Dear Diary... June 2006

Thursday 29th June - Barbecued Hard Drives

Well a couple of things happened in the office this week - first off yesterday was a little barbecue that our technicians organise, and invite us IT folk along to. It was really good last year (apart from the fact that some academics gate crashed and didn't donate anything) and so when we got the mail it was going to happen, everyone did their bit and brought along some good. Even though I'm not vegetarian I love the Quorn southern style burgers so I brought some of them along with some Cajun Chicken grills and some buns etc, and the job was done. Shame it wasn't that cheap in Asda but everyone else would probably be paying as much if not more.

This year turned out pretty good, even if it rained for about the only time this week on and off, there was a little gazebo up with some tables so everyone went under there for shelter if it was really chucking it down. It gives everyone a chance to be together and relax a bit, and also to have a general chat about all sorts. I must admit I did pig out a little but then so was everyone else - lots of food was there and some very nice tasty burgers, sausages etc which was great. Even nicer was that all the veggie stuff was on a separate barbecue so that there was no cross contamination - and knowing quite few people who are non meat-eaters, I am sure that this would be appreciated. Well, I did anyway.

That done, it was hard to get back to the office and work, but work I did, and on a very poorly laptop that had hard disk problems. After a few attempts at running any form of disk check it wasn't playing ball whatsoever, and so it was time to remove it from the laptop casing. Luckily the hard drive was in a pull out unit that you just removed a screw from and so it was remove that, unscrew the drive from the unit, attach the 2.5" to 3.5" IDE cable that I'd borrowed from a colleague, and hook it up to my PC. I left it to run a checkdisk (the one Windows does on boot up) and off it went.

Got in this morning and the log on screen appeared, indicating to me at least that it looked like the hard disk problem had been repaired. I logged on, checked out the hard disk - and, thankfully, I could get at the stuff. The user had saved their documents to the My Documents folder thankfully, so a mere 40 minutes later I'd copied some 7GB of data to the hard disk on my PC, and then backed that lot up to two DVD discs. That made me feel good that I was able to help someone out even if it took me a while. And now I just have the England game to look forward to!

Sunday 25th June - Who's the Idiot In The Green?

Well, another day, another England game and another rubbish performance, that wasn't really good enough but nonetheless we struggled to get pas the might (ahem) of Ecuador. No offence to any Ecuador fans reading, but it looked like after the England goal went in there wasn't enough urgency to get a draw and force extra time - almost as if the inevitable goal had happened. That said I wasn't impressed with David Beckham, goal apart. He just seemed a little too anonymous as he just wandered a little aimlessly down the right hand side. It ironically looked a lot better when he went off poorly and Aaron Lennon went on with a few minutes left - at least he actually wanted to run at the defenders and make them work for the ball. I hope that didn't go unnoticed by Sven, although it probably did because has his favourites no matter how badly they play.

And with the Portugal - Netherlands game in the evening being a bit of a referee card frenzy (sixteen yellow and four red, it was a case of name the players that he didn't book to be perfectly honest) which ironically has helped England somewhat. Two of Portugal's key players will be ruled out, and it should have been a third had the referee spotted the deliberate head butt by Luis Figo, but that's another matter. And we all thought the English referee Graeme Poll was a lousy referee? This one takes the biscuit, no wonder FIFA have sent him home.

Ah, the days when you could chant at the referee in a certain way, but it doesn't sound the same now when you chant "who's the ***** in the yellow?" does it? It tends to be either green or yellow kits these days which can often clash with team kits (Brazil or Australia being an obvious case in point for example). Ah well, I should thank the lucky stars we're through and start thinking about Saturday's game or something..

Thursday 22nd June - About Another Stupid Summer

So, it's supposedly summer, right? Well, it's certainly not here anyway. It might look nice and warm in Germany where the World Cup continues apace, but in Manchester there's plenty of wind, and more wind. At least it wasn't chucking it down with rain today, unlike yesterday where a colleague and I got absolutely drenched on the way back from one building to ours, it was a total drenching downpour, and yet the weather then decided to brighten up just as everyone was going home. I guess that made a nice change of sorts.

Well, the inquest about England should continue to be honest, we just did not perform so well against Sweden after taking all the initiative. We just run out of steam second half after taking the lead with an absolute peach from Joe Cole, he just gets better every game and actually looks the part playing for England. Credit too for him setting up what could have been a winner for Steven Gerrard, but the defensive frailties showed themselves very bad indeed. And who's to blame? Paul Robinson! He clearly cannot get the defence organised properly and it just looked a mishmash of no one calling for the ball and getting it, and making it his. You know, if a certain Manchester City keeper made those mistakes, everyone would be saying it was typical of him, he should never play for England etc, and yet when someone else does it, it's just nerves. Talk about double standards!

And talking of standards, let's face it, we were playing with ten men. You might as well not have put David Beckham out there, one of his worst displays for England ever. Not content with hoofing the odd occasionally decent long ball and then going invisible for most of the game, he then doesn't mark Magnus Allback thus allowing the Swedish striker to equalise at 1-1, but he then at the next corner tells the defence to get tight. Double standards again. The most surprising thing was that Owen Hargreaves actually was the second best England player out there - and this was simply because he was playing in the position he plays for Bayern Munich week in week out, in front of the defence. He looked comfortable as anchor there and actually showed what he could do. Shame it's taken Eriksson this long to work it out, then again this is a man who takes two half fit strikers, another striker who hasn't even played for his first team and is along for the ride, and only four of them. Stupid? Definitely.

I got the title of today's entry from one of the song lyrics of "Clara Bow", a track off a CD I finally got round to purchasing today: Fifty Foot Wave's "Golden Ocean". Shame on me, after all it's Kristin Hersh on there so that should have made me go out and get it much earlier, but it was one of those that was always expensive in all the shops here and I didn't want to pay ripoff prices. Thankfully getting that and Ladytron's "Witching Hour" for a grand total of ten pounds was an essential and good trip to Vinyl Exchange. I actually really wanted the Ladytron album so to get the two was a bit of a bonus as well, yaay me. I still am after their other albums though, especially "Light and Magic" which has the wonderful "Seventeen" on it which I adored a few years back. And I'm talking the original releases, not the bonus track laden efforts of a re-release thank you.

Ah well, roll on the weekend and Sunday, especially if England actually manage to get past Ecuador and go on to meet Holland or Portugal in the quarter finals...

Tuesday 20th June - Thinking Things Over

Well the weekend was fairly okay, although fairly busy at the same time. I spent some time on Saturday relaxing and doing a bit of shopping, although quite why Matalan decided to re-arrange their Stockport store so that no one can find any stock is beyond me. I managed to get a couple of new pairs of jeans, but there were no nice shirts at all, all horrible stripey efforts or in pink! Do I really want to wear that colour? I think not. And when I did find a nice shirt for myself, it was the wrong size as well. It was just a case of me thinking that it wasn't going to be my day whatsoever, even after looking in a couple of other shops it was just not to be. Ah well, one out of two isn't bad.

And on the Sunday I had to do something family related, and I got that done. I ended up walking from Didsbury to Stockport, primarily because I felt like I needed a long walk, but also because it gave me some time to think about things that were affecting me. I think whenever you have to take stock of your life and think, that it's a good thing: you need to sometimes take that time out to just have that time alone and just ponder a while. That said, when I did get home I wasn't feeling the best and just decided to spend the evening relaxing and not doing much either. Too much to get on with as well in terms of work and in terms of watching the footy, and the DVDs of Beavis and Butt-Head that I have!

That said, at least with Germany winning against Ecuador today all we have to do (he says) is for England to either draw with or beat Sweden, and we'll play Ecuador and avoid Germany, which on paper at least looks like the best of the options available to the team. I just hope though with our dodgy record against Sweden doesn't come back to haunt us somewhat.

Mind you, I also planned out a few things today, including a necessary Summer project which I'm going to take the bull by the horns and sort out, so fingers crossed that's going to go well. I can just imagine the possible problems ahead as well, but with careful planning I'm going to avoid that. I think sometimes you just need to get your teeth into something in order to be able to be good at it.

I thought about that when I was building another PC over the last week or so. Once I have all the necessary parts, then I can set to work and make up the PC and ensure everything works properly. Of course it also gives me more experience in actually doing a fresh build, ensuring that all the cables are neatly done, and then Windows or Linux installed etc. If you know anyone who maybe is looking at an upgrade but would need any help or advice, then contact me by all means. Sometimes many people have a good monitor, keyboard and mouse etc and only need the main base unit, and so on. Always good to bear in mind, as is the cost of any possible software purchases you may need.

Thursday 15th June - Forty Years Of Hurt Are Going To Carry On

It was a snap decision by the time work finished: would I want to risk the traffic going home and not make it in time for the England game's kick off, or would I stay somewhere near work and watch it in a packed pub? As the day progressed I could see that the traffic on the roads around work was progressively getting worse, and as it approached 4-30pm it was really busy, in fact almost gridlock on some of the roads going in to the city centre, oddly enough. Mind you, going out of town didn't look too bad but I could just imagine how it would be further out as people would be stopping off at their local pubs as much as they could. So with a few work colleagues, I headed into a pub near work, managed to get a good view of a telly in there with them, and eagerly awaited the game.

Kind of wish afterwards that I hadn't have bothered. England played, quite frankly, terrible. To say that we're not going to win the World Cup would be putting it kindly to say the least. We just didn't have the skill or the tactical nous to break down Trinidad and Tobago, whom to be fair to them, were really up for it. In fact it was only because of a good clearance by John Terry that we went in 0-0 at half time, and that said it all for me. We just didn't look like we wanted it enough.

Second half was a bit better - but only because, for once, Sven got the substitutions right. And I'm not even talking about the daft decision to bring Wayne Rooney on when he clearly still isn't 100% fit. Seems that many people are just suckers for the media hype and it's like he's going to be the man to save us. Well, hang on a minute, isn't that a bit naive of us to think that? I'm sick to death of hype about him and I'm quite sure that he probably is as well. We already knew from Euro 2004 that Sven had no plan B when Rooney got injured, and it kind of proved himself during this game that as soon as he wanted to, on he came. No, the substitution that mattered was bringing on Aaron Lennon. Suddenly we had a player with no fear who would run at players and actually make them try and make tackles or concede free kicks. No surprise either that Lennon had a fair hand in both goals, his knock down to Beckham, giving the captain space to put a cross in for Crouch, or Lennon's interchange with Steven Gerrard for a well taken second were just signs to me that it was a vilified decision. Whether or not that he should have been there in place of Shaun Wright-Phillips before the tournament was a source of debate (despite the fact SWP hadn't hardly played for Chelsea and if he'd have shown a bit of loyalty and stayed at Man City he might have been on that plane) but I think after the way Lennon played, I think the debate will have ceased a fair bit.

It was a good atmosphere in the pub really, we even got a good spot to be served from so it wasn't a horrendously long wait for drinks like it can be in some places where everyone crowds the bar at half time so as not to miss the action. The telly was okay, although it would have been nicer in widescreen like the games are being shown in, and it wasn't expensive for drinks either. One of our ex-colleagues (well, he only left last week to cross the road to another faculty!) told us he'd been to Kro with his new department and the drinks in there were almost £3 a pint. Ouch, that is not very good at all, are we like in London or something? I think not.

Tuesday 13th June - Czech It Out

Well it feels strange the last couple of days to be working on our Help Desk. Our existing help desk colleague has now moved onwards and upwards (well, on to another building a stone's throw away from ours anyway!) and so someone has to man the fort for the students, at least for the last two weeks of term. I don't mind as much because it gives me a chance to have a chat with some of the students and find out how they're managing themselves in the run up to graduation and shows etc. I did spend a bit of time cleaning up the office as well, not quite Kim and Aggie, but not far off, and cleaned all the dust up and generally made the room look neater and fresher. I then spent a bit more time updating the PC in there to be our current build, putting on the extra software that needed to go on too. After all, when someone new comes in, it's nice to be able to give them something that's worthwhile and ready to go, as well as workable.

Mind you, after all the football last night (excellent performance by the Czech Republic, I thought) it was great to finally see one of the oldest Superstars ever - the 1974 UK Final. What made it even more memorable for me was that it features Manchester City's legend, Colin Bell, and he actually did really well, finishing a fraction of a point behind David Hemery for second place and winning the steeplechase amongst other things, a model of consistency. It was nice to see it archived so well and the picture quality even for then wasn't bad - more than watchable. Even more so was the nice surprise of being able to see most of the events as they were being played out - hardly any edits to stuff like the cricket, for example. Who would have thought the year after that there'd be a full European competition?

Saturday 10th June - There's Only One Bad Manager But One Good Weight Loser

Well, England won today. That was the good news. The relief for me and many others as the first goal went in after only three minutes was plain to see, and I sincerely hoped that we'd actually build on that lead. Ha ha, how wrong everyone was. And the man to blame? Yes, you know full well who. Sven-Göran Eriksson, the man who made the most negative substitutions out of all the teams who have played so far, who confused everyone by taking Michael Owen off and then not replacing him with a striker, but by a left midfielder. And then just to really upset everyone, putting Owen Hargreaves on! By the time the final whistle came, it was not a comfortable victory, it was a hanging on 1-0 victory, which Match of the Day 2 presenter Adrian Chiles had spot on: "it was like watching my lot at West Brom taking the lead and then biting your nails for the remaining eighty seven minutes." And every pundit I know of, whether it be Ian Wright, Alan Hansen, Lee Dixon, or any of the ITV team, all were confused and baffled. But it was unbelievably negative, and that wasn't good. Better play a bit better on Thursday against Trinidad and Tobago, that's for sure.

What had not been a good match was at least tempered by the fact that in the morning I received a major psychological boost to myself in my ever-going quest to lose weight and be as thin as I used to be back in the day. I weighed myself and found that for the first time in five years I'd dipped under thirteen stone, well okay it was twelve stone thirteen pounds, but still it was important to get past the first major barrier. I really want to be twelve stone or less, and the way that I'm going it just might be achievable. I think it's down to walking a lot more, carrying more things around at work, but also walking in the heat and really pushing myself somewhat. All those factors are helping as well as the more sensible eating regime which I've undertaken, and the trick has been to stick to three meals a day with no snacking. I do feel proud of myself, but I know there's still a long way for me to go. And I need to keep at it beyond the next few months.

A nice package arrived for me this morning, with no less than the Volume 1 of Beavis and Butt-Head. As a fan of the two cartoon morons in the 1990s (well, who wasn't?) it was about time that episodes of the show got released on disc. I'll cover it in more detail in my review, but suffice to say that being able to watch The Great Cornholio on DVD just has to be something worth watching for me. "Are you threatening me, bungholio?"

Wednesday 7th June - It's An Oven In The Office

The heat and summer has arrived, of that there is no doubt, but what's also rather not so nice is the fact that in Manchester, and particularly the city centre, the humidity and closeness really hits you, and hard too. No matter your best efforts to try and stay as cool as possible, when there's no airflow circulating anywhere and all the heat that many PCs give off, then it's just a heat source waiting to happen. And as such this has meant me drinking lots of water and getting cold cans out of our drinks machine in the refrectory in an attempt to keep up the concentration span.

Thankfully, the worst of the deadlines are over, and now it's a bit less stressful for students and staff alike, not least as the action short of a strike by the academic union UCU has been called off, which if according to plan, means that students should be able to graduate and get any marks that they need. What's more difficult elsewhere is that there's courses where they have examinations at the end of the year, and those examinations may have been postponed because of UCU's action. It's going to be a busy next few weeks for some people, I don't envy them one bit to be honest. Mind you, from a student point of view, I'm sure many of them are relieved that there may be some light at the end of the tunnel and they can at least graduate, and even if the UCU members vote to reject the offer (despite their executives accepting it) it shouldn't affect them.

Mind you, I took advantage of the summer sunshine and went up to the coast on Saturday, well, Morecambe to be precise. I'd never been there ever and as the views from that side of the bay of the Lake District and Cumbria are supposed to be good, and added to the fact that I still had some compensation vouchers from Arriva Trains Wales for them mucking up my journey to Cornwall, I thought I might as well make the most of it. And what did I make of it? Well, changed train at Lancaster and then a little local train to Morecambe itself, and I soon hit the front. There's already one of the hotels by the sea being renovated by Urban Splash, which is good, as the shots of how it looked like were a wreck. But the town is suffering a fair bit from the general seaside town decay.

To explain, there used to be a quite large fun fair called Frontierland, which had many good rides (apparently), and it's now run down and delapidated. What's there now in part of its place is an Aldi and a Morrisons, but parts of the old Frontierland remain, such as the Polo ride and also most of what looks like the log flume. That run-down feel also seems to have got into some of the shops on the sea front as well, with buildings falling into slight disrepair and need maintenance. It's a shame really because the views from the sea front are rather breathtaking, there's all the hills, Grange over Sands, Cartmel et al, and even with the potential warning that some of the sands are dangerous (which they are, be careful out there kids!) it didn't detract from the gorgeous view one iota.

In the end, I stopped off at a pub and had a pretty nice lunch overall, and it was excellently done - bbq chicken melt with some clotted cream ice cream for dessert! After that, I thought a nice long walk down the front up towards Carnforth would keep me fit, and as I walked along, I noticed the Eric Morecambe statue that was placed there (and lots of people after a photo opportunity) and then a bit further on an interactive map sculpture -actual big sheets of brown metal carved into the shape of the hills you could see ahead of you, so you could tell where a certain place on the other side of the bay was. I then kept going till I reached Happy Mount Park at the Bare end of the town, did a circuit of that and walked back down the seafront. And I noticed one thing: lots and lots of people cycling up and down the coastal path! Whether this was because of the bike hire shop in the town or because people love cycling generally here, I wasn't sure, but it was nice to see. I still need to try and get myself a bike and to get out there.

Friday 2nd June - Summer At Last!

The last couple of days have thankfully seen a nicer turn in the weather. After all the wind and rain for a fair chunk of last month, yesterday and today have been rather lovely, far too nice to be in work to be honest, but there you go. What I did notice as well is that how much when it turns summery how much people dig out their summer gear and start wearing it straight away, almost like this country has only two climates: really warm or really cold. Still, I think at the same time that it's also nice that as a lot of people at work are close to finishing their year off they can go home and enjoy the next few months with a bit of a break from what's been a difficult year all round. And it'll probably be more difficult over the summer for a lot of them now that the £3000 fees are a reality from September. Rather them than me, to be brutally honest.

Had a slightly weird occurrence at work: one of my colleagues transferred stuff from a student's Mac formatted iPod to their network area, and it seemed to work fine. Except the student came back and said that she couldn't see half the files. When I looked, neither could I, so I fired up good old Trans Mac on the PC and gave that a go. It attempted to transfer the files, but said that certain files already existed, even when they weren't visible. In the end I just created another folder on the student's network area and re-copied all the stuff over, which worked like a dream. Then I thought "I'll just delete the old directory and that'll be that." Except I couldn't, try as I might. I gave a few ideas a blast, and eventually thought to sleep on it and be refreshed in the morning.

So I got in this morning and tried a couple of other things, also did some research and found a possible cause, but the software you had to launch which could fix it didn't play. Bah! In the end my other Mac-owning colleague managed to delete it from their Mac, and that worked. Bit odd though why it couldn't be god rid of any other way, especially as it was only a few documents that they wanted. My theory was that the iPod control file was copied over, and that was making itself be a pain. Part of my reasoning was that was the only file when I eventually saw them another way from the PC that I couldn't get rid of, and indeed it appeared corrupt. How odd, eh?

In other news, I was also pleased to see that a nice update to both Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird got released today. I've installed both and they're working perfectly as per usual. However, what's especially good for this current release (1.5.0.4) is that for MacOS users who have one of those shiny new MacBook Pros, Thunderbird is now a Universal Binary, like Firefox, so it'll work much better. Excellent all round. At work I've already whacked it on my PC and applied the customisations that I do for it so it's got necessary changes such as the browser branding we put on, and locking down several things so people can't mess with them. I somehow knew there was a good reason to document everything, you know.