goznet ...

David's diary: February 2000

Yesterday was another long day, with the best part of the evening taken up with a big meeting up at the school to discuss all kinds of things about Sunday mornings - from praise and worship to children's work to chair setting-up and beyond... It was a bit haphazardly organised, however, and would have done much better to have been spread out over two evenings; the music and children's work sessions ran for the whole two hours, whilst the other stuff was just during the last hour, but there were clashes of interests between the two categories of people, so it wasn't possible to make the most of the time.

I have to say I wasn't too reassured by the music side of discussions, with no indication that things were going to get any better than they had been the last time I played, and with yet further chaos last night when it turned out that contrary to all expectations, it was decided we would actually have a practice, but only a couple of people had been informed. The second half of the evening, which I attended in my capacity as a chair setting-up steward - or posterior placement technician, as we preferred - was rather better, but there was still the feeling that some of the plans hadn't been thought through too well, though probably nothing that can't be resolved with some fine-tuning as we go on.

Anyway, although it's clear there's a long way to go, I think last night was generally useful, even if it highlighted likely future problems as much as anything; better to be forewarned than not, I suppose, and at least I can be clearer in my mind about the extent to which I want to be personally involved. As such, as I somewhat expected - but hadn't assumed, trying to be at least a little open-minded - I will be standing down from the Centre worship team for the time being and playing a bit of a "wait and see" game from the ranks of the congregation instead. I had previously agreed with Nigel that I would carry on doing chairs for a bit longer at least, and there were no particularly worrying announcements in that respect last night, so there was no reason to change my mind.

Hooray for Amazon and on-line ordering; my first order was delivered this morning, dragging Phil out of bed at some unearthly hour to answer the door, and despite them being a bit vague on order status and so on, it was quick in the end - and cheap too, of course. As such, I am now the happy owner of Plumb's eponymous first album - just as good as their later "Candycoatedwaterdrops" - and a rather fun new book called "Open here" - celebrating what the authors describe as "the art of instructional design" - which I recently saw enthusiastically reviewed in the Big Issue.

Last night's astronomy club meeting went quite well, with the main topic of discussion being the various moons in the solar system - including our own, of course - and how they may have formed and developed over many years. Outside it was damp and murky, so there was absolutely no opportunity for astronomical observations, but it was late enough by the time I got home anyway, and getting on for midnight by the time I'd carried out a little bit of troubleshooting on Mark's new PC - which he generally seems very pleased with - and given Zoe a short bedtime phone-call.

I've evidently got the on-line shopping bug; one copy of the Afro Celt Sound System's "Volume One: Sound Magic" should be winging its first-class post way to me imminently. This time my order is via a company called 101CD.COM, who do extra cheap deals on a range of best-selling albums, typically charging the same headline rate as Amazon and others, but with delivery included rather than an extra. That's the slight sting with Amazon; the basic prices are cheap enough, but you have to weigh up exactly how much you've really saved over shop prices once you've added the postage and packing. For modestly-priced individual items, the saving is often negligible, and you may even end up spending more in some cases I suspect. Anyway, my colleague Sam has used 101CD.COM without problem and recommended them to me, so I can buy with some confidence. I believe there is another slightly cheaper service offering a similar kind of deal, but I'm still not over confident about this on-line shopping thing and am happier buying from companies friends specifically recommend. Hopefully the postman just be able to fit a packaged CD on its own through the letter-box though; I suspect Phil might not share my enthusiasm for this new-fangled technology if he gets dragged out of bed too often...

I'm having a nice quiet evening - figuratively if not literally - doing very little apart from read and play music, the former of course being "Open here: the art of instructional design", and the latter being "Plumb". Oh, and have a bath, but there's nothing too unusual in that.

The book was quite an entertaining browse, and one I am sure I will come back to a fair few times in the future. Many of the diagrams are captioned, but many more leave the reader guessing - wondering what kind of insanity must have overcome the illustrator - and the accompanying text is generally witty and thought-provoking, as it traces the history and development of the artwork portrayed. As one would expect, the book itself is quite a design achievement, with a certain wit even in the choice of title.

"Plumb", by Plumb of course, is growing on me with every listen - yes, I admit I've played it more than once tonight, with the third time just come to an end - and I would actually now say it has done the improbable and actually surpassed the more recent "Candycoatedwaterdrops" in its sheer brilliance. It's got an altogether darker feel than its little sibling, whilst still ranging in styles from Alanis Morissette to Air, with something more than a little B52s-esque to reward the patient - or the inattentive.

Today at work is going quite slowly, with the main source of entertainment being creating the PowerPoint slides for tomorrow's CES seminar Sam and I are running. I think we've struck about the right balance to keep it pleasantly light-hearted without being too jokey, and we have absolutely definitely not used any sound effects or animations within any of the slides. We also nipped across to the meeting-room we'll be using, to make sure that the network point was properly active, and that my frantic attempts to install a network driver on our laptop had been more successful than the last time I'd tried. Everything seems fine, and having roughly planned how the live demonstration is going to proceed, I think we've done just about everything we can before tomorrow afternoon's moment of truth.

I'll almost certainly be going to our neighbourhood group meeting tonight, especially since it's almost certainly the last with the groups as they are currently organised; next week I would hope that Seamus and Gill's group will have started up properly, and I can truly lay to rest my unhappiness with the way things have been lately. I hope I don't get probed too much tonight about my recently-announced temporary withdrawal from the Centre worship team, with both Paul and Martin likely to be at the meeting. Hopefully they will accept my "various personal reasons" without too much further quizzing, since much as I'd like to vent a little spleen about recent events, I don't think it would be overly helpful to anyone at this time. I hold no real hard feelings, so it's probably best left unsaid.

Neighbourhood group was actually very good last night, helped in part by me turning up a little late, so not having to eavesdrop on other people's conversations for too long. The lion's share of the evening was taken up with watching a very interesting video called "Transformations", charting the amazing revivals that had happened in a number of towns and cities around the world. In an hour, it could only possibly skim the surface, covering incredible community transformations in Colombia, Kenya, Guatemala and California, but it was truly inspirational, and well worth a watch for anyone with a heart for this kind of thing. Of course, it's all very well having to pick your jaw up from the floor and generally gasp with amazement, but we have to believe that if it can happen in those distant places, it can happen here too. The emphasis throughout the video was that the key to it all was corporate intercessory prayer, so there's a good starting point...

No questions were asked last night about my worship group non-involvement, thank goodness, and Martin wasn't there anyway - though I wouldn't have expected him to make too much of a deal of it anyway, from experience. After a bit of prayer on a number of topics, an altogether good evening was wrapped up with me inheriting Paul's old computer printer, since he'd just bought a new one and wanted a good home for his Epson Stylus. OK, so it's not the best quality printer in the world, and I think it needs a new colour cartridge - not that I'll probably print in colour much anyway - but it seems to work just fine and it cost me nothing, so I'm certainly not grumbling. I've not had a working printer at home for absolutely ages - since my little old Canon packed up a good while back - and hopefully this one will continue to work with Windows 98 on my new PC whenever I finally get around to ordering that.

Sadder news from earlier last night was that my brother-in-law Martin's dad died a couple of weekends ago. This came as no great surprise, since Josef had been terminally ill with cancer for some time, but it was unfortunate that he passed away only a couple of days before Martin was scheduled to fly out to Spain to see him for what he expected to be the last time. There was no funeral, since he had opted to donate his body for medical research, so I would imagine Martin's trip - which he did go ahead with - must have been really quite strange. Thankfully, over the last couple of years, Martin had formed a much more positive relationship with his father - having not had the most compassionate upbringing, with a lot of lingering bitterness I think - with both of them changing their outlooks on life a lot, and Martin increasingly understanding and appreciating the fairly traumatic events that had shaped Josef's own childhood in Nazi Germany.

Anyway, it's almost lunchtime, so I'd better be wrapping this up, and then after lunch it will be time for us to put the final touches to our seminar for this afternoon. Phil popped in a short while ago to remind us once again - as if we could possibly have forgotten! - about the importance of brevity and conciseness, and also to make sure that the network point we plan to use is still active, just in case it's changed for any reason since yesterday afternoon's recce.

Any worries about this afternoon's seminar were entirely ungrounded, with it going very well indeed by the time Karen had made an impromptu five-minute announcement about some new union thing. No-one seemed to take any offence at our slightly sinister-looking title slide, and the whole thing continued very smoothly, including a live demonstration of the software, justifying Sam having sloped off pretty much as soon as I'd introduced him - so that he could be at "the other end" in the office. We kept well to schedule, with the whole thing - including questions - being over in the requested hour, though quite a few people chatted to us afterwards with more specific questions and generally to thank us for what had apparently been a much more entertaining seminar than most. To embarrass a couple of people who'll probably never read this anyway:

Thanks for a cracking seminar. I would have to say that was the most enjoyable and interesting one I have attended since I have been here. Put it this way, I have never sent an e-mail like this after attending any of the others. - Dan
Thanks for a 'fun' presentation, definitely NOT BORING - unlike some I've been to... - Mike

Anyway, that's quite enough smug satisfaction for the day. Winding down this evening, I've been doing a little bit of graphics work towards the Shine MK website, mainly extracting some useful images from scans of previous artwork, guessing that it will be quicker than getting the original files from whoever it might be that looks after them. But now it's pushing seven o'clock, I've done about all I can until I've got a little more information off Gareth, and I'm hungry anyway, so I probably ought to be heading home.

Finally I can breathe a sigh of contented relief, not only having finished my shopping for the day, but also having finally sorted myself out with a new PC, only a few years later than planned. More on that in a moment, I am sure, though I'll avoid going into too much technical detail, since I wouldn't appreciate that if I was reading someone else going on about it...

I was up in fairly good time this morning - hoping my Afro Celt CD might have arrived, but not yet, alas - and walked up into town to do my usual boring kind of Saturday shopping, buying a couple of magazines to keep me happy in quieter moments and having a yummy brie, bacon and lettuce sandwich for lunch at Brunches. I finished up at Waitrose where I bumped into Rachael, Charlotte and Isaac, walking with them most of the way back to Springfield.

Having decided that this was to be the day I would sort out this new PC once and for all, I had planned on visiting Evesham Micros while I was out doing my main shopping, but for some bizarre reason I couldn't find the shop at all. All was resolved with a quick look in the phone-book once I was back at home, and there was no problem parking outside the store having opted to drive up this time.

It took me a while to get served, since I wanted to deal with one particular salesman, and he was tied up with a rather difficult customer for about an hour - and needed a rest afterwards! - but I eventually managed to get his undivided attention; finally we were able to sit down and talk business. James is their music specialist, and I'd been impressed by him before, and it made it a very painless process to write off about a month's worth of my pay.

I'd seriously considered going to go for an Athlon-based system, but for various reasons I decided against it, going for a fast Pentium III instead, with quite a few non-frivolous extras. That's to say, no massive software bundles of questionable value, but genuinely useful things like a second hard drive, a CD writer and a more flexible monitor. I also bought a scanner, something I find myself using for my own purposes quite a lot at work.

The machine should hopefully be ready within a couple of weeks, so that I would be able to collect it a fortnight today. Then I will finally be able to say goodbye to this long-serving and faithful 486 of mine - but not before I back up the hard disk, of course! - and pass it on to someone who can find use for it for a few years longer. Zoe's sister Yvette is top of the list of likely beneficiaries, but I have other options should she no longer want it.

Having placed the order and left James to see to another customer, I came home via Staples, in order to get some better paper for this printer I've inherited. I'd forgotten quite how bad the last paper I'd bought was, being entirely unsuitable for ink-jet printing. I can still use the old stuff for odd rough copies, I suppose, but a ream of something that didn't behave like blotting paper was essential if I plan on using the printer for letters or anything!

But now I'm back at home, carefully ignoring the mess that my room is in, though I am resigned to sorting it out today since it really has just gone too far this time. Hopefully it won't take too long, but it needs doing anyway, so I'll just have to bite the bullet. I don't think there's anything much else happening tonight, so boring it may be, but it would be time well spent, I'm sure. Just have to make sure it stays tidy - and pigs might fly.

Unsurprisingly, my room's no tidier than it was last time I wrote, having been called out on another technical support mercy mission for my friend Martin. This time, the prognosis isn't too good, with it looking likely that his printer has developed a fault, and probably needs replacement. Although this wasn't too cheering, at least Martin could be sure it wasn't just something silly he was doing, and he's already been on to Gateway and Epson to try and get it sorted out. As often seems to be the case, Martin phoned just in time to preempt my evening meal, so I got a nice mountain of chilli con carne and rice - and a couple of beers - out of it, and we had a good chat about various stuff that I think we were glad to get off our backs. Anyway, I'd better be phoning Zoe in a moment and then get ready for bed; it's another early start tomorrow, having been asked by Daniel to play at the celebration in the morning.

"Well I guess that makes me a Christian, then" - what a class retort to a blunt answer to a loaded question. OK, so the lad involved didn't speak to his father for another six years, and that was not just because of the mess made with spewed kosher pizza I'm quite sure. These were the words of one Joseph Steinberg, the American Jewish Anglican ex-vicar - now about to work full-time for the Y Course in Eastbourne - who came to speak both yesterday morning and evening, and had everyone utterly gripped.

It was altogether a typically excellent Sunday, not too rushed - just as well since neither Zoe nor I had slept too soundly on Saturday night - but with plenty to do anyway, including a most pleasant visit to Alan and Helen's for tea, and a short stroll round Lodge Lake to make the most of the fresh air while it wasn't raining. Joseph's talks were undoubtedly amongst the big highlights of the day, the morning one - up at the celebration in Wolverton - being about Thomas and why he's not as bad as some people tended to make out despite doubting Jesus's resurrection, and the evening one being his testimony - from which the opening quote came.

It was quite apt that Joseph should come to speak only the day after I'd been talking with Martin about the way some of our more regular speakers really laboured points, dragging things out to the point of extreme boredom through some perceived requirement for lengthiness. We had agreed that if there was an area in which Anglicans truly excelled it was in being sharp and concise teachers, and Joseph certainly was all that and more, and everyone we talked to complimented him on that.

Since it was a celebration, rather than a Centre meeting, I agreed to play in the morning - and it turned out that Joseph also plays WX11, even if he's only just finished paying for the VL1 module - which went well enough, though it was a little annoying being continually pestered by certain people asking why I had decided to drop out, and dropping unsubtle hints that I should reconsider. I must stick by my decision though, at least for a month or so, because I can't appear to be too easily manipulable; hopefully by then I will have a better idea of what's happening anyway, and will be able to make a more valued decision on what to do in the longer term.

Coming back to that original quote, it reminded me of when I first became a Christian, and how I broached the subject with my own family. I guess I'd harboured feelings that there was something more to life for a very long time, perhaps about as long as I could remember, but it was in about late 1993 that I finally took the plunge and investigated "going to church" - though I had absolutely no intention of becoming one of those "born again" types... I remember talking to my mum in the kitchen and saying "Guess where I'm going this Sunday" and giving her something like twenty questions to work it out. I can't remember her exact response when she worked it out, though I think it was generally encouraging, though I believe my dad thought it was just a phase I was going through and I'd "get over it".

I guess it was easier for me, coming out of a family that was at best agnostic and generally indifferent, because there was none of the resentment, feeling of betrayal or whatever that Joseph clearly experienced from his father when he made his retort at the pizza restaurant one Sabbath twenty odd years ago in Virginia. I still perhaps feel I might have handled it better, because more than half a decade on, I don't think my family are any closer to becoming Christians themselves than they ever were before, and as I've heard from so many other people, ones own family so often seem like the last people you'll ever manage to convince. Still, Joseph asked for people to come forward if they wanted a fresh anointing for evangelism in general, and I also bought myself and Zoe a copy of his book on the subject, so who knows - there's hope yet if God gets his way, as he ultimately always does.

As Mondays go, this one's being pretty boring, with the only thing of interest from today being that I've placed an order for the sound card to go into my new PC. Which will arrive first is open to question, with the sound card supplier awaiting a stock delivery which is overdue by almost a week already, but the price was right - at marginally less than what I paid for my AWE32 back in 1994 - and Insight are another supplier that comes with my colleague Sam's recommendation. I would imagine that like most of these places, I can cancel my order up until the time of despatch, so if the worst comes to the worst and it's clear they're not going to manage, I should be able to engage Plans B or C quite easily.

Ooh, stop press - Insight appear to have found one of the sound cards I wanted, and according to their web site status thing, the order is "being packed" and will presumably be despatched imminently... Sam says their three-day delivery service can take as little as a day, and the courier they use has their local base in Kingston, so if they can't find anyone at home to sign for a package, it's easy enough for me to go and collect it. I would hope it might arrive by this Wednesday, although it doesn't matter too much given that I'm not going to have a PC to plug it into for another week or more. It would be nice to have time to familiarise myself with the hardware though, being a fairly complex beat, I believe.

Anyway, the card I've ordered is a Guillemot Maxi Studio ISIS, a very tasty bit of kit at an equally tasty price. This was a card I was recently getting cold feet about, having heard a few horror stories, but they've been countered by a good number of more enthusiastic reports on a specialist mailing list - with the potential for a lot of help from there in the future - and at the price Insight were charging, it seemed worth any small risk. Without getting too technical, the card has lots of inputs and outputs, which is a necessity for serious audio work, plus all the on-board sound and MIDI functionality of my existing AWE32, and full digital I/O for linking it up to my Minidisc recorder, CD player and so on.

Surprisingly enough, it's a unique product at present; if trying to duplicate its functionality by combining other sound cards and so on, I could easily spend two or three times as much money, so if it all works as smoothly as I hope, it'll be a real bargain. And that's without even mentioning the bundled Logic Audio sequencing software, which could easily cost as much again on its own... Why no-one else has brought out anything similar I really don't know; there are lots of very good cards covering parts of the ISIS's functionality - e.g. good multi-channel recording, or good MIDI, or good on-board sounds - but nothing else I am aware of that does the whole lot, the perfect basis for a budget home studio.

Anyway, that's that for the moment; all I can do now is wait, and just hope it all works.

Tuesday's chugging by all too slowly, though I've got a reasonable amount of stuff done today, I suppose. It's not helped by still being quite tired after a long evening yesterday, blitzing at least half of my room, going up to the Black Horse for a closing-time pint with Mark and Darren, returning via McDonalds and Darren's new house, and not finally getting to bed until well after midnight. Still, at least I'm generally well, unlike Zoe who's taking the day off work with a nasty cold; OK, so I'm not at tip-top health, with a bit of a sniffle and a sore throat, but I'm far from being incapacitated.

Better news today though is that both my sound card and my Afro Celt Sound System CD - Volume One: Sound Magic - should be in the post right now; when the former will arrive I can't be entirely sure, but the latter should be with me tomorrow, which is cool. Sadly the HMV January sale is now over, so Volume Two's back to full price, but I'm sure it won't be long until they have some excuse to sell it for under a tenner again - cheaper than it's generally available on-line - when I will surely add it to my collection. Anyway, there's an hour to go, so I'm going to do a little more HTML tweakery before calling it a day - and probably having a nice quiet evening in.

My proposed nice quiet evening just about happened, doing little more exciting than lying in the bath for about an hour reading the latest Sound On Sound magazine - with the pages getting a bit damp and stuck together only for quite innocuous reasons - and fairly unsuccessfully trying to get Mark started with creating a web site. Oh, and I also played my guitar and SH-101 keyboard for a little bit, something I've not done much lately owing to the previously chaotic state of my room, and providing a modicum of inspiration for some of the musical stuff I might do when my little home studio is set up in the next week or so. Other than that, it's been an entirely uneventful evening, and I'm going to try and make up for last night's late finish with a comparatively early night tonight.

Today was another fairly mundane day at work, with only a stuffy memo from one of the pro-vice chancellors and a rather amusing little aside involving Amazon's UK web site to break the monotony. I was however cheered immensely by returning home to find waiting for me on the kitchen table not only the Afro Celt Sound System CD I was expecting would arrive from 101CD.COM today, but also my pager, back from its little trip to get reprogrammed not to annoy me throughout the day and on Wednesday and Saturday evenings.

You see, contrary to the information in the user manual and on the PageOne web site, my pager could not be set not to receive news and lottery results without being sent back to them for tweaking. If I played the lottery and the news headlines were accurate and up to date, I might have found the services useful, but as it was, they were an annoyance, and it simply took me a long time to get around to phoning PageOne to have them disabled. Anyway, despite their general level of contradiction and past poor customer service, I have to say they returned it very quickly, and with the midweek lottery draw later this evening, I'll soon be able to tell whether they've done the job properly.

Meanwhile, now I know that if my pager bleeps it should actually be a message for me rather than something less useful - so I'll probably be carrying it around with me a lot more - it would seem a good opportunity to remind people that its number is 01523 408776. Calls from BT lines apparently now cost about 43p at any time of day, regardless of duration; how they got away with setting up such a service on an ordinary-looking STD code I'll never quite fathom... Nevertheless, this number is valid for at least another year yet, after which OFTEL will be forcing it to change to a more obviously premium-rate dialling code which many company switchboards may unhelpfully block.

Anyway, that's that, and right now I'm typing along to the addictively delightful multi-cultural strains of "Volume One: Sound Magic", specifically the quite stunningly awesome "Sure-as-not". I'd heard the album before at Chris and Claire's, and Zoe has got it already, but it's nice to have my own copy at last. No sign of my sound card yet - tomorrow morning seems most likely really given the delivery terms - but I'm pretty sure a rather vague courier's non-delivery card that was dropped through the letterbox early this morning has nothing to do with that, and with both my CD and pager arrived safely, I doubt it relates to anything for me or certainly anything I'm currently expecting.

Well if there was one way of guaranteeing that Business Express's delivery was for me, it was by being adamant that it wasn't. Having said that, as I lay in the bath last night, it slowly dawned on me that it might have been for me after all, and my suspicions were confirmed this morning.

You see, Business Express are based in Letchworth, a place I'd heard of but couldn't quite place, until suddenly I remembered there were a couple of big music hardware/software distributors based there, and I wondered if perhaps - contrary to expectations and indications - Insight had persuaded them to send my sound card direct. Anyway, I deliberately got up early this morning, pre-empting another crack-of-dawn failed delivery attempt, but in the end the bloke came at quite a civilised hour and I was able to sign for the package, which was indeed my sound card, although there was nothing obvious to say that it wasn't sent by Insight, which was a bit weird. I still wasn't over-impressed by the professionalism of the delivery company, however, so I have dropped Insight a line to let them know, and I hope if I use them again - as I expect I will, to get a Zip drive - their choice of Business Express was a one-off under exceptional circumstances.

Last night remained uneventful, just missing having a chat with Zoe on Mono, but successfully phoning her later - though cut a little short due to her mum shouting that tea was ready. Mind you, wanting to be up early this morning to try and intercept the courier, I was quite happy to take advantage of an early night, although I didn't sleep overly soundly, and it was quite a strain dragging myself out of bed just after seven - unnecessarily early, as it turned out. Thankfully Zoe seems to be over the worst of her cold, and still hopes to come up tomorrow evening for the whole weekend, with Phil's band playing their first local gig at Zaks tomorrow night. That means I must give Chris and Claire a ring sometime today - or at least leave a message on their answerphone - to arrange a bed for Zoe, but they've always said she's welcome at any time so long as we give them at least a few hours' warning so they can clear what is now fairly officially known as her room.

Last night's neighbourhood group really was the last one with the groups in their present form, with Seamus and Gill's group starting up next week. It was a good way to finish, with a surprisingly lively evening of favourite psalms, a couple of games of "twenty questions" and a fair bit of prayer on a number of topics. Unusually, I wasn't itching to get out afterwards, and indeed wasn't home until nearly eleven.

The strangest thing of the evening, though, was finding myself being the one to break the news to a couple that their son had just been sent to prison for several months. I had quietly offered my condolences, having read a report in the local paper, and it turned out the lad had not been keeping in touch with his parents, and they weren't even aware the case - which was for theft and some further complications - had come to court yet. It wasn't as awkward for me as it might have been though, because they seemed surprisingly unmoved by it all; I guess if the their son had been closer to them over the last few months it might have been a different matter. Anyway, that was the only slightly sour thing about the whole evening, and it certainly wasn't enough to dampen any spirits.

I didn't quite get the early night I might have hoped for - with a very busy weekend coming up, I think! - since I was up until quite late trying to make head and/or tail of the documentation for my new sound card. The "getting started" guide for Logic Audio is clear and simple enough, but the one for the card itself leaves a lot to be desired, with some very strange explanations and terminology, and badly-labelled diagrams. Seeing as manuals are generally bad at the best of times, I really should have believed the Sound On Sound review that specifically hauled it up for its lack of clarity... I'm just hoping that when I plug it all together and try it for myself, it will be a lot simpler than they make it sound!

It's just turned eleven on Sunday night, after a long, fairly busy - but ultimately very rewarding - weekend. I won't go into the finest detail on everything that happened, but will try instead to concentrate on the many highlights.

It all started late Friday afternoon, with a somewhat unexpected phone call at work from Evesham Micros, advising me that my new PC was ready for collection any time I liked, well ahead of the seven to ten days they'd anticipated. Needless to say, with the store open late on Friday evening, I didn't hang around, and a short Switch-card clearance later I was on my way home with my boot loaded up. Not much later than that, it was mostly set up and working just fine, apart from the modem which is behaving a little strangely, but I'll be getting that looked at early in the week hopefully.

Having phoned me to say she was on her way, Zoe arrived soon after, and we went up to Zaks in Wolverton - via KFC, neither of us having eaten yet - to see Watershed, Phil's band, play their first local gig. That went really well, and seemed to go down just fine with the punters, though incredibly, Jon managed to break not just one, but two bass strings - he'd never broken one ever before, so two in one night seemed just too coincidental. I have little doubt it was a blatant spiritual attack, since it disrupted the set quite a bit while Mark dashed home to fetch a couple more bass guitars, and they didn't have time to do every song they'd planned.

After a very late finish on Friday night, Saturday morning didn't really happen, finally surfacing in time to walk up to town with Zoe for a late lunch at Burger King and to do a little bit of shopping, before getting a video out of "The Mummy", which passed the time for the start of the evening in a quite entertaining manner. We then drove over to Pizza Hut for a meal - no surprises on our menu choice, although we did end up with double the amount of garlic bread we'd ordered, at no extra cost... We adjourned to Chris and Claire's, where Paul and Carol were visiting, and we watched the end of "Shakespeare in Love", which we'd watched only a couple of weeks ago anyway, but it was still as entertaining as ever.

Today's been busy, up quite early to set out the chairs for the morning meeting, then going to fetch Zoe shortly after ten. The highlight of the morning was probably George and Cally sharing about their work in Brazil, where they are returning to very soon, but it was generally a good time for all, and even the worship was fairly bearable. Our friend Sarah arrived a little late, having evidently walked up, since she'd broken her arm on Thursday after tripping trying to stop her youngest daughter running into the road. We gave her a lift home afterwards, and also picked her up and dropped her off for the evening meeting.

Lunch was at the Eastern Paradise in Wolverton, a restaurant we'd not been to for a good long time, and that had changed quite a bit. It had always been a favourite, especially for its value for money, but it's even better now, with a wider choice of dishes - including poppadoms and sauces, for the first time as part of the Sunday buffet - and complimentary wine. We walked off some of that yummy chicken tikka with a stroll round Willen, making the most of a bright, sunny and quite warm afternoon, though evidently about half the population of Milton Keynes had the same idea, so it was fairly crowded.

Anyway, apart from dozing on the sofa and listening to the odd CD or whatever, that was just about it for the weekend's activities. Next weekend won't be quite so busy, with Zoe planning on arriving later on Sunday, wanting to go to her own church in the morning, but no doubt heading up here soon afterwards. But this one's been a great one, and I'm sure there will be many more to come in due course...

Back at work, and taking advantage of a slightly faster network connection than at home, did a little further research about my modem problem, and quickly found a likely solution - indeed I'm surprised I hadn't found it before, given that it didn't take a lot of looking in the most obvious place. Anyway, I've downloaded a couple of files which I'll pop on a Zip disk and test out tonight. The problem was that the modem's on-card sounder wouldn't turn off when a connection had been established; generally modems squawk and squeal while connecting and negotiating a speed, but then shut up once they've settled down. However my one continues to make noises throughout an on-line session, and blatantly ignores the Windows settings for modem volume; if I enjoyed tape-loading noises, I'd have resurrected my Spectrum...

Anyway, hopefully that'll be fixed tonight, and the only noisy part remaining will be the DVD drive when it spins up to full speed, as it frequently does when reading CD-ROMs in particular. Thankfully the CD-RW drive, which can be used as an ordinary CD-ROM drive too, is much quieter - if somewhat slower - so I can pick and choose a little which I use, depending on what software I'm running and how many people I risk keeping awake with the gentle strains of a Harrier jumpjet taking off. It's still a good idea having the DVD drive, I think, because software is beginning to be released on DVD, and I may well want to watch the odd film and so on, especially since my sound card supports surround-sound.

Otherwise, the machine seems pretty good; the keyboard will take a little getting used to, but it's good enough quality, even if there doesn't seem quite as much travel as most that I've used before. The hard disk performance appears to be well up to scratch for my intended audio use, with a handy benchmark utility indicating that either drive - remember, there's both a 4Gb and 12Gb unit installed - will in theory support over a hundred simultaneous audio tracks, well in excess of the sixteen the software I have will allow! Either way, having plenty of excess performance capacity is no bad thing; it's bound to be generally better even when dealing with less simultaneous tracks.

I've not tested the scanner yet, but I'm hoping that will be straightforward enough, being a USB connecting one which can plug into the hub that's built into the monitor plinth. I've kind of promised Gareth I'll put some time into designing and getting up-and-running the Shine web site this week, so it'll be good to get the whole system working as soon as I can, although I also need to use Zoe's Zip drive to transfer files from my old machine at some point, not least so I can clear a bit of living space in my room once again, and not have to fight to get to my bed...

Today's being otherwise dull and boring, though I can head home in about half an hour and hopefully have a productive evening putting the final touches to this new PC system. I'll be going armed with Zip drivers for both Windows 3.1 and 98, plus a Zip disk full of useful stuff - including the modem driver update to cure that sound problem - and will hopefully have things working as they should very soon. Then I can set to work copying across the 170Mb of files from my old PC and installing the scanner, sound card and my digital camera software. I'll also install the USB drivers for the Taxan monitor; at the moment it's operating as a fairly ordinary SVGA screen, but it includes a USB hub and the facility to control all its settings via USB. The latter is a convenience thing mainly, but the hub will be very useful for the scanner, to save me grubbing around behind the machine every time I want to plug it in, seeing as I haven't really got the space to keep it set up all the time and deliberately chose a compact one with storage in mind.

Fun, fun, fun, I'm sure it will all be...

It's been a long evening of installing, debugging and generally tweaking my new PC system, and apart from fitting the new sound card - which can wait until another evening when I'm feeling more awake and generally more patient - I think I'm just about there.

The biggest hassles were with the scanner, which seemed to get itself into a bit of a knot at one point, but all seemed a lot healthier once I'd worked out how to disable the annoying lid-opening detection, which insisted on automatically launching just about anything other than the Paint Shop Pro I wanted it to. I'll be keeping a close eye on it, anyway, but I'm pretty sure it's OK now, and the image quality seems good enough even if it's a little slow getting there.

Transferring the files from the hard disk on my old machine turned out to be no problem, just somewhat tedious, taking a good couple of hours; parallel port Zip drives may be one of the most compatible high-capacity storage system around, but they are far from being nippy! I guess I could have done something clever with actually swapping around the hard disks, but it seemed easier to do it the way I did, and besides, I didn't much feel like opening machines up tonight.

Thankfully Cakewalk Apprentice - which I've used for just about everything musical I've done over the last five or six years - survived being moved across hard disks and operating systems without complaining about anything more than the lack of an AWE32 sound card to get its teeth into, so it should be quite easy to recover the sequencer files I've worked on in the past, and duly import them into Logic Audio.

Anyway, time's getting on now, and I really must give Zoe a phone call while there's still the best part of an hour left of Valentine's Day...

Hmm, well in the end I got around to phoning Zoe not while there was still the best part of an hour left of the day, but more like the best part of a minute left, but these things happen... Still, it was good to chat for a bit even if we were both very tired, and to be honest I'm not feeling much more awake this morning, and with a headache to add to my joy. Of course, it would have helped if I'd gone straight to bed afterwards, but these things happen too!

Last night was soured a little by Mum phoning with some rather less encouraging family news - not that there's been a lot of good news lately, but things seem to have slipped still further. I still can't really go into any detail as to what's happening - and possibly may never be able to - but suffice to say I'm fairly concerned about it all. There are some glimmers of hope in it all though, I feel, but I fear there's a long way to go, and many hurdles to overcome.

Anyway, on a brighter note - literally! - I've now got electronic copies of the final artwork for the forthcoming Shine album, as well as a few other bits and pieces that should be useful for the web site, so I'll be able to press on with that this week hopefully in advance of the release. I've still not heard back from the web hosting service we asked for a quote from, though; a little prod in their direction may be needed, since it's getting a bit urgent now.

Just got back from a lunchtime trip to the Shine office, to sort out their printer - just turned out to be a troublesome print job jamming things up somewhere - and have a bit of a chat about the web site and stuff, now I have the necessary artwork to be getting on with that. We didn't have time to do everything we needed, so I've agreed to take tomorrow afternoon off work and go and do things at a slightly more leisurely pace. One of the main things Gareth wants done is to get the merchandise photographed, so I'll be bringing along my digital camera and spend a little while snapping t-shirts, bags, caps and the like. I would hope that I'll be able to get something up and running by the end of the week, even; I don't think that's unreasonable given the quantity and quality of material I have to work with, so long as I can put in a couple of hours most evenings. Anyway, back to the relative drudgery of my paid work; who knows, one day Shine might be able to afford to employ a full or part time IT manager, but I'm not holding my breath, although we obviously pray for them to reach a level of success where that kind of thing might be possible...

The latest on my scanner is that I'm almost certainly going to exchange it for a better one. My reassurance that it seemed to be working after its initial problems was short-lived, when it refused to turn itself off without having the mains cable physically pulled out. Those initial problems included forgetting how big the document I was scanning was, and the head consequently shooting "off the end" and making horrible clacking noises as it struggled to go yet further. Then, there were countless problems with the driver software, including a hopelessly inaccurate progress meter and a clunky user interface, not to mention more than a few reliability problems. Oh, and there's next to no documentation - neither printed nor electronic - to help sort out anything that might be just a simple configuration issue, as was the case with the lid-opening sensor.

Overall, I'd say I was less than impressed, regardless of whether the problems were due to a faulty scanner or something more fundamentally flawed, so I'm very happy that Evesham are doing the decent thing and agreeing a swap-out for something that I can trust not to self-destruct, and to turn itself off nice and reliably - or have a straightforward good old-fashioned power switch, still better! I just wish I'd heeded the advice of my colleague Sam and steered clear of the Mustek brand right from the start; they're well enough specified - and get some good reviews - but are ultimately sadly more trouble than they're worth. I'll give it one last chance tonight, but if it doesn't behave, it'll go back tomorrow evening.

Right, that's another boring day at work come to a close. Really must create some motivation somehow. Trouble is, I'm sure that creation of motivation will entail the unavoidable creation of equal and opposite amounts of antimotivation, which will destroy everything in its path leaving only subatomic apathy particles in its wake... But it's worth a try, I guess.

It's been a mixed evening, not having much joy with the scanner - and it deciding at one point to uninstall itself for no apparent reason, then refusing to identify itself correctly - but managing to get the new ISIS sound card installed and working just fine. That means that unless the scanner surprises me when I power down the rest of the system for the night, it really will be going back tomorrow, though I have to say that none of Evesham's range of scanners looks that great, so I might see if I can get a refund or a credit note instead.

I've not really put the sound card through its paces yet, but I played around a bit with the demo song in Logic Audio, and laid down a couple of MIDI tracks with my keyboard. It seems pretty reasonable all round, with suitably excellent sound quality, I'd say well on a par with the Pro Tools system I used to use - but at a tiny fraction of the cost. Of course, the real test will come when I start recording audio and so on, but everything seems good so far, with none of the nightmares I was rather cynically anticipating. I'm not sure exactly how to install the updated drivers I have, but that can wait...

I've not had a chance to do any work towards the Shine web site tonight - or not yet anyway; I guess I could put in about a hour before I go to bed, but I really ought to get an early night after just too much burning of midnight oil over the last few days. I guess I can at least copy the image files I popped onto a floppy disk earlier today, then I'll be all set for blitzing the site design in every spare moment I can find. Anyway, the longer I procrastinate over that, the less I'll get done and the later I'll get to bed, so I'll wrap this entry up for now - good night!

And of course the longer I stay on-line having posted the above entry, the less I'll get done and the later I'll get to bed; I really should sort out my priorities, don't you think..?

Gosh, I didn't add a diary entry yesterday at all, what is the world coming to? It wasn't because there was nothing of note to write about, but rather because I was too busy doing other stuff to have time to do so...

Yesterday afternoon I went down to the Shine office as planned, to digitally photograph the various t-shirts, bags and hats they want to list on the web site I'm producing, and also to sort out a new printer/scanner/fax-machine thing they'd just been given but that was behaving a bit strangely - mainly due to lack of disk-space, I think. All that didn't take too long, but I had a bit of a chat with Roger and Maureen while I was there, so I didn't rush off. I spent the rest of the afternoon at home working on the web site, touching up the images I'd captured and so on, though there's still a fair way to go with that, so I'll hopefully be able to put in a couple of hours tonight before and after neighbourhood group.

I gave my Mustek scanner one last chance on Tuesday night, but it didn't come up with the goods, so yesterday evening I packed it all up - but not before grabbing one last CD cover scan for the Shine site! - and took it back to Evesham Micros, thankfully just five minutes' drive away in the city centre. Sanjeev who served me was the guy I'd been in touch with by e-mail, so he was expecting me, and before too long we'd arranged a swap for a nice new HP ScanJet 3300C. It's not quite as nicely styled as the Mustek, but I'm quite a fan of function over form, so the fact that it seems to work considerably better in just about every way is quite enough for me; barring unforeseens, I think I'll be hanging on to this one.

Once I'd got that all set up and tested to my satisfaction, Chumbers rolled up outside and it was time for a load of us to go for a hastily-agreed curry up in Stony Stratford. Well, the others might have agreed it a while back, but I only knew about it half an hour before we left... Anyway, once up in Stony, we walked up and down the high street trying to find the best deal we could, and eventually ended up in the Bekash Tandoori, which was offering a Kashmiri deal, turning out to be more food than just about any of us could manage, for a shade under a tenner plus drinks and poppadoms. It was good to get out for the evening, anyway, even if it meant I didn't get as much done of the Shine site as I'd have liked.

Today's being fairly mundane as ever, though this evening should be good, with the first meeting of our new-formed neighbourhood group under the leadership of Seamus and Gill. Quite what we'll do I'm not sure, but - knowing them - I have a hunch we'll be starting off with something not too heavy-going.

Last night was altogether really very good, from the moment I got home to the moment I went to bed.

Armed with a bit more knowledge of Javascript - thanks to my colleague Sam, fount of knowledge on all things web-related - I quickly fired up my home PC with the Shine web site and got the merchandising page working a lot more slickly than before. I've gone over to using GIFs - produced with Unisys-licensed software, I should emphasise - rather than JPEGs, because my attempts at faking transparency were rather disappointing, though it does mean the page is a little slower loading now. The Javascript does some neat little tricks to display different views of the stuff on offer - e.g. back views, close-ups of logos, etc - and has fall-back to something more conventional for anyone still using prehistoric browsers. I also sorted out the order form - not on-line ordering yet, just a "print out, fill in and post" thing - which was quite a challenging implementation of tables, so I've e-mailed Gareth to let him have a sneak preview of the kind of thing he can expect for the rest of the site.

I had to keep an eye on the time, getting quite engrossed in the web designing, but managed to arrive at our neighbourhood group meeting on the stroke of eight as planned. Along at our first meeting were our leaders Seamus and Gill, plus Claire, Dave, Elaine and myself. There are a few more people we expect to see at least from time to time, but it was a comfortable number to start with, and we all felt it was a far easier atmosphere to share openly in than the rather crowded meetings we'd had for the few weeks prior to this reshuffle. Basically we chatted a bit, discussed our visions and expectations for the new group, prayed a bit, chatted some more, and rounded things off fairly promptly.

Back at home soon after ten, I did some more work on the Shine web site, and experimented a little more with the new scanner, finally hitting the sack somewhat after midnight but sleeping pretty solidly.

Just popped down to the Shine office for lunch again - armed with an even bigger load of filled rolls and packets of crisps than ever before - to talk a little bit more about the web site and sort out a slight problem with their newly-acquired printer. Gareth's pleased with what he's seen of the site so far - as are a number of other important people - so we're pressing ahead with that, and also getting a couple of domains registered and some commercial web-space fired up.

I couldn't get the printer to go wrong for me, but the drivers seemed not to have been installed entirely correctly - perhaps due to disk space being low earlier this week before we removed StarOffice - so I reinstalled those and Gareth's going to keep an understandably close eye on it. While I remembered, I also tried to sort out a bit of a glitch Gareth had reported before with the Outlook Express e-mail "rules" which sort incoming message according to their recipient(s), but I wasn't overly confident with what I'd done, so I reverted it back to how it was for the time being.

Gareth also hoped I would be able to steward for a Shine concert tonight, but we agreed that they would manage without me for once, and that I would put the time into working on the web site instead. There's still a little over a week until we absolutely definitely must have everything up and running, but seeing as I'm only able to grab odd hours here and there, it seemed best if I could concentrate on the web developments over and above anything else for them.

It's fairly late on Saturday afternoon, having not got up too early - with a nice long bath once I'd done so - then walked into town, and just finished phase one of my latest room tidying operation. Inspired by a phone conversation with Sarah yesterday evening, I decided to treat myself to the Chronicles of Narnia box set, going for a penny under a mere ten pounds - a quarter of the recommended price! - at The Works in the city centre; I read some of the books when I was little, but was never aware of their allegory. Other than that - and briefly bumping into George and Cally - it was a fairly uneventful trip into the centre, grabbing a Whopper Jr with bacon and cheese for a bite of brunch.

The room tidying was much needed, having barely had room to swing even a smallish kitten since the Friday before last when I collected my new PC. First of all I finished transferring the last couple of files from my old PC, and wiped off all the stuff that could safely go, then uninstalled the modem, since I think that will go to someone else. There's a shade over 100Mb left on the hard disk, which should be fine for installing and using Microsoft Works as would be the case if Zoe's sister Yvette inherits the machine as we're currently anticipating. Then it was a case of boxing stuff up, moving yet more boxes around and generally creating some living space for the first time in over a week.

There's still a lot more to be done, including sorting out the Gravelly Hill Interchange of cabling that sprawls over about two or three square yards of floor to my left as I sit here. But I generally need to revise my cabling arrangement to best make use of my newish mixer and the new sound card, so that can wait until I have a little more time and the opportunity to go to Maplins to buy any extra cables I might need. It's a mess at the moment for sure, but it's a mess that works; the electricity seems to know where each cable is coming from and going to, even if I've long since lost track. One thing I'm certainly going to invest in is a packet of cable ties, to keep things neater in future.

It's Monday afternoon, after an altogether good weekend, though I'm now quite tired thanks to a late finish last night for reasons I'll mention shortly. Saturday evening I began to sort out the mess of cabling in my room, and am now pretty much there, and also found a few leads I didn't know I had, so postponing any great need to go to Maplins quite yet, though I want to head down that way soon anyway, to get some CD-R blanks from Staples.

As previously agreed, Zoe was up here a bit later than normal on Sunday - though unfortunately missed not only the MKCF morning meeting but her own one too, for various reasons - arriving in time for a late lunch at Pizza Hut and subsequent walk around Furzton Lake. With an unusually full house on Sunday afternoon - Mark, Phil and Angela around pretty much all the time - we didn't do a great deal else other than rest, chat and worry about calorie intakes, before we headed off to the evening meeting.

The meeting was billed as being the concluding part of Paul's Nehemiah trilogy of talks, but he somehow managed to quote just about every book of the Bible other than Nehemiah - quite impressive really... I think quite a few people were as bemused as I was as to quite what Paul was driving at; he's a good teacher, very engaging and so on, but he darts around a lot so it's often quite difficult to get the bigger-picture view.

Expecting a phone-call from Sarah to confirm a time for me to go and sort out her newly-acquired printer and see how feasible it would be for her to get on-line - doing that this evening, barring any last minute changes of plan - and not feeling massively hungry anyway, Zoe and I decided we'd break with tradition and give KFC a miss last night and cook up Ma Gosnell's famous pesto pasta. We remembered the grated cheese this time, and it was the perfect way to wrap up the day.

Except that then Angela mentioned the dreaded word "Monopoly". Not a game famed for its brevity. To be honest, I didn't feel much like playing, and Zoe tends to prefer to watch others playing games for some reason, I've come to appreciate, so we both sat and watched the unfolding drama. Now by midnight I must admit I was feeling pretty zonked, but Zoe seemed to have found a fresh source of energy and was determined she should stay to see who won. Eventually, even Zoe got a little impatient and gave Darren and Angela - the sole remaining players - five minutes to get a result, which Angela duly obliged with after about four minutes...

I can't remember exactly what time I finally waved Zoe on her way - with my old PC in her boot, to give to Yvette - but it was too late by half, that's for sure. I know I finally got to bed at about half past one, anyway. Still, it was a good day - not too busy, but plenty to do anyway, and a lot of fun. Roll on the next one!

Oh yes, in a spare few minutes yesterday evening I thought I'd have a slightly better look at the Norton anti-virus software supplied with my new computer. To my surprise, it included what appears to be a free auto-update function, whose button I duly clicked. Three megabytes it wanted to download, at an estimated time of about ten minutes. Fine, I thought... And so, ten minutes later, my machine was protected against something like 46,000 viruses, an increase of about 35,000 over what it was before I updated. I shudder to think how old the original database must have been. Still at least the database now includes vaguely recent things like the Melissa macro virus and the ExploreZip worm - as well as quite a few variants of each - so I can rest a little easier given my reliance upon insecure tools like Outlook Express and so on.

Hmm, it's a bit of a strange morning, after a slightly restless night - not helped by my pager's battery deciding it was low at four in the morning and starting to bleep like a smoke alarm - but I'm happier now than I was; more on that in a moment, though.

Yesterday evening went well enough, getting Sarah's printer driver installed - or at least a compatible one even if not exactly the correct one, though the colour rendition is a little odd so I might take a further look at it sometime - chatting for a bit, and printing off a birthday card for one of Claire's friends. We also tidied up the hard disk a bit, though we couldn't get the CD-ROM drive to work, unfortunately - but I would have to say it's one of the oldest and clunkiest machines I've seen in a long time, and I doubt many multimedia programs would be very rewarding on it. Still, Sarah and the girls seemed happy, and that was the main thing.

I can't remember exactly what time it was, back at home, when I suddenly realised I'd not heard from Zoe at all since Sunday night - or the wee small hours of Monday morning, really - when she left Milton Keynes looking decidedly sleepy. She invariably sends me a quick e-mail when she gets in, and with no sign of that on Monday morning proper, and for a few other reasons, I was quite concerned. It can be quite disturbing the thoughts that run though your head at such times, and it makes you think a lot harder about your values. I suppose I should have just tried phoning Zoe there and then, but I guess I was afraid of what I might have heard - or, still worse, perhaps not heard..?

Anyway, needless to say, all's well now as far as I can tell; I don't think I ever really seriously doubted that, and I'm sure my reaction would have been quite different had I done so - or at least I hope so. It's still a more than slightly worrying reflection that it took me almost twenty four hours to notice, though; it's certainly one of those times that prompts a long hard look at yourself, and - as I said before - especially your values, and I'd have to admit I didn't like - or perhaps approve of - all I saw. I look to the rest of my family and I see the hassles my sister's been through in the past, and the stuff my brother's going through at the moment, and I really do wonder what the chances are for me and Zoe.

Sure, in many ways it's still early days, but as time goes on - specifically as I get older, not for any other reason really - my options appear to me to become more limited, and I would have to admit that I do get impatient for a result. But impatience for a result would seem more likely to end up in tears all around - it's a no win situation, potentially, though I do try to be a bit more optimistic normally! I do love Zoe dearly - or at least I think I do, though this episode did bring the issue to the forefront, however briefly - but I am worried that I might be setting my hopes too high that she is "the one", and consequently push things harder than I might, while Zoe is still young and unable and/or unwilling to take the plunge just yet.

It's been fairly painful writing this, but it's something I had to get off my chest because otherwise I would just bottle it up, and there have been times in the past when I've been painfully close to doing very stupid things as a result. I'm not renowned for getting too visibly emotional - though I'm certainly not lacking in emotions, somewhere or other - and I generally find it difficult to talk about personal issues to anyone much. I guess I'm a much deeper and more complex character than I initially appear, but it's a depth that will only normally reveal itself when I feel able and willing. I'm not sure if anyone really knows me that well - not even my own family, let alone my friends, Zoe included - and I have to wonder if anyone on Planet Earth ever truly will.

It seemed a long day at work, though I got a reasonable amount of stuff done, I suppose, including digging out the source files for the CES sampler CD-ROM that I'm going to be working on shortly and have a meeting about tomorrow afternoon. The last version of the CD-ROM was made in 1998 by a guy who's since left, and it's about time it was updated with some of our more recent developments. I was approached about it because of my experience in programming Delphi, which was what Peter used originally for the CD-ROM, although there seems to be some murmurings of doing it all in HTML this time around, to maximise the distribution potential.

Having had a rather disappointing lunch at work - as is increasingly becoming the norm, sad to say - on the way home I nipped into the A5 McDonalds for a Big Mac meal. Or at least I would have just nipped in had there been less than about a twenty minute queue to get served, but I guess that served me right for going at such a busy time of day. While at that end of town, I also went into Staples and bought some CD-R and CD-RW media for my new computer, and I've been testing that out this evening, cutting a CD-R containing all the data from my old computer, and doing the same with a CD-RW for me to store all my web-site development stuff on.

Being used to pre-formatted floppy disks for quite a few years now, I was a little surprised to find that the CD-RW blank I tried out needed to be formatted before use, but given that, I suppose I shouldn't have been so surprised that it estimated between sixty and ninety minutes to do so, bearing in mind the capacity of the thing. However, in practice it was complete in about half an hour, and it turned out I could have done other things while it was working, though I only discovered that afterwards... I know CD-R blanks can be ruined if the writing process gets at all interrupted, and I didn't realise that CD-RWs are evidently more resilient.

The Adaptec DirectCD packet driver seems pretty neat, allowing the CD-RW to be treated like it's a very fast half-gigabyte floppy disk - not bad considering CD-RW blanks cost only a tenner for a five-pack. The downside is of course the old chestnut of reading them on other machines' CD-ROM and DVD drives, but for the use I anticipate - that of being an extension to my hard disks, and for backing up music projects - they'll be great, and if need be I can always cut a CD-R for those odd times when cross-machine compatibility is a must, and I expect I'll still get a Zip drive sometime which would cover most eventualities of that nature anyway.

Another late night yesterday, despite all my best intentions to the contrary, and another missed breakfast this morning - though I'm getting quite fondness for these Belgian buns from the shop. I know that I ultimately would be better off losing a quarter of an hour's sleep and gaining a proper breakfast, but when I wake up at eight and just want to bury muself under the covers for another hour, such rational considerations seem just too far detached from reality...

Needless to say, I completely lost track of time last night, so when Zoe phoned at about half past ten she took me quite by surprise, but it was a most welcome call after the last day or so's non-events. It turned out that Zoe's "failure" to e-mail me was due to some mail-bomber jamming up the networks at her service provider, preventing anything much else from getting in or out - and I still haven't received her "got home safely" one-liner well over two days on.

Anyway, all seems well otherwise now, and Zoe quite understood the adverse way I'd initially reacted. Of course, as seems to increasingly be the case, I was multitasking talking to Zoe with trying to sort out stuff on the computer, so she probably didn't quite get my undivided attention, but it wasn't far off - and needless to say, it was only once we'd finished talking for the night that I sorted it out anyway. A lesson to be learned there, I am quite sure...

In about an hour's time this morning I have my post-appraisal with Joel, as a follow-up to my main appraisal which took place a few weeks back. I seem to recall these are invariably quite informal times, with Sam reporting that at his one last Friday they spent most of the time chatting about DVD and WAP mobile-phone technology rather than anything too career-development related... I daresay our topics may be different, but I'm sure it will be no heavier going.

The post-appraisal this morning went fine, over with in a bit under an hour. As expected, perhaps about five or ten minutes of that was spent discussing anything much to do with the appraisal itself, the rest going on talking a bit more about the departmental restructuring, changes in contracts and so on - and yes, a chat about the future of DVD as a software medium, and the virtues of web-cams. No WAP for me, however, though I'm sure Joel would have got on to that if he hadn't wanted to go for a lunchtime run... It's been a bit of a day of meetings, actually, having one with Phil this afternoon to discuss the CES sampler CD-ROM I mentioned before, as well as a few other things in which he has a vested interest. With reference to the sampler CD-ROM, I need to go through all the existing content, decide what's hot - and what's not - and work out how much space we would have to play with for anything new we decided to update it with.

The morning seemed to start well enough, up bright and - relatively - early, unexpectedly finding time to have my favourite but rare breakfast of bran flakes with raisins and fresh apple, plus plenty of bread and Marmite. I was even in work more or less on time, met on the landing by a chirpy Dianne, rejoicing at the appearance of the daffodils and being able to walk both to and from work in daylight.

However I fairly soon started feeling not too great, and would even say I was close to passing out at one point. No idea why, because I'm not ill that I'm aware of, and I've not eaten anything unusual - unless I call my proper breakfast unusual - so I'll see how I go, and I feel a little better now. In any case, I have a hunch today will drag somewhat, and I'll be grateful for a prompt finish at neighbourhood group tonight.

Last night was a fairly productive time for me, getting a bit more done of the Shine web site, including programming up a rather neat little puzzle game in JavaScript, though there were a couple of major bugs playing it in Netscape which I need to sort out before we can release it. I know what's going wrong; one of the problems being that Netscape's interpretation of "random" leaves a lot to be desired, and the other one is the way I've referenced the script from the HTML, which will just take a little while to fix.

I gave Zoe a phone call before I went to bed, but both of us were utterly shattered by about midnight, so we didn't talk for too long - though true to form, I didn't get straight to bed, since Mark arrived home after a couple of days away and we had a bit of a chat about stuff. Zoe and I have decided to politely decline a dinner invite from Sarah for Friday evening; it would be just too much of a rush for Zoe to get over here by any sensible time, and besides, she may need to transport Yvette around a bit on Saturday evening so wasn't able to commit to being able to come up any earlier than Sunday morning anyway.

Oh yes, Zoe's infamously non-arriving e-mail from the small hours of Monday morning finally turned up here at lunchtime, only a little over four days late... Must have been quite a denial of service attempt that hit her ISP hard enough to have had that much of an effect.

Still, I can remember times in the past when e-mails could routinely take days to get through, though generally there are only seconds - or at the most, minutes - involved nowadays. These things seem to have gone in a cycle, because I remember back in about 1989 when I first experienced the joys of e-mailing, it was fast enough that you could practically hold live conversations. More recently, popularity increased and the networks didn't substantially improve, so performance in the mid to late nineties dropped through the floor, but now the infrastructure seems to have been updated enough to make things almost as nippy as they were ten years ago.

One thing we take almost for granted now is the transatlantic speed; OK, so it's still worth bearing in mind when the Americans will be at work, but no longer is there a massive performance hit when unavoidably downloading stuff from America. OK, so I'm still better off grabbing things from UK sites if possible - remembering the 60Mb download of StarOffice from Imperial College that took a mere two minutes - but most of the time it doesn't really matter what sites you access these days.

Neighbourhood group was good last night, talking mainly about gifts of the Spirit, something I always find quite interesting to discuss and have some strong opinions regarding. All too often, undue emphasis seems to be given to the gift of speaking in tongues, but that is just one of many, and as Corinthians 13 goes on to emphasise, all these giftings are nothing if they are not backed up by love. So much for our prompt 9.30 finish, though; OK, so the meeting proper wrapped up within about a quarter of an hour of the target time, but I didn't get away until getting on for eleven, talking with Seamus, Gill and Claire about various school-related things. I got to bed just about the healthy side of midnight, and slept moderately well, but I'm glad it's very shortly going to be the weekend again, so I can catch up on a little sleep tomorrow morning. I finally managed to get through to Sarah this morning to decline her dinner invitation for me and Zoe tonight, though she'd kind of forgotten anyway and made alternative plans, so it was no big deal, and we've tentatively agreed to try again in about a month's time.

Thirty four hours - that's well over a day. OK, so it didn't take me quite that long to prepare them, but that's the total playback length of the audio files I've just sent on a CD-R to my modern languages colleague Markus. I hope he's delighted, especially given that they took the form of only about a dozen RealAudio files, the longest of which clocked in at just over nine hours by itself! He didn't seem too bothered, saying there's some grant to cover transcription of any interesting bits, but he will still need to go through the whole lot to find what needs to be done - rather him than I. Indeed when he said yesterday that the fact that this CD was well on its way was the best news he'd had all day, I assumed he was joking, but apparently not... He'd been nagging at me for a fair while to get that done, so it's good to get it out of the way, though I have a horrible suspicion that there might be yet more he wants - but I'm hoping that the threat of that thirty four hours near doubling will be sufficient disincentive! Anyway, now I can press on with sizing up - and assessing the continuing value of - the contents of the current CES sampler CD-ROM in advance of Monday afternoon's meeting with Phil to discuss in more detail how we're going to take that forward in due course.

Yesterday evening I spent round at my friend Martin's, eating Chicago Town pizza and drinking some jolly nice Bordeaux he'd got as a free bonus on joining a wine club. It was quite unexpected when Martin phoned, but I'd not got round to eating, so it was a welcome invitation and it was a good opportunity for a good chat about a load of stuff - from Shine and the state of the Christian music industry, to relationships and the joys of Oak Hall holidays, and probably a whole load more. We also sorted out a few little bits and pieces on his computer - though he emphasised there was no hidden agenda in asking me round this time - and I'll be there again on Monday evening probably, to help install and show how to use his digital camera and CD writer software drivers. After a week of struggling to get out of bed in the mornings, I thought I would have a well-earned lie-in today, but it just wasn't to be, and in fact I was pretty much up by eight - funny how things like that happen...

It's my "usual" Saturday afternoon relaxation time now, having got back from the shops, unloaded my groceries and started a CD-RW formatting to store Delphi and other programming projects on. Amongst the more interesting things I bought in town today were "Release" from the Afro Celt Sound System, finally back on special offer at HMV, Leftfield's recent album "Rhythm and stealth", and - most surprisingly - "Premiers Symptomes" from Air. Attentive readers will know I already had the latter; however what I'm not sure if I've mentioned before was that only a couple of weeks after I bought it, they re-released it with a couple of bonus tracks. Now that re-released version is being blown out for a penny under seven quid, so I thought I'd treat myself to it, and find someone willing to take the old one off me - if I can find it, given that I have no idea where it is! Needless to say, the bonus tracks aren't really worth what I paid today, but it was annoying not having the full set.

Then three became four, after Premier Club bodged Mark's latest order and sent him yet another copy of Plumb's sublime "Candycoatedwaterdrops", which he duly sold on to me for the nice round sum of a tenner and a pint. An excellent album it may be, but Mark really didn't need any more copies of it, and it was one I'd kept meaning to get hold of for myself, so that worked out quite well really. It means it's likely to be a bit of an expensive weekend all told, what with tomorrow probably not being that cheap either, having agreed with Zoe to take Sarah and - somewhat daringly - family out to McDonalds for lunch, and almost certainly eating out with Zoe in the evening too, with there being no evening meeting due to it being half term.

Well I leapt out of bed at eight o'clock this morning - even if it was only to turn the radio on for ten minutes before getting up properly - quite an unusual turn of events for a winter's weekday morning. Maybe spring really is on its way now, though I'll admit I'm not feeling quite so bright and raring to go now, yawning my head off... With Phil off sick today, however, an afternoon meeting we had scheduled has been postponed until tomorrow - though Steph said it was flu, so I'm not over hopeful - so at least there needn't be too mad a rush to get the preparation done for that.

Yesterday was a good day, however, and one that I was truly fit to drop at the end of, having to keep to a minimum Mark's customary late-Sunday-night quizzing about all things web-development related. Zoe and I ended up being out with friends for most of the day in the end, spending only the odd minute here and there truly relaxing, hence our tiredness I'd guess.

The morning meeting was good, with Paul at the helm as is increasingly the case, including a good talk flitting a little through the Acts of the Apostles, and his favourite "quiz" on bible characters beginning with the letter M - one we'd done at neighbourhood group a few weeks ago, so knew how best to catch him out. As planned, we met up with Sarah and family there, and after the meeting all walked back to the house to decide who was going to go in whose car - which determined the nature of the subsequent interrogation - and drive across to McDonalds for lunch.

Lunch worked out just fine in the end - once initial crises of unwanted hamburger relish had been resolved - though I would tend to agree with Sarah that McDonalds was a better choice than many similar places, and they are "known faces" at the hockey stadium one anyway, so the staff know what to expect... So after three happy meals, a vegeburger meal, a chicken sandwich meal and a quarter-pounder meal, plus assorted ice-creams and hot apple pies, we all left happily full, though it was good to get in the fresh air again with the restaurant jam packed.

I was going to suggest we might go for a stroll somewhere, but Sarah beat me to it, so we all bundled back into miscellaneous cars and went on to Willen Lake. It was a bit grey and murky, and at least Claire and Rachael seemed none too keen on walking anywhere much - not a problem with Laura, however - but the miscellaneous exercise equipment around the lake seemed to adequately amuse, and the promise of a visit to the playground afterwards was sufficient bribery, with impending rain then a good excuse to gather the troops after about a quarter of an hour and get back to the cars.

Then it was back to Sarah's - via the Fishermead Co-op to get a very rich lemon cake - for a bit of afternoon tea and a chat, though we didn't actually get away until about six, going on to Alan and Helen's to catch the tail end of their tea. Quite a few people were there to start with, enough to make a game of Blockbusters quite fun in a tacky kind of way, though - if I do say so myself - things did seem to even themselves up a little once I volunteered to be "Bob" for a couple of rounds.

Suddenly, though, almost everybody left... All these teachers and so on with stuff to prepare for going back today after the holiday, we gathered. Alan and Helen were still quite happy for me and Zoe to stay, though, and we settled down to watch "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" that they had videoed earlier in the evening. I'd not seen it before - though I seemed to be in a minority of one - but it seemed quite fun once it got going, even if nothing to really write home about. It passed the time, anyway, and we were all pretty shattered by the time it had finished.

With the rain truly set in for the night by then, and not wishing Zoe to have to hurry too much on her journey home, we decided it might be best not to repeat last weekend's very late finish, so I braved the cold and damp one last time a bit after eleven to wave Zoe on her way. And yes, I have received her "got home safely" e-mail, with no repeat of last Monday's concerns... So overall, yes, a very different day to "normal" for a Sunday, but all good fun, and I suspect not the last time we do anything similar.

Note to self: don't forget to go round to Martin's this evening - he'll have jacket potatoes and chilli con carne in the oven at half six, and you don't want to miss that, now do you? OK, so sorting out his camera and the CD writer mightn't be as much fun, but needs must, eh?

Well that was a fairly painless evening round at Martin's, with curry and a beer followed by a successful and relatively quick session of sorting stuff out on his computer. The CD writer software was already installed, so it was just a simple matter of showing him how to use it, and thankfully it was exactly the same as the software for my one, so there were no big surprises. The digital camera image downloading was a little fiddly, but we eventually found that PhotoDeluxe was quite a reasonable package for Martin's needs, and would handle importing the images as well as ones from his scanner. We also installed the fax driver software for his modem, which he thought would be useful from time to time. And that was it really, so I was back home in quite good time and am going to make best use of an otherwise empty house and go and have a nice long bath...

Oh yes, we had a minor crisis just before I went round to Martin's yesterday evening, on finding that the telephone extension lead me and Phil use - Mark's one is properly wired in - for upstair net access had broken, with one of the wires just dangling around haphazardly. I actually wonder how long it had been getting like that for, and working more by luck than judgement, given that I had occasionally rectified "no dial tone" errors by wiggling the cable. Anyway, we mended it and it's generally a lot more robust than ever before now, though I had to advise Phil it might be a good idea if he unplugged the cable from downstairs as my wire stripping antics seemed to be generating a rather excessive number of blue sparks... Not that I got a great deal of opportunity to use the repaired cable last night, what with being out at Martin's and then getting a relatively early night, though I use the same cable if I make phone calls from upstairs, obviously, so at least it meant I could chat with Zoe from the comfort of my room.

This afternoon's meeting with Phil - postponed from yesterday - got curtailed after about half an hour when we found it clashed with a CES seminar which we really both had to go along to for various reasons. So we're going to continue with that tomorrow afternoon, and hopefully finalise the content for this rehashed CD-ROM. Anyway, it's almost time to go home, though with the weather outside even fouler than it was this morning, I'm somehow not in too much of a hurry. I'll probably brave it fairly soon, however, on account of being absolutely starving, and suffering from pizza withdrawal.

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