have to say that as a result of the progress of the last couple of days, I would now say that yes, it is good. Not brilliant, and I could still identify many problems that I'd rather weren't an issue - but it's still further above my threshold of acceptable quality than I'd ever have hoped.
I work on the basis that quality of software can be measured on a scale from 0 to 100%; as development goes on, quality hopefully asymptotically tends towards 100%, but it will never be reached. More important, therefore, is to have an acceptability threshold - say 90% - which is realistically achievable, and that can hopefully be substantially exceeded. I previously thought this software was only going to scrape that 90% threshold, but I now feel it's almost certainly somewhat above 95%, and as such I am surprisingly pleased with it, and will be perfectly happy - as will be the case from next year's revision of the CD-ROMs - to have my name put beside Block 8 on the credits list for the S103 science foundation course.
This is not to suggest that I have fixed 95% of the latent bugs; I cannot be sure of that, though I would hope that statistic would be nearer the 99% mark or even higher. I am referring more to the overall polish of the software, its general lustre and slickness. It's quite probable that if someone did something very silly indeed, they could still crash my software, but in normal predicted use - and these students tend to follow instructions to the letter, and indeed get somewhat perturbed if there aren't explicit instructions to follow - they shouldn't find any bugs that seriously hamper their progress, though they may find some bits that are still a little tatty, and that's the remaining 5% as I look at it.
But for now, apart from going over the software with a fine-toothed comb tomorrow morning, I can safely relax a little, and take a day or two of holiday as my boss insisted I should. I feel dead on my feet, and although today I seemed to keep going quite happily right up until the end, I think I was running more on adrenaline than anything, and my pent-up exhaustion has now at last caught up with me. This is rather like my heyday of doing nutty things like long-distance walking and so on, where I would be buzzing towards the end, able practically to run the last few miles, and be in a euphoric state for perhaps a couple of hours after, until suddenly I would practically collapse asleep, reality finally catching me up.
The pizza and garlic bread are about to come out of the oven, so I'll munch them, have a beer or two, and call it a day shortly after. I should sleep like a particularly comatose log.