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David's diary: July 2008

First of the month, so another few invoices winging their way - and the previous few now just about due to be paid! All is really very quiet at the moment, and I can't realistically imagine things hotting up for the foreseeable future. I've sent off a couple of applications for advertised freelance roles, but nothing heard back, so all a bit gloomy in this front to be honest. Hopefully the Yellow Pages advertising will spark a bit of interest, but that's not for a couple of months yet. Still, on the bright side it's meant we've been able to get out and about a bit without feeling guilty about neglecting work. We had a nice walk up at Alice Holt yesterday, and of course we had our thoroughly work-free week away in Pembrokeshire not so long ago. But overall, I'm remaining vaguely sane, which is more than I managed to achieve in my last couple of jobs down here, and that's something I cannot even begin to put a financial value on.

Oh I like a good thunderstorm, I really do, but it is a mite bit annoying when I'm in the middle of doing a major upload and the broadband line wobbles ominously (and occasionally dies altogether) every time there's a flash... On the bright side, at least we spotted the storm was brewing in time to get the washing in - even if my main reaction was "Ooh, pretty clouds".

Blah, it's Monday. Highlight of the day so far has been going to Aldershot for a coffee and a colander. Seriously! The weekend was (mainly) better, spending Friday night up at my parents' and going out for a nice pub lunch on Saturday in advance of my mum's birthday yesterday. The latter almost didn't happen, first finding our first choice pub was taking neither phone calls nor payment cards, then finding it was in fact closed down altogether, but The Peacock a mile up the road at Lane End served us more than admirably instead, and we definitely needed our postprandial walk to work off the hearty steaks and chocolate fudge cake! Only downside of the weekend was spending far too much time sorting out my parents' computer - and it getting decidedly worse before it got better. Still, better it was indeed by the time we left, but I'd rather have spent those hours anywhere else!

Oh dear, I seem to have broken the Maplin website. I think it must have been because for once I was actually interested in an external hard disk, and it understandably keeled over in shock. I expect if I'd wanted a USB turntable, their webserver would have physically exploded, rather than merely gone belly-up. I'm sure it will be back soon enough, something that can't necessarily be said for Scrabulous, which is looking like it might finally have gone to meet its maker. The official version of Scrabble has now been released on to Facebook, despite having the major flaw that licensing restrictions prevent play with anyone outside a 100 metre radius (as well as a few other problems such as dealing the wrong number of letter tiles), and time may now alas have run out for the superior and highly popular unofficial version.

Well Scrabulous is back for now, but for how long is anyone's guess when the lawyers are in charge and no doubt billing by the minute!

In other news today, I've been setting myself up a CVS repository - and so far, so good. That was, in fact, why I was looking at external hard disks, because it would make immense sense to keep the repository separate from my PC. Needless to say, once I coaxed the Maplin website back into life, there wasn't anything too suitable for my needs, so (although I shudder to say it) it may well be that PC World is the best bet for a shopping trip with my business debit card...

Or on the other hand, perhaps not. As usual, when I'm investigating these things, I forgot to consider Ebuyer - and lo and behold they had exactly what I was after, at up to £30 cheaper than anyone else like-for-like. Consequently, in a few days' time I should be taking delivery of a shiny black 160GB USB/Firewire bus-powered hard disk. Will just be a race against time to see whether that arrives before our consignment of books, music and games from Amazon, costing us the grand total of £2.78 once a few stored up vouchers were taken into consideration!

Otherwise I've been keeping vaguely busy the last couple of days, happily to say - enough to keep me sane even if not to pay my way. After a key meeting a couple of weeks ago, there were a few bits needing to be done to my client's sites, especially a new one currently under wraps, but until Wednesday I had been slightly lacking in promised bits and pieces I needed in order to press ahead. But thankfully that's no longer the case, so I've been able to blitz a few key to-do list items and I think my client's liking the way it's going. No idea when the site will be ready to go live, but this promises to be a flagship one so I want to get it just right!

As anticipated, a couple of weeks ago I got my begging letter from the HBOS, offering me 74 new shares at the bargain price of £2.75 each. Finding it all very confusing and frankly not considering it worth throwing away over £200 on in the current climate, I opted to sell the rights in question. I still don't quite see how I can sell what I never had (I'll have to try that next time I'm in Currys and see a television I don't want) but that's the vagaries of rights issues for you. Anyway, this morning I received a nice little cheque for just over a fiver. This afternoon we went for a bike ride and blew the proceeds on a cream tea for two at Frensham Garden Centre. Thank you HBOS, that was a far tastier return than I could ever have hoped to have got from your lousy shares, especially now their market value's dropped to £2.72 each anyway!

Having finished Robert Harris's Imperium, I started on a new book last night, Ian Rankin's Watchman. Trouble was, no sooner had I put my feet up in the bath and read the author's note, I had a horrible sense of déjà vu, confirmed as I embarked on chapter one. The blurb on the back really had rung no bells at all, even though it was identical to that on our existing (albeit different edition) copy! Oh well, at least it was only a couple of quid down the drain, and a couple of quid to a charity shop at that... The most worrying thing though is that I'm evidently becoming like my father when it comes to knowing what books we do and don't have!

As we walked into town earlier this afternoon, the sky was filled with the near-constant rumble of jets at Farnborough. Hopefully we'll get to have a proper watch from our usual free-loading vantage point later in the week, and we've invested in some comfy folding chairs for the purpose. There was a noisier-than-average rumble as one jet passed overhead, and Katy asked what it was. I confidently said (accurately, as far as I know) that it was an F-18, though had to admit that I'd struck lucky because it was about the only such aircraft I could identify... Planes are getting like computer-designed cars, all looking the same in the name of aerodynamic perfection. I should probably add now that the only reason I know an F-18 when I see one is thanks to far too many hours spent playing F/A-18 Interceptor on the Amiga all those years ago!

Amazon have provisionally won the free super-saver delivery race! They had a day's head-start, but Ebuyer claim they're not even dispatching until tomorrow...

Kudos also to Amazon for their quick and gracious customer service. As so often seems to be the case with mail-order CDs, the case arrived in a decidedly knackered state - that old Achilles heel, the hub, being utterly shattered. I queried via the Amazon website whether it was possible for them to send a replacement case, and they replied within an hour or so to apologise no, but they would apply a partial refund, amply covering replacing it ourselves should we be bothered. I guess it's most economical for them to do that, especially given how common a problem it is thanks to the fundamental design flaws of the CD case, and the questionable protection offered by Amazon's packaging for multiple items, but I'm happy anyway. As it is, I've swapped the broken case with that of a CD we hardly listen to, so it's really no big deal!

That was actually the second time I can remember having to contact Amazon, and both times they've come out well. The time before was a few years ago when a book we ordered had a major printing error. They sent a replacement immediately, only asking for the dud copy back as a courtesy - not that it was any use to them, obviously, but they had only my word to go on that there was a problem. As I've said before many a time, good customer service doesn't mean being perfect all the time, but treating your customers with respect and efficiency when things do go wrong - and in that respect Amazon have proven nothing but admirable!

The hard disk arrived from Ebuyer on Thursday, but I'm not yet 100% sure whether it will be staying. Something a bit screwy is happening with its FireWire hot-plugging and detection in Windows generally, and it's mightily difficult to prove whether it's Windows playing up, our PC or the drive itself. At one point last night I thought I had "bricked" the PC, wondering if a BIOS update would perk things up, and getting only a continuous beep upon power-on in return. Mercifully, clearing the CMOS with the motherboard jumper (thank goodness for proper PCs with proper user manuals) got things back up and running, though I don't think there's any substantial improvement with the hard disk detection behaviour. It mainly works as expected with USB, but does not power down when the PC is shut down, which sounds like a recipe for a worn out disk in no time, so I am determined to get the FireWire working by hook or by crook!

Otherwise, this weekend we've got my dad visiting, primarily to go with us to the Farnborough air show this afternoon. Except it's distinctly already this afternoon, the rumblings of jet engines are filling the valley once again and we are very obviously not there. Mainly because the weather forecast is distinctly better for tomorrow, though so far it's not actually rained apart from a short spell this morning, when we had been planning on a picnic breakfast at Waverley Abbey with our friends, which was consequently curtailed to a more conventional setting.

Dad and I got out on our bikes yesterday afternoon, riding out to Compton and the Watts Gallery, exploring the very old church and much newer chapel there before succumbing to lush bacon rarebits and an epic pot of tea at the gallery café. We came back via the old bridges at Elstead and Tilford, but the most interesting bit of history we stumbled across hidden away on some fairly remote army land near Tilford: namely a replica of the Second World War Atlantikwall coastal fortifications, built by the Canadians for demolition training in advance of the Normandy landings. Not remotely pretty, even as masses of concrete and twisted steel go, but thoroughly fascinating! Bit achy today, but it is a while since I cycled the best part of 30 miles in one go!

For the first time this Farnborough week that we'd noticed, the Red Arrows flew over, en-route elsewhere. Three of them, then another three. Then guess what? The last three? Wrong! Another four. I guess they have a spare or two stashed somewhere in case of technical problems, but I've never seen them actually flying as a ten before.

Apparently seeing ten was quite normal, with the extra one keeping its distance or parked up on the ground during their display. The latter in the case of Farnborough, since they arrived part way through the afternoon, then closed the show a couple of hours later. I'd love to say "and what a show!" but to be honest apart from the Red Arrows and The Blades, it was all a touch tame and predictable (oh look, another Spitfire), and not even as good as the first time I went four years ago. It was of course great to see the Vulcan up in the air, but even that was (perhaps understandably) not being put through its paces as well as when I last saw it in the 1980s. There were a couple of disappointing no-shows, mainly due to high winds, but it was still entertaining enough if if missing that certain je ne sais quoi. Still, a nice way to pass an afternoon with my dad, in mainly pretty good weather unlike last year, and thanks to air-show safety rules, our choice of viewing location up on Freeloaders' Hill was vindicated by getting the best view of the Red Arrows of anyone in the vicinity - and display smoke in our hair.

We can't say we never win anything, because we just have... Though since it's tickets to a concert in London on Sunday night that we didn't really want to go to, and it would have cost us an arm and a leg in train fares, eating out etc, we've declined. Have to suspect it may have been one of those "everyone's a winner" competitions anyway, with rather more than the 200 pairs of tickets they said were up for grabs. Very nearly missed the notification email anyway, since CD-WOW's missives almost always get spam-trapped for using a blacklisted mail relay.

Sunday evening, and frankly a little bit zonked. We got out for a bit yesterday, having a picnic and stroll at the Devil's Jumps and the Flashes, popping in to see Katy's parents on the way back for a cuppa and to drop off a camping chair they'd lent us. After church today, we had Jo and Ian round for a posh barbecue and Boom Blox session, and quite honestly with the heat and (more to the point) the humidity as it has been today, that was enough to finish us off!

We recently got junk mail from British Gas. It crows:

We're offering huge savings of up to £850 off our boilers this month.

(As it's Summer we hope not too many people will notice.)

Presumably they're hoping the same small print will apply to their fuel price hike?

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