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David's diary: May 2009

Today I am closely monitoring Dan Magness's keepy-uppy world record attempt in London's Covent Garden. Not from Covent Garden as I had vaguely hoped, but from the comfort of my office - but just as well, because it means I can also closely monitor his website usage, which is currently going ballistic! Anyway, at 9.30 this morning Dan passed the existing world record of 19½ hours, and is moving into uncharted territory as he aims for a full 24 hours of keeping that regulation football in the air!

Well the record attempt is over, and apparently fully successful - well done Dan, smashing the old record by a full 4½ hours! The website's high demand is far from over, though, with projected statistics of well over a month's normal usage in one day, and that's before the usual late afternoon / evening internet usage peak... Although interest will no doubt remain elevated for a few days yet, hopefully today will see the worst of it. Mind you, so long as we keep things vaguely sane and not costing too much in excess bandwidth, it's all good publicity!

Bank holiday Monday evening, after a fairly hectic bank holiday weekend, indeed.

Despite my ongoing moderate concern over the website usage, we managed to get away from it for a couple of days, going to visit my parents. However, any hope of getting totally away from matters technological were blown, as one of my appointed tasks was to fit a second hard disk inside their PC, since the existing 30GB was getting a bit on the tight side. That actually went reasonably to plan, though whilst the instructions I had downloaded off the web for moving Windows' Documents and Settings folder proved accurate enough, they omitted to mention that most applications (including Microsoft's own) would need to have their registry settings tweaked because they hard-wire the storage location rather than use proper system variables. We thought we'd hit a problem when we started the PC up on Sunday morning and all the fonts had gone, replacing even the Windows welcome screen with gibberish, but that turned out to have been an unwanted application we'd uninstalled being a little overzealous with wiping registry keys it no longer needed. Thankfully I had my laptop with me so we were able to work out which gibberish menu item was which and eventually get the fonts reinstalled, and then even managed to get that better state of affairs to survive a reboot! I blame Serif's PagePlus, personally, no doubt bitter at the nasty things I said about it before nuking it from orbit. We also fitted an extra fan in the PC, realising that the extra disk might just push things a little too hot. I'm still not entirely happy with the running temperature, but since the existing disk doesn't have a temperature sensor I don't know what the system was running at previously. The fan seemed good for at least 5°C off, anyway, and might yet do better moved to the other possible mounting point next time we're up. Oh, and we also talked Mum through using a USB pen drive to transfer photos, having recently acquired a 2GB one for next to nothing (gah, to think what I spent on a 1GB one not so many years ago!) but being slightly unsure of the procedure.

It wasn't "all work" though, getting out for a pub lunch and walk on Saturday, returning to the College Lake nature reserve near Wilstone where we'd last been in July 2006, and another more local stroll Sunday morning. We also caught up with my old neighbour Becca for the first time since 2005 probably, now blessed with two boys we'd not previously made the acquaintance of.

Back to Farnham Sunday evening (via the Church Crookham Tesco Express) in time for a bite of tea and to go on to our church evening meeting. Very select group there in the end, i.e. Guy, Rob leading worship, and four of us "punters", but it was a good time and we were probably all people who did better in a smaller group setting, so we certainly got some business done!

Oh, and how could I forget, we had home group here last night. We've juggled things around a bit this term, and although we've been running the group since last autumn, it had always been elsewhere, but now at least some weeks it will be at ours. We'd met here once or twice more informally in the past, and had only one or two others turn up, but last night there was ten of us altogether, which made for quite a packed lounge - and driveway/street outside! All good stuff, and good to see some faces we'd not seen for a while. It felt like a bit of a new beginning in many ways; perhaps finally this group will start to realise its full potential.

Just about to shut things down for the day, with home group later of course, and tea in between! Got a vague plan for worship and Communion this evening, but sometimes that's the best way - remember who's in charge! Not a great deal's actually happened today, though I paid in a couple of cheques this morning, and finances consequently aren't looking too poorly.

Had a bit of action around and about over the last few days though, even if we somehow managed to miss it all by a whisker. Friday evening we were going round to see some friends, and just after we'd pulled out of the close, a police car blocked it off, and we saw a few more on the way. Turns out that the road was closed for a couple of hours, with everyone told to stay inside, and the place swarming with heavily-armed officers. No idea what it was all about, though perhaps tomorrow's paper might eludicate, if the East Street scandal's having a week off? And then Sunday, while we were off doing that tidy-up job for our friends, lots of local roads were closed and houses evacuated while a WW2 mortar bomb uncovered during building works was made safe a little over half a mile away. All happens when we're not here, eh?

Home group went really well last night, not quite the throngs we had at ours last week I don't think, but not far off! Like some of our best meetings, it was all pretty "organic", flowing freely and seamlessly between sharing, worship, bible study, Communion and prayer. At a loss for anything too radically interesting to discuss regarding Communion, I decided we'd do things a little differently and actually share proper unleavened bread. Just a simple mixture of flour, salt, olive oil and water, and it worked out just fine! Some commented they really could feel a connection with those having shared in the same way for thousands of years before.

Fairly quiet today, but was asked to charge fairly respectably for a not-too-large bit of work this morning (mainly on account of having to fight with a German website-administration system!), and may be about to strike a deal to take on maintenance and possibly hosting of another site for the European arm of a Japanese company. The website I was working on the other day is more or less complete now, just waiting for the last few bits of copy through from the customer and her decision on what domain she wants to register for it, but that's generally looking not too shabby for something that's only taken two or three hours work to get up and running.

Further to my grumbling from a week ago, I had another call from the Yellow Pages, this time not using a withheld number, so I was prepared to listen to what the lady had to say. Naturally, she had to try and sell me all their latest fancy options, but entirely understood that a 30% ROI wasn't going to persuade me to shell out even more than last year for questionable gain. Anyway, although she was prepared to offer free lineage, I eventually decided that a format where my web address could be included was worth paying a little bit for - and indeed I suspect it may actually be better than my current ad, because at least people will have to go to the site to find out what I do, rather than misinterpret my wording. So, should all be going through now - and for about a third the price that I paid this time last year. Last time round I thought I would be disappointed if I didn't recoup my investment in the advertising - and lo and behold, I didn't - but I really should this time. It'll be the end of the line for the Yellow Pages if not, in any case!

Oh, and something else I was looking at today: BlackBerries. Not to buy though, only to emulate. The other day I fixed some slightly ropy Javascript focus control on Diary 4, but alas a new customer was still unable to log on with his Pearl 8100. Some 200 megabytes of very slow downloading later, I finally got an official emulator up and running - the first 90 megabytes only being to get some eye-candy I could click the buttons on, another 110 megabytes needed to actually have internet access. Anyway, after all that, I determined that the BlackBerry browser is, officially, utter pants. Bad layout engine, bad Javascript, bad everything, basically - and there's no quick fix that would get my customer up and running. Thankfully it's no deal-breaker for him, but it would have been nice. So much for the so-called definitive smart-phone...

Sorry for my recent silence. Well, not really sorry; we've been on holiday in Weymouth! We booked a cottage for a week with some friends for next to nothing - thanks to it belonging to friends of said friends. We all struggled to relax, but it was still lovely there, overlooking Portland Harbour and watching the various naval comings and goings. The weather had been forecast to be mainly foul, but apart from a little rain overnight once, it was all pretty perfect, and we had wall-to-wall sunshine most days. Between eating, drinking and playing well with Ian and Jo, Katy and I also did a reasonable amount of coastal-path walking, so even if it did take us a while to properly switch off, it was definitely all good for us. We came back on Saturday via a visit to my mum's cousin just outside Dorchester, always happy to see us for coffee and biscuits at the very least. All calm on our return home, though the lawns needed mowing again needless to say - oh, and as a nice belated birthday present, we won £25 on the Premium Bonds! Won't change our lives (in fact it's their newly reduced minimum prize) but better than a poke in the eye, eh?

We had the experience of analogue television signal switch-off while we were away. The cottage had a decent enough but quite old Sony analogue television, but part way through the week, the local news broadcasts started slipping in a few reminders that the analogue signal would be switched off that very night. Hey ho, that would mean no telly for the rest of the week, and indeed, true to their promise, the following morning there was absolutely nothing. We would have to be radical and talk. Though in Jo and Ian's case, that was talking to the owners, and they arrived back at the cottage that evening with a shiny new set-top box from the supermarket. Bonus for Jo, because there was no reception on BBC Two even when the analogue signal worked, and now she could catch up with her Chelsea Flower Show coverage! Just a shame it's another three years until it all happens here in the south-east. We've had a Freeview recorder for several years, but are really looking forward to when analogue goes for good and they supposedly crank up the signal strength on digital. Might even save us having to upgrade our interference-prone aerial feed, as we keeping thinking we might need to.

Rather disappointingly, our digital camera's just decided to give up the ghost - or 50% so, given that exactly half the image is now obscured by louvre-blind style banding. On the bright side, it sounds suspiciously like a known sensor connection fault afflicting a whole slew of Canon compact cameras from a few years back, and one that would be honoured with a free repair - and we've already got in touch with a friendly service agent, though they can't promise anything until they've had a chance to look at the camera for themselves. Much as I'd love to choose a shiny new camera, it would be one extra expense we really can't justify at the moment!

One rather more essential expense having been that of getting our central heating fixed, which has duly just been done this afternoon - and, including a somewhat overdue boiler service, for just the sweet side of £100, happily to say! So much for my diagnostics, though; I had deduced that it was the controller that was faulty since nothing happened at all when we tried to turn on the heating, but it was a worn out motor in the mid-position valve, whose feedback the other parts of the system rely on. Not that we should be needing the heating for a few more months, hopefully, but good to spot and sort out the problem now!

We feared we'd tempted fate by rejoicing in how cheap our recent holiday and plumbing bill were, and by recounting swine-flu jokes about crackling on the NHS Direct helpline, because yesterday evening our phone-line itself developed a nasty crackle and knocked out the broadband. All was well in the end, and as usual they managed to fix it a day early and without sending an engineer out, but it was hassle and stress we could have done without, especially when BT made their standard dire threats about how much they would charge if it turned out to be a problem with our equipment rather than theirs. Really we should be able to make reciprocal demands - that is, if they blackmail us into spending two hours or more troubleshooting their problem, we should be able to charge them, right?! Hey ho, over British Telecommunications PLC's semi-monopolistic barrel as usual, but at least it's working again now.

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