David's diary: May 2006
Sitting waiting for the man (?) from Autoglass to come and fix my windscreen. Was supposed to have been a grotty day, but instead it's generally pretty good and we'd far rather have been out somewhere... Just a stone-chip picked up on Friday evening, but it was an impressive whack, nicely in the middle of the windscreen, and boy did I jump when it happened. I do hope it's repairable!
Seconds after I finished writing that, Katy called up the stairs to say that he'd arrived. Ten minutes later he was gone again. The repair is not quite as "invisible" as some suggest, but it's much better than it was, guaranteed for life basically, and (as expected) cost ourselves nothing. Making the most of the sunshine while it lasted, we then went for a bit of a walk, with an errand to run in town, and wanting to check out the newly opened Bengal Lounge Indian restaurant and to pop into our local bed shop. So in a couple of weeks' time we will be going out for a slightly upmarket curry to celebrate my birthday, and the day after we should be picking up a nice new headboard for our bed.
Ah, 'tis time for our annual business ethics certification. Of course, it's less than a year since I did so last, but that was because I was a new starter and had to do so as soon as possible. Now, generally speaking, it's quicker and easier to do things on-line, right? Not when it means having to trawl through and confirm no less than 32 pages on the (slow) intranet before getting to the point of being able to tick the relevant "I agree" box - and a further email has just arrived to say people are experiencing problems even once they've got that far! It's far easier just to print off the PDF version of the certificate and sign on the line, especially when someone else goes to the printer on your behalf! In other news, our company is apparently being targeted by a "phishing" attack, with emails purporting to be from our network security team requesting we confirm our login details. Generally such scams are easy to spot due to the appalling English used, but given our network team I'm not sure if there would necessarily be a great deal of difference. Anyway, even if I was stupid enough to hand over my password, it's unlikely to be valid for more than a nanosecond given how often we have to set new ones. I swear we must have shares in Post-it notes or something, because there must come a point at which having to remember so many frequently-changing passwords becomes a security risk in itself!
Bah, went shopping at Tesco at lunchtime and very nearly didn't manage to come back with anything much at all. No limes, but more to the point, almost no own brand soft drinks not containing evil artificial sweeteners. Eventually I found a "premium lemonade", but at twice the price of Tesco's ordinary lemonade that was quite a premium to pay not to have our brains rotted. It's fair enough that "diet" drinks are available, but why can't they at least allow those of us who prefer to consume a bit of sugar rather than the spoils of Donald Rumsfeld do so? I can't honestly believe artificial sweeteners are cheaper, so can only logically assume it's either our nanny state telling us what we should consume, yet again, or that food and drink manufacturers are getting backhanders. To make it worse, artificial sweeteners are creeping into products that never used to have them. For example the supermarkets used to sell a nice range of lightly flavoured waters, and only a few (branded as "no added sugar") contained the nasty alleged carcinogens. Now they all do, regardless. I fear the time will be coming soon when it is impossible to avoid this stuff, which we personally know people for whom it is not only undesirable but positively dangerous. Already we have to look very closely to spot tainted products, but will there even be a choice soon at this rate? I filled in a comment card, and have requested their response, but I'm pretty sure one pathological whinger can't make a difference.
By way of keeping readers up to date, my slightly cryptic message on Sunday was because Katy and I have decided to step back from our church for a while. Yes, that is a bit of a euphemism, and we will be looking around for alternatives, but we will keep an open mind as is our usual aim. I'm not going to go into the reasons in any detail here, but I may have alluded to some of the issues over the last few months; this was certainly not a snap decision, more of a logical conclusion. If anyone wants to know why, ask nicely and I'll probably tell you. Although it's a bit of a leap into the unknown, and we're going to have to be doubly careful to maintain meaningful relationships with others, it's something that had to be done and we're already feeling more at peace having done so.
Another pretty lousy day at work, and not sure how much longer I'll be able to tolerate it. Alas the bloke upon whose decision my future here currently hangs is off on leave at the moment, though we have provisionally booked a meeting in about a week's time when perhaps things might be decided one way or the other. However, a good bit of related news is that whoever it is at this end who makes such decisions has agreed that I can go once I have finished what I am doing at the moment, so although I still don't know whether I have an alternative role to go to, at least no-one here should be obstructive if and when I do. That was by no means certain due to bureaucratic concerns: the team I want to work for are in a completely different division of the company, despite being based only about a hundred yards away and in offices we use for our less sensitive work!
But last night was nice, with Jo and Ian visiting for the first time in quite a while. We saw them not so long ago, but that was rearranged at the last minute to be at their house, so it was good to entertain them as planned this time! So just a nice chilled evening of tea, coffee, chocolate, Jack Johnson and Massive Attack. For what more could we really have asked? It was also a good chance to brainstorm church stuff, with them being in a fairly similar position to us at the moment. As a result I think Katy and I might have concocted a cunning plan, but more news on that in a couple of weeks when we've had a chance to test it!
Ooh, exclamation marks! Is this significant?(!)
Since we are no longer allowed to have important meetings in the "rest room" - the kitchen to everyone else in the world - the favoured venue now appears to be anywhere where obstruction can be maximised, e.g. blocking the entrance to someone else's bay, or in the middle of a flight of stairs. I haven't observed the best we noted at the Open University though: meeting in the held-open lift doorway. But I'm sure it's only a matter of time, especially with one lift out of order, to make the very most of disruption and inconvenience to others.
It's been nice though for the first time in quite a while to be able to come in to work and actually do something worthwhile from the start. OK so that ability has petered out now, but for an hour it was good, and again I need assistance from people who are either not here or up to their eyeballs in other work. The problem that had been holding me up for several days turned out to be a simple, but still rather baffling, one. A certain required file was read-only, and that was an issue. Yet setting it to read-write caused different problems. So we deleted it altogether, and let the system recreate it on demand, and lo, it was recreated, read-only, and obviously more problems. We discovered that the file that was being copied to create it was itself read-only, which is fair enough since it is supposed to be a reference version - but once we set that version to be read-write as a workaround, it all sprang into life. According to the Windows API documentation, the "copy" operation being used should retain the read-only status, along with other regular file attributes. And therein lies the conundrum: our system is actually doing the copy exactly by the book and failing, but on other systems the copy is "malfunctioning" but working. We want to raise a defect, but can't decide which system is at fault: the "correct" one that doesn't work, or the "incorrect" one that does but shouldn't... Bah!
Anyway, my testing has ground to a halt again, with the nasty obsolete search technology we use rearing its ugly head again only a couple of days after I finally managed to get shot of the documentation I'd been guardian of for the last few months. At one point I was earmarked to become the new expert on it (in the absence of much else for me to do) but thankfully that never did come to pass, although there are times when a little more knowledge might help.
Warmest day of the year so far, and positively melting here. Trying to avoid too many trips upstairs to the rig because it's well over 30 up there now. Right next to an industrial air-conditioning unit we really wouldn't expect that, but on the other hand said unit is broken, which isn't such a surprise, is it? An email has just gone round asking someone to move their car, which is apparently blocking access to something to do with the air-con, so perhaps it is about to be fixed... Won't help down here, but visits upstairs might be a little more bearable at least! Making slow progress, but I know from bitter experience that where this prehistoric and unsupported search technology is involved, that's the best that can ever be hoped for. For now, more water...
Looking out of the window at our leafy quadrangle, there's a small splat of mud or perhaps bird poo on the window. However, closer inspection reveals that it's "alive" and slowly moving. Even closer inspection determines that it's a nest of tiny spiders. I'm not quite sure whether to be fascinated or disgusted, but it's certainly one of the more interesting things to have happened today.
It's Friday morning, and it's a Global Casual Dress Day - for once to celebrate a contract win with a company I've heard of, so I'll play along, especially with another scorcher forecast for today. So should be nice for my lunchtime stroll, though not sure whether I'll be able to get a paper or any sustenance for the afternoon since there was apparently a fire at Tesco yesterday, and I have no idea how extensive. The spider colony outside my window has developed a bit overnight, with a far clearer (but still quite wispy) web, and the little critters have spread out a bit from the tight nucleus they formed yesterday. Other than that, not a lot of news - and that was stretching it a bit really!
As the bloke on the radio commented this morning, isn't £200m being spent on a "digital TV awareness" campaign a bit of a waste of money? Ofcom believe that digital take-up is currently about 70%, with 7.5 million households still to take the leap to Freeview or other digital services. That means the campaign is shelling out almost thirty quid per household. Given that you can buy a basic Freeview box at Tesco for about twenty quid, wouldn't those millions be better spent simply equipping those who will probably still ignore their campaign?
Oh, and what's the betting it's our money they're spending in the first place?
Meanwhile, the baby spiders have regrouped. Obviously huddling together for warmth... Time for me to go for my walk and see what's left of the local Tesco.
Happily to say, Tesco showed no sign of yesterday's drama, and I was duly able to buy my newspaper - and some cookies to augment tonight's kievs and chips.
We decided we'd go into Guildford today. Almost a mistake but it was OK in the end even if we were pretty glad to escape when we did. They seem to be going to extreme lengths to make the park-and-ride schemes user-unfriendly. We used the one at the Spectrum Leisure Centre a few months back very successfully, but alas that one doesn't operate on Saturdays, so we traipsed all the way back to the other one (which we'd intended to go to in the first place but missed the turn off the A31) to find no sign of any buses and no indication of how the scheme even vaguely operated. Still, cheap enough parking and no shortage of it (unlike in the town centre) so up went our brolly and we put one foot in front of the other repeatedly until we got to the shops, by which time we were right ready for our lunch! Just a few bits and bobs bought in the end, and it was good to get out, though we really could do with a jolly good thunderstorm now!
No thunderstorms but some very heavy skies and a few spots of rain - but that did us just fine for today because this afternoon we had our first barbecue of the season, entertaining Cate, Simon, Becki and Mali. So lots of nice steaks, sausages and chicken for everyone, plenty of Belgian beer and Pimms for those not driving, and we managed to find the modern equivalent of Ice Magic to adorn our ice-cream. No church this morning for obvious reasons, though we hope to try out a different one in a week's time. Which reminds me, I offered in here to privately explain a little more to anyone asking, and someone did, so I must - even though they're not someone I know as such, but they did ask nicely...
I get the impression all the lousy weather that was forecast for yesterday (and that was "supposed" to have thwarted our barbecue plans) arrived in the first couple of hours of today instead. A few rumbles of thunder, incredibly dark skies, and drainpipes here at work plainly incapable of coping with the ensuing deluge - though I'm sure our maintenance people will insist they's supposed to spew water all over the place. Looking a bit brighter now, but it's still a bit doubtful whether I'll be getting out for my lunchtime walk and daily paper...
So, the first crop of annoying pink adverts in today's paper, featuring "Digit Al", and not really telling us anything to convince me their (or is it our?) £200m is well spent. Still, at least they succeed on annoying visibility - rather like Radion and Daz - I guess, so no-one can complain they weren't told, even if what they were told wasn't particularly helpful or enlightening.
So I obviously did get out at lunchtime, happily to say. And didn't get wet!
The excitement, I appreciate, is unbearable.
Actually, about as exciting as being here at all at the moment. I think I've basically come to an end of what I've been doing for the last few weeks. That's not to say it's now all working properly, but popular opinion seems to be that our role has primarily been to diagnose and determine what needs to be done, rather than necessarily to actually fix bugs. And, we believe, that diagnosis is now more or less complete. So really just waiting for word back on whether we just need to raise defects on the problems encountered, or anything more, but despite his micro-managing demands for daily updates I'm not that hopeful of actually getting any useful advice out of the bloke in charge of this. But that means I'm essentially back to being at a loose end again, and I've been officially told there is currently no work for me even if I were to stay here beyond the end of the week or whenever I am assigned to this work until, so I'd better pray for a quick decision on that other role I'm pretty hopeful about.
Nice evening out yesterday with Katy's mum and dad, the first time we'd seen them since they got back from their recent holiday to Spain, so lots for them to tell us about - over a pint or two at the Bat and Ball. It was Katy in the end who broached the potentially thorny subject of church, and although they perhaps didn't entirely agree with our analysis of the current situation, there was of course the understanding and support we never doubted we would get.
No news today really. My would-be new boss is back from a holiday in Rome today, and although one of the internal recruiter guys took it into his hands to try and speed things along in his absence, I really doubt anything has happened in the last week. We've provisionally agreed to meet tomorrow, when I think we would be far more likely to make progress. If there was a stumbling block now it would be with my Flash development ability. I have used it in the past but have never done anything very complex with it. I just hope they can see beyond any deficiency in that area, but the initial signs were encouraging.
Would it really have been too much to ask that one of the considerations for the implementation of a source control system might have been being able to actually compile the code therein? It's all very well having sophisticated versioning tools, pretty diagrams and so on, if you can't actually use it to deliver... Must be indicative of how rarely we actually do deliver anything, given that it's been like this for at least the seven months I've been here.
Phew, I finally managed to build something, yay me! And was able to advise people far mightier than me of resolutions to two long-standing issues - even if one of them wasn't known about prior to today such was its obscurity, despite being something that should have come up in every test phase to date!
Anyway, at least that's meant today wasn't remotely a complete waste of time, and didn't drag too excessively. Almost time to go home, but just got my apple to enjoy before I do so. Hey, I didn't even get to look at the crossword, let alone start reading The Return of the King. Genuinely feeling not too bad!
Play didn't manage to process our refund correctly. Their email sent when they did so was nice enough, but the amount of money credited to our bank balance wasn't. Needless to say, I've emailed them again, but they are rapidly sinking very low indeed in my esteem. Good company - except for customer service, duh!
Play are being utterly obtuse. Their reply to my email simply repeats that they do not refund return postage costs for unwanted goods. That would be fair enough, except that my email represented the fourth time I had explained in detail why it was their error that was the problem, not mine. So let's see if the fifth time fares any better. Yes, the time and effort wasted is way beyond the £1.36 at stake, but "box shifters" like Play can't be allowed to do this kind of thing and not take a shred of responsibility. Is it any wonder that so many people are still so wary of ordering off the internet, when they rightly suspect that returns procedures from even the reputable merchants are flawed.
I arrived at work this morning to find we'd had a catastrophic email failure since the small hours of the morning. Hearing that a Dell engineer had been called didn't entirely inspire confidence, but an hour after I got in, things seemed to be up and running again. All a little bit frustrating as I needed to arrange a meeting for later today, but thankfully that's all sorted now. So this afternoon I am once again meeting up with my possible new boss, now back from his holiday in Rome, and most apologetic that he hadn't got back to me already; over 250 emails to deal with had naturally distracted him a bit!
Otherwise I've mainly been spending this morning raising defects related to my recent investigations. In the end it all seemed pretty clear what to do. There are perhaps one or two where they might actually want us to fix code, but on the whole it seemed to be a matter of diagnosing the issues, then documenting what we need the infrastructure team to do to fix the reference and field kit.
Well I've just got back from meeting my would-be new boss, and there's mixed news. As seems to be traditional with this company, the work he was planning to bring me in for initially has been put on ice for a few months. Still, at least I knew in advance this time, unlike last October... There is lots of other work around, but not all of it is relevant to my skill set, so although the people I would have been working with clearly need something else to do now as well, it might not be anything I can particularly assist with. Anyway, there's a meeting tomorrow when they should be much clearer about what's happening, and they know I need a quick decision as to whether they want me now or a few months down the line (assuming they want me at all) so that I can if necessary push for more to do here so I can grit my teeth and keep my head down for a few months. They do seem keen on bringing me in when they can, and know this is my best opportunity at present, though, so I'm certainly not losing hope, even if my sanity might be stretched to the limit somewhat. So anyway, we've left it at that for now, and I can take comfort that I'm not the only one getting frustrated by this!
Finally, Play claim they have refunded my postage, though it's yet to appear on our on-line statement, unsurprisingly. Blimey. Needless to say, last time I looked their webpage was still lying, but at least we're not out of pocket now.
A predictably quiet morning so far, raising a couple more defects but really scratching around for anything much to do. I suspect this is going to be the pattern for the next few days at the very least, but I can just about cope.
Yesterday evening we started on the task of scanning old photographs. We've got hundreds of prints stashed away that will hardly see the light of day again, so now we've got a decent scanner again we thought we would start getting them into a slightly more accessible form. Thankfully, our task is made easier by Canon's software. I had wondered if there was third-party software that would allow us to scan multiple photos at once, and automatically separate them and correct their rotation. So we were delighted to find that Canon's own drivers will do this - though the GIMP couldn't cope with multiple images being generated, and although Photoshop worked better, the auto-rotation just wasn't working in TWAIN. Then guess what, I read the friendly manual, and found that the "noddy" software no-one ever runs from the Start menu would do exactly as required, and it really did. So Katy was able to merrily load up the scanner with three prints at once, and in no time her India trip was fully digitised! What we'll do with the scanned images, and with the prints themselves, remains to be seen, but there's a much better chance we'll look at them again now!
Must again be the hottest day so far this year, so perhaps not the best day to agree to help heave no less than five "slimline" UPSes (each weighing in excess of 50kg) that had been conveniently delivered to the wrong building. But hey, the exercise did me good, and I still got out for my lunchtime walk, even if I risked melting into a gloopy mess. Still, my mercy mission helped delay lunch, which might not sound good but is actually because it meant that by the time I was back from my walk and had a read of the newspaper and a look at the puzzle pages, there wasn't really so very much left of the afternoon to keep sane for.
Both the Times and Sun have had features on Audrey Tautou in the last couple of days, rising to perhaps her greatest fame yet in the Da Vinci Code twaddle. No prizes for guessing which paper had the most pictures of her with her kit off.
Well that was a bit of action, almost. A siren started wailing a few minutes ago, ten minutes too early for the scheduled fire alarm test (due any moment now, to compound our headaches) and the wrong sound anyway. And the reaction? Pretty much utter confusion, with no-one remotely sure what the alarm was nor the correct evacuation (or whatever) procedure. Eventually a security bloke came round assuring us it was just a tripped emergency exit alarm, nothing to worry about and dismissively suggesting we "let everyone know", so it's good to see that even those with overall responsibility know exactly what to do. Hmm, almost half an hour later, the fire alarm remains untested. Perhaps they think our ears really have had enough of a work-out already... They're not wrong.
Almost the weekend now though, and looking forward to it - even if with a certain amount of trepidation. We're meeting up for lunch with Rachel, Mark and Daniel tomorrow, and on Sunday we plan to give the Vineyard a visit. There aren't too many local church congregations we would seriously consider, but the Vineyard is one of them - especially since I used to belong to the Vineyard in Milton Keynes and although I had my issues with them it generally seemed to be a philosophy that worked. There are a couple of others we might give a go, but we hear that the Vineyard is attracting the kind of demographic profile we should be able to click with. That may sound rather self-centred and missing the point, but being able to "fit in" is vital for effective corporate worship.
Not really that much to do today, in fact even that's exaggerating slightly. But I gather I might have a bit more to do from Monday, since the other guy I'm working with on this current task is off the team after today. So although I've basically finished what we agreed I would work on, there could yet be more to come. Needless to say I'm not especially happy about having it all loaded on my inexperienced shoulders, but my colleague won't leave me totally high and dry, and the good news from today is that my escape route finally appears clear.
Yes, although an exact start date is yet to be confirmed, I have a new job - albeit within the same company, at least broadly speaking. The work initially involved was going to be postponed for several months, but I had a call today to say it's only going to be delayed for a month now, and I should be able to cope with that between whatever I pick up as explained above and anything else they manage to find me to do here in the meantime. I've no idea how much I'm allowed to say about the work, but it'll be helping develop computer-based training materials and my seven years with the Open University were pivotal. My job at the OU was a bit "one of a kind", so this is probably about as well as I could have hoped things would pan out, so I'm really pretty chuffed, and happy to let this company have another go at proving themselves to be good employers.
We seem to have solved the problem with our bird feeders. My mum gave "us" three feeders for Christmas: one for sunflower seeds, one for nuts and one with a slab of insect-fortified suet. The first two hardly got a look-in, whilst the starlings in particular loved the suet. But with the second slab of suet now all gone, the others are now going down - and there are far more finches, tits and other smaller birds visiting. We think the suet-loving starlings must have been scaring the smaller birds away, so that particular feeder will be moving slightly before we next fill it up. Of course, that poses the question of whether we continue to feed the birds at all now the weather is warmer. Expert opinion seems split on this. Some say that the nuts can be a choking hazard to baby birds at this time of year and that feeding birds other than in winter stops them from being self-sufficient at all. However, the RSPB recommend encouraging birds to the garden all year round so they know it's a good place to come when the colder weather returns, and insist that nuts from a wire mesh feeder are perfectly fine with baby birds because they can only be pecked at.
Lunch out yesterday worked out fine, and so did Vineyard this morning. That we would do the former again is a given, but that's also the case for the latter. Although our health may still not be perfect, things are surely looking up now.
Always nice to have a cheery welcome on a dark, damp Monday morning. I raised a load of defects last week in as much detail as I could provide. This morning there was a one-liner email relating to one of them simply saying: "A little explanation might help me understand what this means. Thanks." The defect in question explained what happens, why it happens, and conveniently pre-tested code to stop it happening. Clearly being able to read isn't a pre-requisite for working here. Besides, this is also the same jerk whose original defect that we are working on was perhaps the vaguest one-liner in the world ever, and who was never able to provide us with any more detail. Glad I'm out of here in a month.
"What Is 0EM Software And Why D0 You Care?"
Well, to start with, I d0n't actually care. If I d1d care I would be able to explain to you that it's not quite what you think it is, "Peter Cook".
Or you for that matter, "Cameron Edwards".
Hey, guess what my most exciting non-Katy email's been today?
When my colleague warned me this wretched debug build could take three hours, he wasn't kidding. I would be a little more content to just sit back and let it happen if I was remotely confident it would complete without errors - and if the extent of the changes wasn't just adding one diagnostic line rather than anything to fix it. Katy wondered if it was like playing Jenga, but although that's not a bad analogy, it works even better in reverse - i.e. trying to insert rather than remove the wooden blocks and hope the tower doesn't topple - though Katy doubts that will catch on as a game and I suspect she has a point.
At least I got out for a while at lunchtime, even if it's still very humid and the wind looking like it's maybe getting up for a proper storm now. If nothing else, that means I have a newspaper to keep me informed, amused and cerebrally exercised while I wait for the remainder of these mind-numbing three hours...
This is the worst part of the process of taking up this new job - the waiting, the not actually knowing, and the having been bitten before enough times that I really won't believe it until I have my new desk. I have the utmost confidence in the chap who's taking me on, but memories of the farce of last summer and autumn are far too vivid for me just to relax and let this bloated behemoth of a company do what needs to be needs to be done without any further hitches.
Why is nothing ever quite as simple as it should be? And why aren't I better at simply saying "no"? Latest is that some woman here wants to talk to me about a role, and it turns out it's almost certainly one of the ones I applied for ages ago but that they couldn't be bothered to get back to me about despite repeated enquiries, after which my manager decided they were a waste of time not worth pursuing further. All being well, in about a month's time I will be starting about as close to a dream job as this company can realistically muster, so what can this latest possibility really offer to tempt me away? Yes, I suppose this "dream job" may still be further delayed or fall through in which case I would need to think again, but if that did happen I doubt I would be in the mood for giving this company yet another chance after their abysmal performance so far.
And no, in case it wasn't obvious, I'm not in a particularly wonderful mood.
Right, I'm completely out of my depth, and my trying to explain that is falling on deaf ears because there's no-one else here conscientious enough to give a toss. There's more it would be quite legitimate for me to moan about, but I don't think it will help. Suffice to say I am unnecessarily alone here, have had enough with being quite intentionally dumped with work they know I'm not best placed to do, feel like killing someone just to release some aggression, and ought to go home before I do so to someone who doesn't really deserve it.
I'd love to be able to get enthusiastic about it being my birthday but I really can't. Could have been worse though: at least those emails awaiting my arrival this morning were calming rather than stressing, and not many people have yet partaken of the goodies Katy kindly bought for me to bring in so all the more for me if things get really desperate. But my boss put it very succinctly in asking what I was doing here at all today, and I have to confess that's a fair question - though I would take it as a broader rhetorical question probably...
So this week's home secretary John Reid has had to concede he has no idea how many illegal immigrants there are in the country. Whatever next? Will he be unable to provide detailed statistics on unreported crimes, and have to admit that the clear-up rate for such offences is zero percent? Sack him, I say.
Meanwhile in the news, a video recording of the 9/11 Pentagon attack has been released in an attempt to bury the conspiracy theories once and for all. We now have visual proof that the building was not hit by a cruise missile or drone plane as some allege, but in fact by a grey blur. That's that solved at last!
Well the Vineyard have shot themselves impressively in the foot at the first hurdle, to mix metaphors. When we've said we're trying to make a fresh start of things, it's really not helpful to go behind our backs and approach our old church leaders. Who knows what they've been told and with what degree of truth? I hope it doesn't mean the end before it's even begun, but this is not a good start at all and is rather reinforcing my impressions of "church" as a whole. It's quite right that a new church's leadership should be confident that there is no bitterness to add to any existing baggage, but the approach taken here is way out of order given the potential sensitivity of any newcomer's situation. Still, the damage has been done; let's see if they care enough to repair it?
So there are - according to the Times, anyway - serious plans to tow icebergs up the Thames to alleviate feared water shortages this summer. Um, what exactly is the abundant fluid that those icebergs are going to be floating in? Yes, I'm sure part of the attraction of icebergs is that the water contained is so pure, but surely a far more sustainable and eco-friendly solution would be better purification (and perhaps desalination) of more local existing water sources.
But if water shortages weren't enough, apparently gas shortages are feared for the winter. Apparently it's not the first time, but obviously it didn't matter enough to tell anyone before. Given the amount of gas smelt when walking along the average British suburban street, I'm sure there could be almost as much of a furore as there is about the water lost from mains. Though as with water, no amount of domestic conservation can avoid industry being the biggest waster.
Bit of a lousy day all told in the end, but nothing that a good curry out at our recently-opened Bengal Lounge couldn't make me forget about for a little while. Definitely one we will return to, and only fifteen minutes' walk away!
Hooray, tomorrow is another Casual Friday. I really don't know why they don't just declare all Fridays to be such and be done with it. Almost every Friday seems to be one, to celebrate some American contract win or other, but almost all the companies involved mean absolutely nothing to anyone here, so it's really hard to see what point is trying to be made. It's really terribly hard to get excited over our providing a data centre and helpdesk for some unknown customer half way round the world (which they will probably be suing us about in a couple of years' time when it's all gone pear-shaped) but I guess in a company this size you need to compensate for the fact that no-one's going to hear the sales teams' whoop-whoops, and they need to ego-massage somehow.
But, more to the point, I'm taking tomorrow afternoon off. Now there's a real reason to celebrate!
Helped move that quarter-ton of UPSes again this morning, and got out at lunch, so just about keeping my sanity amidst of nothing much else to do. Incredibly windy out, though - and my sunglasses were very useful not only in the bright sunshine when I left the office but also to protect them from high velocity bits off trees. Rained a little too, all in the space of about half an hour. When the most exciting thing I have to write about is the weather, well...
Just a couple of hours of boredom to go for today though. Having heard nothing back from my queries made a couple of days ago, I decided perhaps raising the issue as a formal defect might elicit more response, and my colleague (not now officially working on this, but helping when he can) sympathised. So it would be great to announce that now appropriate butts have been kicked, everything's in motion and this task can soon be closed off. But no; "See what happens," my colleague said - and what's happening as a result is absolutely sweet FA.
Lousy day yesterday, in case it wasn't quite obvious, but quite a nice evening. For the second Thursday running we agreed we would keep Katy's grandma company for a couple of hours, while she's down here again for a few weeks. Last week we entertained her with holiday photos and so on at Katy's parents' house, but this time she had apparently been told she was coming round to ours (as we had vaguely mooted) so who were we to argue? Anyway, that worked out well, having been to our new house just the once before and that such a long time ago that I barely remembered it myself - until Katy reminded me what we cooked that night; funny how food matters can dig into such recesses of the memory! Grandma was insistent that Katy and I should enter Mastermind, but I think we convinced her in the end that getting only half a dozen or so of all four contenders' general knowledge questions right between us mightn't put us in a very strong position!
Anyway, just a half day today, and about half way through that now. Not much to do, unsurprisingly, and no prospect even of shifting boxes today I don't think. So really just keeping myself out of mischief for a couple more hours, I guess.
Friday's half day was of course because we were going away for the weekend. Not that far, and indeed some may laugh that we chose Bracknell as our destination, but it was with good reason (a party on Saturday and a dedication on Sunday to go to) and we pulled out some of the stops and stayed at the Hilton. As you may remember, we went to the Hilton at Newbury recently and that worked out very well, and the one at Bracknell is supposedly a modest step up in quality. We used the same basic deal, which involved two nights' bed and breakfast plus an evening meal on the first night - which worked out fine given Saturday's party.
The bad news was that our room was not up to the expected standard, worse than the one at Newbury, and with an annoying hum from the air-conditioning system outside the window. The good news was that they were quite understanding about the noise and quickly moved us to what turned out to be a hugely better room, indeed one that had only recently been refurbished. So we were quite happy!
Arriving mid-afternoon on Friday left plenty of time to make use of the health club facilities before our evening meal. A basic carvery, not really worth the twenty quid they would want if we were paying for it, but not bad nevertheless and filled us up nicely. More swimming and steaming Saturday morning, but then (most amusingly, especially for everyone else) we managed to get caught up in an aquarobics class, in which needless to say I was the only bloke... Good fun nonetheless, though our legs are slightly killing us now. Just about avoiding the lousy weather, we got out for a short while Saturday afternoon, exploring the nearby forest park centre, and eyeing it up for a future visit perhaps.
Saturday evening's party was good fun, making Eurovision more than bearable - Nothing good food, drink and company (physical and "virtual") couldn't see to! Lordi were popular winners (looking forward to next year's Eurockvision, no doubt), though we really didn't have the energy to keep going much longer once the formalities had finished. It was still midnight by the time we turned in, with an early start Sunday morning... After our three-course breakfast it was just a short drive up the road to Reading for the dedication of Ruth, our friends Darren and Ceryn's youngest. A packed house at the church (and a good service, though not sure it would be to our liking every week) but Lois looked after us well, and the reception afterwards in Henley was just for family and close friends, so a much better opportunity to get to know people! By the time food had been eaten (well, at least some of it) and Ruth's presents opened, we were quite shattered so braved the atrocious weather and finally headed home.
So, tiring, but very good, and glad we decided to make a weekend away of it even though it was all happening in easy "commuting" distance. If nothing else, we would have missed out on the aquarobics! Shame we're back at work tomorrow.
But on the bright side, we came home to find faster broadband! The sync speed has doubled to 2Mbps, but we're actually getting about 1.4Mbps. I believe this may vary as BT determine the best balance between speed and reliability, but will hopefully settle down at something a bit faster than we are accustomed. Not that 1Mbps is particularly slow, but hey if we can go faster, let's do it!
I can still feel my legs. I guess that's better than not being able to!
Not complaining though, all good exercise... Nowhere near as painful as they were, though; at least I could get downstairs without hobbling this morning!
External email is broken this morning, but thankfully I can still reach the outside world via my own web-mail. Internal email doesn't bring the best of tidings though: a request for someone to have "the experience of a lifetime" (i.e. perhaps their last) in Iraq, with a medal on offer for staying alive for more than a month; and an announcement that our reasonably sane spreadsheet time recording system is being scrapped with immediate effect, so from now on we will need to enter our hours directly into the steaming crock that is SAP.
A month after I "complained" to South East Water about BMW Finance apparently flouting the hosepipe ban, they got back to me to explain that they weren't. According to their reply, this is because the current ban applies only to domestic customers, not businesses. This only confirms my previous suspicion that industry and businesses are the biggest wasters of water of all, when there is obviously no requirement for them to save it. If the water companies really want us to save water, how about implementing some effective measures?
Though receiving that message did mean that my external email is working again. No-one seems to have any idea what went wrong, and I certainly wasn't the only one affected, but it was nothing that a master password reset couldn't resolve. Further to my previous grumbling about excessive password requirements, that does of course mean I now have yet another new password to remember/forget. I was hoping perhaps that amongst my many messages there might be some news about a start date for my new role, but that alas was wishful thinking, as indeed was the hope that there might even be many messages at all... Hey ho, lunchtime.
Oh my, here we go again, maybe... Madonna's being criticised for use of a large cross during her "Confessions" tour. That's fair enough, and perhaps justified, but needless to say the usual suspects are getting on their usual high horses and demanding that she should stop and that Christians should "find their own means of expressing their disapproval". No doubt this will be doing the rounds of churches, whipped up into a misinformed and disproportionate frenzy, just like The Da Vinci Code, Jerry Springer, Harry Potter, Pokémon, etc etc before it. Why not use it instead (as some thankfully are with The Da Vinci Code, for example) as a springboard for intelligent discussion, rather than to reinforce the negative preconceptions that far too many people have about this faith?
The fat lady's had a tracheotomy, so there's not much chance of her singing for the foreseeable future. Once again my cynicism of anyone ever doing anything here has been proven entirely justified, with news that my transfer (which I today discovered was scheduled for 12th June, but hadn't been communicated to me) has been put off indefinitely. Possible dates for anything more to happen are now not until the autumn, really. It's not my would-be boss's fault; as he says, once I'm on board it would become his problem to find me work, but it's justifying bringing me on board in the first place when the project involved chops and changes every five minutes that's getting in the way. I was only keeping sane from day to day in the quiet if sceptical hope that maybe just once this company could actually deliver on their promises, so that I would be shot of this department in a couple of weeks' time. But for now that's dashed, and I really don't know how I am going to cope now. I've got some itty-bitty things I can get on with that might keep my head down, but they were assigned on the understanding I would be out of here imminently. This feels slightly reminiscent of when I was engaged many years ago, and primed to move away from Milton Keynes, so there was a mutual understanding that there wasn't much point assigning anything very substantial to me - and then that all fell flat, and I was left with the lousy work and no exit route. The difference here is that there isn't any non-lousy work, even if I did want to stay, which I don't.
Just because I was, ultimately, expecting something like this to come up, it doesn't stop me feeling somewhat dazed. I think I need to get out for a walk.
Just as well I've loaded up with paracetamol, given the hideous machine I've got to work with for the next however many weeks they spin it out for. It's about the only PC in the building with a CRT monitor, and running at a lovely migraine-inducing (and unchangeable) 60Hz by the looks of things. Add to that no front-panel USB ports and I'm going to be needing to get a lot of data on and off it, the fact that the bulky screen means there's almost no space for the keyboard, and that the mouse is something out of the stone age, and my joy is just about complete. Just two minutes in front of it has sent my head madly spinning, and that's before I've even started in earnest. Perhaps if this company shelled out a little bit less on compensating the government for the contracts it screws up, we might actually be able to afford systems satisfying even the most rudimentary health and safety regulations? It'll never happen.
Oh guess what, the PC's rear-panel USB ports don't work either. There are a few floppy disks left tantalisingly on top of the machine, but what's the point in them when my own machine doesn't actually have a floppy drive? I've warned my colleagues that I'm likely to flip any time now, and I believe it's starting - but hopefully getting it into words will defer the inevitable a little longer. I'm feeling about as bad as I did back in January when I was forced to go off sick with depression, and it's only going to get worse from here on, isn't it? They quietly paid me off that time, and they don't learn from their mistakes - but as I said, this is a company that believes in buying itself out of all kinds of crises rather than doing anything to address the underlying problems. My very soul is being sapped with every minute I remain here, and there really isn't very much left of it now. I don't know what they can really offer me at this meeting I have tomorrow to change my opinion of this rotten-to-the-core company, and as far as I am concerned the final straw has already broken this camel's back. But I'll go through the motions, because that's what I'm good at.
I've decided to go and work for the Inland Revenue, where my expertise at trying to extract blood from stones will no doubt be appreciated. I have been advised of a solution for getting data on and off the machine I need to work on (but obviously avoid physically working on as much as possible for reasons already stated), but it's over-convoluted and inadequate. It's all very well telling me I can recombobulate the sprocket with the grommet, realign the flux capacitors, go straight ahead through the chompers, and finally get the data off with FTP, but it's not that helpful not to let me know the FTP address (and presumably the username and password) and to go ominously quiet when I request it... For over seven months now, all I have been trying to do is keep my head down and earn an honest crust here, and all anyone else has been doing (mainly through ignorance or lack of clout) is to get in the way of that, every day. If I was more of a cynic (!) I would suggest they were actually trying to drive me out of here (whether in my own car, a police Transit or the loony-van), but I'm pretty sure it's 90% merely incompetence and apathy from those long brainwashed into taking their monthly pay-cheque as compensation rather than salary. Hmm, yes, I would have previously said 99%, but there definitely are people here who have decided to be actively obnoxious, and some of them I need assistance from.
I've been independently advised of a partial solution for getting data on and off. Not complete, but it's at least enough that I can work mainly from my own desk. But not completely so, and the machine is of course tied up now. Oh well, browsing through Jobsite instead since there is nothing better for me to do. I did of course check our own internal vacancies list first, but given that it's not been added to in the last month there wasn't really a whole lot of point.
Nothing is coming up on Jobsite within even my vague skill area, but (as I have noted before) I am increasingly realising I'm probably going to have to do some "thinking outside the box". Eleven years after graduating I really should be a pretty senior developer, project manager or whatever, but instead thanks to the atrophy that's afflicted me ever since one way or another, I'm no better than a raw graduate and probably worse in many ways. So my latest search on Jobsite is for "GU9" and that's it. 536 results to browse - and hopefully open my eyes.
Well Jobsite wouldn't even let me view vacancies 501-536, but given the rest of the field I doubt I was missing that much. I wonder if there are any job sites (generically speaking) that don't lean so heavily towards IT and sales? IT, I basically have no future in at least as an employee, and as for sales... well, it's only a step up from recruitment on my scale of desirability. But I guess those are two of the areas with most money to throw around on web advertising, and know they are hitting exactly the right kind of market by using such sites.
Needless to say, rather than having my eyes open, my heart is sunk further.
Well I went to this interview thing and managed to bite my tongue with regard to how much they messed me around earlier in the year with their silence and dithering. After all, it probably wasn't the people I was talking to today who were responsible for that, but I did allude to the fact that I have been let down in that kind of regard several times in the months I've been here. As for the role, well it sounds quite good for me, but from the amount of things they asked me that went over my head, I'm not remotely sure I'd be good for them. I would be helping develop an airspace management system, and it seems that the team involved (thankfully) has a much better handle on rigour, documentation etc than this one. A key personal objective when I joined last year was to make up for many years' lost time with that sort of thing, and that's not happened so I'm frankly left feeling a bit stupid. I dare say they might offer me the role pretty much because they've been told to, in the absence of anything else for me to do, but I'm not at all sure it would be a particularly good idea for them. One thing I'm not coping with at all well at the moment is having too much to take in at any one time, which would be the case with what I would need to learn in terms of formalised processes and so on. It really doesn't take a lot to send my head spinning and make me feel quite ill and want to shut off from the rest of the humanity. I wish I knew what the answer was, but I'm pretty sure it's not something I'm going to find here or anywhere similar.
I'm just so glad and thankful I have a lovely wife who cares for me regardless and who does really sweet things like unexpectedly phoning me up while parked outside the office waiting to take me out for lunch as a surprise "change of plan". Made an otherwise pretty lousy day bearable enough to see me through!
My head's spinning with the latest work I've been tasked with here, pending anything more exciting materialising elsewhere. I agreed I would tart up a web page, but that was before seeing what a complete dog's dinner it is. They are quite right that it needs some attention, given that it is apparently the first port of call for most of the users of the system, but the trouble is that it needs to be euthanased, not "tweaked". It's clearly been designed by a web monkey who once saw a portal website and who thinks bright green is cool. They would have done better to employ someone flogging dodgy pills on Geocities. If that was all I had to do, it would be bad enough, but the project manager (?) involved has decided to chuck everything that has anything to do with the page at me, some of which goes a long way further than fixing hideous GUI design. I wouldn't mind if we'd agreed that before we started - but we didn't, so I do.
Still, just six hours away from the long weekend, and although we've not yet quite finalised what we're doing, it will be much needed and should be good.
Amidst all the doom, gloom and general uncertainty of the moment, I was amused to find a rather intriguing special offer in Tesco:
"20% OFF HEALTHY LIVING FRESH FISH"
I may have been mistaken (they may have been sleeping), but everything on the counter looked pretty convincingly dead to me. I don't think the local garden centres and aquarium centres have got too much to worry about yet.
Also, I note in today's paper that The Da Vinci Code movie is coming with the advisory notice that it "contains flagellation and other moderate violence". Is this going to be the trend now, for example "contains Jane Doe's gorgeous naked flesh and other moderate sexual content" or spelling out exactly what Gordon Ramsay says on his DVDs - plus other moderate strong language, of course?
Sometimes it seems like I've been here ages, other times like the time's flown past. I have some distant memory of finding on several occasions that work I had been assigned to do was actually being done by someone else and that no-one had bothered to tell me. At least this time they've warned me before I've gone too far down the line, but it makes a mockery of my project manager's concerns about the time he's got me for if he cheerfully lets me waste chunks of that precious and expensive time on things already in hand elsewhere. I'm not sure if I should be comforted by the familiarity of the fools repeatedly returning to their folly, or despairing of the fact that nothing ever changes round here.
Long weekend, yay!
Need I say more?
The weekend's taking shape, which is just as well given that we're already a third of the way into it... Today's been a restful day, whereas tomorrow and Monday probably won't be, so good to make the most of that. We went into town this morning and ordered some long-awaited new bedroom furniture, and also had a tentative look at bikes (as Darren, Ceryn and co will no doubt be pleased to hear) as well as picked up a few bits and pieces for the rest of the weekend. Other than that, a bit of a leg-stretch round the block and that's about it!
Well we went to the Vineyard again this morning, perhaps a bit more of a normal meeting than a fortnight ago but then again perhaps not since it was half term and (although not visible to the eye!) a bit low on numbers so it was a family service. We've cleared up our misunderstanding with the leaders from the time before, and we've found a house group we can give a go in a couple of weeks, so all in all we're pretty confident we've found a place we can give a fair go.
Meanwhile, just waiting for our visitors for the rest of the weekend to arrive, currently stuck in yucky traffic in Guildford after an equally yucky rest of the journey from Milton Keynes. After a slow crawl all the way down the M1 and M25, police took them off the A3 thanks to an accident, so I hope they will be able to pick up our directions once they're back on the A31... I think after a much needed sit down, everyone will have earned the lunch out we've planned!
About half an hour after that, Sarah, Laura and Rachael finally arrived, with what should have been well under a two-hour journey taking them three and a half, but the car didn't break down and the girls didn't fight so it was deemed a success. Not so successful though was our attempt to eat at the Miller's Kitchen, with their eponymous all-day kitchen refusing to take any more orders just after we got there and being utterly vague as to when they would start again. Eventually we'd been there three quarters of an hour, and were already running a couple of hours late for lunch after our friends' journey, so decided we'd up and go somewhere else, thankfully finding the Balti Hut open for their Sunday buffet and more than happy to serve us. We went for a "sightseeing tour" of (mainly closed) Farnham then back to ours for games, crosswords and supper.
I think more than anything Sarah just appreciated the opportunity to get away for a couple of days and to have someone to share keeping the girls amused. So we didn't really do at all much in the end today, after a leisurely breakfast going up to the Badshot Lea garden centre to look at the fish and animals, then back here to cook up nice roast chicken, bacon and vegetables. Laura was quite happy chatting on MSN a lot of the time she was here, delighted to find her laptop worked on our wireless network - and we were quite happy with that since she could still be sociable with the rest of us whilst doing so! More chilling out for the rest of the day really, though I took Rachael out for a short (but quite brisk!) walk this afternoon when she was fairly obviously getting a bit bored and restless. While we were out Katy rustled up some tea with the bread, crumpets and cakes we had left from supper and breakfast, and we waved them all on their way home - hoping beyond hope they don't have any kind of repeat of their journey down no matter how "successful" it may have been considered!
Anyway, it was good to see them all (well, those who came down anyway, and the rest we shall catch up with in due course no doubt!) for the first time in over a year. In some ways, lots of changes; in other ways, perhaps not... Tired now though, unsurprisingly, and I think I'll take the next slot in the bathroom!
So, back to work, not very joyously. At least I've remembered it's Tuesday this time, before I embarrass myself by trying to phone Katy at work like I did a few weeks ago! And at least that does mean it's a four-day week, even if that does mean that thanks to no-one having taken bank holidays and things into account that normally means having to cram five days' work into those four...
Not that I have a huge amount to do at the moment. Well I have stuff to keep me busy and it's reasonably urgent, but I have so little clue about anything I'm doing at the moment that the pattern is generally a repeating one of an hour investigating, an hour trying to work it out for myself, half an hour trying to explain it in an email to someone who might have a clue, then several hours (or days, sometimes, if at all) waiting for them to be bothered to get back to me. Not the most efficient arrangement, but it's obviously too advanced to ask for the right people to have been assigned the work in the first place. But, give them their dues, considering that I have never actually had a job here as such they've done passably well at keeping me shovelling snow for at least half the time I've been here, and if they hadn't I really don't know what I'd have done.
The latest investigate/guess/seek-further-advice cycle was a bit quicker than expected, but didn't turn up anything better than an inaccurate guess from who I was advised was the expert. Then someone else wanted to use the machine, so it seemed a good time to go for my lunchtime walk and see if an angel appears with a miraculous word as to how the heck a web page can call one script but an entirely different one gets run first without any explicit (or known implicit) reference - and an even more miraculous word as to how the heck I might fix it. On the other hand, more likely a chance to buy a paper to bury my head in for the afternoon, in the likely absence of any sand for me to do the same with.
No news back from Thursday afternoon's interview, but given that they took two or three months to formally ignore my original application, I guess I'm being far too impatient. I feel a bit more positive about it than I did immediately afterwards, and although it may not be quite as close to my "dream job" as the one that's been put on hold, it's perhaps a more realistic opportunity, better matching my existing skills (though I still doubt whether quite adequately) and with more interesting medium- and long-term prospects. If the job that's on hold was suddenly opened again today I probably would still go for it, just to get out of the hell-hole of defence work, but it's not 100% clear cut now.
Today's been perhaps my best day in the seven months I've been in this job. Not perfect - but hey, that would leave no room for improvement! And because I did a couple of extra hours research at home last night, I knocked off early this evening and plan to do the same tomorrow and Friday. Just worried that I might be proving myself too indispensable at the moment, so might need to slow down if I'm going to be able to leave uncontested when the opportunity arises! Just a little frustrating that it's only once I've made it pretty clear they've got to the end of the road with me that they actually find me half way decent work to do... Today was certainly good, but nowhere near enough to change my mind.
And because I was home nice and early, we decided we'd go for a healthy walk at Frensham before tea. Nice to be able to do things like that from time to time!