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David's diary: March 2009

First working day of March, so time to push out my monthly batch of invoices - and despite a couple of projects not coming off quite as planned, there's still well over £600 due on the usual thirty-day payment terms. Still not quite enough to draw a living wage or incur tax, so thankful Katy's work is holding strong, but at least (unlike all too many people I know) my business-specific outgoings are few, so that is almost entirely profit I could at least theoretically pocket.

Enjoying a couple of months' break from the financial burden of council tax and water rates, but that meant it was a good time to sort out our car's rear tyres which were getting borderline bald - rather like this writer. It was flagged up as an advisory point when we had the car MOTed towards the end of last year, but with the mileage we do there was no huge rush. However, with a bit more travelling coming up and a bit more money in the bank than average it seemed the wise thing to do now. They also found the tracking on the front wheels was a little out (no doubt thanks to Surrey's fall-apart roads) but despite its rough edges and rather flimsy build, the Ibiza's been a remarkably cheap car to run, so not grumbling too much at such expenditure!

Saturday, and enjoying a reasonably lazy day - though we were shamed by one of our neighbours into doing a bit of lawn-mowing for the first time this year. Hopefully it won't grow much more for a few more weeks now... Hopefully got a couple of bits of new business, both of a website maintenance variety - under most circumstances not the most exciting possible, but in this case both may turn out to be quite interesting! Pleased also to see that one of my previous potential clients, who was talked by his adviser into going with a designer specialising in his business area, has got his new site up already. On more than one occasion, such people still have no website, months after the event, which is a real shame. Sure, it would be nice if all these people stuck with me, but if they choose to go elsewhere for what appear valid reasons, I am at least glad to see they've not made too bad a decision!

Tuesday morning, and back to work (well, at least availability for work!) after a busy but fun couple of days away. On Sunday we, along with nine others from my side of the family, helped my mum and dad celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Despite my parents traditionally not making that big a deal of their anniversary (and indeed they had to double-check the date) we'd always intended that this particular landmark should be marked appropriately, and having seemed a long way off for ages, it's now happened. My mum was insistent that she and my dad should organise it, though we all helped with suggestions and recommendations, and the Swan Inn near Gloucester that the thirteen of us eventually convened at did us very nicely indeed, with an excellent Sunday roast and veggie options, and simply sublime desserts. With us two and my parents having fair journeys, we'd sorted out a couple of hotel rooms for us at another country inn out that way, the Royal George at Birdlip. Considering the very competitive rate we secured at fairly short notice, their hospitality, rooms, supper and breakfast were all top notch, and set us all up well for a morning by the Severn estuary looking round the Slimbridge Wetland Centre, much changed in the thirty or more years since any of us had last been there, but the perfect venue to walk off any slight excesses from the previous twenty-four hours!

Wednesday now, and still struggling to find motivation to work too hard. Maybe a kick up the backside from Katy would help, though she's on leave right now anyway! Hopefully got a new client on my books though - not that the initial work as discussed this afternoon will be worth more than a pint, but there's every chance it will develop into something more, and help pay for that £200-worth of Yellow Pages advertising that's so far otherwise proven rather a dead loss.

Oh, and it may or may not interest any readers to know that I am typing this using SRWare's excellent Iron web browser. For those not in the know, Iron is essentially the same as Google's recently released Chrome, but without all the nasty bits that got internet privacy advocates worked up. Why so wonderful though? Because it's lean, fast and possibly the most standards-compliant browser you can get - and it's also broadly similar in HTML handling to Apple's beached whale of a browser that is Safari, sharing a common heritage in Linux's Konqueror KHTML engine.

Monday, back to Firefox and back to work - or at least hoping for some... I had seriously pondered going into London today, since Katy was taking the car up to Harrow and I could avoid being fleeced by South West Trains by accompanying her and perhaps sharing the driving. But then I found a London Travelcard was double the already slightly steep price if I bought it before 9.30, and the thought of killing an hour and a half or more in Harrow was enough to put me off the idea for today at least. Katy's still up in Harrow anyway, under strict instructions to gauge her energies carefully, and perhaps we will put the idea into motion another time.

Good weekend in between though, being sociable with Bex, Si, Mali, Eli, Geg, Mike, Chris, Sam, Phil, George, Kit and Cate across various select gatherings and involving various select foodstuffs! Also had church set-up and hospitality duties on Sunday morning, which were back to being a bit fraught and rather confirming our decision to step down after Easter. No idea what progress there has been in finding replacement team leaders, but we know a few people had made approaches with regard to joining teams, so there shouldn't be a problem finding someone!

I suggested to Katy that WorldPay taking over two days to process a Comic Relief donation was having a bit of a laugh. Katy suggested back that having a laugh was part of the fundamental idea behind Comic Relief. Still a bit rubbish though, for a system to be that backlogged.

Finally got round to loading up one of our recently acquired 2GB memory cards with mp3 files for the downstairs stereo. As I said when we bought them, Pure's SD card implementation is a bit lame compared with that for CD-Rs, supporting neither long filenames nor playlists, these two facts being linked I have worked out - and the stereo is now discontinued so no further firmware updates are expected. Shuffle play only works in individual folders, so since we wanted several hours of random music, that meant bunging everything in one folder. This seemed to be working until we tried copying on some John Renbourn tracks last night, and Windows point-blank refused. It turned out we had exceeded the limit for the number of files in a FAT16 root folder - and FAT32's sadly unsupported. Rather fewer than 512 files, but apparently Windows' filename handling imposes an overhead. Anyway, easily fixed by moving everything into a sub-folder, which is actually better anyway because the stereo stores some of its own data in the root folder, and we can now more easily have some different selections for different occasions if we want. Having all the files together isn't the most manageable arrangement, but random play is all we want for the purposes of this exercise, and Windows lets us list the tracks sorted by artist, album etc based on the ID3 metadata, so maintenance will remain easy enough.

Just got to sort out our second card with favourite photographs now!

Oh, has another week passed by? Would like to claim I've been super-busy, but I've not - though there are lots of potential bits of work waiting in the wings ready for life's stage manager to give the word go... In between lazy drinks in the glorious spring sun, I have been doing a bit of business development work though, basically going through every local commercial website and finding ones that fulfil the double criteria of being both bad or outdated enough to need attention and being likely to be owned by someone who cares about that. Only identified a few candidates so far, but I've only got down to "C" in the alphabetical listings!

In other news, it looks like we may have been hacked! But how can that be, when we are fastidious about all the usual precautions - anti-virus, firewall, router and all..? Well it seems the latter could have been the problem, with reports that the first consumer router worm has made it into the wild, and although apparently shut down now, may have been wreaking damage for some time. However, I emphasise may have been hacked, because a) we can't be 100% sure since restarting affected routers destroys the evidence, and b) I suspect the attempt was unsuccessful and that the tell-tale signs on our broadband traffic stem from a failed brute-force attempt to crack our pretty strong router password. Even so, still a bit worrying.

Further to that last posting, British Telecom, whose branding our router bears, officially do not give a monkeys if they are helping spread worms. My query to them regarding advice on the matter was deleted without being read. At least they were decent enough to admit it. True, the model is obsolete and no longer formally supported, but there does surely come a point where social responsibility (once upon a time known as "good citizenship") should take priority.

I had a good meeting yesterday afternoon with my newest client, and there's the possibility of a couple more new clients through him. His website that I have taken on is showing its age, and it's taken a bit longer to bash into basic shape than I had anticipated, but the prognosis is good now, and the client himself seems easy to get along with and understanding of the issues, which all bodes well. Just need to get him to approve the changes, and we're away!

Quite a busy Saturday in the end for one that we'd been expecting to be quite restful, but it was no bad thing in the end! Breakfast with Si, Bex and the gang this morning we'd anticipated, and beaucoup de croissants and pains au chocolat went down very happily there in between playing with Mali and Elijah. Lunchtime, though, the doorbell rang and it was our neighbour, wondering if I could have a quick look at their PC that had decided to stop booting up. I probably anticipated a floppy disk or pen-drive left inserted, or perhaps a more serious Windows fault, but no, the hard disk had stopped being recognised at a hardware level. Thankfully, opening the beast up revealed an inherently wobbly SATA connector, which is hopefully slightly improved now, especially if they've managed to find a bit of gaffa tape to hold it in place. Anyway, after all that, and running round changing the few clocks that don't sort themselves out for the British Summer Time change overnight, we have to say it does now really feel like just gone ten rather than just gone nine, so will probably soon act accordingly...

Monday, and just about time to cook us up a chilli. Not been working too hard this afternoon, because Katy's got a telephone conference later this evening, and I've got a few other bits I can be getting on with at the same time. Quite a productive morning, though, thrashing out a few details of a significant site content update I've got to do, as well as finishing off the first phase of changes to a client's website following that meeting on Thursday. So that left us free this afternoon to go for a nice sunny walk in the woods up at Alice Holt - perhaps even our first there this year, but not 100% sure about that!

I've hopefully got even more new business coming my way soon. We had Guy and Esther round for afternoon tea yesterday, which was all terribly civilised, especially with Molly being one of afternoon tea's biggest fans. Anyway, at some point us grown-ups got on to talking about domains, websites and so on, with Esther having recently registered herself a domain but not entirely sure what she needed to do next. Goznet Systems to the rescue!

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