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David's diary: September 2008

Quite a busy day, but nothing new to invoice for because I underestimated on my recent quotes. But I think it's all done now, and £500-worth of monthly invoices are winging their way through the ether anyway, so I'll cope. Hopefully also will get another couple of hundred pounds' worth of work approved later today or tomorrow, and hopefully that one will prove to be a bit closer to my estimate! Oh the joys of plucking figures out of the air. On the face of it I've not been too far out with them, but it's all the quite understandable little details that don't quite constitute specification changes yet still eat up a lot of time added together. But I guess it's like this for all tradesmen to an extent, needing a bit more cable or concrete than expected, finding a tough root no-one knew was there before, or whatever. Hopefully soon I will be able to become a bit more hard-nosed and charge a few more people at my full rate, but while I'm establishing myself I really can't afford to be too much of a git.

Wow, today I am editing my diary using Google's new Chrome browser, and I have to confess it's actually decidedly not bad - and blindingly fast into the bargain. Not to say perfect, but it's distinctly better than the steaming crock that is Apple's Safari, which just goes to prove that it's Apple's inability to create a decent user interface that's the deciding factor, not the WebKit engine that is at the heart of both. So assuming things like the Javascript support are comparable, hopefully I should be able finally to purge this PC of everything fruity but decidedly not delicious. You see, as a responsible web developer, I need to ensure that even users who know no better can view the sites I create as intended, and thanks to Apple's presumptive software updating scheme, Safari (grim as it is) is being pushed on to an increasing number of desktops, so it's great to have an alternative - and even better that it actually doesn't suck.

One thing Google Chrome and Safari do have in common though is their susceptibility to a performance bug I've been frustrated by for a little while. My new web content system includes a nice media gallery plug-in, that re-flows the thumbnails implicitly with the use of a floating DIV per thumbnail. However, WebKit-based browsers really do not seem to be at all happy with using DIVs in this manner, choking badly if there are more than a small handful of said DIVs on a page - and "best practice" is to use DIVs where possible, right..? With most of my pages this isn't an issue, but I do have one or two that somewhat unavoidably have a seriously large number of thumbnails, and both Safari and Google Chrome grind to an unceremonious halt trying to render them. I wondered if it might be something to do with having to dynamically re-flow the page even while it was loading, due to not knowing the image dimensions in advance, but I put in an extra line or two to provide the necessary information up front, and it made not a jot of difference. Oddly I can't find any obvious reference to this problem on the wider web, but I really can't believe I'm the only person in the world to have stumbled across it!

It took me several hours' effort, but I cracked it in the end - and in fact it was exactly the reason stated above, namely floating those DIVs, with performance degrading apparently exponentially as the quantity increased. For the benefit of anyone stumbling across my diary, seeking a solution to the same problem, I can give the handy tip that WebKit browsers support the inline-block display property, and - at least where the DIV height doesn't vary - that is equivalent to left floating a DIV. Most other browsers do not support inline-block, so you will need to do a bit of browser detection, but it's a small price to pay.

The end of another week is looming, and it doesn't even look like we've got a breakfast out tomorrow. Mind you, we did have a reasonably nice afternoon and evening out yesterday. Katy had a training session up in Milton Keynes and I agreed I would chauffeur her. It meant killing a couple of hours at Caldecotte Lake, which might have been a bit more pleasant but for the intermittently pouring rain, but it was atmospheric, I guess! Then we found the last free parking space in the town centre and had a shortish mooch around the shops there for old time's sake. Pretty much as I remembered, but with the addition of more eateries and mobile phone outlets, as seems inevitable, and frankly nothing to really convince me I made the wrong move in heading south when I did. Our haul was limited to a pack of socks from Debenhams and Eledees for a tenner from Zavvi; Katy had spotted the latter in their Oxford Street store a couple of weeks back but wasn't sure whether to buy it. By that time our hurried packed lunch by the lake was long forgotten and it was time to fill up at Zizzi (not to be confused with Zavvi, as Katy had earlier when confirming there was one!) making use of another Handbag.com two-for-one voucher, as we did with Ian and Jo the other evening in Farnham. Yummy pastas instead of pizzas this time though, yet more recipes to try and reproduce at home sometime!

One thing we definitely didn't get yesterday, but did look quite closely at in John Lewis and Currys.digital, was the Acer Aspire One - and also Advent's badged-up MSI Wind. It's still my intention that I should get one of this breed of wee beasties (variously known as netbooks, laptots and small cheap computers) one day, and having previously seen only the Asus Eee PC in the flesh, it was gratifying to see how the market's come on over the last few months. Dell have also (rather quietly in the end) released their own Inspiron Mini, so the market's really hotting up now. On sheer value for money, Acer have the edge, and theirs is a mainly decent looking machine, especially in blue. The MSI arguably looks a little smarter than the Acer, but the bigger physical screen size is accompanied by a considerable price premium. Frankly the Eee PC now looks cheap and rather nasty for what is actually more expensive for comparable specification. The biggest grumble with all these devices though is the battery capacity or lack thereof, making them not as useful as they should be when on the move. So keeping a watchful eye on the market as it matures, but not leaping to replace my cheap-as-chips Toshiba quite yet!

The weekend's out of the way, which might sound a bit negative, but it did include church set-up yesterday morning, which is always a bit of a strain! All went to plan though, even as we had to work around a bit more awkwardness on the part of the school, and we can breathe easily for another month now anyway. Just about knocked another invoice on the head today, which is good, especially since it's for some new business rather one of the "usual suspects". Still new business coming out of an existing friendship, but hopefully there's some real new Yellow Pages generated business in the pipeline that I can start to work on soon.

But enough business talk. It's time to think about far more important things - i.e. tea!

I woke up with a splitting headache this morning, and since I only had about a third of a small bottle of Leffe at tea time yesterday I can only reasonably blame the LHC at CERN. The universe might not have imploded at switch-on as feared by some, but my head certainly felt some localised effect in that regard. A few cups of coffee and some comfort food made it bearable to go out for afternoon tea with Katy's parents to celebrate her dad's birthday yesterday, and the Watts Gallery's famous bacon rarebit and bottomless coffee finished the job. Still feeling a bit woozy, but could be much worse, and the fresh air as we visited the Watts Chapel and Compton church helped me through the afternoon. We've got house group here this evening, the first one of the term, but I don't think it's going to be too much of a houseful, or too late a finish, so I think I'll survive... But - keeping with Monday's closing theme - time to cook tea now!

Expensive day for the car, with servicing and MOT this morning, a troublesome fill-up this afternoon, and insurance renewal paperwork in the post. The servicing and MOT were, mercifully, only as expensive as expected, with no extras - though they did flag up that the tyres are on their way out, but once I had ascertained that "down to the wear strip" actually meant a good millimetre of legality left, I decided I would shop around, reckoning I can do a bit better than £55 a corner. The fill-up at Aldershot Tesco this afternoon was a bit more irksome though, pumping over 43 litres into our 45 litre tank (and it not showing much sign of stopping), even without the warning light having come on. I have a name and number to query it, but I hear tell that they are legally obliged only to be accurate within a 10% tolerance (rather making a mockery of the 5p/litre discount offered in store) so I suspect they're technically in the clear and we'd be on to a loser trying to challenge it - assuming it wasn't an under-sensitive cut-off valve genuinely dispensing more fuel than expected. The insurance all seems to be in order, and (as these things go) acceptable price-wise, but can I get through to Admiral to confirm it..?

OK, finally got through to Admiral, and updating them that we no longer operate a second car unsurprisingly perhaps cranked up the renewal quote. Mitigated a little, hopefully, by downgrading the value of the car they had on file; I've never worked out why insurance companies don't build depreciation into their formulae - unless, of course ... no, surely not ... they're out to overcharge, just like almost everyone else concerned with tin coffin addiction.

Busy last few days, though not much of the work involved paying, exactly, and now I've gone down with a cold and feel pretty grotty. A quarter of an hour weeding and pruning in the garden followed by a trip with Katy to the dump and Lidl was enough to finish me off.

Otherwise though, yes, it's been quite a busy last week or so, with the weekend in particular being a bit manic, what with a meal with Si and Bex Friday, breakfast there again on the Saturday, babysitting their boys there again on the Saturday evening, and in between all that, hosting Darren for an impromptu cuppa Saturday afternoon, and Ian, Jo and Meryl for a barbecue on Sunday... Still, it's OK to be tired from actually doing something.

Then last night we had house group, which was a bit of a turning point, as Simon and Debs stood down from leading it after about five years, and Katy and I agreed to take on that particular baton. Needless to say, this was nothing sudden, having been the matter of discussion between the four of us and the church leaders for a few weeks now, but it's finally happened, and the initial reaction seems to be pretty positive. It's something we've both done before, in our single days, and had always envisaged doing again at some point (but had a false start or two over more recent years) so here we are...

Still precious little paying work coming my way, but I guess I did have a good month in that regard last month - and hopefully there will be some invoices settled soon! But still been keeping busy, in between sniffing and coughing managing to put together a neat little film database web-page for a friend. Loaded to the brim with PHP, MySQL, AJAX and all that, it's really pretty slick - and pretty much completed now bar a bit of "advanced" search functionality. Katy's been up in London today, but is now on the train home, and we've booked ourselves a table at Café Rouge for later, courtesy of Tesco Clubcard, so that should round up the day nicely!

Speaking of Tesco, they belatedly got back to me to say they were looking into the possibility of irregularities with their petrol pumps, but that was a week and a half ago now, with no word since. In retrospect, I suspect that the problem was a faulty cut-off valve rather than dodgy measured, given that we went on to get unprecedented apparent fuel economy out of the tank - thankfully both possible reasons I had suggested as the root of the problem. A week later than that incident, I had to write to them again, though, complaining that our local Express store had denied all knowledge of a promotion whereby you can get a £5 Tesco Direct voucher in exchange for scanning one of their new catalogues. That one was dealt with rather more efficiently, and they did the decent thing and in their reply simply told me what the voucher code is, should I wish to use it. I will have the comparable decency not to quote it here though!

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