David's diary: February 1999
A month of 1999 down, eleven to go... January really was a month of ups and downs, of big changes, and of signs for the future. I just hope that I can make the most of my experiences, both positive and negative, and use them to build for a better and brighter future.
Yesterday was a good day, playing at the morning meeting - and doing a nice little solo bit over one verse of Heart of Worship - and having lunch with David, Alison and family. Later we all went swimming for a little while with Graeme and his children, and back to theirs for tea and a bit of a musical soiree afterwards. Everything ended just too late for me to get to the evening meeting in time to play - I'd warned Gareth I'd be a doubtful - but I still went along for the 7.30 start and got roped into OHP duties, as I should have expected.
Andy spoke on the subject of fruit, as in "by their fruit shall ye know them", which I think hit home with quite a few people there, myself included; certainly a lot of "food" for thought to take away and ponder. I had a brief chat with Andy after the meeting, and as I'd somewhat feared, the leaders hadn't really discussed the stuff I'd hoped they had about the infamous party and so on, but he seems to think that another month should do it... That's a bit annoying, because he's changed his tune a little I feel, but if it's for the best, I'm essentially happy with it, and there are a few things I really need to work through before returning anyway.
I had to tick off my pastor Dave last night, but felt suitably consumed by guilt at having done so that I thought I'd better phone him after I got back home to explain a little more. Dave has rather taken it upon himself to "get me a wife", and has mentioned the matter quite frequently, though not for the last month or so, somewhat significantly. So when he mentioned it again last night, accused me of dragging my heels, and started quoting Proverbs, I perhaps rather tactlessly reminded him of another proverb about dripping taps and pointed out that I was sorting myself out and certainly not dragging my heels.
But anyway, I gave him a ring after I walked home to fill him in a bit more on what the situation is at present, and he seemed genuinely happy about it all. I felt a little bad that he was perhaps about the only person in the church who didn't know about Zoe, but at least that's been rectified now, and I'm sure he'll be looking forward to meeting her when she comes up next Sunday for the monthly celebration. We just hope - having also had a nice chat with Zoe late last night - he doesn't get too embarrassing in public about it...
Now it's Monday, a new month, but the same old work, more or less. I did as much as I could before finishing on Friday, but I'm still awaiting some final decisions from Craig before I can go making the definitive installer builds for the voice-conferencing trial application. It's a good thing I didn't get to hand them over last week though, because I found a glaring bug this morning - nothing hard to fix, just a missing extension from a file-name that rendered it useless - which would have been quite tricky to fix retrospectively.
This evening, we have the first worship band practice in several months - I think October was about the last time, with various other Christmassy-type things getting in the way every time since then. I've rather foolishly agreed to go and pick up Susie from Wavendon Gate, who'll be playing flute for the first time; I've just turned a two minute walk into half an hour's drive, but never mind, it'll be good to have her along anyway, and I hope she can make the most of the limited time she's likely to be in Milton Keynes.
I guess I'd better be getting back to work now though, fairly tedious though it is. I think I'll have another go at recreating the Visual C++ project file for the software I've got to modify. There was supposed to be a project file with the source, but it got lost by the wayside somewhere long ago, so I'm just going to have to start over again, tweaking paths and so on until the dependencies stop throwing reams of error messages at me. Apparently it shouldn't be too difficult - though apparently I shouldn't have needed to do it at all... - and it will undoubtedly help me in my understanding of the code structure.
Yesterday morning, we became amongst the thousands of customers who are returning to British Telecom, I'm afraid. But I must emphasise that it wasn't by choice, really. We'd been happily using an Ionica line for the last couple of years, and enjoying cheaper phone calls and well-itemised bills as a result. Sadly though, Ionica's now gone bust, and their parting gesture was to arrange for BT to reconnect everyone to good old-fashioned copper local loop cabling.
The guy was supposed to have come round in the afternoon, which Mark had cunningly left free and had agreed to stay in, but he actually arrived shortly after ten in the morning, just as Mark was preparing to go out. Never mind, though - I don't think it took too long, and he installed a couple of extra sockets and things while he was at it.
Was it worth it though? Well from the point of view of having a telephone connection at all, I suppose it had to be, and there are a couple of other benefits from having done this - namely much less noise on the line, both radio-type hiss and an annoying 50Hz mains hum that was apparently due to earthing problems, and also hopefully an end to the "ghost messages" that would routinely appear on the answering machine due to Ionica not handling prematurely cleared incoming calls properly. It will be annoying to lose the excellently-detailed bills that Ionica issued, with separate itemisations and summaries for each user - saved on our quarterly highlighter pen bill if nothing else - and BT claim not to be able to offer anything comparable, although I hear rumours that is not totally true.
That was not the end to the Ionica story for us though, because all the BT engineer did was to install the new connection, not take away the old one, other than unplugging the wall-box from the mains. Unfortunately for Phil, whose bedroom is right next to the aerial on the side of the house, the wall-box contains a back-up battery, and for some reason it was causing the aerial assembly to emit a very audible click every few seconds that was keeping him awake. So late last night we were poking around outside trying to trace exactly where the cable went between the wall-box and the aerial. Attempts to disconnect it tidily were somewhat fruitless though - but nothing a sharp tug on the cable couldn't fix, and now the aerial clicks no more...
The end of an era. It's a shame that Ionica went bust, but when you consider the economics of installing a several-thousand-pound microwave transceiver system for only ten pounds, and multiply that by several thousand customers, it doesn't take a mathematician to realise that the future was never really going to be that promising.
The band practice went very well last night, I thought. A large chunk of the time was taken up with Gareth going through a number of changes and issues that had emerged since we last met in the autumn, but it still left plenty of time for actual rehearsal and so on, kicking off with two new songs that Giles had found. We finished things off with a short talk from Paul and an old song that he liked, only overrunning by about ten minutes or so, which wasn't bad going considering how long it had been since we last practised. As I had promised, I gave Zoe a ring when I got in - but alas it was about an hour and a half later than I'd said it would be, thanks to taking Susie home via McDonalds and having a bit of a chat with her and her live-in landlady when we got back to her place. But all was well, I think, and I didn't drag Zoe out of bed, unlike the other evening; she was just wrapping up her revision for the night when I called, so I timed it just about right, considering.
Incredibly enough, I finally got the voice-conferencing software working yesterday. On the face of it, I suppose it was quite a silly oversight on my part, forgetting to include a resource-file which had all the form definitions in it - no wonder it wasn't displaying anything! But it still seems incredible that the whole thing could compile without any complaint about half the code being missing - not the stuff of a productive development tool in my book, and there have been other similar experiences over the last few days of persuading this thing to work. Considering that I was only using Microsoft Visual C++ at all "to save time", this whole episode has been somewhat laughable really.
Oops... yesterday evening, Mark met up with Dave C, and one of the things Dave apparently mentioned was the web site, specifically wondering how I was getting on with building it. Alas, I'd rather been waiting for word from Dave as to the content they wanted! It seems instead that they were rather expecting I was just getting on with making my ideal site, for them to review in due course and suggest changes and additions as necessary. So anyway, making up for lost time, I put in a couple of hours' work on that last night, pulling together a proper home-page - though it's not too pretty yet - and starting to write a few words on the various youth-work aspects, just to get things rolling.
Later in the evening, Zoe phoned as I had been expecting - predictability isn't always a bad thing! - with good news from her exam earlier in the day, and looking forward to getting them all over with as from tomorrow afternoon. After that, I drove up to Andy and Rosie's new house which they had literally just started moving into. I had hoped to find Alan, Helen and Mark there too, but I was just a few minutes too late, and Mark's mobile-phone battery had given up at just the wrong time to warn me. Never mind, it meant I got a personal guided tour round the place, a veritable mansion, with a lounge large enough to install a football pitch, we reckon - I reckon they've got a bargain there.
As so often seems to be the case, there's not a lot going on to report. Work is being typically mundane, though Craig seems quite pleased at the - albeit fairly limited - progress that's been made over the last fortnight or so, particularly at my success in persuading the voice conferencing software to work in Visual C++ and my investigations into domain-name server configuration problems. Last night's neighbourhood group meeting was as good as ever, and I'm looking forward to the weekend - or Sunday at least - with the monthly celebration meeting, and a visit from Zoe, which will be the first time she she'll have been to an MKCF meeting, even though she's met many of the people already on various previous occasions. I don't think it will be too much of a culture shock; I've actually come to realise that on the scale of church-style, we are really fairly middle of the road, and although I've not been to one of Zoe's meetings yet, I get the impression they are probably towards the charismatic end of the scale of Anglicanism. Once again, there will be a lot of new faces for Zoe to try and remember - but as when being given the guided tour round the offices on starting a new job, if at least most of those faces can at least remember Zoe in a week's time, then that's effort well spent.
Well that was a pretty hectic weekend, and unsurprisingly, I wasn't exactly in a rush to drag myself out of bed this morning - good thing that working arrangements here are pretty flexible, with no real clock-watching and most people on this corridor getting in after me anyway regardless of when I arrive, within reason... As a matter of personal pride though, I really do try to be in on time as much as possible; in my early days here, I could be in any time after eight, but things really have slipped since.
Friday evening I did a bit more of the web pages for the church and gave Zoe a quick phone-call, then Phil invited me out to the Peartree Bridge to watch a band with one of our friends playing. Completely manic at the pub, with half-hour queues at the bar and cracked glasses aplenty, but the band was well worth hearing - pity they mainly do private functions only, but with no less than eleven people on stage, typical pub rates simply don't pay the rent, and our friend Steve is doing this stuff for a living.
Saturday was busy too, popping into Maplins in the morning to buy a bit for one of the Mono machines. They didn't actually have any of the parts - non-volatile memory chips - in stock in Milton Keynes, but they've ordered one from head office to be sent direct to Norm, and it should be installed later this week, all being well. From Maplins it was on to Andy and Rosie's house, and from there, on to Andy and Rosie's house - ah, an explanation is called for here, I suspect. That's right, this was the weekend of the final move into their new place, so it was all hands to the deck for a few hours to get the job done once and for all, Alan's loaned 7.5-tonner coming in very handy.
The afternoon was spent doing boring shopping stuff, though - suffering from classic late-stages HMV syndrome as I do - I also got a couple of "new" Moby CDs to keep me amused, which are quite good but nothing too special; maybe they'll grow on me some more. In the evening, there was a Generation X video games knock-out tournament at the Upper Room. I got knocked out in the first round of Tekken 3, but did a little better on Gran Turismo and Athlete King, but nothing exceptional. All good fun though, even if getting beaten by girls on two of the games - including Tekken 3! - was a bit humiliating...
Sunday... ah yes, Sunday. What a day. Forced myself out of bed nice and early, but found the heating had been practically turned off, so had to brace myself for getting up and showered and everything in the freezing cold. Zoe arrived in good time, and we drove up to Wolverton to get set up for the morning's worship. The monthly celebration meeting was really very good, with David Pawson giving one of his typically excellent talks to a packed house; I think Zoe was very impressed, and not at all overwhelmed by the scale or style of the event. It was also a first opportunity for Zoe to hear me playing live, which I think she enjoyed a lot.
Lunch was at KFC in Stacey Bushes - much as we both like the Swan's hot hobs, it was nice to get a bit of variety, and I still maintain that KFC Tower burgers are probably the most filling fast food available. In the afternoon, we went out for a lengthy stroll up the canal - taking in such exciting sights as the David Lloyd centre, and Milton Keynes's apology for Disneyland - then to Willen Lake, ignoring as far as possible the Peace Pagoda, although admittedly using the drive to the Buddhist monastery to save getting wet feet crossing a muddy ditch, and thence back to Springfield via the Woolstones. Very cold, but beautifully sunny, and I think the exercise did us both some good.
We grabbed a bite to eat back at the house, just as a load of YPF guys and girls descended upon us to have a collective giggle at an edited version of their previous night's video camera frolics - thankfully they hadn't kept me awake, despite doing a lot of the filming at the house - but we managed to make an escape fairly quickly to walk round and see Colin and Rachael for a bit as we had arranged earlier. After a few initial teething problems - which I can't say I was too surprised about, oddly enough - Zoe and the girls seemed to hit off with each other, and everyone was getting on very well by the time we had to make our way to the evening meeting.
The evening meeting was at least as good as the morning's, with David Pawson speaking again, this time studying the book of Jude. One of David's key themes both in the morning and the evening was that of taking biblical passages in context - he laments the division of the books of the bible into chapters and verses, "convenient" though it may be - and the logical extreme of that is to take the bible a book at a time, and nothing less. Thankfully, for time's sake, Jude was a short one, but it was also one that covered many of his key concerns in ministry. Again, I think it all went down well with Zoe, which was a major relief - I was fairly sure things would be fine, but was impossible to be absolutely certain beforehand.
After the meeting, a big bunch of us descended on McDonalds for a late-night feast, taking advantage of the last few days of their cheeseburger special offer - though the forthcoming Italian promotion's looking very tempting too, I have to say, especially the cappuccino sundaes! - then it was finally back to the house for the final farewells, and to send Zoe on her way back down to Iver ... until next weekend, anyway, and we all know what next Sunday is, don't we? All in all, a great day yesterday, and a great weekend - shame it's left me absolutely shattered, but it was well worth it.
Calm times at the moment, after the storm that was the weekend. There was quite a bit of snow overnight, and thanks to leaving work quite late yesterday evening, my car was looking very pretty by the time I made my getaway. Shame I had to spoil the effect in order to see out of the windows, though it was quite fun driving in the snow and not needing windscreen wipers because of the aerodynamics of the vehicle. Not so nice this morning, finding a very hard frost and iced-up locks, but thankfully I managed to get in via the passenger-side door, so wasn't too late for work.
Hopefully I'm getting a Windows NT machine delivered this afternoon, and I've made some temporary desk-space for it. Quite where I'm going to connect it in network-wise I really have no idea, although Jon's said I'm welcome to unplug the Dell 486 machine, and in any case we have a new office for the Lyceum project as from tomorrow, and I should be able to move the NT box into there anyway, just as soon as we've decided exactly what networking we need, assuming there isn't enough already. I have another brand new NT machine on order, which can join the party in due course...
Well last night was really quite mundane, or at least until I was about to go to bed, anyway... While I was in the bath, Zoe phoned, so I rang her back a little while later and was then right ready to maybe read a little and then turn in for the night. But I popped downstairs briefly, since I'd not actually spoken to Mark, and hardly to Phil, all evening, and ended up joining them for a beer whilst listening to a bit of Alanis Morrisette and then watching Father Ted. After that, we decided we were a bit peckish and Mark was right ready to order a pizza or a chicken kebab, when Phil reminded him he had a huge pizza in the freezer. So we were about to put that in the oven when a friend of ours hammered on the door, accompanied by another friend who was - in my opinion, anyway - blind drunk, and who was certainly causing a few problems thanks to having earlier knocked back eight bottles of Budweiser and quite likely half a bottle of vodka into the bargain. Anyway, Mark escorted him home while I cooked up the pizza and some garlic bread, and then those of us left sat down to watch the late-night Voyager episode for an hour. So much for my early night.
Today at work, needless to say, no sign of any new PC's for me - one kinds of gets used to this lack of action round here, where deadlines always seem to be set in cotton-wool, and the buck always stops at an empty desk... I'm sure it'll all be sorted out soon, though, but I'm not holding my breath. There was an outdoor equipment sale in the common room, run by one of the local dealers in that line of business, and I finally got around to replacing my rapidly disintegrating wallet. Pity the one I bought instantly disintegrated as I transferred my loose change into it, though the guy happily swapped it for another better and more expensive one, for no extra charge - so I'm happy now, and I need no longer end up scattering my coins everywhere just because the old one was falling apart. Other than that, things are relly pretty unexciting. Hopefully, there's a few of us going to see A Bug's Life at the cinema tonight, though with the departmental e-mail system playing up big time - thanks to a server dying and Microsoft being typically lax about sorting it out - I'm not too sure how arrangements are going for that, but I'm pretty sure all's in order.
Whoops, another very late night, indeed even later than the one before. I must stop doing this, getting side-tracked whilst en route to the land of nod. It was a good evening, though, with the cinema trip earlier to see "A Bug's Life" happening as planned - and well worth watching, I have to say, enjoyable on every possible level. Coffee afterwards was in the very civilised setting of the Posthouse - a little expensive, but very comfortable indeed, with leather-upholstered armchairs, an open fire and everything.
Got a lift back home with Peter, had some unsuccessful attempts at fighting my way through Demon's stuffed networks, eventually deciding if I was going to spend lots of money on the phone it would be better used calling Zoe, rather than pouring it down the drain. So I chatted with her about this and that for the best part of an hour, then went downstairs to get a glass of water before going to bed, and eventually made it up about two hours and a big glass of red wine later. Oh well, sometime I'll keep to my word.
Managed to get to bed a bit earlier last night, though still the wrong side of midnight as far as I am concerned - I must be becoming an old fogey or something, next thing I'll be buying slippers and a rocking-chair, I bet... - and I was still a little late into work this morning as a result. Neighbourhood group was not too bad last night, following up David Pawson's visit last weekend by watching some of his videos, as well as sharing the usual news, prayers and so on. Our group chose the book of "Daniel", though what Paul had thought to be a forty minute presentation ended up being twice that - though never mind, it was good stuff, and seriously eye-opening. Got a nice phone-call from Zoe soon after I got in, and chatted for the best part of an hour, then thought I'd better go and be sociable for a few minutes, with Susie and Angela visiting to watch Whose Line Is It Anyway, and Ally McBeal - neither programmes I get on with too well, I have to admit. Got a little waylaid, but at least it wasn't seriously into the small hours of the morning before I hit the sack.
Today's been not too bad so far, getting myself rigged up for the voice conferencing trials starting next week, and also doing a little more setting up on this NT server which finally came my way yesterday afternoon after a few logistical difficulties. The server's now on my desk here - somehow I managed to scrape together power and network connections for it - and happily running the voice server and also, as from this morning, a rather nifty free web daemon I found the other day. Tempting though it would be also to add an RC5 cracker and a talker daemon, I really oughtn't, even though I'm sure about 449 of its megahertz are going to waste. The web daemon's brilliant though; it's one I recall having looked at and being unimpressed by a while back, but I think I must have missed something crucial then, because I have to say it's probably the best I've used, incredibly configurable with just about every feature you could ever ask for, and everything possible via a very attractive and functional remote web interface - testament to the power of its scripting facilities.
Anyway, it's now the run-in to the weekend, and a special weekend at that, of course! Zoe's hopefully coming up for the whole of Sunday again, and at some point during the day I will be rekindling my culinary tendencies - sadly neglected for the last couple of years, apart from the occasional special occasion or catering request - with something suitably yummy for the both of us. I'm really looking forward to that, of course, and it will also be Zoe's first opportunity to come to a more usual MKCF meeting, last weekend's having been a little out of the ordinary by virtue of being the monthly celebration. But now it's almost time to go to our weekly departmental coffee-break - we do have others, but this is a little more pre-arranged - and then it'll only be an hour or so before I can pack up for the afternoon. I must remember to leave the NT server running though - rather defeats the object given the software that it's running if I shut it down, and it was inconvenient enough when we made that very mistake yesterday afternoon even before we'd gone home for the night!
Wow, what a busy weekend again, and yes, I am completely exhausted now - not a good start for a pretty hectic week. During Friday I'd tried to find out screening information for the Point, hoping to watch Star Trek in the evening, but once I had eventually fought through several minutes of pressing miscellaneous digits on my phone - thankfully the national-rate call will not get charged to me though - I found the only showings were at lunchtimes.
So instead on Friday evening, I went with Mark, Phil and Angela up to Zak's at the Queen Vic in Wolverton to watch Satori, a very good covers band with a bit of their own material for good measure, and well worth the couple of quid entrance. Finally went to see Star Trek at Saturday lunchtime, and although it wasn't quite what I was expecting, it wasn't bad at all. I was in a bit of a hurry, so the medium cheese nachos ended up being breakfast...
Did my shopping and stuff on Saturday afternoon, making sure I had plenty of ingredients for my planned Sunday cook-fest, then arrived home to pretty much immediately receive an invitation to go round to Chris and Claire's for the evening, to partake in consuming a large joint of pork - complete with fine condiments and beverages - and watching Armageddon on wide-screen DVD. Again, not a bad film at all, a lot better than I had understood it to be.
Then on to Sunday, and a little bit less of a whistle-stop tour of Milton Keynes than the previous one, but still a very special day. Zoe arrived a little late, having been unable to leave the M1 at Junction 14 thanks to an inconsiderate lorry-driver, ending up having to go most of the way to Northampton to turn round. But we still got to the school just in time for the morning meeting, so all was well in the end, and it was worth the effort.
After swapping cards and presents - Zoe being the happy recipient of a rather cute Princess Dot toy, and me getting some rather scrummy Thornton's chocolates - we drove into the city centre to grab some lunch at a very nice sandwich bar there, then popped into one of the outdoor equipment shops to get Zoe a fleece hat, and managed to wangle a most welcome ten percent discount by virtue of my working for the Open University, even if Zoe doesn't!
By the time we were back from the city centre, it was just about time to start making the meal, with all my pre-bought ingredients, and that all went very well, as did the candle-lit eating, to the musical backdrop of our church pop-group Shine's debut appearance on Songs of Praise and then Delirious live on CD. Considering it was about the first time I'd cooked anything much in about two or three years, I thought it was really quite successful.
There was sadly no evening meeting, thanks to a combination of it being Valentine's Day, and also the start of half-term, though thankfully there was a bit of a gathering round at Andy and Rosie's new house. So that was a good chance to see them now they've settled in a bit, and it seemed about half the fellowship were there, judging by the impossibility of parking. We played a few games and generally nattered, and a good time was had by all.
And so it was back to the house for the usual pre-departure informalities, and again to let Zoe get on her way back home with at least a small chance of waking up at a sensible time in the morning. I slept well, after being woken up at a rather unearthly hour by someone playing guitar, though still couldn't bring myself to get up when I really needed to, but thankfully wasn't too late into work, given that I'd forgotten about a morning meeting...
Anyway, once again, it was a totally excellent weekend - can't wait for the next one now!
A nice, quiet and uneventful evening - apart from getting a most welcome phone-call from Zoe - after quite a busy day discussing and sorting out various things in relation to this week's staff-only trial of the business-school on-line group assignment which is using the voice conferencing system I'm helping work on. The trial starts today, so I ought to be getting on with reading some of the background material before our first on-line chat late this afternoon. Of course, life goes on, and I have plenty of other stuff needing doing - though that's actually fairly realistic for the average Open University student, even if "life" in my case means modifying HTML documents and hacking the Windows NT registry, rather than attending to the needs of the family.
After a fairly frustratingly unproductive day - thanks to technical problems of all kinds coming out of the woodwork in relation to the voice-conferencing stuff, none of which were really anything to do with us, but still our ultimate responsibility in a holistic kind of way - the evening was much better.
Popped up to the local shop to try and get some pancake fillings, but they had nothing at all that I wanted, so I drove into the city centre and found much the same situation at Waitrose, surprisingly. Walked back round to Sainsburys where I had parked, and found Mark's car next to mine, and Mark himself wandering around outside the shop; thankfully he knew where to find everything I needed - I really am not that keen on huge supermarkets.
So the pancake evening went off very well, enjoying Chris's cajun pork and salsa fillings in particular, but my raspberry ripple ice-cream and chocolate sauce was a pretty popular combination too. Feeling pretty tired - as well as utterly stuffed, especially having had a bite to eat earlier too - I decided I'd give the video they were about to watch a miss, and wandered back home.
All my plans for an early night were quickly lain to rest though, with Phil about to go to the cinema to watch Enemy of the State, which I duly joined him for, having heard from so many people that it was an excellent film, and probably on its last week of showing. Thankfully the rumours were true, though it was a very intense experience, and I was utterly exhausted by the end of it, and quite fit to drop by the time we got back home.
That must be a record for me - three films at the cinema in one week, and all of them good ones, even more incredibly. Either films are getting better or I'm getting less discerning in my old age, hopefully the former...
Things have been fairly ordinary lately, to be perfectly honest, with not a lot happening at work, and pretty mundane evenings really. Highlight of the last couple of days though was my fun and games driving into work yesterday, specifically getting pulled over, about fifty yards from the car-park. I'd had a hunch the previous evening that my brake lights weren't quite right - I emphasise that this was due to me not seeing much of a glow when reversing into my drive, rather than the entire car-driving population of Milton Keynes piling into the back of me - but yesterday morning, the police car that had been tailing me along Groveway - too flipping close, I have to add, considering what the problem was - followed me into the university access road. Blue lights came on, and my previous evening's fears were confirmed.
The WPC was very nice about it, though, and although she could probably have told me just to get the brake lights fixed - they weren't working at all - she thought it sufficiently serious to give me a vehicle defect slip, and two weeks to get it fixed and signed off. Needless to say, the idea of driving around a busy place like Milton Keynes with no brake lights was possibly even more alarming to me than to her, so I pretty much immediately set to sorting it out. Needless to say, my inherited set of spare bulbs only contained one brake light, but fitting that one verified that it was just blown bulbs that were the problem and not something more serious in the electrics.
So I drove straight down to Halfords in Bletchley, and bought a few more bulbs - they were cheap enough - and replaced the other one too. A passer-by kindly helped me check they were working, but pointed out that the one I had just fitted was a lot dimmer, and I probably ought to use a matching pair, rather than one Lucas and one Halfords own-brand. It was on opening up the lights again that I had a look in the vehicle manual and read something about the bulb being restrained by an offset bayonet - oops, the one that was dim, I had actually forced in upside-down, so that the tail-light and brake-light functions were reversed! Easily fixed though, and then it was down to one of Bletchley's many MOT test centres to get my repair checked and signed-off - had to pay for that, unsurprisingly, though I had bizarrely thought it would be done for free - and apart from posting the defect slip back to Thames Valley Police, that was that.
It was a little annoying having to shell out even a small amount of good money to rectify something I really didn't have much chance of knowing about - regardless of my hunches - but I guess five or six pounds is nothing compared to a fine and maybe points on my licence, or an insurance claim for one of Milton Keynes's typically reckless drivers shunting me - especially since insurance could even have been invalid under the circumstances. So I am actually quietly grateful for the turn of events, and everything seems to be fine now.
Anyway, after a less than classic week, it's almost the weekend again - not sure what it's going to bring, but almost whatever happens will be most welcome. The bad news is that there's still a work meeting to go to this afternoon, and - even worse - it's at 5.30, but the good news is that it's in the Cellar Bar, and I really don't imagine it's going to be too heavy going. This afternoon I've been writing the report for the assignment trial I've been involved in this week - the meeting is actually a debriefing for this - and have to admit it's possibly the biggest load of twaddle I've written since some of the more nebulous units I studied at college. Of course, this one doesn't matter too much, though it is indicative of the fact that there was probably a lot more needing to be put into the assignment than most people probably realised, and the academics may well have to up their time estimates somewhat if they aren't to be confronted by a lot of very miffed students come the actual thing later in the year.
It's Saturday evening, and finally a chance to relax a little. Today's been a bit of a busman's holiday for me, trying - not always successfully - to fix various people's PCs, and only quite late in the day managing to fit in my usual Saturday shopping drudgery. The name of this morning's "client" shall not be revealed in order to save him too much embarrassment - we shall call him Jim for convenience - but the story of what happened can't fail to make any computer techie laugh at least a little uncontrollably.
Jim had recently acquired a rather old Olivetti 386 with Windows 3.1, Microsoft Works, and not a lot else really. He was quite pleased the other day to be given a couple of games disks, but was disappointed when they wouldn't install for some reason. So he gave the guy a ring, and he suggested that Jim was running out of hard disk space, and should check the disk for empty files and get rid of them. Perhaps not the best advice, but how Jim determined which were the empty ones was even worse, and certainly cause for some amusement. In Windows File Manager, there are three types of icon - folders, applications, document files registered to an application, and document files not registered to an application. Registered documents are represented by a little dog-eared piece of paper with "writing" on it, whilst unregistered ones are represented by just a plain piece of dog-eared paper. Sadly, Jim had taken the lack of "writing" on the latter to indicate that the file was empty, and thus a prime candidate for deletion - whoops, there went half the operating system...
Anyway, by a very convoluted route, we eventually got it sorted out, though the process included reinstalling Windows, even if it was eventually only to get hold of certain important files to patch up the existing installation with. It also involved manipulating the system registry, something which to be quite honest I wasn't entirely sure even existed on Windows 3.1, although it's somewhat simpler than the equivalent manifestation on later versions of Windows, apparently only used for registering file-types. The main problem was with getting Works to work, so to speak, especially the object embedding which Jim uses a lot, and - most bizarrely - persuading documents to save. Indeed it was this last problem which eventually prompted us to return to trying to patch up the old Windows installation rather than hack further with the new one, so we never did work out quite what the problem was.
And after all that, we tried again to install the games that had indirectly caused the problem in the first place - the first one loaded up just fine, but the second one failed exactly as before. The reason? Not lack of disk space at all, but a corrupted floppy disk - nothing more - though sadly beyond repair. So altogether, Jim was really quite embarrassed about this whole episode, but I managed to persuade him it wasn't really his fault, more a combination of bad advice and confusing Windows metaphor - though I'm not sure he was totally convinced, and he's said he's never going to touch the file system again, to the point where he even asked for certain standard tools to be removed...
When I got back in, Mark had tried to install a 24-speed CD-ROM drive into his newly acquired 386 - these seem to be all the rage at the moment! - and apparently as a result, the display had got all confused. Even more worryingly, when we uninstalled the CD-ROM drive, the display was no better. However, it turned out that the monitor had simply chosen a timely moment to go toes up, and Mark's now collected a replacement one from a friend, which should work fine. We don't think the CD-ROM drive is going to work in the machine anyway - it's just too modern a device in too old a machine, but we're moderately hopeful that better results may be forthcoming when Mark gets the 486 motherboard he's due to pick up very shortly, with quite a good chance it will be EIDE/ATAPI compatible to some extent.
So I finally got out to the shops, all of which was pretty mundane as usual, apart from bumping into Trevor, Jan and family, which was a nice surprise - and they could have a good laugh at my morning's fun and games. Now looking forward to a nice quiet evening, a phone-call or two, and another fairly early night hopefully. Tomorrow I was supposed to be playing in the morning, but it's become an all women's meeting, leadership-wise, so unless I was prepared to go in drag, I could have a rest. Tim has asked to play in the evening though, so it's merely delayed really. One of the phone-calls I'm waiting for is from Andy, who I hope has finally agreed a date I can return to the youth-work after my recent "suspension" - my bet is that he'd not discussed it yet and is hurriedly doing so right now, given that he was going to ring me back about an hour ago and was only "stuck in the cellar"...
It's pushing on midnight, and the end of another great Sunday in the company of the one and only Zoe. It was a bit of a last minute arrangement, but Zoe came up this morning and spent the whole day here, including the morning meeting which was - for a most refreshing change - run mainly by the women of the church, a delicious curry buffet up in Wolverton, watching a short video about the making of A Bug's Life, and a belated Generation X pancake party this afternoon. As expected, I was playing in church this evening, though a little late arriving thanks to having witnessed a crash and needing to give a brief statement to the police, but the meeting was really good in every way. Finally, it was off to the Olde Swan for a swift drink before closing time, and with Zoe safely on her way back down the M1 to Iver, that just about wrapped things up for a wonderful day.
In case anyone was wondering, the crash we witnessed before church last night thankfully wasn't too serious, although it could all so very easily have been a great deal worse, and it was certainly alarming when it happened. Zoe was just getting a few bits and pieces out from her car before we walked up to the school, and I watched a white cabriolet pull away and drive fairly briskly along the boulevard while I waited for her. At the same time, a bloke on a bicycle - without any lights, and this was well after dark - pulled out onto the roundabout at the end of the boulevard, and the two met, basically.
The cyclist went flying quite spectacularly, and I rushed to the scene - Zoe Following close behind carrying my amplifier - but thankfully he seemed only to have taken a bump on his knee, and was only concerned, in an effing and blinding kind of way, about the twisted wreckage of his only means of transport. The motorists were more concerned - and relieved - that he was essentially unhurt; we could see both points of view, certainly. What was probably not too clever then was that the driver of the car agreed they might as well be going on their way - rather oddly, given that they left the other occupants at the scene, so whether it was just a silly mistake or something more sinister will remain to be seen.
The police arrived very quickly - they can't have taken more than about a minute after someone phoned them from a mobile - and were rightly rather concerned about the whereabouts of the car, though I was able to give them a brief description of it, as well as my impression of what had happened and who might be responsible. Actually, in my opinion it was pretty fifty-fifty; the cyclist certainly did have right of way on the roundabout, but without lights and wearing dark clothing and so on, the driver really didn't have a hope of seeing him before it was too late.
But anyway, the police have my details - seem to be making a bit of a habit of this! - and will contact me if they need any further information, though given that no-one seemed to be seriously hurt, they doubted they would need to.
Guess what ... yes, it's been another uneventful day at work, slowly starting to make a modicum of sense of the tangled mess that is the Visual C++ source code to the voice conferencing software I'm supposed to be reverse engineering something nice and simple from. Thankfully there should be plenty of support once I get going - I'm certainly going to need it at this rate.
I've found some spare minutes over yesterday and today to work some more on the web site for MKCF, and it has to be said, I think it's looking quite good now, and comments so far have been very favourable. There's still a lot of gaps to be filled, and two whole pages yet to be done, but I'm confident I'll be able to properly demonstrate the site within a couple of weeks.
There's a distinct possibility I may be running an evening class later in the year, which could be good fun and a nice little bit of extra income. I would probably run one on Delphi programming, this being much in demand apparently, and no course currently on offer. I would have to plan the whole thing, but at associate lecturer rates, it would be very worthwhile financially.
The most surprising news of the day though is that my mum is considering buying a mobile phone. She's yet to break the news to my dad, who will almost certainly be horrified by the mere idea, but she's given it a lot of thought and really feels it would make sense, given how much she's out and about. Needless to say, she knows nothing about them, so guess why she phoned me...
Bad news of the day is that I have hit my first crisis in the running of the Christian area on Monochrome. I'm not exactly sure how to address the issue, which is tied up with confidentiality - or a lack thereof - in what should be an anonymous discussion, and people being reckless about who might be reading. I hope it's a storm in a tea-cup, but I'm not too optimistic.
Work continues to be as mundane as ever, but the evenings are being quite busy at the moment, which is no bad thing. Last night there was a Fat Fish leaders' meeting, detailing what we're going to be doing at the celebration, a week on Sunday. I had, of course, to explain to Reece that I had still not received the go-ahead to get back into youth-work in general, and that he ought to clear it with certain others, but he seems to be very much on my side - I asked him to let me know if there was any problem; he replied that if there was a problem, "they can come round and we can have a little chat about it", living up to his Chelsea fan reputation for fighting talk...
Tonight I'm going back to my old neighbourhood group for a one-off meeting; Jon and Sally have finally got a moving date for going down to Somerset, and this - all being well, though there's a few hitches with the new mortgage - is to be their last neighbourhood group evening. As such, I think just about everyone who's been in the group while they've been running - or helping to run - it has been invited along, so we can give them a good send-off. I'm going to miss them a lot; I think I've said it before, but they've been a bit like a second mum and dad to me - it's not that we were very close, but they were always there when I needed their help.
Tonight is also the deadline for Andy getting back to me about the youth-work, if I am to be involved again from tomorrow evening as we had agreed could be sensible. Andy promised to get it resolved once and for all this week, and this time put it in his diary, so I am moderately confident that he will have done so. Things are just getting a bit silly now; in a way, I don't mind what the decision is, so long as a decision had been made. I'm trying to be pragmatic about the delays, but I don't have unlimited patience and if the uncertainty goes on for much longer, I might well make a formal complaint. I genuinely hope it doesn't come to that, though.
Today's been rather a bitty day, and as such it seems to have passed by quite quickly, and it's been fairly enjoyable. This morning was the leaving presentation for Martin and Jason, today being the last day here for both of them. Jason's only been with us a few months, and is going self-employed doing Java development back in Scotland, whilst Martin is one of our more established staff and is going to work for a video-conferencing company in Reading. It'll be sad to see them go, but everyone has to move on, and we genuinely wish them both all the best - and would probably welcome them back if they ever fell on hard times... It's odd that we go through phases; both Martin and Jason are Scots, and there was a time when it seemed about half the department were from north of the border, but now there's only Callum and Fiona left. There's a farewell drink later this evening, so perhaps it's just as well I never did hear back from Andy about tonight's Kids Club.
After that, a number of us had an interesting on-line meeting, using the voice conferencing software we are working on in conjunction with a demo of a commercial Java shared white-board system. As well as chatting more generally, we also tried doing part of a student exercise, all about town-planning. This gave plenty of opportunity to put the white-board through its paces, using backgrounds, overlaid graphics and so on, although it was certainly not without its problems, giving plenty of food for thought as we design our own superior system. I was working with Lucia on the problem, and we completely missed the point of the exercise, alas, but it was good fun anyway, and raised a lot of issues that would apply equally to students.
Things over-ran with the on-line meeting somewhat, not least due to being delayed anyway thanks to originally clashing with Martin and Jason's leaving presentation, so - for the second Friday in succession - I went for lunch in the Cellar Bar, and was joined by Lucia, Lesley and Craig, who had also been in the meeting and were similarly just too peckish for a mere limp salad sandwich from the shop. No sausages or bacon in the kitchen though, so I had to settle for a toasted cheese sandwich and a cheese, tomato and ham pizza, but that was nice enough, and we all had a good chat about everything from the murder rate in Milton Keynes to the relative merits of Newcastle and Sunderland, via some rather more techy stuff in between, needless to say.
Lesley had been taking a few notes and screen-shots as we had worked on-line in the morning, and I had made an audio recording of the voice discussion. So this afternoon I've been converting that into a RealAudio file for Lesley; with the discussion lasting well over an hour, I had to use one of the more drastic compression ratios - the one I wanted to use would have resulted in an eighteen megabyte file, which seemed a little excessive - and I'm glad to say the quality was very acceptable, indeed Lesley actually found it better than the original conference, which I found quite amazing considering the voices had been through no less than three lossy codecs by the time it got to her ears! Thankfully I could leave that recording while we went for afternoon tea, though Lesley phoned just as I was about to stop the conversion at the correct point, so it ended up a bit messy with something about blacksmiths and sick horses, of all things...
Also throughout the day I had been doing a bit of Perl hacking, trying to get an on-line threaded discussion conference going on our NT server here. I had been mystified why one of the two scripts I had found would unexpectedly fail without any real indication of what was wrong, and it turned out in the end it was due to the Perl interpreter sneezing at the "crypt" function for password validation. Normally Perl runs over a UNIX system, which offers the implementation of "crypt" for any programs that need to use it, but Windows NT doesn't have such a function, so the Perl interpreter really didn't know what to do. I tried to locate a native Perl "crypt" function, but the only one I could find looked a really nasty hack, using 80x86 assembler mnemonics and other obscure libraries, so in the end I removed the need for the function at all - at the expense of a little security, though the stuff being protected is hardly mission-critical - and all seems to be fine now!
Anyway, it's now almost the end of the day, and time to go down to the Cellar Bar once again for this final send-off for Martin and Jason - indeed, not only is it the second Friday on the trot that I've had lunch down there, it's also the second one I've been down there after work too, though I'll try not to make a habit of it... Then it's the weekend, and once again I'm not sure what it will bring, but last weekend was the same, and it turned out really quite wonderful, so my hopes are as high as ever!
With still no word from Andy about Kids Club or anything, that's still very much in the lurch, but once again I've been making the most of the unexpected spare time by working a bit more on the web site, and - significantly - having a good, and long-awaited, chat with Roger about it. I've been finding opportunities over the last month or so to really start pulling together a demonstration site, and I would say it's almost complete now, and could be presented at a leaders' meeting within a fortnight. Most of the content is thee, and where there are a few words yet to be written, I at least have the headings so I know roughly what's going to go where.
Although I was trying hard not to get too carried away with visual design - and it still remains simple and crisp, as intended - it was felt important that the image of the site reflected that of the fellowship's stationery and so on. As such, getting the logos and so on to work as I wanted ended up being a lot harder than I'd have liked, but I think it's fair to say that I understand HTML tables inside out now... I've had to swallow a little bit of pride and compromise a certain amount of compatibility with some older and more obscure browser software, though the problems should be purely cosmetic, and I am very pleased to hear reports that it works surprisingly well on some of the more unusual systems in use.
Dave Church had been encouraging me to phone Roger for a couple of weeks, so I finally did that this evening. Perhaps as expected, Roger and Dave had slightly differing views on what I was doing about the site at the moment, but that did mean Roger could only be delighted at the progress that had been made. Roger has confirmed that we can use the web space supplied with the Powernet ISP account he looks after and was very chuffed indeed to hear that we could get the site up and running for no extra cost whatsoever. He also pointed out how easy it would be to set up multiple e-mail addresses within the account; I really get the impression we are well and truly on the same wavelength here, and I am sure that together we can make a really good job of propelling the fellowship into the information age.
It's Saturday afternoon and I've got all my boring stuff out of the way. Had a quick look in Chappells, with my eye caught by the new Yamaha CS2x keyboard they had in stock - in a rather nice silver-white paint job - though I was rather more interested by the powered monitor they were running it through. Alas I was advised I wouldn't get much change from five hundred pounds for it - though they could do me a today-only pre-stocktake deal if I wanted - but they had some cheaper smaller ones which I have to say sounded quite astonishing for their size, but the guy seemed to be having a lot more fun playing with the RM1x all-in-one sequencer box he was running through them. Thankfully they had none of the latter in stock, so I didn't have to feel too guilty about just listening in awe and going away to "think about it". Other than bumping into Angela and suffering once again from a mild case of HMV syndrome, that was just about it for the interesting side of things, with just a quick visit to the Halifax, NatWest, Waitrose and McDonalds - Chicken Italiano, again - to complete the morning's activities.
Quite interesting to get a leaflet thrust into my hand about the NatWest Bank supporting a laboratory accused of quite serious ill-treatment of animals; essentially I had sympathy with the protesters, but I am quite certain the public - myself included - doesn't know the whole story. I really can't believe that anyone with any compassion would actively condone the laboratory's highly publicised activities, and would suspect that NatWest looked at the bigger picture, realising the vast majority of worthwhile research and development they were undoubtedly doing that would be totally wasted - with the death or suffering of any animals completely in vain - if they weren't bailed out as they were. I would imagine that the bank almost certainly placed some pretty strict conditions on their future conduct - after all, with all the negative publicity the laboratory had received, for them to do anything else would be virtual suicide for both parties' public relations. The leaflet urges people to complain to various influential people in NatWest and beyond; I'm sorely tempted to write offering my support...
With Pete and Jan's wedding anniversary "open house" sadly cancelled tonight due to Pete unfortunately being back in hospital rather suddenly, I decided I'd be brave and go to the regular Saturday night intercessory prayer meeting at the Kings Centre. When I arrived, only Dave and Tom were there - they are somewhat regular fixtures, apparently - but a couple more arrived before too long, making a healthy fivesome. It was a really nice way to spend an hour and half - reading, praying, telling stories and testimonies, and relating incredible scientific facts that bear witness to the greatness of God. Of course, Pete's continuing grave illness was a recurring topic as far as the intercession itself was concerned, but there were many other situations we could pray into in an equally positive manner, in the knowledge that - as has been proven so often in the past - it really does get results.
But now it's just about time to call it a day, having put the final touches to a slightly more than superficial tidy-up of my room, which I started earlier this evening. It really was getting to be an absolute tip, and if proof was needed that I didn't just shove everything into already-overflowing cupboards and wardrobes, you need look no further than the full dustbin bag sitting by the door. It could probably do with a bit of a hoovering now, needless to say, but that can wait until tomorrow I think - a good night's sleep is called for, methinks, with Zoe coming up once again tomorrow afternoon and evening. We agreed it might be a good idea for her to go to her own church at least once in a while, hence her planned lunchtime arrival tomorrow rather than early in the morning as had become customary. I've no idea what we'll do for the day, but I'm sure that once again it will be great!