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David's diary: August 2004

For some reason I did come back to work today, and apart from the searing heat it's not been too bad - such that there's only an hour to go and I don't see any reason why that shouldn't fly by as quickly as the rest of the day has. It was also Katy's first day back at work in over six months - with only a failed attempt early in the year to interrupt that - so I have to show solidarity! A lot has changed in her absence, but I am sure I will hear all about it later, and I hope this time will prove to be somewhat more successful than the last...

The weekend was good, with the highlight on Saturday being going to the cinema again, to watch Shrek 2. Yes, that's two trips in one week, but only three this year to the best of our recollection, so not too degenerate, and frankly we couldn't think of anywhere better to be on a hot afternoon like that than an air-conditioned cinema. The film had a very tough act to follow, though more than made up for its inevitable lack of originality with its brilliance in just about every other way. Katy's already said we can get it when it's out on DVD!

Sunday's highlight was Prab's baptism in the morning - bringing back memories of my own dunking in the river in Milton Keynes, almost exactly six years ago - followed by a contribution buffet lunch for the pretty decent number of guests. It was also really good to later catch up with Katy's parents properly for the first time since the wedding, and by then it was quite pleasant eating outside. Not quite pleasant enough to get a good night's sleep afterwards though, but never mind - and I still slept more than the last couple of Sunday nights.

Today has just turned very bad indeed. Half of it's technically my fault; the rest of it is something I feel utterly powerless regarding. The bit that's my fault is that my software's auto-update scheme isn't quite as flexible as I had made it out to be, and I'm not sure how to get around its limitations without requiring us to email fiddly patches to hundreds of customers. The bit I feel powerless about is that apparently our main Slovakian programmer is coming over next week in order to discuss the next major version of this infernal software, and Richard has just realised that he's on leave so the responsibility will fall on my shoulders instead. My past experience of discussing anything with those guys is that it's a fruitless exercise and that whatever we agree they will go and do something different anyway, using the language barrier as an excuse. I have been quite blunt in advising Richard that it's quite likely I won't be around that week either - and on a rather more permanent basis.

Well I found a really nasty evil hacky workaround for the first problem, that won't remotely prevent it recurring should circumstances repeat themselves. But at least it means the software works, and the more tangible new features are available as promised to the customers. To a fashion, anyway - and there were a few hiccups... And if the second problem resolves itself in the manner anticipated, guess who won't give a monkey's about the first one any more?

Grumble grumble, mutter mutter, British Telecom, bunch of glueless kits, mutter mutter. They say these things are sent to try us, and they most certainly do. Our phone line got knocked out by a nearby lightning strike the other day, and the best BT reckon they can do as far as having a look at it is a fortnight's time! Plenty of compensation, and free call redirection, but flippin' useless nonetheless - and does nothing to help with my job hunting etc. Yes, I'm sure there were quite a few problems to sort out after the storms, but two weeks really is having a laugh, especially when I understand it is most likely merely a blown surge protector in The Line Box That We Are Not Supposed To Touch.

Monday morning's here again, and thankfully it's a little bit cooler today, after a bit of rain and perhaps the odd rumble of thunder overnight. Didn't sleep too well since it was still quite humid, and some big and very noisy jet thundered over at about eleven o'clock which didn't help very much either.

BT surprised us both by unexpectedly fixing our lightning-struck phone line on Friday. Needless to say they didn't actually tell us they had, but left it to us to find out and didn't bother returning our call to belatedly cancel the redirect, but that's virtual monopolies for you I guess, and at least it all got sorted out in the end anyway. Apart from our poor modem, which got cooked - no visible damage, but must have blown an isolator or something - so we went shopping at PC World on Saturday afternoon, though ended up having to spend a little more than we'd hoped, very nearly deciding to risk broadband instead!

Katy's dad kindly came over Saturday morning and took the lead in fitting the replacement shower screen we bought a couple of weeks ago. We were very glad he was able to do the honours, because it would have been a complete nightmare for anyone without both pretty sound DIY skills and a good tool-box. We could imagine a lot of people buying something like that and making a complete bodge job if they managed to fit it at all, especially given the accuracy of the instructions in places. But at least we can now have showers without flooding the bathroom, so there's a definite improvement, and it looks much better too!

Sunday lunch was nice, treating Sarah and Bethan to lunch out at Pizza Piazza. Well, Jake too, but he slept through the whole time - though he was saved a couple of slices of pizza to hopefully enjoy once he woke up! Nick was busy finishing off laying laminate flooring at home with a neighbour, so it worked out well for everyone, and Katy and I rarely turn down the opportunity to eat out and invite others to do so with us! The flooring was apparently taking rather longer than expected, but seemed to be going well - another area for pitfalls like fitting shower screens - so we'll look forward to trying it out on Thursday; they had hoped it would be ready for last Thursday but it wasn't.

Adding to our modem woes, our printer's playing up again, just as we're trying to do nice copies of wedding photos for the rest of the family. Last time this happened, fitting a new cartridge seemed to cure it, but the one we're using has only been fitted a few weeks and this time round the cleaning cartridge doesn't seem to be doing much good either. All very annoying, and heightens my hatred for malfunctioning technology and likelihood of taking up goat-farming or something as far away from such annoying things as is remotely possible.

We're pretty sure one of our senior colleagues has walked out today. He'd been on leave for a few days, was late arriving this morning - complaining about having had a four-hour journey - and disappeared without comment at lunchtime having stripped his desk utterly bare. Word on the street is that he's not coming back - so we obviously nicked his air conditioning unit without further ado. On Friday a few of us had a guided tour of our swanky new offices, but at this rate I doubt there will be many of us left by September to make the move!

Oops, it turns out he didn't walk out, more that he came to a mutual agreement with the management that his services were no longer required. He popped in to say goodbye a few minutes ago and seemed pretty chirpy and upbeat, but that's always been his way despite considerable adversity. In happier news, Josh has passed his driving test, though that does mean I no longer have his company for the back end of my daily commuting - and starting from this evening, given that he celebrated this morning's success by driving in to work himself. Anyway, it's almost time to head off home myself, and hope that without my look-out, I can still see Guildford's stupidly-positioned traffic lights properly...

Quiet day so far, well apart from the Jamiroquai and Barry White emanating from Josh's PC - yes, he made it home and back again this morning in one piece - and only the most occasional visit or call from the sales team. I'm trying to sort out our document downloading and viewing issues once and for all, and it's none too easy to get my head around, so the lack of serious interruptions is a Very Good Thing Indeed. Less than two hours to go today though, and it's Gulshan curry time again this evening, this time with our friend Graham. I have to say that the last few days have seen a slight improvement here at work, and I would almost say I'm feeling slightly upbeat about the office move, now scheduled for the first Monday in September. Sure, anywhere would be better than this dump, but up until now I really wasn't entertaining the notion of going anywhere with this lot. I still want out really, but I'm feeling more and more that this is a job I should be able to at least tolerate doing until something better comes up. I expect I'll feel differently again next week, when the Slovakians really are coming over and I daresay the heat-wave will have returned, but let it go on record that today I'm not utterly and completely hating this job - much...

The Gulshan was packed out last night - well, it was shortly going to be; it looked pretty darned empty to us, but had all the signs of an impending party booking - so we went back into town to the Darjeeling, where we met up with a couple of Katy's colleagues who politely gatecrashed at the last minute. No mega-banquet there alas, but we all had quite enough to eat and for not a huge amount more than the Gulshan deal would have been, so no grumbles... We'll just have to remember to book in future, though that would have meant our extra guests would probably have been left out in the cold. Anyway, I'd better carry on with this document downloading stuff, today to the not especially musical accompaniment of the Chemical Brothers - courtesy of Josh, needless to say.

Today is now dragging - officially. My document downloading code is more or less working now, the sales team are being typically useless at feeding back whether they have managed to work through customer problems, so can I go home and be with my wife please? I know there's only forty minutes to go, but it feels like that paradox with the arrow that never quite reaches its target...

At least it's rained buckets today, and no-one's nicked our air-con yet.

Oh, it's the Glorious Twelfth today I see. Must almost be time for the ritual shooting of GCSE and A-level students. I'd rather be a grouse these days...

Contentment at work was predictably short-lived. I'll say no more, except that our Slovakian friends visiting next week should tread very carefully indeed.

Except that I keep forgetting that my arch-nemesis is apparently a national level martial artist, so perhaps the simplest advice is to steer clear of him altogether... Still the weekend though, so beyond caring for a few hours yet.

Monday, so back at work, and it's very quiet indeed here, with just Josh for company. Richard is apparently on leave for another day - which came as a bit of a surprise - and everyone else downstairs has either left or been sacked, so I expect that means I will be on the front line when the Slovakians arrive after all, a prospect which fills me with utter dread based on past experience. In the meantime though, I am trying to familiarise myself with XML - and SOAP in particular - which is proving to be somewhat more difficult than it should have been. Not helped in the least by the fact that the person I would really like to talk to about it is unavailable today too; I'd have contacted him on Friday but I was far too busy getting this software to build at all after the latest Slovakian contributions fouled it all up big-time. Trying to approach this week in a slightly more positive frame of mind than many previous ones; let's just see how well I've maintained that even by this time tomorrow, eh..?

There are three main types of love motivation, as far as I can tell:

  • the love for someone for what they are
  • the love for someone for who they are
  • the love for someone because they are

Only one of those really has the inherent potential to be unconditional, and outside my family, I have rarely experienced it before the last few months. I don't always deserve it by any means, but that's exactly the point, isn't it?

They've arrived.

And they're still here, of course. Or at least a couple of them. Dunno where the rest are, and frankly don't care. We had a meeting this morning that could easily have been done on MSN or something rather than dragging them unwillingly over here, and the rest of the week has been allocated to getting a new version of the software out on Friday - which again I am sure would happen a great deal quicker if our friends didn't have to spend hours setting up the machines they have been cursed with here. Still, not my problem, and I just quietly despair as I hear things like that they've just ordered 1000 CD-ROMs of our software without even confirming they were using the latest version - which obviously they weren't - and that customers continue to be offered vapourware as ever...

I'm no longer as emotional about it, because I think I have lost the will to care what happens one way or another, but someone just get me out of here, OK?

Today's dragging, but at least we're half way through the week now. We had a slightly entertaining interlude when Richard spotted some entries in our web logs that looked suspiciously like eastern-European malware, so we promptly blocked the firewall against the offending address. However we then tracked it back to our MD's laptop connecting via Vodafone 3G services - at my suggestion, since they were having problems doing demos when the customers' networks were so unpredictable - which use the bizarrely entitled Cerberian Drtrs software, apparently to verify that websites contain "appropriate" content. Needless to say, the firewall was unblocked again as fast as we could yell "JOSH!"... Apart from that, all rather quiet, which is probably why the day's dragging as much as it is, to be honest - and still another hour to go til home time.

Today really isn't getting started. All the SOAP stuff is working very nicely now, after I was able to get some helpful advice from our customer - who thankfully wasn't at all put off by my lack of prior knowledge - but there are some other issues we need to resolve that are of more of a political nature, so no further progress there. Lots of open problem reports from the sales team, but no response back from them after I requested further information etc - they haven't all yet quite grasped that "it doesn't work" doesn't quite constitute a helpful bug description - so no progress there either. There's one thing I can work on, but it goes against my better judgement, in that we will require end users to enter information in a format that makes regular expressions look like kiddies' reading primers. But that will have to do, and I shall just have to bite my tongue and grin and bear it, whilst bracing for the customer complaints of "how the hell do I use this thing?" given that most of them don't even know which way round to hold their keyboard let alone type exotic search syntax.

We've been married two months today, in the eyes of God if not the law. Been quite an interesting ride, what with exploding gas boilers, lightning strikes and more, but we can feel rather honoured that there's someone out there so willing us to fail that we are deemed worthy of such "attention". I'd rather hope there's not too much more of it to come, but I am a realist... But at the same time it's hardly been a lousy two months by any means, and we wouldn't turn the clock back for anything now! There's something incomparably special about having made the commitment that marriage involves, the knowledge that we will be together until death us do part; it brings indescribable peace, and makes one look upon one's partner with a completely different outlook. I guess I am coming from the position of having been disappointed many times in the past - sometimes my doing, sometimes not - so have a stability in life now that I could barely previously have dreamed of, but I'd thoroughly recommend it!

Friday, and thank goodness for that. Should be able to make an early get-away as usual, though we have a meeting for speccing up the next version - or more likely, Brownian motion freeze-frame - of this software, having discussed our expectations for it this morning. I was quite surprised that one of my more far-reaching suggestions was actually welcomed by Richard after some thought, though I won't be holding my breath for it to happen in practice, since it really will require the software to be rewritten, which I very much doubt will ever happen. Anyway, Richard's just called for our meeting to start, so byeee!

It's Sunday evening, and just whiling away a few minutes before the finale of the women's marathon from Athens. I'm not a big sports fan, and would never get involved in anything so life-sapping as football, but I can certainly cope with the Olympics every four years and occasional other special events. It's been a pretty relaxed Sunday so far, with no church as such this morning but a lunchtime barbecue at the centre instead, for which Katy and I did a fair bit of the cooking in the end. Anyway, it was a nice chance to catch up with folk in a relaxed setting, and meet a few new people who'd been invited along - and any food poisoning from undercooked burgers won't kick in until tomorrow...

By which time I will be back at work, though it was a close run thing whether I threw in the towel on Friday, when it seemed for an agonising few minutes that we weren't going to get a remotely early getaway after all. The sales team upstairs, accustomed to working half days if they're doing well, have been told they must work full hours every day, and we didn't want to upset them by going early, especially since we were semi-formally told the perk was ending for us not so very long ago. But apparently it still stands for us, though only for a couple more weeks, with it changing when we move offices. By Friday afternoon the only hope I had to hang on to was my early getaway, so if that does fall by the wayside as announced, then that could well expedite my moving elsewhere. As it was, we got away about half an hour late, which wasn't so bad, but I hit what must have been about the worst ever traffic through Guildford, which was.

No food poisoning, for which I suppose I should be grateful, but it was about the most depressing morning yet for getting up anyway. Monday mornings are quite bad enough as it is - though obviously not as bad as Tuesdays - without it needing to be dark, damp and gloomy into the bargain. Still, at least our Slovakian friends have mainly been sent back home now, and I am being able to keep reasonably busy writing up the specs for version 3 of this software, as we discussed at the end of last week. But that's not stopping the morning from dragging like a really draggy thing going particularly draggily, with another hour to go before I can contemplate lunch, and no end to salespeople bugging me even though they should know I am unavailable for their trivial demands...

I have grumbled in the past I am sure about the extent to which this company is "sales-led", and another aspect of that is becoming very clear at the moment. For example, a certain salesperson logs a fault with priority "dangerous", the highest that our bug-tracking system supports. That was a fortnight ago, and over the intervening time I have repeatedly tried to get further information so that we can fix what almost certainly isn't an isolated problem. However today I have been belatedly told that the customer doesn't want the product anyway, so we've closed the fault report. But obviously the fault is still there, and will undoubtedly rear its head again, when we will have to start from scratch all over again. Trouble is, the definition of "dangerous" has nothing to do with the seriousness of the fault, merely its likelihood of affecting the odds of a sale, so our salesperson has done nothing wrong, and in fact "dangerous" possibly proved to be accurate anyway. But it means that we bust a gut trying to fix these "dangerous" problems when they are only so for as long as there is a potential customer, and of course I don't really expect salespeople to care that much about sales leads they lose, so who's going to... Oh, I'm wittering now, I know, but I think you get the idea. Sales-led companies - where issues can change from "ultra-urgent-life-on-the-line important" to "don't care any more" without any technical improvement - really don't make for good products.

Half an hour to go... Holding out for this specification document to come back to me for my final iteration, but hope's running out. I would have liked to have spent longer working on it earlier, but it was deemed more important for the three of us to get it finished today than to make a proper job of it, but that just about sums up this place really. Short-term thinking in the extreme, and I suppose I am just as bad myself for wanting to hurry up the other two, but that's only because we'll all be hassled if we don't get it done today, and my number one motivation here at the moment is that of conflict avoidance...

Josh brought in a bumper bag of Maltesers. That made the afternoon better for all the rest of us. The only thing is, I'm not sure Josh realises it yet.

Hit a possible all-time low here today, having more Slovakian-exacerbated problems dumped on me to fix. I've basically said I can't do it, which is perfectly true; it's just rather demoralising having to admit such defeat. Perhaps one day we will bring in some programmers who are actually prepared to finish the work they start rather than leave it to others to shore up and generally debug, but in the meantime I will just continue gently rocking.

Sanity rescued for the moment by trying to ping elastic bands at the miniature swearing punchbag on Rob's desk. It's not swearing much though, funnily enough.

For once I felt vaguely awake this morning, and was even up in time to have a bit of breakfast in not too rushed a fashion. But now I am being sent to sleep again by the tediousness of correcting other people's mistakes, when I have no idea what it was they were trying to do in the first place. The only really interesting thing to have happened today so far is in fact rather unfortunate - that I arrived this morning to find the police here, after a number of physical confrontations with our neighbours over the last couple of days, culminating in a fist-fight first thing this morning I gather. Although I may not be overly keen about our forthcoming move to offices even further from Farnham, I have to say I agree with the general feeling that there is not a single redeeming aspect to staying here. Good riddance, whatever my own eventual moves...

I think I have exhausted my usefulness in this company. I simply cannot fix other people's dogs' dinners of code; that is becoming abundantly clear. I now feel as helpless as I did in my first weeks here, questioning what good I am doing at all, whilst feeling so completely useless that I doubt whether anyone else would find anything more worthwhile for me to do than lavatory scrubbing. It's only the latter that's stopping me waving the white flag right now; it's just a question of how long my salary is more important to me than my sanity...

Another day when I have completely lost interest in anything I am doing here at work. At all. Remotely. Something really has got to change, and very soon.

But I went out for a nice drink with Nick last night, never really having had the chance to do so before, and it was good to get quite a lot of stuff off my chest about work and so on. Sometimes it takes having to explain things from scratch and to someone with no industry knowledge to really get to the bottom of the issues, and although it's not all yet mapped out in front of me I feel a little clearer in my head and a little more determined to do something about it. I just wish I had the remotest idea what that "something" should be...

Still, almost the weekend now, and it should be a very special weekend indeed!

Phew, Piran has specifically told us we can go at four o'clock today, so that is precisely what we shall be doing in two and a half hours' time... I'm not sure a bank holiday weekend has ever been more welcome, and of course that means a four-day week next week into the bargain. A win-win situation, for once! Actually not being too bad a day for once, thanks to Richard seemingly having accepted my throwing-in of the towel yesterday regarding the bug-fixing - or more like finishing off others' incomplete work - I was assigned, and therefore being able to work on something an order of magnitude more rewarding and interesting. I'll stop short of saying I'm actually enjoying it here today, but it could be a whole lot worse, certainly. Three-day weekend, four day week, a lovely wife, who's been shopping for lovely food. I'm content.

Four-day week's just started, and Katy of course reminded me this morning that she's only doing a three-day week herself - but I don't begrudge her that under the circumstances, needless to say! The weekend was just about as good as hoped, getting away for a few days with a houseful from our church cell group.

Everyone made their separate ways down to Devon on Saturday, but all arrived in remarkably simultaneous fashion at the twelve-person cottage we were renting, and we swiftly tracked down the key-holder and made ourselves at home in our various rooms. We'd travelled down via Dorchester, calling in for a cuppa and lunch with my mum's cousin Catherine; she ended up making a big contribution to our wedding cake and also gave us some really thoughtful, meaningful presents, so it was lovely to be able to spend some time with her. I think we were on the road for about four hours in the end, which was pretty much as the AA route planner had predicted, and apart from missing the turn into the farm right at the very end of the journey, I don't think we made any mistakes at all. For Katy and I, the early evening was taken up with a mixture of watching athletics on the television - including Kelly Holmes' and the sprint relay team's gold medal runs of course - and preparing chicken and pasta for tea for a dozen as we had promised. The cooker was a bit feeble for the task in hand, but we got there in the end and it was well appreciated by all - by the time we'd made adjustments for individual tastes. Silly games ensued, and beds were generally crawled towards at about midnight, with some vague ideas for spending Sunday.

Those ideas turned into a plan, which more or less came to fruition. We packed into three cars and drove over the Cornish border to Bude for the day. Wes fancied catching some waves, though Katy, Becca and I were the only ones up for following him down to the beach, and Katy and I didn't feel much like paddling so ended up going off separately anyway... And then the rain started, getting harder and harder until there was nothing for it but to dive into a cafe for a coffee and a bag of crisps. But we timed it just right for watching Amir Khan in the boxing final, though of course that wasn't to be quite as successful as Saturday's triumphs. Not that boxing does anything for me in general, but I can cheer along the Brits as well as anyone else when it matters, you know! We all got back together for lunch, mostly going for the monstrous twelve-ounce - we were told - bacon-cheeseburgers at a nearby cafe, and then hitting the obligatory crazy golf course, a little the worse for the earlier weather! All good fun, but there had been some confusion over how many hours of parking we were paying for, so we didn't stay quite as long as maybe had been planned. Never mind though, it was a good day out all in all, and - like the holiday in general - it was lovely just to be able to spend unhurried time with friends.

Although some of the others were staying for the whole week, quite a number of us were just down for the weekend, so returned home yesterday - with others travelling down to replace us and make the most of the cottage booking! There had been some talk of doing something as a group before those of us who were leaving did so, but that didn't really come to anything so after some silly television, a few more games and a snack lunch, Katy and I hit the road back home. This time we came back mainly on the A303, which may or may not have been a particularly good idea. When we had come down via Dorchester, we hoped that our alternative route would have saved us the worst of the traffic chaos, but that turned out to be pretty bad too, so I suspect there wasn't really a lot to choose between the two routes. The '303 would be a perfectly fine road if it wasn't for the infatuation with changing from single to dual carriageway every few hundred yards, causing one bottleneck after another, but at least it was a fine day, and we weren't in a hurry and did fleetingly see Stonehenge. We arrived back home a bit before six, pretty shattered nonetheless, and were very glad of our home comforts and nice comfy bed I can assure you. Not that our experiences in Devon were bad, but sometimes there is no place like home...

Sorry, that made even some of James's diary entries look like one-liners.

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