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David's diary: February 2006

Looks like even that temporary change of activity's barely going to happen now, or not at all. I got my review report back and managed to persuade its author to include a direct reference to my being screwed around by the company being a contributory factor to my recent illness and absence. So I was fairly happy with that in the end, though discussions at the review about a possible opening have come to nothing, now it turns out that opening won't exist for a good six months and they're really not sure what form it will take anyway. So on balance things continue to be not remotely good, and my patience is fast running out.

So another tedious week at work comes to close, and that really can't be soon enough. Though I know equally well that the ensuing weekend will be over all too quickly too and I will be resigning myself to yet another week of the same, then another too-short weekend, etc etc. Not really much of an existence, is it? Quite aside from the general doubt at the moment over which way the project I'm assigned to is going in the medium term, the specific task I am struggling with is increasingly looking like it's not priority at the moment, and there has been no progress with another bit of work which I was going to part of a team looking at. So all pretty terminally pointless times, and reinforcing the increasingly dejected feeling that I was recruited here on false pretences. In a way it was no-one's fault as such, but a symptom of the convoluted process of security clearance and so on, that by the time clearance had been secured, the work they'd recruited me for no longer existed. But I wish they could have just come clean about it early on - it would have been a disappointment but not eroded my will as it has. Although I never got a firm offer from anyone else, there were some definite opportunities I could have pursued, and I can't help wondering if any of those might have been "the one", but now lost forever.

Not a bad weekend so far - nice and quiet, with only church this morning, a curry lunch out with Jo and Ian and a planning meeting for the year's OAP parties to interrupt a generally chilled time for us both. It'll be over all too soon of course, but we're making the most of it while we can! Got a bit of a packed week coming up all told, so just as well we're able to take it easy!

All pretty boring at work, needless to say, and I feel like I am marking time even without anything too specific awaiting me. Having said that, I have started the ball rolling a little bit with enquiries into other opportunities here, and need to update my CV with what little I can from the last four dull months. One slightly amusing thing today: the different work I was going to be helping with for a few weeks is perhaps going to happen after all, but I am now one of only two people assigned to it, rather than four or five as previously. Apparently my team leader (who is getting immensely frustrated), in an attempt to force a decision on whether it's happening, is reducing the number of his staff he is prepared to release every time the powers that be dither. Of course that does mean that if they dither any more I might be on my own, which would leave me well up the creek without a paddle, but it's fairly funny anyway.

In some of my idle moments I've been reading some of my diary entries of old - today ones from 1999. In some ways my life seemed a lot more eventful then, but I'm not sure it was a triumph for quality over quantity. After all - as some people commented at the time - most of the entries related to (most pleasant) pizza, KFC and/or Shine websites. Work didn't always sound a great deal better than it is now, although at least I did have the occasional good day then and it was a working environment in which I was a good deal happier. But overall life is much better now. I'm not seeking so much any more, looking for some kind of meaning in the minutiae of day to day humdrum. It's not perfect, and work in particular obviously needs setting right, but since this diary has always been a bit of a sounding board perhaps the fact that I write far less in here than in previous years reflects that I have much less to sound off about!

Still all pretty tedious at work so I won't bore you still further with the details. Lots of flip-flopping and u-turning, so I really haven't got a clue any more what is priority and what isn't. But we did have a team meeting this afternoon where it became apparent that cynical though I may be, I have some way to go before I match many of my colleagues. I like to think that amidst everything else I still have hope, something that has clearly been conditioned out of anyone who's been there more than the few months that I have.

We were "supposed" to have been hosting an Alpha feedback meeting here this evening, but in the end not many people could make it and there wasn't a huge amount to discuss, so it got called off. We're keen to have the meetings because it is a point of contact for our house group that has otherwise pretty much been disbanded, but neither of us is on top form at the moment so we couldn't really pretend we were too sorry to have a quiet evening to ourselves.

And now, it's time for bed - as I've wished since seven this morning...

Amazingly, not too bad a day at work today and it didn't even drag too much for a change. My head was the clearest it's been for several weeks, so I was able to concentrate on the matter in hand with much more clarity than ever before. Yes, to some extent it's the nature of the task that's pretty imprecise, but add an imprecise head to the formula and it really wasn't going to work. Today though I managed to make some serious progress, and there's even an outside chance I might finish this task tomorrow - though I gather that the problem I am working on may actually be a bit more extensive than is documented, so just because my proposed solution should hopefully fix the "official" issue once I can persuade it to work at all, there may be rather more to come, alas...

Friday lunchtime, and glad the week's almost done with. I've made some more headway with this problem I'm currently working on. Indeed I would say I have solved it - the fixed programs run faultlessly from the command line - but unfortunately the web interface disagrees, crashing terminally. And to make it even more fun, other people are of course trying to use the same system while I'm working on it, so I can't afford for it not to work at all for more than a few seconds at a time, rather precluding serious investigation of what's going on. In the meantime though I am doing a full rebuild of the software, just in case there's something screwy going on with dependencies, so I can be sure that everything is completely bang up to date and not "mixing and matching" at all.

Katy's just had a bit of a frustrating morning, waiting (after several months) for our new dining table to be delivered. The one we received last summer was lovely, apart from a couple of potentially serious blemishes, on the basis of which the shop agreed without hesitation to give us a replacement. For various reasons they forgot all about us, but Katy gave them a call last week and as promised, the replacement table arrived today. But - and we can't really play too surprised - they declined to replace it in the end, explaining that the blemishes were in fact purely cosmetic and advising how best to conceal them. In fact, that's perfectly all right, just more than a little bit frustrating - given that they should have covered all that when we first raised the issue!

Nice quiet weekend, much needed. We had Cate round on Friday evening, trying out a delicious and healthy new pesto chicken recipe on her and enjoying a fine bottle of wine - indeed the one Cate brought was exactly the same as the one we'd just opened, so no dilemmas there! There was a men's breakfast at church yesterday morning and of course church itself this morning, but apart from those we've had the time pretty much to ourselves, even if we've not exactly battened the hatches and stayed in - enjoying a lovely Italian meal out at Prezzo last night and a light lunch at Badshot Lea Garden Centre today. We bumped into one of our Alpha guests today at the garden centre, celebrating her birthday with her mum, which was nice, though she'd visited Friday afternoon (Katy and she still playing Tantrix when I arrived home from work) and we'll see her again tomorrow anyway so we said our hellos and left them to it!

Hmm, our Freeview box is an hour slow - and other owners are complaining of the same. But it recorded the skiing OK this morning, so it must be a display issue or otherwise somehow not matter... I'm pretty sure it's not the box at fault, because nothing has changed on it since yesterday; indeed software updates have been off-air for a couple of months now. It reboots every night though, and resets the clock when it does so, so I strongly suspect a dodgy Freeview clock signal and that only boxes that not been rebooted today will be unaffected.

We shall see though, and hope in the meantime that the skiing wasn't a fluke!

Everything appears to be OK again now. Big time problems at Freeview Towers, by all accounts, and Siemens bodged it first time round, applying an offset to the UTC transmission rather than correcting it outright, so that those of us with digital video recorders found the right time but all scheduled recordings moved by an hour, so still wrong - and indeed recordings probably would have worked fine until then, which would explain why the skiing recorded OK. But now they seem to have got a clue and fixed it. Just a shame it took them a day to do so.

Monday and back to work. Little as it may have appeared as I dragged myself out of bed, today I was probably more enthusiastic than at any time since the day after I started here. That's not to say I was brimming with enthusiasm, but at least I didn't have the usual feeling of "back to reality with a bump" that has afflicted me every other Monday morning for the last four months. And that's not to say that this morning's going fantastically productively either, though I am trying darned hard for sure! Being thwarted this time by more end products of our poorly configured and largely untested ClearCase build system, and every time I make an adjustment and retry, another half hour gets frittered away... We use ClearCase because we have a strategic partnership with IBM, who now own Rational - and I believe we have just struck a similar deal with Borland, which will probably in time mean yet another ill-conceived migration for business rather than technical reasons. But otherwise, I really am being positive...

Trying to be, anyway!

Though I am beginning to worry whether I'm not happier due to things getting better, but due to my expectations getting lowered. As I noticed at that team meeting the other day, I still had some hope, and perhaps realising that was the kiss of death... No-one has managed to successfully work on the software I'm currently playing with, and the general principle seems to be to leave it well alone, as well as sayings involving generous bargepoles. I don't think a single source file compiled without any warnings, and I'm sure I saw one flash past boasting over a hundred. It is strongly suspected there are memory leaks and buffer overruns left right and centre, and that every time it's built they manifest in slightly different places, so crash it in subtly different ways depending on the day of the week and the shoe-size of the programmer. That is to say, it runs at all at the moment more by luck than judgement. And our noble armed forces are expected to rely on it, that's the most worrying thing of all.

I seems I've opened a jumbo catering drum of worms here with the stuff I've been working on for the last few days, and the consensus seems to be that it's best left well alone - especially since its days are almost certainly numbered anyway, and besides, I've been requested not to break the servers for the time being thanks to some important customer demos being run. In the absence of any other work coming my way I asked what I should be doing, and although the first response was to bring in a good thick book (thankfully I have just started such a book, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón) we then remembered that we'd discussed my doing a bit of C++ training, so I've now been waiting about a quarter of an hour for the Knight Rider style loading "progress bar" to finish.

Still waiting, and there's absolutely no way of determining whether it's jammed solid or is just being incredibly slow. So to save me thumb-twiddling...

Alpha went reasonably well last night. I didn't go along with the greatest of expectations and was feeling the after-effects of keeping far too brave a face on at work during the day, so crashed badly as we were preparing for the meal. But in the end, apart from a small hitch with the chicken, and far too many of us being either very tired, under the weather or absent altogether, the evening went fine. We've not picked up any extra guests along the way (though there are apparently a few people enthusiastic about the next course, starting in May) but we've had both our original two every week bar one and they seem genuinely receptive and challenged by what they are hearing and discussing. Katy and I are not yet quite sure what our level of involvement is going to be in the next course. Katy is currently a small group leader and I am a helper, but neither of us are keen to become "fixtures". We would still like to support Alpha, and have some constructive suggestions of how that can happen, but we shall see!

The C++ course eventually loaded. Well, once I'd quitted the Knight Rider lights screen and started it again - though I almost couldn't find it because it had decided I had completed it, so was listed on a different web page. My boss had warned me it was pretty poor material, and it's certainly made me realise just how good the stuff we made at the OU was. This stuff is poorly presented and has horrible navigation. Furthermore, this C++ tutorial hardly encourages good programming practice, but that's another matter entirely.

Anyway, on to Part Two...

Oh, it's St Valentine's Day today is it? Well, in truth we could hardly avoid noticing it, considering how much it has taken over just about every shop for the last few weeks. But as in past years, we're consciously avoiding it. As an adult, I've properly marked the day precisely once and - much as I enjoyed it at the time - regretted it for the fraud that turned out to be. If others want to celebrate it and can avoid getting caught up too much in the money making engines of Clintons et al, then good on them, but I for one am very glad that Katy is immune to such things. I didn't even get her the 8p card from Asda...

Or anyone else, I hasten to add!

Katy has however bought something really romantic today. And it's not the juicy rump steak we plan to grill for tea. I will let imaginations suitably run riot. It was a bargain, and is apparently waiting on the patio for my approval...

Part Two of the C++ course was decidedly tougher than the first - and I should probably be glad of that because I know darned well I know practically nothing about the language, and getting about 80% on the pre-test for Part One really was more indicative of the pretty noddy level of the material than the depth of my prior knowledge! There were still far too many questions that you could get right (and hence miss out on the relevant part of the recommended study) by a process of elimination and "quiz logic" rather than by knowledge of the subject matter, but I might at least learn something new tomorrow and it keeps me busy!

As for that "romantic gift"... Well it's actually a composter! In common with many local councils, ours is shortly radically changing the structure of the weekly domestic waste collections to encourage - in fact pretty much force - people to recycle more, and part of that is that garden waste will no longer be accepted at the kerbside unless you pay extra. So we're going to see just how much garden waste we can instead recycle, and Katy struck an excellent deal on an end-of-line composter at the garden centre she went to for lunch with her mum today. Our beef steak was pretty good too, I hasten to add, Mexican style!

So this morning I've mainly been pressing on with this C++ training stuff, covering such delightful and bemusing topics as static and dynamic binding, virtual functions and so on. It mainly confirms what I already knew to be the case: that C++ is a horrendous layer of fudge on top of C, with all kinds of strange syntax and conventions to make up for the lack of proper OO language constructs. Back in 1996 I went on a C++ training course with the OU, and came out of that feeling reasonably enthusiastic about the language (despite not having really learnt anything about using it to write real software) but time really has moved on since then, with Java in particular doing things more or less properly. But the historical lack of direction here has meant that there are little bits of lots of languages in use, particularly C, C++, Visual Basic, Java, Perl and shell scripting of various flavours, almost all chosen on a whim rather than by demonstrable suitability for the tasks in hand. Hopefully the days of C++ here will be numbered, but I have a nasty suspicion there will remain some under the hood for a while to come - though my experience of the last few days suggests it might well be impossible to maintain effectively...

Anyway, methinks it's time for a late lunchtime walk now. It's nowhere near as grey as it was this time yesterday, so hopefully I can avoid getting rained on!

Now on to the third and final section of the second part of this C++ training. I'm certainly learning something this time round, but I am very suspicious that what I am learning is not remotely best practice. For example, C++ provides a very powerful string class, but instead the course continues to promote the use of character pointers, "strcpy()", "strcat()" and so on, suggesting that it's actually old C material updated for C++'s syntax rather than for its library features. The topic I have just finished relates to use of "cin" and "cout", which sounds a good start, except it's promoting using them in what seems to me a backwardly language-inconsistent manner. I mean, to output multiple items to the screen using for example "cout.put(i).put(j).put(k)" just seems downright wrong! I suppose "cout.put()" may return an object which is itself an output stream, so can be "put()" to again and again, but it just seems horrid to me. I guess it's not so very different to "cout << i << j << k" which would be the "neat" way to do it and may even resolve to the same code, but why skimp on the teaching the way that anyone in their right mind will be using in practice?

Still, I can't say I wasn't warned that this material was pretty dreadful, and it should at least keep me out of mischief until Monday which is the latest date I've been promised that the next proper work I get to do will materialise. The phase of the project I had been working on before doing this training is now officially dead in the water pending a final decision on its new direction. In a way that's very disappointing, since it means the work that many of us have been doing was probably for nothing, but on the other hand I doubt too many of us will be lamenting its demise so long as we have something to do. For me though it's just the latest stage in the farce of my working here, having been recruited into a job that didn't exist by the time I was cleared to start, and now the work they managed to find for me isn't actually wanted after all. How to feel really valued! It's a good thing I am really beyond caring, and am only really marking time until I get a transfer or an external opportunity. My line manager is again nagging us all for our annual objectives and whatnot, but I cannot pretend mine are any more than "survive the next day, week, month or whatever, and sincerely hope I'm not here for next year's appraisal round".

A bit of a hectic evening yesterday, but we got done everything we'd planned. Pizza was well under way when I arrived home from work, and we munched on that as we watched Shelley Rudman slide her way to her skeleton bob Olympic silver. Then off out to Tesco, including getting some bits and pieces in advance of the belated birthday party we're hosting for our nephew Daniel tomorrow. I hasten to add it's not a full-blown party with lots of children etc, just a gathering of our side of the family; he's had something similar for the other side of his family already, and from experience we decided to spread things out a bit! We wondered if we'd been a bit ambitious in our plans thereafter, having promised to go round to visit Katy's dad while her mum was off at choir practice, but in the end arrived spot on time and entertained Daniel (who's staying there for a few days) for a little while, before he toddled off to bed and we could set to work on updating their anti-virus with something free now that Symantec are demanding rather silly amounts for annual subscriptions. I remember the days not so very long ago when Norton cost two or three pounds to keep updated for a year, but it's now over ten times that, apparently - not that we'd know for sure, having used free solutions ourselves for several years now. Given that the consensus seems to be that Norton simply isn't as good as it used to be in any case, I really think Symantec are shooting themselves in the foot big-time. Anyway, AVG Free is safely installed, and I confirmed things like the firewall and anti-spyware to be active and up to date, so all should be safe and sound.

Still, at least Symantec shooting themselves in the foot is better than Dick Cheney shooting his hunting pal in the heart. I know it's not a huge crime, but it's interesting how little play is being made of the fact that Cheney didn't even have a permit to be hunting at the time. I guess after Arnie got let off the hook when he crashed his unlicensed motorbike, it's known to be not worth the effort of pursuing those whose privileged positions put them above the law. Also, many mainstream media outlets were persuaded to remove references to the fact that certainly some members of Cheney's party had been drinking before the quail shoot, one of the biggest no-nos in the "sport" as I understand it. But I guess while "heroes" acting in the name of his administration continue to quite intentionally kill and abuse around the world, one little accident (albeit the first of its kind since 1804 apparently) really isn't such a terribly big deal.

As a programmer, I've got to laugh! Sony have recently announced that there is a fault in about 400,000 of its swanky LCD televisions, that means that after they've been used for about 1200 hours they basically crash. One astute reader of the technology news website The Register noted an interesting coincidence: 2^32 (that is, 2 x 2 x 2 etc 32 times over) is 4294967296. If that just happens to represent a time in milliseconds, that's about 4294967 seconds or a tad over 1193 hours, just seven hours short of the quoted time. Yep, Sony's programmers decided to store total power-on time in a 32-bit integer without taking note of the very much "real world" limit to its value! Well, if they can do things like that too, perhaps it puts my predecessors here in a slightly better light...

The birthday party we threw for Daniel was a big success, happily to say, doing everything we'd hoped and it all going down well. Rachel and Mark arrived a little earlier than the others - having followed our lead from a few weekends back and taken off to a Hilton hotel for a couple of nights of peace and quiet - with Daniel arriving with his grandparents (i.e. Katy's mum and dad) a few minutes later. Daniel doesn't miss a trick, and the other evening when we'd popped round to see Katy's dad, he suddenly announced that there was another present for him in the hall. Actually it was a half-eaten packet of chocolate mini-rolls wrapped up in an innocuous carrier bag, so he had to wait for today to get his presents from us. They went down well enough in the end - a fairly simple but surprisingly fun game called Hunny Hopp, featuring Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and Eeyore, and a kit to make and paint a plaster-of-paris model car, though the latter will wait until he's wearing his apron I suspect! Then we had a nice simple but very effective lunch (inspired by Darren and Ceryn a few months back) of chicken nuggets, salad and whatnot in tortilla wraps, and yummy cake made and decorated jointly by Daniel and his grandma. Then perhaps our most ambitious activity, a sort of Pictionary with Lego. We'd printed off some clip-art pictures and accompanying words, e.g. "aeroplane", "robot", "car" and so on, which we'd cut up and Daniel took one at a time and modelled Lego accordingly. We'd imagined him dismantling each model before starting the next, but of course like all small boys he was proud of his endeavours, and rather impressively managed to make the entire set - and still have pieces to spare! It was probably about the longest stretch we'd had Daniel round for - probably a good sign as he gets a bit older - but we were both pretty shattered after a busy day by mid-afternoon so politely chucked everyone out before too late.

Daniel had inadvertently (we believe) earlier told what we all thought was a very funny joke for a five-year-old. Katy's mum was showing him the various plants in their garden and pointed out the forsythia bush. She asked Daniel if they had forsythia at their flat. "No," he replied, "we've only got one."

Oh, and we had a nice evening round at Ted and Kay's last night. They've been trying to get us round there almost for as long as we've been married I think, but needing to discuss a proposal that I help with a little web work for them was a good excuse to actually do so. We'd heard that Kay was an exceptional cook, and certainly had no grounds for disappointment in that regard - maybe coming away with a few ideas for next time we've got our own guests to feed! Nice to catch up with them all (except their very youngest!) properly anyway, as a family I at least certainly have never really got to know previously, but are a great bunch. As for the work proposal - well suffice to say it's not my ticket out of my current job, but hey, you never know what it might start...

It's Monday morning once again, and it's D-Day of sorts here at work. Today's the day we were assured that the next chunk of work was going to come our way, and although I'll give them a chance I can't honestly say I'm hopeful. It was touch and go whether I made it in today, feeling very negative indeed at the way they don't seem to learn from their mistakes here. When I was off sick, by the letter of my contract they were not obliged to pay me a penny (not even statutory sick pay), but according to my line manager, they paid me in full effectively as a kind of apology (or pay-off, if feeling particularly cynical) for having driven me to that point. I'm really not sure I can work any longer for a company not only quite happy to do its "valued" staff members' heads in because they'll cough up when they do, but not able to do any better next time round. I came in today because I couldn't really afford not to, not because I physically should be here, or because I have even the remotest desire to be. Katy insists that we can afford for me not to, but she's under enough pressure at the moment without me throwing myself back into uncertainty and insecurity at least semi-voluntarily. So... I guess I'd better go and find out if we've been sorted out with this promised system. If so, then rejoice - even if the work isn't likely to be a great deal of fun. If not, then, umm, goodness knows.

Nothing so far. I am feeling like the final bit of hope is being beaten out of me. And my line manager's "working from home" (sorry, I must be getting cynical using quotation marks like that) today, so there's diddly squat I can do. I've said it before but I'll say it again (hopefully for the last time), but money doesn't make my world go round. Yes, I need enough of it to survive, hence why I really don't feel in a position just to throw this nonsense in, but unlike far too many people I can't just "switch off and wait for next pay day". There has to be more to life than that, even if they do do their best to beat that hope out of us. All in all they really have got me over a barrel, haven't they? I guess a company that is described in the news today by an opposition MP as having the government "by the short and curlies" can't really be expected to do any different to its staff, mixed metaphors notwithstanding. A friend told me shortly before I started that this was "a great company to work for". Perhaps after a few years numbness fully takes over. Certainly I've known a fair few people who've served time here. It's rather the Milton Keynes of IT companies, the place people swear blind they'll have nothing to do with but get inexorably drawn. But few seem to have survived for more than a couple of years, sensibly.

Good news: the Wallace & Gromit DVD is under a tenner in Tesco. Bad news: only when you buy another chart CD or DVD. Needless to say, nothing else good out.

The more I do of this C++ training (in the absence of jack all else to do) the more I realise how glad I am to have decided some time ago to focus on Java for general programming needs. Today I have mainly been working through material on pointers (sadly searching for "pointers in C" no longer turns up particularly interesting results on Amazon, I believe) especially in the context of linked lists. It is quite amazing how complicated C and C++ have managed to make such things. Java works pretty much exclusively using pointers, but manages to avoid all C++'s mystique and pitfalls. It also offers such lovely constructs as the ArrayList (offering all the flexibility of a linked list, with the ease of use of an array) which makes redundant everything I've been looking at today. But C++ is what I've been charged with looking at as my job-creation task for this month, so that is what I shall focus on for now - but it's difficult to try too hard to properly take in a load of rubbish I hope never to have to experience for real even in concept let alone practice. Still, I can score 100% on all the tests easily enough, which looks good, and it vaguely keeps me out of mischief.

Alpha tonight of course, and let's hope I can be in a slightly better frame of mind than I was this time last week. Earlier I'd have said the chances of that were somewhat lower than those of my winning the National Lottery, but perhaps a bit of fresh air at lunchtime helped a bit, and I have bought us a couple of maple syrup and pecan pastries to tide us over until dinner is served. We had one of our leaders and our "overseer" come round to see us yesterday afternoon, which was helpful in getting us to open up about what's troubling us so much. I for one am so inclined to bottle things up and withdraw when things get too much to bear, that it's not always too easy for others to see what's wrong, or even that anything is wrong in the first place! Most people now appreciate how ill Katy is; from day to day I'm not sure if I'm really doing so much better, but there are very few people who even begin to understand that. So although we weren't directly prayed with yesterday, for reasons we quite appreciated and understood, at least the leadership is now a lot more aware of what's going on, and I have confidence that the only way we can really move now is forwards.

I made it to Alpha. For about 30 seconds. Not good.

Hmm, I ended up watching Fahrenheit 9/11 instead, sitting on our Freeview box from the other evening. Perhaps not the most upbeat viewing for an evening like this one, but hey... A film that almost certainly does not tell the whole story (whichever way you look at it) but definitely offers lots of food for thought.

Phoned in sick this morning, unsurprisingly. My line manager didn't seem in the least bit surprised either, and seemed to quietly understand when I explained I'd taken a nose-dive again because nothing had really changed. We mustered the energy to drive out to Frensham Garden Centre for a cooked breakfast and a bit of a mooch around, but any plans we'd had of going for a more substantial walk to clear our heads soon became a little wishful. I think we need to get some milk sometime so we might venture out later (the doctor said that fresh air and exercise is good, before anyone starts "asking questions") but otherwise I think we just need to put our feet up and relax, for a couple of days probably.

Needless to say I didn't make it in to work today either. I don't think they were expecting me. I'm not sure what's more of the problem - my pre-existing illness or the stinking cold I've picked up somewhere. I expect the former made me more susceptible to the latter, if nothing else. Today we made it as far as Sainsburys and Starbucks, and that was more than enough. Thankfully before I went off work again one of my colleagues lent me the DVD of the first series of Spaced, which has been passing the time more than adequately in between Olympic events like the curling (which I'm currently watching on the internet, cheering on our men against the Finns) and snowboarding. Given the delights of my cold, my hopes of returning to work tomorrow are fading fast, and our vague plans to go away for the weekend have already had to be scrapped. I just really hope if nothing else that I can get a good night's sleep tonight, unlike the last few. Not that I haven't been stupidly tired, nor lying awake for hours, just unable to string together sleep in more than what seems like 30 minute episodes.

Didn't really happen, and any hopes I had of returning to work for a couple of days this week have faded. Half of me really doesn't want to go back anyway, because I know absolutely nothing will have changed in my absence, and it will just be a matter of time before that reality bites once again. But at the same time I feel such a fraud sitting here at home. Not that I am remotely fit to work at the moment, don't get me wrong, but I feel just so... useless. All I really want in the world at the moment is to be useful, to do something where I can be valued. I'm not after glory, just the basis of some simple self respect. We got out for a little while this afternoon, to have a coffee and a cake at Forest Lodge and to pick up some decongestant, and that was enough. I wish we were in a position to enjoy today's substantial snow-fall, but perhaps there will be time yet, with plenty of opportunity for more wintry weather to come.

It was a close-run thing... but I'm still off today. Actually, there was never much of a chance, but I'd like to think that if I wasn't so darned shattered from the last few days I might have struggled in, even if all I'd done was to give my germs to even more lucky recipients. I'd booked Monday off work anyway (when we were planning to go away) so a long weekend with nothing much planned should see the back of this bug altogether. I've emailed my line manager to give them a heads up on that and to ensure that I have some proper work to do upon my return - not that it did any good last time round it has to be said. But at least I've told them which can only add to my ammunition if and when the time comes to start having to get seriously heavy with them... I think my line manager understands and cares about my situation, but is ultimately powerless as another cog in the wheel of a corporation that has grown far too big to give much of a flying toss about the wellbeing of ordinary run of the mill staff.

Saturday evening and I'd say I'm getting noticeably better now. Coughed and spluttered my way through far too much of last night, but hopefully I should be over the worst of that now. Katy and I popped into Farnborough for a little while earlier to pick up a paper and a burger, and do some window shopping. Mmm, some nice affordable high-capacity mp3 players out there now - including one from Neo (whoever they are) that's surely the most blatant iPod Nano clone (OK, rip-off) yet, although the new Sandisk one with a radio and SD card slot looks more realistically appealing! Not today though. We've just been having a look at our flexible benefits packages for the 2006-7 year. Cunningly they seem to have arranged it so that the "windows of opportunity" over which each is available to be modified don't overlap, so it was really quite tricky to work out whose package was best value for what, but I think we got there in the end. All very tedious though, and although Katy certainly benefited overall when hers was introduced this time last year, mine doesn't really offer any greater value than what I had before, only some flexibility. Yes, the clue's in the name, I guess, but even that's a trade-off, because some things that I used to be able to change on demand mid-year, it sounds like I can't now unless a "life event" occurs. So frankly it all seems like a lot of hassle for minimal gain, given that I'm not opting for anything dramatically different to what I had before. I'm sure these schemes work well for many people, and I do gather that for every horror story there is a success story (and not just for the board members of the lucky companies administering them), but for me it's doubtful.

Is the web becoming more and more of a "write only" medium, I am led to ask - and realising full well that this diary is as symptomatic of that as anything.

Back in the olden days before the home internet access "explosion", having a web site was the privilege of the few. Only those in academia or with hundreds of pounds going spare had the facility to publish. Then of course, services like Geocities and Tripod came on to the scene and a whole new wave of mostly twaddle became available to browse at at least a penny a minute. Then internet providers slowly started offering increasing amounts of web space with their monthly subscription packages, and there was no stopping some people. But only some people, because there was still a level of technical skill required in getting a website up and running and your twaddle of choice out to the world. It was of course at about this point that this website really started getting off the ground. It had previously been a small corner of a commercial site, but flourished in its own right with the 5MB offered at the time by Demon Internet.

But now, with blogging and other content-managed sites becoming the norm rather than the exception, the technical skill element is less of an obstacle. Now before anyone thinks I'm going to get all elitist here, I'm not - and as loyal readers will know (all two or three of you, I realise) I despise elitism like that. But it does mean that everyone and his dog can now publish to the web, and boy, they do. The question is though, who is actually reading this stuff? Their stuff? My stuff? As I said, my writings here are as symptomatic of the issue here as anything. It just seems that being able to publish to the web so easily gives people a heightened but ultimately completely empty sense of self importance. Sure, a tiny percentage of what goes into people's blogs and other similar schemes is actually worth the world knowing about, that is to say that its publication actually substantially benefits someone other than the writer. But not much. Sure, carry on writing - I do, self evidently - but it really is rather sad that the world now seems to spend more time writing than reading. Forum postings clearly made without having read what others have already said, skipping to the bottom of Monochrome files (admittedly because they are full of twaddle added by people who did exactly the same), or whatever... I like to think that the web can encourage debate. Unfortunately for too many it's just a soapbox, for people to have their 15 minutes of perceived fame (well, at least to labour under the misapprehension that anyone really cares) and that's that.

But as I said, I'm as guilty of this as anyone, even if I'm not quite as prone to verbal diarrhoea on these pages as I used to be. I guess the difference (if there is one) is that I make no pretensions that anything I write is of any importance to anyone. It's just a way of letting off steam, rationalising my often rather tangled and confused thoughts. It wouldn't really bother me if I knew that no-one in the world read this, but perhaps someone somewhere does and derives pleasure, entertainment, insight or wisdom from doing so. That's all.

We've just got back from a nice day out at Portsmouth. After a pretty quiet weekend of not really doing a great deal other than convalescing, it was good to make the most of the extra day I'd booked off work before all this. So down to Pompey we went, grabbing breakfast at Bordon Tesco on the way as is our wont when heading south. Pretty cold and breezy on the coast needless to say, so in the end we didn't stray far from the Gunwharf Quay complex and the Spinnaker Tower, but we did see quite a bit of the naval dockyards, including HMS Victory - once we had realised the deception of the official signage, which led the gullible tourist to believe there was absolutely nothing to see without paying hard cash. The Spinnaker Tower was worth going up, if a little on the expensive side - we had seen it from Hayling Island on a past trip, and Katy's parents went up it the other day, so we were glad to get the chance to do so ourselves. We had salads for lunch at Nando's there, trying to save some appetite for whatever concoction is being prepared for our Alpha meal tonight. Yep, another week's gone by, and I really should do better than the last two this time. And of course back to work tomorrow unless things go badly wrong; I am assured (not for the first time) that my next task really will be ready to roll Wednesday, and I have some appraisal/career-development type stuff outstanding that it's already been suggested could be a good thing to spend tomorrow looking at. I'm probably in a better frame of mind for doing that than I have been for quite some time, given that up until now the only objective I could think of was "to get the hell out of here", measured in terms of whether I get another job or not. Yes, that's probably still my #1 aim, but perhaps I can expand on it a little in a way that might possibly be relevant if I stay here a little longer!

Survived Alpha through to the last five minutes this time. That's exactly the opposite to last time, so might be described as a modest improvement I guess. Wednesday's feedback meeting will be make-or-break time in many, many ways.

Sitting trying to invent some objectives that aren't "get the hell out of here" and really not doing very well. OK, I've managed more than just that one, but they are all quite blatantly leading in that direction. And to add to my joy of being here, needless to say, they've let me down again. I had been assured that the next work really would be ready to go on Wednesday (giving me a day to do this review-related stuff, nonsense that it is), but in the last half an hour we have gone from it actually being ready a day early to not actually going to be ready until Friday after all. I don't think I have to spell out quite what I think at this point, do I? My boss says he'll find me something else to do but even that "something else" isn't going to take much shape until Thursday, so I really can't say I have high hopes of continuing my recuperation. In some ways I wish that I really could point a finger at someone and identify them as the bane of my life that keeps plunging me into despair and illness, but on the whole the people here are just individually too damn nice. Not in the same way as at the OU, where colleagues were friends, but enough to make my unhappiness far too abstract to be able to tackle head on in the way I surely need to.

On a slightly lighter note, our CFO is leaving, to join eBay in the same role. What I want to know is did he have to bid for his job, did he clinch it in the last thirty seconds, and - most of all - is he going to be paid via PayPal?

Surviving today, just, but not having enough to do means too much time to think, which is surprisingly unhealthy at the moment. I realised it at Alpha last night and I think Janet understood when I asked if she needed any help in the kitchen... please... Sure, generally thinking is a good thing, and we are encouraged to think for ourselves - having free wills, rather than being mere automata, and all that yada. But all stopping to think even for a moment makes me do right now is to look destructively inwards, over-analyse situations, jump to conclusions and generally think ill of the motives of humanity at large, a humanity which is the only channel through which an aloof God currently makes himself known to me. Some of what I think in these idle extended moments might even sadly be true though, which merely adds to its self-destructiveness. Is it better to not think at all and be oblivious to destructive truth? I'm certainly feeling that way at the moment, but don't want to become yet another "sheep" who never questions a thing. I know far too many of them already, even amongst those I would consider to be intelligent people. Thinking for ourselves is good, we are encouraged, but obviously only if we think pre-approved thoughts.

Oh, in better news, I forgot to mention we finished all three of the "proper" crosswords in the Times this Saturday. That is to say, the main cryptic one, the jumbo cryptic one, and - shock horror - the Listener one, widely recognised as probably the toughest crossword in publication. OK, so the latter was a slight departure from the norm, actually being reasonably straightforward apart from the complication of all the answers being numbers, and based upon lovely things like Mersenne primes and Pythagorean triplets. I'm sure we used to get puzzles like that to waste time at school, but with rather more conventional arithmetic required. Anyway, we did it, and we'll send it off, just because.

Oh and we made pancakes tonight, and did surprisingly well considering that all the supermarkets in town were clean out of maple syrup when Katy went shopping.

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