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David's diary: October 2005

Not the best of starts to the new month, but trying to keep my chin up and not over-do things. As at times in the past when my health has been borderline, I'm on a bit of a hair trigger, and have flipped a few times in the last few days. I won't go into any more detail because I'd rather forget them, really, because just thinking about the incidents makes me cross and that's counterproductive. I didn't make it to church this morning, though, which is most unusual for me, but Katy "flew the flag" for us, and we had a friend round for lunch anyway, so I'm not withdrawing too much. I can just remember too many times in the past - some of which turned out to be rather momentous - when I've been feeling like I am, and when I should have been more cautious about circulating with humanity. I'm just so very glad to be married to someone who understands my many foibles.

Not much chance of seeing this morning's partial solar eclipse, started just a few minutes ago, what with the 100% cloud cover and all... Will keep a look-out for sunshine though, in between my various errands and so on planned for today.

One issue I've been rationalising my feelings on recently is that of the "electronic church". Not a full-blown "virtual church", with no physical congregation, but just conventional church enhanced by new technology. Since becoming a Christian I have been involved with five churches, congregations, fellowships, call them what you will. All have been what might be described as mainstream and reasonably demographically varied. My membership of the first two predated the internet revolution, although they have perfectly reasonable little websites now, inevitably giving more information about the exquisite architecture and the occasional cream tea than what really matters, but hey.

The latter three have increasingly less excuse for on-line mediocrity. The first of those, I was involved in putting together a small and static website, but it became obvious no-one else was remotely interested. Long after it became hopelessly out of date because no-one could be bothered to maintain it after I left, it still peddled its misinformation. Eventually it was taken down and replaced with a "coming soon" message for a new site. That new site recently went on line, and appears to comprise just a badly-designed and wonkily-scanned letter head. The middle of the three isn't doing too badly. The congregation is typically a bit younger and more technologically aware, and after a shaky start, they seem to do quite well with their reasonably well-updated website and emailed supposedly-daily news digests. An on-line prayer forum failed dismally though, and efforts to set up discussion mailing lists were blocked for no reason other than lack of understanding, so not everything's rosy. In that we start to see the problem: everyone realises that "going electronic" is a desirable thing to do, but most people (including those typically making the significant decisions, unfortunately) have never used the internet beyond looking at a couple of websites and sending an email, so do not understand the potential that is there, the choices there are, and the pitfalls to beware of.

Finally we have my current church, which a year or so ago was talked into leasing a content management system geared towards churches. It's powerful and flexible, and its flaws are slowly being addressed. But having been involved in the management of our site for a while, I can see that without major attitude changes, it's going to be just as doomed as any I have seen in the past - and cost an awful lot in the process. The trouble is the same problem that blighted the first of the three churches: no-one's interested! People still prefer their notices on a sheet of paper, perhaps a dozen (mainly rank-and-file) members log in to the website in any month, and most forthcoming events only get mentioned on-line by virtue of being logged in the definitive hall-booking calendar. I have suggested feasible technical improvements to the company producing the back-end system, to enable sites to be "pushed" towards their congregations more effectively (probably three-quarters of our number have internet access, just understandably can't be bothered to look at a website that has probably not recently changed) but there has been no progress so far. Ultimately, the good intention is there, but not the conviction to carry it through properly. And we always have to remember that quarter without the internet access, and that electronic communications have technical problems and so on. Although, as I have already said, everyone appreciates the place of technology, I think some people are rightly scared of going "fully electronic"; they are resisting out of principle as much as anything, but let's not have a baby/bathwater scenario.

I'm not at all surprised by any of the experiences above. What it comes down to is that the "information age" is not something that established congregations are about to embrace. If a new congregation set up that specifically emphasised its electronic communications and so on from the word go, I am sure it would be a significantly different matter. But would we want a church full of geeks?

Just as well I hadn't made too many grand plans of what to do with my last month of unemployment, because this morning I received yet another "addendum" to my contract, moving the start date forward by a fortnight. So instead of having almost a month to try and use constructively, it's only a little under a couple of weeks now. Probably about time to learn to iron shirts properly...

Went out and had a nice coffee and cake with Katy's dad this morning though. We chose to drive out to Frensham Garden Centre, where Rob wanted to investigate blueberry bushes, there apparently being a glut of them this year. A successful horticultural mission, and it was of course nice just to sit and natter awhile. I wonder how long before blueberries start featuring in my in-laws' baking?

I'm trying to be all domestic this afternoon. I've mended the doorbell, and am currently taking a breather from cleaning the kitchen sink outlet plumbing. The former only involved fitting a couple of new AA batteries in the chime unit in the end, but the sink bits are soaking in bleach at the moment and I'm hoping I can remember the order they came apart! Katy's just hoping I don't get the two jobs mixed up and so presses the doorbell and the sink overflows... Not that she would; she is responsible enough to have her own front door key, y'know!

Cleaning the kitchen sink outlet turned out to be one of the less pleasant tasks I have undertaken, but it's done now and there should be far fewer nasty niffs emanating from the plug-hole from now on. Anyway, we celebrated that, a once-again-operative doorbell, and of course my new start date, by joining Chris, Pat, Tim and Nick for the Balti Hut's mighty banquet night. A bit later eating than we would normally aim of a weekday evening, but it was very good as always, and (for me at least) didn't prevent a fair night's sleep afterwards. Meanwhile, on today's activity menu are to go into town to pay in a cheque and to see if I can replenish our reading matter reserves at the charity shops.

Yesterday's walk into town was as productive as hoped, but it looks like I won't be going anywhere near as far today. It's very murky out, and besides, we should be getting a courier delivery at some point, so long as "next day" really does mean what it says - well, DHL had got the packages from Milton Keynes to Basingstoke overnight, which is positive. I had to venture out of the front door to move my car so it doesn't get mucky when the workmen next door imminently get a consignment of concrete, but doubt I'll go any further... I have plenty to keep me busy inside, thankfully - not least preparing for Monday night when I am leading our house group, and considering a small web project.

Right, the nice man from DHL has been and gone, and lo and behold we have a new printer-scanner gracing the home office. We know that "all-in-one" devices have got a bit of a bad name, but Canon's seem to get amongst the better write-ups, and we really can't justify the space to have single-function units. It prints, it scans, it photocopies and it even looks reasonably nice. Our old printer was a bit of a bad buy really: it proved quite expensive to run, and the heads were forever clogging and eventually started spilling ink randomly. We very rarely needed its photo-quality printing facilities, and when we did, there was hardly ever any ink left since it had to go through so many cleaning cycles to work at all. These days it's cheaper and easier to send off to Photobox or similar web services to get photos printed. As for our scanner, that had been in terminal decline for a couple of years and finally went in the bin a few months back when it point blank refused to work even the 10% of the time it had previously.

One clever feature of the printer is that it has slots for camera memory cards. You can insert a card and it will run off an index print of the contents. You then mark the prints you want and re-scan the page, and it prints the selected images. Not a feature we'll probably use a lot - though the index printing may come in handy - but good use of the technology. The memory card slots are also available to Windows, though only on a read-only basis it seems, which is a bit poor. However, I have finally coaxed our old SmartMedia/CompactFlash card drive into working in Windows XP. The drivers from the manufacturer failed miserably, but I had a vague recollection from years back that the same hardware appeared under other brand names, and that PNY was one of them. PNY's driver worked just fine. Most of the time, the memory slots in the printer will be fine, but there may be odd occasions when we need to write to cards - for example our music keyboard uses SmartMedia cards for sample storage - so that'll come in handy.

So, my last week of unemployment starts, though Katy's off work ill today, which makes it a bit different to the average Monday for the last eight months. In some ways it feels nothing like eight months; in other ways, it feels like I can count every minute of it. Of course, it wasn't meant to be this way. I was supposed to have been overseeing an international team of developers by now, but that's a chapter that never got beyond the opening paragraph - though I'm still not ruling out pursuing what I'm owed for my month's work... I don't know how I'm going to cope going back to the 9-to-5 routine, hardly feeling on top of the world myself at the moment, but it's got to be done for my sanity as much as anything. I'm just so glad to have found a company that understands my current predicament, why I am where I am right now, and that will treat me at least fairly. In some ways it doesn't seem very much to ask, but my experience of the last couple of years really hasn't shown that to be the case.

Anyway, not too bad a weekend just finished, with Sam round on Friday night to test our prowess at vegetarian cuisine - and I have to say we didn't do badly at all. Indeed it was tasty enough that we might try it every now and then regardless of who's visiting or not. Saturday we headed up to my parents for the day, having not seen them for quite a few weeks now. We had an excellent pub lunch out at Lacey Green, worked off with a short walk afterwards. The rest of the day was taken up with showing holiday photos old and new, sorting out the inevitable (thankfully minor) computer problems, eating more yummy food, and of course looking at more pond-life specimens through mum's microscope. It was reasonably late by the time we came home, and decided we'd try going on the motorways for a change since they should be next to empty, and made good time. Yesterday was quieter, mainly spent catching up on our Saturday supplements, though we popped out in the evening to get Chinese takeaway for the first time in ages - during which time the establishment in question had changed its name, though still seems to be just as good and still has the same signs up inside!

Katy's still not at all well today but is determined that she will go to work tomorrow - what a conscientious wife I have. The idea was that this week Katy would help me get back into the routine of being up in the morning in time for work, but that's clearly not exactly been happening so far... We needed some fresh air so got out for lunch at the garden centre but neither of us had the energy for anything more than the shortest look round the tat there, so home we are again. We have Simon coming round this evening hopefully, who will bring their Freeview box to see if it improves our television reception on certain channels. If it works, we might go shopping for one of our own on Thursday, though reading the reviews of the affordable recording models is muddying the waters somewhat so it would be more likely we would go for a basic one for now.

The waters are indeed about as clear as mud now. Freeview reception here was gobsmackingly good, which came as a bit of a surprise since we need an aerial booster, and going back to analogue when Simon took the box away was a wrench. But the whole recording thing seems to be a can of worms. In theory, a Freeview box can control a video recorder via the SCART connection, to tell it to record on demand, but in practice it seems this is limited to recorders with specific awareness, which needless to say ours is not blessed with. So that means that in order to record, we would need to set the timers on both the video recorder and the Freeview box, or leave the Freeview box turned on, set to the required channel. Immense faff and opportunity for error, or inflexible and wasteful - take your pick... The other option is to get a Freeview box that records itself to a built-in hard disk, but as I said, reviews are far from conclusive that this is a sensible route to go at the moment, with all current units plagued by buggy software. We would give the latter option a try, except that the only recording box we would consider touching with a bargepole is only available from Argos and is specifically excluded from their usual 16 day guarantee, so if it turned out to be rubbish we would have a struggle to get our money back. So I think it's coming down to the first option after all, to grin and bear it for as long as it takes for a decent recorder to come out, and then see who would like a well-looked-after second-hand receive-only box... But there's one thing for certain in all this, that we've got to go digital one way or another. Apart from anything else, the BBC want to hike up the licence fee to cover digital broadcasting, and we're darned if we're not going to get any benefit!

Another noisy and dusty day of jack-hammering and angle-grinding starting up outside, but we don't mind at all this time because the stuff they are doing includes rectifying problems with our driveway that were unavoidably caused or at the very least exacerbated by their earlier digging work.

And today we avoided the noise altogether by going up to London for the day. We'd gone up a few months back with Katy's sister and family, but it was all a bit hectic then especially having Daniel in tow, so it was nice to be able to go and take things a bit more slowly. We started at the Science Museum, looking at parts we never got to before, before getting our lunch free (the supervisor insisted, now that's good customer service) and watching a film about the moon landings in the Imax cinema. We had a quick look around the shop before moving on to St Pauls where we had heard there was an excellent value cream tea, but I think we were just too late but there was a perfectly good M&S next door. A few more signs with opening hours and so on would be good - especially when we got asked by a steward if we were "taking evensong", like paracetamol or breakfast, to which Katy replied "not today, thank you". We had a bit of a mooch around Covent Garden but couldn't find the fabled kite shop (though we'd bought one at the Science Museum shop as it happened anyway), and then found a nice Italian restaurant off Leicester Square where at least the starter on the fixed price menu was jolly tasty indeed, even if the pizza was a bit indifferent. Then back to Waterloo, with about a minute to spare before the train home - not sure we'd have lasted out another half an hour, so worth a bit of a run, OK, brisk walk.

Oh, and regarding the trains, we were dead impressed. OK, so we avoided using the Northern Line, knowing that was closed due to strike action (or "signalling problems", in London Underground announcement parlance), which was a bit of a pain for getting away from Leicester Square. But every train we caught, from leaving Farnham to arriving back here, ran spot on time and without a hitch. Perhaps congestion charge revenue really is being raked back into improving public transport - even if little has yet found its way to the Northern Line...

As for today, since we were clean out of food, we thought we would give Tesco's breakfast staff a try at redeeming themselves after their dismal performance a couple of weeks back, and happily to say (apart from them having run out of mushrooms) they did. Then we went on a bit of a wild goose chase trying to find a Freeview box that did what we wanted, at a price we liked. Neither Comet nor Currys came up with anything quite right, and when we finally found one at Bennetts, they said just about everything possible to dissuade us from buying one at all. So we're still on analogue, and it's frankly looking like it might stay that way for a little while yet. Our need for retail therapy had to be satisfied merely by completing our weekly shop when we returned to Tesco later.

We've been away for the weekend, to help celebrate our brother-in-law Mark's birthday. Not the most action packed trip ever, but we all spent the night at a hotel in Chichester and had nice meals out and time playing football and flying kites by the sea. About the only thing more we really could have asked for was actually something less - about seven degrees lower room temperature at the hotel... One for the comment card - I wonder if they read them? Anyway, it was a good thing we didn't overstretch ourselves, because tomorrow is of course my first day at my new job. Yes, I am apprehensive, yes I am worried about whether I'll get through the day in one piece, but I'm as ready as I'll ever be to try.

Here goes, then...

... and now back home. I very nearly found myself back at home half way through the afternoon though, for reasons that will become clear later. I reported for duty promptly at 9.30 as requested, when things started going wrong - yes, the journey to Hook was about the only thing that went entirely to plan today.

The lady at reception had no record of my starting, and couldn't track down the lady I was supposed to be reporting to. Eventually they found someone - in fact one of the people who had interviewed me - and they managed to get me security passes, but it seemed they really and truly weren't expecting me today. A fact I could quite believe, given that my start date was of course initially at the end of the month but got brought forward a fortnight without explanation - and obviously without telling anyone at Hook either. So no desk, no computer, no network login, no nothing really. I'd joked before I started that I wondered if I would have an allocation of air to breathe, and I suspect they only managed that due to the somewhat exceptional circumstances! But everyone I dealt with today was great and apologetic for the poor communication, and I was eventually sat down in front of some training material for the source control and issue management systems, which I managed to spin out until well after lunch.

Then half way through the afternoon the lady who was overseeing the training said she had "bad news", that I should stop using the workstation straight away and really shouldn't be in the building at all. I was half expecting a couple of burly security men to be conjured up and frog-march me off the premises at gunpoint, but obviously it wasn't quite that serious. Instead they gave me a month-old copy of Computer Geekly to peruse (straight to Dilbert, obviously) while they worked out what to do next. Eventually, it transpired that it was all just a misunderstanding, that I was security cleared and so on, obviously just another glitch in the communications. But still nothing much I could do, the only person who could help had gone home for the afternoon, and when they tried to phone her mobile, the phone system was down and the engineer was stuck in traffic after the M3 was blocked by a horrible fatal accident... But they managed to find some generic bumf they could print off for me to read in the meantime, which kept me busy for the last hour or so before I called it quits.

So, no impression yet really. And I don't know how long it's going to take to get the various bits and pieces sorted out. Welcome to a big company, I guess!

Two days on, nothing much has improved. I have a workstation to sit at, but it won't be my permanent desk, and it's generally pretty ill in terms of its network connections and so on. Support seems minimal, but I guess if the people weren't expecting me for another week and a half yet, it's not that surprising if time and resources have not been earmarked. Still, I got out for a stroll at lunchtime, on which I found the garage where I bought my first (ill-fated) car and got caught in a thunderstorm. My highlights of the day, really, sadly.

One week down, and not much to add really. I am at a new desk, where I expect to be for a whole month, and my line manager is reasonably certain what project I will be assigned to once the Powers That Be pull their fingers out. We bumped into each other on the stairs on the way in yesterday and agreed that things could only really get better from here. Next week will be pivotal, methinks.

Anyway, this should be a relatively quiet weekend amongst a run of busier ones. I've been out and bought bagels and muffins and a newspaper - with no less than 67 extra Su Doku puzzles in case we get really bored - and we have plenty of new DVDs to watch as well as the Wallace and Gromit film at Alton this evening.

Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was, of course, superb. I had mixed hopes, but any negative ones were unfounded. Quite the best film I've seen in a long while, and vies for the best animation ever. Although probably one to avoid watching during the holiday week, it's actually especially funny with children present, noticing the very different times they and their parents laugh. Quite short, but the Madagascar Penguins beforehand more than make up!

Monday, and back home from work. I did my seven and a half hours and not a moment more, and took a short lunch break so I could clear off as early as possible. Marginal progress today, in that the latest wodge of documents I have been given to read is slightly more focussed than those of last week, even if my eyes aren't by now. But to put a spanner in the works, my "champion" so far has just gone on holiday for a fortnight, so goodness knows who'll be chasing the powers that be as I am sure will continue to be necessary in her absence. Still, she's going to sunny Florida so might yet find her plans get curtailed somewhat... Tomorrow afternoon I gather I could just possibly potentially be starting some tentative project work; believe me it won't come soon enough. I hate clock-watching, but found myself doing just that for most of today. I am just fed up with wasting time. I don't want to waste another day of my life. Looks like I might have to compromise on wasting a half day though, hey ho.

So, a day of two halves. Not quite the contrast I had been hoping for, but the essence of it. I couldn't actually get started with what they had lined up for me this afternoon because it's all terribly secret and I need to sign documents and they've only got a couple of machines authorised to be used. But tomorrow I am pretty confident I'll be able to get started properly. Not the most gripping work, but it looks like the kind of thing I can get contentedly absorbed in.

Today was another waste of a day, only broken up by occasional glimmers of false hope. I think I'll take up smoking, I so love frittering my life away.

Meanwhile I see Orange have just driven another nail into their coffin, stopping "0800" numbers being free. After dumping free itemised billing last month, they really must be desperate to lose as many customers as possible.

Oh, and today wasn't remotely helped by feeling like utter crud most of the time. I very nearly called in sick this morning having spent about half the night coughing, sneezing and streaming, but decided I'd soldier on. And then my suffering eyes were finished off by having to use the flickering screen on the only machine on the floor that had something approaching internet access - to check for an email that wasn't there. No wonder we are (in the words of our newsletter) an industry laughing stock with regard to technological progress.

Today's been better in every way, and tomorrow's the last day of the week so who cares. Not the perfect day, but at least I finally managed to get down to some test scripts, which kept me busy until the system needed rebooting and "half an hour" turned out to mean the rest of the day. And I feel much better too, happily to say. Still not quite my version of 100% but getting there...

Another day about the same as yesterday, in practice. But hey, I actually got paid! As in real salary, in our bank account, cleared and able to be spent!

Hmm, half way through the weekend, and it's been an "interesting" time so far, let's say. We drove up to Reading yesterday to visit friends there for the day, and went out for a very decent spread of a picnic in the park. But when we got back to the cars, we found one of them had been broken into and credit cards, mobile phone, baby stuff etc missing. Thankfully composure was kept all round, and the staff at the car park were excellent, helping hoover out the car and so on, whilst being frustrated that they can't get the council funding they need so as to improve security despite a (genuine for once) spate of near-identical incidents. For the sake of the children especially, most of us still managed a half decent walk/bike-ride and extra play in the park after we'd made sure all necessary wheels had been set in motion, and it didn't manage to ruin the day. Left everyone sufficiently rattled though that I doubt anyone's going to have made the most of our bonus hour this morning, but I guess it's just one of those things; one of those horribly annoying, frustrating and sickening things. But at least no-one was hurt, everyone's OK. Things could have been far worse.

Sunday was mercifully somewhat less manic, going round to Ian and Jo's after church for a slurp of soup and yummy garlic breads, and that was about it... Tonight we should both have been at our house group of course, but neither of us felt remotely like going anywhere so we made our apologies and had a nice evening in, catching up with the Saturday crosswords and munching pizza. Oh, and our fridge now has a cheerful new picture, depicting us all out for our walk on Saturday, and all smiling happily - though we did have to dissuade its young artist from including their car with its smashed rear quarterlight...

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