Dear Diary... February 2006

Sunday 26th February - Speak To Me

Got up Saturday morning with an air of excitement and happiness, and time to fit the new speaker cable to the rig. I pulled out the main unit so I could get round the back, and with everything switched off, I disconnected the old Cable Talk 3 cable first from the amp, then the cable from the back of my Mission m73s. While I was there, I also removed the copper connector that connects both circuits to a single speaker connector so I could truly go bi-wire. It was easy really: all the speaker connectors both at the speakers and the amp had little plastic bits in the middle which you could remove to facilitate the banana plugs. So I screwed the red and black connectors all the way in, and plugged the banana plugs into the holes now visible in the centre of the connectors. Did that at both speakers and then the amp, put it all back together and switched on.

And, wow! What a difference, both in sound quality and in seperation of instruments. Bi-wiring certainly does work for this audio lover, with plenty of instruments sounding even more crisp, clear and very lively. The bass particularly benefitted from this (my Missions are no slouch in that department anyhow, but even so) and really gave nice deep feelings throughout, especially when trying out Orbital's The Altogether CD. The Doctor Who cover version on there was especially spine tingling, and when I switched to acoustic stuff such as Barenaked Ladies' If I Had A Million Dollars, there was no problems at all, the soundstage really projected itself nicely and I know what if and when I go all high definition, the front speakers will last me a long long time now (I've already had them some three years plus) without any problem of sound at all. Yaay!

What was not yaay! was watching City lose away at Liverpool and play appalling. We didn't get started until Joey Barton got himself sent off, somewhat ironic that considering his supposed want of a bigger contract. Well incidents like this don't really help, methinks. We were only 1-0 down though and at any time could have grabbed an equaliser, a couple of efforts were unlucky (not least Sinclair's half volley, some save from their keeper Reina) but just not good enough at the end of the day. Well at least there's Sunderland at home next Sunday, should hopefully win that one!

Friday 24th February - Hi-Fi Heaven

Earlier in the week I made a snap decision. It was to take Friday off work and go down to the Sound and Vision Bristol show. I booked the train tickets online, unbelievably I managed to get quite a good fare and reserved seats both there and back, although I'd have to change at Birmingham on the way down. The only thing I was dreading in reality was the 6-54am departure on the train from Manchester to get to Bristol just after 10am and see the show. Still, I set the alarm on my phone and I was ready to get some shut eye on the Thursday night.

Woke up at 5-15am as per the alarm, got showered and ready and left the house at 6-10am - just managaing to get the trusty 192 bus to Piccadilly train station. The train was already in, so I grabbed myself a latte from Costa Coffee and then onto the train, I had a table seat and everything, quite a rare occurrence really. As the train headed down south and into Stoke-on-Trent, I couldn't help but notice the distinct white covering that was starting to appear. Had Manchester really escaped all the predicted snow? Well by Wolverhampton that was a definite yes to be answered, even some of the platforms had a bit of snow on them and the staff were working frantically to sort it all out.

As the train approached Birmingham New Street, I grabbed a couple of shots of the snow for posterity, only looking out of a window meant that the reflections didn't always agree with the camers image. A quick change of platforms at New Street, and the train to Bristol arrived slightly late. That said, there was hardly anyone on it, the journey was nice and quick, and managed to grab a quite nice bacon roll on the way down. In between Five Ways and University stations in Birmingham (part of a journey I used to do pretty regular on that line in my dark and distant past) the train went a little slow so I was able to grab some more shots of the snow. If you want to see these for yourself, contact me and I'll send them you.

Got to Bristol, although there was no indication of the supposed free shuttle bus between the train station and the hotel the show was in. Not to be deterred, I walked towards the city centre and soon spotted the hotel in the distance, a quick right through a little city centre park did the job and I was there by around 10-25am, not bad at all really. The place was already buzzing with manufacturers and punters so it was a thriving mix of both, and paid the admission and I was in. So much to see in the hours ahead, so just a case of starting from the top and working my way down, which is exactly what I did.

A lot of people were concentrating on the home cinema front room look and it was no surprise that a lot of them were showing interest in the large projector screens together with a cinema rig to die for - not least in one room where B&W were showing off their surround packages hooked up to a massive Pioneer plasma telly and playing, of all things, Wallace and Gromit. Still, kept everyone amused that did so I guess there was method in their supposed madness. Meanwhile Pure, the digital radio makers, were content to give away little rubber duckies with their logo on, quite why I'm not sure.

Did see lots of temptation of course, as you might expect, and it was amazing how friendly people were, especially the manufacturer representatives. I had the trusty iPod Nano with me, and both Acoustic Energy and Monitor Audio were showing off their docking solutions. There was a very nice looking woman on the AE stand, but she knew her stuff and gasped in jealousy when she saw the black Nano, even asking me if she could borrow it for the day to show off their speaker system. Mind you, although their system sounded nice enough, the Monitor Audio one looked better, and it was in black, too, apparently a new model seeing as Apple were bringing out stuff in black. I hooked the Nano to it, played some tracks in random and they sounded pretty good to me, much better than the average PC speakers as well. The price tags of both might be a little scary but then you are paying for quality folks.

Being a vinyl buff too, nice to see vinyl nicely represented. Hearing Pink Floyd on the Michell Gyro SE turntable was like no other listening to them on vinyl - ever, it was that nice. And it was even nicer to see the bloke working for them having original label vinyls to demonstrate - yeah, green Harvest label stuff and all. Fantastic, I thought. Project were also there too and their Debut decks were as popular as ever, nice to see you can now get a sky blue one if you really want. And there were even dealers who were showing that vinyl still is very much a market that matters with all sorts of limited audiophile pressings of classic albums on show for you to drool over.

The piece de resistance was at the Denon stand though. They were showing off their new DVD player, and their new AV amp which you can hook up to a broadband router and obtain Internet radio, as well as being able to hook up everything possible, and I mean virtually everything. I'll probably do a review of this at some point but let's just say this: the quality was making everyone in the room drop their jaws and exclaim how much they wanted one. And there was a queue for the demonstrations so I was glad to get in on the act at the 2pm one to be honest, just goes to show that there isn't any substitute for quality. Now of course if I could convince them to send me a review sample, hehe. Still, that done it was the rest of the ground floor to go..

.. and I actually bought something! Well, I didn't treat myself to something really expensive like an LCD television, although as you could imagine the temptation was staring me in the face big time, no. At the QED stand the lovely people there were selling their excellent speaker cables, and they even had a cable making service so you could order the cable, have it made properly with banana plug termination and everything, and grab it later on. However what interested me was that they had a box of ready made cables you could browse and buy, and they were already made up, terminated with their special airlocked banana plugs and at a price much much less than retail. Naturally I thought to myself that my Cable Talk 3 speaker cable was getting a bit long in the tooth hooked up to my Mission m73s and so why don't I treat myself to something biwirable? A bit of checking later and managed to get my hands on just what I needed, no less than their Silver Anniversary bi-wire cable, 2 lengths of 2.5 metres and with all the right connectors and terminators factory fitted. The best bit? Well, the cable is normally around £9 per metre, and the airlocked fitted terminators are around £5 each. Bear in mind for bi-wire you need twelve of them (four for each speaker end, two for each amp end, and that's for one speaker) and fitting, and you'd be looking at around £110 or so. The price I paid? £40! A total bargain in anyone's stretch of the imagination, and as I already have QED Qudos Micro cable for the rears and centre (it's nice and thin and it goes along the skirting boards nicely to the rears too) it's a nice match up, especially as I listen to tons more stuff on CD than anything else in the rig.

Purchases made and with time on the hands, off into the city centre for a bit of sightseeing, taking in some of the old streets and the markets, the rather odd millennium square with some giant spherical dome, and also the statue of Neptune and also a water feature near there that I recognised from the TV programme "A life of Grime" when they were cleaning out the gunk from it. Overall it's definitely not bad, although the main shopping area badly needs an overhaul, it's just too anonymous and doesn't really stand out from any other city centre shopping (something which to be honest I can also level at Manchester, so please don't be offended, Bristolians). I managed to get something nice to munch and it was soon time to head for the direct train back to Manchester Piccadilly and be back for 10-30pm into there, and home by 11pm. Now I just have to find time tomorrow to fit all the new cable, can't wait!

Tuesday 21st February - Back To The Grind Of Everyday

After the course, back to some sort of normality and I caught up with all the tasks I've needed to do that piled up when I was off. Thankfully some of them were much easier than others and so it meant I was able to get things sorted. Just got one outstanding thing to do tomorrow (and that's cos the member of staff is not in), off to another site on Thursday to test out some documentation regarding a backup server. So it's all go really, but that's how I like it!

Anyway, ordered myself Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit on DVD today. I simply had to get it at some point, primarily because of its humour and endearing qualities (not to mention it featured in my review of 2005) and also cos of all the mounds of extras you get. According to some online sites you get some of the Cracking Contraptions short films. I already have the DVD of that one, but it'll be well worth it for those who haven't. I suppose as well that with it being a quintessentially English film, and one that won a BAFTA award for best British film, the public can't be wrong. Apparently it's been flying off the shelves in both the high street and online shops so there you go.

Saw the FA Cup draw live when on lunch yesterday and I have to say if we do beat Aston Villa I'd be quite happy with Bolton or West Ham at home. We can't lose to Bolton at home again especially after we dominated them at home and lost 1-0 earlier this season, and we beat West Ham comfortably at home too - and our home form hasn't been that bad whatsoever. Just have to see when the replay date gets officially announced and go from there really.

Sunday 19th February - Bleeping Hell

So the course finished on Friday and it was actually pretty enjoyable stuff for me, I learnt a few more new things along the way including a way in which we can use most of our existing network software to record a hardware and software inventory, and add custom information to it as well to be able to collect the necessary information that we would need for future upgrades. This definitely was a big plus and it was nice to be able to work with some people from other sites I get on well with.

Today was a different matter: it was the moment I'd waited for all week - City away to Aston Villa in the FA Cup fifth round. And no one could have possibly scripted what happened. We dominated the first half only for the likes of Vassell to miss a few chances and others just go wide or be well saved (thought Barton was well unlucky with his effort personally). But as the second half wore on I had a funny feeling that Villa, despite playing badly, with none of their fans hardly turning up compared to a normal game (the attendance was around 24,000 and almost 6,500 of that were City fans - impressive for an away turnout) managed to get a killer ball through to Milan Baros who did the business.

And so I waited, and waited. And waited. And waited. And.. I honestly thought as the stoppage time clock counted down we were out, but wait! A corner, well earned by Lee Croft down the right, and I just knew this would be our very last chance. What would we do? We'd missed a few headers close on previous set pieces. It was too much to ask this one to go in? Barton floats the corner, comes over David James (who went up for it - always shows how much risk we were taking) and the 17 year old Micah Richards plonks a firm header into the Villa net. Well, that was it. I went mental and screamed the house down in pure delight and ecstasy. One of those moments where you feel football is better than sex (apparently). And as it turned out, the last touch of the match as well so a perfectly timed goal. Just got to see when the replay is so I can go.

As for the interview post match you think someone would have said to Micah "look son, this is going out on national telly, please do not swear", but he did say "f**ing hell" during his first sentence, and explained how much it meant to him to get that goal for us (Joey Barton take note, this is what loyalty, pride and passion for the shirt means.) You could tell he was buzzing big time and nothing could take that away from him, even a booking for celebrating with the City fans afterwards. It was just nice to see that he earned his place in the team and kept it, and apart from the goal played really well. Excellent stuff.

Wednesday 15th February - Training and Slush

It's been a different week this week, mostly because I've been not at work and instead on a course at one of our training places we go to - it means me having to get a bus into the city centre and one out again to where the suite is (Old Trafford, just by the cricket ground) but it does at least mean that I'm meeting people from other sites and also picking up some useful skills which will definitely have to be utilitised in the summer. It's a course in administration of Zenworks 7 for Desktops, something Novell use which now can be administered using a Netware or a SUSE Linux Open Enterprise Server, and the relevant tools. Some of what we've learnt we're already doing as we're using Zenworks 4 at the moment, but it's nice to be able to pick up things I might have missed and also some useful tips which could prove handy when rolling out the next build to students and staff, so see how it goes. Lunch has been free, although usually of the buffet variety it's been okay - just wish we were being taken out for a Chinese on Friday, but all is good.

Of course everywhere you went yesterday was reminding you of the fact it was Valentine's Day - like I needed telling. It just was a total slushfest everywhere and not something that really inspired you. And of course with GMTV having this whole thing on couples renewing their vows and going somewhere posh to do it, it really made you think how pathetic it all is. I'm sorry, I am usually a romantic sort of person in the right company, but to be perfectly honest you should love someone all the time, not just one day a year to make a spectacular effort that tries to make up for all the other times of the year when you are just not trying. I aim to try and be nice most of the time because then it doesn't feel like I have to go overboard to actually prove how much I care.

That said, my cousin came round with his girlfriend and they both admitted they clean forgot about it - now that sort of laid back approach is more than fine by me. In a modern day and age you don't need reminding about romance, how to do X and Y, how to be a gentleman and all that - most decent blokes out there can do that sort of thing without any problems, and it's ironically those that don't always end up with the woman that they should because not everyone sees an attraction other than physical. I'd like to think my sarcastic sense of humour makes up for any looks deficiencies that I might have, you know.

Enough ranting anyway. For the second week running I've managed to win a small prize on the EuroMillions, and I'm convinced it's because I've been to this newsagent that has had big winners before. Okay, so small wins of £7 and £15 might not seem that much, but it's a start. Just put the lucky dips on for Friday so who knows - I might win again, and even if I don't, you have to be in it to win it - that's my logic. Someone has to win after all, and why can't it be you? The most I ever won on the normal lottery was £77 for four numbers, which was actually a pretty good week for getting four - the only other time I got four was £42, so go figure. I'll just have to cross those fingers and see how I get on at the weekend.

Sunday 12th February - Encaved in Black

Well, it was a much strenuous week for me really. Partially because I have been running around a lot doing several jobs in a day, and trying to get to some sort of normality after a server outage, and also ensuring that everything went live for an office move in one of the buildings, that sort of thing. It probably didn't help with network problems that students coincidentally were also close to a hand in day either, so that meant a bit of flak taken here and there, nothing I've not endured before, but nonetheless I had to take that on board, and particularly with them paying so much next year, the value for money needs to appear even better than it does now!

I mentioned last month about all those spare parts that I had? Well, apart from the zip drive and modem, they're all spoken for now. Part of the reason for that is that I got a case and built up a PC for one of my family relations, and put it all together, set it up, and it works pretty well. Okay so it won't be the quickest thing in the world, but it does fly along reasonably well. Even found a 256MB stick of PC100 RAM to chuck in there (probably the one from my old box that I forgot I still had) and it worked first go too so that was a nice bonus. It'll do for running basic stuff and as that's all that they want to do for now it'll be something they can just update their CV and do job applications on. Plus it also gets rid of all the clutter from the house too. And they're getting my old monitor thrown in..

.. because I succumbed to temptation and finally bought myself a flat screen monitor! Been thinking about it for a while because I wanted a nice new display, and my old Belinea 15" CRT served me well (still works flawlessly, so that's good) and I'm sure it still will. Part of my reasoning was that I wanted a bigger monitor but also I wanted to be able to go flatscreen - I'm used to the one at work and it's tons better for the eyes and stuff. However, didn't just want any flat screen though. I wanted one with DVI input rather than the old VGA analogue, as the picture's even better using a digital interface. After all, why do High Definition TV sets have a HDMI interface? Exactly the same reason.

So with all that in mind I'd narrowed down the shortlist, but eventually thought that the one that would do the job, albeit a little bit more than a standard 17" LCD, was the Iiyama ProLite E438S, for a few reasons - it has DVI, it does 1280 x 1024 resolution, it has a full 17" display, and it's also all black, not just black and silver like a lot of them are these days. I much prefer an all black display (going to have that same dilemma when I eventually look for a HDTV as well) so there you go. I got myself a DVI cable as well, and it's been wonderful so far, nice and crisp and clean with a perfect vision - and the trusty Geforce FX5600 VTDR128 detected the digital display with no hassle. And so far, so good. Might even have to give it the full review, and that 8 ms refresh is certainly doing the eyes the world of good.

I went over to Nottingham yesterday as well, partially to escape somewhere, but also to explore the caves of Nottingham that you can access via the Broadmarsh Centre. It was a pretty good little tour and you got to see old wells that were made down there, a complete little tannery that had been done in the 16th century (complete with the story of how they'd clean the leather in the river and contaminate all the local water supply) and indeed how the caves were also used for air raid shelters in the 1940s. It was so nice to see one of them preserved so well and it was good value to go and explore, and also to be given a couple of historical guides as well that explained more about the whole thing. Well worth a look if you go there to be honest, and certainly if like me all that sort of stuff fascinates you.

And now? Well, I'm on a course all next week which should be fairly intense stuff, but I'm glad I'm going on it early because it means I get to pick up knowledge and skills that I might not have had, so that's always good. I just hope it all proves worthwhile because I really want to develop as a person and be highly skilled. First law of any job: the only way to safeguard yourself is to make yourself completely and wholly indispensable, isn't it? As it says on the Avenue Q soundtrack, it sucks to be me. Well, at least sometimes anyway.

Sunday 5th February - Inconsistency

A fairly busy few days at work, mainly because of various little things which have been going on, and plenty of planning ahead for the weeks to come as well. I suppose as well it meant that I had to go out and about and fix things, such as a specialist PC that's used for one of the departments which had gone a bit poorly. Soon managed to get it up and running without too much hassle, although it involved quite a bit of work in the end I was pleased with myself that I'd managed to get it all going without losing too much time.

On the Saturday it was over the way to Liverpool to watch Man City in action against Everton, bit of an away day if you like. Only thing was that it didn't prove worth it as City lost 1-0 and didn't really play that well either. It made me laugh in that only City could be so inconsistent too. Admittedly Newcastle were poor on the Wednesday night but at least we'd made light work of it and beaten them 3-0 quite comfortably. But that was miles away from the performance, or lack of, on the Saturday. Everton deserved to win cos they wanted it a bit more than we did, and the writing was on the wall from when Leon Osman hit the bar in the first minute, to be honest.

Caught up a bit with the programmes I'd recorded over the week today as well: the latest instalment of Eleventh Hour was particularly good in that some of it was filmed where I work, indeed the scene where someone gets killed in a car accident is just around one hundred yards from the office. It was made to look like a busy road but it's nothing of the sort in one section where they did it, was quite clever really. And plenty of other parts of Manchester were also filmed: it was brilliant the way that the disc with the information was transferred over by being deliberately left on a bus for an acquiantance of the main character to collect. Patrick Stewart has been fantastic in this series, but Ashley Jensen has also been really good, showing she isn't just an actress who can do comedy. And nice burgundy leather jacket in this episode, too. Also caught up with Balderdash and Piffle, and only Germaine Greer could discuss a certain word beginning with the letter c, couldn't she?