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David's diary: August 2009

August, and work's looking like it could be picking up a bit, which is good news in otherwise inevitably rather quiet summer months. One quite big project I'd been waiting on approval for has now got the go-ahead, with downpayment in the bank already, and there are a few other bits in the pipeline to keep me both busy and solvent when that's been done.

Today we had our first open-air church service of the summer, with another one at the end of the month. Bucking the trend of the week, it was a glorious morning to do so, and there was a pretty decent turn-out at Gostrey Meadow compared with that of a few weeks ago when we had a walk instead of a service. Picnic afterwards was a good chance to catch up with a few folk, but glad then to have had the afternoon largely to ourselves!

While my dad was here recently, we had a small mishap. I'd just reversed the car into the drive when one of the lads from over the road dashed across clutching a small black pouch and said to my dad, "Excuse me, is this your camera?" It was indeed, though my dad had no memory of having dropped it from his jacket pocket. Anyway, any hope it was OK was dashed on giving it a cursory glance over, with the magnesium case rather distorted. However, we bravely pressed the power button, and it sprang into life. One set of jewellers' screwdrivers later, we'd got the case a bit straighter, and it still seemed to be OK bar a couple of scuff marks. But the question remained how a simple and un-heard drop to the road had inflicted quite so much damage to a practically armour-plated device. It was then that I remembered having felt an unexpected bump as I was reversing the car; yes, I'd all but driven over it, and it lived to tell the tale...

That big project is going to plan, and not sucking up any more time than I'd anticipated - good in itself because there have been quite a few other things going on to keep me busy elsewhere! It's also significant because having done a little checking, I ascertained that their webspace would be compatible with Kourou, so contrary to my original plan I am implementing it using that, and indeed this will be the first time Kourou has been deployed elsewhere than on my own server. The long-term aim is to make Kourou more portable anyway, with flexibility to handle different PHP versions and variable server feature-sets, but that's a little way down the line yet.

The income already received from this has meant I have finally been able to justify ordering myself a netbook to replace the veteran Toshiba laptop I have as my travel standby. Acer's Aspire One may hardly represent the pinnacle of performance or battery life, but I found an offer I couldn't refuse, and anything would be better than the Toshiba, which struggles to maintain wireless connections, grinds with only 256MB of memory and sports a battery good for a mere 20 minutes' use! I'd been holding out for an ARM-based one, but despite much talk, there are still no products for sale months later, and I had to draw a line somewhere in terms of something I could realistically take away on holiday and not completely lose touch with the business, with the stress that induces in me. I already have a 3G data stick, so there really should now be no excuse not to relax - well, once Parcelforce have dropped off the goods, anyway!

I mentioned other things to keep me busy elsewhere, and in today's case, that's been helping a friend of ours with her final sorting through of stuff before she moves on Thursday. Three months ago we were helping tidy her house and garden in advance of it going on the market, with the intention that she was going to move very locally, but now she really is on her way - and rather further than originally planned, an exciting and much-needed fresh start for her and her children. Needless to say, the anticipated couple of hours turned into more like about five, but we got a lot done between the three of us adults, and kept the good people at the local recycling centre on their toes. All pretty shattered now, and we've got some other friends coming in a short while for a curry, which we'd better start preparing!

Well the Aspire One arrived rather sooner than expected, so once again there was no point in having paid anything more than the bare minimum for delivery! "Grade A1" was a bit over-enthusiastic for the claimed condition, but for the price I really couldn't complain. There have been a few teething issues, and this morning I gave it a full Linux system re-installation after the desktop went crazy, but it did it good anyway because I had previously tried installing a few things that didn't really work and left a bit of a trail behind them, and there were a few tell-tale signs of previous use anyway. So how do I rate it? It's OK. I would have liked a slightly bigger screen, but at least I have worked out how to make the fonts a bit more legible, and the whole thing is not as small as some 8.9" models which means the keyboard is actually usable by someone like me with chipolatas for fingers. The 8GB solid state disk is large enough for my immediate needs (and is expandable via SDHC anyway) and although it's a bit on the slow side, at least it's the Samsung rather than super-sluggish Intel model fitted in earlier Aspire Ones! The built-in wi-fi seems rock solid, and my Vodafone 3G stick worked without a hitch. Ultimately it will do the job for what I need, i.e. a flexible solution for when I'm out and about or on holiday, without breaking the bank (or my back, unlike my old Toshiba!) in the process.

Sunday, and having a very quiet day, because neither of feels remotely good. We had a fun day out yesterday visiting our friends in Reading, but we didn't actually do anything too strenuous, so there's no real reason for why we feel quite so exhausted today. So anyway, we didn't make it to church this morning, and are mortified that we missed country dancing there, though we did take a wander up to the shops earlier just to get some fresh air, even if it's about the most that either of us could manage. Otherwise, I've been investigating a few accessories for the netbook (including getting baffled by the pricing of USB flash drives) and Katy's been doing some groundwork for a picture quiz we've agreed we'll help my mum out with compiling.

Almost a week on, and been fairly busy this week with web work stuff, though still not feeling too brilliant. After all my deliberations the other day, I have finally got a few accessories for the netbook. Namely a brace of 2GB USB pen drives (plus another for my dad), and today a nice little carry-case from Carphone Warehouse of all places - for half the price of anywhere else reputable! Oh, and for those interested in such things, this diary post is being typed on the Aspire One, which is really rather usable for general typing, being not overly tiny.

And almost a week on again... Perhaps I should finally face the inevitable and can this. My double amputee's-worth of readers will surely not notice. Anyway, been quite busy with this and that, and it will be nice to see the spoils of my endeavours hit the bank balance in due course.

The little Aspire One's still doing fine, needless to say, and will soon come into its own when we're away for a few days but can't afford to be completely connection-less. I just about managed when we went to Weymouth in May, but there were a couple of crises then when it would have made life an awful lot easier! One of its more interesting features is that it runs Linux rather than Windows. Now this is nothing too new to me, my web hosting being based on Debian, and having put Ubuntu on to my old laptop, but this is my first time with a consumer-oriented system designed from the ground up to be penguin-friendly - and to be honest it really does so rather well. The debate will no doubt rage on for quite some time as to whether Linux is ready for the mass market, but I would say that the Fedora-based Linpus Lite on the Aspire One really is pretty decent. Sure, it's not geek-friendly out of the box, but it works - and works well, even with only 512MB of memory, thanks to Linux's excellent memory management. There have been a couple of customisations (e.g. adding 3G stick support) I've wanted to make that have required a little bit of command-line tweaking, but the average user probably wouldn't have bothered or needed to. It uses an 8GB solid-state disk rather than a conventional hard disk, so the only moving part is the cooling fan. The disk is perhaps not the quickest in the world, but the system is fully ready to use (including establishing a wi-fi connection) within a minute of turning on, and Firefox starts in a blink - and with the window-dressing looking almost copyright-infringingly similar to Windows XP, it really could only be the Microsoft-brainwashed who would have a problem using it, superior as it is in just about every way. Just a shame it seems - for now at least - to be the end of an evolutionary line, as almost all new netbooks are staunchly Windows-based. Perhaps that will change if and when the ARM-based netbooks that are currently vapourware become available (I had been holding out for one, but got bored waiting) but it looks like Microsoft are even getting their tendrils into those now, with nVidia specifying Windows Mobile as the operating system of choice for their promising Tegra platform. Hey ho.

Bank holiday weekend, and the Met Office's infamous "barbecue summer" continues... The open-air service went ahead this morning, but it was decidedly cold and became increasingly damp as time went on, so I'm not sure many stayed for the picnic lunch afterwards - we certainly didn't. Instead, a select group of us had our sarnies and rolls back at our house, and a very nice civilised afternoon in the warm and dry it turned out to be! Rather depressing needing the lounge lights on half way through an August afternoon though.

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