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David's diary: June 2008

New month, more hosting shenanigans from my friends at 1&1. Thankfully my main paid-for sites weren't too badly hit, but things like my invoicing and SMS systems were off-line for most of the day. They claim to guarantee 99.99% uptime, but by my calculations, 0.01% of a year equates to 52 minutes, not the several hours my sites and/or email have been unavailable for in the past six months alone... Now let's see if they can be even half as gracious as I've had to be of late!

Thankfully, also, I've not needed to do any work on my sites today, because even though the live sites happened not to be affected, the development versions mainly were. Instead, I've been reasonably busy discovering the joys of SMTP and domain MX records. Not at all my area of specialism, but someone blithely said I would be able to do it as part of a wider job, so given my "can-do" (but not quite "yes-man") attitude, it was a good opportunity to learn. The solution is not yet fully up and running, but I think I have now done all that I need to, and am just waiting on my client's infrastructure guys to make a few tweaks to their Exchange server.

Woohoo, we've been on holiday for the last week! In fact it's the longest time we've been away since our honeymoon almost exactly four years ago now. Somewhat intentionally, we avoid going to places just because we went there when we were single and enjoyed them, but Katy found us a nice and fair-priced little self-catering apartment in Pembrokeshire, where I last went in 2001 (fulfilling the "single and enjoyed" anti-criteria) and Katy merely has it on good authority that she went when she was very little.

So anyway, a week ago on Saturday we drove out to Neyland, just across the Cleddau Estuary from Pembroke and east of Milford Haven. Our first-floor apartment was pretty much as we would have hoped, and apart from a rather tiny television, was well equipped. But the television really was no big handicap when we had the "big TV" next to it, namely the French windows and balcony overlooking Neyland's busy and pretty marina. We were a bit more out on a limb than we'd realised, but quickly found a five-minute footpath short cut into town – though "town" really constituted a useful Co-op and a couple of unexciting takeaways. Walking out the other way, we immediately found ourselves on the seemingly ubiquitous cycle route number 4, leading to Haverfordwest and beyond.

Pleasant though the marina was, the coastline immediately around Neyland wasn't amazingly "wow" by Pembrokeshire standards, but during the week we enjoyed walks out in both directions, plus one across the nearby Cleddau Bridge into Pembroke Dock. Far more idyllic was the coast round Martin's Haven (near Marloes), St David's and Manorbier, where we (unsurprisingly) spent three of our days. A lot of the coastline is still off-limits thanks to artillery ranges and the like, but there was still plenty that was accessible, even if we had to re-arrange our plans on the fly once or twice due to red flags and/or razor-wire!

The highlights of the week probably had to be our boat trips. We'd hoped to go on one starting from the marina where we were staying, but they were somewhat vague there, really not at all certain when the next trip would be running or which of the handful of trips on offer it might be. We got bored waiting on the off-chance, and in the meantime stumbled on an excellent (and cheap!) trip round Skomer and took a more expensive but quite exhilarating RIB trip round Ramsey Island, as I had done seven years previously. Round Skomer, the big highlight was the huge colony of puffins, whereas Ramsey was better for its seals. The waters around the islands were home to lots of other marine life (guillemots, razorbills, gannets, fulmars, porpoise...), most of it well used to and unfazed by the frequent tourist boats.

Being self-catering, we had a good mix of our own curries and so on, augmented with a few nice meals out. The marina's own restaurant came with the recommendations of our letting agents, but turned out to be rather overpriced for what it was, and we had our "main" meal out at a waterfront pub we'd earlier stopped at for a coffee while out on our Thursday walk. The café at the marina proved good though, and amongst other snacks was the perfect place to fuel ourselves up for the drive home.

Speaking of driving, yes we had to do quite a lot, and hardly economically. It was easy to underestimate the distances involved, and with all the twists, turns, ups and downs, fifth gear was a rarity! Thankfully not all the petrol was ludicrously expensive (relatively speaking, at least) and we were able to fill up for our return journey at "only" 115.9 pence a litre, which turned out to be the cheapest we saw all the way home. Of course, in the heart of oil refinery country one might expect fuel to be at its cheapest, but it doesn't always work out that way!

And the question everyone seems to be asking: did we manage to switch off for the week, in all senses of the word? Thankfully, yes! I had warned my clients I would be away and not able to do any work for them, and they honoured that. I took my laptop "just in case", and confirmed that there was affordable wireless access at the marina if absolutely necessary, but we survived the week without the distractions of email, Facebook or anything else more technological than Ceefax. So all in all, it was just what the doctor might have ordered!

Yesterday, Katy and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary! The attentive may remember that strictly speaking we were in fact legally married four years and two days previously, but it's common knowledge that we didn't consider ourselves duly knotted until after the church service. Our holiday last week was our main treat in honour of the occasion, but we had a nice Thai curry and a bottle of bubbly last night nonetheless.

Otherwise, life goes on... Yesterday, in a slightly more convoluted process than anticipated, I rolled out the new version of the Milton Keynes Vineyard website, a project I've been working on from time to time over the last few months. It's visually no different to before, and still operates with the same content system running in the background, but it's on a new server with a new hosting company and has had quite a few bug fixes along the way. Had a few other bits of Top Dog work lately, and I think that will hot up again very soon, but things have frankly been rather lean of late, so surprises like a £200 refund on our electricity bill couldn't have been better timed. A bit of low-key local advertising for my business hasn't seemed to have had any results, but I'm being brave and finally taking the plunge with an entry in the Yellow Pages. No idea how lucrative that will prove either, though I would be sorely disappointed not to recoup at least the initial cost, which isn't too extortionate. Not that enamoured by their sign-up process though; let's just say I will only believe it when I see my advertisement in print.

If anyone's wondering who the rather dazed and confused looking chap was in the Bletchley Subway yesterday evening, I'll own up, it was me. Not really too fazed by the menu choices; it was just the back-end of a long day, with a long drive home (mainly through SPECS-policed roadworks) yet to follow. For the second time this year I was up in Milton Keynes for the day, having a business meeting. As it turned out, one of the people I was due to meet with got stuck in traffic and never made it, but it was still a useful hour or so, as much as anything getting to know someone who I'm likely to be working quite closely with (in a virtual sense) over the coming weeks. Unlike the last time I went up, this time I managed to arrange a few other visits while I was there, popping in on Karin for a cuppa, then going for tea at the aforementioned Subway with Sarah, Laura and Rachael. Ivor also gave me a call, having heard I was in town, but my schedule was just a bit too tightly planned by then! Next time, next time...

Today I've been rewriting the advertising module I use on one of my websites to make it more generic and to add impression and click tracking, in expectation I might open it up to third party advertisers. All seems to be fine, though it took a little more effort than I expected. First off, having started to write it as a database application, I realised that it was strictly speaking against the terms of service of my web hosting, so I revised it to use XML storage instead. No big deal, and probably better for performance anyway; just glad I realised the error of my ways as soon as I did! Then I had to use a bit of extra cunning to work around browser security restrictions, having found that cross-domain AJAX requests are routinely blocked. Again, not too difficult, but it very nearly stopped me dead in my tracks...

Otherwise, things are plodding on. There were a few side-effects from the Milton Keynes Vineyard work, not least some problems with their email, which I had to somewhat rush yesterday morning before I hit the road to my meeting, and I had to monitor my webmail throughout in case of further developments. All seems to be well now, so it's time to do them another "state of play" report, and hope they want me back for more work!

This morning we walked down into town for breakfast at Café Rouge. Yes, a little bit indulgent perhaps, but we had vouchers courtesy of Bon Maman jam, so only had to pay for our (reasonably priced) coffee. Actually not quite as big a platter as we might have hoped for, but filling enough anyway, and wouldn't have been too bad value if we had been paying.

Then on to the Post Office... A few days ago Katy's sister had tried to send us an anniversary card, which was not delivered due to somehow being underpaid. After some discussion, it turns out that Marks and Spencer are cunningly selling cards about a millimetre too big to go as standard letters. I doubt the Post Office are too bothered while they can extort surcharges on the no doubt thousands of affected items, but hopefully someone will bash M&S around a bit and make sure they clearly mark their oversized cards as such - or make them smaller!

Last night was quite interesting... We were invited (along with a few others!) to a church leaders' gathering, to hear some first-hand feedback on what's going on at Lakeland in Florida. We'd heard a few words a couple of Sundays ago from a visiting couple, but last night we had the leaders from Winchester Vineyard up and they shared lots of experiences and feelings about the outpouring, renewal, revival or whatever you might like to call it. Still plenty of questions to be asked, and the emphasis all along was that not necessarily everything going on was truly of God, but there really was a sense that the positive fruits show God to be in it, and that even if it's sometimes culturally uncomfortable it is biblically consistent. Babies, bathwater, etc.

Gently melting here in the Saturday evening heat... We had quite a busy afternoon, with Rachel, Mark and Daniel visiting for a barbecue lunch. Daniel had been interrupting phone-calls for weeks now with very important questions like "is Yoda in it?" and "can I be an Ewok?", so we had to allow him a fair few minutes of Lego Star Wars in between eating, playing cricket in the park and looking at respective holiday snaps to keep him vaguely on the right side of happiness!

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