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David's diary: November 2006

It was Katy's day off yesterday and we got our weekly-ish swim in, managing more lengths than ever before. We didn't go last week because of it being half term, with the pool likely to be swarming with kiddies. We really enjoy going when it's so quiet, with sometimes no-one else to be seen! Still ultimately a rather unimpressive number of lengths compared with those who think nothing of swimming a couple of kilometres even before breakfast, but it's an achievement for us - and especially me, Katy being the significantly stronger swimmer. Even when I was at school, I was told my backstroke was my strongest, and I find it by far the easiest too. I think my biggest problem is still putting my head in the water. I have no problem swimming underwater, indeed I quite enjoy it and am reasonably efficient, but it's the transition with breast stroke or front crawl that gets me, let alone timing my arms and breathing to coordinate...

We got a reply back from PlusNet about the referral hijack problem, but I'm not confident they'll do anything about it. In his email, the bod said he could see where I was coming from, but that he thought it perfectly right that it should be the first ever referrer that gets the credit. Hmm. That might be justifiable if you had to follow a banner link to log that referrer, but as far as we can tell (and according to the chap we spoke to the other day) you only need to visit a site with the banner on. It would be a little like walking past a BMW dealer one day, then years later ordering a shiny new Merc but being delivered a BMW instead. My cynical side suspects that the rogue referrer is part of the ISP, so they keep the misdirected referral credits for themselves - and helped set up the required referrer cookie so aggressively... Let's hope not, though!

Overall though, we're pleased with PlusNet, and we wouldn't have recommended them to Katy's parents if we weren't - commission to be had or not. Of course the forums are full of people whining about slow speeds as they share pirated videos etc, but the company unashamedly markets itself towards average users, and we've very rarely had any issues with emailing, browsing, streaming video and even quite hefty legitimate downloads. This is surely reflected in PlusNet recently topping a major national customer satisfaction survey. Of course there are occasional glitches, like any ISP, but they are proving to be a lot more diligent and efficient in resolving them than many. If they have a problem it is with their PR; their technology works well, but their human side falters all too often, not communicating things properly and sometimes appearing to have the wrong priorities. But the data keeps on coming, so it's still worth it!

A nice - if slightly exhausting - weekend just finished, having Meryl round for tea and silly games on Friday, breakfasting round with Simon, Becki and friends on Saturday, and of course celebrating Katy's birthday yesterday with a healthy walk by the sea followed by sweet-and-sour pork round with Katy's parents.

By way of getting out and doing something a little different yesterday, we decided we'd go for a gentle stroll round Thorney Island, having discovered it wasn't quite as out-of-bounds as we had previous understood. We still had to provide everything short of full biometrics and a body-search on entering via the public footpath, so goodness knows what still happens there. Wikipedia describes the island as a Royal Artillery base, but we saw more paragliders than anything else - and a rather nice private RAF sailing club. That was quite a bit more interesting and scenic a walk than we had expected, but since there were no short cuts to be had (and we had to risk life and limb at one point where the path was closed off with no diversion advice) it was a long one!

Got to go out to the doctor's in a minute though, for a reasonably routine blood pressure check. I've been monitoring it myself and it's above average but not as high as it has been in the past, but it's fair enough that they check for themselves once in a while since it is a known potential issue. Just hoping (probably in vain) that the postman will come before I go out, since there are a couple of things I'm waiting for from eBay - an import CD that even HMV were finding impossible to source, and some extra ADSL microfilters, since Katy's parents are going to be a phone down as from tomorrow afternoon otherwise!

My blood pressure was a bit high, but I know I am a little prone to "white coat hypertension", so since the nurse wanted me to come back a couple more times anyway, she's suggested I record my own readings over the week and bring in our monitor next time so that we can check its accuracy against the surgery's.

The microfilters and another birthday present for Katy arrived while I was out, both of which are a bit of a relief. Not that the filters were terribly late or anything, but it'll be good to get Katy's parents on-line properly in one go, and we've had past experience of presents going walkies in the post so I have already reassured my mum that there have been no such problems this time round!

Well it's Tuesday morning, just about, and it's time for my new site to go live. Hope it works!

Well everything seems to be working just fine, so I have bravely converted my other site to work with the system too. Set-up of new sites is not 100% browser-based, unfortunately, but this is still going to be a massive time-saver, such that I will actually want to keep my sites up to date rather than it being a terrible chore.

Actually, Katy did find a few quirks when she tried it out over lunchtime, but by the nature of them I am pretty sure they were more due to her company's locked-down browser configuration. However, if anyone else finds (for example) that they can't scroll right to the bottom of a page or experience major caching issues, please do let me know so I can investigate some more!

Anyway, that's more than enough tech-talk for the day if not the week. We've had a nice (if chilly) wander down into town this afternoon to pay in a birthday cheque and to get a few food bits in. We're round at Katy's parents later this evening to install their shiny new broadband - actually activated yesterday afternoon in the end, a day ahead of schedule - but I'd better stop talking about that before I get all technical again! Perhaps I can divert my thoughts to the nice garlic chicken curry we're going to be rustling up in a wee while...

Curry was yummy, as expected, even if a little on the hot side. Must have been the whole chilli I put in!

Any hope of not having too technical an evening went out of the window though, with problems setting up Katy's parents' broadband needless to say. The hardware went in fine, and the DSL light came on fine, but we could only authenticate about one time in five - but got a lovely fast connection when we could... Trying the BT test user logins, it all worked fine every time, so the problem is almost certainly not at our end. Anyway, we've raised a helpdesk ticket with PlusNet and there's not a lot more we can do about it now - and Katy's parents can log in with a little perseverance - so we're back home now.

Right, I'm fed up with living more of my life on web forums than in the real world - or at least than in bed, where I certainly should be by now with a busy day coming up tomorrow.

Time to rectify that, methinks! Goodnight, everyone.

Well Katy's parents' broadband seemed much happier today, after unspecified remedial action by PlusNet. Obviously the proof of the pudding will be how their authentication copes with the peak evening demand, so we'll be keeping a very close eye on it for the next few days! At least now we're happy it's basically working we could sort out a few other bits both related and not: getting the broadband to automatically connect so that it's effectively "always on" as Katy's mum is more familiar with at the office, and installing OpenOffice so that they can read the spreadsheets people insist on sending them!

We had our swim as usual, though we decided we'd go a bit earlier today and the pool was even quieter, so we might well make a habit of that. Twenty six lengths each today, so steadily improving, even if my technique is still about as bad as it's ever been. Hmm, quantity not quality... I tried doing some four-stroke breathing and ended up inhaling half the pool, but it's something I really should persevere with because it was much more efficient while it lasted!

Our copy of the new-ish Plumb CD Chaotic Resolve finally arrived today. I say "finally" not because the people who sold it to us were particularly slow shipping it but just because of the rigmarole of finding someone who could in the first place... After our recent bad experience with CD-WOW we were reluctant to give them another go, especially when they confirmed the order would be fulfilled by the same useless division that spectacularly failed to get us Delerium's latest. HMV managed to get the Delerium CD to us overnight but stalled on this one, so we eventually successfully ordered from eBay - who proved to be the cheapest of the lot too!

That was fun, or not, depending on one's definition of "fun". It turns out that there really was a problem with Internet Explorer 6 and this website - not that I doubted Katy for a moment, but I wasn't convinced it wasn't just a quirk with the way their computer network was set up. Anyway, I was thankfully able to roll back to IE6 here and reproduce the exact issue, namely that as I said before, it was impossible to scroll right to the bottom of any page. Eventually I came up with the right things to search for on the web, and found some discussion of a very similar sounding issue on A List Apart, but the solution plainly didn't work and indeed generated even more errors. But I dug deeper, and, happily, one little line of CSS ("height: 100%" applied to the main content, for the benefit of anyone else struggling) seems to have fixed it - and without breaking anything else into the bargain. Isn't it so often the way that the strangest issues have the simplest solutions?!

So Fast24, our first unmetered internet provider (which I used for some time before we got married and we both used for a good while after, until we got broadband) has finally shut up shop for good - or, rather, vanished off the face of the earth by the looks of it. They had a few issues while we were customers, with suppliers being changed very suddenly on a few occasions and the odd spell of temporary disappearance, but this time it's terminal, alas... RIP.

Friday morning, and leading into a reasonably busy weekend I've got a lovely little cold. I don't think it's getting any worse, so hopefully if I keep myself in the warm for at least most of the day and generally take it easy, I might just about have shaken it off by the time it matters. Of course it would be great if I could still be sleeping it off, but despite a night that seemed to be made up of the shortest snatches of dreams and no real deep sleep, I don't think there's any more sleeping in me so I might as well surface and face the (indoor) world.

Feeling much better today thankfully, as indeed I did by yesterday evening when we went round to see Cate for a drink and a natter. Plans to walk round seemed a bit ambitious though, and in any case it was raining by the time we drove home so perhaps it was just as well. We walked into town today though, to pay in a cheque and buy me some new slippers that won't leave a trail of fragments of sole all round the house hopefully! I was attacked leaving Sainsbury's, not by a human being but by part of their dodgy security shutter mechanism which spontaneously decided to collapse on me. Just a little bruise on my hip to show for it, but given that if I'd been a small child I'd probably be in casualty or worse, I hope they'll deal with it properly before it happens again.

Quite a good Sunday I guess, though rather tired after a bit of a sleepless night, so we (unusually) turned down a lunch invite. But we drove into Aldershot anyway and had lunch at our current favourite Italian café before doing a bit of shopping - some new shoes for Katy and a new wok and ice cream scoop for both of us. Our old ice cream scoop sadly scooped its last yesterday evening when we had Simon and Becki round for dinner, an incident which thankfully did nothing to sour the evening. Tea tonight involved neither stir-fry nor ice cream, but that's something that we intend to rectify tomorrow.

Anyway, talking of tomorrow, it's getting more than a little late now, I need to be up and about in fair time in the morning, and I think I'm probably already running on vapour... G'night!

So-so week so far...

I went back to see the nurse yesterday and my blood pressure was still high but looking a little better. At least she was able to confirm that my monitor is over-reading if anything, so the figures I presented to her from the last week weren't a huge cause for concern. We're going to keep track of it for a little longer and I'll be back next week for another clinical reading, before the doctor decides what if anything needs to be done about it. Wisdom seems to have changed since I last spoke to anyone much about this, which has relieved me a little. High blood pressure does run in the family a bit, and I had been led to believe by my last doctor that a lifetime of medication was the only way ahead, and thankfully that now seems not to be the case unless it really is consistently astronomical, which it plainly isn't.

Currently waiting for someone from Argos/Homebase to deliver a new arm for our garden bench, since that proved not to be so great, with a split from end to end. All a bit confused though because late yesterday evening a chap called to collect the entire bench, and was somewhat surprised when we explained we had come to a much less labour-intensive arrangement. "That would be a first, " he told us. Remains to be seen whether this will all be resolved, and I was a little worried when I got a phone call from them earlier, expecting it to be grumbling that we weren't playing along properly, but it was just finally acknowledging our initial email (with the offending flaw in glorious digital colour) and confirming that we should be expecting the replacement at some time today, with two hours now left in their time slot.

Otherwise, been getting a little frustrated with email. After several years now of near flawless operation, Thunderbird has decided in version 1.5.0.8 that it's going to start losing email. I looked into the matter, and was reassured to read that the problem only seems to afflict email sent by certain bulk mailing systems, which generally means only spam would be at risk. But I now have reason to believe that some legitimate email has gone walkies too (including some relating to a job application, frustratingly) so I've rolled back to 1.5.0.7 and had to apologetically email a few select people who I fear I might have lost email from. Trouble is, I can't remember exactly when Thunderbird "upgraded" itself, nor can I be certain that it was fine before - but I'm seriously hoping so...

More changes on the website front. The observant may have noticed that a few articles have gained something of a novelty for this site: pictures! There were a few scattered around before, but expect to see quite a few more now, and maybe even some in this diary. It's all thanks to the combination of the WYSIWYG editor that I have integrated for editing articles on this site, and a modified version of some code I recently wrote for handling uploaded images. But even more is in store, with a photo gallery facility now in a late stage of development, so do keep your eyes peeled! It might even go live later today - providing I can find some suitable images to plug into it, needless to say!

The gallery code is more or less there now. I just need to add support for captions and protecting selected images from unrestricted public gaze and it'll be there and I'll start loading it up with several years' worth of holiday snaps and so on. When that will be I'm not sure, because tomorrow is Katy's day off and we both try to spend as much of the day as possible engaging in more recreational pursuits. Soon though!

The Argos man arrived a little while after I wrote the above entry. Needless to say, that we were going to swap the bench arms on the spot was news to him, and he still had something like seventy deliveries to do so we quite understood that he really wasn't going to risk waiting around. But being a decent sort of chap he's left us the full replacement overnight and will return tomorrow. Annoying that communications between the company and its agents are so rubbish but at least he wasn't a complete jobsworth. Pity these poor people, in fact, if they've got that many deliveries to do in the twilight even before the Christmas rush...

I'm now somewhat sceptical that I lost any significant email after all. All the test messages I and anyone else sent have got through fine, and the only evidence I have is from a recruiter, and... well... enough said, methinks. Far to much experience of them promising and never delivering to really take her on her word that she sent what she said she had. But I also had a blunt reminder that the first rule of email problems is that they never happen one at a time, in an orderly queue. That's right, I thought Katy's test messages had fallen into this alleged black hole, but no, it was this morning her company's email system chose to go belly up - ironically thanks to yet more pesky spam.

Shock, horror, we didn't go swimming today. Neither of us really felt like it, and we've probably got a busy evening coming up, so perhaps it was as well to conserve our energies. Instead we went for a stroll up near Farnborough, parking where we sometimes do for the air-show but walking the other way. All MOD land up there but public access and reasonably varied and scenic, with secluded reservoirs and pretty woodland.

The Argos man came back as promised and the swap-out on the arm of our bench is now hopefully complete. So that means that what he took away this afternoon was exactly what he delivered yesterday, just with the dud arm swapped. All rather a palaver for a bit of wood, but it should all be over now...

Well Sainsbury's have done the decent thing after that little accident the other day, sending me a nice letter and £50 in gift vouchers as a goodwill gesture. I'm not entirely convinced they have committed to improving the inherent safety of the mechanism in question, but it looks like they'll be checking it more diligently from now on, and their financial offering indicates that they have taken this seriously. Needless to say, I wasn't after compensation, only action, so the vouchers will go to someone who needs them more than we do.

Half-day at work for Katy today, so when she got home we drove into Farnborough for lunch at Pizza Hut and to do a bit of shopping ahead of the weekend. We had been planning on maybe walking into Farnham but it was pretty damp, and indeed it rained almost as hard as we can remember for much of the (consequently very slow) journey home, so perhaps it was as well we moderated our plans somewhat!

Plugged away some more at the website gallery code this morning and for the last little while this afternoon, dealing with access permissions and captions, and it all seems to be working reasonably well. I realised while we were out that the model I was using was all very well for protecting a small handful of photographs but not so easy to set up if I wanted a whole gallery or sets of galleries to be protected by the same policy, so that was what I've been sorting out this afternoon. I just need to apply similar logic to other elements of the system, i.e. pages and articles, and that should be that for now as far as security is concerned - and the hard work should now have been done in any case.

Anyway, it must be getting near tea-time, and we have crumpets...

Still very much alive, fear not, a fact which was confirmed at the doctor's this morning with my third and final (for now) "official" blood pressure reading. This one was my best yet, and the readings I have been taking myself over the last few weeks have shown a similar general improvement. Still a touch on the high side, but nothing to get too concerned about at the moment - just something to keep an eye on.

I've mainly not been writing much in here simply because I've been so busy with other things, particularly web stuff. Sadly not too much of it offering any financial recompense, but a lot of investment in time for the future perhaps. My first take on the gallery code is now complete I think, but the second phase will be to enhance it so that my web system as a whole could be applied to automate sites I currently maintain manually.

This morning I've been doing a bit of tidying in our office. Actually, as tidying I ever do goes, it was pretty brutal, and I filled a black sack with stuff that really is worthless and unlikely ever to be used (or even thought about) again. Anyway, at least I can now see the desk here again, and once we've weeded through a few of the old electronics books and videos on our shelves here, we'll have plenty more storage space into the bargain - hopefully not for yet more junk though...

It's great to see "democracy" in action, with Tony Blair's new petitions website... Yes, OK, I have added my name to a couple of the petitions therein, but I'm really not at all sure the prime minister is aware of quite what he's started. Nor am I sure quite how democratic it really is, rather more a case of "he who shouts loudest", with the vociferous pro-hunting lobby having racked up over three times as many signatories as those opposed to compulsory ID cards. But like many things of this nature, it will probably have had its day soon enough; after all, most of the nearly 500 active petitions were created in the first couple of days. Mind you, it would indeed be wonderful to witness Blair standing on his head juggling ice-cream, so perhaps all is not lost.

Well we might have been a little reluctant to say the least, but this morning we got back into our weekly swimming routine after last week's break. That also meant it was time for us to buy a new block ticket, so we should at least have the incentive to keep going for a few more weeks now. I certainly didn't do very well though, and I don't think Katy was just being kind by not showing me up, but we only managed twenty lengths each and were pretty much totally exhausted. We've both been a bit under the weather lately, so perhaps that wasn't such a massive surprise. Hopefully by next week we will be a little more raring to go once again!

Friday lunchtime and I'm patiently waiting for Katy to get home so we can go and treat ourselves to some lunch out somewhere - probably our favourite oriental buffet in Aldershot but who knows... Not the most exciting morning, but I've got a bit more web stuff done, in this case finishing prototyping a version of a site I run for someone else to use the system I have been developing for my own site - and I think it's not bad at all. It will be interesting to see what the owner makes of it, to see if it's a viable direction in which to take things, which could have a broader impact than just this particular site. Some other work I had been hoping to do looks like it won't materialise after all, but I'm moderately hopeful I might well be getting a bit more of a stream of work in soon anyway so it's not the disaster it might have at first appeared.

As for my work situation in the broader sense, well I was made aware of an interesting opportunity the other day, but I now believe the recruiter in question to have been full of hot air as is so typical of her species. It was around about the time that I thought our email was playing up so I gave her the benefit of the doubt with regard to bad communications. However I now am inclined to believe email wasn't really playing up at all and that I lost no genuine messages - but rather that the liar never sent the messages in question in the first place, so wasted my time in every way. And now she's sent more unsolicited email about what appears to be the same position but without any reference to previous communication, so stuff her. Thankfully that's not the only thing in the pipeline at the moment, but that's all I'm saying for now.

Oh well, we didn't make it to church this morning. I had a long day out yesterday, going along to the men's day organised by the church, and Katy's got a long day in London coming up tomorrow for work, so neither of us feels too guilty. It's not as if the rest of today isn't looking pretty busy either! So it's been nice just to take it easy for the morning, to munch breakfast in bed over the big crossword. We're almost ready to face the rest of the day now!

Half-done with that "rest of the day" now, having been out for lunch at Caffè Macchiato with Ian and Jo - supposed to have been a light lunch since we're having our main meal later, but Macchiato and "light lunch" really don't go together too well, albeit in a perfectly happy way... Glad to put our feet up a bit this afternoon though, finishing watching the Extras DVD I gave Katy for her birthday - though we still have the Extras extras to go, so to speak! Just the right level for a rather sleepy Sunday afternoon, anyway.

So much for the boast this morning that 9 out of 10 trains are now running to schedule - a boast certainly not reflected on the arrivals board at London Waterloo, with 9 out of 10 trains in fact running up to an hour late thanks to Network Rail's overrunning engineering works needless to say. And of course it's another of Katy's days up in London, which always seem to coincide with some problem or other on our wonderful reliable railways.

Still, we had a very nice evening yesterday, with Katy's parents coming round for a meal - probably the first time in almost a year I fear! I think we managed to demonstrate that we are reasonably self-sufficient in the culinary department, rustling up one of our current favourites - roast pork with a dramatic variation on something the BBC described as a barbecue sauce, served with roast potatoes and garlic flat-bread - which went down very happily.

We didn't get out for our swim yesterday, still too weary after the Alpha Supper we'd been helping run the evening before. But we might go out later today instead, it would certainly do us both some good anyway!

Meanwhile, I see the BBC News website is maintaining their policy of not publishing Have Your Say contributions that dare suggest the government's up to anything untoward. In this case, the mere suggestion that all this scaremongering over polonium 210, particularly in connection with aeroplanes, might be heralding yet more excessive security responses to negligible (if not utterly preposterous) threats. Got to keep the people afraid, now that the liquid explosives scare story has pretty much run its course, otherwise they won't see why they need their civil liberties eroded at every opportunity.

We had our swim, as planned. Not too many lengths, but we have a fairly busy weekend coming up so it was probably best to conserve our energy! Still just about empty at the time we went, but there seemed to be a bit of after-school traffic as we were leaving, so we wouldn't have wanted to go any later. All very healthy anyway, and we did share our danish pastry afterwards, so we didn't undo all our good work - and indeed a pastry and a mug of coffee has got to be a bit better for us than the curry we sometimes treat ourselves to after a swim...

Oh, by the way, don't get me wrong regarding my earlier comments on airline security and so on. I happen to think that many (but not all) of the measures brought in after the alleged foiled TATP attacks, were long overdue. People have a right to travel in safety, and if rationalising what people can carry on to planes helps make security checks both more efficient and thorough then that's a good thing. But the reason why we needed these measures is not because of some debunked possibility of a specific attack, but simply because we have let these things slip so much in recent years. I've flown the grand total of twice, almost ten years ago. At that time, there were really clear rules about what you could have in hand luggage - and they were enforced. Since then, the rules have become more and more lax, making atrocities like the September 11th attacks and others so easy. Why can't the security services be honest for once and admit that's the case, rather than invent increasingly doubtful reasons? Stuff TATP, stuff polonium 210; they're only smoke-screens to cover deeper underlying issues that are perhaps not palatable to admit.

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