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David's diary: May 2008

Oh, the joys of technological stagnation. We wanted to buy an external keyboard for Katy's laptop. For a long time we thought there was one of those combined keyboard/mouse sockets on the back, but it turned out it was an S-video port, so we had to find a USB one. Should be easy, right, what with USB's ubiquity as a connectivity standard? But oh no. You see, several years ago there was an industry move towards getting rid of all those legacy connectors for keyboards, mice, modems, printers and what have you, and steering towards USB for everything. Great - except there was a backlash and many manufacturers decided to stick with what they knew best, which was popular with end-users at the time. Although the number of USB ports increased on most machines, the keyboard and mouse sockets at least tended to remain - except on size-limited laptops. Consequently, because a USB interface presumably costs a few pence more than a PS/2 keyboard or mouse one, and most PCs can be reasonably assumed to have an old-style socket or two, the vast majority of budget keyboards in particular are not USB compatible - and those that are all seem to be parts of "wireless desk-sets", which was not what Katy was after. A few keyboards have an adapter to suit both standards, like better wired mice do, but it took us looking at perhaps a dozen different otherwise perfect models (including a nice Microsoft one that Argos claimed had USB but didn't) in various different stores, before finding one that was both sensibly priced and suitably endowed. So we got there in the end, and didn't spend any more money than we'd intended, but it was far harder than it should have been - and all because of best intentions that, although noble, should have been history long ago. On the bright side, the one Katy eventually bought has all the right keys in (very nearly) all the right places - but that's another rant for another day!

Call me easily-amused, but I do find it rather funny that Snopes' page debunking drinking bleach as an HIV/AIDS preventative is currently supported by an advert for an infeasible weight loss product. Well, I guess it might be feasible to lose 9lb every 11 days, but only with about as much associated health risk as swigging neat Domestos...

Tuesday. Yes, Tuesday. No matter how many bank holidays go by, it never becomes easier to keep track of the subsequent days of the week. At least in my line of work, there isn't the problem that after the bliss of a long weekend off, you then have to cram five days' work into four - but then at least a bit more work would be good, but that's another story! Anyway, it has indeed been quite a good weekend, going out for a bike ride on Saturday for the first time this year, and visiting Darren, Ceryn et al yesterday, being traditional on bank holiday Mondays! Back to earth with a bit of a bump today as often seems the case, though...

I know that as a nation, we grumble when it rains, grumble when there's a drought, grumble when it's cold... and grumble when it's hot. I try to be positive, but it really is too hot - and opening the windows any wider just seems to attract the local super-wasp population. The number of people who seem to think the weather's "fantastic", "lovely", "great" and other such superlatives is frankly astonishing. But at least it meant it was nice to be able to sit outside at house group last night with the dying embers of daylight, in stark contrast to last week when we were togged up in hats and gloves! Last night's gathering was billed as a "chill-out social", and was the first that Susy, Katy and I had taken the lion's share of planning. Turn-out was unexpectedly disappointing, but that meant all the more dessert and cheese for those who did make it along (well whose who'd read the announcement and knew to save a bit of space!), and we finished the evening with half an hour of Wii Sports, which most had not had the pleasure of experiencing previously. Overall, kind of good, kind of same-old-same-old, but bearing with it!

Saturday evening, and little though it may seem like it, it's pretty much tea-time! This morning we had breakfast round at Bex and Si's, and we had our first barbecue lunch of the year, making the most of an ever so slightly cooler day - but one still too hot and humid to do too much!

After church on Sunday we went round to Meryl's for an impromptu lunch, played plenty of silly games, and got to meet Rameses, her new and ever so slightly adorable kitten. Well, perhaps not so adorable when hanging on to one's bare legs with his claws, but the poor mite's only just starting to learn these important social skills...

Today I've rolled out one of the websites I've been working on recently, which is good. Finding that an IE6 bug fix I had applied had caused more problems in IE6 wasn't so good, especially since I have no idea how I hadn't spotted it previously, but all seems to be well now. Just as well I didn't take up Microsoft Update on its offer to upgrade my laptop's IE6 to IE7, or I really would have been oblivious to the problem! I guess on the bright side, the fact that Microsoft are now rolling out IE7 as a critical update means IE6 might soon naturally die off - but for those considerable numbers still using Windows 98, ME and 2000, who have no such upgrade path. Hey ho, I guess I'll have to continue designing for broken browsers for some time yet...

Got a pretty weird spam yesterday evening, from (unsurprisingly) someone in Nigeria. Unlike most of his compatriots' spam, I do actually believe what he's asking to be the unadulterated truth. Namely, because I am a graduate in computer science (well, near enough) and he's studying towards the same, basically he wants to crib my final year project. Hmm, maybe I should take him up on it, and charge him $10,000,000 by Western Union for the privilege.

The last two days have been a bit quieter business-wise, indeed decidedly quiet. Yesterday was a bit of a waste of a day, but this morning I tried to be useful by helping with a bit of gardening, and this afternoon we took a wander to meet Bex and Si's new arrival (as of yesterday evening!) and put an advert for my business in the window of the newsagent on the way. Going to cook up some Moroccan-style salmon and cous-cous in a little while, then see if the promise of a talk by Susy drums up a bit more enthusiasm for house group than last week's social!

It did indeed, and a few people commented it was a good meeting, everything it should have been. We're hosting the next one ourselves; this could be interesting...

Meanwhile, it's my birthday, and we've just come back from a night away in Southampton. It was supposed to have been a surprise, but Hotelopia screwed up the booking. Katy still managed to keep the exact destination secret until the last minute, but decided that since she didn't feel up to doing the driving herself, it might be a good idea if I a) wasn't blindfolded and b) knew where we were going. So we had a nice comfy night at the Holiday Inn, overlooking the cruise ships on Southampton Water. We stuffed ourselves at a very good Chinese restaurant (Pilgrim House) last night, and availed ourselves of John Lewis's excellent cooked breakfast this morning. Wandering around the city in-between-times, we observed how the other half lived (i.e. Ocean Village and marina) and engaged in a little retail therapy - apparently in so doing covering all options Katy had considered for birthday presents prior to deciding on a wireless cycle computer! I'd only paid central Southampton a couple of flying visits since my abortive study days there in the late 1980s, and of course there had been a lot of changes. Overall, pretty impressed. Not that picturesque, and we're not quite sure what foreign tourists arriving on the cruise ships make of it, but as a destination offering a bit of everything, Southampton's got it made. I expect we'll be back before too long, perhaps for Christmas shopping.

Back home now, to a couple more cards and some complimentary "energy saving" lightbulbs courtesy of our electricity company. They may not particularly save energy, but hey, if we carry on getting free ones from various sources we probably save a little bit of money in the end!

Having a Sunday afternoon to myself, while Katy's at a surprise party for one of our church leaders. The morning was a bit manic, with us on set-up duty and quite a few problems to start with, but we got there in the end with time to spare and it was worth it in the end. Meryl and Katy had agreed to make sandwiches for the party, so Meryl came back to ours for lunch and to work the "production line". This afternoon, I've been out on my bike, road-testing the wireless cycle computer Katy gave me. All seems to be well after being a little fiddly to install for something obviously without any cables to get tangled up, and it registered an entirely credible nine miles for the route I took. Top speed recorded was just a whisker under 30mph, which I hasten to add was not in Alice Holt forest - though I just about managed 25mph there, responsibly well away from any families out for their leisurely Sunday afternoon stroll! More usefully to know, my average speed for the quite varied terrain was about 11mph, and my comfortable pace on the flat and with a good surface was about 14mph.

Anyway, Katy's just being dropped off, back from the party, so I'd better sign off for now!

After our night down on the coast at Southampton last weekend, today we've been down to Hayling Island with Katy's mum and dad. "Well it was your birthday!" Katy's mum explained as we sipped our coffee sitting on the harbour wall at Langstone. Not too much energy between the four of us, but we were glad of a bit of a stroll on the beach, and replenished by a hearty pub lunch afterwards. No work crises in my absence, happily to say, and possibly a little bit of consultancy sometime in the next few days. We're hosting house group tonight for a change, and we know at least a couple of other people expect to make it along, so just chilling for a little while now before we ponder what stomach space there may be for a little bite of tea!

Chilling now after a fairly busy bank holiday weekend. Not one that entirely went as originally planned, thanks mainly to torrential rain much of the time, but still fine... Saturday was our own, but on Sunday we went out for a Pizza Hut lunch in Farnborough with Rachel and Daniel, and today we've had Darren, Ceryn and Ruth round for an "indoor barbecue" lunch. We've been and done a little shopping and have now battened the hatches for the day. I've spent the last little while doing a bit more work on my invoicing system, running into an interesting "feature" of Firefox, in that it cannot save-as PDF (and perhaps other) files generated by form posts. Not as nice to use gets instead of posts, but at least it all works as expected now. For once, Internet Explorer behaved impeccably... Anyway, it's just about time to consider what room we have for a bite or two of tea, so signing off for now.

A hot and humid Saturday, but we mustered the enthusiasm for a wander into town earlier. Amongst our more interesting finds was a plug-in energy monitor, so now expect me to become a kWh fascist as I find out just what the most power-hungry appliances we have are... Of course, there is only any value in these things if you can recoup their cost with power savings, but with Robert Dyas currently flogging them at a third the price of almost anywhere else, we'll reach that goal rather sooner than we might have!

For reference, our desktop PC uses about 100 watts in normal operation, which is not too disgraceful, though its 15 watts when hibernated may prompt a more decisive power-off policy when it's not in use. We suspect (given others' experience) that our Freeview box will prove to be rather power hungry too, alas rather unavoidably since it needs to be partially powered in standby in order to trigger timed recordings. We shall see, and I have a longer-term backup plan I am giving some consideration!

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