David's diary: July 1999
First day of the new month, but any hope that it would bring some sudden surge of motivation at work turned out to be rather wishful thinking. This leaves just over a day to get sorted out for an important business-school presentation I've got to do on Saturday afternoon, though I guess I could always put in a couples of hours work on Saturday morning too if need be.
Last night's barbecue went very well, as barbecues go, with a surfeit of food as almost always ends up the case at such events. It would have been nice to have been able to take Zoe as invited, but with other prior commitments, it just wasn't to be - but hopefully she'll be able to come up another time, with plenty more similar events to come during the summer I'm sure.
Matt caught a glimpse of the laptop last night, and is pretty sure it's the one for him, and - given that the internal modem works - he doesn't seem over-concerned with a fairly serious problem we found with the PCMCIA expansion slots on it, so I set a serial transfer going this morning to load a free version of Lotus SmartSuite on to it, and a few other handy utilities.
As mentioned yesterday, tonight it's Seamus's birthday barbecue, which is supposed to be a surprise - at least the fact that a dozen non-family members will be coming, anyway - though it wouldn't take much imagination to guess that Gill might have sorted something special out. Should be good though, and hopefully people will have regained some appetite since last night!
The weekend's started off annoyingly, and I'm fairly sure - in a pessimistic kind of way - that it's going to continue to be so at least until about this time tomorrow. If the extreme head and humidity wasn't enough, a mercy mission to Maplins turned out to be a wasted one. I thought I'd be kind and get Matt a modem lead for the laptop, but when I got it home, I found that - contrary to the description on the packaging - it's not a modem lead after all, lacking the "twist" in the conductors that distinguishes what I wanted from the straight phone-lead that I got. Maplins isn't open again until tomorrow morning - I went in just as they were shutting up shop for the night - so Matt won't be able to have the laptop tonight after all as he had been hoping, though I should see him on Sunday, and will hopefully have sorted things out by then.
Tomorrow's going to be a mad rush kind of day, with Maplins added to my itinerary accordingly. The main annoying thing is that I've got to do a short presentation about our conferencing software for some business-school tutors at the OU's training centre in Newport Pagnell. It's only a three-quarter of an hour slot I have, so with a quarter of an hour for some slides which I planned today in Powerpoint, a quarter of an hour's actual demonstration of the software, then a few minutes for questions, I think that'll work out fine. But I still have a few things I need to sort out beforehand, not least picking up the equipment I'll require, so I'll have to pop into work for a while too, before getting up to the training centre during their lunch break, which will be about the only time I can set things up without interruption or interrupting.
In an attempt to relieve the pressure a little bit tomorrow morning, I decided I'd do my regular weekly shopping this evening. Waitrose was still open - I wasn't sure whether it would be - but they were running low on stock of a few necessities, but thankfully Sainsburys came to the rescue for a bag of mixed salad, and I got a free sachet of raspberry sauce out of them too. Just after I got in, Matt phoned, wondering if he could pick up the laptop tonight, and I eventually agreed he could. I explained about the modem lead, so he realises he won't be able to connect to the internet until that's sorted out. I should be able to give him the right lead on Sunday morning, all being well when I go back to Maplins first thing tomorrow morning, armed with the trades description act if need be...
Last night brought quite spectacular thunderstorms, but precious little rain to really refresh the atmosphere - though probably just as well, given what I found when I got into work this morning, namely that someone had left one of the office sky-lights wide open. There was a decidedly damp patch covering a large part of the floor, and some obviously once-soggy magazines on one of the desks, but thankfully no serious damage to speak of. I missed the best of the storms, sleeping quite soundly last night, but still witnessed a few quite peace-shattering claps of thunder and some pretty impressive flashes of lightning from afar. Dragging myself out of bed at eight o'clock was not too pleasant for a Saturday morning, but a quick shower soon woke me up sufficiently to face the day.
I ended up working pretty much the whole day, going straight to the university from Maplins - where I managed to exchange Matt's "modem lead" with no problem at all - and finalising things before I drove up to Newport Pagnell to get set up and ready for the presentation. Lunch was laid on, which was most welcome even if a little hurried in the end, saving me a lot of hassle in that respect. The presentation itself went very well, after a slightly shaky start, ran pretty much according to schedule, and got a hearty round of applause at the end. I think the Business School tutors are, in the main, really looking forward to using our software as part of the MBA activities, and the probing questions asked were intelligent and the result more of enthusiasm than any kind of cynicism.
The one thing I wasn't able to get when I went shopping last night was my week's stock of hayfever tablets, so I had a good excuse for a bit of exercise by walking into town before the shops shut for the day. Still incredibly hot and humid outside, I am sure I still more than sweated off my complimentary lunch in the process. I bumped into Adam and Jeremy who had just been doing a bit of "shopping for the house" - especially important with Jeremy and Christine's wedding only a couple of weeks away now - and I also had a brief opportunity to look around for a new watch to replace this embarrassingly bad one I've been making do with for far too long. I didn't buy anything, but I found a few that I could see myself wearing, so I will have a much better idea next time I'm in town.
But now I'm looking forward to a nice quiet evening, probably not doing very much in particular, and quite enjoying that. There was a barbecue this evening I was invited to, but having been to two in the last week, and having had an unusually hectic Saturday today all told, I politely declined. I'm sure there will be plenty more to come, when I'm feeling more enthusiastic about joining the party mood, rather than just collapsing and sleeping. Anyway, I need to save my energy for tomorrow, with Zoe hopefully coming up for our monthly celebration meeting and who knows what later. There's no evening meeting - probably due to the tennis finals, the leaders being considerate like that - but I suspect there will be other things laid on for those so inclined; should be good, whatever!
It's the small hours of Monday morning, after another great Sunday in impeccable company. Zoe arrived shortly after ten, in time to whizz up to Wolverton for the monthly celebration. Once again, the scheduled guest speaker had cancelled at short notice, but Dave delivered a good talk on one of his pet topics, that of grace. Things were brought down a good number of pegs by the news that Pete really is in desperate need of the kind of miracle that saved the lives of people like Colin, Lisa and Sam before him; he's now using something like two oxygen cylinders a day to keep breathing, and doctors have bluntly said there's nothing more they can do for him. Medically, it is now just a matter of time, and it's the first time they have been so frank about the prospects, certainly to be able to pin any kind of time-scale on it. So all we can really do now is just pray and wait, and hope that whatever outcome is in store, he need suffer no longer.
After the meeting, we thought we would try again at the Eastern Paradise balti house in Wolverton, in the hope that the weekly monopolisation of the car-park over the road by a Sunday car-boot sale might have been a short-lived venture. Thankfully that was the case, but unfortunately we chose the one day when the restaurant was having its kitchen refitted, so we were still thwarted. Happily though, they could recommend another similar kind of place, the Darjeeling in Stony Stratford, and we had an excellent buffet there. It cost a little bit more, but included poppadoms and the usual sauces - including my favourite, lime pickle - and the service was top notch, with the waiters explaining all the available options. The end result was that we had a far more structured meal than we would had at the other place, which made a pleasant change. I'm sure we'll go back to both, but the Darjeeling was certainly a good find under the circumstances.
With no evening meeting, a barbecue at the Kings Centre had been convened for the late afternoon, so from Stony Stratford we headed down to Kingston Tesco to get a few bits to eat, though it turned out our utter stuffedness from the buffet was to defeat us, so the sausages and things have gone in the freezer for another day. We parked at the Kings Centre and took a gentle stroll around part of Caldecotte Lake, getting back to the centre just as people were beginning to arrive. Eventually they got a load of barbecues going, and everyone who wanted to eat - which didn't include us - I think had plenty. There was also football and volleyball going on for those of more energetic inclination, but we were quite happy just to sit and be entertained by the general goings on. Ominous clouds loomed overhead towards the end of proceedings, but the weather largely held off, with just a few spots of rain, and certainly nothing to really spoil the occasion.
In the evening we went with Mark, Phil, Angela and Josie, up to the Black Horse - a most pleasant canal-side pub in the north of the city, that I'm sure I'll return to sometime. The highlight of the evening - apart from sharing stories of embarrassing moments we would probably rather forget about but for their continuing entertainment value - was when a fire engine mysteriously arrived, with no obvious fire for them to deal with. But then someone noticed a column of black smoke rising from the nearby woods, which a number of firemen ran to armed with nothing more than metal buckets. Following the example of our pastor Dave at the recent Electrolux fire, we felt compelled to go and see what was going on, so took a surreptitious stroll along the canal, and found the remnants of what looked like a barbecue that had gone out of control, with the firemen still damping down the blaze, obviously taking water from the rather convenient nearby source.
By then it was time to head home - and almost time for Zoe to be on her way on the rather longer journey back to Iver - though the others went via McDonalds for a drive-through supper. Having just about perfected my reverse-parking technique - I had to do it twice during the course of the day - it was then a nice opportunity just to sit down a while, introduce Zoe to the delights of Eliza Carthy's bizarre but listenable funk-folk fusion, and generally mellow out. But then it was truly time to send Zoe on her way, and for me to go in an approximately bed-ward direction, though I seem to have got waylaid into typing this...
Coming to the end of Monday at work, and it's been a fairly reasonable day, considering that I really shouldn't have been here at all given that I effectively put in a whole day on Saturday, and should be claiming at least time-and-a-half in lieu. I may well make an early escape, especially since there's a music practice tonight and I could do with a little while to get ready for that as well as have something to eat. I've got my car insurance sorted out finally, changing to a policy brokered by Taylor Price, apparently the pioneers of direct insurance services; their quote was by far the best, with Kwik Fit nowhere near being able to match it. Quite what planet Kwik Fit are living on I have no idea; they were very nice about it - as has always been the case; I've never had any trouble with them in that respect - but it seems that the policies available to them are simply dire. They were amazed I'd got the quote I did from Taylor Price, claiming that most of theirs had come out at over a grand - I find that incredible given that even with my limited research and knowledge of the market, I'd not found anything for much more than about five hundred pounds. I thought the idea of these companies was to shop around for the best deals, with their expert market knowledge, but it certainly seems like a few good friends and a copy of the Yellow Pages yields better results.
This evening's worship practice - Mark's first in charge while Gareth takes a bit of a break with all the pressures of Shine and so on - went very well, with a song-writing theme for the second, slightly more formal, part of our time together. I wasn't feeling too inspired in a creative sense, but I still managed to contribute a little in my own way, especially once I wisely returned to the WX11 from a brief but somewhat abortive attempt at guitar. Between us, we managed to get the essential elements of two songs going; both will need some work, but I'm sure will be well worth the trouble. For some reason, I ended up singing right at the end, and apparently actually sounded quite passable for a first attempt. Good enough, in fact, to be asked if I would like to sing at meetings sometimes, which will bring a welcome bit of variety to Sundays. I've always hated the sound of my own voice, but then vocal microphones are designed to flatter a little, so maybe I'm not really much worse than anyone else, and I'm sure familiarity breeds a certain amount of contempt in this case.
Tomorrow I'm sure will bring hassles at work, with our project leader supposedly returning after a break of a couple of weeks. No matter what we'll have done in the intervening time, it will be wrong and completely our fault - I suppose it is true that anything that goes wrong is our fault, but that's only really due to who actually does anything much... Any hassles should be alleviated by the evening though, with one of our all too infrequent departmental trips - well at least the sociable part of the department, anyway - to finally go and see "The Matrix" at the Point. The last film the CES Film Club, as it now seems to have been called, went to see was "A Bug's Life" way back when; we really should arrange such things more often. I've heard mixed reviews of "The Matrix" - by the sounds of it, it's a film you either love or hate, but judging by its protagonists so far, I think I will probably fall into the former camp. I don't search for deep meaning and intellectual challenge in films after a long day at work; I just like to go out, relax and be generally entertained.
Agendas. Or is it "agendae", or is "agenda" actually a plural already... I think the latter, on reflection. In any case, I don't believe in them, other than in meeting planning. To the contrary, when investigating, I try to be impartial and pursue truth, rather than what will necessarily make people happy. I won't go out of my way to make people unhappy either, of course - that would be an agenda in itself, and a very negative one - but I am not scared of the truth even when the truth hurts. Too many people set out on research with their conclusions already written - normally when there's continued project funding at stake - with the challenge being to lie subtly enough to reach the pre-ordained conclusion, no matter how preposterous, without showing their work to be a completely politically-motivated fabrication of deceit, half-truths and general manipulation. Whole departments seem to justify themselves in that manner, and when I am a vociferous critic of such activity, it would be hypocritical for me to behave in any comparable way myself. Now let's be clear. I'm not saying in any way that this kind of thing is endemic in the Open University, because I have seen enough cases of people facing difficult truths to know that this is not a completely stage-managed, spin-doctored institution. Not completely, anyway. But there's enough of it in areas of activity directly affecting me to really start getting under my skin in a big way. I oughtn't go into details - and won't, having no agenda of destruction or public character assassination, unlike some others I have been unfortunate enough to have contact with - but suffice to say I am irritated enough that the second half of the Milton Keynes Citizen is going to be getting some extra close scrutiny this Thursday.
Hmm. Well I think that's an appropriate response to "The Matrix". Having said that I thought it was going to be one of those love or hate type films, I've come out with feelings of decided indifference. I was entertained for sure, and there was no time to pause for breath, but it was all just a little too ludicrous and weak in the plot department. The premise of the film wasn't bad, which makes it rather a tragically wasted opportunity; anyone doing it properly now will undoubtedly be accused of trend-following or worse. Still, it was good to get out; I got my fix of cheese and chilli nachos, and it was a fine way of winding down after one of those forgettable - though I probably won't, sadly - days at work.
Do I feel resoundingly better today? Not really. Anyway, I have announced my intention to leave, or at least to those people that matter for the moment. Oddly enough that doesn't include my project leader, but I'm sure he will find out soon enough. As Ben said, about The Matrix, "... it's a true story ... it's real, on as many levels as you dare to believe". I'm certainly beginning to agree with that, and I know I'm not the only one. I hit a really desperate low last night, not even wanting to talk to Zoe, but thankfully I eventually succumbed and was pulled at least a little bit away from the edge. Things have simply got to change, though, and fast.
Needless to say, yet more stories of doom and gloom emerged from work today, but at least we are more or less ready for a fairly important mail-out tomorrow morning, so all is not lost - at least for those of us who give a monkeys. First attempts at finding alternative gainful employment were not too successful, but it's definitely early days yet, and I picked up a free recruitment paper this evening which I should go through in some detail. Who knows, it might even inspire a long-overdue career change. Popped into town briefly to do some shopping in advance of tomorrow night's neighbourhood-group mini-fete thing in the local park, principally to get a selection of fruit for our incredible Human Fruit Machine stall. Phil kindly let me use his nice new colour printer to run off a couple of posters for it, so we're all set for that, weather permitting. The night may be but young, but with all this general running around and the continuing intense and oppressive heat, I'm pretty shattered; I think I'll probably have a nice quiet evening in now, maybe record a couple of new tapes for the car, and call it a day.
A bit happier today, perhaps, but maybe that's at least in part because my mind is made up about grasping hold of my future, rather than just letting it slip away between my desperately outstretched fingers. I need to act fast, though, because time is running out from an intellectual standpoint. Cosmonauts returning from long stints on the Mir space station find that their muscles have wasted through underuse; I'm feeling the same about working here, but from a brain-cell point of view. Looking through a number of job advertisements, I saw loads of things that I should have been able to do, but that I probably wouldn't have a chance. I wonder if - after less than three years here - I am perhaps already doomed to wander the corridors of the Open University for the rest of my living days. In fifty years time, will the university flag be flying at half mast to mourn my passing, after a lifetime of unproductive service? Or will no-one care. Or will I be the only one still here anyway. I certainly hope not, but I really do begin to wonder just how employable I have become outside the world of academia. That's why I wonder once again if maybe I should take a break and do something entirely different for a while. Perhaps I could brush up on all those squandered skills in my spare time, and rise from the ashes, and be what I should have been all along. But regrets are dangerous things to harbour; they have their feet set firmly in the past, and a past that is unchangeable. Onward. Forward. That is the only way. And I must move.
This evening's mini fete thing went quite bearably, and was a good outreach in terms of getting the locals along and joining in with the games and stalls. It wasn't intended as a fund raising event by any means, but I think made a small profit, which is better than a loss, I suppose. Our human fruit machine wasn't a resounding success, but I think those few people who did give it a go quite enjoyed it, and we had a fair few winners, considering. After all that exertion I'm dripping hot, and do believe a short spell in the shower could be called for before I dissolve to nothing.
By some kind of miracle I got away from work at not much after half past five, and even had time for a swift bacon double cheeseburger meal at Kingston Maccy D's before meeting in the park as arranged an hour later. This was a surprising achievement given that the cheerful sole e-mail when I arrived this morning was to say we had eighty - later rising to a hundred - CD-ROMs to cut by the end of tomorrow, when the software to go on them wasn't even finalised yet. Add that to a shed load of work still to do towards an urgent modern languages mail-out deadline, and meetings for most of the day too, and it looked like a recipe for a long night in the company only of owls, mineral water and security guards. But somehow, tasks managed to get juggled - some out of sympathy, others out of sheer guilt, probably - and my desk was metaphorically clear only ten minutes late. Been there, seen it, done it enough times before, though, so it doesn't really change my resolve, but at least I can look upon my predicament a little more objectively now.
The week's nearly over, happily to say, and today's been nowhere near as intensive as it could have been. Got out for lunch, going down to Bletchley with a few colleagues for an unhealthy visit to Burger King, and I guess that's been the highlight of the day really - other than getting some hearty amusement from reading a rather overly-moralistic Christian web site that managed to slate more or less every film in existence other than Mary Poppins.
I suppose I should emphasise that I don't believe such sites to be worthless, and indeed, done well, can be very useful for gauging suitability of films for certain audiences. But this one seemed to be so ludicrously over the top, and apparently based on the unlikely premise that the average parent would let their little Johnny go and get depraved by 18-certificate gore-fests. If it wasn't so hilarious, I would actually be quite offended, I think.
Just had to double-check it really is the 10th - you see after years of muddling along with a rather nasty hybrid watch, cobbled together from available components, I finally got around to replacing it this afternoon, and although it has a date function, it's not quite how I'm used to it being. Nice to finally get shot of the old Casio, and replace it with this shiny new Accurist, finally returning to a good old analogue design, even if it will take some getting accustomed to.
I vaguely recall my first ever watch, which I probably got when I was about nine or ten, I guess; it was a traditional wind-up one, though I can't remember what make. I remember then getting my first digital watch, which everyone was very polite about, but I was quite embarrassed about - it was just a little on the small side to really be called a boy's watch - so I was glad to replace it with an ultra-trendy Casio calculator watch a couple of years later. I can't remember if that was a birthday or Christmas present, but I do remember that I received another, more conventional, digital watch at the same time, which my dad bought off me - though it was not to be the last I saw of it, oddly enough.
Perhaps my favourite watch to date though, was the analogue/digital Casio that finally replaced the calculator one, which did me for a good few years until it went swimming one summer's day at Bournemouth and never worked since. It was then that the digital watch I sold to my dad came back into my hands, with a completely non-matching replacement strap, and the "glass" badly damaged from when I remember him scraping it while shoring up the car exhaust one holiday.
But now that watch has finally been retired - though I'm sure I'll hang on to it for emergency use for as long as it works - and with it ends getting on for twenty years of Casios. There's nothing much technically wrong with Casios, but they are ultimately just so ordinary, plastic and - frankly - anything but stylish.
Monday's almost come to a close, and it's been not too bad as Mondays go. Small panic this morning when we found there had been yet another power cut over the weekend, which had sent all the servers toes up - plenty of budget for loads of unnecessarily over-the-top PC's here, not so much for boring things like uninterruptible power-supplies - and a corresponding flurry of e-mails complaining, mostly thinking the client software wasn't working.
Been fairly tired, still suffering a little from the hayfever - apparently the season's been longer than normal, thanks to the unusually dry weather - and of course having had a busy day yesterday. I had to do the OHP at the morning meeting, which was fine since it didn't involve leaving home any later, so I didn't need to hurry Zoe up or anything - just as well since I'm sure she had already left by the time Mark knew for sure I was needed...
I also ended up singing for a short stint, which was a first-time kind of experience as far as doing so in front of a live audience of sorts, after the success of my brief dipping in of my toes at the practice last Monday evening. That went well enough, though if I'd realised we were recording at the time, I would probably have made extra-special effort to come in on time and stuff like that, but I don't think it sounded too bad in any case.
After the meeting, we dashed back to the house to pick up a previously-prepared packed lunch, then back to the school to walk up to Campbell Park with Trevor, family and friends, for what was the first of a number of millennium-related events this year. There was a mass picnic at the cricket ground there, followed by prayer on a number of issues and a bit of praise and worship, then a slow wander home for the majority of people who had walked.
After catching the tail-end of Songs of Praise - which I don't often watch, to be honest - which featured yet more pre-millennium celebrations, this time involving thousands of Birmingham kids in what looked like one of the most forward-thinking Catholic-organised events I can recall, we drove up to the city centre for a very yummy Mexican meal at Chiquito's, where I'd not been for a long time. It defeated Zoe, but no-one was really complaining.
Almost finally, from Chiquito's, we drove over to Oldbrook, popped into Dillons to pick up a few drinks and things, then joined the tail-end of a barbecue at Alan and Helen's house. All signs of the barbecue itself had disappeared by that time, but we had a nice relaxing evening nevertheless, mixing board and Playstation games with music and general chatter. As the last to arrive, we were also the last to leave, but it wasn't that late really.
Walking back in from the car, it struck us just how beautifully cool it was by that time - especially since we had both caught the sun a fair bit during the afternoon escapade in Campbell Park - so just about as soon as we had got in, we went out again for a short walk down the canal and round the block. All very refreshing, and set me up for a good night's sleep, so it wasn't much longer before goodbyes were said, and Zoe was on her way home.
So that was another good weekend, and it's now less than a week until the next one, but quite how that will work out will remain to be seen. We have both semi-committed to going to the London meet, though it's looking increasingly likely that we'll just go for the day on Saturday. It's a lot less hassle doing that, since there will be no accommodation worries or anything, though we'll need to keep an eye on last train times and so on instead.
Work was fairly unrewarding today, not really getting a lot done, and a few more potential crises unfolding. I feel generally a bit more positive about being there, though; I'm finding that my mood patterns very much seem to follow those of my project manager - in timing, if not in nature - which must say something. Arriving home tonight, amongst the celebrations of my house-mate Phil's graduation earlier today, I was informed of the sad news that Pete Crook died this morning. As regular readers will know, Pete had been gravely ill for a long time, going through various ups and downs, but with a general decline especially over the last couple of months. One positive thing is that he didn't have to suffer too long in the final stages of his cancer; he survived only just over a week after the immediate gravity of the situation became evident and we prayed for a swift end to his suffering, one way or the other. Thoughts and prayers now have to rest with Janet, Daniel and Philip, who've lost a husband and dad in what seems to everyone to be a very untimely manner, but we just have to trust that it was for the best that it worked out how it did under the circumstances, and that they can move on.
Enjoying a nice leisurely start today, since I'm going to be working quite late tonight, probably not getting away until gone nine at the earliest. Just as well really, since I spent a good part of last night satellite spotting - good fun, and with the added excitement of the patchy cloud cover not giving much warning of whether anything was going to be visible at all... I had orbital predictions for the doomed Mir space station to hand, and it arrived bang on schedule as expected, by far the brightest object in the night sky at both about eleven o'clock and half-past midnight, by some miracle finding odd patches of clear sky. I also saw what I believe to have been what is known as an "Iridium flare", which is when one of the Iridium communications satellites momentarily reflects the sun from its solar panels, giving a few seconds of very bright light to quite a localised area on the ground. As with Mir, the predictions are very reliable, and it was at just the right time, so I'm pretty sure it was what I saw. There was a much brighter one - as bright as the Moon, indeed - predicted for about half past four this morning, but it was just too light and cloudy by that time to have a hope of seeing it. If it had just been light, I probably would have seen it - they are visible in broad daylight, if you know where and when to look - and can be bright enough to penetrate night-time cloud cover, but both in combination was going to be futile, so I rapidly headed back to bed.
As I'd somewhat expected, I worked even later than scheduled tonight, finally getting away from the office a little before half past nine - though I did escape for an hour to pop into McDonalds for a bite or two to eat - but it was a productive time, and the only unexpected problem we encountered was easily resolved once I got a chance for one-to-one assistance. But now I'm back at home, and looking forward to an early night, with no getting up to watch satellites this time - although while stood out on the patio with the cordless phone, talking to Zoe, I saw a couple of them passing over, so before I go to bed I'll have a quick check on the orbital prediction web page to see which those would have been.
For reference, it seems that the two most likely candidates for the satellites I saw whilst on the phone this evening were the Russian Cosmos 1116 and Cosmos 1666, launched in 1979 and 1985 respectively. There was another one listed at almost exactly the same time as Cosmos 1116, going in much the same direction, but I think it would have been a lot higher in the sky than I was looking at the time. I'm sure everyone really wanted to know this exciting information!
It's been a bit of a hectic morning, but I now have a little time to breathe before I am involved in an on-line demonstration this afternoon. After last night's late finish at work, I agreed I'd send out a couple of summary feedback e-mails this morning, but got very much waylaid when Craig phoned in to say he was running very late and urgently needed me to locate a data projector and get it set up on the other side of the campus. Fun, fun, fun, but I eventually got it done - via a few hiccups, needless to say - though it meant I was rather later than I had promised getting the e-mails out. Humans were never meant to be multi-tasking animals I am quite sure.
Anyway, no late finishes tonight, since we've got a neighbourhood group barbecue, as probably one of the last events this side of the summer break. Alas there was another barbecue in Hemel Hempstead I'd have quite liked to have gone to, but as far as I am concerned neighbourhood group takes priority on Thursdays, and besides, it sounds like Carol's gone to quite a lot of effort for it, so it would be a shame to let her down now I've committed to going. Still in a bit of an astronomical mood, I'll probably have to duck out at about ten o'clock to see what should be a very bright Iridium flare; who knows, I might even get some others to watch too, weather permitting!
Well I'm glad I went to the neighbourhood group barbecue at Paul and Carol's, since it was an excellent event, drawing in loads of people from far and wide, even from Canada and Chernobyl - the latter in the form of Phil, over for his daughter's wedding on Saturday, and Kola, a little boy staying with Seamus and Gill for a while as part of an international friendship scheme. With glorious weather all around, I'm sure the other barbecue down in Hemel Hempstead - I believe it was to celebrate Susie's birthday or something similar - went equally well; I expect I'll hear all about it in due course.
One of the undoubted highlights of the evening for many of those present was the spotting of the Iridium flare I had predictions for, bang on schedule just after ten o'clock. I felt a bit of a fool, getting all these people gazing into the deep blue sky at nothing in particular, but there was no doubting when Iridium 65 briefly faded into vision, piercing the night sky like a heavenly arc-lamp. Within fifteen seconds it had diminished to nothing again, but was a talking point for a good few minutes after, with me having to feign some kind of expert knowledge about what had just been witnessed...
Oh, I almost forgot! With all the fun, games and stiff necks of last night, I omitted to mention the most important thing about yesterday, and that was that I became an uncle. The observant will realise that this isn't the first time. Nor the second. Indeed this is the sixth time, and no, my sister is not a Catholic as some people have suggested! No name known as yet, but my new nephew weighed in at a whopping ten and a half pounds, even bigger than the midwife had expected. Both mother and son are well, but Alison is, unsurprisingly, resting for a while. Which reminds me, I really must send a card to them - let's hope that the selection in the Open University shop is better than it's been of late...
Plans for joining the London meet tomorrow seem to be taking shape quite quickly now - and just as well, with time running out rapidly. I'm not sure whether I'll walk or drive to the railway station tomorrow morning, but I've decided I'll go for the 09:25 out of Milton Keynes Central, which arrives in Euston about an hour later. That should leave plenty of time to avoid all the closed underground lines to get to the Old Thameside Inn on the south bank in time for the midday rendezvous. I think Zoe is planning something broadly comparable, but travelling from Slough rather than Milton Keynes, needless to say. I'm not sure exactly when the tube services run until in the evening, so I'm not planning on too late a finish; I've made a note of return Silverlink trains from Euston around about the eleven o'clock point, which seems quite reasonable to get a nice afternoon and evening out. This will be a great opportunity to put a lot of faces to well-known names, as well as catch up with loads of folk I've not seen in ages.
This evening though, I need to go and do a smallish weekly shop, and finally transfer the contents of my trusty Psion Organiser on to my PC. You see, as from sometime tomorrow, it's not going to be mine any more, and in the remote possibility that there's anything useful still on it, I need to do a final back-up, and then perform a cold reboot. I also need to dig out what manuals, disks and so on that I can; I'm not sure I'll have the whole lot ready by tomorrow, but I'll take along what I can find, and the rest can follow in the post later. It's the end of an era, rather, but it served its time well, helping me out quite a lot in previous jobs - its crowning glory was in hosting a program I wrote which worked out the jumper positions for those once-trendy LED speed indicators on PC cases - and providing just about my sole entertainment and word-processing facilities when I was studying abroad. But now it just sits gathering dust, and I'm simply happy that there's someone out there who can still find good use for it!
It's Sunday lunchtime, and I'm getting a bit peckish, but Zoe's on her way, and no doubt we'll go out to eat somewhere nice - probably Pizza Hut, but who knows? Very tired from yesterday's meet, we decided we'd best play things a little by ear this morning; I made it to church - but I was not really too lively - but I believe Zoe took things a little more gently.
The meet was good fun, and I'm very glad we went, even if it was only for the day rather than the whole weekend. Rather like the first day at a new job, there were far too many faces to put to names, so I'm not going to pretend to really remember more than a small handful of those present. Everyone was very friendly, however, conspiring to make it a great day.
The journey home was a bit dreary, with little breathing space on the train out of Euston, which seemed to stop at even more stations than were on the map, but I was soon able to liven myself up, having left my bike at the station in the morning, so getting some fresh air in my lungs as I pedalled my way back to Springfield, arriving back here just before midnight.
Zoe arrived late lunchtime, but that was fine because it meant we could enjoy our pizza even more than we might - and it was probably Pizza Hut's best one yet, even if the service didn't come with much of a smile. Walks in Linford Wood and around Tongwell Lake probably burned off more calories than we consumed for lunch; it really was blisteringly hot yesterday, surely the hottest day so far this year. It was quite pleasant then just to crash out on the sofa, with gentle music playing and the patio door wide open, waking up just in time to slowly toddle up to the evening meeting. The evening was far too energetic for the continuing heat, but with a message of not sulking and stuff like that, there was little we could really do but grin and bear it! By the time that had finished, we really were fit to drop, so once we had done a little satellite watching - with Zoe spotting her first ever satellite, and quite a nice one, one of the Russian Cosmos ones, even though it looked a little like an Iridium flare initially - I think Zoe was quite ready for a bite to eat, and then to head home. But probably not for long, since she hopes to head back up here this evening for Pete's memorial service, though it'll almost certainly be much more of a celebration than any sombre kind of event. So that will be three consecutive days spent with Zoe's company. Unprecedented, I do believe, but most welcome!
Sadly Zoe wasn't able to get up here for this evening's memorial service, serious congestion on the M25 being to blame there, but it was a great celebration of the life of Pete Crook, who passed on a week ago after three years of suffering from cancer. A life cut short well before its time, but one which he lived to the full - and that was really the prophetic call of the evening, one to make the most of your years. You'll never know whether your time is to be forty-five years or ninety, and you'll never do all you need to in life, but take full advantage of what you've got, and keep focused on the things that matter. Pete did, and was an example to us all.
We may not always have agreed with him on many details, but his heart and focus was right all the way. He was always a great support, comfort and motivation to everyone; I personally will remember him fondly for his words of great wisdom at my baptism and commitment just under a year ago and his excitement at being introduced to Zoe more recently. He will almost certainly be missed more than many of us could ever realise would be the case, but we know he's in a better place now, and that was a place he had his eyes firmly focused on throughout his time with us.
It seems cruel that he should be taken away, and in such a drawn-out and painful manner, but right until the last, he was an example to us all in a way that perhaps couldn't have been if the miracle of healing we had prayed for had come about. Pete was a prophet, and even the twilight of his earthly existence served as wisdom and inspiration to us all. God does often seem to move in mysterious ways, although after the event and its emotion has passed by, the wisdom of it all so often falls into place; we're already beginning to catch a glimpse of what Pete's suffering and passing-on means in the longer term, but it is for us now to grasp hold of that, and to live life to the full.
Hmm, a little bit of crisis management is being called for this afternoon, including a little tact as to who is let in on the fact that there's a crisis at all, and we tend to agree that it might be a good idea if the project manager remains oblivious at least for the time being... You see, unknown to us, some people have managed to get hold of an early beta release of our conferencing software - not that obtaining it was at all difficult, I had just been assured that no-one would - and not only have slated it, but also published their findings in great length on the web. Great, eh? Frankly, it could only have been much worse if they'd put a copy of the software on their site.
Needless to say, we have now dramatically adjusted security settings on our web server to ensure no repeat performances, and are currently writing a carefully-phrased point-by-point rebuttal, trying not to make it too obvious it was a security breach that provoked it in the first place. Maybe with all these Microsoft Windows beta releases and so on, people have grown accustomed to the idea that betas are for public review and may be considered to be in some kind of all-but-finished state, but our software was in no way ready to be assessed in the manner it was, and frankly those of us who know are pretty hopping mad about all this, though some of the criticism was quite amusing...
That's not to say the feedback wasn't in the slightest bit useful, but there were so many fundamental misunderstandings on the part of the review's author that it can only possibly serve to downright mislead anyone who happened to stumble across it, or still worse be directed to it. It's very difficult to know exactly how to react when it is probably factually accurate - even if ignorant of many important related issues - and does acknowledge that it's based on a non-release version, but we've got to do something about it now, especially since users are undoubtedly reading it. I tell you, it's at times like this I really could just scream and walk out, but it would help no-one.
Today's being a bit better, having sussed out how to make an on-line installer for our software, and generally getting on top of stuff again. I still need to do a load of user documentation, but in a way it is in my interest to leave a lot of it until the last moment, since the software is still in quite a state of flux, especially as far as the icons, menus and so on are concerned, and the screen captures and so on associated with those are amongst the most time-consuming aspects.
Tonight I'll be going down to Bletchley to visit Roger, to hopefully finalise the first live incarnation of the long-awaited MKCF web site. It's been a good few weeks since I provided all the leaders with a hard copy of the content so far, with requests for more detail and any corrections required. However, Roger is the one who seems to have bitten the bullet most enthusiastically, and between us we should now arrive at something we can get on-line by the weekend, all being well.
The site is very much a "first version", but it should be complete as far as it goes - I loathe web sites that are obviously incomplete, with broken links and men-at-work signs all over the place. Pretty much as soon as it goes on-line, I hope to get going with developing the next version, which will probably be very different both in appearance and structure. The initial version will be fine, but it doesn't really have the potential for the kind of expansion we would like to see.
The visit to see Roger went very well, with all the major gaps in the proposed MKCF web site filled. There are a few more bits we would probably like added to this incarnation when we can get them, but the site should basically be ready to go by the weekend. I just need a little while to type in the additional content and make the few adjustments they requested, then I can upload the first live version. We made sure the web account was activated last night, and uploaded a test index.html just to be sure, and I did the same from home later too, to ensure it really was possible to update the site from a third-party internet connection. There was a slight panic when the FTP password wouldn't work, but it was just a case of not having read the friendly manual as well as we might, having typed in slightly the wrong user name. But everything seems fine now, and we're looking forward to getting this done once and for all ... at least until the next update anyway!
From Roger's I went straight up to Andy and Rosie's, for "coffee", even though it ended up being a cup of tea, some very yummy chocolate gateau with low-fat cream, and a bottle of beer. It showed how long it's been since I'd visited them, because the house had undergone quite a transformation, the most notable new features being the lovely wooden floor in their football-pitch of a lounge, and the gradual appearance of a nursery for their forthcoming arrival. I got there at the same time as Alan and Helen, with Angela already there; Phil arrived later, after a band practice, and somehow, before we knew it we were into the small hours of the morning. Sadly by the time I got home it was too late to phone Zoe back, having picked up two messages from the answerphone, the final one saying an understandably sleepy "goodnight", so that will have to wait until this evening I'm afraid.
Another immemorable day at work, with yet more stuff piled on that I can really do without. The main lowlight was spending half the afternoon - that I should have been using to do documentation, due by lunchtime tomorrow - sorting out someone's laptop, that they had made exactly the same mistake on as one a day previously, but not spotted the common thread of modem/network card clashes. And of course it was all my - or Sam's - fault, according to our project leader, for having released dud software... But I've just about packed things up for the day, so can head home for whatever the evening might bring. I was hoping I'd get a few minutes to update the MKCF web site stuff, but it wasn't to be; maybe I can find a few minutes later to do some typing, after whatever's going on for neighbourhood group tonight.
You see, right at the end of last week, we had the joyous news officially broken to us - even though we had a good idea a day or so previously, thanks to the CES rumour machine - that Yannick, one of our star Java programmers, was terminating his contract with pretty much immediate effect. As a result, that left just me and Sam as the only people working full-time on the project - and Sam as the only real programmer. We were promised a replacement for Yannick, but unsurprisingly, none materialised, so those of us left have been working well beyond our capacity. It's not helped by the fact that our project leader doesn't really pull his weight in day-to-day matters, and all too often delegates his own responsibilities right at the eleventh hour, then blames anyone but himself when things strangely don't happen.
I for one have got very close to the end of my tether on more than one occasion, and one of my office mates has expressed quite serious concern for me. Yes, I am scared I might flip and do myself or someone else some real harm, whether physically or otherwise. Sometimes I really could just end it all in an instant, but I know it would be the most pathetic excuse to do so, and ultimately cause a lot more harm than good. Life's more important than that, but that also means I should be considering my professional future more seriously than ever, doesn't it? Yes, there are ways out internally within the Open University, and even within our own department, but this was a project that for some bizarre reason, I actually wanted to get involved with, which would make my withdrawal really quite a difficult decision.
Well today has ended up about as badly as it started, and boy am I happy - not. Thankfully Martin cheered me up sufficiently before I left neighbourhood group that I decided against deliberately putting into action the hypothetical reason for having documented procedures at work. But it was a close run thing.
Today's marginally better, but I've decided to get out of the city for as much of the weekend as I can manage. All being well, I'll certainly be gone for a day or so, and if I can arrange for someone else to do OHP on Sunday morning, probably a good deal longer. I'm just finding myself bottling up so much ill feeling towards Milton Keynes humanity in general, that a break is the only thing I can really do if I'm not to fall out with a heck of a lot of people. It's also a very long time since I've been home - where I'll probably go - and I have a few bits and pieces for my parents, so all round I think it would be one of the best things I'd done in a long time.
As the time ticks inexorably towards midnight, a really quite unusual weekend comes to a close, and I look forward to what I think will be a very good night's sleep. Friday evening, as expected, I went home to see my parents, but it turned out that Mum was away in Wales, doing her grandmotherly bit after the recent arrival of my sister's sixth, so I had a couple of days just with Dad, which made for a slightly different experience. The highlight was probably having lunch out on Saturday, but it was altogether a good time, and I caught up with Rebecca next door for a little while too.
I stayed at Prestwood until early this morning, heading over to Iver in time to test out St Leonards at Richings Park, just for a change. That was quite an interesting experience, very different to St Peters - let alone MKCF - but altogether a very tolerable and relevant mixture of old and new. Lunch was at the Slough Burger King, both Zoe and I enjoying their Wild Wild West bacon double cheeseburger with onion rings meal very much, and soon after that we were in convoy on the way back up here to Milton Keynes, just in time for the first of the Sunday-afternoon MKCF summer picnics.
The picnic, at the Kings Centre, drew to some kind of close at about seven, and after a short time of wondering what we were going to do for the rest of the evening, gave Andy and Rosie a ring, and ended up round there for a couple of hours, also seeing our friend Ian for what I think was the first time since the Suffolk holiday - and Zoe's first proper time at all, we reckon. Phil and Angela turned up just as Ian was heading off home, with a long trek down to Crawley after a day of stock-car racing and other frivolities, so we stayed a little longer, but were soon just about fit to drop.
For once, in no great rush to get home, not least because with Mark away coach-driving for a while now, there's no mad dash to get the parking spaces that won't fall victim to speeding joyriders and brain-dead white-van drivers. It's also not been too bad a day at work, with an almost disturbing lack of serious hassles, and even some fairly good news in terms of things that went well while I was away during a potentially rather critical weekend.
I took a few minutes a little while ago to finally tweak the MKCF web pages and upload them into a preview location on the web site, prior to their official release which should be later this week. They're looking quite good for a first version, and I'm pretty sure they'll be accepted as they are, given that the content is pretty much exactly as agreed last Wednesday, but it's only reasonable to give the powers that be one last chance to comment.
In another spare few minutes this morning, I made a Minidisc recording of some RealAudio tracks on Gareth's behalf, which I'll dub onto tape this evening. I've no idea what the strict copyright implications of this are - given that the tracks are excerpts from cover versions anyway - but Gareth doesn't have web access at work, and wanted to hear some songs recorded by a band he's interested in, so I'm sure there's no problem with such personal use.
Yesterday evening was quite relaxed, getting the tape recorded for Gareth and dropping it off, and then really doing precious little else other than a bit of guitar-playing, satellite-spotting and phone-calling. I even got to bed the right side of midnight, and - what's more - managed to get up in time both to have breakfast and to get into work on time. Wonders never cease...
Today's been pretty quiet really, a few software queries and so on to answer, but altogether a fairly relaxing time. There was a bit of a mad rush to get a new CD-ROM cut and manuals printed off for QA to peruse next week, but that was about it really from the excitement point of view. Disappointment of the day was not managing to see the daylight Iridium flare this morning, most likely due to a combination of the patchy cloud cover and my slightly poor estimations of azimuths and elevations, certainly not for want of trying or getting funny looks from colleagues. Somewhere at home I have a compass with some special features for satellite use - mainly for lining up antennae with TV satellites, but the principle's the same - but I've no idea where it is at the moment. Probably wherever my hiking rucksack is, which I can't find either; I'll have another look this evening, when I will hopefully get round to tidying up my tip of a room in general.
Excellent, my room's now at least semi-habitable, and in the course of tidying up came across both my rucksack and the long-lost sighting compass I'd been more specifically looking for earlier. The compass is pretty much as I'd recalled it being, and I've spent a little while this evening finding out how best to use the clinometer function - used to determine the elevation of satellites just as much as the gradient of hills - most effectively. It's a little bit tricky, but it's certainly preferable to estimating the angles by eye alone when I - like most people - fairly consistently underestimate how high in the sky to look. Anyway, all that exertion in this hot weather has made me decidedly uncomfortable, so I think once I've got this diary entry posted I'll take a nice long bath and call it a day.
I'll keep this fairly brief because there's a film on a few minutes that I want to watch, and I'm not sure if Monochrome is working too well at the moment anyway. Today's been a reasonable day, doing quite a lot of technical support type stuff, and Sam showing me how to make builds of our project software before he disappeared off for the rest of the summer. I also got the MKCF pages on-line publicly, and mailed a few people who I knew would be interested and provide good feedback. Chris has got back to me already with a few suggestions - some of them arising from looking at the pages on a Mac rather than a PC - but essentially he liked it, and Angela and Phil have been very complimentary too. Anyway, I'd better be wrapping this entry up for the moment, and head downstairs for the film.
Hmm, not a bad film as far-fetched virtual-reality style science-fiction action flicks go; Virtuosity seemed like a cross between Terminator 2 and Demolition Man, and with a surprising lack of the usual gaping plot holes. A short phone-call, the midnight BBC News 24 bulletin and a quick bit of musical therapy of the six-stringed variety later, and it's about time for bed, methinks. Two more good things that came out of today were that my share of the rather large phone bill actually turned out to be nowhere near as scary as I'd feared, and that my Cropredy Festival tickets finally came through this morning. So all told, not a bad day by any means - I just hope there are a few more of them in the pipeline now.
The heat of the noon-day sun was just too much as I returned from the shops this morning, so I'm going to be quite happy to stay indoors for the time being with a few windows open as appropriate. It was a typically unexciting trip into the city centre, with the only real breaks from the ordinary being to have a quick look around the newly-opened theatre district - the theatre itself isn't open for a few more months, but the cafes and so on seem to be doing a fair bit of business already - and paying my August rent and share of the phone bill at the Halifax, opting for an internal funds transfer - thankfully I have an account there too - rather than shelling out ten pounds more to pay from my Nat West account. So altogether a pretty mundane Saturday so far, and no great motivation to do anything more enterprising while it stays as sweltering as it is.
But sitting around all afternoon soon got the better of me from the boredom point of view, so I braved the harsh rays and took a long walk out to and around Willen, pausing only for an ice cream and a can of drink half way. To say I was absolutely dripping with sweat when I arrived back would be a slight understatement, but I'm sure it did me good to get out regardless. I'm not aware of anything in particular going on this evening, but I think that will suit me just fine - though I'll not turn down anything interesting, certainly.