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David's diary: January 2005

Well, happy new year everyone. I have got a review of 2004 in the pipeline, but you can guess what much of it was about anyway, so whether it will see the light of day here remains to be seen. Anyway, the Christmas break is now just about over, with us both returning to work tomorrow, so early nights all round!

Back to work today, and everything seems pretty quiet - as frankly expected - after the break. I'd connected to our servers a few times over the last week or so, and restarted services as necessary, so no big emergencies. Slightly mystified why things should have gone wrong at all given that the chances of any of our customers having been active are next to nil. I have my suspicions, which will be extra fuel on the fire with regards to pushing for converting my webserver to run as an inherently hopefully more robust J2EE Servlet service, and this morning Gary seemed to be showing renewed interest in my project proposal, so perhaps the new year really will see some changes for the better.

Good news this morning is that our colleague Louisa is apparently safe and well after the Boxing Day tidal wave disaster, having been in a shop rather than on the beach when it struck. Given her level of public enthusiasm about going to Thailand before she went, we very much doubt we'll hear the last of it now... On the bigger scale, it is heartening to see the response of both governments and individuals. All too often it seems that the world really doesn't give much of a damn any more, but here's a case where it seems we do, and I really don't care why so long as we do. Yes, it looks like the USA was shamed into increasing its initially piffling contribution, and is probably spearheading action now out of guilt, but it's better than most of the "overseas projects" they've been funding lately so it's hardly a time to complain. On principle I feel that a disaster of this scale should really be down to governments to deal with out of tax revenue, but having seen the enormous level of voluntary giving it would have been even more hypocritical to maintain that stance, so we were very glad to have the opportunity to donate via the church on Sunday morning.

Given how very little television we watched over Christmas, the programming generally being pretty dire, much of the tidal wave disaster seemed to unfold on the radio. It was pretty chilling listening for anyone, but especially so with fears for the safety of my colleague, and because we had been reading a novel recently in which such environmental forces were intentionally harnessed in order to wage war. On the bright side, it was a fairly grim book, which now looks very unlikely to be turned into the movie it was clearly aiming for...

With every bulletin, the death toll seemed to rise, but that was a very strange thing in a way. Essentially, the death toll didn't rise at all. It's always been hundreds of thousands and the disaster has always been just as terrible, right from the earliest moments. All that's changed is our knowledge of that, and knowledge is a good thing - especially as it motivates aid. Of course, there is still the risk of disease and other factors claiming further lives, but that is something that can be actively tackled now the knowledge is there.

Different year, same old same old...

A customer complained that we'd not given him his webserver yet. It went live over a month ago, and I emailed the relevant salespeople twice at the time. I thought it was rather odd that no-one was actually using it, but I would assume - yes, I know the saying - that if I send an email once and am asked to send it again, its contents might actually be considered important and duly noted.

Clearly not, and we all look end up looking stupid as a result.

Meanwhile, it looks like I'm working on some SQL/CORBA stuff for our software now. Little idea where to start - though I do have some notes at home from a course I did years ago - but that wouldn't do any harm on my CV, now would it?

Oh, it looks like I have a bit of a gap in this diary around about the time of the new year. I could say we were up in London for New Year's Eve, but that would be misleading because we were only there during the daytime. But we did go to the Natural History Museum and saw the dinosaurs with Daniel, had a look round the Science Museum - much changed since I last went over ten years ago! - and were generally disappointed by the Oxford Street illuminations. We saw in the new year itself chez Simon and Becki, in the company of a select few friends, and close enough to home for us to not have to worry about who was going to drive. After a pretty busy few days, all told, I think we were both quite glad for a quieter end to the break, so I think we're up to date now!

Almost time to go home, and 5.30 can't come a moment too soon really. Not that today's been a particularly bad day, but I'm feeling a bit hot under the collar about a few things, and some de-stressing time in the car will do me good...

I had a meeting with Gary and Piran this morning where we discussed around the document I had prepared before Christmas detailing my recommendations for where we go next with our software, and the good news is that they have essentially given me the go-ahead to at least start implementing it. They're understandably cautious, but are keen for me to convert the webserver into a proper Servlet service, and I think once they have seen that done and with new functionality added, it will be the final spur to dump the current main development thread.

However I was a little perturbed to hear that a document is being prepared for one of our new Slovak programmers, explaining how our software works, without any reference to the fact that it's very likely to change quite substantially. One of my action points from this morning's meeting is to come up with a good plan of how the (bad) current and (good, in my biased opinion) webserver models can be converged, so that document couldn't have been written at a worse time, since there certainly will be programming recommendations coming out of my plan. Certainly, our new programmer needs to know how the software works at the moment, because we're going to be maintaining it for a good while yet probably, but it's important he doesn't consider it best practice or get too entrenched - and unfortunately the example code used is probably about the worst choice...

In better news though, my SQL experimentation is going well so far, with no major problems at all in fact. Unfortunately I don't have a live database to test it on, but the principles seem sound enough, so I am sure that when we need to do it for real there will be minimal extra development required. Well, I'm sure it won't be quite as simple as all that, but hopefully not far off!

But I still want to go home, and now would be good.

Lots of things to think about lately.

N-minute silences seem to be becoming increasingly common. Now I have no problem with participating in appropriate silences, and I did so in yesterday's for the tsunami victims - though fully respect those who do not wish to for whatever reason, so don't like the virtual enforcement that some workplaces seem to implement. However, I am suspicious of this apparently ever-increasing value of N, which seems to be some kind of tragedy oneupmanship - and I did spend the last minute wondering when it was up. Surely the idea of a silence is as a symbolic pause for thought, with the length itself being largely irrelevant. I can't help but suspect that the trend towards having multiple minutes' silence for every newsworthy tragedy is more to absolve people's guilt for not doing something more concrete to make the world a safer place to live.

And on a slightly less global scale, we heard last night that some friends of ours had separated. Not the first time they'd had difficulties, so although it was a shock, in a way it wasn't a surprise. But it made me think how fortunate I am to have Katy and realise how important it is that we should never, ever take each other for granted, or assume that everything's OK when it may not be. An outwardly healthy-looking marriage isn't necessarily anything more than that, and I have to say that it's been some of the most idyllic relationships I have witnessed over the years that have ended the most catastrophically. Being a Christian doesn't necessarily help. Yes, it may be that the vows made take on an extra dimension with God as part of the three-fold cord, but it applies extra pressure to be perceived as somehow perfect, often evidently too perfect.

Not doing well without supplemental food today. We've declared this desk cluster a doughnut-free zone, and so far are doing reasonably well, but the craving for comfort food is still there. I may walk to the garage yet.

Anyway, I have decided I have done as much as I can for that SQL portal stuff, until we have a real database to try it out on, so I am currently working out exactly what I need to get going with converting my webserver into Servlets.

In the end, I tracked down a "healthy eating" carrot cake slice - just not the same without the proper cream cheese icing - and somehow managed to last out. But our pizza and accompaniments for tea really couldn't come too soon, and we finished the remnants of our Phish Food and Half Baked ice-cream tubs too... Whether I shall manage to be so disciplined here at work today remains to be seen, but considering how yuck I felt first thing, it's really not very likely.

But anyway, it's nearly the weekend - even if I do have to let go of Katy for much of tomorrow due to a Christmas treat courtesy of her sister - so never mind, at least I have a couple of days to recharge my batteries. Though next week will be twenty percent longer, which isn't so wonderful to contemplate...

Windy!

The lamp-post outside the window here is flexing and swaying most alarmingly.

I hope our garden fence is still in one piece back at home...

I went for a lunchtime walk, and it was definitely a struggle in one direction!

Had a reasonable weekend, but am in no way shape or form replenished after about four or five hours' sleep last night, unable to get comfortable and with just about every nearby fence shaking and banging in the continuing high wind. So wasn't exactly quick getting up this morning, and then there had been an accident in Farnham which had grid-locked the roads, etc etc, so I was a bit late in to work. However I think my brain's still somewhere stuck on the A3...

Meanwhile, here's a riddle for you!

When can a train be an hour and ten minutes late arriving at its destination and still be described as "running on time" on station announcements?

No idea?

When it's the South West Trains service between Farnham and Clapham Junction, that's when. Who else would be capable of not only failing to properly inform their passengers of weekend engineering works more than doubling the journey time, but to have the cheek to temporarily and stealthily adjust the timetable such that the two-hour journey could claim to be spot on schedule?

Thankfully Katy still made it to the show she was going to, with about three minutes to spare, but it was hardly the stress-free day she'd been planning on.

And yet more public service silliness today, this time courtesy of our refuse collectors. Bin day in our borough gets shifted a day every time there is a bank holiday, so over the course of the year I guess it rotates by a couple of weeks. After Christmas and the new year, it is now Friday. So Katy put our bin out Thursday evening, and we heard the lorry Friday morning. Got home and our bin was still out and still chock full. I phoned the council right away but only was able to leave a message. They phoned Katy back today, helpfully explaining to her to that bin day for our postcode is now Friday. Yes, and...

They've apologised and promised to come and empty it tomorrow, so they get only the David and Katy rating of "silly", unlike South West Trains' "incompetent".

Nice run home in twenty minutes flat last night, despite bad weather. Not so nice run in to work this morning though. Almost two hours, thanks to a smash blocking the A3 through Guildford. Obviously I hope no-one was seriously hurt or worse, but one does have to wonder just how much such "accidents" cost this country in lost time. Good thing class action lawsuits aren't allowed here.

Katy left home very early this morning because she needs to get away from work early tonight, and I was a good quarter of an hour earlier leaving than usual. Neither of us made it into our respective workplaces before ten o'clock! Ho hum. So long as at least one of us is home tonight by six, we should be OK...

Today really isn't getting any better.

On the bright side, in three hours I should be on the road home to my wife.

There's not even any decent music on our M-drive to keep me entertained.

I really am not at all sure I'm going to get through today without seriously biting someone's head off. Definitely a day I'll be glad to see the back of.

Perhaps I should feign illness, for the sake of the company and my colleagues?

It was a long day, and a struggle at times, but I made it. Katy was home well before six in the end, though the workman who was supposed to be visiting to give us an estimate on some work (funnily enough) had been able to call by during the day and assess what needed doing so he only phoned in the end. But it was just as well we were both around because Katy thought of a few questions that I didn't while I was talking to the guy, so we didn't mind - though it meant Katy went in early again today to make up for missed hours at both ends of her working day yesterday. At least we both had much better journeys today!

Here at work now, therefore, and not looking as busy as I really am, I guess. One of the tasks coming out of last night's team meeting was to try again to track down why my servers sometimes crash for no reason, even when not being used. I had already put a couple of days' effort into it after the Christmas break, to no avail - the lack of any kind of error message or core dump not helping in the least. However we now have a customer who has been foolishly offered a deal that he can pay up-front but get a refund if he decides he has second thoughts, so it's just become more critical that the servers are stable!

Today's been better. I've not even come close to ripping anyone's throat out or biting their head off - though I was tempted with the odd nibble from time to time I must admit. About an hour now until I can head home, and we've got a special church family meeting this evening. Makes a nice change from the old church in Milton Keynes where "special church family meetings" were only ever called when there was a crisis; the ones here tend to be more vision based...

I should emphasise, when I refer to "the old church in Milton Keynes" I don't mean the MK Vineyard, but the one I was part of before, that seemed to be beset with problems generally of their own making. The occasional extra Vineyard meetings tended to be forward thinking like the Pioneer one was last night, as expected. "Forward thinking" doesn't necessarily mean that I wholeheartedly agree with everything proposed or whatever, but that there is a vision, that people are thinking about how to take things forward, not just looking back. As it happens, most of the stuff talked about last night seemed to go down very well, and anything else ... well I'm glad people are thinking about such things rather than being complacent. It's always good to think. Far too many don't.

Phew, the week's almost over for anything very active, bar half an hour of work (assuming they don't let us out early) and going shopping this evening. Had an unintentionally rather amusing meeting this afternoon, at which it became very clear our sales team really didn't have a clue what they were selling. Well, it made Rob's and my day anyway, and it's always worthwhile to educate people.

Another weekend gone, which means another week started. Not even remotely refreshed by the weekend I have to admit, and Katy had a very early start to get up to a training session she's running up near Manchester so lacking in a fair bit of sleep too. But I made it in on time, and am busying myself with making the "boolean searching" in our software work a bit more consistently. That's been a bugbear for as long as I've been here, and no-one's shown any real enthusiasm for overhauling it, but the powers that be liked my proposals for how it might work, so I've been charged with sorting it out - and so far so good, though I'm not pretending it's going to revolutionise things overnight!

The weekend itself wasn't too mad, but it was desperately needed by the end of last week. Our social highlight was having Phil, Tim and Chris round for an almost-home-made curry on Saturday night, which went down well considering the sauces we really wanted were out of stock at Sainsburys. But plenty to eat and drink, and we wound up the evening watching Moby's 2003 Glastonbury set on DVD. Sunday we intentionally kept as a quieter day, avoiding all lunch invitations, though Katy had a planning meeting to go to over tea-time so I put my feet up for a couple of hours and finally watched the most recent Harry Potter DVD - picked up for a bargain price at the local BP filling station of all places!

Written most of the code for this boolean expression parsing, I hope, but it doesn't work. Pretty sure it's only something subtle that's missing - and I know there's one possibly big chunk of functionality still to be done - but it's going to take some concentration to sort it. Need to decide whether disturbance from the office background noise or from music is preferable. Perhaps I need to find something more instrumental from our server here, because The Beloved isn't proving quite as calming and relaxing as expected!

Annoyingly discovered earlier that my rear number plate bulbs have blown or otherwise stopped working. I hoped for a brief moment that when Mary said she'd noticed it, it was a similar car I've sometimes seen parked here, but sadly not. Having forced my way into the fuse box, everything seems in order there, so I am hoping it's just the bulbs gone - I had both brake lights go on my little Metro several years back - rather than something more serious that's wrong. Sadly I can't work out how to open the bulb enclosures, however...

Why the heck I ended up listening to a bunch of New Order remixes courtesy of artists like Hardfloor and Armand Van Helden remains a mystery, doesn't it?

Louisa's back, but you'd barely know it. Considering her exuberance before going to Phuket, that might be surprising. Or on the other hand, maybe not.

While waiting for Katy to get back from Heathrow, and before I popped out to our good friends at Mr See to get our dinner, I sorted out the number plate lights. But what a hassle! On the old Hyundai, everything was nice and easy to get to, unscrewed and so on. But SEAT have economised in just about every way they can, and I almost broke several non-vital parts of the car in doing the job, especially since the manual is less than accurate or honest in many places. And to cap it all, in their economy drive, they've wired the number plate bulbs in series rather than in parallel - again unlike my old Hyundai - so that if one bulb blows, both stop working. Needless to say, the one I almost broke removing first wasn't the dead one. Anyway, all done now, though Mary thinks she jinxed herself by pointing it out in the first place, because both her rear running lights had packed up when she left work yesterday!

Boolean's going quite well, though I have still to even remotely consider the portal side of things, which may be tricky. But I now have what seems a fairly solid algorithm for parsing freeform input into an unambiguous data structure that can be turned back into an equally unambiguous string at a later point.

The input phrase:

I want an ice cream and not a lolly and I want one now or I'm going to scream and scream and scream until I'm sick

gets turned into:

(("I want an ice cream" AND (NOT "a lolly") AND "I want one now") OR ("I'm going to scream" AND scream AND "scream until I'm sick"))

This is pretty healthy stuff, and not bad for a couple of days' work, I'd say.

A week and a bit ago, I remarked in here on the alarmingly swaying lamp-post just outside the office window, and wondered how our rickety fence at home was bearing up. The lamp-post survived the weekend's storms, but our fence didn't. We'd been planning on replacing it soon because it was quite tatty, and we hope we might move later this year and it would have reflected badly. But Mother Nature decided we shouldn't procrastinate, and took matters into her own hands. Anyway, to cut a long story short, after a week of our garden somehow avoiding being nosed around by oiks, we have a nice new fence, for a very nice price.

I'm having a bad day.

But not long to go now, and hopefully we'll have more unexpected entertainment at our end-of-day team meeting. Not got a lot done, but more than I might have.

Nothing too entertaining in the end, though we did overhear a meeting this morning where the sales team were solemnly discussing the implications of some of their recently-shattered misunderstandings, using terms like "mis-sold" and so on... Today's going OK, though very tired after about three or fours hours of sleep tops last night, so we're not yet sure whether we're going to make it along to tonight's Street Bible production or have a quiet evening in. We've got a busy weekend coming up one way or another, so will play things by ear...

I never used to see the point in Dilbert. Perhaps it was because at the time, I worked in an academic institution, which for all its faults wasn't a hopelessly lost cause - even if it was fast moving that way, alas. But since I have been working here, I've been getting Dilbert on prescription via Computer Geekly, and Michael and Geg gave us a Dilbert desk calendar for Christmas - and I have to say I'm starting to be won over. I'd like to say that's not a reflection on the work ethos here, but simply a long-overdue enlightenment, but I'm not sure. I know people who claim to live their entire life by Dilbert's principles, and am beginning to acknowledge that perhaps that's not such a bad idea after all.

Not long to go for this week now, and I'm enjoying quite a good day of hacking together some Perl scripts to help Rob with creating new user accounts for my webserver. Up until now, it's been a completely manual process, with lots of opportunities for error, but from Monday it should be at least half automated. Nice to take a bit of a break from the boolean stuff, which was just starting to gently do my head in, and I've been learning a bit more Perl in the process.

Last night's Street Bible production was excellent, and we were both really glad we mustered the energy to make it along. It started with the girls going through the entire bible in a shade over five minutes, followed by a slightly more sedate - at just over an hour - recap for those who didn't catch a word of it... The Street Bible itself is rather alien to relative oldies like us, and we've cringed in the past when it's been read from on the odd occasion, but it was the perfect partner for last night's production. We got to chat with the girls afterwards, because one of them had been staying with Katy's parents this week and she'd recognised us from the wedding photos! It's obviously not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but if you think you might even possibly like it, you almost certainly will. We would thoroughly recommend trying it, anyway!

Having been grumbling rather a lot lately, it's nice to have a few positive things to report, and I can also mention some great service from the computer memory people at Crucial. For quite a while I'd been thinking about getting a USB memory stick - my former colleague Mike originally sparked the idea - but finally I ordered one from Crucial yesterday morning. And it arrived at about eight o'clock this morning. And it's thoroughly lovely. Exemplary service, a great product and a very sweet price. I've used Crucial a couple of times before, and will definitely use them again next time I need memory of any kind!

Bit of a crazy weekend, so it's almost a relief to be back at work today. But not quite, and I'd rather be at home of course - especially since Katy's taken the day off. Saturday we drove up to my parents for the daytime, having fish and chips for lunch, going for a nice but chilly walk at Whiteleaf and playing digital cameras and computers - my dad always used to describe my IT-related activities as "playing computers", so I get my own back now! In the evening we braved the wintry conditions to drive to Emily's birthday party near Abingdon, where we spent a lovely couple of hours. We missed the pass-the-parcel, but not the food, so we were sufficiently replenished to hit the road again when our social energies were just about exhausted! We were originally then to have returned home, but instead we'd made arrangements during the week that we would instead go on to Milton Keynes, and booked ourselves in at the same hotel as we used last time. Sunday, then, we spent with Sarah and family - including going into town to do a bit of shopping for young relatives' and friends' forthcoming birthdays - before we finally called it a day in time to get home for a bite of supper and to reasonably successfully attack the jumbo cryptic crossword.

Today has been calculated to be the worst day of the year, as a combination of post-Christmas blues, payday being a few days away and other negative factors. Thankfully so far it's not being so bad here, but all things are relative...

The sky's gone black. Barring anything more apocalyptic in the offing, I suspect we might be about to get some of today's fabled snowfall...

Well it did snow - briefly and somewhat unconvincingly. Then stopped. Then pelted frozen rain for a couple of minutes, and stopped again. Now the sky looks "disturbingly blue", to quote Rob. Still, made our day so far, anyway.

But now it's gone into free-fall. Having been the developer of our auto-update system - so I understand how it works more than anyone else here - I foolishly agreed that in Richard's absence I would do the release scheduled for a week ago. Except having not been involved in releases for the last couple of months I didn't realise quite what a disaster area the file structure had become, most notably since some idiot decided it would be a good idea to bundle MySQL. My eyes just glazed over looking at the list of stuff that is no longer handled automatically but instead all needs to be manually reviewed and edited. It's all Slovakian, needless to say. And all philosophically unnecessary. The only saving grace is that someone's kindly put Animal Rights on the network, so at least I have some decent letting-off-steam music that I can turn the volume up to and keep at least some small vestige of sanity to get through the last hour.

Misery Monday definitely seems to have shifted itself by about twelve hours for me. I hope that this afternoon will improve, because this morning has so far been an almost non-stop nightmare, and I've had to take self-imposed time-outs again, which I've not done for a while. Really questioning my even being here once again, for the first time in quite a few weeks. Officially, I blame it on the disaster area of the software that I've been dragged back on to - things are relatively fine when I'm working on my webserver thing - but I can't help feeling it's something deeper and more personal than that. Is it really that almost everyone else on the team is useless, or simply that I am pathologically and irretrievably not a team player, that I am a loner, and will always get annoyed and depressed by others going in directions other than what in my sole and frequently ignorant opinion are sane and sensible? I really don't know, and I am beginning once again to really not care, but instead to withdraw into my own world, a world where I can be oblivious to even my own state of mind.

Thankfully my PC's sound isn't broken. It stopped dead just before lunch, and I worried that something might have fried in empathy with my brain. Nothing a quick reboot I was doing anyway to apply some critical updates couldn't sort out. So if nothing else, I at least have music to keep me going, as yesterday.

Emily suggests I leave... Given that I'm pretty sure I've royally screwed up both the auto-updater and installer for our software, that might be very wise. Their stupid fault for tasking me with something that had become way out of my depth while I blinked. One day they will realise, but can I wait until then?

But I don't want to be unemployed again. I'd like to think that I could get alternative skilled work fairly easily, but it was a "lucky" break getting this job when I did, so I'm not so sure. And we want a new house. And, and, and...

Trapped.

Let's see if today turns out any better than yesterday. I'm not going to say I'm determined to make it better, because that will be doomed to failure, and I'm not going to just accept in advance that it won't be better, because that would be sheer pessimism. So I'm just going to wait and see. Waiting...

And no, the sheer irony of that wasn't lost on me. It was vaguely intentional.

Well this morning's been OK, so my glass is evidently at least half full.

Still feel I'm working without purpose though, since yet more misunderstandings of the capability of my software are becoming apparent, such that the customer probably won't be happy and therefore won't pay, but at least I'm keeping sane in my minute-to-minute activities today. So a definite step up from yesterday!

Going to go for a nice healthy walk when I've had my lunch - should be good for another couple of hours of sanity to help see me through the afternoon too...

Got back from my lunchtime walk and everything's turned to poo, with one of the customer-facing webserver machines having hardware problems while being moved.

Guess who's job it is to sort it all out? And guess which company's technical director refused point blank to implement any measures to prevent it happening again? At least they treat their customers and staff with equal contempt.

Still, at least my glass is half full even if it's not getting filled any more.

Temporarily transferring the customer accounts to another machine should have been easy. Well, the transfer was. Getting them working is proving to be quite another matter, and once I realised what the initial problem was, now I'm getting all kind of evil virtual machine errors. I'm hoping that Mandrake Linux will extend its Windows-likeness to a reboot being able to fix anything.

Phew, it did. We're up and running again, it would seem. That being the case, let me try and be optimistic about the chances of the original box ever being got up and running again now "everything's OK". Never would be in line with our philosophy on doing things properly round here, and I am sure that our lack of a testing and demonstration box won't be seen as any impediment since we don't test our software and don't have any customers to demonstrate to anyway.

Hmm, that wasn't very optimistic after all, was it? Realistic enough though.

I've come to the conclusion my tolerance threshold just isn't reasonable any more. How it came to be this way I will leave as an exercise for the reader.

I am shocked, and proven wrong for once. The original box is back up and running. Though not quite as soon as Gary thought it was when he proudly announced it was working again while it was still in bits on Josh's desk.

So far so not too bad today, though I can sense trouble brewing, and I fear my own fuse may be no longer than it's been for the last few days. Had to giggle at our Dilbert calendar strip this morning, when M T Suit was extolling the virtues of marketing not products but solutions. Took me back to my last job with the Open University when they decided we were a solution provider. Katy noted that I was no happier a year ago, but then that was right in the midst of when they had promised me my sizeable redundancy payout and then went back on their word, so perhaps it was no surprise that was quite a low point too. This company's management is very different in many ways - their lack of any kind of malice being particularly notable - but Katy and I wonder if I am doomed never to be able to get on in the commercial world. Perhaps my seven years at the Open University really did institutionalise me beyond return. We need to think.

Credit where credit's due, we just had quite a good meeting here. One of our potential customers had emailed us to say our product was great but giving a list of about ten problems that meant that it wasn't quite up to scratch for their current needs. So we had a meeting, at which we agreed that apart from a couple of the issues, the guy was quite right, and that the product should be expected to behave as he would like. Perhaps this might be the final trigger for dumping some of the more ridiculous future-selling features on our to-do list and actually concentrating on the kind of basic functionality that might persuade our existing friendly clients to part with some money and save us. There really is no point promising all these clever features like artificially intelligent searching and whatnot, if we're no longer around to deliver them...

Wahey, I've finally had the chance to finish rewriting the new improved portal to one of our own job boards, taking advantage of having privileged access to our database. And it runs two to three times faster than the old version, by bypassing the web! Of course, whether we can release this to the public given that it would presumably be possible to packet-sniff and so determine how to modify or even destroy our job board's database, will remain to be discussed...

Suffering a somewhat tedious morning, trying to get Peter's and my own parts of a new web-service talking. This is related to my webserver software, but really shouldn't have been; someone heard the word "web" and decided it would be the ideal way to do what they wanted, when it really isn't. Still, it's almost the end of the week, and we've got not too hectic a weekend coming up - making a bit of a change from the last one! We went bowling with our house group last night, which was a lot of fun as expected - though two of our party almost didn't make it thanks to oddly preferring the idea of going to the Aldershot alley rather than Guildford where we were all waiting... Clearly Tim's careful deliberations over the "distance/scabbiness ratio", as he wonderfully put it, hadn't quite made it to them! As usual I did pretty poorly, but I always enjoy bowling apart from on the few occasions when the technology fails - there was only the briefest "sweeper jam" last night, so quite tolerable. Anyway, I'm getting bored waiting for Peter's latest web-service request to come through; maybe he didn't hear me ask for it. Not that it's likely to work anyway...

Took some doing, but we got it going eventually. Just need to implement portal closure, since it will be just our luck that customers will want support for job boards like Monster, on which such things matter... It's still terribly ill-conceived, but it just about works. I think I should campaign for something like that to be adopted as our software's tag-line. Got a certain ring to it.

Got that portal closure thing working as well; no real problems there. Just been making some hacks - really the only operative word - to the main version of our software to change the way it presents summary results. If it had been well-written, there would have been a better way to do it, but to try and fit an elegant solution on to a sprawling monster would have been a waste of time. I still hold on to the hope - assuming that I stay here - that I will one day get the opportunity to return to the complete rewrite I started, but that keeps getting shoved down the priority list to keep customers who'll never pay happy, so it may well be that one day the software will be properly structured and not that sprawling monster. Lean and mean, not bloated and unreliable. Our most recent version's installer runs to fifty megabytes - double the previous one. Fifty megabytes of system core dump would be more useful to download, frankly.

Thankfully a much quieter weekend than the last one! Not that we really regret all that we did a week ago, even if we possibly over-did things a bit, but this time we really needed to take things easy, and we managed. Friday evening we had yummy lasagne courtesy of our church leader Catherine, though the primary purpose of our visit was so that I in particular could be shown how to use the content management system of the church website, of which I have taken over the administration. Saturday we had a list of pretty low-key things to do, most of which we accomplished, with the only particularly active thing being going into town to buy a convector heater, since the computer/guest room gets a little cold, and it would be nice to bring it up to scratch for its secondary purpose! Argos came up trumps, with the model I'd previously earmarked being in their sale, and we also took the opportunity to poke our heads into one of the better estate agents in town, given our tentative plans to move within the next few months. Sunday we went out for a pizza with a couple of friends - and joined forces with a couple more who were already at Pizza Piazza when we arrived - and checked out the newly rented house one of them had recently moved into.

All very quiet here at work this morning, with almost the entire team either on leave or out visiting customers. I'm busying myself with removing some of the more pointless and confusing functionality from our software, which I am sure will annoy our Slovak programmer no end, but I'm only following orders, guvnor.

It was all going so well, but I've now hit my daily brick wall. For reasons I have yet to hear any real justification for, our software is now bundled with its own copy of MySQL. Aside from the bloatware aspect, that would be OK, so long as the darned thing worked, which it doesn't. I know it's at least partly because I have my own MySQL installed that it's clashing with, but that's far from being the whole story given that I have graciously turned mine off and the bundled one still fails to run as a service. But it's OK, it doesn't have to run as a system service; it will run on demand if necessary. So long as I am prepared to wait anything up to fifteen minutes every time I run the software for it to start up. Needless to say, my productivity is markedly reduced, and there is a distinct lack of anyone giving a stuff about it - other than me.

Our Slovak programmer "helpfully" disabled the fifteen minute pause. However, I still have to wait fifteen minutes to do a search that returns any results. Nice try, friend, but this is actually now worse than before since my periodic attempts during those fifteen minutes will be annoying our potential partners at the job boards no end. I'm sure he has done exactly as he was asked, at all points during the development of his bit of the software, which makes it doubly difficult to tell him it's rubbish. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say.

Thankfully for him - even though he is decidedly bigger than me, and has served his country in martial arts - my latest changes seem finally to have worked, so I shouldn't be needing to run the software again with his code enabled. Ever.

Well, I can dream. But at least my bit's working now.

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