Dear Diary... March 2004

Tuesday 30th March - Fire in the hole

Well, I'm writing this diary entry knowing full well it won't be available for you to read until a few days' time. You see, in the early hours of Monday morning there was an underground fire in the centre of Manchester in a tunnel. Not too bad you would think, as no one got hurt. But this was a tunnel that carried telephone and fibre optic cable around to various parts of the North West and as such over 130,000 people were affected. I tried to check my email Monday morning and couldn't connect, all I got was a few bytes attempting to be sent but nothing received. It's been mad: at work the phones could ring out but we couldn't receive any calls in whatsoever, there was also a complete wipeout of services in and around the Altrincham area where a friend of mine lives, so in short, utter madness. The phone was working all the way through, thankfully, but that was it. I'm just hoping it's not going to be too long before access is re-established.

Now normally I wouldn't be so bothered, but there was a couple of things I needed to do that required Internet access, and not least book my summer holiday! I've decided where to go, and now all I have to do is sort it out. After much consideration it's looking like a trip to Jersey for me. It's somewhere I haven't been before and not just that, it also looks intriguing from the brochure that I looked at, lots of nice places to go, things to see and do and generally speaking a nice relaxed place as well by the look of it. 2004 also happens to be Jersey's 800th anniversary or something, so that's going to be a good year over there, I feel. And even better: I can fly there from Manchester, yaay! No having to get all the way down to Poole on the train and then take the Ferry over to St Helier, I can fly instead, and with BMIBaby, who are nice and cheap too, so that saves dosh I can spend on the accommodation and spending money. Well, that's the plan anyway.

I just have to think on as well that it's time for the Grand National this weekend, so I must think about who to bet on. Several horses look promising, but I can't imagine any Man U fans backing any horse owned by JP McManus for obvious reasons, so there's a few pounds in bets going elsewhere. As I'm off from Thursday this week for a well earned break over Easter (and why not) it also means I can watch the other races over the National fences as well and get an idea of how the ground is, where seems to be the best lines to go at some of the major fences and all that. Not that it matters. I'll still probably back one that falls in the National anyway, to be perfectly honest.

Friday 26th March - Mission accomplished!

Well, I have to say that I feel mightily happy and relieved this week, as my colleague and I finally rolled out all the academic staff on to Windows XP, and so all the workstations are now upgraded and done. Yaay! I must admit that it was becoming a little bit on the tedious side near the end, however it was sheer determination of "I want to get this done and out of the way" as well as overcoming some obstacles, like an old Minolta slide scanner that initially didn't play ball with XP (but I found a workaround, hehe). But it just means that it's all done, and we can now iron out the odd problem near and there that comes across. I've already made some plans for the future as to what to do in terms of projects, so I guess the space is watched.

Anyway, whilst I've been fine this week, a good friend of mine hasn't. Their temperature went up and up during the week, and eventually it was a hospital visit to have the appendix out. Thankfully, the op seems to have gone well, so here's hoping for a speedy recovery. I've never worked out what actual use your appendix has (answers on a postcard if you do know of course) but whatever it is, taking it out doesn't seem to affect too much. Both my sisters have had it taken out in the past, and they seem perfectly fine to me so I suppose it's just one of those weird biological mysteries of the modern age (sounds like a title for a future television show doesn't it?)

I also watched (with some horror, I have to admit) the documentary on BBC2 this week about how the police try all they can to protect children from paedophiles. It was like no other documentary I've seen in my life, not least showing how much undercover work the police have to do in order to gather enough evidence. I have to say that when the police did catch an offender unawares and arrested them, you could see the feeling of "Yes, I got the bastard!" on their faces when they finally do make an arrest that leads to a conviction. What's more worrying, however, is that the amount of material available on the Internet can often lead to addiction for these sick scumbags of the earth (there's no other way to describe them.) It makes you despair to be honest. It also showed you behind the scenes when Pete Townshend of the Who was arrested and what steps were taken during the arrest et al, and for human interest, it was also one to make people realise that how easy it is to make a mistake in your life and have to pay the consequences. I just wish though that the laws were tougher so that once convicted, a peaedophile should stay on the sex offenders register for life. To all those who say they can be rehabilitated, well to be honest the very few that can are heavily outweighed by the ones who are going to offend again. Not just that, but how many cases have we seen where previously convicted paedophiles have committed another offence? It doesn't bear thinking about quite frankly. I applaud BBC2 for showing the documentary and also for being brave enough to raise awareness of how sickening and how bad the issue is in modern day society. These sort of issues cannot and will not go away overnight, the world need sstrong leadership and strong democracy to give the scum who do this sort of thing the contempt they deserve. Rant over. For now.

Friday 19th March - See that Brian Jacks? That's me attempting to be him, that is.

I got home from work today, and saw that the Council had dropped a note through my letterbox about a newspaper and other paper recycling scheme they're finally getting off the ground. Basically you'll leave a box outside your front on the kerb or in the front yard, and then once a week the Council take it away, recycle all the paper and give you another box. The boxes are also sustainable as well, so that's good. It just makes me wonder though why it took them so long. Where my cousin lives (Bournemouth) they've been doing a paper recycling scheme for ages, which everyone down there uses and really takes seriously. I guess as well that at least Manchester has realised that it's about time that we took the issue of recycling seriously. Something that some of the students I work with don't. Bah.

Anyway, I had time this week to give the house a bit of a spring clean - it needed doing just to keep everything neat and tidy. It's so much easier to find stuff when everything's in the right place, and also I organised myself better at work as well so that it was all clean and so when we are rolling out the last PCs with the new XP build it's all ready to go (well, that is at least the theory at any rate). I suppose it was one of those little things that was bugging me for some time and I just needed to think about getting it done.

As for the exercise regime I put myself under lately to try and combat the gaining weight type of problem, I've been working hard at it. I figured that the manual treadmill I've got is a good place to start, do some power walking on that as well as maybe taking a ride up to Daisy Nook Country Park and walking up and down a few of those hills. But the most intense exercise of all has to be the squat thrusts. Those of you who have watched Superstars know full well what I'm going on about here. It's really painful, it's intense, but at the same time ultimately satisfying if you do well. And I managed a personal goal a few days ago and got the magic number of 60 in a minute - yes, that's one per second throughout. Even some of the Superstars contestants from the last series didn't do that. And I used the jumping technique (no sliding, far too painful without the right equipment) and so it really does count as a decent score. If I push myself further I wonder how many I could actually do. Maybe around 75 tops would be the limit for me, but nonetheless I feel pretty pleased with myself so that has to be a good thing.

Wednesday 17th March - Madness, madness, I call it madness

It's been a really mad week for one reason or another (and yes, I'm still grinning inanely at Sunday's result, in case you wondered). Work's been really busy as we've been rolling out the PCs for some of the receptions in the buildings that we look after. In truth, I don't think they're going to be used that much primarily because the people involved on the most part haven't been on a course which tells them what to do (some of which have never touched a PC before, you see) so it'll be intriguing to see if they just spend time gathering dust or actually eventually get used by the staff. Add to that I spent the best part of a day wrestling with a PC that insisted on crashing every time you tried to type a web site address anywhere (solved by running Ad-Aware through the PC - it was damn full of ad and spyware) and it's been one of those weeks where just when you think you're getting somewhere the frustration starts to creep in, occasionally.

I also spent time upgrading a friend's PC as well. All the parts had been purchased, so all I had to do was put the new motherboard, processor, memory, graphics card etc into the new case, and then take out the CD writer, ADSL modem, DVD drive, hard disk and floppy drive into the new case too. Everything worked first go when Windows Me booted back up and soon after installing a few drivers off the relevant CDs it was like it was never away. It amazed me how quick I managed it all, despite actually taking my time (and slightly cutting my thumb on one of the sharp edges of the back plate that I'd removed, ouch!). It runs pretty well too. Maybe one day if I ever did decide to retire from work I could always build the occasional PC too. Something I should consider. Anyway, I reviewed the case they got in the reviews section, if you're interested.

One thing that caught my eye was the Pride of Britain awards as well. I like these sorts of awards, as the general public who've done great things are honoured so. There were many great stories of human endeavour and courage, but not least the one of a Romanian orphan who'd been adopted by a British couple, and as he started to grow up, despite having a prosthetic leg, and no hands (the arms are up to about three quarters of the way of a normal arm) he still manages to do physical exercises for those less well off than he, such as a four mile bike ride, sponsored swim, all that sort of thing. It really touched me that for him it wasn't about being upset over his body, but helping others instead and giving them the chance of a good life that he was given by the parents who looked after him. A lesson for all those who think there's nothing to do and go out causing trouble on the streets.

Sunday 14th March - We're the pride of Manchester!

Words fail me. I am still going utterly mental. It's proved to be an amazing day, what with England thrashing the Windies at cricket (well done lads!), but nothing, but nothing could have prepared me for today's superb performance from the blue shirted heroes.

After capitulating 4-2 in the FA Cup game, and indeed, losing 3-1 at Old Trafford earlier in the season, we knew that revenge needed to be gained. And how! Although tickets sold out weeks ago, I decided to head to the local pub which was showing the game, and well, it was unbelievable. Three minutes in and Robbie Fowler capitalised on some sorry United defending and that was 1-0. And although against the run of play, Macken took his chance and made it 2-0. Then, a wobble as Paul Scholes pulled one back, and up to half time it could have gone either way. Rode our luck a little, but what the hell, it was 2-1. And Keegan made the right half time changes, tightened up the back, and really kept it going. We really pushed on in the second half, and all of a sudden the belief was there. A poor mix up between Silvestre and Brown and in nips Sinclair to score, and being a City fan as a kid, this goal was special for him. And boy did he celebrate! Good lad. Reminds me of the Goat last season with Gary Neville, hehe.

But that wasn't the end. Oh no. The utterly superb Shaun Wright-Phillips (who absolutely must be in the England squad if there's any justice in the world) decided to hammer the nails into the coffin further with a superb strike from twenty yards, to send every City fan home utterly delirious. And that's an understatement. I've just been buzzing for ages with a massive smile on my face. Plus, it also means that if you take into account the Old Trafford game, we'd have actually have won 5-4 on aggregate anyway, and so therefore: we're the pride of Manchester! And we are. I just can't wait to go into work tomorrow and wind up so many of the United fans that work there. What time is it? Four past Howard. And maybe the United manager Sir Alex Ferguson knew something we didn't by having the pacemaker being installed before the game? I wonder...

Anyway, who cares? What matters is the result, and with this most probably killing off United's title chances, it tastes even more sweeter for us Blues as well. The noise and atmosphere was electric, and it really added to the whole sense of occasion and moment, and just really shows you how much it means for us to win these derby games. Football, as they say, is more important than life and death. Well, if I died and went to heaven right now I would not care, such is my unbridled joy and happiness right now. I'm so proud of them. See, moments like this and the Tottenham win against all odds last month - that's what you live for being a football fan. Oh yes.

Anyway, what else has been happening? Well, I spent some time off this week and on Thursday put together a PC for my uncle's works that they asked if I could do. Always nice to get the experience in PC building of course, and after giving them an idea of what a monster PC should be able to do, the parts were purchased and I set about building it. And it positively rocks. Whilst not the absolute fastest ever, it does what it says on the tin, has plenty of scope for expansion, and really has got some excellent features including a DVD writer, a floppy drive with a camera card reader built into it, and a case that has a fan in its side, so that it helps to keep the whole thing cool. It's surprisingly quiet as well, and once I'd installed Windows 2000 and all the software needed, it positively flew out of the blocks and sprinted away with raw speed and power. Must have been the mere 1GB of RAM that I whacked into it. I was that impressed that I was even thinking if I ever upgrade, I might just yet go for the same rig myself and see how it goes. It was really nice and impressive, and really did show me how old and clunky my PC actually is these days. It's still very usable, but I've seen the future, and one day..

Also made a trip to Ikea as well during the week, and as usual it was full of moochers. For those not familiar with the term, moochers are those who spend up to three hours plus in one store, looking at everything, not deciding what they want, and sometimes going back to the first thing they see. It really bugs me. Sometimes if I don't know what I want, I give myself a few ideas and then decide what I'd like. As it was, I got a new outside doormat for the front door which looks the part and looks nice. Yaay!

Monday 8th March - Back to normality, well almost

Well, the F1 season is back on the television, and I'm so glad that I recorded the thing. Michael Schumacher won. Again. No surprise there. The race was a bit of a procession. Again. No surprise there. Oh, and there is a new qualifying system. Except it's utterly bobbins, and everyone agrees. First the cars go out in order of their last race position and set a time. Then, straight after all twenty cars have done a lap, they then do another lap in reverse order (ie: slowest first). Well, put it this way, I'm glad I didn't watch that bit live. It was like watching paint dry. They should bring back the qualifying of old where you had twelve laps maximum to post a fast time, and so in effect you'd have four flying laps to do it, and of course time your run so other cars weren't on the track and in the way too. At least it meant pole position changed hands a few times that way in a more exciting way of changing times, because people were genuinely pushing for more speed and position. Sure, keep the single engine to be used all weekend rule and all that, but really over the last couple of seasons qualifying has really took a step backwards and isn't exciting anymore. I refuse to watch it at Malaysia if it's anything like that, personally.

I took some time out over the weekend to do a couple of things, but one of them which ended up being a grand day out was a trip over to Liverpool. I tried the megabus.com thingy (£1 each way, bargain) and spent almost a full day out there, exploring both the shopping and a bit of the culture as well. Had it not been so damned windy (add to the fact I missed the 1pm departure by a few minutes) then I might have even done the ferry cross the Mersey. Well, actually it's a round trip of some forty minutes or so, but you get the idea. The water in the Mersey did look very very mucky indeed, and upon walking round Albert Dock you could see the difference in the colour of the water, it was a real difference too. Mind you, the infamous Weather Map that used to be used on ITV's This Morning has now gone, replaced instead by a myriad of boats offering pleasure cruises around the dock. What was well worth a visit was the Maritime Museum, which offered a fascinating history of the ships and boats built around the area, and there was even a section dedicated to the Titanic, with a large scale model to show you the sheer size of the thing (coupled with the lack of life boats of course). There was also a chance for me to see the changing face of the City Centre, some of the squares are being redeveloped and definitely being made more tourist friendly, and on top of that, the now vibrant café scene around the top end of the Bold Street area. Pretty nice to see, actually. They have a bit of catching up before they equal Manchester, but at least the effort is being made, and that was refreshing.

Also this weekend, I didn't actually watch the FA Cup games, but I did predict this morning that Man U would get Arsenal. Maybe I should have put some money on them drawing each other, because that's exactly what happened. The upshot of it is though that a Division One (or lower!) side will definitely be in the final, and that has to be good for the lower leagues. And, as more likely than not Man U and Arsenal will be in the Champions League slot, the UEFA Cup place will go to the runner up (like it did with Southampton last year). Now if that isn't an incentive for Millwall, Sunderland or Tranmere, I don't know what is. Sod's law would be though had City beaten United, that we'd have probably got Arsenal in round six, never mind the semi-finals. Still, just goes to show how funny a game football can actually be, eh?

Thursday 4th March - Beware of Lidl

Well, it's been a different start to the month, not least at work. Our Help Desk Assistant is on a course all week, and so I've been covering for the Help Desk duties (something I used to do pretty much all the time ages ago.) I suppose in a way it was also nice to be back in routine, helping people out face to face, and generally being nice to everyone. Sometimes, it's really hard to master the art of patience, but by doing this sort of job, you really have to be. No matter how stupid a question or how computer illiterate the user (and there are many out there who are genuinely scared of computers, I should add) you nonetheless be nice to them and explain things clearly, maybe even injecting a little humour into proceedings (after all learning is fun isn't it?). I guess as well that sometimes you have to see things from a user point of view to understand how the problems crop up, and how they see them, rather than how you as an IT professional sees them.

Mind you, I did manage something this week which is quite nifty - doing a Windows registry change silently when the user's PC starts up. Yes, even before log on. Which is handy, as the change I did unticks a setting in Novell Client so that the NMAS Authentication isn't used for the client logon. It's a simple registry change which does the same job, and once I'd worked out how to pass the change silently without interruption to the user, I rolled it out to the workstations and let it all work its magic. It's really neat once you get into it, thanks in no small part to the way you can do application objects in Novell Zenworks 4 and how you configure them. Great thing is, what I've learned I can put into practice very soon, but that's for another time.

Anyway, a new supermarket has opened near me. Well, when I say new, I should say a new branch of a supermarket. Basically where it used to be was a massive heap of grass and mud that didn't look appealing, and now it's flattened, and built on, with a car park and everything, and it does look a whole lot neater than before. Only snag is rather than be something that I'd really need, say a small Sainsbury's or Tesco (that would have rocked), what do we get? Lidl. One of my friends had told me ages ago how poor Lidl is as a supermarket, and so at the weekend I ventured in there to see for myself. And my friend was right. It's awful. For a start, the fruit and vegetables were half price. And with good reason. Most of the things like grapes and plums were bruised and looked the wrong colour, a fair number of the tomatoes were more green than red, and even the apples which had been vacuum packed didn't look that nice. Then I went to the freezer. Big mistake. You want branded stuff? Not a cat in hell's chance. It was row upon row of cheap and nasty looking frozen food, for example there's pizzas which look suspiciously like ripoffs of the Dr.Oetker pizzas (the Pollo chicken one of theirs is awesome, try it sometime). I didn't mind about the fact most of it was German origin either - if it was made by some English cheap make it still would have looked just as cheap and nasty.

And you know when Peter Kay talks about crap pop in his Live At The Top of the Tower DVD? Well, he mentions Rola Cola, Strike Cola, Panda Cola, and Freeway Cola. The last of these brands was actually the type of cola sold in Lidl. Well, it wasn't quite 40p for 8 litres but it was 42p for 2 litres. Compare that to the fact you can regularly get Schweppes Lemonade at the same price in Kwik Save, and there isn't a contest. And on the rare occasions Lidl had branded stuff, it wasn't cheap, and definitely beatable by either Asda, Kwik Save, Iceland or Netto* that I have not too far from me. So in reality then, despite the curious crowds, I could clearly see that Lidl is going to be one I won't be going in again in a hurry. Ironic that Farmfoods next door has much better frozen foods cheaper, and hardly anyone was in there. Bah. Indeed. Not good at all. But there you go.

* and yes folks, Netto really is Scandinavian for value. It's actually a Danish word meaning "net value". So there!